Maine ban on religious tuition funding goes to Supreme Court
Court News | 2021/02/05 22:51
Three families demanding that the state pay tuition for religious schools are taking their appeal to a U.S. Supreme Court that looks much different than when the lawsuit was filed more than two years ago.

The conservative shift of the U.S. Supreme Court and a ruling in a Montana case make attorneys for the Maine families more optimistic that they'll prevail in changing the state's stance, which dates to 1980. The Supreme Court will decide whether to hear the appeal, filed Thursday.

“The court should grant this case and resolve this issue once and for all,” said the families' attorney, Michael Bindas, from the Institute for Justice.

The Maine Department of Education currently allows families who reside in towns without their own public schools to receive tuition to attend a public or private school of their choice. But religious schools are excluded.

There have been several lawsuits over the years, but the courts always have sided with the state, which contends using taxpayer dollars to fund religious education violates the separation of church and state.

The latest lawsuit targeting Maine's tuition program was filed in August 2018 after the Supreme Court held that a Missouri program was wrong in denying a grant to a religious school for playground resurfacing.


More protests called in Moscow to demand Navalny’s release
Court News | 2021/02/02 06:34
Moscow braced for more protests seeking the release of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who faces a court hearing Tuesday after two weekends of nationwide rallies and thousands of arrests in the largest outpouring of discontent in Russia in years.

Tens of thousands filled the streets across the vast country Sunday, chanting slogans against President Vladimir Putin and demanding freedom for Navalny, who was jailed last month and faces years in prison. Over 5,400 protesters were detained by authorities, according to a human rights group.

One of those taken into custody for several hours was Navalny’s wife, Yulia, who was ordered Monday to pay a fine of about $265 for participating in an unauthorized rally.

While state-run media dismissed the demonstrations as small and claimed that they showed the failure of the opposition, Navalny’s team said the turnout demonstrated “overwhelming nationwide support” for the Kremlin’s fiercest critic. His allies called for protesters to come to the Moscow courthouse on Tuesday.

“Without your help, we won’t be able to resist the lawlessness of the authorities,” his politician’s team said in a social media post.

Mass protests engulfed dozens of Russian cities for the second weekend in a row despite efforts by authorities to stifle the unrest triggered by the jailing of 44-year-old Navalny.

He was arrested Jan. 17 upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin. Russian authorities reject the accusation. He faces a prison term for alleged probation violations from a 2014 money-laundering conviction that is widely seen as politically motivated.

Last month, Russia’s prison service filed a motion to replace his 3 1/2-year suspended sentence from the conviction with one he must serve. The Prosecutor General’s office backed the motion Monday, alleging Navalny engaged in “unlawful conduct” during the probation period.


Dutch court orders Shell Nigeria to compensate farmers
Court Watch | 2021/01/30 06:35
In a victory for environmentalists and Nigerians whose land was polluted by oil leaks, a Dutch appeals court ordered energy giant Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary Friday to compensate farmers in two villages for damage to their land caused by leaks in 2004 and 2005.

Friends of the Earth Netherlands director Donald Pols hailed the ruling as a victory for small communities hurt by huge companies.

“Up until this morning, Dutch multinationals could act with impunity in developing countries ... and this has changed now,” Pols said. “From this moment onwards, Dutch multinationals will be held accountable for their activities and their actions in developing countries. And that’s an enormous victory for the rights of law globally.”

The amount of compensation paid to three farmers in the villages will be established at a later date.

The Hague Court of Appeal held Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary liable for two leaks that spewed oil over an area of a total of about 60 football pitches (soccer fields) in two villages, saying that it could not be established “beyond a reasonable doubt” that saboteurs were to blame. Under Nigerian law, which was applied in the Dutch civil case, the company is not liable if the leaks were the result of sabotage.

One of the farmers involved in the case, Eric Dooh, called the decision a victory “for the entire Niger Delta region. The victory is for the Ogoni people. Victory for all that stood by our side, both Blacks and whites.”

The Hague appeals court ruled that sabotage was to blame for an oil leak in another village; however, it said that the issue of whether Shell can be held liable “remains open” and the case will be continued as the court wants clarification about the extent of the pollution and whether it still has to be cleaned up.

The court also ruled that Dutch-based mother company Royal Dutch Shell and its Nigerian subsidiary must fit a leak-detection system to a pipeline that caused one of the spills.

The decision, which can be appealed to the Dutch Supreme Court, is the latest stage in a case that is breaking new legal ground in how far multinationals in the Netherlands can be held responsible for actions of their overseas subsidiaries.


Supreme Court ends Trump emoluments lawsuits
Attorney News | 2021/01/25 19:03
The Supreme Court on Monday brought an end to lawsuits over whether Donald Trump illegally profited off his presidency, saying the cases are moot now that Trump is no longer in office.

The high court’s action was the first in an expected steady stream of orders and rulings on pending lawsuits involving Trump now that his presidency has ended. Some orders may result in dismissals of cases since Trump is no longer president. In other cases, proceedings that had been delayed because Trump was in the White House could resume and their pace even quicken.

The justices threw out Trump’s challenge to lower court rulings that had allowed lawsuits to go forward alleging that he violated the Constitution’s emoluments clause by accepting payments from foreign and domestic officials who stay at the Trump International Hotel and patronize other businesses owned by the former president and his family.

The high court also ordered the lower court rulings thrown out as well and directed appeals courts in New York and Richmond, Virginia, to dismiss the suits as moot now that Trump is no longer in office.

The outcome leaves no appellate court opinions on the books in an area of the law that has been rarely explored in U.S. history.

