Former Mavericks’ Arena Employee Asks Court to Depose Mark Cuban

March 29, 2018
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) – A black female former employee of the Dallas Mavericks’ arena demanded Thursday the deposition of team owner Mark Cuban, claiming he knew of and tried to “sweep under the rug” an incident where a noose was displayed in the office.

Michelle Newsome filed the pre-suit petition for a deposition in Dallas County District Court, seeking information about what Cuban may know regarding several hostile workplace allegations that have been made against the Mavericks’ front office.

Cuban has endured harsh criticism since February when Sports Illustrated published claims by current and former front office employees of a corrosive and misogynist work environment where race and sex discrimination is allegedly rampant. Former team president and chief executive officer Terdema Ussery was in particular accused in the story of being a serial sexual harasser, who would allegedly asking females employees for sex several times.

Newsome’s petition is not a lawsuit against Cuban or the Mavericks, meaning civil claims have yet to be filed against either. She worked as a sales executive for 13 years at the American Airlines Center arena and says she generated over $50 million in sales during her time there. She claims she endured years of discrimination and retaliation based on her age, race and gender that resulted in her being fired in March 2017.

Newsome claims that a coworker hung up a noose in the office during Black History Month in 2011, something she considered a threat of violence.

“Newsome was told that Cuban personally removed the Hangman’s Noose and threw it away,” the 30-page petition states. “Newsome and the African-American employee who found the Hangman’s Noose alerted Human Resources about the Hangman’s Noose, but no company-wide sensitivity training, no company-wide announcement, and no-company-wide counseling occurred as a result of the Hangman’s Noose.”

Newsome wants to ask Cuban how seriously he and the Mavericks take “acts of racial discrimination and intimidation” and whether he saw her as a trouble-maker.

Newsome’s attorney, Rogge Dunn, of Dallas, told Courthouse News on Thursday his client is still upset about being fired for “what she thought was standing up for herself,” saying the matter is “very disturbing and upsetting.”

Dunn cited allegations made in a sworn affidavit by an unidentified current AAC employee that Cuban “wanted to shut down and chill” any talk of the noose incident.

“Cuban then personally removed the hangman’s noose and threw it in the trash,” the affidavit states. “Cuban offered no apology, sympathy, or offer to investigate.”

Dunn said most employers with good human resources practices would have required company-wide sensitivity training and that not ordering it shows lack of caring about the incident. He said he is amazed the unidentified employee in the affidavit did not say Cuban “told black employees ‘not on our watch’ is this going to happen.”

The affidavit is admissible in court due to an earlier legal declaration, Dunn added. He said the white employee who allegedly left the noose was not disciplined and is still employed by the arena.

“I had previously emailed Mr. Cuban requesting that he produced documents and sit for an interview and he did not respond,” Dunn said. “When I wrote Robert Hart, general counsel of the Dallas Mavericks and made the same request, he refused to provide documents and threatened to take legal action against Ms. Newsome.”

Mavericks officials did not immediately respond to an email message requesting comment Thursday evening. Cuban quickly responded to the SI report in February, announcing an independent investigation into the harassment claims. He also took sole responsibility for a decision to keep Mavs.com reporter Earl K. Sneed on staff after two separate domestic violence allegations were made against him. Firing Sneed in advance of the SI story, Cuban told ESPN that not firing him earlier was a “horrible mistake in hindsight.”

From Courthouse News.

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Dating App Competitor Claims Tinder Stole its Trade Secrets

March 29, 2018
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) – Swipe dating app Bumble is suing the parent of rival app Tinder for $400 million, claiming it deviously took trade secrets under the guise of wanting to invest in the company, then turning around and suing Bumble for allegedly ripping off its app.

Austin-based Bumble Trading Inc. and Bumble Holding Ltd. sued Dallas-based Match Group LLC in Dallas County District Court on Wednesday, claiming the problems started when it “rejected repeated lowball offers” by Match to invest in its platform.

“Match asked for, and received subject to confidentiality obligation, Bumble’s most deeply confidential and sensitive business strategy plans and performance metrics using the false assurances that it needed them so that it could increase its prior offer to invest in Bumble,” the 22-page complaint states. “Mere days after Match received the documents, rather than making the revised offer, Match abruptly, and without warning, broke off negotiations when it filed a frivolous intellectual property infringement suit against Bumble.”

