Supreme Court agrees to hear Maryland cross memorial case
Legal Topics | 2018/11/02 13:14
The Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear a case about whether a nearly 100-year-old, cross-shaped war memorial located on a Maryland highway median violates the Constitution's required separation of church and state, a case that could impact hundreds of similar monuments nationwide.

A federal appeals court in Virginia had previously ruled against the approximately four-story-tall cross. The judges said that it "has the primary effect of endorsing religion and excessively entangles the government in religion."

But the Maryland officials who maintain the memorial told the Supreme Court that the monument's context and history show it is intended to convey a secular message of remembrance, not a religious message. They said the appeals court's decision would "compel the removal or dismemberment of a cherished war memorial that has served as a site of solemn commemoration and civic unity for nearly a century." In urging the high court to take the case, officials argued that the lower court's decision puts at risk hundreds of other monuments nationwide.

The approximately 40-foot-tall cross at the center of the case is located in Bladensburg, Maryland, about 5 miles from the Supreme Court. Sometimes called the "Peace Cross," it was completed in 1925, and it honors 49 men from the surrounding county who died in World War I. A plaque on the cross' base lists the names of those soldiers, and both faces of the cross have a circle with the symbol of the American Legion, the veterans organization that helped raise money to build it.

Today, responsibility for the cross falls to a Maryland parks commission that took over ownership and maintenance of it in 1961 because of traffic safety concerns. The massive concrete structure could be dangerous to motorists if it were to fall or crumble.


Bomb suspect set for Florida court appearance
Headline Legal News | 2018/10/30 05:23
Bomb squads were called to a post office in Atlanta on Monday about a suspicious parcel, just hours before a court hearing for a Florida man accused of sending packages containing explosive material to prominent Democrats.

The FBI did not identify to whom the most recent package was addressed, but CNN President Jeff Zucker announced that a suspicious package addressed to the cable television network was intercepted Monday at an Atlanta post office.

Zucker said there was no imminent danger to the CNN Center. Another package was delivered to the cable network's New York offices last week, causing an evacuation.

The latest suspicious package comes just hours before a federal court hearing was to begin for Cesar Sayoc, 56, who faces five federal charges.

He is accused of sending bubble-wrapped manila envelopes to Democrats such as Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. The packages were intercepted from Delaware to California. At least some listed a return address of U.S. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, former chair of the Democratic National Committee.


N Carolina justices to take case on Court of Appeals number
Legal Topics | 2018/10/29 12:23
North Carolina's highest court says it will hear arguments on whether the legislature can trim judgeships from the state's intermediate-level appeals court through attrition.

The state Supreme Court says it will take up litigation from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper against Republican legislative leaders challenging a 2017 law reducing the Court of Appeals from 15 judges to 12 as retirements and other vacancies occur.

The governor usually gets to name replacements, but that wouldn't happen with the next three openings. The majority on a trial court panel last spring upheld the law.

The Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear the case without it first going through the Court of Appeals itself. Cooper's lawyers said bypassing the Court of Appeals would eliminate any appearance of impropriety to rule on its own membership.



Condemned inmate's last meal includes pancakes
Attorney News | 2018/10/28 12:24
A South Dakota inmate facing execution has received a last meal that included pancakes, waffles, breakfast sausage, scrambled eggs and French fries.

South Dakota's attorney general says the state Supreme Court has rejected two motions to stop the execution of a man who killed a prison guard in a failed 2011 escape attempt.

Attorney General Marty Jackley says there are currently no court orders to stop or delay Rodney Berget's execution, which is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Monday. One motion was filed by a woman whose son is serving a life sentence, the other by an attorney without Berget's support.

Berget is to be put to death for the slaying of Ronald "R.J." Johnson. Berget and fellow inmate Eric Robert beat Johnson with a pipe and covered his head in plastic wrap.

He's to be put to death for the slaying of prison guard Ronald "R.J." Johnson in a failed 2011 escape attempt. Berget and fellow inmate Eric Robert beat Johnson with a pipe and covered his head in plastic wrap.