The cases involved suits filed by Maryland and the District of Columbia, and high-end restaurants and hotels in New York and Washington, D.C., that “found themselves in the unenviable position of having to compete with businesses owned by the President of the United States.”

The suits sought financial records showing how much state and foreign governments have paid the Trump Organization to stay and eat at Trump-owned properties.

The cases never reached the point where any records had to be turned over. But Karl Racine and Brian Frosh, the attorneys general of Washington, D.C., and Maryland, respectively, said in a joint statement that a ruling by a federal judge in Maryland that went against Trump “will serve as precedent that will help stop anyone else from using the presidency or other federal office for personal financial gain the way that President Trump has over the past four years.”

Other cases involving Trump remain before the Supreme Court, or in lower courts.

Trump is trying to block the Manhattan district attorney ’s enforcement of a subpoena for his tax returns, part of a criminal investigation into the president and his businesses. Lower courts are weighing congressional subpoenas for Trump’s financial records. And the justices also have before them Trump’s appeal of a decision forbidding him from blocking critics on his Twitter account. Like the emoluments cases, Trump’s appeal would seem to be moot now that he is out of office and also had his Twitter account suspended.

Republican senators and some legal scholars have said that Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate cannot proceed now that he is once again a private citizen. But many scholars have said that Trump’s return to private life poses no impediment to an impeachment trial.


Supreme Court won't hear Nevada church's COVID-19 case
Court News | 2021/01/24 03:03
The U.S. Supreme Court refused a rural Nevada church’s request Monday to step into a legal battle over the government’s authority to limit the size of religious gatherings amid the COVID-19 pandemic even after the church won an appeals court ruling last month that found Nevada’s restrictions unconstitutional.

Attorneys general from 19 other states had recently joined in support of Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley east of Reno. They were urging the Supreme Court to rule on the merits of the Nevada case to help bring uniformity to various standards courts across the country have used to balance the interests of public safety and freedom of religion.

The Supreme Court rejected the church’s request for an emergency injunction last summer. The church's latest plea for relief court was in the form of a petition for a review of the case on its merits despite the recent ruling by the 9th Circuit and ongoing litigation in district court. Such petitions are rare and their approval is even rarer, even though they require approval by only four justices.

Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford argued the justices should let the federal court in Reno sort out the details before taking the extraordinary step of wading into the case.



Woman accused of helping steal Pelosi laptop freed from jail
Legal Topics | 2021/01/21 18:26
A Pennsylvania woman facing charges that she helped steal a laptop from the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during the attack on the U.S. Capitol will be released from jail, a federal judge decided Thursday.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Martin Carlson directed that Riley June Williams be released into the custody of her mother, with travel restrictions, and instructed her to appear Monday in federal court in Washington to continue her case.

“The gravity of these offenses is great,” Carlson told Williams. “It cannot be overstated.”

Williams, 22, of Harrisburg, is accused of theft, obstruction and trespassing, as well as violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds. Carlson noted Williams has no prior criminal record.

The FBI says an unidentified former romantic partner of Williams tipped them off that she appeared in video from the Jan. 6 rioting and the tipster claimed she had hoped to sell the computer to Russian intelligence.

Williams’ defense lawyer, Lori Ulrich, told Carlson the tipster is a former boyfriend who had been abusive to Williams and that “his accusations are overstated.”

Video from the riot shows a woman matching Williams’ description exhorting invaders to go “upstairs, upstairs, upstairs” during the attack, which briefly disrupted certification of President Joe Biden’s electoral victory.

“It is regrettable that Ms. Williams took the president’s bait and went inside the Capitol,” Ulrich told the judge.

Williams surrendered to face charges on Monday. She was expected to leave the county jail in Harrisburg later Thursday, and will be on electronic monitoring to await trial.




Groups ask court to restore protections for US gray wolves
Legal Business | 2021/01/18 04:03
Wildlife advocates on Thursday asked a federal court to overturn a U.S. government decision that stripped Endangered Species Act protections for wolves across most of the nation.

Two coalitions of advocacy groups filed lawsuits in U.S. District Court in Northern California seeking to restore safeguards for a predator that is revered by wildlife watchers but feared by many livestock producers.

The Trump administration announced just days ahead of the Nov. 3 election  that wolves were considered recovered. They had been wiped out out across most of the U.S. by the 1930s under government-sponsored poisoning and trapping campaigns.

A remnant population in the western Great Lakes region has since expanded to some 4,400 wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

More than 2,000 occupy six states in the Northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest after wolves from Canada were reintroduced in Idaho and Yellowstone National Park starting in 1995. Protections for wolves in the Rockies were lifted over the last decade and hunting of them is allowed.

But wolves  remain absent across most of their historical range  and the groups that filed Thursday’s lawsuits said continued protections are needed so wolf populations can continue to expand in California and other states.

The lawsuits could complicate an effort to reintroduce wolves in sparsely populated western Colorado under a November initiative approved by voters, a state official told wildlife commissioners Thursday. If endangered species protections were restored, wolves would again fall under authority of the federal government, not the state.

In response to the lawsuits, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Vanessa Kauffman said in a statement that the gray wolf “has exceeded all conservation goals for recovery” and is no longer threatened or endangered under federal law.

Some biologists who reviewed the administration’s plan to strip protections from wolves said it lacked scientific justification.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuits include the Sierra Club, WildEarth Guardians, Humane Society of the U.S. and numerous other environmental and advocacy groups.

A small population of Mexican gray wolves in the Southwest remain protected as an endangered species. Wolves in Alaska were never under federal protection.


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