China court reduces sentence of American Wendell Brown
Attorney News | 2018/11/27 01:03
A Chinese court has reduced the prison sentence for former college football player and American citizen Wendell Brown from four years to three for his involvement in a bar fight, a rights monitoring group said Wednesday.

Brown, a native of Detroit who played for Ball State University in Indiana, had been teaching English and American football in southwest China when he was arrested in September 2016 and charged with intentional assault. He denied hitting a man at a bar and said he was defending himself after being attacked.

The San Francisco-based Dui Hua Foundation said Brown will be transferred from a detention center to a prison in the southwestern city of Chongqing, from where he can then apply for early release. He is now due to be set free on Sept. 24, 2019.

The court issued no official statement and an assistant judge in the case, reached by phone, directed inquiries to the court's management office, which did not immediately respond to faxed questions seeking comment.

Brown, 31, was convicted on June 28 and his reduction in sentence is one of an estimated 15 percent of appeals that are successful in China, Dui Hua said. Friends, family and supporters had hoped he would be immediately deported, as is allowed under Chinese law.

"While this is not the result we hoped for it is nevertheless the best that could be achieved," the group's executive director, John Kamm, said in an emailed statement.



Lump of coal? Taxes more likely for online gifts this season
Headline Legal News | 2018/11/24 21:47
Shoppers heading online to purchase holiday gifts will find they're being charged sales tax at some websites where they weren't before. The reason: the Supreme Court.

A June ruling gave states the go-ahead to require more companies to collect sales tax on online purchases. Now, more than two dozen have moved to take advantage of the ruling, many ahead of the busy holiday shopping season.

"Will your shopping bill look any different? ... The answer right now is it depends," said Jason Brewer, a spokesman for the Retail Industry Leaders Association, which represents more than 70 major retailers.

Whether shoppers get charged sales tax on their online purchases comes down to where they live and where they're shopping.

Before the Supreme Court's recent decision , the rule was that businesses selling online had to collect sales tax only in states where they had stores, warehouses or another physical presence. That meant that major retailers such as Apple, Best Buy, Macy's and Target, which have brick-and-mortar stores nationwide, were generally collecting sales tax from online customers. But that wasn't the case for businesses with a big online presence but few physical locations.

Now, states can force out-of-state sellers to collect sales tax if they're doing a fair amount of business in the state. That means retailers such as Overstock.com, home goods company Wayfair and electronics retailer Newegg can be required to collect tax in more states. Those companies were involved in the case before the Supreme Court, but a wide range of businesses from jewelry website Blue Nile to clothing and outdoor company L.L. Bean and electronics retailer B&H Photo-Video are also affected.

Before the Supreme Court's decision, Overstock was collecting sales tax in eight states. Now, it's collecting sales tax nationwide. Jonathan Johnson, a member of Overstock's board of directors, said a small number of customers reached out to ask about the change when it happened but the company now hasn't had a question about it in months. Wayfair, for its part, was collecting sales tax in 25 states before the decision. Now it's collecting sales tax in 36 of the 45 states with a sales tax.



Government asks high court to hear transgender military case
Legal Business | 2018/11/24 19:47
The Trump administration asked the Supreme Court on Friday to issue an unusually quick ruling on the Pentagon's policy of restricting military service by transgender people. It's the fourth time in recent months the administration has sought to bypass lower courts that have blocked some of its more controversial proposals and push the high court, with a conservative majority, to weigh in quickly on a divisive issue.

Earlier this month, the administration asked the high court to fast-track cases on the president's decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which shields young immigrants from deportation. Administration officials also recently asked the high court to intervene to stop a trial in a climate change lawsuit and in a lawsuit over the administration's decision to add a question on citizenship to the 2020 census.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a frequent target of criticism by President Donald Trump, is involved in three of the cases. Trump's recent salvo against the "Obama judge" who ruled against his asylum policy — not one of the issues currently before the Supreme Court — prompted Chief Justice John Roberts to fire back at the president for the first time for feeding perceptions of a biased judiciary.

Joshua Matz, publisher of the liberal Take Care blog, said the timing of the administration's effort to get the Supreme Court involved in the issues at an early stage could hardly be worse for Roberts and other justices who have sought to dispel perceptions that the court is merely a political institution, especially since the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh. At an especially sensitive moment for the Supreme Court, the Trump administration is "forcing it into a minefield that many justices would almost surely prefer to avoid," Matz said.

The Supreme Court almost always waits to get involved in a case until both a trial and appeals court have ruled in it. Often, the justices wait until courts in different areas of the country have weighed in and come to different conclusions about the same legal question.

So it's rare for the justices to intervene early as the Trump administration has been pressing them to do. One famous past example is when the Nixon administration went to court to try to prohibit the publication of the Pentagon Papers, the secret history of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.


Russian court challenges International Olympic Committee
Attorney News | 2018/11/23 05:49
Court ruled Wednesday that bobsledder Alexander Zubkov, who carried the Russian flag at the opening ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Games, should still be considered an Olympic champion despite having been stripped of his medals because of doping. A CAS ruling upholding his disqualification is not enforceable in Russia, the court said.

CAS, however, is the only valid arbiter for sports disputes at the games, according to the Olympic Charter. In rare instances, Switzerland's supreme court can weigh in on matters of procedure.

"The CAS decision in this case is enforceable since there was no appeal filed with the Swiss Federal Tribunal within the period stipulated," the IOC told The Associated Press in an email on Thursday. "The IOC will soon request the medals to be returned."

The law firm representing Zubkov said the Moscow court found the CAS ruling violated Zubkov's "constitutional rights" by placing too much of a burden on him to disprove the allegations against him.

