Court denies AG's bid to halt initiative signature gathering
Attorney News | 2020/07/24 15:28
Those backing a plan to put an independent commission in charge of Oregon’s redistricting process will get additional time to gather signatures and a lower threshold to qualify their initiative for the November ballot because of the pandemic, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum had asked the federal appeals court last week to step in to halt the effort, after a federal judge in Eugene ordered Secretary of State Bev Clarno to either accept the signatures the campaign gathered by the deadline or give organizers more time and a lower bar to qualify for the ballot.

Clarno, who is a Republican, opposed the People Not Politicians campaign’s request for more time and a lower signature requirement but she chose the option of lowering the threshold to 58,789 valid signatures by Aug. 17. The normal requirement was 149,360 valid signatures by July 2.

Rosenblum, a Democrat, appealed U.S. District Court Judge Michael J. McShane’s decision to the 9th Circuit. The two appeals court judges appointed by Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton who upheld McShane’s order did not explain their reasoning, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.

Only Judge Consuelo M. Callahan, appointed by President George W. Bush, explained her dissent, writing that “adherence to Oregon’s constitutionally mandated signature threshold for ballot initiatives either does not implicate the First Amendment at all or does not do so in a way” that does not violate the People Not Politicians campaign’s free speech rights.

Oregon’s Legislature is in charge of redrawing the state’s legislative and congressional district lines once a decade, with the secretary of state handling it when lawmakers are unable to finish. Secretaries of state have completed Oregon’s redistricting process nearly every time over the last century, according to the City Club of Portland.

Initiative Petition 57 would transfer the job of carving up Oregon’s electoral map from the Legislature to a new 12-member commission. Supporters include groups such as the League of Women Voters, business associations and branches of the NAACP. They have argued lawmakers face a conflict in setting the boundaries of their own electoral districts.

“We are thrilled that our people-powered campaign to make redistricting in Oregon fair and transparent has scored another victory in court,” said Kate Titus, executive director of Common Cause Oregon which is part of the campaign.


California court upholds verdict in Monsanto cancer case
Court Watch | 2020/07/21 16:23
A California appeals court on Monday upheld a groundbreaking verdict that Monsanto’s widely used weed killer caused cancer in a school groundskeeper but the panel also slashed the damage award from $78.5 million to $21.5 million.

The 1st District Court of Appeal said there was evidence to support a California jury’s 2018 decision that “Monsanto acted with a conscious disregard for public safety,” but it reduced the damages to Dewayne Johnson of Vallejo because state law doesn’t allow damages for reduced life expectancy, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The original San Francisco Superior Court jury found that St. Louis-based Monsanto had purposely ignored warnings and evidence that glyphosate, the active ingredient in its popular Roundup and Ranger Pro products, causes cancer.

Johnson, then 46, alleged that his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma was caused by his years of spraying Ranger Pro on school grounds in Benicia.

Jurors awarded Johnson $289.2 million but a judge later reduced the punitive damages, knocking down the total to $78.5 million.

In further reducing the total award, the appellate court ruled 3-0 that state law entitled Johnson only to compensation for future harm he was “reasonably certain” to suffer. He had been given only two to three years to live.

R. Brent Wisner, a lawyer for Johnson, said the ruling was an overall victory but the court shouldn’t have reduced the damage award.

“This effectively rewards a defendant for killing a plaintiff, as opposed to just injuring him,” Wisner told the Chronicle.

Bayer AG, the German corporation that owns Monsanto, called the reduction “a step in the right direction” but said the appellate panel should have thrown out the verdict and said it may appeal to the California Supreme Court.


Justice Ginsburg says cancer has returned, but won’t retire
Court News | 2020/07/18 23:23
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said Friday she is receiving chemotherapy for a recurrence of cancer, but has no plans to retire from the Supreme Court.

The 87-year-old Ginsburg, who has had four earlier bouts with cancer including pancreatic cancer last year, said her treatment so far has succeeded in reducing lesions on her liver and she will continue chemotherapy sessions every two weeks “to keep my cancer at bay.”

