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Legal Review: U.S. Gun Violence Prompts Connecticut Walkouts

By Criminal Defense Attorney Sean Barrett with the law firm Billings & Barrett.

Students and faculty across Connecticut participated in a nationwide walkout to protest gun violence in schools. The focus of the walkout was to bring attention to a lack of action on gun laws and also raise awareness and avoid incidents like Sandy Hook and Parkland in the future.

Connecticut has some of the strongest gun laws in the nation. The state has passed a “red flag” law, which allows friends, family and certain medical professionals to file petitions with the court and ask that an order be entered removing firearms from the possession of individuals who are found to pose a present danger to themselves or others.

Additionally, Connecticut requires that anyone seeking to purchase a firearm obtain a permit and all transfers of hand guns and long guns must be authorized by the state, creating a de-facto gun registry. Magazines with capacities in excess of ten rounds are no longer legal to sell or transfer, though their possession has not been outlawed.

In terms of concealed weapons, Connecticut’s laws do not differentiate between the open carry and concealed carry of hand guns, but they do require a permit, regardless of the carrying desire of the individual. The authorities issuing that permit are, based on court decisions, required to issues those permits in the absence of a compelling reason not to do so, but those authorities still have some discretion in making that ultimate determination.

“Running afoul of these laws in Connecticut can be expensive and the punishments can be severe,” said Sean Barrett, a New Haven, Connecticut Gun Crimes Attorney with the law firm of Billings & Barrett. For example, possession of a firearm that has been banned by the state can result in up to three years in prison and up to $500 in fines. Additionally, possession of firearms during the commission of certain felonies can add five, non-suspendable, non-concurrent years to any prison sentence being faced.

Connecticut is a state that takes its gun laws seriously and treats those who violate those laws harshly. If you have been charged with a gun crime in the state, experienced counsel is critical to a positive outcome.

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Legal Review: “Dancing Doctor” Faces Suspension and Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

Dr. Windell Davis-Boutte, more commonly known as the “Dancing Doctor,” has had her license suspended and faces several lawsuits for medical malpractice for not using proper standards of care while treating patients. That was the reason given by the Georgia Composite Medical Board in June when they initially suspended her license.

The suspension came after many complaints were filed against Davis-Boutte. One of her patients has suffered permanent brain damage while under the care of the doctor. Others have cited infections after being treated by the doctor.

The most recent case involved a woman that suffered respiratory distress and severe bleeding from the lips after Davis-Boutte performed liposuction, breast augmentation, and a Brazilian butt lift on her on May 30.

These are just a few cases in the last two years that prompted the Board to take action. The fact that she has posted video of herself online dancing in the operating room only served as further proof that she was not tending to patients properly while they were under her care.

In one video, which has now been taken down, she can be seen with medical instruments in her hands while she raps and leans over a patient’s half-bare buttocks.

However, it is not just the suspension Davis-Boutte is facing. Several of her patients have also filed civil lawsuits against the former surgeon, claiming medical malpractice. Currently, four of those lawsuits have been settled.

“The suspension will keep any future patients from harm, at least for the time-being,” says Lyle Griffin Warshauer of Warshauer Law Group. “But there are so many patients out there that she has hurt over the past two years. Many of their injuries are serious and they have a right to seek compensation for those injuries.”

While the Board suspended her license in early June 2018, it was later that month that an agreement between Davis-Boutte and the Board was filed. Within that document was a consent order signed by Davis-Boutte, agreeing to give up her license temporarily for the next two and a half years. Once that time period has passed, she can then apply to have the suspension lifted.

In the meantime, she cannot call herself a doctor or in any way practice medicine. More lawsuits may also be filed as former patients continue to come forward.

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Legal Review: Why 2018 May be the Year of Divorce

Couples that are considering getting a divorce may want to finalize things before the end of 2018. And with new tax laws that have recently been enacted, many may do just that, possibly making 2018 the year of the divorce. There are four new tax laws that will impact a family’s finances after any divorce that is finalized on or after New Year’s Day 2019.

The most talked-about new tax law affects alimony payments that were once tax-deductible by the spouse making the payments. While Texas law does not provide for alimony, in certain cases spouses may be entitled to spousal maintenance, which is treated as alimony for tax purposes.

While spousal maintenance payments have previously been claimed as income by the spouse receiving the payments, that spouse typically fell in a lower income tax bracket, so the total taxes on alimony were lower than if the payor spouse had claimed the same income.

