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News Briefs

Justices to Review Telemarketers’ First Amendment Shield

LOS ANGELES TIMES

The Supreme Court agreed Monday to consider giving state prosecutors more power to crack down on telemarketers who solicit for charities but keep most of the money for themselves.

Officials from Illinois and 18 other states want to prosecute some telemarketers for consumer fraud.

Charitable solicitations generate over $200 billion per year, yet a relatively small percentage of this money actually supports a charity.

In the case before the court, a group called Telemarketing Associates solicited on behalf of VietNow, which provides food and shelter for Vietnam War veterans.

But Illinois prosecutors said only 3 percent of the money solicited by Telemarketing Associates supports Vietnam veterans.

State prosecutors, however, have run into a surprising obstacle: the First Amendment and its protections of freedom of speech.

In past rulings, the high court has said states cannot force solicitors to speak a certain message or disclose certain facts, such as what percentage of money will go to charity. These rulings have knocked down a series of state laws and local ordinances that required fundraisers to tell the public just where the money will go.

R.J. Reynolds Wins Court Case On Cigarette Smuggling

LOS ANGELES TIMES

The tobacco industry scored a legal victory Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a cigarette smuggling case filed by the government of Canada against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.

Canada had asked the court to reinstate the suit, in which it accused RJR and several affiliates of violating U.S. anti-racketeering laws by colluding with smugglers during the 1990s to sell billions of cigarettes on the Canadian black market in a giant tax evasion scheme.

In a 2-1 decision last year, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that the case was barred by the “revenue rule,” a 17th century common law doctrine that prevents foreign countries from pursuing alleged tax cheats in U.S. courts.

Canada argued in its appeal that the rule had been interpreted too broadly, and that it was not seeking unpaid taxes but damages for violations of U.S. fraud and anti-racketeering laws.

“We’re very disappointed that the Court decided that the time wasn’t ripe for review,” said Gordon Bourgard, senior general counsel with the Canadian Department of Justice. Bourgard described the decision as “at cross purposes” with combating international smuggling.

U.S. Allies Unconvinced Of Iraq, al-Qaida Connection

LOS ANGELES TIMES

As the Bush administration prepares for a possible military attack on Iraq that it describes as the next logical step in its war on terror, some of its strongest front-line allies in that war dispute Washington’s allegations that the Iraqi regime has significant ties to al-Qaida.

In recent interviews, top investigative magistrates, prosecutors, police and intelligence officials who have been fighting al-Qaida in Europe said they are concerned about attempts by President Bush and his aides to link Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to Osama bin Laden’s terror network.

“We have found no evidence of links between Iraq and al-Qaida,” said Jean-Louis Bruguiere, the French judge who is the dean of the region’s investigators after two decades fighting Islamic and Middle Eastern terrorists. “And we are working on 50 cases involving al-Qaida or radical Islamic cells. I think if there were such links, we would have found them. But we have found no serious connections whatsoever.”