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The Docket: Monday News Roundup
By Main Justice staff | September 28, 2022 4:17 pm

After nearly 30 years, the Department of Justice has finally nabbed one of its most-wanted. Famed film director Roman Polanski (Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, The Pianist) has being fleeing U.S. authorities since his arrest for unlawful sex with a 13-year-old in 1978. He was taken into custody in Zurich Sunday morning and faces extradition to Los Angeles.

Not surprisingly, the L.A. Times has the best coverage, including his life in photos (nice one with Sharon Tate circa late 1969). He was arrested as he arrived in the Swiss city to accept an award at the Zurich Film Festival.

Polanski’s attorneys are reportedly shocked, shocked.

“We absolutely were not expecting such an arrest, in so far as he regularly goes to Switzerland, and he’s done so for several years,” lawyer Herve Temime told Le Figaro, adding that Polanski “even owns a chalet situated in the Gstaad,” a Swiss ski village.

His extradition could take months. U.S. authorities have 60 days to file formal papers requesting his extradition. Polanski can ask the Swiss Federal Penal Court of Justice to reject those papers, and, if he is denied, appeal to a higher court, the Federal Court of Justice.

Back at Main Justice, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. has pledged to revitalize the civil rights division with a renewed focus on minority-discrimination cases, the Washington Post reported Sunday.

Under the Bush administration the civil rights division was “destroyed,” John Payton, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, told the Post. Instead of the traditional civil rights focus, the Bushies expanded the agenda to include complaints of religious discrimination and human trafficking, they also hired lawyers who shared their conservative ideology – some with little to no civil rights experience – for career jobs.

It’s all about Obama’s legacy. Holder has pledged to make the division “’his crown jewel’ by returning its focus to protecting minorities against discrimination,” the Post reports. “What becomes of these cases, and others like them, will help determine the meaning of justice in the Obama administration.”

Rebuilding the civil rights division seems like a cakewalk compared to the legal gauntlet Obama is running when it comes to closing Gitmo.

One of Obama’s biggest obstacles to closing Gitmo by January is determining where to send about 100 Yemenis, the largest single group of prisoners by nationality, Bloomberg reports.

The U.S. wants many of them to go to a rehabilitation program in Saudi Arabia, but the Saudis are refusing to take them and Yemen’s president wants them sent back home. The U.S. wants to avoid that for security reasons.

The Justice Department on Saturday announced that they had agreed to send one former Gitmo detainee back to Yemen and two others to the government of Ireland. The move will leave about 240 detainees remaining at the prison, which the administration conceded this week it may not be able to close by January.

The New York Times weighs in with profiles of the two latest terrorism suspects, one, a Jordanian teenager who allegedly plotted to blow up a Dallas skyscraper, and the other, a U.S. citizen who was targeting a federal building in Springfield, Ill.

Are these two just nice young men or U.S.-hating, cold-blooded terrorists? Friends say each were each extremely helpful to them. A pal of Michael Finton, the suspect in the Illinois plot, even called him a “role model.” But others say Finton, who went by the nickname Talib Islam (student of Islam), “didn’t like America very much” and “thought we needed more rules, so that people would behave.”

Authorities started watching Finton’s every move after a search of his car turned up a letter about his dreams of being a martyr and a document about waiting for a “return letter” from John Walker Lindh.

Friends painted an even more complex portrait of Hosam Maher Husein Smadi. He drove a single mother to the grocery store, lent her money when she didn’t have enough to feed her two children – even gave her a cell phone when hers broke and got her a job as a cashier and drove her to work.

But the criminal complaint reveals a dark side. An agent posing as a senior member of an al Qaeda sleeper cell befriended Smadi, and he responded to the call. He pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden, saying “I love him as I love my father,” expressed anger over the invasion of Gaza by the Israelis and vowed he was “ready for the jihadi life.”

According to Politico, Republican Rep. Aaron Schock’s district office in Springfield was on of the targets of Finton’s planned terrorist attack.

The evidence against Finton and Smadi seems pretty solid (Finton was caught in a sting operation while driving a van he thought was loaded with explosives to the Paul Findley Federal Building. He even allegedly parked the car and made phone calls he believed would trigger a blast killing or injuring people inside the building!)

But a new study says federal agencies are only prosecuting about one out of four terrorism suspects and suggests federal agencies can’t even agree on who is a terrorist, according to the Associated Press.

People charged with terrorism often go free because the evidence wasn’t strong enough to bring them to trial, says the study by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a data research group at Syracuse University, the AP reports.

“According to the data, U.S. attorneys reported that the cases brought to them by investigators were often based on weak or insufficient admissible evidence, lacked criminal intent or did not constitute a federal offense.”

Of course, the Justice Department disagrees with TRAC’s analysis and conclusions. A spokesman said the report omits some statistics and uses data that differs from the agency’s information.

Numerous organizations across the federal government – the FBI, IRS, Secret Service, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives – just to name a few – enforce the laws associated with terrorism while federal prosecutors determine which cases will be brought to court.

All have different ways of identifying terror-related crimes – and TRAC found that about one-third of the defendants charged with a terrorism offense were not categorized as having a connection to terrorism. The findings led TRAC to conclude that the government must do a better job defining and focusing its terrorism enforcement.

The New York Times also ran a piece about the plummeting Supreme Court docket. In the early 1980s, SCOTUS decided more than 150 cases a year. These days it decides half that many.

What gives? Is SCOTUS getting lazy? The Supreme Court advocacy clinic at Yale Law School held a conference to explore the mystery of the shrinking docket.

“Participants blamed the newer justices, others their clerks. Some blamed Congress for not cranking out enough confusing legislation. And some blamed the Justice Department, which is filing fewer appeals,” the Times reported.


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