Prince Harry loses a court challenge over being stripped of a UK security detail
Court Watch | 2024/02/28 21:57
Prince Harry ‘s fight for publicly funded protection was rejected Wednesday by a London judge who said the U.K. government didn’t act irrationally when it stripped him of security privileges after he quit working as a member of the royal family and moved to the United States. Harry plans to appeal the decision.

High Court Judge Peter Lane said the February 2020 decision to provide “bespoke” security to the Duke of Sussex on an as-needed basis wasn’t unlawful, irrational or unjustified.

“Insofar as the case-by-case approach may otherwise have caused difficulties, they have not been shown to be such as to overcome the high hurdle so as to render the decision-making irrational,” Lane wrote in the 51-page ruling that was censored throughout to protect identities and security arrangements for Harry and other public figures.

Harry said he planned to appeal the ruling and keep challenging the decision made by the group known by the acronym of its former name, the Royal and VIP Executive Committee, or RAVEC, a spokesperson said.

“The duke is not asking for preferential treatment, but for a fair and lawful application of RAVEC’s own rules, ensuring that he receives the same consideration as others in accordance with RAVEC’s own written policy,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

Harry claimed in the lawsuit that he and his family were endangered when visiting the U.K. because of hostility toward him and his wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, on social media and relentless hounding by news media.

His lawyer argued that RAVEC, which is made up of members of the royal family staff, the Metropolitan Police and several government offices, acted irrationally and failed to follow its own policies that should have required a risk analysis of the duke’s safety.

A government lawyer said Harry had been treated fairly and was still provided protection on some visits, citing a security detail that guarded him in June 2021 when he was chased by photographers after attending an event with seriously ill children at Kew Gardens in west London.


Witness at trial recounts fatal shooting of cinematographer by Alec Baldwin
Court News | 2024/02/26 05:57
Testimony at trial Monday turned emotional and argumentative as an eyewitness recounted the fatal 2021 shooting of a cinematographer by actor Alec Baldwin during a movie rehearsal and described gun misfires, crew members walking out and a “ludicrous” pace of work.

Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who was the armorer for the upcoming Western movie “Rust,” is fighting charges of involuntary manslaughter and tampering with evidence at a trial that entered its third day of testimony Monday. A trial date was set for Baldwin in July on a single charge of involuntary manslaughter in the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. He has pleaded not guilty.

Defense attorneys highlighted Gutierrez-Reed’s unusual disadvantage and vulnerability at the time as a part-time, 24-year-old armorer without trade-union membership on a set where few dared confront Baldwin directly about concerns about safety and related budgeting.

Monday’s testimony veered into the actor’s handling of the revolver that killed Hutchins — including a video of Baldwin twice practicing a cross-draw maneuver for a camera on Oct. 21, 2021, shortly before the fatal shooting that day. Investigators found no video of the shooting.

The video of Baldwin was accompanied by searing testimony from Ross Addiego, a front-line “Rust” crew member who helped guide the film’s camera. Addiego said that in the moments after a shot rang out on set, he made eye contact with a wounded Hutchins and tried to calm wounded director Joel Souza.

“The first person I made eye contact with was Halyna, who was clearly injured. In fact, she was starting to go flush and I think holding her right side,” said Addiego, breaking into tears. “I think I yelled out, ‘If you can’t help, get ... out of here, and someone call 911.’”

Prosecutors guided Addiego through testimony in which he described his anger and frustration with safety procedures on set, including the sight of a storage cart for guns and ammunition that frequently appeared to be unattended and Gutierrez-Reed’s work as an armorer in charge of loading guns with blank and dummy rounds. Investigators found six live rounds on the set of “Rust,” including the one that killed Hutchins.

Addiego noted two gun misfires on set — confirmed as blank rounds without projectiles by workplace safety regulators — and just one safety meeting over the course about two work weeks, when daily meetings are the norm.

He said prior to the fatal shooting he lodged safety complaints with union representatives and the film’s top safety official, assistant director David Halls, who pleaded no contest last year to a charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon and may be called on to testify.



Court rejects appeal from 3 GOP House members over $500 mask fines
Attorney News | 2024/02/21 22:45
The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected appeals from three Republican U.S. House members who challenged fines for not wearing face coverings on the House floor in 2021.

The justices did not comment on leaving in place $500 fines issued in May 2021 to U.S. Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Ralph Norman of South Carolina.

The mask requirement was part of the House’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the mandate remained in place even after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance noting that “fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing.”

The lawmakers showed up on the House floor without masks, even posing for a selfie. The requirement was lifted in June 2021.

Lower courts had refused to disturb the fines, ruling that courts lack the power to review the mask policy.

Lawyers for House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican, had urged the court to reject the appeal from fellow Republican representatives, though they noted that Johnson and every other member of the Republican leadership voted against the mask policy.