Robert was executed in October 2012. Berget in 2016 appealed his death sentence, but later asked to withdraw it.


Synagogue suspect at courthouse; survivors recall ordeal
Court Watch | 2018/10/27 12:24
The man accused in the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre was released from a hospital and turned over to federal authorities for a court appearance Monday on charges he killed 11 people in what is believed to be the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history.

Robert Gregory Bowers, 46, who was shot and wounded in a gun battle with police, arrived at the federal courthouse in downtown Pittsburgh less than two hours after his release from Allegheny General Hospital, according to U.S. marshals. A government car with a wheelchair visible inside could be seen arriving earlier.

Federal prosecutors set in motion plans to seek the death penalty against Bowers, who authorities say expressed hatred of Jews during the rampage and later told police that "I just want to kill Jews" and that "all these Jews need to die."

The first funeral — for Cecil Rosenthal and his younger brother, David — was set for Tuesday. Survivors, meanwhile, began offering harrowing accounts of the mass shooting Saturday inside Tree of Life Synagogue. Barry Werber said he found himself hiding in a dark storage closet as the gunman tore through the building and opened fire.


North Carolina top court orders study of courtroom portraits
Court News | 2018/10/26 12:24
The North Carolina Supreme Court has directed a commission to study the portraits hanging inside its courtroom amid a complaint about one of a pro-slavery judge.

The News & Observer reported Thursday that the state's top court formed a commission tasked with making a recommendation by Dec. 31, 2019.

Also on Thursday, the newspaper published an op-ed from UNC-Chapel Hill law professor Eric Muller and former Chapel Hill Councilmember Sally Greene drawing attention to the courtroom's portrait of Thomas Ruffin. Ruffin served on the court from 1829 to 1852.

He's best known for his decision in State v. Mann, in which he overturned the assault conviction of a slaveowner who shot a slave in the back for refusing him. Ruffin's portrait is the courtroom's largest, hung behind the justices' bench.


Trump Foundation lawsuit paused until higher court weighs in
Areas of Focus | 2018/10/24 12:24
A New York judge on Thursday mothballed a lawsuit over President Donald Trump's charitable foundation until a higher court rules in an unrelated case whether a sitting president can be sued in state court.

State Supreme Court Justice Saliann Scarpulla commented after hearing arguments from a Trump attorney who wants her to dismiss the lawsuit brought by New York state's Democratic attorney general.

She said she'll wait to decide whether the lawsuit proceeds after an intermediate state appeals court rules whether Trump must face a defamation lawsuit brought by a 2006 contestant on "The Apprentice."

Supreme Court Appellate Division justices did not immediately rule after hearing arguments last week on claims by ex-contestant Summer Zervos, a California restaurateur, who says Trump defamed her when he called her a liar for accusing him of unwanted kissing and groping in two 2007 incidents.

Trump's lawyers, seeking to dismiss the lawsuit or delay it until he is no longer in office, say a sitting president can't be sued in state court over conduct outside official duties.

A key question will be whether a 1997 U.S. Supreme Court ruling forcing then-President Bill Clinton to face a federal sexual harassment lawsuit concerning an alleged encounter with an Arkansas state employee while he was governor applies to state courts as well.

Scarpulla said that if the state appeals judges decide that the Clinton ruling is "good law, then I think this case will continue."

The lawsuit alleged Trump and his foundation used his charity's money to settle business disputes and to boost his 2016 presidential campaign.

Brought against Trump and three of his children who serve as the foundation's directors, the lawsuit seeks $2.8 million in restitution and the dissolution of the foundation.

On Thursday, Scarpulla seemed sympathetic to some of the New York state arguments, but she repeatedly said she was required at this stage of the litigation to accept its claims as true.

Attorney Yael Fuchs, arguing for New York state, said the foundation "broke some of the most basic laws that apply" to charitable foundations when it took actions in 2016 at the direction and for the benefit of the Trump presidential campaign.

Representing Trump and his children, attorney Alan Futerfas said the state's claims were exaggerated and distorted. He suggested that even magnanimous steps taken by Trump for charitable purposes were being recast in a negative light.



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