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Ill. corruption figure Rezko sentencing set Jan. 6
Headline Legal News | 2008/12/02 23:06
A federal judge in Chicago has set a Jan. 6 sentencing for political fundraiser Tony Rezko, who helped bankroll the campaigns of Barack Obama and Gov. Rod Blagojevich (blah-GOY'-uh-vich).

Defense attorney Joseph Duffy says Rezko just "wants to get on with his life." Duffy made his comments while leaving court Tuesday after Judge Amy St. Eve set the date.

Duffy, however, left open the question of whether Rezko is still cooperating with the government's investigation of corruption in the Blagojevich (blah-GOY'-uh-vich) administration.

Rezko, convicted in June of mail fraud and other counts, wasn't in court Tuesday. He had asked for an early sentencing date.

Rezko was a major fundraiser for Obama in his campaigns in Illinois but did not raise money in his presidential campaign.



Plea deal offered to 8-year-old murder suspect
Areas of Focus | 2008/12/01 23:08
Prosecutors have offered a plea deal to an 8-year-old boy charged with murder in the shooting deaths of his father and another man in their eastern Arizona home, court records show.

Complete details of the offer weren't spelled out in a court filing posted Saturday on the Apache County Superior Court's Web site.

But County Attorney Criss Candelaria wrote that he has "tendered a plea offer to the juvenile's attorneys that would resolve all the charges in the juvenile court contingent on the results of the mental health evaluations."

Candelaria was responding to a defense motion seeking to block him from dropping one of two first-degree murder charges the boy faces in the deaths of his father, Vincent Romero, 29, and Timothy Romans, 39, earlier this month.

Defense attorney Benjamin Brewer argued in a filing Tuesday that prosecutors wanted the charge dismissed so they could refile it when the boy was older and pursue case in adult court.

Brewer said Saturday that the deal would resolve the case without it being transferred to adult court, but he declined to provide additional details. Although he is considering the offer, Brewer said he is unsure of his client's ability to understand the proceedings. At least two mental health evaluations are yet to be completed.

The prosecutor explained in his response to Brewer's opposition filing that he wasn't trying to obtain an unfair advantage, but he pressed for the dismissal because the judicial system isn't equipped to deal with an 8-year-old charged with murder.

"It is done to ensure that the juvenile and the two murder victims in this case do not fall through the cracks in the system that might occur if both charges remain in the pending delinquency petition," Candelaria wrote.

Candelaria explained that the boy could be found incompetent to stand trial, and if that happened, the court's options would be limited.

The court would be required to order efforts to restore the boy to competency, but if that couldn't be done within about eight months, the judge would be required by law to dismiss the criminal case and bar it from being refiled.

The court would then be required to initiate civil commitment proceedings, Candelaria wrote. If the boy is found incompetent because of his age, he wouldn't fit the definition of a mentally disordered person and no treatment would be available.

"Such a result denies the victims and public of any sense of justice for these heinous murders," Candelaria wrote. "It also denies the juvenile the rehabilitative services that he apparently needs to both deal with why he was capable of committing these murders and to assist him with the grief and remorse that he is probably feeling."

Police in St. Johns found Romero and Romans shot to death after the boy ran to a neighbor's house on Nov. 5. The boy was questioned after Romans' wife raised suspicions about him the next day, and in a videotape released by prosecutors, he admits pulling the trigger. Both men were shot several times with a .22-caliber rifle.

Romans worked with Romero and rented a room in his home.

Police reports say the boy told a state Child Protective Services worker that his 1,000th spanking would be his last.

The boy is being held in a county juvenile facility, although he was allowed to spend Thanksgiving with his mother.

Brewer said the boy is back in custody. The next court hearing is set for Dec. 8.



Calif. high court asked to hear gay marriage cases
Legal Topics | 2008/11/17 23:07
The state attorney general and sponsors of the ballot initiative that banned same-sex marriage in California urged its Supreme Court to hear a series of lawsuits seeking to overturn the ban, saying the matter is too urgent to be unsettled.

"The petitions raise issues of statewide importance, implicating not only California's marriage laws but also the initiative process and the Constitution itself," Attorney General Jerry Brown argued in his filing.

"This court can provide certainty and finality in this matter," he said.

Proposition 8, which passed with 52 percent of the vote earlier this month, overturned the high court's May decision legalizing gay marriage in California. The measure inserts language into the constitution limiting marriage to one man and one woman.

Gay and civil rights groups, the city of San Francisco and other plaintiffs have asked the court to void the measure on the grounds that voters did not have the authority to make, what they say, is a fundamental constitutional change.



US appeals court hears arguments in ND hemp case
Legal Topics | 2008/11/13 23:09
An attorney for two North Dakota farmers argued they should be able to grow industrial hemp under state regulations without fear of federal criminal prosecution.

Attorney Joe Sandler told a panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday that his clients' lawsuit against the federal Drug Enforcement Administration should move forward so that the farmers might have a chance to use their state permits to grow hemp for seeds and oil. The lawsuit was dismissed in U.S. District Court.

At the heart of the dispute is whether the farmers — state Rep. David Monson and Wayne Hauge — can cultivate hemp under North Dakota laws without violating the federal Controlled Substances Act.

Hemp is related to the illegal drug marijuana, and under the federal law, parts of an industrial hemp plant are considered controlled substances.

