Hong Kongers charged in China plead guilty, relatives told
Court Watch | 2020/12/29 20:32
Relatives of the 10 Hong Kongers accused of fleeing the city by speedboat during a government crackdown on dissent say they've been informed that their family members pleaded guilty, according to a support group.

The families of the detainees were informed by court-appointed lawyers Tuesday that a court in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen will deliver the verdicts on Wednesday, according to the 12 Hongkongers Concern Group, which is assisting the families.

It was not clear whether the 10 would also be sentenced on Wednesday, but Chinese courts often issue sentences at the same time as verdicts.

The 10 defendants all faced charges of illegally crossing the border, while two of them faced additional charges of organizing the attempt, according to an indictment issued in Shenzhen. The trials began on Monday afternoon, according to a statement issued by the Shenzhen Yantian District court.

Separate hearings were expected for two minors who were also aboard the boat that was apparently heading for Taiwan when it was stopped by the Chinese coast guard on Aug. 23.

The defendants are believed to have feared they would be prosecuted for their past activities in support of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. Hong Kong media reports said at least one may have had a warrant out for his arrest under a tough new national security law imposed on the semi-autonomous territory by Beijing in June.

Relatives of the defendants say that they have been prevented from hiring their own lawyers and that the accusations are politically motivated. The defendants can be sentenced to up to a year in prison for crossing the border and seven years for organizing the trip.

They were picked up after entering mainland Chinese waters for crossing the maritime border without permission. While Hong Kong is part of China, travelers must still pass through immigration when going to and from the mainland. The defendants apparently needed to pass through Chinese waters to get to open seas.


Trump made lasting impact on federal courts
Attorney News | 2020/12/28 20:58
On this, even President Donald Trump’s most fevered critics agree: he has left a deep imprint on the federal courts that will outlast his one term in office for decades to come.

He used the promise of conservative judicial appointments to win over Republican skeptics as a candidate. Then as president, he relied on outside conservative legal organizations and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to employ an assembly line-like precision to install more than 230 judges on the federal bench, including the three newest justices of the Supreme Court. Trump never tired of boasting about it.

Indeed, undeterred by Democratic criticism, the Senate was still confirming judges more than a month after Trump lost his reelection bid to Joe Biden.

“Trump has basically done more than any president has done in a single term since (President Jimmy) Carter to put his stamp on the judiciary,” said Jonathan Adler, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland, Ohio, adding that Congress created around 150 new judgeships during Carter’s presidency.

The impact will be enduring. Among the Trump-appointed judges, who hold lifetime positions, several are still in their 30s. The three Supreme Court picks could still be on the court at the 21st century’s midpoint, 30 years from now.

Beyond the Supreme Court, 30 percent of the judges on the nation’s court of appeals, where all but a handful of cases reach their end, were appointed by Trump.

But numbers don’t tell the entire story. The real measure of what Trump has been able to do will be revealed in countless court decisions in the years to come on abortion, guns, religious rights and a host of other culture wars issues.

When it came to the president’s own legal challenges of the election results, however, judges who have him to thank for their position rebuffed his claims. But in many other important ways, his success with judicial appointments already is paying dividends for conservatives.

When the Supreme Court blocked New York from enforcing certain limits on attendance at churches and synagogues in areas designated as hard hit by COVID-19, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the newest member of the court, cast the decisive fifth vote. Previously, the court had allowed restrictions on religious services over the dissent of four justices, including the other two Trump nominees, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

Five Trump appointees were in the majority of the 6-4 decision by the full 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in September that made it harder for felons in Florida to regain the right to vote. The Atlanta-based court had a majority of Democratic-appointed judges when Trump took office.


China sentences lawyer who reported on outbreak to 4 years
Legal Topics | 2020/12/27 04:49
A Chinese court on Monday sentenced a former lawyer who reported on the early stage of the coronavirus outbreak to four years in prison on charges of “picking fights and provoking trouble,” one of her lawyers said.

The Pudong New Area People’s Court in the financial hub of Shanghai gave the sentence to Zhang Zhan following accusations she spread false information, gave interviews to foreign media, disrupted public order and “maliciously manipulated” the outbreak.

Lawyer Zhang Keke confirmed the sentence but said it was “inconvenient” to provide details ? usually an indication that the court has issued a partial gag order. He said the court did not ask Zhang whether she would appeal, nor did she indicate whether she would.

Zhang, 37, traveled to Wuhan in February and posted on various social media platforms about the outbreak that is believed to have emerged in the central Chinese city late last year.

She was arrested in May amid tough nationwide measures aimed at curbing the outbreak and heavy censorship to deflect criticism of the government’s initial response. Zhang reportedly went on a prolonged hunger strike while in detention, prompting authorities to forcibly feed her, and is said to be in poor health.