Bumble was founded in 2014 by Whitney Wolfe Herd, who previously worked for Tinder. Bumble sets itself apart from other swipe dating apps by only allowing women to initiate conversations with men.

Match first sued Bumble on March 16 in federal court, claiming misappropriation of trade secrets, patent and trademark infringement. It alleges Bumble built its entire business model cloning Tinder, with its only distinction being women having the only power to start conversations with men.

“Match has behaved in an underhanded and devious way that transcends sharp negotiating practices and rises to the level of an actionable tort,” the complaint states. “Unwilling to pay fair value for Bumble, Match tried to poison Bumble in the investment market by filing bogus intellectual property claims to wrongfully disparage the Bumble platform. Knowing its lawsuit would immediately kill its negotiations with Bumble, Match deviously asked for, and received, Bumble’s most sensitive competitive information – without disclosing that it was already planning to sue Bumble.”

Bumble also disputes claims in Match’s lawsuit that the swipe left and swipe right functionality of Bumble’s app infringes on its trademarks, stating its swipe animation works in “exactly the opposite way” and are not covered by Match’s patents.

Match said Thursday the lawsuit is “a petulant and meritless response” to its intellectual property claims.

“Last week, Bumble claimed our complaint was baseless and won’t affect them, and this week they claim it is ‘chilling’ the sale of their company,” it said in a written statement. “They also shockingly claim that our patents issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office are ‘bogus.’ We obviously think their lawsuit has no substance and look forwards to proving that in court.”

Bumble responded to Match’s lawsuit last week in full-page advertisements purchased in The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, calling Match’s claims baseless.

Bumble is represented by Theodore Stevenson III with McKool Smith in Dallas, who did not immediately respond to an email message requesting comment Thursday evening.

From Courthouse News.

Self-Help Boss Accused of Sex Slavery Appears in Court

March 27, 2018
By David Lee

FORT WORTH, Texas (CN) – The founder of professional-development group NXIVM was arraigned Tuesday afternoon in Texas federal court, sensationally accused of heading a secretive cult that branded female followers with cauterizing pens and keeping them as sex slaves.

Keith Raniere, 57, appeared dazed and subdued as he was brought before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey L. Cureton in Fort Worth. Shackled and flanked by U.S. Marshals, Raniere wore a blue T-shirt, black shorts and appeared unshaven. He was arrested Sunday near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in a luxury villa and deported back to the United States.

In a criminal complaint unsealed Monday, federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York accused Raniere, also known as “The Vanguard,” of heading a cult-like secret society within the Albany-based multi-level marketing company that does business in over 32 countries.  NXIVM is pronounced as Nexium.

Facing several counts of sex trafficking, Raniere faces 15 years to life in federal prison if convicted.

The indictment pertains to Raniere’s alleged conduct with a secretive group within NXIVM called DOS. Federal officials claim Raniere kept a “rotating group” of up to 20 women to have sex with.

“These women are not permitted to have sexual relationships with anyone but Raniere or to discuss with others their relationships with Raniere,” the 22-page complaint states. “Some of the NXIVM curriculum included teachings about the need for men to have multiple sexual partners and the need for women to be monogamous.”

Prosecutors claim DOS operates as a pyramid with “levels of ‘slaves’ headed by ‘masters.’” They claim the slaves are expected to recruit slaves of their own, who then service their master and masters above them in the pyramid.

“Many of the DOS victims were branded in their pubic regions with a cauterizing pen in a process that took 20 to 30 minutes,” the complaint states. “During the branding ‘ceremonies,’ slaves were required to be fully naked, and the master would order one slave to film while the others held down the slave being branded. Some DOS victims were told that the brand stood for the four elements (the lines represented air, earth, and water and that cauterizing pen represented sealing with fire). Based on information obtained during the course of the investigation, however, it is clear that the brand in fact consisted of Raniere’s initials.”

Prosecutors claim Raniere preferred women that are “exceptionally thin,” resulting in some being deprived of sleep or being kept on low-calorie diets.

During Tuesday’s brief arraignment hearing, Judge Cureton informed Raniere of his right to make a statement, which he declined to do.

Raniere waived his right to a hearing to determine his identity under Rule 5.1 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. Raniere’s attorney, Brian Pope, of Fort Worth, requested his preliminary and detention hearings take place when federal marshals return him to Brooklyn federal court.

Appearing at the hearing were Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alex Lewis, of Fort Worth, and Moira Penza, of Brooklyn.

