March 14, 2013

By FELICIA FONSECA | Associated Press

 

American Indian tribes have tried everything from banishment to charging criminal acts as civil offenses to deal with non-Indians who commit crimes on reservations.

Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1978 that tribal courts lack criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians, tribes have had to get creative in trying to hold that population accountable. They acknowledge, though, that those approaches aren’t much of a deterrent, and say most crimes committed by non-Indians on tribal land go unpunished.

Tribal leaders are hoping that will change, at least in part, with a federal bill signed into law Thursday March 7. The measure gives tribes the authority to prosecute non-Indians for a set of crimes limited to domestic violence and violations of protecting orders.

Implementation of the Violence Against Women Act will take time as tribes amend their legal codes and ensure defendants receive the same rights offered in state and federal courts. But proponents say it’s a huge step forward in the face of high rates of domestic violence with no prosecution.

“For a tribal nation, it’s just absurd that (authority) doesn’t exist,” said Sheri Freemont, director of the Family Advocacy Center on the Salt River Pima Maricopa reservation in Arizona. “People choose to either work, live or play in Indian Country. I think they should be subject to Indian Country rules.”

Native American women suffer incidents of domestic violence at rates more than double national averages. But more than half of cases involving non-Indians go unprosecuted because Indian courts have lacked jurisdiction and because federal prosecutors often have too few resources to try cases on isolated reservations.

Still, the tribal courts provision was a major point of contention in Congress, with some Republicans arguing that subjecting non-Indians to Indian courts was unconstitutional.

Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said after its passage that the bill denies basic protections and will be tied up in court challenges for years.

“It violates constitutional rights of individuals and would, for the first time ever, proclaim Indian tribes’ ‘inherent’ authority to exercise criminal jurisdiction over non-Indian citizens,” Hastings said in a statement. “The Supreme Court has ruled multiple times that tribes do not have this authority.”

The U.S. Department of Justice met with tribal leaders last Wednesday to discuss implementing the provisions, which will take effect two years after the law is enacted. A pilot project would allow any tribe that believes it has met the requirements to request an earlier start date.

To ease concerns that the new authority would violate the constitutional rights of a non-Indian or that jurors in tribal court would be unfair, the bill allows defendants to petition a federal court for review. A tribe would have jurisdiction over non-Indians when that person lives or works on the reservation, and is married to or in a partnership with a tribal member.

About 77 percent of people living in American Indian and Alaska Native areas are non-Indian, according to a recent Census report. Roughly half of Native American women are married to non-Indians, the Justice Department has said.

Although tribes have civil jurisdiction over non-Indians, they often are reluctant to go forward with a case when the penalty amounts to a fine and offenders have little incentive to pay it. The hope in taking on criminal cases is that incidents of domestic violence will be quelled before they lead to serious injury or death, and that victims won’t be afraid to report them.

“Having the ability to do it local and have the prosecution start soon after the offense, that’s just going to be great for our victims,” said Fred Urbina, chief prosecutor for the Pascua Yaqui Tribe in southern Arizona.

Officers there are certified under state and federal law, which allows them to arrest non-Indians, but the cases aren't handled at the tribal level. The Pascua Yaqui Tribe also has banished some non-Indians from the reservation for criminal activity.

“It’s almost like a patchwork of things we’ve been able to employ to fix that jurisdictional void,” Urbina said. “It’s not satisfactory in all cases.”

Under the new law, a non-Indian defendant would have the right to a jury trial that is drawn from a cross-section of the community and doesn’t systematically exclude non-Indians or other distinctive groups. The protections would equal those in state or federal court, including the right to a public defender, a judge who is licensed to practice law, a recording of the proceedings and published laws and rules of criminal procedure.

“This is not scary. It’s not radical,” said Troy Eid, former U.S. attorney in Colorado. “It’s very much in keeping with what we have as local governments.”

The safeguards are similar to those in the federal Tribal Law and Order Act, passed in 2010 to improve public safety on tribal lands.

About 30 tribes across the country are working toward a provision that allows them to increase sentencing from one year to three years, leaving them well-positioned to take authority over non-Indians in criminal matters, Eid said.

Jefferson Keel, president of the National Congress of American Indians, said in a statement that much work remains to be done to ensure tribal members are protected from domestic violence. But he said last Thursday’s bill signing represents a “historic moment in the nation-to-nation relationships” between tribes and the federal government.