Sandler argued that while hemp plants might fall under the federal law, the law doesn't apply because the parts of the plant that could be considered a drug would never leave the farms. He also underlined the differences between marijuana and the crop the farmers want to grow, saying the judge who dismissed the case incorrectly treated marijuana and hemp as the same thing.

Industrial hemp is legally grown in several countries, including Canada, and the U.S. imports many products made from hemp seed, oil and fiber. The plant has much lower concentrations of the psychoactive chemical THC found in marijuana plants.

Melissa Patterson, a Justice Department attorney, told the appeals panel that Congress does have the power to regulate the crop in this case and that Congress has determined through the Controlled Substances Act that the plants, whether used for drugs or not, should be restricted.



Wisconsin court says 1985 killer should be freed
Areas of Focus | 2008/11/13 23:08
A Wisconsin appeals court ruled Thursday that a man who killed a Catholic priest and two others in a church 23 years ago should be released from a mental hospital.

Bryan Stanley had claimed to be a prophet sent to cleanse St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Onalaska when he gunned down parish priest John Rossiter, lay minister Ferdinand Roth Sr. and church custodian William Hammes in 1985. He was angry the priest was allowing girls to give Scripture readings during Mass.

Stanley, who suffered from psychosis, was found not guilty by reason of mental disease and was committed indefinitely to Mendota, a state psychiatric hospital in Madison.

The District 4 Court of Appeals said state lawyers failed to prove that releasing Stanley, 53, would present a danger to himself or the public. The decision overturns a ruling by a La Crosse County judge who had denied Stanley's request for release.

Ferdinand Roth Jr., a retired police supervisor in La Crosse, Wis. and son of one of the victims, blasted the decision. He recalled that Stanley testified at a hearing last year there was not a 100 percent guarantee he would always take his medicine.



Appeals court clears way for Rep. Jefferson trial
Areas of Focus | 2008/11/12 23:09
A federal appeals court upheld bribery and other charges against Louisiana Democratic U.S. Rep. William Jefferson on Wednesday, clearing the way for a trial.

Jefferson, who cruised to victory in a primary last week and is expected to easily win re-election, had sought to dismiss a 16-count indictment charging him with taking bribes, laundering money and misusing his congressional office for business dealings in Africa.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Jefferson's claims that a federal grand jury received evidence that violated his constitutional right to legislative immunity.

Jefferson's attorneys argued that three staffers should not have been allowed to tell the grand jury about Jefferson's relationships with African leaders and his knowledge about West African nations because those activities were part of his legislative duties.

Jefferson could further delay a trial by appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court. A telephone message was left Wednesday with his attorney, Robert P. Trout.

Prosecutors contend Jefferson used his influence as chairman of the congressional Africa Investment and Trade Caucus to broker deals in Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon and other African nations on behalf of those who bribed him.

The 2007 indictment alleges that Jefferson received more than $500,000 in bribes and demanded millions more between 2000 and 2005, including $90,000 he received from an FBI informant that was later found in the freezer of his Washington home. He has pleaded not guilty.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III had refused to dismiss the indictment, saying Jefferson was trying to apply the legislative immunity clause so broadly that it would be virtually impossible to charge a congressman with a crime.

Ellis "accorded Congressman Jefferson every substantive and procedural protection to which he was entitled," the appeals court judges wrote.

Jefferson's trial had been scheduled to begin in December, but has been postponed. If convicted of all charges, he faces up to 235 years in prison.

Meanwhile, Jefferson, 61, Louisiana's first black congressman since Reconstruction, faces a Dec. 6 election against little-known Republican, Anh "Joseph" Cao in his New Orleans-based district. The district's election was pushed back because of Hurricane Gustav.

Last week, he easily won a Democratic primary runoff against a former television reporter who argued that the scandal had obliterated the influence Jefferson built during 18 years in Congress.



Payday lending law violated constitution
Legal Topics | 2008/11/06 22:09
A 1999 state law allowing so-called payday lenders to charge high fees for short-term loans violates the state constitution, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

In a 6-0 decision, the court said the fees permitted under the 1999 Check Cashers Act were really triple-digit interest rates. The state constitution limits interest rates on loans to 17 percent.

"Because that fee is in reality an amount owed to the lender in return for the use of borrowed money, we must conclude that the fees authorized clearly constitute interest," Justice Paul Danielson wrote.

Through a payday loan in Arkansas, a customer writing a check for $400, for example, typically would receive $350. The lender would keep the check for about two weeks before cashing it.

The customer could buy back the check for $350 during that two-week period, but otherwise would pay the full $400 when the company cashed his check. The $50 charge on a $350 loan for 14 days equates to 371 percent, well above Arkansas' usury limit.

Attorney Todd Turner, who represented the plaintiffs who challenged the Check Cashers Act, said the ruling means it will be impossible for payday lenders to operate in the state.

"It's great for all the Arkansas residents who have been paying 600 percent for these loans," Turner said.

Tom Hardin, attorney for the Arkansas Financial Services Association that sought to preserve the law, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Even before Thursday's ruling, the number of payday lenders in the state has dwindled in response to threats of lawsuits from Attorney General Dustin McDaniel. An advocacy group said in a report last month that the number of payday lenders operating in the state has dropped from 237 in March to just 33.

In its 6-0 decision, the court overturned a Pulaski County judge who last year ruled that the 1999 act was constitutional.



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