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Legal Roundup: White Nationalist Rally Organizers Found Liable for Damages

Despite large swaths of the United States closing down for the Thanksgiving holiday this week, the justice and regulatory systems roll onward.

So before you settle in for the rest of your week—or your holiday weekend—learn about the latest settlements, lawsuits, compliance requirements, and more.

Jury Finds White Nationalist Rally Defendants Liable for $26 Million in Damages

The Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, is infamous for a variety of reasons. Participants in the August 2017 rally allegedly gathered to protest the removal of a Confederate statue, but the march devolved quickly as tiki torch-carrying protesters chanted anti-Semitic phrases, got into violent clashes with counter-protesters, and one protester drove his car into a crowd of people, killing Heather Heyer, 32.

But now they have another reason for infamy. A jury determined that the white nationalists who organized and participated in the rally were liable for more than $26 million in damages on a state conspiracy claim and other claims, CNN reported. The jury deadlocked on two federal conspiracy claims.

Plaintiffs in the case included town residents and counter-protesters who were injured in the violence. Their attorneys spent the majority of the 16 days of trial arguments presenting text messages, social media posts, video, and expert testimony that reconstructed how the defendants conspired before the rally. For months leading up to the rally, defendants in the suit eagerly predicted bloodshed at what they called the “Battle of Charlottesville,” one of whom wrote “I would go to the ends of the earth to secure a future for my people. This is war.”

Due to the tone that organizers set, rallygoers arrived in Charlottesville armed with mace, rods, armor, shields, torches, handguns, and semiautomatic rifles.

Half of the $24 million in punitive damages awarded were against James Alex Fields, Jr., the protester who drove his car into the crowd. Fields is currently serving multiple life sentences, however, and is unlikely to be able to pay much of that money.

For engaging in the conspiracy, each of the defendants was ordered to pay $500,000, and five white supremacist organizations were ordered to pay $1 million each.

Families of Parkland Shooting Victims Reach Settlement with FBI

Families of those killed during a 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, have reached a tentative $127.5 million settlement with the U.S. federal government after they sued in response to the FBI’s alleged failure to act on warnings that the gunman was planning an attack.

The FBI failed to investigate a January 2018 tip about the potential attack, and, on at least three other occasions, authorities were warned about a 19-year-old who posed a threat to the school.

The exact terms of the settlement have not been disclosed, but The Washington Post reported that the sum would be distributed among the families of the victims.

Fourteen students and three faculty members were killed in the attack. The gunman, Nikolas Cruz, now 23, pled guilty in October to the attack. A day before his plea, the families of victims and many others who were injured or traumatized reached a $25 million settlement with the Broward County school district, settling most of the negligence suits open against local officials.

Banks Ordered to Flag Cybersecurity Incidents Within 36 Hours

U.S. banking regulators finalized a rule on 18 November that directs banks to report any major cybersecurity incidents to the government or their primary regulator within 36 hours of discovery. Banks must also notify customers of a cybersecurity incident if it results in problems lasting more than four hours, Reuters reported.

The requirement applies to any cyber incidents that are likely to materially affect a bank’s ability to provide services or conduct its operations—or incidents that are likely to undermine the stability of the financial sector.

The rule was approved by the Federal Reserve, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). The rule takes effect 1 April 2022, and compliance is required starting on 1 May.

U.S. Gun Makers Try to Get Mexican Lawsuit Dismissed

The Mexican government filed a $10 billion lawsuit against U.S. gun manufacturers, including Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger & Co, accusing them of facilitating the trafficking of weapons to drug cartels, leading to thousands of deaths, Reuters reported.

The manufacturers told a U.S. federal judge in a brief that Mexico is seeking to punish them for sales of firearms “that are not only lawful but constitutionally protected in the United States.”

The brief continued: “At bottom, this case implicates a clash of national values. Whereas the United States recognizes the right to keep and bear arms, Mexico has all but eliminated private gun ownership.”

Multiple successive Mexican governments have urged the United States to stop the illegal trafficking of firearms into Mexico, but to little result. More than 500,000 guns are trafficked annually from the United States to Mexico, according to the lawsuit, of which more than 68 percent are made by the manufacturers involved in the suit.

The lawsuit claimed that the companies undermined Mexico’s strict gun laws by designing, marketing, and distributing military-style assault weapons in ways they knew would arm drug cartels.

Jury Holds Pharmacies Responsible in Opioid Crisis

Lake and Trumbull counties in Ohio blamed three chain pharmacies—CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart—for not stopping the flood of opioid pills into the region, which caused hundreds of overdose deaths and cost each county about $1 billion. The attorney for the counties compared the pharmacies’ dispensing to a gumball machine, according to the AP.

