REPUBLICAN COA JUDGE CENSURED FOR ALLOWING SEXUAL HARASSMENT: Judge Hunter Murphy's conduct wasn't bad enough to warrant suspension or removal from the bench, the state Supreme Court said in an opinion posted Friday, but it did merit censure. Law clerks in Murphy's office told investigators that Tuite made "comments of a sexual or inappropriate nature" and that they told Murphy about it. In one incident, Tuite was talking about a female job applicant and called her breasts "fun bags." The judge, the Judicial Standards Commission reported, was in the room at the time. The judge repeatedly condoned and enabled toxic behavior, the commission found. When some of the problems were reported to the Administrative Office of the Courts' human resources department, the judge "lacked candor and downplayed, minimized and mischaracterized Mr. Tuite’s actions," the commission found.
ALAMANCE JUDGES "REFINE" RULES TO ALLOW REPORTERS ACCESS TO COURTROOMS: Reporters must request permission in advance to attend hearings, and up to five journalists will be allowed in, depending on the available space, D. Thomas Lambeth Jr., Judicial District 15A’s senior resident superior court judge, and Bradley Reid Allen Sr., the chief district court judge, said in an order dated Dec. 18. When the publisher of the Alamance News tried to formally object to journalists’ exclusion last week, submitting to Judge Fred Wilkins a document drafted by an attorney on behalf of his publication, The News & Observer and Triad City Beat, he was handcuffed and threatened with a contempt citation. The publisher’s near-arrest made national headlines and prompted an outpouring of support from press freedom organizations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “I would have liked to see more guidance in the order,” said Fuller, noting that courts across the country have been pioneering technological solutions to the court-access problem posed by COVID-19. “I think the risks are still there that discretion could be abused.”
UNC-CH SUSPENDS THREE FRATERNITIES OVER DRUG INVESTIGATION: “Today, UNC-Chapel Hill suspended University recognition of the campus chapters of Phi Gamma Delta, Kappa Sigma and Beta Theta Pi due to the alleged activity cited in the ongoing investigation,” Guskiewicz wrote. “We are taking swift action today because the serious nature of the alleged criminal behaviors is contradictory to our code of conduct and endangers the health of our student body and community.” Guskiewicz said the university is continuing to work with law enforcement. According to court filings, the illegal drug activity at the three fraternities occurred between 2017 and the spring of 2020. When announcing the federal charges on Thursday, U.S. Attorney Matthew G.T. Martin said more than 1,000 pounds (450 kilograms) of marijuana was funneled, along with several hundred kilograms of cocaine, and significant quantities of other drugs. Prosecutors say the drugs were distributed to UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke University and Appalachian State University. The drug ring made at least $1.5 million during the years-long stretch, investigators said.
FDA APPROVES 2ND CORONAVIRUS VACCINE (MODERNA) FOR DISTRIBUTION: A second coronavirus vaccine received emergency authorization Friday, an unprecedented scientific feat that gives the United States two powerful tools to fight a pandemic that emerged almost exactly a year ago, sparked by a few cases of mysterious pneumonia that exploded into the biggest global public health crisis in a century. The Food and Drug Administration’s decision to clear the vaccine, developed by Massachusetts biotechnology company Moderna in partnership with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, arrives at the end of a historic week in medicine — as health-care workers began receiving inoculations of the first coronavirus vaccine, developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, which was cleared by the agency Dec. 12. The first doses of the Moderna vaccine, which is authorized for people 18 and older, will probably ship this weekend, with nearly 6 million expected to be distributed during the first week to health-care workers and nursing home residents. An additional 2 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are expected to be shipped. The clearance of both vaccines marks a transition from an uncertain scientific quest to a massive logistics enterprise — one that already experienced missteps this week as several trays of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine shipped to Alabama and California got too cold, and had to be returned, and states questioned why their shipments for next week had been slashed. In that way, the Moderna vaccine offers a clear advantage. While the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine must be kept at ultracold temperatures in specialized freezers or carefully maintained dry ice containers, the Moderna vaccine can be stored at regular freezer temperatures long-term and at refrigerator temperatures for up to a month. That will expand the settings where it can be used to rural areas, pharmacies or medical offices that lack specialized equipment.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION (POMPEO) FINALLY ADMITS RUSSIA IS BEHIND MASSIVE CYBERATTACK: Mr. Pompeo is the first member of the Trump administration to publicly link the Kremlin to the cyberattack, which used a variety of sophisticated tools to infiltrate dozens of government and private systems, including nuclear laboratories, the Pentagon, and the Treasury and Commerce Departments. “I think it’s the case that now we can say pretty clearly that it was the Russians that engaged in this activity,” Mr. Pompeo said in an interview on “The Mark Levin Show.” “This was a very significant effort,” he said, adding that “we’re still unpacking precisely what it is.” President Trump has yet to address the attack, which has been underway since spring and was detected by the private sector only a few weeks ago. Until Friday, Mr. Pompeo had played down the episode as one of the many daily attacks on the federal government. But intelligence agencies have told Congress that they believe it was carried out by the S.V.R., an elite Russian intelligence agency. As evidence of the attack’s scope piled up this week, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency sent out an urgent warning on Thursday that the hackers had “demonstrated an ability to exploit software supply chains and shown significant knowledge of Windows networks.” The Russians have denied any involvement. The Russian ambassador to the United States, Anatoly I. Antonov, said Wednesday that there were “unfounded attempts by the U.S. media to blame Russia” for the recent cyberattacks. According to a person briefed on the attack, the S.V.R. hackers sought to hide their tracks by using American internet addresses that allowed them to conduct attacks from computers in the very city — or appearing so — in which their victims were based.