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News From the Legal Beat: Rangel Verdict, Terror Trial, and More

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Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) did Monday before a subcommittee of the House Ethics Committee what most defendants would love to do during the course of their own trials: declare the proceedings unfair, complain about the lawyers, and then make a dramatic exit from the room to the clicks and whirs of the cameras. If Rangel had tried to pull the stunt as a criminal defendant, he wouldn't have been allowed out of the hearing. If he had tried to do it while he were a civil defendant in a case about money, the plaintiff promptly would have been awarded damages by the judge.

But Rangel is neither of those things. On Tuesday, following his "conviction" on 11 ethics charges, he became instead just another defrocked politician on Capitol Hill, found "guilty" by his colleagues of breaking House rules. We now move into the punishment phase of this political case, a perfect lame-duck diversion from the monumental chores facing this -- and the next -- Congress. Rangel won't resign, we are told, and the House now has to figure out whether to fine him, disgrace him further with a reprimand or censure vote, or simply deny him some of the privileges of his office.

While Rangel was making his last stand in Washington, word came from his hometown that one of the federal jurors in a major terrorism case was having trouble deliberating with other jurors. A juror in the government's case against Ahmed Ghailani, accused of involvement in the bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998, wrote the judge to say she felt she was being "attacked" by fellow jurors for a "conclusion" she had reached about the case. She asked off the panel. Ghailani's lawyers immediately called for a mistrial. Prosecutors immediately called for her ouster from the jury. And the judge promptly -- and wisely -- told jurors to continue their deliberations. If there's no verdict this week, however, the Justice Department will have an untimely problem on its hands.

One problem the feds won't have is an emergency appeal to the United States Supreme Court over the military's controversial "don't ask, don't tell" termination policy that bans openly gay or lesbian service members. The justices late last week refused -- for now -- to intervene in the landmark case out of California. The non-decision decision by the high court allows the 9th Circuit to evaluate the trial judge's ruling, which struck down the policy as an unconstitutional violation of the rights of gay and lesbian service members. That appellate review won't be concluded until well after the Pentagon officially weighs in with its own study. You make the call: Will the executive and legislative branch voluntarily end "don't ask, don't tell"? Or will the courts be forced to do it for them.

Some of you evidently already have made the call when it comes to capital punishment. The Death Penalty Information Center is out with a new poll this week -- an important and timely contribution to the debate -- that shows practical considerations are beginning to influence people's perceptions about the death penalty. "For decades," notes the DPIC's Richard Dieter, "politicians have equated being tough on crime with support for the death penalty, but this research suggests voters want their elected officials to be smart on crime, use tax dollars wisely, and fund the services they care about the most." Among the most significant findings: Younger voters, and Hispanic voters, are most amenable to replacing the death penalty with life in prison without parole.

Speaking of Hispanic voters, the California Supreme Court Monday in a closely watched case unanimously affirmed the rights of unlawful immigrants to receive in-state college tuition like lawful residents. The lawsuit which spawned the decision was filed by U.S. citizens who were not given the bargain tuition rates because they did not meet the necessary state qualifications. The court ruled prospective college students were entitled to in-state tuition so long as they had graduated from a California high school after attending three years worth of classes there. You can bet this ruling, and this topic, will come back around, especially out West, when the immigration debate heats up again in the next Congress.

And speaking of the next Congress, one thing you won't see next year on Capitol Hill is a meaningful debate over whether to compensate former terror detainees who were tortured by allied troops. In Britain, that debate already is over -- and payments will now be made to some former prisoners who, freed from the American prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, promptly sued the British government for its role in waterboarding. Also over across the pond is another debate we've conveniently never really had here: in July, Prime Minister David Cameron authorized an independent inquiry into his government's role in rendition policies and torture tactics implemented in the wake of the terror attacks on America.
Filed Under: Law

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Phil Payne, author of 'The Strivers"

December 26 2010 at 1:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Just a note of interest. Our illustrious paper in Austin, Texas printed an article about actor Wesley Snipes was ordered to surrender to serve 3 years for tax related crimes, 3 misdemeanor charges of willfully failing to file income tax returns for three years. Now, I'm not saying he doesn't deserve it, but here's a "career" politician with 11 counts of "ethics" violations with tax related matters involved and he's "censured", not expelled, not sentenced to prison, but "censured". Guess when elected, these people are immune from the "regular" laws of this country. Truly amazing !!! Is it any wonder that this so called congress of peoples' representatives is so low rated????

November 20 2010 at 10:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I would like to add that Wesley Snipes just received 3 years in a federal country club for only 3 years of tax evasion.....Charlie should get a reservation for his 17 years of evasion shouldn't he?

November 20 2010 at 8:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Rob & Kathy

Why isn't Eric Holder investigating Rangel?...

November 17 2010 at 9:10 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
Rob & Kathy

Rangel has been playing the system for 40 years. He continues to...

November 17 2010 at 8:58 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

So all I need to do if charged with a serious offense is to use my friends to delay as long as possible, then fire my lawyers and claim it's unfair to be unrepresented, then walk out of the hearing whining? Would this work in any courtroom as professional as Judge Judy's?

November 17 2010 at 2:37 PM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply

I would add that Rangel knew this would keep the details from the public and he could pretent to be offened by lack of due process. He is lower than low and has no shame.

November 17 2010 at 9:02 AM Report abuse +9 rate up rate down Reply

Rangel knew very well what he was doing with this fake plea for "due process." This was the only defense left in the face of No Defense. By walking out he is able to cloud the issue of his guilt with a cry of fowl. He is a crook as are those covering his behavior. Shame on the Dems and Black Cacus. Were he a republician or not an elected offical he'd be forced out of office and in jail.

November 17 2010 at 9:00 AM Report abuse +9 rate up rate down Reply

This whole trial was a farce.The demorats let this go on forever so he could get re elected.Now they find him guilty and they will probably give him a slap on the wrist while he slaps the American people in the face.What an arrogant man he is.He is either senile and does not understand what he did or he really has disdain for our justice system.I would like to see some average Joe try this.Wake up people the goverment is out of control!!

November 17 2010 at 5:54 AM Report abuse +14 rate up rate down Reply

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