“Today is a great day, because it marks the beginning of justice and the end to injustice that has gone unanswered for too long,” Keel said.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

March 14, 2013

Associated Press

 

Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was convicted Monday of corruption charges, ensuring a return to prison for a man once among the nation's youngest big-city leaders.

Jurors convicted Kilpatrick of a raft of crimes, including a racketeering conspiracy charge. He was portrayed during a five-month trial as an unscrupulous politician who took bribes, rigged contracts and lived far beyond his means while in office until fall 2008.

Prosecutors said Kilpatrick ran a "private profit machine" out of Detroit's City Hall. The government presented evidence to show he got a share of the spoils after ensuring that Bobby Ferguson's excavating company was awarded millions in work from the water department.

Business owners said they were forced to hire Ferguson as a subcontractor or risk losing city contracts. Separately, fundraiser Emma Bell said she gave Kilpatrick more than $200,000 as his personal cut of political donations, pulling cash from her bra during private meetings. A high-ranking aide, Derrick Miller, told jurors that he often was the middle-man, passing bribes from others.

Internal Revenue Service agents said Kilpatrick spent $840,000 beyond his mayoral salary.

Ferguson, Kilpatrick's pal, was also convicted of a racketeering conspiracy charge. The jury could not reach a verdict on the same charge for Kilpatrick's father, Bernard Kilpatrick, but convicted him of submitting a false tax return.

Kwame Kilpatrick, who now lives near Dallas, declined to testify. He has long denied any wrongdoing, and defense attorney James Thomas told jurors that his client often was showered with cash gifts from city workers and political supporters during holidays and birthdays.

The government said Kilpatrick abused the Civic Fund, a nonprofit fund he created to help distressed Detroit residents. There was evidence that it was used for yoga lessons, camps for his kids, golf clubs and travel.

Kilpatrick, 42, was elected in 2001 at age 31. He resigned in 2008 and pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in a different scandal involving sexually explicit text messages and an extramarital affair with his chief-of-staff.

The Democrat spent 14 months in prison for violating probation in that case after a judge said he failed to report assets that could be put toward his $1 million restitution to Detroit.

Voters booted his mother, Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, from Congress in 2010, partly because of a negative perception of her due to her son's troubles.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

March 14, 2013

By PETE YOST | Associated Press 

The Justice Department's watchdog has concluded that deep ideological polarization in the department's voting rights section in both the Bush and Obama administrations fueled disputes that in some instances harmed the office's proper functioning. The department's inspector general said that on some occasions the disputes involved harassment of employees and managers.

Despite the polarization, the IG said its review did not substantiate claims of political or racial bias in decision-making.

The voting section reviews cases where the redrawing of district lines can change the composition of congressional delegations. It also reviews voter ID laws that can make it easier or more difficult to cast ballots in elections.

"We found that people on different sides of internal disputes about particular cases in the voting section have been quick to suspect those on the other side of partisan motivations, heightening the sense of polarization," said the IG's report. "The cycles of actions and reactions that we found resulted from this mistrust, were, in many instances, incompatible with the proper functioning of a component of the department."

The IG's report released Tuesday stemmed from the handling of a 2008 case in which the Justice Department sued two members of the New Black Panther Party, the NBPB's national chairman and the group itself. After the change in administrations, the Justice Department asked the court to dismiss the suit against three of the four defendants.

"The decision to dismiss three of the four defendants and to seek more narrowly tailored injunctive relief against the fourth was based on a good faith assessment of the law and facts of the case and had a reasonable basis," concluded the report by Inspector General Michael Horowitz.

 

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

March 14, 2013

By Darlene Superville

Associated Press

 

Michelle Obama challenged America’s top CEOs on Wednesday to “think outside the box” and hire more veterans.

The first lady said that, while declines in overall unemployment are encouraging, joblessness among the 9/11 generation of veterans — those who served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — is nearly two points higher than the national average, at 9.4 percent. She said that figure means that about 200,000 veterans don’t have jobs, not including their spouses and those who will return home after the U.S. ends its combat mission in Afghanistan.

Unemploy­ment nationwide fell two-tenths of a point last month to 7.7 percent, its lowest level in more than four years.

Addressing a meeting of the Business Roundtable, which represents chief executive officers of the 200 largest U.S. corporations, Mrs. Obama said the “Joining Forces” campaign she launched two years ago with Jill Biden, the vice president's wife, to rally the country around its military members, has led businesses to hire or train more than 125,000 veterans and military spouses. The private sector also has pledged to hire or train 250,000 more veterans by the end of 2014.

But, the first lady said, “we’ve still got a lot more work to do.”

