Fed Appeals Court Dismisses Free Speech Case
Legal Topics | 2008/04/10 16:30

The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit brought by Kentucky high school student Timothy Morrison against the Boyd County Board of Education over a 2004 policy that banned Morrison and other students from expressing their opposition to homosexuality. Judge Deborah L. Cook, in a 2-1 ruling, said that Morrison failed to show he had been harmed by the policy prior to the school district repealing the policy and also that winning the lawsuit, which sought $1 in damages, would not rectify the issue. Morrison sued the school district over a now-repealed policy that required students to undergo anti-harassment training. The school district changed the policy to exempt speech that would ordinarily be protected under the First Amendment. Wednesday's ruling reverses an earlier decision by the same Sixth Circuit panel allowing the case to proceed.

In another student free speech case, the US Supreme Court held last year in Morse v. Frederick that public schools do not violate the First Amendment rights of students by sanctioning them for speech during a school-sanctioned activity that may be reasonably interpreted to promote the use of illegal substances. A high school student was suspended after he displayed a banner with the message "Bong hits 4 Jesus" during a televised parade on a school day. The student subsequently sued his principal, arguing that the principal unreasonably restricted his right to free speech.



Scalia to Go Before the News Cameras
Legal Topics | 2008/04/09 15:52
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who makes no secret of his disdain for the news media, has agreed to appear in a segment of CBS News' "60 Minutes" on April 27, the eve of the publication date for a new book he has co-authored.

A knowledgeable source who requested anonymity confirmed Monday that the top-rated newsmagazine asked Scalia for the interview and he accepted, in spite of his oft-stated view that judges should stand apart from the modern media culture.

Correspondent Lesley Stahl has already conducted several taped interviews with Scalia that range well beyond his book -- called "Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges" -- and delve into his career and upbringing.

In the life of the Court and the career of Justice Scalia, this is a remarkable, Nixon-goes-to-China moment. No justice has excoriated the news media like Scalia has, and it would have surprised no one if he had completed his tenure on the high court without ever consenting to a broadcast interview.

Earlier in his tenure, when he gave a speech at a law school and an unsuspecting local television news crew showed up, Scalia would impetuously refuse to go on stage until the cameras left. In what has become known as the "Hattiesburg Incident" of 2004, deputy U.S. marshals ordered reporters to erase audiotape recordings of a speech Scalia was giving in Mississippi. The marshals believed they were enforcing Scalia's anti-press policies. Scalia apologized, and said his policies had been misunderstood.

But when the reporters lodged protests with the marshal's service, an internal investigation ensued. In a deposition taken during the investigation and later released under the Freedom of Information Act, one of the marshals quoted Scalia as saying, earlier in the day, "I hate the media, don't like the media, I don't know why they're here. I'm not talking to them." That same day,according to another deposition, when the question of talking to local media came up, a reporter overheard Scalia saying, "I don't do interviews. I don't talk to the press."

The "60 Minutes" appearance is the centerpiece of a limited round of publicity Scalia will be doing to promote sales of the book he wrote with Bryan Garner. Garner is the legal writing expert whose company LawProse Inc. runs seminars for law firms around the country. The two decided to write the book after Garner interviewed Scalia and seven other justices about legal writing and advocacy last year. Those tapes are available on Garner's Web site. C-SPAN announced Monday that Scalia would appear in a live exchange with high school students today on C-SPAN3.

Scalia is not the first justice to appear on television to launch a book, by any means; just last year Justice Clarence Thomas' memoir, "My Grandfather's Son," was published the day after a "60 Minutes" appearance. Current and former Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Stephen Breyer and William Rehnquist have also done televised interviews to publicize their works.

But for Scalia to join the trend after decades of disdaining this kind of attention is remarkable. He may have felt encouraged in a general sense by the lighter and more open leadership of the Court by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., which contrasts sharply with the cloistered style of Rehnquist, Roberts' predecessor. The 72-year-old Scalia may also have felt that at this stage in his life, the time has come to unburden himself and tell his story on a stage broader than the Supreme Court.