NXIVM did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Monday. An undated note purportedly written by Raniere was posted on the group’s website that denies the allegations.

“The picture being painted in the media is not how I know our community and friends to be, nor how I experience it myself,” the statement says. “Over the past months, there have been extensive independent investigations performed, by highly qualified individuals, and they have firmly concluded that there is no merit to the allegations that we are abusing, coercing or harming individuals. These allegations are most disturbing to me as non-violence is one of my most important values.”

From Courthouse News.

Texas Wants Feds to Restore Family-Planning Funds

March 22, 2018
By David Lee

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) – Texas asked the Trump administration Thursday to reinstate Medicaid funding for low-income women’s health programs in the state, five years after refusing the money to defund Planned Parenthood and other abortion advocates.

In a three-page letter, Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to reinstate Texas to a list of eligible Title X grant recipients.

The Obama administration removed the state after the Texas Legislature excluded Planned Parenthood, an abortion provider and advocate, from the Texas Women’s Health Program in 2012.

The program provided family planning and health services to women ages 18 to 44 with income at or below 185 percent of the poverty line and who did not qualify for Medicaid. The state law conflicted with Medicaid’s “free choice of provider” provision under federal regulations.

In asking for the reinstatement, Paxton applauded the Trump administration’s directive in January to respect laws that “protect the religious and conscience rights” of Americans.

“The new guidance issued to state Medicaid directors restoring the federal government’s respect for the authority of the states to decide program standards is an encouraging sign that the rule of law and respect for the rights of Americans is being restored by the federal government,” the letter states. “Regrettably, the Obama administration often denied the conscience rights of Texas’ voters outright when it came to Texans’ overwhelming support for laws that respect the sanctity of life among the unborn.”

Paxton says the Obama administration codified its exclusion of Texas in federal regulations in 2016, but the Republican-controlled Congress concluded that it “shall have no force or effect” one year later.

“A precursor to participation in federal programs should not be an uncompromising commitment to abortion providers,” Paxton said in a written statement Thursday. “The freedom of conscience should never be demoted to second-class status among our civil liberties.”

Critics say the state’s refusal to fund abortion advocates and accept Medicaid funding has resulted in substantially lower uses of contraception by Medicaid patients and increases in pregnancies.

To compensate for the lost funding, Texas self-funded two replacement women’s health programs for low-income women beginning in 2016 called Healthy Texas Women and Family Planning Program.

According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2016, women who returned to the programs for subsequent on-time contraceptive injections decreased from 56.9 percent to 37.7 percent after the exclusion in counties with Planned Parenthood affiliates. It concluded the rate of childbirth in those counties also increased by 1.9 percent within 18 months after a contraceptive claim.

The Department of Health and Human Services did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment Thursday afternoon.

Texas first sued the Obama administration in federal court over the matter in March 2012, when the agency denied the state’s request for a Medicaid waiver that would have maintained federal funding for the Texas Women’s Health Program.

Planned Parenthood sued the state in federal court one month later, arguing the ban violated its First Amendment free speech rights by disqualifying groups for their association with abortion advocates and providers.

From Courthouse News.

ACLU Asks Greyhound to Stop Letting Customs Officers Harass Passengers

March 21, 2018
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) – The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday asked intercity bus operator Greyhound to stop allowing federal immigration agents to indiscriminately board its buses to illegally interrogate passengers unless they have warrants.

ACLU affiliates in ten states sent a letter to Dallas-based Greyhound, citing an alleged agreement with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to “stage surprise boardings without warrants to question riders about their citizenship” and where they are headed.

“In many cases, all too reminiscent of police states, the agents demand to see a passenger’s ‘documents’,” the ACLU of Texas said in a written statement. “The warrantless raids, which saw a rapid increase in the past year, are not only a blatant disregard of passengers’ constitutional rights, they are also clearly driven by racial profiling.”

It said ACLU volunteers will distribute “Know Your Rights” brochures to passengers in several California Greyhound stations on Friday, informing them they have the right to remain silent, refuse searches without a warrant and record video of the incident.

The ACLU says it disputes Greyhound’s recent statement that it is required to cooperate with CBP if it asks to board buses.