That will change in 2019. As of January 1, spouses paying spousal maintenance payments will have to claim those amounts as income. That will not only hurt the person paying maintenance, but also the person receiving it, as they may face lower maintenance payments to make up for the increased tax cost.

The division of assets has also been affected by new tax laws. As of the new year, the amount of interest on mortgage payments and the amount of property taxes that can be deducted on tax returns will be reduced. This will make home ownership more expensive.

To make matters worse, those who sell a home while married can make a profit up to $500,000 without tax penalties. Single individuals can only realize half of that, up to $250,000. Those who will not be able to afford a home after divorce may wish to sell it before their divorce is finalized, depending on the anticipated net profit.

When children are involved in a divorce case, it always makes things much more difficult. The new tax laws have not helped here, either. The new code strikes out the exemption rule for children during the years 2018 — 2025.

While this will be true for any parent that claims children on their tax returns, that parent may also be eligible for new child tax credits in the new year. As of 2026, the exemption will revert to $4,000+ allowed per child.

Finally, the new tax laws also affect those who have already divorced or are considering it and also have pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreements. The new laws may have nullified some of the arrangements outlined in these contracts, meaning couples that hold them should review them with a family lawyer that can explain what will and will not stand when the new tax laws come into play.

“It is important that any couple serious about divorce finalize the proceeding before 2019,” says Sharon Ramage of The Ramage Law Group. As there is a 60 day waiting period, it is important that couples wishing to finalize divorce during 2018, file before October 15, 2018. “While this may sadly make 2018 the year of divorce, acting now can potentially save families thousands of dollars down the road.”

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Legal Review: Republican Plans for Paid Family Leave Look to Tap Social Security

Paid family leave has become a hot-button topic for politicians of all stripes. However, at its core, paid family leave is a concept that affects the tens of millions of Americans who each year have to take unpaid time off from work to care for sick children, sick parents, sick spouses; not to mention to give birth.

Because of this massive impact, Republicans and Democrats have advanced plans designed to provide some form of paid family leave for all Americans.

“With any plan like this, one of the biggest questions is determining exactly how to fund it,” said Sara Khaki, an Atlanta Social Security Disability Attorney with The Khaki Law Firm, LLC. “The Republican plan, which due to the current makeup of Congress and the White House has the most likelihood of success, seeks to use future Social Security retirement benefits to make those payments.”

The proposal would allow new parents 12 weeks of paid leave. It would not allow individuals who are sick or have sick family members to participate. Those 12 weeks would be paid for using the individual’s Social Security retirement fund — in essence, borrowing from one’s future retirement benefits to provide income now.

Critics of this proposal see it as forcing individuals to decide when that money will be more important: now or in the future. Choosing the “now” means that the individual is reducing the amount that may be available to them in the future, although the plans proponents assert that it would only result in a minimum deferral of the start date of Social Security Retirement benefits.

Critics also argue that this proposal simply takes more money from an already underfunded and depleted Social Security program, while proponents point out that an individual will not actually receive more than they otherwise would under their Social Security benefits.

While the program tries to find a revenue-neutral approach to an obvious need, it assumes that the income replacement rate of 45 percent will be sufficient because there are two parents living together, not just one parent, and that both parents do not have health issues of their own.

With the average monthly payment per person under this plan being $1,145, it is unlikely to provide the amount of monetary support necessary to cover an average family’s expenses, let alone a family with a disabled parent or child whose expenses are naturally higher.

Ultimately, the breadth of any paid family leave program will come down to cost and politics. If the public supports the idea, and politicians are elected because they support the idea, the plan is likely to be broader in scope than were the reverse to be the case.

If paid family leave is instituted, it will be incredibly important to sit down with an Attorney familiar with Social Security Retirement Benefits and Social Security Disability benefits to ensure that you make an informed decision about your options.

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Legal Review: Lawmakers in Virginia Considering Legislation That Would Ban Sanctuary Cities

By Immigration Attorney James O. Hacking, III, founder of Hacking Law Practice, LLC.

Lawmakers throughout Virginia have been considering legislation that would ban sanctuary cities in the state. The House of Delegates pushed the bill to the Senate with a 7-6 vote from a committee within the House.

The bill was introduced by Delegate Ben Cline, a Republican from Rockbridge and it is known as House Bill 1257. If the bill is voted into law, it would prevent local governments from establishing sanctuary cities in Virginia.

