Court Digest

Bankruptcy judge refuses to halt Weinstein Co. plan

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — The Delaware judge presiding over the Weinstein Co. bankruptcy has rejected a request by four women who have accused disgraced film mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct to put her approval of the company's bankruptcy plan on hold.

The judge issued a one-page order Wednesday denying the request for an emergency stay while the women challenge approval of the plan in federal district court in Delaware.

Attorneys for the four women responded Friday by asking the district court to put the plan confirmation on hold while it considers their appeal.

According to a bankruptcy court filing, the plan has been "substantially consummated," with an effective date of Thursday.

The plan is being challenged by producer Alexandra Canosa and actresses Wedil David and Dominique Huett, who have accused Weinstein of sexual assault, and a former Weinstein Co. employee who claims she was subjected to a hostile work environment.

Attorneys for the objectors say the plan includes overly broad releases from liability for third parties such as insurance companies and former Weinstein Co. officers and directors. They also argue that it contains a provision that unfairly prevents non-consenting sexual misconduct claimants from pursuing their claims.

The bankruptcy plan provides about $35 million for creditors. That's about $11.5 million less than under a previous plan, which was scrapped after a federal judge in New York refused to approve a proposed $19 million settlement between Weinstein and some of his accusers. The settlement in that purported class-action lawsuit was a key component of the initial bankruptcy plan.

Roughly half of the approved settlement, about $17 million, is allocated for a single sexual misconduct claims fund, down from about $25.7 million allocated for three separate categories of sexual misconduct claims under the previous plan.

Another $8.4 million goes to a liquidation trust for resolving non-sexual misconduct claims, and $9.7 million will be used to reimburse defense costs for former company officials other than Weinstein. The plan also releases those officials from liability for tort claims related to Weinstein's conduct.

Holders of sexual misconduct claims will receive 100% of the liquidated value of their claims if they agree to release Harvey Weinstein from all legal claims. A claimant who elects not to release Weinstein but to retain the option to sue him in another court would receive 25% of the value of her bankruptcy claim.

Weinstein is serving a 23-year prison sentence after being convicted by a New York jury for the rape and sexual assault of two women. He also has been charged in California with rape, forcible oral copulation, sexual battery by restraint and sexual penetration by use of force. Those allegations involve five women and stem from events in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills from 2004 to 2013.

Legal dispute over courtroom space may finally get a hearing

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — A legal dispute over whether a Georgia judge can order local leaders to create new courtroom space may finally make it to a courtroom.

The Augusta Chronicle reports a judge from southwest Georgia has been appointed to hear Augusta's objection to an order in July by Superior Court Judge Carl Brown to renovate a former jail and school for court use.

The consolidated city-county's fight against Brown's order has already taken a zigzag path through the state court system. Augusta first appealed the case to the state Court of Appeals. That court sent it to the state Supreme Court, which sent it back to the Court of Appeals. Judges there ruled Dec. 30 that they shouldn't hear the case because there had been no ruling by a trial court on the city's objection to Brown's order.

The city-county filed a fresh objection earlier this month in Richmond County Superior Court, with senior Superior Court Judge Joe C. Bishop appointed to hear the case.

Brown argues courts need more room for proceedings because of COVID-19 and that the city-county government has ignored his three-year push for juvenile court space. After the order, city-county commissioners voted to demolish the former jail and law enforcement complex, saying Brown had overreached his authority.

Brown then ordered all elected Augusta commissioners and a renovation committee he named to appear in court, prompting the local government's appeal.

Besides arguing that the judge has exceeded his authority, the city also argues that he's violating public bidding laws and going around the city-county's budget rules.

Feds drop legal battle over tribe's reservation status

MASHPEE, Mass. (AP) — The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe scored a legal victory Friday when the U.S. Interior Department withdrew a Trump administration appeal that aimed to revoke federal reservation designation for the tribe's land in Massachusetts.

A federal judge in 2020 blocked the U.S. Interior Department from revoking the tribe's reservation designation, saying the agency's decision to do so was "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and contrary to law." The Trump administration appealed the decision, but the Interior Department on Friday moved to dismiss the motion.

In a filing in a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., the Interior Department said it had "conferred with the parties and none opposes this motion." A judge granted the motion and dismissed the case.

The tribe's vice chair, Jessie Little Doe Baird, called it a triumph for the tribe and for ancestors "who have fought and died to ensure our Land and sovereign rights are respected."

"We look forward to being able to close the book on this painful chapter in our history," Baird said in a statement. "The decision not to pursue the appeal allows us continue fulfilling our commitment to being good stewards and protecting our Land and the future of our young ones and providing for our citizens."

The Cape Cod-based tribe was granted more than 300 acres (1.2 square kilometers) of land in trust in 2015 by then-President Barack Obama, a move that carved out the federally protected land needed for the tribe to develop its planned $1 billion First Light casino, hotel and entertainment resort.