China has been accused of covering up the initial outbreak and delaying the release of crucial information, allowing the virus to spread and contributing to the pandemic that has sickened more than 80 million people worldwide and killed almost 1.8 million. Beijing vigorously denies the accusations, saying it took swift action that bought time for the rest of the world to prepare.

China’s ruling Communist Party tightly controls the media and seeks to block dissemination of information it hasn’t approved for release. In the early days of the outbreak, authorities reprimanded several Wuhan doctors for “rumor-mongering” after they alerted friends on social media. The best known of the doctors, Li Wenliang, later succumbed to COVID-19.



Trump plan to curb drug costs dealt setback in court
Court News | 2020/12/24 19:44
A late-term maneuver by President Donald Trump to use lower drug prices paid overseas to limit some of Medicare’s own costs suffered a legal setback Wednesday that appears likely to keep the policy from taking effect before the president leaves office.

U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake in Baltimore issued a nationwide injunction that prevents the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, from carrying out the so-called “most favored nations” rule as scheduled on Jan. 1. The judge wrote in her temporary order that CMS had failed to follow required procedures for notice and comment before imposing such sweeping changes.

The Trump regulation would tie what Medicare pays for certain drugs administered in a doctor’s office to the lowest price paid among a group of economically advanced countries. It would apply to 50 medications that account for the highest spending under Medicare’s “Part B” benefit for outpatient care.

That group includes cancer drugs and other medications delivered by infusion or injection. Trump announced his new policy at the White House before the Thanksgiving holiday, saying, “the drug companies don’t like me too much. But we had to do it.”

A coalition of groups including the Association of Community Cancer Centers and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of American quickly sued to block the rule. Some opponents have likened the Trump policy to a form of socialist price controls.

Blake wrote that the plaintiffs had established a reasonable likelihood their arguments accusing the administration of cutting corners in a rush to regulate would carry the day in a trial. Federal law says that government agencies must provide adequate opportunity for affected parties to comment on proposed regulations. The administration had sought to use emergency authority as a work-around.

The case is hardly trivial, the judge said. “This case deals with a regulation that would for the first time implement the use of a price control mechanism not provided for by Congress,” Blake wrote.

The Health and Human Services department said it is reviewing the ruling, and had no immediate comment.

Trump came into office accusing drug companies of “getting away with murder” and promising to slash costs for American patients. But his administration was unable to drive major drug pricing legislation through Congress.

Even if the Trump rule is ultimately blocked, the idea of using international prices to lower costs for Americans is very much alive. It’s at the heart of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s legislation to empower Medicare to negotiate drug prices. And President-elect Joe Biden also supports the approach.

Blake was nominated to be a U.S. district judge by former Democratic President Bill Clinton.


Turkish court convicts former editor on terror charges
Court News | 2020/12/23 03:45
A Turkish court on Wednesday convicted the former editor-in-chief of opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet on espionage and terror-related charges over a 2015 news story, a verdict the exiled journalist said exemplified the pressures on Turkish media.

The court in Istanbul found Can Dundar guilty of “obtaining secret documents for espionage” and “knowingly and willingly aiding a terrorist organization without being a member.” It sentenced him to 27 1/2 years in prison.

Dundar fled to Germany in 2016, and he was tried in absentia. His lawyers said the proceedings did not adhere to the standards for a fair trial and judicial impartiality, and they did not attend Wednesday’s court hearing in protest.

In an interview with The Associated Press at his Berlin office, Dundar called the verdict “a personal decision by the president of Turkey to deter the journalists writing against him.”

Dundar was first charged in 2015 and tried and convicted in 2016 for a Cumhuriyet article that accused Turkey’s intelligence service of illegally sending weapons to Syria. Wednesday’s verdict came in his retrial.

The story featured a 2014 video that showed men in police uniforms and civilian clothing unscrewing bolts to open trucks and unpacking boxes. Later images showed trucks full of mortar rounds. The AP cannot confirm the authenticity of the video.

The news report claimed that Turkish intelligence service and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan did not allow a prosecutor to pursue an investigation into arms smuggling.

The story infuriated Erdogan, who said the trucks carried aid to Turkmen groups in Syria and that Dundar would “pay a high price.” Cumhuriyet’s Ankara bureau chief, Erdem Gul. also faced criminal charges in the first trial.

Turkey later intervened directly in the Syrian civil war, launching four cross-border operations.

Reporters Without Borders ranked Turkey 154th out of 180 countries in its 2020 Press Freedom Index. Dundar said the trial verdict could have a further chilling effect.