“Sanctuary cities are cropping up all over Virginia and the rest of the country and provide much-needed protection to immigrants,” James O. Hacking, III, of Hacking Law Practice, LLC, said. “Seeking sanctuary in the United States can help victims avoid persecution and abuse in their home countries.”

The bill would also require local governments to cooperate more with federal law regarding immigration, going as far as creating more of a cooperation between local governments and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The House of Delegates almost voted down the legislation due to a tie vote. A second vote was conducted and passed 51-49, which moved it to the Senate Committee on Local Government.

Proponents of the bill are concerned that gang members would be protected from deportation if sanctuary cities were to be legalized and created in Virginia. Those who have spoken out in favor of the bill have specifically mentioned the presence of the gang known as MS-13.

In response to the discussion of gangs, Democratic Delegate Jennifer McClellan, of Richmond, said “this bill is not about MS-13, although I know that is what gets trotted out all the time as the boogeyman. This bill sends a message to certain people: ‘You’re not welcome here.'”

She continued, saying that the bill was created to send a message. McClellan noted that there are laws already on the books in Virginia that help identify the immigration status of people imprisoned.

Virginia’s current Governor, Ralph Northam, has spoken out publicly against the proposed legislation. His predecessor, Terry McAuliffe, vetoed similar legislation last year when it came across his desk. Governor Northam has said that sanctuary cities have not been a problem in Virginia but did not elaborate any further on his opposition to the bill.

Hopefully, legislators can stop this bill from becoming law. If not, it will likely have disastrous effects for the protection of those fleeing violence in their home countries. This legislation can force individuals to suffer the human rights abuses they are trying to flee.

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Legal Review: In the Face of New Allegations, Harvey Weinstein Denies All

By Criminal Defense Attorney Jeffrey Lichtman of the Law Offices of Jeffrey Lichtman.

It may seem like much longer to some, but October 2017 was when the first sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein came out.

From then until the summer of 2018, more and more women have stepped forward. In total, over 70 have stated that Weinstein sexually assaulted them in some way. Until July 2018, only three of the allegations turned into formal charges. And in the beginning of July 2018, more charges were laid against Weinstein.

If these new charges turn into convictions, Weinstein could spend the rest of his life in prison.

Weinstein was already facing three charges of sexual assault in July of 2018 when three more charges were laid. The new charges come from a woman Harvey allegedly had contact with in 2006. After her testimony Weinstein was charged with two counts of predatory assault, and one count of criminal sexual act in the first degree. The predatory assault charges each carry a ten year sentence alone.

Weinstein is being accused of various sexual assault crimes against the women that have currently led to charges being laid. However, there is little corroborating evidence in any of the allegations. And because many of these cases go back later than a decade, there likely never will be any evidence other than the testimonies of the accusers. Weinstein has denied all allegations since the first accusations came out, and was released from jail after posting $1 million in bail.

“These accusations are incredibly serious,” says sex crimes attorney Jeffrey Lichtman of the Law Offices of Jeffrey Lichtman. “While those who accuse others of these crimes are to be respected and treated fairly under the law at all times, the same applies to the accused until proven guilty. This new movement shows just how easy it is to destroy another person and their career with one statement.”

In an arraignment on July 9, 2018, Weinstein pleaded not guilty to the three new counts brought against him. He had already pleaded not guilty to two counts of rape and one of first-degree criminal sexual acts. He continues to be out on bail under the same conditions.

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Legal Review: Almond Recall Shows Just How Dangerous Everyday Products Can Be

By Personal Injury Attorney Joseph P. Awad with Silberstein, Awad, & Miklos, P.C..

People are surrounded by, and use, a number of different products every day. In most instances, those products are safe and will not cause any harm. But in some cases, something as seemingly harmless as a bag of almonds can be very dangerous to people. This is the lesson Aldi stores, and food manufacturer Kanan Enterprises, have recently learned.

Kanan Enterprises and Aldi issued a voluntarily recall of bags of Southern Grove Unsalted Almonds in early June due to a food packaging error. After receiving reports from customers they learned that wasabi almonds were included in some packages of the unsalted almonds.

The wasabi almonds contain soy and wheat, two of the most serious allergens that can be fatal for those that have an allergy to them. Even if a customer with an allergy did not consume the wasabi almonds, the very fact that they were packaged with the unsalted almonds could be enough to trigger an allergic reaction.