Chemical Co. Settles Lawsuit for $1.8 Billion
Legal Topics | 2008/04/09 15:43
W.R.Grace, a specialty chemical company that operated plants inMassachusetts and Montana, agreed to a settlement yesterday forasbestos claims brought against the company in a class action lawsuit.

More than 100,000 claims have been brought against W.R.Grace by individuals who claimed to have been injured by exposure toasbestos. Pending approval by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Judith Fitzgerald,the settlement would allow W.R. Grace to make steps towards moving outof bankruptcy, which the company filed for in 2001, and startcompensating the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

If the settlement is allowed, the company would immediately deposit$250 million into a trust for victims. Starting in 2019, the companywould contribute an additional $110 million to the trust for fivesuccessive years followed by ten annual payments of $100 million. Theagreement would also make public 10 million shares of W.R. Grace stockthat plaintiffs would be able to purchase for $17 a share for up to oneyear after the company’s reorganization.



Eyes on Supreme Court in Execution Case Tuesday
Legal Topics | 2008/04/08 16:36
By 6 p.m. Tuesday, when a Mississippi inmate is scheduled to die by lethal injection, the Supreme Court may give the clearest indication so far of whether it intends to call a halt to all such executions while a case from Kentucky that the justices accepted last month remains undecided.

The Mississippi inmate, Earl W. Berry, convicted of kidnapping and murder in 1988, has been turned down by the Mississippi Supreme Court and by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Late on Monday, the justices denied his appeal of the state court ruling, as well as the application for a stay of execution that accompanied it.

Mr. Berry’s application for a stay of the Fifth Circuit ruling, which his lawyers filed on Monday afternoon, remained pending in the evening, having come in very late in the afternoon.

In turning down the state-court appeal without any apparent dissent, the Supreme Court’s three-sentence order provided a brief explanation. The Supreme Court had no jurisdiction, the unsigned order said, because “the judgment of the Mississippi Supreme Court relies upon an adequate and independent state ground.”

The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled on Oct. 11 that Mr. Berry’s challenge to the lethal injection procedure was barred as a matter of state law because he had not presented the claim in his earlier appeals. The United States Supreme Court’s own jurisdiction is limited to deciding independent questions of federal law.

The Fifth Circuit, which sits in New Orleans, similarly dismissed Mr. Berry’s challenge to lethal injection as untimely, in a decision issued on Friday. By contrast, that decision clearly presents an issue of federal procedural law for the Supreme Court to address, whether a challenge to an execution method on the eve of a scheduled execution must be dismissed as untimely. As to whether all pending executions should now be delayed, the appeals court all but challenged the justices to state plainly whether that was the case.

Noting that Mr. Berry’s new federal-court case challenging lethal injection was not filed until Oct. 18, the appeals court said: “Well-established Fifth Circuit precedent is clear: death-sentenced inmates may not wait until execution is imminent before filing an action to enjoin a state’s method of carrying it out.”

That precedent “remains binding until the Supreme Court provides contrary guidance,” the appeals court said.

In the five weeks since the Supreme Court agreed to examine how courts should evaluate the constitutionality of lethal injection, in a case from Kentucky, Baze v. Rees, No. 07-5439, the national picture has become increasingly confused. The justices allowed one execution to proceed and granted stays in two others.


Lawyers seek to bar statements obtained by torture
Legal Topics | 2008/04/07 16:39

Lawyers for Guantanamo Bay detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdanon Friday asked a military tribunal to bar the use of statements made by Hamdan that were allegedly obtained through the use of torture and requested that the court declare that Hamdan has been subjected to abusive interrogation techniques. Hamdan contends that he was subjected to prolonged periods of isolation and beatings at the hands of US interrogators and that any statements he has made while in custody are unreliable. The motion argues that the use of these statements would violate the US Constitution, international law and the 2006 Military Commissions Act, which allows evidence obtained through coercion to be introduced if it is reliable, but excludes the use of statements obtained through torture. A spokesman for the Pentagon denied the allegations and said that detainees are treated humanely.