The tribe learned in March 2020 that the federal government was moving to reverse the reservation designation. The Trump administration decided it could not take the land into trust because the tribe was not officially recognized as of June 1, 1934. That was the year the federal Indian Reorganization Act, which laid the foundation for modern federal Indian policy, became law.

At the time, the tribe's chair called it a "sucker punch."

The tribe, which traces its ancestry to the Native Americans that shared a fall harvest meal with the Pilgrims in 1621, gained federal recognition in 2007.

U.S. Representative Bill Keating, D-Mass., whose district includes Cape Cod, applauded the decision to drop the appeal.

"The claim that the Tribe of the First Light, the Tribe of the First Thanksgiving was not an original Native American Tribe has always been disingenuous," Keating said in a statement. "And the Trump Administration's sudden attempt to remove their land from trust last March — in the midst of a pandemic — was heartless."

Man convicted of killing woman 21 years ago

RACINE, Wis. (AP) — A jury in Racine County has convicted a man of fatally shooting a Milwaukee woman 21 years ago.

Miguel Cruz, 41, was convicted of first-degree intentional homicide with use of a dangerous weapon Friday afternoon after jurors deliberated for about four hours.

The body of Juanita Zdroik, a 39-year-old mother of two, was found by the side of a rural road near Raymond on Feb. 7, 2000. She had been shot in the head.

Investigators linked her murder to those of a father and son, Lamont Cole and Samuel Burns, who were found shot to death in an alley of the in Milwaukee that same day. Zdroik's car was found torched nearby.

The case went cold for 10 years until a man in custody looking to make a deal told investigators he had witnessed Zdroik's murder, The Journal Times  reported. He and a corroborating witness told detectives Zdroik was killed because she had witnessed the murders of Cole and Burns by a man she had been dating.

The two identified Cruz as the person who killed Zdroik. Cruz was arrested in 2017 following a multijurisdictional investigation.

Jose Sanchez was arrested in 2012 for the murder of Cole and Burns. He pleaded to two counts of felony murder/armed robbery and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

A sentencing hearing is scheduled April 22. The conviction carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

Ex-police officer, Marine latest to be charged in Capitol breach

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — A former Florida police officer and Marine Corps veteran is the latest person to be charged with taking part in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Court documents filed Sunday show that Nicholas Lentz is charged in a criminal complaint with illegally being in a restricted building and disruptive and disorderly conduct.

Lentz, 41, is a former North Miami Beach police officer who also served with the Marines in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to an FBI affidavit. There have been numerous people affiliated with law enforcement and the military charged with participating in the riot.

Lentz was identified though Facebook posts, including by North Miami Beach Mayor Anthony DeFillopo. According to the FBI, Lentz was interviewed by agents last week at his home in Boynton Beach and admitted being at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

The riot came as Congress was working to certify the election of Democratic President Joe Biden, who defeated Republican Donnald Trump in November. Trump has claimed the election was stolen from him, for which there is little or no evidence.

"Lentz told the interviewing agents he had no intention of committing violence or destroying anything, and he claimed he did not do so," the FBI affidavit says. "He added he felt obligated to help control the crowd, believing the crowd was more likely to listen to him than a uniformed officer."

But in his Facebook post, according to the affidavit, Lentz attended then-president Trump's speech near the White House before heading to the Capitol and made clear why the crowd was there.

"America has spoken. You can not stop millions of people. Cannot stop it. Can't. It's impossible. America has a voice. We give them the power," Lentz posted.

"We're not here to hurt any cops of course," he added. "I love my boys in blue, but this is overwhelming for them. There's no way they can hold us back."

Like dozens of others across the country who attended the riot, Lentz is being prosecuted in Washington. Court records show Lentz was released on $25,000 bail and has another hearing Feb. 26 in Washington.

Lentz was a North Miami Beach police officer from June 2016 until August 2020, according to the Miami Herald. He also worked for the Fort Pierce police department in St. Lucie County from 2014 to 2016.

His attorney was listed as a federal public defender in court records, but no name was attached to it.

High court formally rejects Trump election challenge cases

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Monday formally rejected a handful of cases related to the 2020 election, including disputes from Pennsylvania that had divided the justices just before the election.

The cases the justices rejected involved election challenges filed by former President Donald Trump and his allies in five states President Joe Biden won: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Other than the disputes from Pennsylvania, the justices' decision not to hear the cases was unsurprising. The court had previously taken no action in those cases and in January had turned away pleas that the cases be fast-tracked, again suggesting the justices were not interested in hearing them.

At the same time, the justices' decision not to hear Pennsylvania disputes involving a Republican challenge to state courts' power over federal elections continued to provoke strong feelings from some of the justices. On Monday, three of the nine justices said the court should have taken up the issue.

"A decision in these cases would not have any implications regarding the 2020 election...But a decision would provide invaluable guidance for future elections," Justice Samuel Alito wrote. Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Neil Gorsuch also would have taken up the issue.

Thomas wrote that the court was inviting "further confusion and erosion of voter confidence" by not taking up the issue.