“We are aware of no such requirement. Rather, Greyhound has a Fourth Amendment right to deny CBP permission to board and search its buses without a judicial warrant,” the seven-page letter states. “Reports describe CBP’s practice of boarding Greyhound buses without even any pretense of suspicion and detaining passengers until they answer questions about their citizenship and immigration status and present immigration documentation. CBP often singles out individuals because of the color of their skin or because they have a foreign accent. In a number of reported cases, CBP agents arrested individuals on Greyhound buses without probable cause to believe they were deportable.”

The ACLU’s letter details incidents in seven states involving boardings by CBP agents. It says that in Washington two months ago, a father and son were arrested after being asked if they were illegal or had documentation on them. The ACLU claims at least 34 people were taken in custody last year in the Spokane area alone.

The letter alleges that Greyhound buses in Riverside County in California have been boarded and passengers arrested and questioned for several years.

“In January 2018, news media reported an incident in Indio, California, where CBP agents boarded a Greyhound bus and asked every passenger for their citizenship and immigration status and identification,” the letter states. “When a Latino U.S. citizen eyewitness began filming the incident outside the bus, including CBP’s removal and arrest of one person from the bus, a CBP agent demanded to know the witness’ citizenship and asked him for two forms of identification.”

The letter also cites two videos taken by Florida passengers in January showing agents asking passengers for proof of citizenship.

“The first incident ended with CBP detaining a Jamaican woman, who was in the U.S. to visit her granddaughter, and the second incident with CBP arresting a 12-year Miami resident from Trinidad,” the letter states. “Nineteen members of Congress issued a statement afterwards calling CBP’s actions an ‘abuse of mandate and authority.’”

The ACLU further disagrees with CBP agents and Greyhound saying agents do not need warrants if they are within 100 miles of the borders with Canada or Mexico, saying “geography does not negate” the Fourth Amendment.

“Neither statutes nor regulations can override a business’ Fourth Amendment right to refuse consent to enter a nonpublic areas under its control,” the letter states. “Department of Homeland Security regulations in fact recognize that right.”

A representative of Customs and Border Patrol did not immediately respond to an email request for comment Wednesday afternoon.

From Courthouse News.

Oklahoma Approves of New Nitrogen Gas Execution Method

March 14, 2018
By David Lee

OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) – Oklahoma officials announced Wednesday the end of a three-year-old moratorium on executions as they plan on using a first-of-its-kind nitrogen gas inhalation method to get around difficulties in getting lethal injection drugs.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter and Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh told reporters how “inert gas inhalation” was selected after “many hours of conversations with stakeholders” on the issue, including attorneys and lawmakers. The new execution protocol would result in a condemned inmate dying from hypoxia as the nitrogen gas denies them of oxygen in the death chamber.

“We have selected this method because of the well-documented fact that states across the country are struggling to find the proper drugs to perform lethal injections,” Hunter said at a press conference. “Trying to find alternative compounds or a prescribing authority willing to provide us drugs is becoming exceedingly difficult. We will not try to obtain the drugs illegally.”

Hunter said the state is going with nitrogen gas under a 2015 state law that allows for it if lethal injections have been ruled unconstitutional or if the drugs become unavailable.

Hunter cited comments by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who said death penalty opponents are committing “guerilla war” in making it impossible for states to get execution drugs for lethal injections. Death penalty opponents have successfully appealed to drug makers in recent years to stop making and selling the drugs to states for use in executions. States responded by approving replacement execution drugs provided by smaller compounding pharmacies.

Allbaugh said another deterrent for lethal injections is how inmates have dehydrated themselves in the past to make it difficult for the medical staff to carry them out.

Hunter added that the use of nitrogen gas would be “effective, simple to administer, easy to obtain and require no complex medical procedures.”

Wednesday’s announcement comes two years after an Oklahoma grand jury recommended the use of nitrogen gas after it declined to charge state officials for the botched 2015 execution of Charles Warner due to the wrong drugs being used. The state’s execution protocol at the time required potassium chloride to stop the heart, not the potassium acetate that was used. A convicted child-killer, Warner said his body was “on fire” and he twitched from his neck three minutes after the injection began. He died after 18 minutes. Warner’s execution was the last before the death penalty moratorium was imposed. The execution of Richard Glossip eight months after Warner’s execution was halted at the last minute by Gov. Mary Fallin when it was discovered the wrong drugs would be used again.

Warner’s was the first execution in the state after the grisly botched execution of Clayton Lockett in April 2014. Witnesses say Lockett writhed in apparent agony, clenched his teeth and strained to lift his head after being injected with replacement drugs. The execution chamber was described as a gruesome “bloody mess” by execution team members due to attempts at tapping a second intravenous line in Lockett’s groin. The execution was quickly halted and officials drew the blinds on the execution chamber, but Lockett died 20 minutes after that.