Zubkov won the two-man and four-man bobsled events at the Sochi Olympics but he was disqualified by the IOC last year. The verdict was later upheld by CAS.

Zubkov and his teams remain disqualified in official Olympic results, but the Moscow ruling could make it harder for the IOC to get his medals back.

"The decision issued by the Moscow court does not affect in any way the CAS award rendered ... an award which has never been challenged before the proper authority," CAS secretary general Matthieu Reeb told the AP.

"The fact that the CAS award is considered as 'not applicable in Russia' by the Moscow court may have local consequences but does not constitute a threat for the CAS jurisdiction globally."

The IOC's case against Zubkov was based on testimony from Moscow and Sochi anti-doping laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov, who said he swapped clean samples for ones from doped athletes, and forensic evidence that the allegedly fake sample stored in Zubkov's name contained more salt than could be possible in urine from a healthy human.

Zubkov, who says he never doped, retired after the Sochi Olympics and has since become president of the Russian Bobsled Federation. The International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation didn't respond to a request to comment.

In the two-man event, Beat Hefti and Alex Baumann of Switzerland are due to inherit the gold medal from Zubkov's team, while a Latvian squad is in line for the four-man gold medals.


No holiday respite for Trump's criticism of nation's courts
Legal Topics | 2018/11/23 05:48
President Donald Trump and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts are engaging in an extraordinary public dispute over the independence of America's judiciary, with Roberts bluntly rebuking the president for denouncing a judge who rejected Trump's migrant asylum policy as an "Obama judge."

Trump, still seething over that Monday ruling, began his Thanksgiving Day by asserting that the courts should defer to his administration and law enforcement on border security because judges "know nothing about it and are making our Country unsafe."

And taking aim at a co-equal branch of government, Trump said "Roberts can say what he wants" but the largest of the federal appellate courts, based in San Francisco and with a majority of judges appointed by Democratic presidents, "is a complete & total disaster." That's where an appeal of the asylum ruling would normally go.

Roberts had issued a strongly worded statement Wednesday defending judicial independence and contradicting Trump over his claim that judges are partisans allied with the party of the president who nominated them. Never silent for long, Trump responded with a "Sorry Justice Roberts" tweet.

The dustup is the first time that Roberts, the Republican-appointed leader of the federal judiciary, has offered even a hint of criticism of Trump, who has several times gone after federal judges who have ruled against him.



Court: Reds exempt from tax on promotional bobbleheads
Attorney News | 2018/11/22 05:49
Quoting the Cincinnati Reds’ long-time play-by-play announcer, the Ohio Supreme Court declared Tuesday that “this one belongs to the Reds.”

The state’s high court ruled 5-2 that the Major League Baseball franchise is exempt from paying tax on the purchase of bobbleheads and other promotional items the team offers to ticket buyers.

The opinion written by Justice Patrick Fischer warned that the ruling was specific to the case and might not apply for other sports organizations. But the Department of Taxation’s chief legal counsel, Matt Chafin, said the decision essentially shows professional teams how to avoid the “use tax” on promotional items.

Reds spokesman Rob Butcher said the club is “happy with the outcome,” but is still reviewing the opinion.

The department argued the bobbleheads should be taxed because they’re bought by the Reds as giveaways, not sold with tickets. The Reds argued they’re exempt because they resell the items as part of the ticket package and Ohio law exempts companies from paying tax on items they buy for resale.

Fischer, a Cincinnati resident, led off the opinion with a long summary of Ohio’s role in baseball history beginning in 1869, when the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first all-professional team. There are references to Hall of Famers from Ohio including players Cy Young, Mike Schmidt and Barry Larkin, to the 1975-76 “Big Red Machine” champions, and firsts such as Larry Doby of the Cleveland Indians becoming the first black American League player and to the first night game being played in Cincinnati.

Then, in explaining the ruling, Fischer wrote that unlike a foul ball or a T-shirt shot into the stands (the Reds use a contraption called “Redzilla” to fire free T-shirts into the crowd) that fans have no expectation of receiving, they buy tickets for games that have been advertised as bobblehead games expecting to get the bobbleheads, which last season included All-Stars Joey Votto and Eugenio Suarez.

After quoting Reds’ broadcaster Marty Brennaman’s signature “this one belongs to the Reds,” Fischer as he neared the opinion’s conclusion also quoted Brennaman’s late broadcasting partner, Joe Nuxhall, saying the justices were “rounding third and heading for home.”

Dissenting Justice Mary DeGenaro wrote that the the Reds were escaping sales tax or use tax on promotional items that generally apply to similar purchases. She pointed out that the Reds often limit the promotional items, such as free to the first 30,000 fans.




Immigration detainees denied day in court
Headline Legal News | 2018/11/19 20:34
A civil lawsuit filed by immigration rights advocates in New York City has accused federal authorities of denying detainees their day in court.

The suit filed Thursday in federal court in Manhattan says the amount of time people accused of immigration violations in New York and New Jersey go before a judge is growing at an "alarming rate."

The suit was filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union and other groups against Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security. It says the average wait time between arrest and initial court appearance had grown to 42 days last year, up from 11 days in 2014.

The average was 80 days into July of this year, according to the suit. The ICE office in New York declined comment on Friday.

"While they wait in jail, most detainees lack basic information about the charges and evidence against them, do not know the steps required to prepare to apply for bond or to defend themselves in their removal cases, and do not have lawyers," according to the suit.

One of the plaintiffs is a man who has lived in New York for nearly two decades. The suit says he was detained last month and still hasn't been brought to court.

The detainees "have no effective mechanism to mitigate this delay," according to the suit.



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