- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 6, 2003

States may sue telemarketers for fraud only if solicitors lie about how much money will go to charity, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday.The unanimous decision said states must help residents make informed choices about giving $160 billion each year to charity but again refused to sanction groups solely because fund-raising costs are excessive.”States may maintain fraud actions when fund-raisers make false or misleading representations designed to deceive donors about how their donations will be used,” the court said yesterday in a decision written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”High fund-raising costs, without more, do not establish fraud. And mere failure to volunteer the fund-raiser’s fee when contacting a potential donee, without more, is insufficient to state a claim for fraud,” the court said.The decision frees Illinois to press its fraud lawsuit against Telemarketing Associates for a solicitor’s promise that 90 percent of money it collected for VietNow eventually reached Vietnam veterans. Only 3 percent of the $8 million it collected actually went to veterans.”This is clearly a victory for consumers who want to give to charities and know that their dollars are being spent on the programs they were told about, not on profits for a telemarketing company,” said Melissa Merz, spokeswoman for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, whose predecessor brought the case.The Bush administration and 45 states supported Illinois in its victory, but Telemarketing Associates’ attorney William Raney saw a silver lining. He said the ruling makes clear that “a charity has the right to spend what it wants on fund raising,” which he maintains is what his client did.The Justice Department told the court that banning state lawsuits would create “open season for charitable-solicitation fraud.”In other action yesterday, justices agreed to consider in the next term whether giving a California lawyer four of 10 color photographs of White House Counsel Vincent Foster’s body at Fort Marcy Park would violate Foster relatives’ privacy and separately to hear a challenge to the constitutionality of a police roadblock that unsuccessfully sought information on a fatal hit-and-run.”Conspiracy theorist Alan Favish is seeking government information to support his contention that the several investigations of Vince Foster’s death, all of which concluded that he committed suicide, came to the wrong conclusion, and that the last investigation conducted by [former independent counsel Kenneth] Starr was ‘grossly incomplete and untrustworthy,’ ” lawyer James Hamilton told the court on behalf of Mr. Foster’s widow, Lisa Moody, and his sister, Sheila Anthony.Solicitor General Theodore Olson, representing the office of independent counsel, supported family objections and their request for a hearing after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the release of four 1993 photos.”The photographs at issue here reveal nothing about the government’s conduct; they reveal only visual depictions relating to the death of Vincent Foster,” Mr. Olson’s brief said.The roadblock appeal was filed by Illinois officials when the state Supreme Court overturned Robert Lidster’s conviction of driving under the influence of alcohol. Mr. Lidster was arrested in 1997 after officers said he nearly hit the roadblock where investigators were distributing leaflets in a search for witnesses.The Illinois court said roadblocks set up without “individualized suspicion” or “immediate threat” were unconstitutional despite the state’s assertion that a “significant public interest existed in solving a fatal hit-and-run of a bicyclist.”In other decisions yesterday, the court:• Refused to block an order that Interstate Power Co. pay $700,000 to Daniel and Coleen Martins, who said dairy cows on their Iowa farm were damaged by high voltage, which caused the animals to kick and sway as if they were dancing.• Rebuked Texas police for waking a teenager without a warrant at 3 a.m. and taking him clad only in underwear to a murder scene, where Robert Kaupp reportedly confessed to killing his half sister, Destiny Thetford, because she ended their incestuous relationship. The court sent the case back to Texas in an unsigned opinion that said his 1999 confession probably should be suppressed.• Rejected the plea by former detective Linda Arndt that her free-speech rights were violated when Boulder, Colo., police officials barred her from disputing press reports that she botched the JonBenet Ramsey murder investigation.

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