The bipartisan Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission formed after the Glossip debacle recommended in April 2017 the continuation of the then two-year-old moratorium on executions, citing “disturbing” findings that had its members questioning if executions of innocent people are prevented. The commission said the ban should stay until “significant reforms” are put in place to counteract “the volume and seriousness of the flaws” in the state’s capital punishment system.

Dale Baich, a federal public defender who represents several Oklahoma death row inmates, called Wednesday for complete transparency in the new execution method. He questioned if experts on nitrogen hypoxia would be brought in by the state, or if the state has conducted research on the “safety and legality” of the proposal.

“Instead of following the recommendations of the bipartisan Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission, the Department of Corrections chooses to take its own course by adopting an entirely new method of execution by nitrogen hypoxia,” Baich said in a written statement. “This method has never been used before and is experimental.  Oklahoma is once again asking us to trust it as officials ‘learn-on-the-job,’ through a new execution procedure and method. How can we trust Oklahoma to get this right when the state’s recent history reveals a culture of carelessness and mistakes in executions?”

Baich said the commission recognized “the most humane and effective” execution method as being a one-drug barbiturate lethal injection.

Oklahoma is not the only state exploring alternative execution methods due to the shortage of lethal injection drugs. The South Carolina Senate passed a measure last week that requires condemned inmates to die in the electric chair instead. Since 1995, inmates were given the choice between lethal injection or the electric chair. Proponents successfully argued that inmates who chose lethal injections, an option that cannot be carried out, would be effectively getting a life sentence. The measure is expected to become law when it makes it out of the South Carolina House of Representatives’ judiciary committee for a full vote.

From Courthouse News.

Judge Dismisses ‘Clock Boy’ Discrimination Case, Again

March 14, 2018
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) – A federal judge dismissed for the final time Tuesday a civil rights lawsuit brought by the family of a black Muslim teenager known as “clock boy” against a Dallas-area school district and suburb who had him arrested after he brought a homemade clock to his high school in 2015.

The lawsuit claimed Ahmed Mohamed’s civil rights were violated by the city of Irving, the Irving Independent School District, MacArthur High School principal Daniel Cummings and several others.

Mohamed was 14 years old when he was arrested after he built the clock using a circuit board and power supply that he wired into a digital display inside a metal pencil case and brought it to school to show a teacher. The defendants deemed the contraption a “hoax bomb” and suspended him. Police released Mohamed to his parents hours later.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Sam Lindsay in Dallas ordered Mohamed take nothing from the defendants and dismissed the claims with prejudice, preventing the case from being refiled.

Lindsay first dismissed the 2016 lawsuit the following year, finding he could not “reasonably infer” any school employee intentionally discriminated against Mohamed.

However, the judge cited U.S. Supreme Court and Fifth Circuit precedent in allowing the Mohameds to refile the lawsuit in order to amend claims that were “factually deficient.”

Images of a bewildered Mohamed being led away by police in handcuffs went viral on the internet immediately after his arrest.

Then-President Barack Obama invited him to the White House, and Mohamed later accepted a scholarship offer to study in Qatar and leave Texas.

Police defended the arrest, saying at the time the device could be mistaken for something dangerous if it was left in a bathroom or car.

Mohamed’s family later demanded written apologies and a total of $15 million from the school district and city before suing.

Their lawsuit disputed police claims that Mohamed was “less than forthcoming” about the clock during a 90-minute interrogation without his parents.

“The officers pulled him forcefully out of his chair, yanked his arms up behind his back so far that his right hand touched the back of his neck, causing a lot of pain,” the complaint stated. “They placed Ahmed in handcuffs and marched him out of the front of the school, four officers grabbing onto him, two on each side holding his hands and his arms. They put him into the back of a police car. They took him to the police station and booked him as a criminal, with mug shots and fingerprinting – all still without his parents.”

Mohamed’s attorney, James Hudson with Hutchison Stoy in Fort Worth, did not immediately respond Wednesday to an email requesting comment.

City officials said that they are “extremely pleased” by the dismissal. They say it “supports the justifiable actions” taken by police.

“We remain committed to ensuring the safety of all Irving residents and schoolchildren,” Irving officials said in a written statement.

From Courthouse News.