“Failure to warn is one of the most common mistakes manufacturers make in product liability cases,” says Joseph P. Awad of Silberstein, Awad, & Miklos, P.C.. “Kanan Enterprises and Aldi both did the right thing by issuing the recall and getting the packages off the shelves. In doing so, they protected their customers, as well as themselves.”

While it was only the 14-ounce packages that were affected, they were distributed in 13 different states primarily along the Eastern coast and at Aldi stores.

No one was reportedly hurt in the instance of this recall. However, it does show just how easily a seemingly harmless product can become dangerous to some.

Consumers are advised to check the Food and Drug Administration’s website regularly for recalls of packaged foods. As the case of Kanan Enterprises’ unsalted almonds proves, this is especially important for people with food allergies that may be consuming packaged foods.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission also regularly updates its list of all products that have been recalled and it is important that consumers regularly check their website as well. After all, recalls only work when customers know about them.

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Legal Review: Social Security Cuts Eyed by Congress

By Georgia Social Security Disability Attorney Sara Khaki, founder of The Khaki Law Firm.

Cuts to social security are being proposed in the White House’s recently released 2018 budget and are only aimed at the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) programs. It does not propose changes to the Retirement, Survivors and Disability Insurance (RSDI) program.

“The acronyms can sometimes be overwhelming but understanding the programs and what each one does should not be,” said Sara Khaki, a Social Security Disability Attorney with The Khaki Law Firm. Generally speaking, benefits from any of the Social Security programs are based on an individual’s work history, and whether they have earned wages from which Social Security taxes were deducted.

If an individual has a disability that prevents them from working, he or she will likely apply for disability payments under Social Security. The two programs that make payments to disabled workers based on work history (or lack thereof) are SSI and SSDI.

If an individual has been disabled and unable to work since birth, or if they have become disabled and have a limited work history, he or she will likely apply for SSI. The SSI program makes payments to a qualifying individual regardless of whether they have ever earned wages or paid Social Security taxes.

In order to qualify, the person must be determined to be disabled under Social Security’s regulations, and also have a very limited amount of assets (normally less than $3,000). The benefit amount is small (roughly $750 per month) but often includes automatic eligibility for health care through Medicaid.

If the individual has a work history, he or she will likely apply for SSDI. Eligibility for SSDI is based upon the amount of work credits the individual has earned during their lifetime and whether the person qualifies as disabled under the Social Security regulations. Amounts paid under SSDI are generally larger than SSI payments, and eligibility does not take into consideration whether the individual has other assets. The determination of eligibility for payments is based solely on an individual’s ability to work.

The RSDI program is the program that most people are thinking about when they use the phrase “Social Security”. RSDI is available to individuals age 62 or above, and payments are based on that individual’s average earnings during their lifetime, unless benefits are being paid to a surviving spouse or child, in which case payments are based on the earnings on the deceased spouse or parent.

The changes being considered by Congress, as noted above, will only affect the SSI and SSDI programs. These cuts are likely to have a negative impact on the ability of injured and disabled individuals to apply for benefits through the Social Security program. If you are considering applying due to a disability, do not delay. Starting the process now may allow access to benefits unavailable in the future.

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Legal Review: Amtrak CEO Claims Recent Collision Fault of CSX and Federal Government

By South Carolina Wrongful Death Attorney Gary Christmas, a senior partner and founding member of the law firm Howell & Christmas Injury Lawyers.

A recent fatal Amtrak accident has been blamed on the freight railroad CSX and the Federal Government’s failure to install Positive Train Control on the track in question by Amtrak’s president and CEO.

Richard Anderson, CEO of Amtrak, claimed in a statement that the accident was the result of a CSX crew redirecting the main line to a side track where the CSX train was parked, and not switching it back.

Additionally, said Anderson, this portion of track was not equipped with Positive Train Control (PTC), which is designed to automatically slow or stop a train in situations where it is speeding or heading down the wrong track. Anderson said that the accident, which claimed the lives of three Amtrak employees, could and should have been avoided.

“The NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) is currently investigating this accident, and hasn’t reached any conclusions about who was at fault,” said Gary Christmas, a Mount Pleasant personal injury attorney with the law firm of Howell & Christmas Injury Lawyers. “However, the NTSB Chairman has been quoted as saying that PTC would have eliminated most, if not all, of the recent fatal train accidents.”

