Feds: US Supreme Court should turn down 'Bridgegate' appeal
Legal Topics | 2019/05/16 15:43
The U.S. solicitor general's office has recommended that the U.S. Supreme Court not hear the appeal of two convicted defendants in the "Bridgegate" case, nudging the four-year legal saga of New Jersey's most famous traffic jam toward a conclusion.

"Further review is not warranted," the brief filed late Wednesday said. The Supreme Court is expected to decide whether to hear the case by the end of its term next month.

Bridget Kelly and Bill Baroni want the court to hear the appeal of their 2016 convictions for causing gridlock near the George Washington Bridge to punish a mayor for not endorsing their boss, former Republican Gov. Chris Christie.

Christie wasn't charged, but the revelations from the scandal and conflicting accounts of when he knew about the plot combined to sabotage his 2016 presidential aspirations.

Kelly, Christie's former deputy chief of staff at the time of the 2013 lane realignments in the town of Fort Lee, and Baroni, deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, had their sentences reduced this spring after a federal appeals court tossed some convictions last fall. Kelly petitioned the Supreme Court to consider the rest of the convictions, and Baroni joined in the appeal.

They argued that while their actions may have been ethically questionable, they weren't illegal because neither derived personal benefit, and the Port Authority, which operated the bridge, wasn't deprived of tangible benefits as a result of the scheme.


Supreme Court conservatives attack lame-duck arguments
Legal Business | 2019/05/14 22:43
Conservative justices who control the Wisconsin Supreme Court attacked liberal groups' claims Wednesday that Republican legislators met illegally when they passed laws limiting Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' and Attorney General Josh Kaul's powers during a lame-duck session last year, saying the Legislature can decide when it wants to meet.

That lame-duck session led to multiple legal challenges, including one by a coalition of liberal groups led by the League of Women Voters.

The coalition contends that the lame-duck session was illegal because the Legislature convened the vote as a so-called extraordinary session. Such sessions are previously unscheduled floor votes initiated by majority party leaders. The coalition maintains that the Wisconsin Constitution allows lawmakers to convene only at times laid out in a resolution they pass at the beginning of every two-year period or at the governor's call.

Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess agreed in March and invalidated all the laws passed during the lame-duck session. Republican lawmakers asked the Supreme Court to overturn that ruling.

The justices held oral arguments in the case Wednesday morning. The Republicans' attorney, Misha Tseytlin, began the proceeding by arguing that the Legislature can convene whenever it wishes.

The coalition's attorney, Jeffrey Mandell, argued that state law doesn't provide for extraordinary sessions. Justice Rebecca Bradley immediately cut him off, saying the Legislature has been meeting in extraordinary sessions for 40 years and no one has ever argued they were illegal. Mandell responded that sometimes it takes a "catalyzing event" to trigger a challenge.



Students in Colorado shooting face murder, other charges
Court News | 2019/05/11 22:45
Two students suspected of opening fire at their school are charged with over a dozen counts of murder and attempted murder as well as theft and arson, prosecutors said Wednesday.

The charges came on the same day a memorial service was being held for the one student who was killed in the May 7 shooting at the STEM School Highlands Ranch on May 7. Wight students were injured.

The accused gunmen, 18-year-old Devon Erickson and 16-year-old Alec McKinney, were arrested at the school and investigators say they opened fire inside using handguns.

The charges were listed in electronic court records. It wasn't clear if McKinney was being charged as an adult.

The celebration of 18-year-old Kendrick Castillo's life will be held at Cherry Hills Community Church in Highlands Ranch. The senior was just days from graduating when he was fatally wounded.

Castillo along with classmates Brendan Bialy and Joshua Jones are credited with helping minimize the bloodshed by charging at one of the suspects in a classroom.

According to Bialy, Castillo sprang into action against the shooter "and immediately was on top of him with complete disregard for his own safety." Jones said he was shot twice in the leg during the ordeal. Bialy said he was able to take the attacker's weapon.

All the injured students have been released from hospitals.


Supreme Court says 1 state can’t be sued in another’s courts
Court Watch | 2019/05/09 22:46
The Supreme Court decided Monday that one state cannot unwillingly be sued in the courts of another, overruling a 40-year precedent and perhaps, foreshadowing an argument over the viability of other high court decisions.

The outcome left one dissenting justice wondering “which cases the court will overrule next.”

The justices divided 5-4 to end a long-running dispute between California officials and Nevada inventor Gilbert Hyatt.

Hyatt is a former California resident who sued California’s tax agency for being too zealous in seeking back taxes from him. Hyatt won a judgment in Nevada courts.

But Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court’s conservative justices that the Constitution forbids states from opening the doors of their courts to a private citizen’s lawsuit against another state. In 1979, the high court concluded otherwise.

The four liberal justices dissented, saying they would have left alone the court’s decision in Nevada v. Hall. Justice Stephen Breyer said there are good reasons to overrule an earlier case, including that it is no longer workable or a vestige of an otherwise abandoned legal doctrine.


A loophole could keep young terror suspects out of US courts
Legal Topics | 2019/05/07 17:05
The Justice Department's ability to charge minors for supporting terrorist groups has been hampered by a 2018 Supreme Court decision, forcing prosecutors to hand off at least one such case to local authorities in a state without anti-terrorism laws.

The court's decision in a case unrelated to terrorism opened a loophole that could allow young supporters of groups like the Islamic State to skate on charges from the federal government.

The legal gap was highlighted by the case of Matin Azizi-Yarand , who was sentenced in a Texas state court last month after plotting to shoot police officers and civilians at a suburban shopping mall in an Islamic State-inspired rampage planned to coincide with the Muslim holiday of Ramadan.

In most cases like this, federal prosecutors would have brought terrorism charges. But U.S. prosecutors in Texas didn't charge Azizi-Yarand because he was 17 at the time and considered a minor under federal law.

Federal law allows prosecutors to charge anyone supporting or working with a State Department-designated terror group, even if the person was not in contact with the group. But to charge a juvenile with providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization, the attorney general would have to determine that the suspect committed what's known as a "crime of violence" under federal law.

The Supreme Court struck down part of that law last year, finding it too vague to be enforced in the case of a Philippine man who was facing deportation over burglary convictions. Justice Neil Gorsuch joined the court's more liberal judges, finding that the law crossed constitutional boundaries and that the law was not specific enough because it failed to adequately define what would be a violent crime.


Georgia high court to hear appeal in election challenge
Court News | 2019/05/07 00:06
Georgia's outdated voting machines are in the spotlight as election integrity advocates try to convince the state's highest court that a judge shouldn't have dismissed a lawsuit challenging the outcome of November's race for lieutenant governor.

The lawsuit says tens of thousands of votes were never recorded in the race and the contest was "so defective and marred by material irregularities" as to place the result in doubt. It contends an unexplained undervote in the race was likely caused by problems with the state's paperless touchscreen voting machines.

Republican Geoff Duncan beat Democrat Sarah Riggs Amico by 123,172 votes to become lieutenant governor. Amico is not a party to the lawsuit, which was filed in November by the Coalition for Good Governance, an election integrity advocacy organization; Smythe Duval, who ran for secretary of state as a Libertarian; and two Georgia voters. It was filed against Duncan and election officials.

A judge dismissed the lawsuit in January. In an appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court, lawyer Bruce Brown argues the judge erred by not allowing discovery prior to trial. But even without evidence that might have turned up in discovery, it's clear that the election was flawed enough to "place in doubt the result," he wrote.


News attorneys: Opioid distribution data should be public
Attorney News | 2019/05/05 00:07
Attorneys for news organizations argued Thursday that the U.S. public should be allowed to see federal data about how prescription opioids were distributed as the nation’s overdose crisis was worsening.

They urged a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati to overturn a lower court judge’s denial of access to the information. The judges will rule later.

“The value of transparency here is great,” said Karen C. Lefton, an Akron, Ohio, attorney representing The Washington Post. The data concerns “a public health crisis” that affects many more people than a typical case, she said.

The data is a key piece of evidence in hundreds of lawsuits filed by state and local governments against companies that make and distribute the drugs. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration database details the flow of prescription painkillers to pharmacies, showing the number and doses of pills.

A Justice Department attorney told the judges releasing the data would compromise investigations.

“This is an issue of really critical importance to the United States and DEA,” said government attorney Sarah Carroll. Making the information public, she said, “would tip defendants off to the scope of DEA investigations.”

Cleveland-based U.S. District Judge Dan Polster, who is overseeing more than 1,500 of the lawsuits, had ruled in July 2018 that the information cannot be made public. He said that doing so would reveal trade secrets. The Post and the HD Media newspaper chain, which had asked the court for the data, then appealed to the federal circuit.

The appellate judges raised a number of questions about Polster’s orders keeping the data secret and hundreds of filings in the case that are under seal.

Judge Eric Clay said it seemed that the secrecy in the case had “just gone overboard.” He told Carroll, of the Justice Department, that “just saying” cases would be compromised seems inadequate.


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