Hamdan has been in US custody since 2001 when he was captured in Afghanistan and accused of working as Osama Bin Laden's driver. In 2006 he successfully challenged US President George W. Bush's military commission system when the Supreme Court ruled that the commission system as initially constituted violated US and international law. Congress subsequently passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006, but Hamdan and a number of other Guantanamo detainees ave argued that the current law still violates their rights. Last month, a military judge affirmed a prior ruling report that Hamdan's lawyers may send written questions to Khalid Sheik Mohammedand other alleged high-level al Qaeda detainees to facilitate the discovery of evidence on the issue of whether Hamdan was an al Qaeda agent who conspired in the USS Cole or Sept. 11 attacks.



Federal court decertifies status of cigarette lawsuit
Legal Topics | 2008/04/04 16:33

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Thursday overturned class action certification for a lawsuit brought by "light" cigarette smokers against Philip Morris USA Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and other light cigarette makers. The class action, which included anyone who has ever bought light cigarettes since they hit the market in the 1970s, had alleged that tobacco companies used deceptive advertising tactics to mislead smokers in response to growing health concerns over the risks of smoking cigarettes. Attorneys for the tobacco companies argued that determining why every light cigarette consumer bought the product would be impossible and therefore made class certification impractical.

In September 2006, Judge Jack B. Weinstein of the United States District Court in Brooklyn certified the class of 50 million plaintiffs for the class-action suit. Lawyers estimated that sales of light cigarettes brought tobacco companies between $120 billion and $200 billion in extra sales since 1971.



Know Your Lawyer in Illinois
Headline Legal News | 2008/04/04 16:25
The demands of society to protect personal and property rights of all persons have resulted in an increasingly complex system of laws. Long ago it became necessary for some to devote themselves to study and knowledge of the law so the majority could be advised of their rights and obligations. The lawyers in your community perform this service.

Who Can Practice Law?

Only one who has a license to practice law in Illinois may do so.

The preparation for such a license and legal practice requires a great deal of time, hard work and expense. The licensed lawyer must graduate from an accredited law school and thereafter must pass the Illinois State Bar examination, a rigid test of knowledge in all fields of law. Finally, he or she must submit to an examination of personal character and fitness to practice law before being admitted to the bar.

When Do You Need A Lawyer?
The person who is accused of a crime or is sued for damages in a civil suit usually becomes acutely aware of the need for professional legal help. But legal assistance is highly desirable and often indispensable in many other situations in life which may have nothing to do with crime or a court action. Some of these situations are:
When Your Status Changes -- Coming of age, marriage, the birth or adoption of children and moving to a different state may result in new or different legal and personal responsibilities. Such may also require changes in the way you conduct your business or financial affairs. Your lawyer can help you plan for and meet such obligations, including the preparation of various legal documents which may be required.

When You Make Or Revise A Will -- The planning and drafting of your Will is an important legal matter. In drafting your Will, your lawyer can plan your estate in a way that will be most beneficial to you and to those for whom you wish to provide and your lawyer can suggest proper methods whereby substantial savings in taxes and other estate costs may be realized.

When You Buy Or Sell Real Estate -- Whenever you buy or sell real estate, you should have legal counsel. A real estate broker may be most helpful in putting the transaction together, but legally may not prepare certain legal documents necessary to the transaction, nor may the broker give legal advice as is often needed. There are potential legal pitfalls in the buying or selling of any real estate which can be avoided only by one with knowledge of the laws relating to real estate, taxes, insurance, contracts and other related subjects. Your lawyer can protect your against such pitfalls.

When You Enter Into Any Contract -- Any agreement, oral or written, which involves a consideration -- that is, the exchange of something of value in return for some goods or service rendered -- may be binding and enforceable. As a general rule, oral agreements should be avoided and written agreements should be either prepared by or examined by a lawyer on your behalf before being signed by you. You should consult with him or her regarding any agreement, particularly one representing a major financial obligation, before being entered into by you.

When You Are Involved In An Accident -- If you are involved in an accident of any kind resulting in personal injury or property damage you should consult with your lawyer. He or she can help you protect your rights and should be contacted immediately in order that such action may be taken quickly. In addition, you should notify your casualty insurance company immediately.

Whenever Your Rights Are Threatened -- The law exists to protect your rights, but often you must take definite action to make those laws work for you. Your lawyer is prepared to protect and enforce your rights under the law in all your personal or business affairs.



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