A federal jury’s verdict on 23 November agreed—determining that the pharmacies were reckless and played an outsized role in creating a public nuisance. How much the pharmacies must pay in damages will be decided in early 2023 by a federal judge.

All three companies said they will appeal the decision.

NYPD Illegally Withheld Police Shooting Footage, Judge Says

A New York state judge ruled that the New York City Police Department (NYPD) had been operating in “bad faith” when it illegally withheld body-worn footage in two police shootings.

Like many police departments, the NYPD maintains full control over its body camera footage, determining what gets released and when. According to ProPublica, the department has used that discretion to delay or deny disclosure requests. In one of the shootings in question—the killing of Kawaski Trawick in April 2019—the NYPD declined to release footage for a year and a half, citing an ongoing investigation.

In ruling on the lack of disclosure, Judge Eileen Rakower ordered the NYPD to reimburse the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest—which had sued the NYPD last year to get the full footage from the shooting—for their legal fees.

In response, the NYPD told ProPublica that the release of footage can be delayed “if the investigation is complex, a court issues an order delaying or preventing release of the footage, or additional time is needed to allow a civilian depicted in the video, or their family, to view the video in advance.”

Jury Begins Deliberating in Trial Over the Killing of Ahmaud Arbery

Jurors have started their deliberations in the trial of Gregory McMichael, Travis McMicheal, and William “Roddie” Bryan, Jr., who are charged with malice and felony murder in the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who had been jogging through their neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia.

The three defendants are arguing that they acted in self-defense when they shot Arbery while allegedly trying to conduct a citizen’s arrest. Bryan recorded the February 2020 shooting on his cellphone. The video was made public months later, sparking widespread outrage and national interest in the case.

Cuomo Investigation Finds Overwhelming Evidence of Sexual Harassment

A legislative investigation released 22 November found “overwhelming evidence” that former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo engaged in sexual harassment, The Washington Post reported.

Cuomo, who resigned in August to avoid a likely impeachment trial, has denied that he ever intended to touch anyone inappropriately or make people uncomfortable with sexual remarks.

The results of the New York State Assembly’s eight-month investigation, however, paint a stark portrait of the politician. It corroborates the stories of two of the women who say Cuomo sexually harassed them. It also found that his office diverted workers and resources from managing the COVID-19 pandemic to focus on Cuomo’s book, and that he directed staff to withhold or misrepresent information about the effects of COVID-19 on New York nursing home residents.

Apple Sues Spyware Vendor NSO Group

Technology company Apple is seeking to permanently ban NSO Group—an Israeli spyware vendor—from using any Apple software, services, or devices due to reports that the firm sells technology that enables governments to hack individual devices to spy on journalists, dissidents, and human rights activists, CyberScoop reported.

As part of those service efforts, NSO Group had to develop exploits to subvert Apple’s security controls, requiring Apple to spend “thousands of hours to investigate the attacks, identify the harm, diagnose the extent of the impact and exploitation, and develop and deploy the necessary repairs and patches” to ensure the security of Apple servers, the suit said.

The U.S. government added NSO Group to its sanctions list on 4 November, citing the use of its spyware to maliciously target government officials, journalists, and others.

E-Cigarette Company Settles Consumer Fraud Lawsuit

Juul Labs will pay Arizona $14.5 million and vow never again to market to young people in the state.

The settlement ends litigation filed in January 2020 against Juul and another maker of electronic cigarettes, alleging they illegally targeted young people in their marketing, the Associated Press reported.

Juul admitted no wrongdoing but called the case “another step in our ongoing effort to reset our company.” Juul had stopped all advertising before the suit was filed and ended sales of all flavored products except menthol. Vaping products and e-cigarettes are considered safer than tobacco because they do not produce carcinogenic smoke, but they are still addictive and dangerous to health, especially to teenagers.

All but $2 million of the Arizona settlement will be used for programs to discourage the use of vaping products, and Juul agreed to implement a strict retailer monitoring program, taking action against retailers that illegally sell to underage smokers.

Vaping has been a challenge for school districts to manage, especially given its popularity among teens. Some schools have installed sensors to detect vaping chemicals, as previously reported by Security Management.

Elizabeth Holmes Fraud Trial Continues

Elizabeth Holmes, the charismatic founder of blood-testing startup Theranos, took the stand in her own defense for a third day on Tuesday, attempting to rebut the 11 counts of fraud that prosecutors have charged her with. Holmes tried to present herself as a true believer in her own technology, reframing past incidents as misunderstandings and implying that her board of directors should have given her better counsel, the Post reported.

The move is aimed at undercutting the argument that Holmes had intentionally misled investors, who poured more than $900 million into the company. Holmes has been accused of lying about how well Theranos’s technology worked. She has pleaded not guilty.

Holmes is on trial for two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and nine counts of wire fraud.