Of course, if these or any other legal questions are impacting you and your family, then don't hesitate to reach out to JC Law for your free initial consultation with one of our expert domestic, criminal, or civil litigation attorneys.
Former Operations Official Pleads the 5th ... 150+ Times
You may remember a small summer scandal surrounding Maryland Governor Larry Hogan's would-be chief of staff, Roy McGrath. For those who need a refresher:
The Baltimore Sun broke a story in June about a six-figure severance payment from the Maryland Environmental Service, the state agency McGrath led at the time.
The MES board of directors said that McGrath said that Gov. Hogan knew and approved of the payment.
Gov. Hogan claims he knew nothing of it until the Sun story.
McGrath says that everything is above board.
Lots of fingerpointing here.
Anyway, fast-forward six months, and McGrath's former employee and director of operations Matthew Sherring is subpoenaed to answer questions regarding McGrath's severance and his own subsidized business trips while working for the MES.
Sherring answered questions for three hours last week before the Joint Committee on Fair Practices and State Personnel Oversight -- or, at least he was asked them.
Sherring's only answer for more than 150 questions was:
"On the advice of counsel and pursuant to my constitutional rights, I respectfully decline to answer that question."
State Delegate Erek Barron, one of two co-chairs, told media that "Mr. Sherring and Mr. McGrath took great advantage of their state employment, perhaps wasteful and fraudulent advantage of their state employment."
McGrath himself will face the committee's questions later this week, as he, too, has been subpoenaed as part of their investigation.
Why This Matters To You:
Sure, it's another story of possible wasteful, fraudulent, and/or illegal government spending in Maryland, and of everyone pointing fingers at everyone else to shift blame anywhere but themselves.
However, Sherring's testimony -- or lack thereof -- offers a powerful example for others who may be subpoenaed or otherwise questioned by law enforcement.
Welcome, new Baltimore Mayor Jack Young -- and the new coronavirus restrictions he enacted on Day One of his time in office.
In response to the winter wave of Covid-19, which has killed almost 5,000 Marylanders as of this writing, Mayor Scott has enacted some of the harshest restrictions within Baltimore city limits since the actual lockdown this past spring effective last Friday at 5 PM, including:
Restaurants may not directly serve any patrons -- inside or out -- but may still offer takeout and delivery;
Retail and religious facilities find their capacity capped at 25%; and
Outdoor rec facilities may operate at 25% capacity, but anything indoors is closed.
Mayor Scott acknowledged that the restrictions wouldn't be fun, pretty, or otherwise welcomed by city residents and businesses, but "that's how serious this is," adding:
That hookah bar can wait. That brunch can wait. We have to keep our family and our people that we love alive.
Following his lead,Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman likewise restricted county residents, though religious facilities may operate at 33% capacity and the restrictions take effect this Wednesday (December 16) to give restaurants and other businesses time to adjust.
Why This Matters To You:
Gov. Hogan has been reluctant to issue additional restrictions that may lockdown our businesses again, but his subordinates at the county level -- especially along the 95-corridor -- seem to feel no such compunction.
Plus, these restrictions are not "strong suggestions" or any other sort of recommendation. These local officials are making orders that are legally enforceable with fines and jail time.
Therefore, every Marylander must pay close attention to their local announcements, as well as any future press conferences held by the governor, to see if and when more Covid-19 related restrictions will apply to them.
Stay safe, everyone.
Unemployment Fraud Attempted Using State Officials' Names -- Including Gov. Hogan's
Well, the governor is definitely not unemployed -- which may have tipped off the labor department on fraudulent unemployment claims.
According to Maryland State Police and the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of the Inspector General, some of the fake unemployment petitions were filed under the names of top Maryland state officials, including:
Governor Larry Hogan
Lt. Governor Boyd Rutherford
Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson
(Depending on the party of the would-be fraudsters, perhaps it was wishful thinking on their part that political rivals would be out of office? We're kidding.)
This is the latest discovery in the massive fraud campaign executed this summer in the wake of record unemployment claims in Maryland and around the country.
While Marylanders are angry at the slow speed at which the department is dispersing aid to those impacted by Covid-19, the governor's office insists that the delay is due to an unforeseeable backlog and these fake unemployment claims. After all, the office claims that 85% of the more than 214,000 claims flagged by the DoL have proven fraudulent.