Though statements like this certainly support the claims of Amtrak’s CEO, any probable cause findings issued by the NTSB are specifically barred from use in civil litigation by Federal law. What is not barred are the findings of fact included in the NTSB report, which can assist a claimant in making his or her case regarding any claim for injuries.

“Accidents such as these,” said Christmas, “raise questions about the best approach to take in filing suit from a wrongful death standpoint.” As employees of Amtrak, the three individuals that lost their lives would be covered by the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA), which is much more favorable to claimants than standard workers’ compensation claims.

FELA allows recovery for pain and suffering and uses the pure comparative negligence standard as opposed to contributory negligence. Pure comparative negligence allows recovery for an individual claimant even if their own negligence contributed to their injuries. This is better than South Carolina’s standard, which says that if a claimant is more than 50 percent responsible for their own injuries, they are barred from recovery.

Many elements go into any claim for injury, including choice of law, the order in which to file claims, and how to use evidence provided by other parties. The involvement of a South Carolina Personal Injury Attorney can be incredibly beneficial.

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Legal Review: Drug Reforms Blocked in D.C.

By Washington D.C. Criminal Defense Attorney Matthew Wilson with Price Benowitz LLP.

Recent attempts at drug reforms have been blocked in Washington D.C. by a subcommittee in Congress. The city is working to expand its current law for the legalization of marijuana.

The legislation passed recently by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government would also put restrictions on how funds can be used for safe consumption sites.

The legislation was passed by the subcommittee at the end of May and it is known as the funding legislation for Fiscal Year 2019. The provision that deals exclusively with marijuana clearly states that none of the funds from the federal government from the act, or funds raised by the local government, can be used to reduce the penalties for marijuana use or help enact any laws that legalize the use of marijuana.

During the election cycle of 2014 voters in Washington D.C. approved a measure that would have legalized the possession of low-level marijuana and even approved homegrown marijuana plants at a small amount.

The City Council was planning to move forward following the vote with a system for legalizing, taxing and selling marijuana. The City Council has not been able to move forward following the public vote because of the roadblocks enacted by Congress.

On a separate issue, the bill from the House Subcommittee would also prevent the use of funds for safe injection sites.

The language in the bill expressly bans the use of federal funds for paying for syringes or needles in an effort to prevent blood borne pathogens at supervised drug consumption locations. The language about the drug consumption locations is new to the legislation, while the other language has been present in the bill for years.

The legislation only mentions federal funds when it comes to safe injection sites, not local funds. Presumably, this would allow the City Council to use tax dollars raised to help fund safe injection sites if it wanted to do so.

“The opioid epidemic continues to grow in Washington D.C. and around the country,” Matthew Wilson, a drug charges attorney for Price Benowitz LLP, said. “Fighting drug charges on your own can be difficult if you don’t know the law or courtroom etiquette. Don’t risk your freedom by representing yourself in court.”

Advocates of safe injection sites claim that these sites help to save lives since users will be monitored by medical personnel who can help them should they overdose.

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Legal Review: Members of Central American “Caravan” Charged with Crossing Border Illegally

By Washington D.C. Immigration Attorney Natalia Segermeister of The Visa Firm of Price Benowitz LLP.

Eleven supposed members of the group of individuals fleeing violence in Central America (called a “caravan” by certain members of the media and certain politicians) have been arrested and charged in San Diego, CA for attempting to cross the border into the United States at a location not designated for such crossing and attempting to elude inspection by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents.

These individuals have been charged in the United States, and according to a recent Supreme Court ruling, may be detained until such time that a hearing may occur on their charges.

Whether they actually are members of the large contingent is unknown. About 150 members of the caravan presented themselves to the CBP agents at the San Ysidro entry point and requested asylum.

Procedurally, the request for asylum begins at the point of entry. From there, individuals must prove that they have a “well-founded fear” of persecution due to their race, ethnicity, religion, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group in the country from which they are fleeing.

Unfortunately, this process can take years, and no claim for asylum is guaranteed. For these 150 or so asylum seekers, they may be detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement or released into the U.S. with ankle monitors.

“Asylum seekers such as the members of the caravan are looking to the United States for protection in times of fear and uncertainty,” said Asylum Attorney Natalia Segermeister, with The Visa Firm in Washington, D.C. “They have rights, just as anyone else does, and those rights must be respected and the rule of law followed — especially by immigration enforcement officials.”

