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Felicity Huffman Sentenced to 14 Days in Prison

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  • Actress Felicity Huffman was given a sentence of 14 days in prison for paying a college admissions consultant $15,000 to doctor her daughter’s SAT scores. 
  • Huffman will also be required to serve a year of supervised release, complete 250 hours of community service, and pay a fine of $30,000.
  • Huffman is the first of the 34 parents charged in the expansive college admissions scam. Many had viewed her verdict as a test case for future sentences of others involved in the scandal.

Felicity Huffman Sentenced

Actress Felicity Huffman was sentenced to 14 days in prison on Friday for her role in the infamous college admissions scandal Operation Varsity Blues, making her the first of nearly three dozen parents charged in the scheme.

Huffman had previously pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud in May after she admitted she had paid admissions consultant Rick Singer $15,000 to have her oldest daughter’s SAT answers corrected by a proctor.

In addition to the brief prison time, the actress’s sentence also includes a year of supervised release, 250 hours of community service, and the payment of a $30,000 fine.

Prosecutors had asked that the actress be sentenced to one month in prison, 12 years of supervised release, and pay a $20,000 fine.

Huffman’s lawyers, however, have said that she should not serve any prison time and had asked for one year of probation, 250 hours of community service, and a $20,000 fine.

Experts have argued that Huffman’s guilty plea and her numerous apologies encouraged Judge Indira Talwani, who oversaw her case, to lighten her sentence for the conspiracy charge, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. 

During the sentencing Friday, Huffman choked up while reading a prepared statement in court before her sentence was handed down.

“I am deeply ashamed of what I have done,” Huffman said to the judge. “At the end of the day I had a choice to make. I could have said ‘no.’”

Announcing her decision, Talwani said she believes Huffman’s punishment is “the right sentence here.” 

“I think you take your sentence and you move forward,” she told the actress. “You can rebuild your life after this. You’ve paid your dues.”

Huffman also responded to the sentence in a statement.

“I broke the law,” she wrote. “I have admitted that and I pleaded guilty to this crime. There are no excuses or justifications for my actions. Period.”

“I would like to apologize again to my daughter, my husband, my family and the educational community for my actions,” she continued. “And I especially want to apologize to the students who work hard every day to get into college, and to their parents who make tremendous sacrifices supporting their children.”

Test Case for Operation Varsity Blues

Many have viewed Huffman’s sentencing as a test case for the other parents who have been indicted in the sweeping Operation Varsity Blues scandal.

Prosecutors have filed charged against 51 parents, coaches, and employees of Singer.

So far 15 of the 34 parents who have been charged have pleaded guilty. The majority of those parents are scheduled to be sentenced in the next few weeks, and most of their cases are set to be overseen by Judge Talwani.

As a result, Talwani’s response to Huffman’s case could be very telling for the other parents. 

However, at the same time, prosecutors in Huffman’s trial asked for a comparatively lighter sentence, citing the fact that she paid less than many other parents and also because she did not include her younger daughter in the admissions fraud.

By contrast, actress Lori Loughlin and her designer husband Mossimo Giannulli have been accused of paying Singer $500,000 to get both of their daughters into the University of Southern California by falsely claiming they were athletes on the university’s crew team.

Both Loughlin and Giannulli plead not guilty in April and were hit with new charges. They now both face up to 40 years in prison.

For some of the other parents who have already pleaded guilty, prosecutors are asking for as much as 15 months of prison time.

Racial Disparities

Huffman’s sentence is also being seen as a litmus test for how wealthy white families are treated in the justice system compared to lower-income, nonwhite individuals convicted of similar crimes.

Like in Huffman’s case, prosecutors have argued that the parents should serve some time in prison to show that wealthy people will be held accountable for cheating the college admissions system.

In court papers, prosecutors referenced a case where public school teachers, principals, and other administrators in Atlanta were convicted of conspiring to cheat on state tests. All of the defendants were black, and some were sentenced to up three years in prison.

In another case, prosecutors cited, a black mother in Ohio named Kelley Williams-Bolar was sentenced to five years of prison for using her father’s address so her children could go to a suburban school district near where she lived.

Her sentence was later suspended to just 10 days in jail, three years of probation, and community service.

The prosecutors used the cases to argue that light sentences for parents involved in the Operation Varsity Blues scandal would prompt accusations of preferential treatment and racial bias.

“Frequently, those cases involved defendants who are members of racial and ethnic minorities and/or from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds,” prosecutors wrote. “A different result in this case, particularly given the history and characteristics of these defendants, would not be appropriate.”

However, some of the lawyers in both the cases cited by the prosecutors told The New York Times that their cases should not be used to argue that Huffman should serve prison time.

David Singleton, the executive director of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, who represented Ms. Williams-Bolar in successfully seeking clemency in her case, said that there were indeed disparities in the justice system.

