Court Roundup

California

Hate crime allegations stand in cross burning

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. (AP) -- A judge says defendants charged with burning a cross near a black family's California central coast home are not protected by the First Amendment and hate crime allegations will stand.

The 11-foot cross was set ablaze on March 18 behind an Arroyo Grande home.

Prosecutors charged 32-year-old Jeremiah Hernandez, 36-year-old Jason Kahn, 24-year-old Sara Matheny and 20-year-old William Soto with arson, conspiracy and hate crime allegations.

Defense lawyers argued hate crime allegations should be dropped because the cross burning is symbolic speech.

But the Santa Maria Times says a judge ruled Monday that the white and Hispanic defendants are not protected by constitutional free speech guarantees and hate crime allegations will remain in place.

Another court hearing is scheduled for Nov. 2.

Maryland

Attorney consents to disbarment after diverting client funds

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) -- A Hagerstown attorney has agreed to be disbarred after a state commission found that he diverted $82,000 in client funds for personal use.

The Herald-Mail of Hagerstown newspaper reported Tuesday that Timothy Gordon consented to disbarment after an investigation by the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland.

The court order was signed Oct. 3.

The investigation found that Gordon restored the client funds to a trust account and that the clients did not sustain any financial losses.

The commission found that Gordon diverted funds from two clients to a business venture in downtown Hagerstown. He was trying to develop a property to house his law practice, a classic-car showroom and an automotive-themed restaurant.

Gordon maintained that his clients had authorized him to invest their money in the business venture.

Pennsylvania

Woman sentenced for bilking aunt out of $107K

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. (AP) -- A Pennsylvania woman who swindled her elderly aunt out of her life savings has been ordered to spend at least a year in jail.

Thirty-year-old Marisa Harlen was led out of a Luzerne County courtroom in handcuffs following her sentencing Monday. She could spend up to two years behind bars.

Harlen said she was surprised by the length of the sentence. The standard range is six to 14-months.

As part of a plea agreement Harlen agreed to repay the $107,429 she took from 79-year-old Louise Olenik, including $10,000 by the end of the week. Harlen is eligible for work-release.

Before her sentence was handed down, Harlen told the court she took the money to feed a gambling addiction.

Olenik said she was pleased to see her niece in cuffs.

Mississippi

Facebook page at crime scene leads to arrest

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) -- A Facebook page left up on a computer at a burglary scene has resulted in the arrest of a Jackson man.

The Clarion-Ledger reports (http://bit.ly/u6vQZn) that prosecutors told a judge Monday that the Facebook page is a key piece of evidence against 30-year-old Jason Andrew Smith. Smith is charged with two counts of business burglary of the U-Haul truck and rental service on U.S. Highway 80 West in Jackson.

Smith's attorney, Katie Bradshaw, argued at his preliminary hearing on Monday in Hinds County Court that there wasn't any evidence he burglarized the business.

"Anyone could have called up his Facebook page," Bradshaw said.

Prosecutors said Smith had to sign in to his Facebook page. Facebook is a popular social media website that connects people throughout the world.

On Aug. 17, an official with U-Haul called police about a break-in, reported that a store computer had been used and Smith's Facebook page was left up on it, authorities said. Then on Aug. 22, another break-in was reported at the business and the same computer was taken.

Prosecutors said the stolen computer hasn't been recovered.

County Judge Houston Patton said there was enough evidence to send the case to a grand jury to determine if Smith should be indicted.

Business burglary carries a maximum seven years in prison for each count.

Patton set Smith's bond at $20,000.

Smith remained in jail Tuesday after a hold was placed on him from Flowood relating to contempt of court involving misdemeanor charges.

Published: Wed, Oct 26, 2011

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