Latest Legal News: House Takes Up Online Sales Tax, Murder Conviction Overturned By Racial Remarks, and NY Dancers Win Lawsuit

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Sep 17, 2013

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This week in legal news, the Senate’s online sales tax bill begins its potentially long and challenging journey through the House, racial remarks by a prosecutor in Illinois lead to the dismissal of an murder conviction, and exotic dancers in New York earn a legal victory to receive minimum wage.

Online Sales Tax Bill Comes Before House of Representatives 

The Senate’s Marketplace Fairness Act (MFA), which authorizes sales tax on items purchased online, has begun to make noise in the Republican controlled House of Representatives.  Passed this May by the Senate, the MFA will likely face intense debate before it is able to get through the House and become law, but proponents felt hopeful after news that House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R – VA) will release a set of principles that he is looking for as the bill progresses.  The announcement is a positive step for the MFA, or some form of it, since it is apparent Republican lawmakers will not simply bury the bill, but instead will work to authorize an online tax.

As we have written about before, online sales tax seems to be an inevitability, and any posturing by small government or anti-tax groups that promises to kill the bill seems unlikely to permanently table the issue.  With large online retailers switching sides on the issue, resistance in Congress has softened, even amongst the more vocal Republican opponents.  It is likely that Goodlatte’s upcoming principles will highlight the need for significant changes to the version of the MFA that passed the Senate, however, the fact that Republicans in the House are willing to work towards an online sales tax bill indicates that the question is not a matter of if, but when the legislation will work its way into law. 

Racial Statements by Illinois Prosecutor Lead to New Trial

A court of appeals in Illinois has overturned a murder conviction and ordered a new trial because the prosecutor in the case made repeated racial remarks, and highlighted racial differences in his closing arguments.  Saying that race was made “an egregious and consistent theme throughout the trial,” the court determined that defendant Marcus Marshall’s 2011 conviction was tainted by racial prejudice and therefore invalid. 

According to court records the State prosecutor, Charles Garnati, focused heavily on the “culture of the black community” and how it compared to “our white world” in an apparent effort to show an all white jury why two witnesses to the crime recanted testimony.  Although Garnati has claimed his words were taken out of context, and that he did not intend to make race part of the trial, Mr. Marshall’s appeal convinced the higher court that a new trial is necessary.  Whether Mr. Garnati’s comments were racially motivated or simply misguided is irrelevant – the underlying influence of race in any criminal trial should be, and in this case was, sufficient to overturn a potentially tainted result. 

New York’s Exotic Dancers Win Significant Legal Battle

A federal judge in New York has ruled that strippers dancing for Rick’s  Cabaret in New York City were misclassified as independent contractors in an effort to avoid the Fair Labor Standards Act and New York Labor Law that requires all employees be paid minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.  Dancers whose only form of payment was the money received from patrons, minus the fees they paid to Rick’s, filed the lawsuit in an effort to become classified as employers and receive the guaranteed minimum wage. 

The ruling has not yet awarded damages owed, which could include back pay, but plaintiffs have called it a victory for New York’s exotic dancers because it provides them legal protections afforded employees.  The lawsuit, and the ruling, is limited to New York, but other states may follow suit if strippers across the country pursue similar legal action.  

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