“I have often said I would remain a member of the Court as long as I can do the job full steam. I remain fully able to do that,” Ginsburg said in a statement issued by the court.

Ginsburg, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993, is the senior liberal justice on a court that leans conservative by a 5-4 margin. Her departure before the election could give President Donald Trump the chance to shift the court further to the right.

Ginsburg’s history with cancer goes back more than 20 years. In addition to being treated without surgery for a tumor on her pancreas last year, she also underwent surgery for colorectal cancer in 1999, pancreatic cancer in 2009 and lung cancer in December 2018.

Dr. Alan Venook, a pancreatic cancer specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, who is not involved in Ginsburg’s care, said that “clearly, she’s got incurable disease now” because of the spread to her liver.

On average, patients with advanced pancreatic cancer live about a year, but the fact that her disease took so long to recur from her initial pancreatic cancer surgery in 2009 and previous treatments “suggests that it’s not been growing rapidly,” he said.

“She’s above average in many ways.” and has done remarkably well with all her treatments so far, Venook said. “There’s no reason to think she would die imminently.”

Asked earlier this week about a possible opening on the court before the election, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said the president would act quickly if any opening were to arise. Meadows commented after news that Ginsburg had  left the hospital after receiving treatment for an infection, which she said Friday was unrelated to the cancer.

“I can’t imagine if he had a vacancy on the Supreme Court that he would not very quickly make the appointment and look for the Senate to take quick action,” Meadows said, adding that he didn’t want any comment to be seen as wishing Ginsburg “anything but the very best.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said that if there were to be a vacancy on the court during this year’s election cycle, the Republican-controlled Senate would likely confirm a nominee selected by Trump.

Ginsburg said she was disclosing her cancer treatment now because she is satisfied “that my treatment course is now clear.”

Venook said the chemotherapy drug Ginsburg said she is getting, gemcitabine, is one that’s often used. Immunotherapy, which Ginsburg’s statement said she tried unsuccessfully, has not worked well for pancreatic cancer, Venook said.

Ginsburg said a medical scan in February revealed growths on her liver and she began chemotherapy in May.

“My most recent scan on July 7 indicated significant reduction of the liver lesions and no new disease,” she said. “I am tolerating chemotherapy well and am encouraged by the success of my current treatment.”



Given a chance, Trump would push court pick before election
Court News | 2020/07/17 23:23
President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have tried to make it clear: Given the chance, they would push through a Supreme Court nominee should a vacancy occur before Election Day.

The issue has taken on new immediacy with the disclosure Friday that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is receiving chemotherapy for a recurrence of cancer after four earlier bouts with the disease. The 87-year-old liberal, who apologized in 2016 for her pointed public criticism of Trump during his first campaign, says she has no plans to retire.

The development has focused even more on what's at stake this election, with the winner in position to help shape the trajectory of the court for years to come.

Trump administration officials have underscored that Trump would not hesitate to fill an opening before voters have their say Nov. 3, less than four months away, on whether to give him a second term.

Four years ago, also in a presidential election year, the GOP-controlled Senate refused to vote when President Barack Obama, a Democrat, nominated Merrick Garland, a federal judge, to succeed Justice Antonin Scalia after his death in February. Nine months before that year's election, McConnell said voters should determine who would nominate the person to fill that seat.


New Orleans councilman, attorney plead not guilty to fraud
Legal Business | 2020/07/14 16:17
New Orleans City Council President Jason Williams and an attorney in his law firm pleaded not guilty to federal tax fraud charges on Friday.

Williams, 47, and Nicole Burdett, 39, appeared remotely before a federal magistrate judge and entered their pleas to charges of conspiracy, preparing false or fraudulent tax returns and failing to file tax forms related to cash received, news outlets reported.

The two were charged in an 11-count indictment  last month following a yearslong investigation led by the Internal Revenue Service and the FBI.

Williams, a criminal defense lawyer, was accused of inflating his business expenses from 2013 to 2017 in order to reduce his tax liability by more than $200,000, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Louisiana. The indictment also alleged Williams and Burdett, an attorney in Williams’ law office who also handled administrative duties, failed to file the proper reports on cash payments from clients totaling $66,516.

