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US court hears arguments in ex-Lithuanian judge’s case

November 27, 2018

FILE - This 2012 file photo provided by Juozas Valiušaitis shows Neringa Venckiene in Lithuania. Venckiene, a former Lithuanian judge and parliamentarian jailed in Chicago at her homeland's request fears death if she's extradited because she helped expose a network of influential pedophiles in the country. An appeals court will hear oral arguments Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018, in the case of Venckiene, who is fighting extradition to her homeland. (Juozas Valiušaitis via AP, File)

CHICAGO (AP) — Oral arguments at a federal appeals court in Chicago over a request by a former Lithuanian lawmaker to halt her extradition to her homeland focused largely on whether an anti-pedophilia movement she launched in Lithuania early this decade qualified as a major rebellion.

Neringa Venckiene, 47 and jailed in Chicago, faces charges in Lithuania that include submitting false reports regarding her allegations a ring of influential pedophiles in Lithuania victimized her 4-year-old niece. Venckiene fled to the U.S. in 2013 as Lithuanian prosecutors prepared charges against her.

If she is extradited, she has said those she angered with her allegations would try to kill her. She has also said she made enemies in the government circles for founding a self-proclaimed anti-pedophilia and anti-corruption party that went on to win seven parliamentary seats in 2012.

“The defendant led a rebellion against the Lithuanian government,” her attorney Barry, Spevack, told a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday. By pursuing charges against her, he said, they wanted to “cut off the head of the insurrection.”

The emphasis on political turmoil is a longshot bid to convince the appeals court that Venckiene qualifies for strictly defined legal provisions that bar extraditions from the United States if the alleged crimes stemmed from significant political upheaval.

Department of Justice attorney Jonathan Clow told the panel Tuesday that it was a stretch to say some protests by Venckiene supporters and assertions that mysterious deaths are linked to her case constituted a full-blown rebellion or insurrection as required by the criteria.

“There was simply no violent political uprising in Lithuania at the time,” he said.

One of the panel judges, David Hamilton, also sounded skeptical of the defense reasoning, asking how a country that has been as outwardly stable and peaceful as Lithuania could be said to have been in political turmoil. He also asked why a U.S. court should intervene when the State Department already gave the green light to Venckiene’s extradition, “especially when you are talking about a (NATO) ally” requesting the extradition.

Spevack answered that whether Venckiene was protected under the law from extradition shouldn’t depend on whether the country that wants her “is a friendly ally or not.”

A lower federal court in July refused to stay Venckiene’s extradition. And her lawyers submitted the 84-page appeal the 7th Circuit the next month.

The other two judges on the panel were Amy Coney Barrett, appointed by President Donald Trump; and William Bauer, a Gerald Ford appointee. Barack Obama appointed Hamilton.

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Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mtarm

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