“The problem is there is a cloud of fear over the country, so those decisions may deter some journalists in Turkey to write against the government, to write about the truth,” he said.

“There are still brave journalists defending the truth in Turkey, but I hope the world will see much better now what kind of government we are struggling against,” he added.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas tweeted: “The decision against Can Dundar is a heavy blow against independent journalistic work in Turkey.”

“Journalism is an indispensable service to society, including and especially when it takes a critical view of what those in government are doing,” he said.

Dundar was accused of aiding the network of U.S.-based Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric whom the Turkish government accuses of masterminding a failed 2016 coup. Gulen denies the allegations and remains in Pennsylvania.


Longtime Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Abrahamson dies
Headline Legal News | 2020/12/20 22:20
Shirley Abrahamson, the longest-serving Wisconsin Supreme Court justice in state history and the first woman to serve on the high court, has died. She was 87.

Abrahamson, who also served as chief justice for a record 19 years, died Saturday after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, her son Dan Abrahamson told The Associated Press on Sunday.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers said in a statement that Abrahamson had a “larger-than-life impact” on the state's legal profession and her legacy is defined “not just by being a first, but her life’s work of ensuring she would not be the last, paving and lighting the way for the many women and others who would come after her.”

Long recognized as a top legal scholar nationally and a leader among state judges, Abrahamson wrote more than 450 majority opinions and participated in more than 3,500 written decisions during her more than four decades on Wisconsin’s highest court. She retired in 2019 and moved to California to be closer with her family.

In 1993, then-President Bill Clinton considered putting her on the U.S. Supreme Court, and she was later profiled in the book, “Great American Judges: An Encyclopedia.”

She told the Wisconsin State Journal in 2006 that she enjoyed being on the court.

“It has a mix of sitting, reading and writing and thinking, which I enjoy doing. And it’s quiet. On the other hand, all of the problems I work on are real problems of real people, and it matters to them, and it matters to the state of Wisconsin. So that gives an edge to it, and a stress,” she said.

The New York City native, with the accent to prove it, graduated first in her class from Indiana University Law School in 1956, three years after her marriage to Seymour Abrahamson. The couple moved to Madison and her husband, a world-renowned geneticist, joined the University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty in 1961. He died in 2016.

She earned a law degree from UW-Madison in 1962, then worked as a professor and joined a Madison law firm, hired by the father of future Gov. Jim Doyle.

Appointed to the state's high court by then-Gov. Patrick Lucey in 1976, Abrahamson won reelection four times to 10-year terms, starting in 1979. She broke the record for longest-serving in justice in 2013, her 36th year on the court.

Abrahamson was in the majority when the court in 2005 allowed a boy to sue over lead paint injuries even though he could not prove which company made the product that sickened him — undoing decades of precedent and opening paint companies to lawsuits seeking damages.

But Abrahamson found herself in the minority on several high-profile cases later in her career, including in 2011, when the court upheld the law championed by Republican then-Gov. Scott Walker effectively ending public employee union rights, and again in 2015, when the court ended a politically charged investigation into Walker and conservative groups.

Abrahamson’s health began to fail in 2018, and she frequently missed court hearings. That May, she announced she wouldn’t run again in 2019, and in August, she revealed she has cancer.

Doyle, a former Wisconsin attorney general and two-term governor, called Abrahamson a pioneer and said he sought her advice when he first ran for Dane County district attorney in the 1970s. Doyle's father, who was a federal judge, gave Abrahamson her first job out of law school, Doyle said Sunday.


Senate confirms Barrett replacement on federal appeals court
Attorney News | 2020/12/16 19:26
The Senate has confirmed an Indiana prosecutor to replace Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett on a federal appeals court based in Chicago.

Thomas Kirsch, who currently serves as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana, will replace Barrett as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. Kirsch was confirmed Tuesday on a 51-44 vote.

Three Democrats Arizona Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin ? voted for him in what was otherwise a party-line vote. Four Republican senators and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris did not vote.

President Donald Trump named Kirsch as Barrett’s replacement before she was confirmed to the high court in October, and the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced his nomination last week. Kirsch graduated from Indiana University and earned his law degree from Harvard.

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, who is expected to become the top Democrat on Judiciary in the next Congress, said Kirsch’s quick nomination and confirmation showed that Trump and Senate Republicans were intent on forcing through as many conservative judges as possible.

“They have kept the nominations assembly line going,″ Durbin said.

Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., said Kirsch “is a man of character, he’s a man of integrity, and he believes in the rule of law.”

Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said Kirsch’s nomination is “further entrenching the lack of diversity that is characteristic of President Trump’s judicial nominees,” noting that the appeals court he will join is the only all-white federal appeals court in the country.


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