Williams’ attorney, Billy Gibbens, has contended his client was just following the advice of his tax preparer, saying the accountant made the errors on his own, according to The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate. Michael Magner, an attorney for Burdett, also said his client was innocent and did not have any role in the tax decisions.

Williams and Gibbens raised questions about the timing of the indictment as Williams prepares to challenge Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro for the top prosecuting role. The campaign qualifying period for the Nov. 3 election is set to end July 24. Williams has said he still plans to run for the seat, according to The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate.  A preliminary trial date for the case was set for Sept. 14.


Wisconsin Supreme Court OKs GOP-authored lame-duck laws
Court News | 2020/07/11 15:52
The conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court on Thursday upheld Republican-authored lame-duck laws that stripped power from the incoming Democratic attorney general just before he took office in 2019.

The justices rejected arguments  that the laws were unconstitutional, handing another win to Republicans who have scored multiple high-profile victories before the court in recent years.

The 5-2 ruling marks the second time that the court has upheld the lame-duck laws passed in December 2018, just weeks before Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul, both Democrats, took office. The actions in Wisconsin mirrored Republican moves after losing control of the governors’ offices in Michigan in November 2018 and in North Carolina in 2016. Democrats decried the tactics as brazen attempts to hold onto power after losing elections.

The Wisconsin laws curtailed the powers of both the governor and attorney general, but the case decided Thursday dealt primarily with powers taken from Kaul.

The attorney general said in a statement that Republican legislators have demonstrated open hostility to him and Evers and made it harder for state government to function. Evers echoed that sentiment in a statement of his own, saying Republicans have been working against him “every chance they get, regardless of the consequences.”

Thursday’s ruling involved a case filed by a coalition of labor unions led by the State Employees International Union. The coalition argued that the laws give the Legislature power over the attorney general’s office and that this violates the separation of powers doctrine in the state constitution.

The laws prohibit Evers from ordering Kaul to withdraw from lawsuits, let legislators intervene in lawsuits using their own attorneys rather than Kaul’s state Department of Justice lawyers, and force Kaul to get permission from the Legislature’s Republican-controlled budget committee before settling lawsuits.

Republicans designed the laws to prohibit Evers from pulling Wisconsin out of a multistate lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and to ensure that they have a say in court if Kaul chooses not to defend GOP-authored laws.



No peeking, voters: Court keeps Trump taxes private for now
Headline Legal News | 2020/07/10 22:52
Rejecting President Donald Trump’s complaints that he’s being harassed, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday in favor of a New York prosecutor’s demands for the billionaire president’s tax records. But in good political news for Trump, his taxes and other financial records almost certainly will be kept out of the public eye at least until after the November election.

In a separate case, the justices kept a hold on banking and other documents about Trump, family members and his businesses that  Congress has been seeking for more than a year. The court said that while Congress has significant power to demand the president’s personal information, it is not limitless.

The court turned away the broadest arguments by Trump’s lawyers and the Justice Department that the president is immune from investigation while he holds office or that a prosecutor must show a greater need than normal to obtain the tax records. But it is unclear when a lower court judge might order the Manhattan district attorney’s subpoena to be enforced.

Trump is the only president in modern times who has refused to make his tax returns public, and before he was elected he promised to release them. He didn’t embrace Thursday’s outcome as a victory even though it is likely to prevent his opponents in Congress from obtaining potentially embarrassing personal and business records ahead of Election Day.

In fact, the increasing likelihood that a grand jury will eventually get to examine the documents drove the president into a public rage. He lashed out declaring that “It’s a pure witch hunt, it’s a hoax” and calling New York, where he has lived most of his life, “a hellhole.”

The documents have the potential to reveal details on everything from possible misdeeds to the true nature of the president’s vaunted wealth ? not to mention uncomfortable disclosures about how he’s spent his money and how much he’s given to charity.

The rejection of Trump’s claims of presidential immunity marked the latest instance where his broad assertion of executive power has been rejected.



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