This week in legal news
- A Las Vegas lawyer is accused of having sex with clients on live video from his office, kissing a cop, and sexually harassing his employees
- A California judge was forced to retire as punishment for excessive delays in decisions
- Police in San Francisco are using video from autonomous vehicles for surveillance and evidence collection
- High-profile lawyer Tom Girardi is finally disbarred, ordered to pay back millions to clients
- California legally decides that bumblebees are fish
Want to get the latest news and other valuable content sent to your inbox? Subscribe to the InfoTrack blog. Then, keep scrolling for a deeper dive into this week’s most interesting news stories.
Las Vegas lawyer arrested for having sex with clients on streamed video, attempting to kiss an undercover cop, and sexually harassing employees
Douglas Crawford, a 67-year-old lawyer in Las Vegas, was arrested for five counts of open or gross lewdness. He is accused of sexually harassing employees, kissing an undercover cop who posed as a client, and having sex with clients while streaming video of the act throughout his office.
Crawford allegedly exchanged sex with clients for legal services.
Investigators reviewed one video in which Crawford’s sexual encounter ended abruptly, according to arrest report details cited by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Employees told police that Crawford had stopped because he was on a video call awaiting a court hearing, and his case was called. (Via ABA Journal)
An undercover police officer visited Crawford’s office on May 25, posing as a would-be client. The arrest report states that Crawford made sexual comments and tried to kiss the officer.
This is not the Las Vegas attorney’s first run-in with the law. In 2007, Crawford plead guilty to two counts of felony theft after he misappropriated more than $300,000 in client funds to support a gambling addiction. He was suspended from practice for 5 years and was reinstated to law practice in 2015.
As part of a public admonishment for excessive delays, California judge retires
Justice Vance Raye, the presiding justice of the California appeals court in Sacramento, has retired as part of his punishment for extreme case delays over the course of his career.
The delays span 200 cases, and some cost litigants their money and freedom. While there was a significant case volume, other justices worked without such a backlog.
California law requires that judges’ salaries be withheld if they issue decisions more than 90 days after hearing arguments. But there are no other specific time limits on how long appellate courts take and no rules over how long cases can languish before a case is submitted after argument. Raye never violated the rule that would have withheld his paycheck, but delays prior to arguments dragged on nearly eight years in a civil case and more than 8.5 years in a criminal matter involving a juvenile. “In some cases, the appeals became moot as a result of the passage of time,” the commission said. “Some defendants in criminal cases served time that would not have been served had the appellate decision been issued at an earlier date, and others had served their full term of probation, subject to conditions that were ultimately found to be improper.” (Via The Washington Post)
While there was no indication that Raye intentionally disregarded his duty, he did fail to adopt reasonable practices and procedures that would have addressed the issue. Raye has agreed with the commission’s findings and choice of discipline, and he has agreed not to serve as a judicial officer again.
Police in San Francisco have started using autonomous vehicle recordings to collect evidence
Autonomous vehicles such as cars from Waymo and Cruise rely on 360° video to operate safely. Now, a snippet from an internal training document at the San Francisco police has some people concerned about privacy.
“Autonomous vehicles are recording their surroundings continuously and have the potential to help with investigative leads,” says a San Francisco Police department training document obtained by Motherboard via a public records request. “Investigations has already done this several times.” (Via Vice)
The idea that autonomous vehicles may become mobile surveillance tools is concerning for privacy advocates. However, analysts point out that these cars only capture video while driving, and there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in public areas.
A spokesperson from Waymo stated that requests for footage is only valid in situations where law enforcement follows valid legal processes. It is unclear how often this footage has been used in the past.
Tom Girardi is officially disbarred, and though he has been ordered to repay millions, it is unclear if restitution will actually be made
The California Supreme Court has disbarred high-profile attorney Tom Girardi, officially ending his 56-year legal career. Girardi is currently under medical care and has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He has been under conservatorship since last year.
As part of the disbarment, the court ordered that Girardi repay millions of dollars in restitution and interest to former clients who never received their settlement funds. However, this repayment may not happen.
It’s uncertain if any of Girardi’s former clients will receive restitution. Girardi’s former firm, Girardi Keese, is now mired in bankruptcy proceedings and targeted by creditors, who have accused Girardi and his former colleagues at the firm of misusing client funds and draining the firm’s accounts. A 2021 internal audit by the state bar concluded that the lawyer-regulating agency “made mistakes” in handling complaints filed against Girardi going back decades. Despite those complaints, Girardi was never publicly disciplined by the bar until the agency suspended him in March 2021, following accusations that he had mishandled millions of dollars in client settlement funds. (Via Law.com)
Girardi did not participate in the disciplinary process.
This disbarment draws attention to the scrutiny that has been placed on the state bar for failing to act sooner. Girardi often bragged about his relationship with the agency’s leaders, even as scandal erupted.
Bumblebees are legally declared fish in California
Cal. Fish & Game Code § 45 legally defines fish as “a wild fish, mollusk, crustacean, invertebrate, amphibian, or part, spawn, or ovum of any of those animals.” After an appeals court decision, that definition now includes bumblebees.
The case arose from a challenge to the Fish & Game Commission’s decision to designate the bumblebee as a “candidate species” under consideration for listing as an “endangered species.” Section 2068 of the Fish & Game Code defines “candidate species” to mean “a native species or subspecies of a bird, mammal, fish, amphibian, reptile, or plant that the [Fish & Game] commission has formally noticed as being under review by the department for addition to either the list of endangered species or the list of threatened species, or a species for which the commission has published a notice of proposed regulation to add the species to either list.” (Via The National Law Review)
While the decision does not change any biological classifications, it has raised some eyebrows.