Ex-Illinois lawmaker abruptly pleads guilty to fraud and money laundering
Attorney News | 2024/02/17 21:43
Former Illinois lawmaker and gubernatorial candidate William “Sam” McCann abruptly pleaded guilty on Thursday to nine felony counts of wire fraud, money laundering and tax evasion, halting his federal corruption trial over misusing up to $550,000 in campaign contributions.

McCann, who cut off negotiations over a plea deal last fall when he dismissed his court-appointed attorneys, made the reversal on the third day of a bench trial before U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Lawless. His latest lawyer, Jason Vincent, of Springfield, asked that he be released from custody as part of the deal, but Lawless nixed the idea, telling McCann his only option was to offer a no-strings open plea.

The seven counts of wire fraud and single count of money laundering each carry a sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison. For tax evasion, it’s three. But a complex set of advisory guidelines before Lawless, who set sentencing for June 20, will likely yield a far shorter term.

“Are you pleading guilty because you are in fact guilty?” Lawless asked. The 54-year-old McCann, wearing the gray-and-black striped jumpsuit of the nearby county jail where he’s held, replied, “Yes, your honor.”

Lawless set a hearing for Friday on McCann’s release request, but it’s certain to draw opposition from the government and not just because McCann violated probation last week when he left the state to check himself into a hospital with chest pains. Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Bass told Lawless he would introduce as further evidence of McCann’s unreliability a bizarre social media video posted just this week in which McCann claims a government conspiracy involving an “ungodly pack of lies” is against him.

A state senator from 2011 to 2019, McCann formed the Conservative Party of Illinois to campaign for governor in 2018. A criminal indictment in 2021 outlined numerous schemes McCann employed to convert contributions from his campaign committees to buy vehicles, pay an overdue loan, two mortgages, credit card bills and fund a family vacation, entertainment and other purchases.

For his unsuccessful run for governor, he collected more than $3 million dollars from Local 150 of the International Union of Operating Engineers alone. Despite being questioned four times by FBI and IRS agents in summer 2018 about alleged improper spending, he tore through $340,000 in leftover campaign funds for personal expenses in the year after the election.


North Carolina voter ID trial rescheduled again for spring in federal court
Legal Business | 2024/02/14 00:30
A federal lawsuit filed over five years ago challenging North Carolina's new photo voter identification mandate is now set to go to trial in the spring, with an outcome that could possibly affect what people must do to cast ballots this fall.

The U.S. District Court in Winston-Salem announced on Monday that Judge Loretta Biggs will convene the nonjury trial starting May 6 over the law, which was implemented just last fall.

While the state's photo ID requirement remains in place for the March 5 primary elections, a spring or summer ruling after the trial by Biggs to strike down the law could threaten its use in the November general election in the nation's ninth-largest state. North Carolina will have races for governor, attorney general and many other statewide races on the fall ballots. Courts, however, can be cautious about changing voting rules close to an election to avoid confusion.

The May date is about three months later than the date that lawyers for the state NAACP and several local chapters had requested several months ago. They sued over the 2018 law claiming it is marred by racial bias.

Attorneys for Republican legislative leaders defending the law had told Biggs in writing that the trial schedule sought by the NAACP groups was deficient. They also said it allowed no opportunity for the judge to dismiss the case on arguments before going to a formal trial.

Biggs held a hearing in November about the trial date and whether the State Board of Elections should be required to provide more public records to the plaintiffs about how voter ID has been implemented since last year. In a separate order Monday, Biggs sent the plaintiff’s request to a magistrate judge to recommend a decision to her. That recommendation can be challenged.

After a state Supreme Court ruling last April upholding the 2018 law as legal, the photo ID mandate was carried out in mostly municipal elections in September, October and November.

The trial date order doesn't estimate how long the trial will last. But it sets aside three weeks after the trial for the sides to file more papers.

The federal lawsuit alleges that the ID law violates the Voting Rights Act by discriminating disproportionately against Black and Latino voters to comply with the requirement. Republican lawmakers disagree and say the law builds public confidence in elections. They also point in part to a broader array of exceptions for people lacking an ID to still cast ballots when compared to an earlier voter ID law.

Previous trial dates for 2021 and 2022 were postponed. Biggs delayed one start date while the U.S. Supreme Court weighed her earlier refusal to allow GOP lawmakers to intervene in the case and defend the law in court. The U.S. justices sided with the legislative leaders in June 2022.

Biggs lifted her stay on action in the case last summer a few months after the state Supreme Court determined the mandate comported with state constitution.

In late 2019, Biggs issued a preliminary injunction blocking the 2018 voter ID law, saying it was tainted by racial bias largely because a previous voter ID law approved by legislators in 2013 had been struck down on similar grounds. The 2013 law was implemented briefly in 2016.



