Lawsuit seeks Confederate statue’s removal from courthouse
Court Watch | 2021/05/05 20:33
Civil rights advocates sued a Maryland county on Wednesday to seek the court-ordered removal of a Confederate monument from a courthouse lawn on the state’s Eastern Shore, calling it a racist symbol of oppression.

In their federal lawsuit, an NAACP branch leader and a defense lawyer say the “Talbot Boys” statue in Talbot County is the last Confederate monument remaining on public property in Maryland besides cemeteries and battlefields.

The lawsuit claims that a statue glorifying the Confederacy on the lawn outside the county courthouse in Easton, Maryland, is both unconstitutional and illegal under federal and state laws. Keeping it there “sends a message that the community does not value Black people, that justice is not blind, and that Black people are not equal in the eyes of the county,” the suit says.

“For Black employees and litigants entering the courthouse, the statue is, in its least damaging capacity, intimidating and demoralizing,” it adds.

In August 2020, Talbot County Council members voted 3-2 to keep the memorial on the courthouse lawn.

Council President Chuck Callahan was among the three members who voted to keep the memorial. He did not immediately respond Wednesday to an email and phone call seeking comment on the lawsuit.

The memorial, dedicated in 1916, commemorates more than 80 soldiers who fought for the Confederacy. A website advocating for it to stay on the courthouse lawn calls it “a piece of history and a splendid work of art that tells the story of brother vs. brother where North and South came together, the border state of Maryland.”

The lawsuit says the statute, erected 50 years after the Civil War ended and during the Jim Crow era, was funded primarily by a prominent white lawyer who “embraced ideals of slavery.”

“It is also telling that no monument was erected to honor the sacrifices of those from Talbot County who fought for the Union ? particularly since Maryland was not part of the Confederacy,” the suit adds.

The lawsuit’s plaintiffs include Richard Potter, president of the Talbot County branch of the NAACP, and Kisha Petticolas, a Black lawyer who works in Talbot County for the Maryland Office of the Public Defender.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers, including from the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, filed the federal lawsuit in Baltimore.

It asks the court to order the statute’s permanent removal from the courthouse area and bar its display at any other county property. It also seeks unspecified monetary damages for the plaintiffs.


Top Kansas court upholds law barring ‘wrongful birth’ suits
Court News | 2021/05/01 19:44
Kansas’ highest court on Friday upheld a law barring so-called wrongful birth lawsuits against doctors, in a case in which a couple sued because they weren’t told of serious fetal defects until after an abortion could have been obtained.

The state Supreme Court ruled against the parents of a girl born with a severe brain abnormality who said they would have opted for an abortion had they known of their daughter’s medical problems months before her May 2014 birth.

The Republican-controlled Legislature and then-GOP Gov. Sam Brownback passed the law  against wrongful birth lawsuits in 2013 at the urging of abortion opponents. It overturned a 1990 state Supreme Court ruling saying Kansas law allowed such lawsuits, and current Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, then a state senator, voted against it.

The parents’ attorneys argued that the law violated provisions of the state’s bill of rights declaring the right to a jury trial “inviolate” and providing a right to “remedy by due course of law” for injuries. But four of the seven state Supreme Court justices concluded that the state’s 1850s founders didn’t recognize wrongful birth as a legal concept, making it an “innovation” that isn’t covered by those constitutional provisions.

“It is a new species of malpractice action first recognized in 1990,” Justice Dan Biles wrote in their opinion.

The decision upholds a policy favored by anti-abortion groups, who’ve long criticized the court as too liberal. The state Supreme Court declared in 2019 that access to abortion is a “fundamental” right under the state constitution, meaning it would be protected in Kansas if the U.S. Supreme Court overturned its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. But Friday’s ruling did not cite the 2019 decision or frame the issues in terms of abortion rights.

“The birth of a child should be cause for celebration, not for the law to award damages because the child was ‘wrongfully’ born,” said Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican, who defended the law and is running for governor in 2022.

The four justices were joined in upholding the law by Justice Caleb Stegall, Brownback’s only appointee on the court. He was the lone dissenter in the 2019 ruling protecting abortion rights.

Stegall argued that the majority should have simply overturned the 1990 ruling, calling it “one of the worst decisions in our court’s history” and a “black mark” on par with a U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the right to inter Japanese Americans during World War II.


Court to hear appeal of Dallas officer who killed neighbor
Legal Business | 2021/04/27 20:17
A Texas court is scheduled to hear arguments Tuesday on overturning the conviction of a former Dallas police officer who was sentenced to prison for fatally shooting her neighbor in his home.

An attorney for Amber Guyger and prosecutors are set to clash before an appeals court over whether the evidence was sufficient to prove that her 2018 shooting of Botham Jean was murder.