“Our educators in our cheating scandal in Atlanta were way over-prosecuted and way over-punished,” said Bob Rubin, who represented a former principal involved in the Atlanta case. “My answer is not to give Felicity Huffman more, but to give our clients less.”

“When you are rich — and particularly if you’re rich and white in this country — there’s a different justice system,” said David Singleton, who represented Williams-Bolar. “Sending Felicity Huffman to jail is not going to solve that problem.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (NBC News)

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J.J. Abrams’ Comments About The Last Jedi Stir Controversy

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  • In a recent New York Times piece, J.J. Abrams, who directed 2015’s The Force Awakens and the upcoming episode The Rise of Skywalker, made critical comments about Rian Johnson’s Star Wars film The Last Jedi.
  • Actors from the film also gave remarks to the Times implying that they favored Abrams’ direction over Johnson’s.
  • This stirred a massive controversy online between a fandom already heavily divided on the latest trilogy, with some thinking that Abrams should not speak negatively about the film or Johnson.
  • Others thought fans should not attack Abrams for being critical.

Controversial Comments Made in New York Times Article

Stars Wars fans sensed a disturbance in the force after director J.J. Abrams criticized the franchise’s eighth episode, The Last Jedi.

The Last Jedi, which came after Abrams’ The Force Awakens and precedes his upcoming The Rise of Skywalker, divided many fans. While The Force Awakens, which was largely well-received, was criticized for staying too close to Star Wars tradition, The Last Jedi was criticized for the opposite reason. Written and directed by Rian Johnson, the movie broke a lot of elements of the Star Wars mold. Because of this, some fans hail it as one of– if not the best– film in the franchise. Others felt about The Last Jedi the way Anakin Skywalker felt about sand in Episode II and were not pleased.

This stark disagreement is made apparent on Rotten Tomatoes, where critics give the film a 91% and the audience gives it a far less favorable 43%. This is the lowest audience score for a Star Wars film, including the prequels and Solo: A Star Wars Story. Some have accused fans of review bombing the film to tank the score.

While speaking with The New York Times in a Wednesday article, Abrams addressed the divide and criticism the film received. As writer Dave Itzcoff points out, Johnson’s film had an unconventional approach to the universe. 

“Each time [The Last Jedi] addressed one of several cliffhangers left dangling from ‘The Force Awakens’ — what would happen when Rey returned Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber to him? who were her parents? who was the nefarious Supreme Leader Snoke? — Johnson’s movie seemed to say: the answers to these questions aren’t as important as you think,” he wrote. 

While Abrams did say he liked that The Last Jedi was “full of surprises and subversion and all sorts of bold choices,” he also noted his issues with the movie. 

“On the other hand, it’s a bit of a meta approach to the story,” he said. “I don’t think that people go to ‘Star Wars’ to be told, ‘This doesn’t matter.’”

Abrams was not the only one from the franchise to make these kinds of remarks to the Times. Daisy Ridley, who plays the trilogy’s heroine, Rey, said she cried when she learned that Abrams would be returning to finish up the saga. 

John Boyega, who plays ex-stormtrooper Finn, also said that he was looking forward to seeing where Abrams’ storyline was going. In another profile, he said that he found The Last Jedi to be “iffy” and that he disagreed with some of the choices made in it.

Fans React Online

Because Star Wars fans are already split on almost every aspect of the franchise, perhaps with the exception of Baby Yoda’s cuteness, these remarks started a massive conversation online. Many of the thoughts shared stemmed back to peoples’ feelings on The Last Jedi, and the direction this trilogy is moving in as a whole. 

Some thought it was disrespectful for the cast to malign Johnson and his film in the press.

While others took to complement Johnson’s work, noting that Abrams is the one who handed him the saga in the first place.

Others found an element of hypocrisy in The Last Jedi fans so eagerly criticizing Abrams when they stood on the defense of Johnson for so long. 

Some thought it reflected the general problems in regards to the newest trilogy.

Vanity Fair writer Joanna Robinson, who has experience covering global pop culture phenomenons herself, said that that the press has to walk a very thin line when covering things like Star Wars. In this case, that line ended up steering in a wild direction. 

Yahoo Entertainment writer Kevin Polowy worked to settle some tensions by sharing positive comments Abrams has made to him about Johnson and The Last Jedi. 

“I don’t think [Rise of Skywalker] would’ve been nearly what it is without the choices that Rian made, so I’m nothing but grateful,” he said. 

Boyega’s Comments About Social Media

This was not the only Star Wars-related controversy fans were discussing. Variety published an interview with Boyega on Wednesday that caused backlash as well. In the interview, Boyega, a frequent user of sites like Twitter and Instagram, discussed his relationship with social media. The reporter notes that his co-star, Kelly Marie Train, who plays Rose Tico, quit social media after being repeatedly harassed online. He was asked how he handles the positive and negative sides of the Internet. 