Republicans urge state Supreme Court to reject redistricting report’s findings
Attorney News | 2024/02/09 06:05
Wisconsin Republicans urged the state Supreme Court on Thursday to ignore a report from redistricting consultants that determined GOP-proposed legislative maps were unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders.

While Republicans argue that the consultants’ findings are unsound, Democrats asked the court on Thursday to adopt one of their maps that the consultants found were “nearly indistinguishable.”

The stakes are huge in battleground Wisconsin, where Republicans have held a firm grip on control of the Legislature even as Democrats have notched significant statewide wins. Four of the past six presidential elections have been decided by less than a percentage point, while Republicans have increased their majorities under the maps they first drew in 2011 to 22-10 in the Senate and 65-34 in the Assembly.

The liberal-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in December that the current Republican-drawn legislative maps were unconstitutional because not all the districts were contiguous. The court ordered the parties involved in the lawsuit to submit new maps that a pair of consultants then reviewed.

With the report and responses now in hand, the court is poised to rule within days or weeks on what the new maps should look like, unless the Republican-controlled Legislature passes maps that Democratic Gov. Tony Evers signs into law first.

Republicans are talking about passing the maps that Evers proposed, which the governor indicated on Wednesday he would sign. Evers last week vetoed maps the Legislature passed that were based on his proposal but made changes to protect Republican incumbents.

Republican Assembly Majority Leader Tyler August said Thursday there have been discussions with Senate Republicans about passing the Evers maps with no changes.

While those talks continue, the Supreme Court accepted responses Thursday from Republicans and Democrats to the consultants’ report. The court and Legislature are facing a March 15 deadline to enact new lines. That is the latest that maps can be in place in order for current filing deadlines for the fall election to be met, according to the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

Attorneys for the Legislature argued in their court filing Thursday that the consultants’ report was about finding a political remedy to redistricting, not addressing the continuity issue.

“There is no judicial power, only political will, to impose any of the Democrats’ sweeping redraws as a judicial remedy,” the Legislature argued.

The Legislature also hints at an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, saying that moving millions of voters from one legislative district to another as the Democratic map proposals would do “raises serious federal constitutional questions.”

The conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty made a similar argument, saying adopting the reasoning of the consultants in rejecting it and the Legislature’s maps “would be an egregious due process violation.”

Republicans have also argued that liberal Justice Janet Protasiewicz should not have heard the case, given that she called the current Republican maps “rigged” and “unfair” during the campaign and accepted about $10 million in donations from Democrats. She was part of the 4-3 majority that voted to toss the Republican maps.



Nevada Supreme Court sides with AP in Wynn defamation suit
Legal Business | 2024/02/07 14:05
The Nevada Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed a defamation lawsuit brought by casino mogul Steve Wynn against The Associated Press over a story about two women’s accounts to police alleging he engaged in sexual misconduct.

The court cited state anti-SLAPP law in rejecting Wynn’s claim that he was defamed in the February 2018 AP article, which cited police documents. SLAPP, or strategic lawsuits against public participation, refers to court filings made to intimidate or silence critics.

“Nevada’s anti-SLAPP statutes were designed to limit precisely the type of claim at issue here, which involves a news organization publishing an article in a good faith effort to inform their readers regarding an issue of clear public interest,” the three-justice panel said in a unanimous opinion.

Wynn had argued that the documents failed to fully describe elements of a woman’s account that would have cast doubt on her allegation that he raped her in the 1970s in Chicago and that she gave birth to their daughter in a gas station restroom.

Lauren Easton, AP vice president of corporate communications said in a statement that the news organization is pleased with the ruling.

“We believe the Nevada Supreme Court made the right decision,” Easton said. Attorney Todd Bice, representing Wynn, said he was “surprised that the Court would change Nevada law and disregard the Nevada Legislature in order to extend legal protections to a news report that was determined to be false.”

He said Wynn’s legal team now is “considering all options.”

Wynn, the 82-year-old developer of a decadeslong casino empire, filed the lawsuit in April 2018 against AP, one of its reporters and Halina Kuta, the woman who made the claim. Two months earlier he had resigned as chairman and chief executive of Wynn Resorts.

Wynn has consistently denied sexual misconduct allegations, which were first reported in January 2018 by the Wall Street Journal.  

The case went to the state high court twice, after Clark County District Court Judge Ronald Israel first dismissed AP from the case in August 2018 on the grounds that it “fairly reported” information based on an official document, a police complaint by Kuta, even though authorities never investigated the allegation.

Las Vegas police said too much time had elapsed since Kuta said the events occurred in 1973 or 1974.

Neither accuser was identified in the AP report. Their names and other identifying information were blacked out in documents obtained by AP under a public records request. Las Vegas police refused to provide additional details.


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