The hearing before a panel of judges will examine a Dallas County jury’s  2019 decision to sentence Guyger to 10 years in prison for murder. It follows the recent conviction of a former Minneapolis police officer who was found guilty of murdering George Floyd, again focusing national attention on police killings and racial injustice.

Guyger is not expected to appear in court Tuesday and the appeals panel will hand down a decision at an unspecified later date.

More than two years before Floyd’s death set off protests across the country, Guyger’s killing of Jean drew national attention because of the strange circumstances and because it was one in a string of shootings of Black men by white police officers.

The basic facts of the case were not in dispute. Guyger, returning home from a long shift, mistook Jean’s apartment for her own, which was on the floor directly below his. Finding the door ajar, she entered and shot him, later testifying that she through he was a burglar.

Jean, a 26-year-old accountant, had been eating a bowl of ice cream before Guyger shot him. She was later fired from the Dallas Police Department.

The appeal from Guyger, now 32, hangs on the contention that her mistaking Jean’s apartment for her own was reasonable and, therefore, so too was the shooting. Her lawyers have asked the appeals court  to acquit her of murder or to substitute in a conviction for criminally negligent homicide, which carries a lesser sentence.

In court filings, Dallas County prosecutors countered  that Guyger’s error doesn’t negate “her culpable mental state.” They wrote, “murder is a result-oriented offense.”

Jean’s mother, Allison Jean, told the Dallas Morning News that the appeal has delayed her family’s healing.

”I know everyone has a right of appeal, and I believe she’s utilizing that right,” Jean said. “But on the other hand, there is one person who cannot utilize any more rights because she took him away.

“So having gotten 10 years, only 10, for killing someone who was in the prime of his life and doing no wrong in the comfort of his home, I believe that she ought to accept, take accountability for it and move on,” she said.

Guyger could have been sentenced to up to life in prison or as little as two years. Prosecutors had requested a 28-year sentence ? Botham Jean would have been 28 if he were still alive during the trial.

Under her current sentence, Guyger will become eligible for parole in 2024, according to state prison records.

Following the trial, two members of the jury said the diverse panel tried to consider what the victim would have wanted when they settled on a 10-year prison sentence.

Jean ? who went by “Bo” ? sang in a church choir in Dallas and grew up in a devout family on the island nation of St. Lucia. After sentencing, Brandt Jean embraced Guyger in court and told her his older brother would have wanted her to turn her life over to Christ. He said if she asked God for forgiveness, she would get it.


COVID-19 concerns raised at St. Louis death penalty trial
Court Watch | 2021/04/23 18:56
Attorneys for a St. Louis man accused of killing his ex-girlfriend, her mom and his baby boy are asking the Missouri Supreme Court to delay his capital murder trial for two weeks after two potential jurors tested positive for COVID-19.

Jury selection began last week in the trial of Eric Lawson, who is accused of fatally shooting 22-year-old Breiana Ray and 50-year-old Gwendolyn Ray before setting an apartment fire that killed his 10-month-old son, Aiden. Lawson, 32, has been in pretrial detention since his arrest nearly nine years ago. The case is being prosecuted by the Missouri Attorney General’s Office.

Attorneys for Lawson sought a continuance in January and again in March, citing concerns about COVID-19 each time. Circuit Judge Michael Noble denied both requests.

Lawson’s attorneys asked Noble for a continuance a third time on Wednesday, this time citing the two positive cases among potential jurors. When Noble again refused to pause the case, defense attorneys asked the Missouri Supreme Court to intervene.

“Mr. Lawson and his attorneys have been exposed to COVID-19 in the past 10 days,” the court motion states. “So have the judge, the prosecutors, courthouse staff, and prospective jurors.”

St. Louis Circuit Court spokesman Thom Gross said a potential juror appeared in court on April 14. She tested positive for COVID-19 two days later and notified the jury supervisor on April 19, saying she didn’t know when or where she was exposed.

Seven of the 39 prospective jurors from the April 14 session had originally been asked to return later, but Jury Supervisor Joanne Martin called each of them and told them they were dismissed, Gross said. Martin mailed letters to the others who attended that session to inform them of the positive test.

Gross said a second prospective juror told Martin on April 16 that they had just learned that a COVID-19 test taken earlier was positive. All 40 prospective jurors from that session were dismissed.

The court filing from Lawson’s lawyers said one of the lawyers, Julie Clark, is pregnant and thus considered vulnerable. An expert witness for the defense also “has several preexisting health conditions putting him at the greatest risk of contracting COVID,” the court filing said.


US deports woman who lied about role in Rwandan genocide
Legal Business | 2021/04/19 18:02
The Supreme Court on Monday said it will not hear a case out of Pennsylvania related to the 2020 election, a dispute that had lingered while similar election challenges had already been rejected by the justices. The high court directed a lower court to dismiss the case as moot.

The justices in February, after President Joe Biden’s inauguration, had rejected a handful of cases related to the 2020 election. In the case the court rejected Monday, however, the court had called for additional briefing that was not complete until the end of March.

