Lawmakers slam Missouri Supreme Court over bail rules
Court Watch | 2020/01/24 05:14
Dozens of Missouri lawmakers have asked the state Supreme Court to undo new rules limiting when judges can impose bail, a move that was aimed at reducing court costs that can derail the lives of low-income defendants.

More than 80 legislators signed on to a letter sent by Rep. Justin Hill to Supreme Court judges this week. In it, the Republican complained that a new rule requiring judges to first consider non-monetary conditions for pretrial release went too far.

“Now, individuals who are potentially dangerous or have a history of failing to appear for court are being released on recognizance with no conditions at all ? because the rules that went into effect in July make it too difficult for judges to impose bail,” Hill wrote.

He cited one of the two convicted felons facing criminal charges over a Kansas bar shooting that killed four people. Both men allegedly involved had previous brushes with the law that could have kept them behind bars had judges and other officials made different decisions, although only 23-year-old Javier Alatorre’s case dealt with Missouri judges.

Alatorre was released from jail in September in Jackson County, Missouri, where he still faces charges of fleeing from police in a stolen vehicle. A judge released him on his own recognizance after his attorney sought to have his bail lowered.

Missouri judges are still able to set bail under the new rules if needed, but only at an amount necessary to ensure either public safety or that the defendant will appear in court. Courts may not order a defendant to pay costs associated with conditions of their release, such as the costs of an ankle monitoring bracelet, without first considering reducing or waiving those costs.

Prior court rules directed judges to impose bail only to ensure that defendants returned to court, although the Missouri Constitution gave judges leeway to deny bail or set limits on release as a way to protect victims or public safety.


Court takes another look at Native American adoption law
Legal Topics | 2020/01/22 17:47
A 1978 law giving preference to Native American families in foster care and adoption proceedings involving American Indian children was getting a second look Wednesday from a federal appeals court in New Orleans.

A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans upheld the Indian Child Welfare Act in August in a 2-1 ruling.

Opponents of the law — including non-Indian families who have sought to adopt American Indian children — sought and got a re-hearing. On Wednesday, the court's 16 active judges were expected to hear arguments.

A 1978 law giving preference to Native American families in foster care and adoption proceedings involving American Indian children was getting a second look Wednesday from a federal appeals court in New Orleans.

A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans upheld the Indian Child Welfare Act in August in a 2-1 ruling.

Opponents of the law — including non-Indian families who have sought to adopt American Indian children — sought and got a re-hearing. On Wednesday, the court's 16 active judges were expected to hear arguments.




Supreme Court rejects fast-track review of health care suit
Attorney News | 2020/01/21 18:14
The Supreme Court refused Tuesday to consider a fast-track review of a lawsuit that threatens the Obama-era health care law, making it highly unlikely that the justices would decide the case before the 2020 election.

The court denied a request by 20 mainly Democratic states and the Democratic-led House of Representatives to decide quickly on a lower-court ruling that declared part of the statute unconstitutional and cast a cloud over the rest.

Defenders of the Affordable Care Act argued that the issues raised by the case are too important to let the litigation drag on for months or years in lower courts, and that the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans erred when it struck down the health law's now toothless requirement that Americans have health insurance.

The justices did not comment on their order. They will consider the appeal on their normal timetable and could decide in the coming months whether to take up the case.



Bangladesh court orders 231 factories closed to save river
Opinions | 2020/01/18 19:11
Bangladesh’s High Court has asked authorities to shut down 231 factories surrounding the highly polluted main river in the nation’s capital, lawyers and activists said Tuesday.

Manzil Murshid, who filed a petition with the court seeking its intervention, said the factories are mainly small dyeing, tanning and rubber plants operating without approval from the Department of Environment. Such factories often are able to operate with the backing of influential politicians or by bribing government officials.

The court’s decision Monday on the factories near the River Buriganga was hailed by environment activists despite some previous court orders that were not carried out by government authorities, Murshid said.

Murshid represents Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh, a domestic advocacy group.

He said the decision came after the environment department submitted a report on 231 factories that operate illegally and contribute highly to the pollution. The court also asked the officials to prepare “a complete list of illegal factories or factories without effluent treatment plants” operating in and around Dhaka within three months.

“This is a good decision. The court has asked the authorities to disconnect water, electricity and other utility services for factories that are polluting the Buriganga,” he told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Amatul Karim, who represented the Department of Environment in the case, said the court’s order came after a thorough examination of the history of the factories, the level of pollution of the river and overall damage to the environment.


