Both sides of the political isle are pressuring the Fed to be more transparent regarding its monetary policy and cease “cozying up” to the banks it oversees. There are several legislative proposals that some prior Presidents of the Fed consider to be a threat to its independence. If any one of them are passed, it would be the first major overhaul of the institution since the Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act of 1978.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby is concerned with the Fed’s portfolio, because since 2008 the Fed more than quadrupled its balance sheet to $4.5 trillion. It purchased bonds to suppress longer-term interest rates, but Shelby is at a loss to discover as to what the Fed is going to do with them.
Sen. Rand Paul, along with 29 other Republican Senators, the Majority Leader, and one Democrat, is sponsoring a bill requiring the Fed to be subject to “regular audits” of its monetary policy by the General Accounting Office (GAO). Paul reasoned it is “‘unseemly that an organization that we’ve given the power, the monopoly, of making money uses that power then to try to thwart transparency.’”
Representative Bill Huizenga of Michigan, head of the House Financial Services panel’s subcommittee on monetary policy, wants to require the Fed to use a mathematical rule when it changes interest rates. New Jersey Republican Representative Scott Garrett has introduced a bill entitled, the “Federal Reserve Transparency and Accountability Act” that “would require the central bank to perform a cost-benefit analysis of any new banking rule, submit internal audits and performance reviews to Congress and send a top official to testify before lawmakers on financial rule-making.”
There is at least some change to the selection of governors. Current law now requires at least one member of the seven-member Board of Governors to have community banking experience. It brings experience other than the traditional “academic” or “megabank” experience, as the proponent of the original bill, Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, described. Individual governors on Fed’s Board of Governors are required to be confirmed by the Senate. The Board of Governors makes important decisions on interest rates and how banks are regulated. But specific expertise in banking is not a requirement for any of the positions. “Of the board’s current five members, three are economists and two are lawyers.” The addition of a governor with community banking experience, however, lends more diversity in the decision-making process.
The New York branch has been the target of Democrats, in particular Sen. Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts. She has been critical of the current president, William C. Dudley, of being too chummy with big banks. Warren wants more congressional oversight of the central bank. Democratic Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island suggests that selection of the New York Fed president should be confirmed by the Senate and has proposed a bill requiring it. Currently, the bank’s directors select the twelve district bank presidents who are then sent on for approval by the Fed board located in Washington.
A lot of criticism surrounds the amount of power the president of the New York branch has over policy set by the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC). The president of the New York bank is the only president that does not have to rotate on the committee. Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher called for the “stripping” of the New York president’s permanent role on the FOMC, because the New York branch wields too much power and influence. The Independent Community Bankers of America, a Washington lobby consisting of 6,500 members, agree.
Both Democrats and Republicans want a more accountable Fed, but there are detractors who believe that legislation would only have the effect of politicizing the central bank. In one poll, 24% of Americans polled believe that politics should stay out of the Fed.
The defendant in the Chris Kyle murder case argued he was insane at the time of the killing. There are various forms of the defense, but in essence it is the defendant’s inability to know that his actions are right or wrong, or that a mental disease somehow impaired his free will to act.
Normally, the burden is upon the defendant through his counsel to show that he was insane at the time of the murder. But in some states such as Colorado, the burden falls upon the prosecution to show that the defendant was sane at the time of the murder.
Grand juries function to investigate criminal wrongdoing and screen out charges that do not warrant prosecution. Secrecy in the proceedings is paramount to carry out its duty. Therefore, litigants in a civil action cannot request that grand jury proceedings be disclosed, unless there must be a particularized need for the disclosure. That need must outweigh the public interest in its secrecy.
But why should these proceedings remain secret when court proceedings are generally conducted in public? The United States Supreme Court has said there are five reasons why grand jury proceedings should remain secret:
(1) To prevent the escape of those whose indictment may be contemplated; (2) to insure the utmost freedom to the grand jury in its deliberations, and to prevent persons subject to indictment or their friends from importuning the grand jurors; (3) to prevent subornation of perjury or tampering with the witnesses who may testify before grand jury and later appear at the trial of those indicted by it; (4) to encourage free and untrammeled disclosures by persons who have information with respect to the commission of crimes; (5) to protect innocent accused who is exonerated from disclosure of the fact that he has been under investigation, and from the expense of standing trial where there was no probability of guilt.
United States v. Proctor & Gamble, 356 U.S. 677, 681 n. 6, 78 S. Ct. 983, 986 n. 6, 2 L. Ed. 2d 1077, 1081 n. 6 (1958)).
One of the concerns is keeping witness names secret for fear that exposure could have a chilling effect on future witness cooperation in grand jury proceedings. Another concern is damage to the reputation to those investigated if they are not indicted by the grand jury or if the indictment is subsequently dismissed by a judge for legal or factual defects in it.