The “caravan” has been well publicized and has presented an opportunity for the current administration to stake out its position on undocumented immigrants.

Representatives of the administration have indicated that the US Government will seek to charge anyone attempting to enter the country without proper documentation, and to deport anyone found to be in the country and undocumented.

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Legal Review: Woodbridge Bankruptcy Admits to Ponzi Scheme; CEO Fighting Charge

By an attorney with the New Jersey Bankruptcy firm Garden State Bankruptcy.

On December 20, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) accused Woodbridge Group of Companies and its former CEO, Robert Shapiro, of fraud by running a Ponzi scheme and sued them in federal court in Florida.

The company has reached an agreement with the SEC and admitted that it ran a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme since August 2012 and maybe prior to that. Woodbridge is now in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The Ponzi scheme stemmed from thousands of small family-owned retail businesses who were told that their investments would be secured by a luxury real estate portfolio in the most real estate expensive markets in the US. However, not all of the real estate was valuable. The cash from new investors would be used to pay older investors.

Woodbridge paid for Shapiro’s opulent lifestyle, including credit cards — he charged $16,000 at Macy’s the day he left the company in December, as well as country club fees and other personal expenses. His wife received $3.9 million from the company last year, and other relatives also received payments.

Bankruptcy laws allow a company to liquidate their assets to pay off its debts and use those funds to pay its outstanding debts and to create a new repayment plan. Woodbridge is now selling off more than 130 luxury properties in its portfolio and those proceeds — which could be worth $650 million — may make it to those affected investors.

While normally this process would take years, according to an accelerated payment plan is in place and the mostly elderly victims can see money by December. However, it won’t be 100 percent of their investment; more likely, it will be 45 percent to 76 percent of it.

However, Shapiro has severed ties with the company he founded and is fighting the SEC’s charges. He resigned from his position as CEO a few days before the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on December 4.

Although he agreed to stay at the company with the title of consultant at a $2 million salary, but that did not last after the SEC filed its charges against him and the company.

“Ponzi schemes can result in financial catastrophe for its victims,” said a Chapter 7 Business Bankruptcy attorney at Garden State Bankruptcy. “Often the best way for a victim investor to recover their money is to make claims against other victims so everyone will share equally in the financial recovery of funds from the company. In addition, they may be sued in clawback lawsuits, where any money they were paid by a company must be paid back in certain situations.”

The company was also being investigated by securities regulators for selling unregistered securities and using unlicensed agents in Arizona, California, Colorado, Iowa, New Jersey, Oregon and South Carolina.

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Legal Review: Maryland Attempts to Reduce Gun Violence Through Programs in At-Risk Neighborhoods

By Maryland criminal defense lawyer Kush Arora with Price Benowitz, LLP.

Maryland, like many other states throughout the union, is constantly trying to find new ways to address gun violence.

As legislators grapple with the political ramifications of gun control measures, attempts are being made at using alternative dispute resolution methods and other street-level approaches in at-risk neighborhoods as a way to reduce gun violence instead of waiting on consensus related to gun control.

“Programs like these are designed to try and stop disagreements from becoming gun battles,” said Kush Arora, a Baltimore Gun Crimes Defense Attorney with the law firm Price Benowitz, LLP.

These programs are not without precedent or a history of success. Prior to this most recent legislation, the City of Baltimore had implemented the “Cure Violence” public health strategy, which was developed by a doctor with the University of Illinois, Chicago that attempts to understand and treat violence in neighborhoods with the same approach as an infectious disease epidemic by using the following components:

  • Detect and interrupt potentially violent conflicts. Caseworkers are trained to identify situations that can lead to deadly conflicts by, among other things, speaking with members of the community to understand ongoing disputes, working with those involved in disputes to keep the issues under control, and when shootings do occur, immediately acting to try and stop any retaliation.
  • Identify and treat highest risk individuals. Caseworkers in the community work to build relationships with those who are most likely to be at high risk of gun violence and help educate those individuals regarding those risks.
  • Mobilize the community to change norms. Caseworkers act to organize the community against gun violence, the goal being to make the use of gun violence in dispute resolution unacceptable at the community level which should deter future actors.

In carrying out these components, the city employs the use of case workers that are in the streets identifying at-risk groups and individuals and providing counseling and mediation services to head off gun violence.

The program was utilized in four of Baltimore’s most violent communities, and the result was a coinciding decrease in shootings and homicides of anywhere from 34 percent up to 56 percent.

