High Court To Hear Don King Case

In the Ring With Don King Secondhand Smoke in the Sky A ‘Tricked’ Confession

In the Ring With Don King The Supreme Court stepped into the boxing ring today, agreeing to hear a fight promoter’s argument that he can sue rival promoter Don King for racketeering.

The high court will use the case to clarify when people can be sued for allegedly conducting racketeering activity through a business.

The federal Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) law allows people to file civil lawsuits, seeking triple damages, against people accused of conducting an “enterprise’s affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity.”

Boxing promoter Cedric Kushner filed such a lawsuit against King in New York in 1998 that accused him of interfering with Kushner’s contract with boxer Hasim Rahman.

The lawsuit, which sought about $12 million in damages, said King paid Rahman not to go through with a fight that had been arranged through Rahman’s contract with Kushner.

A federal judge dismissed the case, saying the RICO law required the person and the enterprise to be “distinct” from each other.

King is president and sole shareholder of Don King Productions.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. King was “an employee acting within the scope of his authority” at Don King Productions, the court said last July.

In the appeal acted on today, Kushner’s lawyer said the racketeering law was aimed at employees who “conduct the employer’s affairs as a vehicle to accomplish racketeering activity.” Under the 2nd Circuit Court’s ruling, “an organized crime family would merely need to incorporate to escape … liability altogether,” Kushner’s lawyer said.

King’s lawyer said the law aimed to attack the infiltration of organized crime into legitimate organizations. The appeals court’s ruling “keeps in check yet another unwarranted expansion of RICO treble-damage liability,” the promoter’s lawyer said.

The case is Cedric Kushner Promotions vs. King, 00-549.

Secondhand Smoke in the Skies

The high court today let a flight attendant sue an airline for harm from secondhand smoke.

On a 6-3 vote, the justices declined to hear an appeal from Northwest Airlines arguing that a federal law deregulating the airline industry pre-empts state statutes requiring a healthy work environment.

Northwest’s lawyers said the lawsuit, brought by flight attendant Julie Duncan of Seattle, would effectively allow state regulation of a “service” provided by Northwest on its trans-Pacific flights.

Julie Duncan of Seattle sued Northwest, claiming she suffered lung problems and chronic infections related to secondhand smoke.

The suit, which sought class-action status, said Northwest violated its duty under Washington state law to provide a safe and healthy working environment.

Northwest prohibited smoking on domestic flights in 1988, before the ban was required by federal law, but continued to allow smoking on flights to and from Japan for another decade. The airline said it did so to compete with other airlines that let passengers smoke.

A federal judge dismissed Duncan’s lawsuit, saying that allowing her claim to proceed would amount to allowing state regulation of a “service” provided by Northwest on its trans-Pacific flights.

The 1978 Airline Deregulation Act pre-empts all state lawsuits related to airline rates, routes or services.

But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated Duncan’s lawsuit last April. Allowing smoking on some flights is not a “service” provided by an airline, the court said.

In the appeal acted on today, Northwest’s lawyers said airlines should not have to “tailor their operations” to comply with laws in various states.

Duncan’s lawyers said the deregulation law was not intended to protect airlines from personal-injury claims.

The case is Northwest Airlines vs. Duncan, 00-404.

Considering a ‘Tricked’ Murder Confession

The Supreme Court also declined today to hear an appeal by man who claimed he was tricked into confessing to the killings of his parents when he was a high school senior.

The case tested whether a murder suspect’s confession, made after he was read his Miranda rights, was tainted by lengthy police questioning and incriminating statements he made beforehand.

The case concerned the aftermath of a lurid 1988 double killing in Belle Terre, N.Y., a wealthy section of Long Island. The victims’ son, then 17 years old, confessed but later claimed that police pressured him into it.

Martin Tankleff first told police that when he awoke for school he discovered his father, Seymour, gravely wounded in the study of the family home, and saw the body of his mother, Arlene, on her bedroom floor.

Tankleff named his father’s business partner as the probable killer, noting that the partner owed Seymour Tankleff money, and that he had been at the home for a poker game that lasted into the wee hours that morning.

After several hours of interviews and questioning at the home and at a Suffolk County, N.Y., police station, police falsely told Tankleff that his father had awakened from a coma and named him as the killer.

At that point Tankleff wondered aloud if he might have “blacked out” and committed the crimes, and added, “It’s starting to come to me.”

Police then read him his rights under the landmark Supreme Court Miranda ruling, which states that suspects in custody must be told of their right to a lawyer and that anything they say may be used against them.

Tankleff waived his rights and confessed to attacking his parents. Seymour Tankleff died a few weeks later.

In their Supreme Court appeal, Tankleff’s lawyers argued that if the court found a Miranda violation it should follow that the later confession was “fruit of a poisoned tree.”

Prosecutors said the appeals court correctly based its decision on another Supreme Court case that held “a suspect who has once responded to unwarned, yet uncoerced questioning, is not thereby disabled from waiving his rights and confessing after he has been given the requisite Miranda warnings.”

The cases are Tankleff vs. Superintendent of Clinton Correctional Facility, 00-327, and Superintendent of Clinton Correctional Facility vs. Tankleff, 00-519. The Associated Press contributed to this report.