“Being in this position, you just understand the masses, how the masses think, you know. Through social media, we get to engage, we get to have fun,” he said in response. “But at the same time, for those who are not mentally strong, you are weak to believe in every single thing that you read. That’s, you know, it is what it is.

Many fans saw this as a dig to Tran, thinking he was specifically calling her weak.

Boyega went to Twitter to clear his comments up, saying they had nothing to do with Tran and were “badly worded.”

He also referenced his previous comments about online harassment that he made back when Tran left social media. “Harassing the actors/ actresses will do nothing,” he said at the time.

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (The Nerdist) (Esquire)

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Emily Ratajkowski Slams $25M Weinstein Settlement

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  • Supermodel Emily Ratajkowski posted a photo Wednesday night expressing her disappointment with the tentative settlement that Harvey Weinstein and his alleged sexual misconduct victims reached.
  • The tentative settlement would pay out $25 million to Weinstein’s alleged victims.
  • If finalized, Weinstein would not have to pay any of his own money and would not have to admit to any wrongdoing. 

Tentative Settlement

Emily Ratajkowski is outraged over Harvey Weinstein’s tentative $25 million settlement with his alleged victims and is not afraid of showing it.

The settlement, announced Wednesday, totals to about $47 million and was agreed upon between Weinstein, his company board members, and dozens of women who have accused the movie producer of sexual misconduct, according to The New York Times.

Of that total sum, about $25 million would be paid out to Weinstein’s alleged victims. If the deal goes through, Weinstein would not have to admit to any of his alleged wrongdoings or pay any of the money out of his own pocket. Instead, insurance companies that represented the former movie mogul’s studio, the Weinstein Co., would cover the costs.    

Ratajkowski posted a photo of herself on her Twitter and Instagram accounts on Wednesday with the words “fuck harvey.” written on her left arm. She wore the same message on her body to the “Uncut Gems” movie premiere later that night.

“Today Harvey Weinstein and his former studio made a $25 million deal with his victims,” Ratajkowski wrote online. “Weinstein, accused of offenses ranging from sexual harassment to rape, won’t have to admit wrongdoing or pay his own money. #nojusticenopeace.”

Further Details of the Deal

Weinstein has been in legal battles ever since The New York Times broke a story in 2017 detailing decades of his alleged sexual abuse and misconduct, catapulting the #MeToo movement and carving a path for victims to come forward. The former Hollywood head has maintained his innocence throughout the two years since. 

The settlement requires court approval and a final signoff from all involved parties to be finalized, but even if it is, its terms are uncertain. Out of the settlement payout, $6.2 million would be split between 18 of Weinstein’s alleged victims, with no individual receiving more than $500,000.

A separate sum of money, $18.6 million, would be set aside for those involved in a class-action case, the New York attorney general’s suit and any future claimants, according to The New York Times.      

The deal also allocates about $12 million of the settlement to legal costs for Weinstein, his brother Robert, and other former members of the company’s board. The remaining funds will go to unsecured creditors and former Weinstein Co. employees, according to The Los Angeles Times. 

The deal, if approved, would settle multiple civil claims. However, Weinstein is still scheduled to go to trial in January on criminal charges of sexual assault. 

Deal Sparks Backlash

Emily Ratajkowski is not the only one upset by the tentative settlement. Some of Weinstein’s alleged victims are not on board as well, and their lawyers have already publicly rejected it.

Attorneys Douglas Wigdor and Kevin Mintzer represent Wedil David, who alleges that Weinstein raped her in a hotel room in 2015. Earlier this year, when a $44 million settlement was announced, Wigdor and Mintzer rejected it. They reiterated their dissatisfaction with the legal process on Wednesday after the new tentative settlement was reached. 

“It is shameful that $12 million of the settlement is going to the lawyers for the directors who we alleged enabled Harvey Weinstein, and it is even more outrageous that the proposed settlement will seek to bind non-participating members by providing a release to the insurance companies and the directors of the Weinstein Co. itself,” Wigdor and Mintzer said in a statement. 

“While we don’t begrudge victims who want to settle, we plan to vigorously object to any provision that tries to bind victims who want to proceed with holding Harvey Weinstein accountable for his actions, which is exactly what we intend to do,” they added.  

Over 30 actresses and former Weinstein employees agreed to the settlement, according to The New York Times, but even some of those individuals are not very happy with it. 

Actress Katherine Kendall, who accused Weinstein of chasing her around a hotel room naked in 1993, expressed her frustration. 

“I don’t love it, but I don’t know how to go after him,” she told The Times. “I don’t know what I can really do.”

