Supreme Court to hear appeal of Missouri death row inmate
Legal Topics | 2018/04/26 02:12
The Supreme Court agreed Monday to review the case of a Missouri death row inmate who says his rare medical condition could cause him to choke on his own blood during an execution.

The justices said they would hear the appeal of inmate Russell Bucklew. The court blocked Bucklew's execution in March after he argued that a tumor in his throat is likely to rupture and bleed during the administration of the drugs that would be used to kill him.

Bucklew argues that subjecting him to lethal injection would violate the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The issue is whether Bucklew has to show there is another method of execution available that would reduce the risk of needless suffering.

Bucklew has proposed that the state use lethal gas instead of an injection of pentobarbital, if the execution is carried out. Missouri law still provides for the option of lethal gas, but the state no longer has a gas chamber and has not used the method since 1965.

Bucklew says it is likely he would essentially suffocate for two to three minutes if he is given a drug injection. The feeling of suffocation would last no more than 30 seconds using gas, he says.

But the federal appeals court in St. Louis ruled against him and concluded that he did not prove the alternate method would reduce his suffering. The Supreme Court has previously ruled that inmates challenging a method of execution have to show that there's an alternative that is likely to be less painful.

None of the 20 inmates executed since Missouri began using pentobarbital in 2013 have shown obvious signs of pain or suffering.



Trump travel ban is focus of Supreme Court's last arguments
Attorney News | 2018/04/25 17:11
President Donald Trump's ban on travelers from several mostly Muslim countries is the topic of arguments Wednesday at the Supreme Court, with a Trump administration lawyer facing questions during the first half of arguments.

The travel ban case is the last case the justices will hear until October.

A little over 20 minutes into arguments, Justice Anthony Kennedy asked Solicitor General Noel Francisco, who was defending the ban, whether statements Trump made during the presidential campaign should be considered in evaluating the administration's ban. Francisco told the justices that they shouldn't look at Trump's campaign statements, which included a pledge to shut down Muslim entry into the U.S.

But Kennedy, whose vote is pivotal in cases that divide the court along ideological lines and whose vote the administration will almost certainly need to win, pressed Francisco on that point. Speaking of a hypothetical "local candidate," he asked if what was said during the candidate's campaign was irrelevant if on "day two" of his administration the candidate acted on those statements.

The Trump administration is asking the court to reverse lower court rulings striking down the ban. The policy has been fully in effect since December, but this is the first time the justices are considering whether it violates immigration law or the Constitution.

The court will consider whether the president can indefinitely keep people out of the country based on nationality. It will also look at whether the policy is aimed at excluding Muslims from the United States.

People have been waiting in line for a seat for days, and on Wednesday morning opponents of the ban demonstrated outside the court holding signs that read "No Muslim Ban. Ever." and "Refugees Welcome," among other things. In another sign of heightened public interest, the court is taking the rare step of making an audio recording of the proceedings available just hours after the arguments end. The last time the court did that was the gay marriage arguments in 2015.



Court won't reconsider making public family slain autopsies
Legal Business | 2018/04/25 00:11
The Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday once again rejected requests for unredacted autopsy reports from the unsolved slayings of eight family members.

The court ruled 5-2 without comment against reconsidering its December decision that the Pike County coroner in southern Ohio does not have to release the reports with complete information.

The case before the court involved seven adults and a teenage boy from the Rhoden family who were found shot to death at four homes near Piketon, in rural southern Ohio, on April 22, 2016. No arrests have been made or suspects identified.

Heavily redacted versions of the autopsy reports released in 2016 showed all but one of the victims were shot multiple times in the head, but details about any other injuries and toxicology test results weren't released.

In the 4-3 December ruling, Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor, writing for the majority, said Ohio law regarding coroner records clearly exempts the redacted material as "confidential law enforcement investigatory records."

Once a criminal investigation ends, confidential information in autopsy reports can become public records, but the process leading to a suspect can sometimes take time, O'Connor wrote.


Supreme Court upholds challenged patent review practice
Court Watch | 2018/04/24 18:11
The Supreme Court has upheld a challenged practice that is used to invalidate patents without the involvement of federal courts.

The justices on Tuesday rejected a bid to strike down a process established by Congress in 2011 to speed up patent reviews.

The justices voted 7-2 in favor of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's patent review process. It has been used to invalidate hundreds of patents since it was established in 2012.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Neil Gorsuch dissented.


Lake County courts to switch to online filing system in May
Legal Business | 2018/04/23 02:45
Court officials in northwestern Indiana's Lake County plan to switch next month to an online filing system that's already used by nearly three-quarters of Indiana's counties.

Lake County's circuit and superior courts will switch May 21 to the Odyssey case management system that's supported by the Indiana Supreme Court. Courts in 65 of Indiana's 92 counties currently use that state-funded system.

Mark Pearman is executive director of Lake County's Data Processing Department. He tells The (Northwest Indiana) Times the state is providing the county with the Odyssey software at no cost.

Pearman says that in August, new cases filed with the Lake County Clerk's Office will be scanned into the Odyssey system. The county's court system is scheduled to switch to a completely paperless record system in January.



Judge fights for job after admitting to courthouse affair
Court News | 2018/04/22 09:45
Massachusetts' highest court will decide the fate of a judge who admitted to having an affair with a clinical social worker that included sexual encounters at the courthouse.

The Commission on Judicial Conduct is asking for Judge Thomas Estes to be suspended indefinitely without pay to give lawmakers time to decide whether to remove him from the bench for his relationship with Tammy Cagle, who worked in the special drug court where Estes sat before she was reassigned last year.

If the Supreme Judicial Court agrees, it will be the first time in three decades it has taken such action against a judge for misconduct. The case comes amid the #MeToo movement that sparked a national reckoning over sexual misconduct in the workplace.

"This case couldn't come at a worse time for Judge Estes," said Martin Healy, chief legal counsel of the Massachusetts Bar Association.

The Supreme Judicial Court will consider Estes' case Tuesday. Cagle has accused Estes, who's married and has two teenage sons, of pressuring her into performing oral sex on him in his chambers and her home. Then after she tried to end the relationship, she asserts he treated her coldly and pushed her out of the drug court.



UK Supreme Court declines appeal from parents of ill toddler
Court Watch | 2018/04/21 17:52
Britain’s Supreme Court declined Friday to hear an appeal from a mother and father who want to take their terminally ill toddler to Italy for treatment instead of allowing a hospital to remove him from life support.

The decision is another setback for the parents of 23-month-old Alfie Evans, who have been engaged in a protracted legal fight with Alder Hey Children’s Hospital over their son’s care.

The Supreme Court decision means an earlier Court of Appeal ruling will stand. Justices in that court upheld a lower court’s conclusion that it would be pointless to fly the boy to Rome for treatment.

Alfie is in a “semi-vegetative state” as the result of a degenerative neurological condition that doctors have been unable to definitively identify. Earlier court rulings blocked further medical treatment and ordered the boy’s life support to be withdrawn.

In appealing the rulings, Alfie’s parents, Tom Evans, 21, and Kate James, 20, argued their son had shown improvement in recent weeks. But doctors said his condition was irreversible.

Pope Francis prayed Sunday for Alfie and others who are suffering from serious infirmities.

It was the second time the pope offered his views about a case involving a terminally ill British child. In July, Francis spoke out on behalf of Charlie Gard, who died a week before his first birthday from a rare genetic disease after his parents fought in court to obtain treatment for him outside of Britain.



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