The case involved a federal court challenge to a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision requiring election officials to receive and count mailed-in ballots that arrived up to three days after the election. More broadly, however, the case concerned whether state lawmakers or state courts get the last word about the manner in which federal elections are carried out.

The Democratic National Committee was among those that argued the case should be rejected as moot because the 2020 election is over. Those that brought the case said the justices should hear it because the issues involved are important and recurring.

The court had previously rejected other cases that had involved the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision to extend the deadline for mail-in ballots. Three of the court’s conservative justices dissented, saying they would have taken up the cases.

The genesis of the cases were changes Pennsylvania lawmakers made to the state’s election laws in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Despite the changes, lawmakers left in place a Nov. 3 deadline to receive absentee ballots. Democrats sued, and Pennsylvania’s highest court cited the ongoing pandemic and United States Postal Service delays in extending the deadline for mailed-in ballots to be received.

Wanda Murren, the communications director for the Pennsylvania Department of State, said Monday the elections agency is considering what to do about those ballots now, and whether they should be added to the final tally. In all, just over 10,000 ballots were received by elections officials after polls closed on Election Day, Nov. 3, but before 5 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 6.

“We are pleased that yet another court ruling has affirmed the accuracy and integrity of Pennsylvania’s November 2020 election,” Murren said.

More than 600 of the ballots received during those three days had no postmark or an illegible postmark.

The 10,000 ballots would not have altered the outcome of the presidential election in the state, which former President Donald Trump lost by some 80,000 votes.



Judge: Boston exam schools admissions policy ‘race-neutral’
Headline Legal News | 2021/04/18 01:02
A federal judge has upheld a temporary admissions policy at Boston’s elite exam high schools, ruling against a parents group that said in a lawsuit it discriminated against white students and those of Asian descent.

“This court finds and rules that the plan is race-neutral, and that neither the factors used nor the goal of greater diversity qualify as a racial classification,” U.S. District Judge William Young in Boston wrote in the ruling released Thursday night. The ruling applies only to the current exam cycle.

The Boston School Committee last fall temporarily dropped the entrance exam for Boston Latin School, Boston Latin Academy and the O’Bryant School of Math and Science because it was not safe to hold exams in-person during the pandemic.

Instead, the committee used student performance and ZIP code to weigh admission.

A group called the Boston Parent Coalition for Academic Excellence, filed a lawsuit in February on behalf of 14 white and Asian applicants in which it called the new policy “wholly irrational.”

William Hurd, an attorney for the coalition, said there will be an appeal.

“We respectfully disagree with the court’s decision,” Hurd said in a statement.

The Boston Public Schools in a statement said its goal has always been to “ensure a safe, fair, and equitable exam school admissions process.”


Mississippi marijuana program hinges on initiative arguments
Court News | 2021/04/14 23:01
The Mississippi Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday in a lawsuit that’s trying to block a voter-approved medical marijuana program by arguing that the the issue should not have been on the ballot.

Arguments were not about marijuana. Instead, they were about Mississippi’s initiative process.

Voters in November approved Initiative 65, which requires the state Health Department to establish a medical marijuana program by the middle of this year. The department is working to create a program, even as the legal fight continues.

To get Initiative 65 on the statewide ballot, organizers gathered signatures from the five congressional districts that Mississippi used during the 1990s. They did that based on legal advice issued years ago by the state attorney general’s office.

Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler filed a lawsuit days before the election, contending that the state’s initiative process is outdated.

The Mississippi Constitution says petitioners must gather an equal number of signatures from five congressional districts. The state dropped from five congressional districts to four after the 2000 Census, but the constitution’s language about initiatives was not updated. Butler’s lawsuit argues that this creates a mathematical impossibility with four districts because the constitution still specifies that no more than one-fifth of the signatures may come from any single district.

In papers filed Dec. 28 and in the Supreme Court on Wednesday, state attorneys argued that Mississippi has two sets of congressional districts ? one set used for congressional elections and one set used for other purposes.

Attorneys for Butler argued that the only purpose of a congressional district is to have geographical boundaries for electing U.S. House members.

Butler opposed Initiative 65 because it limits a city’s ability to regulate the location of medical marijuana businesses.

The Health Department, the Mississippi Municipal League and some others filed briefs supporting Butler’s lawsuit. The Health Department argued that Initiative 65 seeks to transform the department “into something it is not,” even as the department is stretched because of the coronavirus pandemic.

During the legislative session that recently ended, the Senate tried to create rules for a state medical marijuana program, but the House defeated the effort. Republican Sen. Kevin Blackwell of DeSoto County said the proposal was a backstop to have a program in place in case the Supreme Court agrees with Butler and invalidates Initiative 65. But supporters of Initiative 65 balked at the Senate’s proposal, saying they saw it as an attempt to usurp the will of the voters.



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