German court may reject appeal to remove anti-Semitic relic
Attorney News | 2020/01/18 02:15
A court in eastern Germany indicated Tuesday that it will likely reject a Jewish man’s bid to force the removal of an ugly remnant of centuries of anti-Semitism from a church where Martin Luther once preached.

The Naumburg court's senate said, at a hearing, that “it will maybe reject the appeal,” court spokesman Henning Haberland told reporters.

“The senate could not follow the plaintiff's opinion that the defamatory sculpture can be seen as an expression of disregard in its current presentation,” Haberland said.

The verdict will be announced on February 4.

The so-called “Judensau,” or “Jew pig,” sculpture on the Town Church in Wittenberg dates back to around 1300. It is perhaps the best-known of more than 20 such anti-Semitic relics from the Middle Ages that still adorn churches across Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

Located 4 meters (13 feet) above the ground on a corner of the church, it depicts Jews suckling on the teats of a sow, while a rabbi lifts the animal’s tail. In 1570, after the Protestant Reformation, an inscription referring to an anti-Jewish tract by Luther was added.

Judaism considers pigs impure and no one disputes that the sculpture is deliberately offensive. But there is strong disagreement about what to do with the relief.


Supreme Court rejects appeal in texting suicide case
Court News | 2020/01/14 17:52
The Supreme Court on Monday left in place the conviction of a Massachusetts woman who sent her boyfriend text messages urging him to kill himself.

Michelle Carter is serving a 15-month sentence after being convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the 2014 death of her boyfriend, Conrad Roy III. A judge determined that Carter, who was 17, caused the death of the 18-year-old Roy when she ordered him in a phone call to get back in his carbon monoxide-filled truck that he’d parked in a Kmart parking lot.

The phone call wasn’t recorded, but the judge relied on a text Carter sent her friend in which she said she told Roy to get back in. In text messages sent in the days leading up to Roy’s death, Carter also encouraged Roy to follow through with his suicide plan and chastised him when he didn’t, Massachusetts courts found.

The case has garnered national attention and sparked legislative proposals in Massachusetts to criminalize suicide coercion.

Carter’s lawyers argued in their Supreme Court appeal that the conviction should be thrown out because it was an “unprecedented” violation of her free speech rights that raised crucial questions about whether “words alone” are enough to hold someone responsible for another person’s suicide.

The lawyers also argued there was simply not enough evidence to prove Carter urged Roy to to get back in his truck to die, or that he would have lived if she had called for help or taken other actions to try and save his life.

Joseph Cataldo, one of Carter’s lawyers, said Monday’s decision was an “injustice” and that the legal team is weighing its next steps. He didn’t elaborate.

“The Court passed on the rare chance to clarify an outdated and confusing exception to the First Amendment, which has divided courts around the country,” said Daniel Marx, another one of Carter’s lawyers. “It also missed an invaluable opportunity to address the toxic combination of mental illness, adolescent psychology, and social media that was at the heart of this suicide case and will likely lead to additional tragedies in the future.”

The court’s decision was welcomed by Bristol District Attorney Thomas Quinn III, whose office prosecuted the case.

“The US Supreme Court’s decision today brings closure to the family of Conrad Roy for his tragic death. I hope that the finality of this decision brings some solace to them,” he said in a statement.


Indian state challenges new citizenship law in Supreme Court
Court Watch | 2020/01/13 01:52
The southern Indian state of Kerala on Tuesday became the first to legally challenge a new citizenship law that has triggered nationwide demonstrations.

In a petition to the Supreme Court, the state government said the law violates the secular nature of India's Constitution, and accused the government of dividing the nation along communal lines.

The citizenship law backed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist party provides a path to naturalization for people from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, unless they’re Muslim. It has triggered nationwide protests and clashes with police, leading to 23 deaths.
The rallies have slowly morphed into much wider anti-government protests.

Critics say the law, which was passed by Parliament on Dec. 11, will be used in conjunction with a citizenship registry that could require all Indians to produce documents proving their origins, a challenge in a country where many people lack official records including birth certificates.

Kerala, a state ruled by a communist party, has strongly opposed the law and passed a resolution against in early January. The state government criticized the law in front-page advertisements in at least three national newspapers on Jan. 10, saying the state is "leading the efforts to protect constitutional values.”

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party said the move by the state was political.

Pinarayi Vijayan, chief minister of the state, has also written to the heads of 11 other states not ruled by Modi’s party, urging them to unite in their fight against the law.


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