Seeing these results, state legislators moved forward with creating a pool of money from which to issue grants for programs like the one in Baltimore, statewide.

The $5 million in funds represents only a small fraction of the $294 million spent by the public on gun violence consequences each year in Maryland; however, if the impact seen in Baltimore can be replicated state-wide it should provide support for increases in funding.

The program has its opponents — mostly gun-rights supporters — but otherwise has strong support statewide. If caseworkers can continue to use alternative dispute resolution and mediation to decrease gun violence and save even one life, the program can be called a success.

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Legal Review: Jeff Sessions Implements Asylum Policy that Could Violate International Laws

By Virginia Immigration Attorney Natalia Segermeister with The Visa Firm of Price Benowitz LLP.

As more people request protection from persecution through asylum at the United States border, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has implemented new policies to make it even more difficult for them. The moves that are being made may not only violate international laws, they are also being touted as being ‘morally bankrupt.’

It was in May that the attorney general with the Department of Homeland Security implemented the zero-tolerance policy for those found to be trying to cross the United States border illegally.

It was this policy that has seen many prosecuted for crossing between ports of entry and has separated children from their family members. When the children are removed from the family, parents are left with no recourse and no way to contact or reunite with their children.

After the zero-tolerance policy was implemented, Jeff Sessions then changed the policies on what is considered valid reasons for claiming asylum.

While gang and domestic violence were once allowed as a basis for asylum if one could demonstrate that the harm suffered was on account of a membership in a particular social group, Sessions is stating that those claims should no longer be considered. The reasoning being that these claims founded on violence inflicted by non-governmental actors does not satisfy the requirement that the motivation for the persecution is group membership.

“This change is one that many are pointing to, stating that it violates international law. In most of these cases, those claiming these kinds of persecutions are not being given a chance to state their case and address the group membership component.” says Asylum Attorney Natalia Segermeister of the Visa Firm of Price Benowitz.

The new policies are meant to deter others that wish to cross the border illegally, but it does not seem to be working. In fact, the amount of arrests made for crossing between ports of entry has increased every month for the past three consecutive months.

But that is secondary to the serious consequences pediatricians say the children taken from their families will endure. Not only do they not know where their parents are or when they will see them again, they are also being held in detention centers with substandard care.

In addition to these new policies, Republicans in Congress have stood behind the new policies intended to deter all immigration. In a new proposed bill, they also continue to make it more difficult for asylum seekers that are trying to get the protection their families need.

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Legal Review: No Bail for Teen Accused of Killing Officer

By Maryland homicide lawyer Kush Arora with Price Benowitz, LLP.

The 16-year-old suspect in the death of Baltimore County Officer First Class Amy Caprio was ordered to be held without bail by a local judge. The judge, ordering Dawnta Anthony Harris of Baltimore be held without bail called the teen “a one-man crime wave.”

The body camera Officer Caprio was wearing during the incident shows Harris accelerating a stolen Jeep he was driving as he approached the officer in a cul-de-sac. Officer Caprio was responding to the report of a suspicious vehicle in the cul-de-sac when the incident occurred.

The suspect held in the death of the officer was waiting in the Jeep as three others were burglarizing a home in the Perry Hall community, which is just northeast of Baltimore. According to officials from Baltimore County, three other teens have also been taken into custody in relation to the case.

As Officer Caprio attempted to get Harris to exit the vehicle he sped up and ran over her. The police have not confirmed Officer Caprio’s cause of death but witnesses claimed they heard a popping sound prior to the officer being run over by the Jeep. A brother of a witness, who is a local volunteer firefighter, ran out of his home and began giving Officer Caprio CPR.

Other residents of the neighborhood said they heard Officer Caprio scream, “Get out of the car,” three times before hearing a pop. Another neighbor also ran from her home and helped in attempts to resuscitate Officer Caprio, who would have celebrated her four-year anniversary on the force this coming July.

The death of Officer Caprio was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner assigned to the case. The medical examiner said that Officer Caprio died from trauma to the torso and to the head. They also noted that there were no gunshot injuries on Officer Caprio’s body.

Harris has been charged as an adult with first-degree homicide. The identities of the three other teens arrested in connection with the incident have not been released and it is not yet clear how the three teens will be charged.

“Crimes involving juveniles are intricate and can become even more complex when the juvenile is charged as an adult,” Kush Arora, a Montgomery County criminal defense attorney, said.

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