Particularized need requires the party requesting the grand jury information to show its relevance to the case and without it the party would suffer prejudice or an injustice. Courts may require the party seeking the information to exhaust all other means provided by the discovery process first. And if granted, the court may opt to review the material in camera to make sure the party’s need outweighs the public policy for grand jury secrecy.
The Supremacy Clause of Article VI of the United States Constitution states:
This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.
While federal law trumps state law, nothing under the Supremacy Clause compels a state court’s interpretation of a federal law to give way to a lower federal court. In Lockhart v. Fretwell, Justice Thomas stated in his concurrence that “a state trial court’s interpretation of federal law is no less authoritative than that of the federal court of appeals in whose circuit the trial court is located.” 506 U.S. 364, 375-76 (1993). Justice Thomas gave the following example: “An Arkansas trial court is bound by this Court’s (and by the Arkansas Supreme Court’s and Arkansas Court of Appeals’) interpretation of federal law, but if it follows the Eighth Circuit’s interpretation of federal law, it does so only because it chooses to and not because it must.”
The Supreme Court is the final interpreter of federal law. When it rules, then the states are bound.
In Heien v. North Carolina, the Supreme Court held that where a police officer makes a stop based upon a reasonable mistake about a law, the stop is justified.
In this case, an officer stopped a vehicle because one of its two brake lights was out, based on a misunderstanding that the North Carolina law permitted only one working brake light. The officer stopped Heinen’s vehicle because one light was not working and then proceeded to a consensual search of the car. The search turned up a bag of cocaine located in a duffle bag in the trunk. Heinz was arrested and convicted of attempted drug trafficking. The question presented to the Court was whether a police officer’s reasonable mistake of law can give rise to the reasonable suspicion necessary to uphold a seizure of an automobile and the occupants in it under the Fourth Amendment.
The North Carolina statute reads that a car must be:
equipped with a stop lamp on the rear of the vehicle. The stop lamp shall display a red or amber light visible from a distance of not less than 100 feet to the rear in normal sunlight, and shall be actuated upon application of the service (foot) brake. The stop lamp may be incorporated into a unit with one or more other rear lamps. N. C. Gen. Stat. Ann. §20–129(g) (2007).
The Court concluded that the statute required only one stop lamp to be working. However, the officer was under a different impression of the law at the time. A nearby statute requires that “all originally equipped rear lamps” be functional. N. C. Gen. Stat. Ann. §20–129(d). The officer made the stop under a mistake in law. Nevertheless, the Court held that even if an officer reasonably misunderstood the law, as long as the officer conducts a search or seizure reasonably under the Fourth Amendment he is acting justifiably.
“To be reasonable is not to be perfect, and so the Fourth Amendment allows for some mistakes on the part of government officials, giving them ‘fair leeway for enforcing the law in the community’s protection.’” Reasonable mistakes of fact are permissible. For example, when someone consents to the search of a home, the search will be considered valid even if the officer mistakenly believes that the person consenting is the owner.
Reasonable mistakes of law are also permissible. “Reasonable suspicion arises from the combination of an officer’s understanding of the facts and his understanding of the relevant law. The officer may be reasonably mistaken on either ground.” Even laws that police enforce that are later declared unconstitutional by a court does not rebut an officer’s reasonable assumption that the laws were valid at the time.
Heinen argued that there is no margin of error for an officer’s mistake of law. He argued the legal maxim: “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” If persons cannot get out of trouble by claiming they were mistaken about the law, then neither can the police.
But the Court concluded the law protects against only “reasonable mistakes,” and therefore, “an officer can gain no Fourth Amendment advantage through a sloppy study of the laws he is duty-bound to enforce.” The Court further concluded Heinen’s reliance on the legal maxim is misplaced. A person cannot escape criminal liability by claiming he did not know the law, but neither can the government impose criminal liability by a mistaken understanding of the law. The Court explained:
If the law required two working brake lights, Heien could not escape a ticket by claiming he reasonably thought he needed only one; if the law required only one, Sergeant Darisse could not issue a valid ticket by claiming he reasonably thought drivers needed two. But just because mistakes of law cannot justify either the imposition or the avoidance of criminal liability, it does not follow that they cannot justify an investigatory stop.
In this case, Heien did not appeal his brake-light ticket. Instead, he appealed a cocaine-trafficking conviction, as to which he did not claim the police made either a mistake of fact or law.
The United States Supreme Court has denied certiorari leaving in place a ruling by the D.C. Circuit that a fee cap set by the Federal Reserve Bank at $.24 per transaction. Each time a customer swipes his or her debit card, a retailer is charged the fee.
Retailers complained when the Fed appeared to be abusing Congress’ mandate to create a ceiling on debit card swipes. The Fed originally proposed a $.12 cap, but retailers claim it was under pressure by bank lobbyists to double that amount and include fees and expenses that are not permitted under law.