“Whether you’re in finance or technology or the food industry, every single one of you can ask yourselves that same question: ‘What more can we do?’” she said. “So today, I want to challenge all the members of the Business Roundtable to answer that question for your business.”

“Think outside the box, take real risks and work together to make big, bold commitments to hire our veterans and military spouses and help them reach their full potential within your companies. Show them that your business is there for them for the long haul,” the first lady said.

In challenging the CEOs, Mrs. Obama highlighted Wal-Mart’s pledge this year to hire more than 100,000 veterans in the next five years as part of its plan to help jumpstart the economy. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is the world’s largest retailer and biggest ­private employer in the U.S. with 1.4 million workers.

Wal-Mart also has made an open-ended commitment to hire any honorably discharged veteran who is still looking for a job a year after they leave the military and wants to work for the retailer.

Separately, UPS said Wednesday that it will hire more than 25,000 veterans over the next five years and commit more than 25,000 employee volunteer hours to helping veterans and the organizations that serve them.

In her remarks, Mrs. Obama disclosed that vice presidents and human resource professionals from Business Roundtable companies met with White House officials last week to talk about how to find people with the particular skills needed at their businesses.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

March 14, 2013

By Jon Gambrell

Associated Press

 

Nigeria has pardoned the former political benefactor of the nation's president, a presidential adviser said Wednesday, a politician convicted of stealing millions of dollars while serving as a state governor.

The decision from a closed-door meeting Tuesday of the Council of State to pardon former Bayelsa state Gov. Diepreye Alamieyeseigha drew immediate outrage across Nigeria, an oil-rich nation long considered by analysts and activists to have one of the world's most corrupt governments.

While the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan repeatedly says it is fighting the entrenched system of graft that strangles Nigeria, the leader has shared stages before with convicted politicians. Meanwhile, the country's largely opaque budgets and loose regulatory controls continue to allow for hundreds of millions of dollars more to be stolen annually.

"It is the final nail that tells the story of fighting corruption in Nigeria today," said Nuhu Ribadu, a former police officer and corruption fighter who led the Alamieyeseigha case. "I'm really sad. I'm sad for my country."

Alamieyeseigha served as governor of Bayelsa state, in the heart of Nigeria's oil-producing southern delta, from the nation becoming a democracy in 1999 through 2005. He was arrested in London after more than $1 million in cash was found in his home there.

Alamieyeseigha escaped British authorities — Nigerian officials say he disguised himself as a woman — and fled to Nigeria, where he had immunity from prosecution while in office. He was then impeached and charged in Nigeria with illegally operating foreign accounts in London, Cyprus, Denmark and the United States. Investigators said he acquired property in Britain and Nigeria worth more than $10 million.

The disgraced governor later pleaded guilty. Alamieyeseigha's impeachment brought Jonathan, a little-known marine biologist who served as his deputy, into power. Jonathan as recently as a few weeks ago referred to Alamieyeseigha as "my boss" during an event in Lagos.

On Tuesday, the Council of State, comprised of current and former leaders, as well as retired chief justices, approved Alamieyeseigha's pardon, Doyin Okupe, an adviser to Jonathan, confirmed on Wednesday.

Okupe described the pardon as a group decision, though ultimately under Nigeria's constitution, only Jonathan has the power to grant it as president. The decision allows Alamieyeseigha to again serve in public office.

"It is like a parent, it is not every decision a parent takes that is palatable or acceptable to the children. But in due course, we always find out the parents were right," Okupe told private broadcaster Channels Television. "The man has been displaced from his office as governor, he was hounded and tried and jailed. ... What is eminently wrong, you know, in giving a remorseful sinner pardon?"

Okupe did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday from The Associated Press. Others pardoned Tuesday included Maj. Gen. Shehu Musa Yar'Adua, a former deputy in a military government detained by late dictator Sani Abacha and who later died in prison under mysterious circumstances.

Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, likely lost more than $380 billion to graft between 1960 and 1999, Ribadu once estimated while head of the country's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Meanwhile, just more than 60 percent of Nigerians earn the equivalent of less than $1 a day, according to a study published by the country's National Bureau of Statistics.

Ribadu, who served as the anti-corruption chief under the ruling People's Democratic Party and later ran as an opposition presidential candidate, said the pardon will make the nation's police question whether pursuing such cases in the future is even worthwhile

"There's not anything people can do anything to bring the people who are corrupt to justice," Ribadu told the AP. "It's a terrible development. I can't understand how leaders will sit down and come up with an unbelievable action like this."

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