See what others are saying: (HuffPost) (NPR) (Fox News)

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AJC Says Film “Richard Jewell” Falsely Depicts Their Reporter

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  • Clint Eastwood’s new film Richard Jewell follows the man falsely accused of planting the Centennial Park bomb in 1996, with an angle that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution vigorously led the charge against him in their reporting on the case. 
  • The film implies that reporter Kathy Scruggs, played by Olivia Wilde, traded sex for a news tip.
  • The AJC and colleagues of Scruggs claim this is false, and the paper is asking the filmmakers to add a disclaimer noting that elements of the story have been fabricated.
  • Warner Brothers has defended the film and its depiction of both Jewell and the reporters who covered him. The movie will have a standard disclaimer at the end, as is typical with many films based on real-life events.

AJC Sends Letter to Warner Brothers

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote a letter to Warner Brothers requesting that they add a disclaimer before their new film Richard Jewell, saying the movie inaccurately depicts their reporter trading sex for a news tip.

The letter was sent to the studio, as well as the film’s director Clint Eastwood and screenwriter Billy Ray. Based on a Vanity Fair article, the film follows Richard Jewell, who became the FBI’s suspect in the 1996 Centennial Bombing in Atlanta after he reported a suspicious package and helped clear the area. The AJC was the first outlet to report that he was being considered a suspect. Jewell ended up being innocent. 

The film implies that the journalist working on the story, Kathy Scruggs, played by Olivia Wilde, traded sex for information on Jewell’s case. The paper claims that this did not happen and that there is no evidence to support it. 

“Such a portrayal makes it appear that the AJC sexually exploited its staff and/or that it facilitated or condoned offering sexual gratification to sources in exchange for stories,” the letter said. “That is entirely false and malicious, and it is extremely defamatory and damaging.”

Scruggs is no longer alive to defend her work. She died at the age of 43 in 2001, with many close to her believing the stress from the controversy of her reporting attributed to the poor health that caused her early death.

In addition to the disclaimer, The AJC is also requesting that Warner Brothers make a statement “publicly acknowledging that some events were imagined for dramatic purposes and artistic license and dramatization were used in the film’s portrayal of events and characters.”

Jewell, who died in 2007, filed and settled suits with numerous outlets following the accusations against him. Of all the organizations involved in legal battles over this, the AJC was the only one who did not settle. Their case was dismissed in 2011 with the court saying that at the time, what the outlet was printing was true. They defended their reporting, which many critics say the film attacks, in their letter. 

“The AJC actually held that story for a day to develop additional independent corroboration of key facts prior to publication. Law enforcement sources confirmed to the AJC their focus on Mr. Jewell,” the letter said. “The accuracy of the story had also been confirmed with an FBI spokesperson to whom the entire story was read before publication.”

AJC Journalists Criticize Film

Richard Jewell hits theatres everywhere on Dec. 13. The film has received positive reviews and awards buzz so far, though some critics have pointed out the heavy-handed way the film depicts news media. The Washington Post said Eastwood’s latest project paints the press as “the enemy of the people” and “caricatures of corruption.”

Slate said it depicted Scruggs as “vampiric.” The AJC published a piece called “The Ballad of Kathy Scruggs” citing people who knew Scruggs at the time, all who claimed this portrait of her was far from reality. 

One colleague called the film version of Scruggs “complete horse (expletive)” and “just not true.” Her reporting partner at the time also critiqued it. 

“It’s obvious to me they did not go to any great lengths to find out what the real characters were like,” he said.

The editor of the AJC, Kevin G. Riley, spoke to Variety about Richard Jewell. He believes that Scruggs is now being depicted in the same false light Jewell once was over 20 years ago.

“The film literally makes things up and adds to misunderstandings about how serious news organizations work,” he said. “It’s ironic that the film commits the same sins that it accuses the media of committing.”

Warner Brothers Defends Film

Warner Brothers, however, is standing by their movie. In a statement to Fox News, they said the film is based on credible material.

“It is unfortunate and the ultimate irony that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, having been a part of the rush to judgment of Richard Jewell, is now trying to malign our filmmakers and cast,” their statement said. “’Richard Jewell’ focuses on the real victim, seeks to tell his story, confirm his innocence and restore his name. The (Journal-Constitution’s) claims are baseless and we will vigorously defend against them.” 

They also told Fox News that the film will have a disclaimer at the end of it, which is standard for most films based at least partially on true stories. This disclaimer will note that while the movie is based on historical events, elements have been added for the purposes of dramatization.

Wilde has previously defended the film and her character. She told the Hollywood Reporter that Scrugg’s legacy has been “unfairly boiled down to one element of her personality, one inferred moment in the film.”

“I think that people have a hard time accepting sexuality in female characters without allowing it to entirely define that character,” Wilde added. “We don’t do that to James Bond, We don’t say James Bond isn’t a real spy because he gets his information sometimes by sleeping with women as sources.”

See what others are saying: (The Daily Beast) (New York Times) (IndieWire)

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