The D.C. Circuit rejected that argument and determined the Fed’s interpretation of the law was reasonable. “The Fed rule doesn’t apply to credit cards, government-issued debit cards, prepaid cards or cards issued by banks and credit unions with assets under $10 billion.” Retailers vowed to “continue to press the issue in the courts over the ‘anti-consumer and anti-competitive practices of the card industry.’”
In class, students learn about bribery of public officials and its criminal penalties. Bribery can also be an ethics violation. Generally, public officials are prohibited from accepting gifts in relation to their official duties. Both federal and state governments have fashioned rules regarding acceptance of gifts and these rules can extend to family members.
In Section III of the New Jersey Uniform Ethics Code, for example, it states that no state officer or employee “shall accept any gift, favor, service or other thing of value related in any way to the State official’s public duties.” The same holds true for federal judges. Under the Regulations of the Judicial Conference of the United States under Title III of the Ethics Reform Act of 1989 Concerning Gifts, judges “shall not accept a gift from anyone who is seeking official action from or doing business with the court . . . .”
But there are exceptions to the rules and each one has to be carefully construed. Some, like the New Jersey Uniform Ethics Code, will permit certain “gifts or benefits of trivial or nominal value” as long as the gift “does not create an impression of a conflict of interest or a violation of the public trust.” Other codes may provide a dollar-limit. For example, the “Regulations” for federal judges above provide that gifts having “an aggregate market value of $50 or less per occasion” are permitted “provided that the aggregate market value of individual gifts accepted from any one person . . . shall not exceed $100 in a calendar year.”
Common sense is the foundation of these rules. If the gift has the appearance of impropriety, it is better to graciously decline it.
Hacking into computer systems is nothing new, and government and businesses alike have always been aware that they must be one step ahead of computer criminals. But the attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment was more than that. It was a shot across the bow in what appears to be a potentially rampant future form of warfare. As a result, every cyber attack on government or business systems must now be carefully examined to see whether it is either criminal or an act of war.
In the face of evidence from the FBI that North Korea was responsible for the Sony attack, senior Republican senators disagree with the administration that it was only a form of “cybervandalism.” Sen. McCain stated this attack “is a new form of warfare, and we have to counter that form of warfare with a better form of warfare.” Sen. Lindsey Graham called “the cyberhacking ‘an act of terrorism’ and suggested re-imposing sanctions on North Korea and adding the country to the terrorism list.” In 2001, President George W. Bush called North Korea part of the “Axis of Evil,” along with Iran and Iraq.
The FBI concluded the attack on Sony was evidenced by IP addresses directly linked to North Korea. This attack was similar to those that occurred last year against South Korean banks and media outlets. The FBI stated:
We are deeply concerned about the destructive nature of this attack on a private sector entity and the ordinary citizens who worked there. . . . Further, North Korea’s attack on SPE reaffirms that cyber threats pose one of the gravest national security dangers to the United States. Though the FBI has seen a wide variety and increasing number of cyber intrusions, the destructive nature of this attack, coupled with its coercive nature, sets it apart.
North Korea’s actions were intended to inflict significant harm on a U.S. business and suppress the right of American citizens to express themselves. Such acts of intimidation fall outside the bounds of acceptable state behavior.
There will most likely be more cooperation between business and government in sharing information and technology. Only together can this new threat to our national security and economy be defeated.
Bank of America must pay a Florida couple for failing to answer a harassment complaint. The couple received relentless phone calls from the bank regarding past due payments on a mortgage.
BofA alleged the calls “were not to collect debt, but help the couple avoid foreclosure.” The couple, however, claimed they received about 700 calls over a four year period. At times, both their cell phones and home phone would ring in succession. The couple filed suit in federal court under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act for harassment and subsequently received a default judgment. The judge refused to reconsider the order.
Default judgment is taught in business law class. This case exemplifies the importance of obeying court rules and responding promptly to a complaint.
The European ATM Security Team (EAST) discovered that ATM hackers are now drilling holes in ATM machines near the card reader and installing electronic devices which tap into the “read head” of the magnetic strip reader to steal information. Normally, thieves would “skim” the information on the magnetic strip through an “overlay” device that would actually read the magnetic strip outside the machine when an unwary customer would insert his or her card.
Instead, these new devices work like a wiretap inside the machine and read the information as it passes through the head of the reader. The hole is then covered up with a decal after the device is removed with the stolen data. EAST still classifies the crime as “skimming” even though “‘the the magnetic stripe [on the customer/victim’s card] is not directly skimmed as the data is intercepted.’”
Cameras are still used by thieves to steal PIN numbers; therefore, EAST suggests customers cover the keypad with their hand before entering their PIN.