LEGAL NEWS ROUNDUP

Daniel Rodriguez, CC’18

The FBI announced in December 2015 that it would “dramatically expand[] the information it gathers on violent encounters” between law enforcement and citizens.  Acknowledging that “[p]eople want to know what police are doing, and they want to know why they are using force,” the FBI made this data collection “the highest priority.”  FBI Director James Comey recently speculated, however, that the numbers will not support the common notion that “there’s an epidemic of police shootings of black people.”  According to Director Comey, “a small group of videos” underlies the misconception that there is an epidemic of police shootings against people of color.  Whether Director Comey’s prediction will come to fruition will be determined after 2017, when the FBI begins collecting the information. [Washington Post, CNN]

Two criminal trials are receiving national attention.  The trial of the six men and one woman that occupied Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in January came to a close as closing arguments wrapped up on Wednesday.  During the six weeks of testimony, the prosecution focused “on the main charge of conspiring to prevent federal employees from doing their jobs at the refuge.”  The defendants attempted to recast the trial as revolving around “regulatory overreach by the federal government” rather than any negative impact on the jobs of the federal employees.  Whether the jury buys the defendants’ argument that they were “mere protesters who should not have been feared” by federal employees may have repercussions for future protests. [NPR, OPB]

Now in its fifth week, the Bridgegate trial shifted to the defendants’ case in chief after prosecutors rested last week.  According to the federal prosecutors, Bill Baroni and Bridget Kelly, two former high ranking officials in the Christie administration, knew that the George Washington Bridge lane closures were intended to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich “after he declined to endorse [Governor Christie] for re-election.”  Baroni, however, counters that he believed at the time that the lane closures were part of “a legitimate traffic study.”  Michael Drewniak, the Governor’s long-time spokesman, testified to something similar, stating that “traffic problem[s] at the George Washington Bridge ‘was in the bloodstream’ of the [Christie] administration” and that no senior staff had “any knowledge … that [the lane closures] had been a plot of political intimidation.”  Drewniak’s testimony had the troublesome effect of pitting the defendants against each other.  As Baroni’s witness, Drewniak testified that he “went to speak twice to Bridget Kelly [about the lane closures]… but … she brushed him off.”  Kelly is expected to take the stand in a few weeks, and all attention will focus on conversations she claims she had with Governor Christie that hopefully “convince[s] the jury that there is something fundamentally unfair to hold her responsible for conduct that was widely known within the governor’s office and directed by others.” [Politico, NJ.com]