Why This Matters To You:
Hopefully, this story was a welcome bit of gallows humor for you, even if you're one of the thousands of Marylanders who have yet to see desperately needed unemployment checks.
But, it gives us an opportunity to discuss why the fake unemployment claims are legally considered "fraud" and not something else, like theft.
In plain terms, you can think of fraud as stealing by tricking someone.
In this example, the people making fake unemployment claims were trying to trick the Department of Labor into thinking they deserved money from the unemployment insurance pot when they didn't, by saying they were people they really weren't.
If and when law enforcement brings charges against those it claims committed this type of fraud, fraud convictions in federal court can result in decades in prison and hundreds of thousands in fines.
If prosecutors specifically charge wire fraud -- that is, fraud where the money passes electronically, as it does for unemployment disbursement -- then those convicted face up to 20 years in federal prison and a possible $250,000 fine... for each individual count of fraud.
Yeah. The government does not mess around with these types of charges. Hopefully, those charged won't mess around with their defense team, either.
Possible Changes to Maryland Domestic Violence and Custody Proceedings?
Back in 2019, Maryland's General Assembly created a "workgroup" with the extremely catchy name of "The Workgroup to Study Child Custody Proceedings Involving Child Abuse or Domestic Violence Allegations."
The workgroup recently released their suggestions, which include:
Actually outlining what "in the best interest of children" means for consistent and safe rulings between various family courts throughout the state;
Legally defining "domestic violence" and the various types of abuse against children, to better standardize approaches during domestic cases -- right now, it's a hodgepodge of statutes and laws that kind of apply and sort of don't, depending on the situation;
Prevent judges from considering child abuse reports from a single parent to avoid possible attempts to sabotage rulings on visitation, custody, etc.;
Training judges and relevant court employees in these types of family law cases -- and then only assigning cases involving possible domestic violence to trained personnel; and
Making a legal "presumption" that giving custody to a parent who has previously engaged in forms of domestic violence or abuse is not in that child's best interest, making it harder for previous abusers to get custody of the impacted children.
Maryland legislators will consider the report's proposed changes when the 2021 session starts in January.
Why This Matters To You:
At some point in your life, you may have wanted to throw a book at a wall if you heard the phrase, "In the child's best interest" one more time.
And, the children involved certainly don't win, as opposing parties duke it out to prove that only their plan is in the "child's best interest" before a third-party judge with just the evidence before them.
The "cyber" aspect of the cyberattack may offer prosecutors possible evidence, but perhaps not a unique charge.
That's because most computer-based crimes aren't technically unique criminal charges per se, but rather just modern execution of older illegal activity.
After all, theft is theft -- whether someone robs a physical bank vault for cash or swipes digital account information.
However, given the rise in cyberattacks like the BCPS shutdown and new vulnerabilities in a society forced to go online due to Covid-19, it wouldn't surprise us to see new legislation go forward at the state and federal levels to specifically address such attacks as new and unique crimes.
Hanover Man Charged With Sexual Solicitation of a Minor
Interesting, how fast the media is to name and shame individuals charged -- but not convicted -- of terrible crimes.
Case in point: Regardless of whether the defendant is actually guilty of sexual solicitation, he'll need to hire an online reputation management firm to scrub his legal name out of every possible news article springing from this single arrest, even if he never makes Maryland's sex offender registry.
Could someone with a vendetta have pretended to be the defendant in the chat... and then tricked the defendant into going to the meet up with the "minor"?
It's possible, but we don't know. We can't know, at least until the trial. And, it's the prosecution's job to prove their case, even as the public tries to find all the ways someone might or might not be guilty.
At JC Law, we truly believe in everyone's constitutional right to a fair trial, and innocence before guilt until proven beyond a shadow of a doubt in a court of law.
It's too bad the local media and the public at large don't seem to hold the same values.
Appellate Court Orders New Trial for Convicted Baltimore Defendant
That case itself doesn't really matter, but what the appellate court ruled does.
Basically, the court ruled that since the defense's lawyer wasn't allowed to ask certain questions of potential jury members, the jury itself wasn't fair. That made the ruling unfair, the trial itself unfair, and so Kazadi would be allowed a retrial.
This case established a precedent for any number of criminal convictions that may also have suffered potentially biased juries if their defense counsel wasn't allowed to ask certain questions.