Sen. Bob Menendez enters not guilty plea to latest criminal indictment
Legal Business | 2024/03/11 01:50
U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez and his wife pleaded not guilty on Monday to new obstruction of justice charges recently added to a broad corruption indictment threatening the Democrat’s re-election chances.

“Once again, not guilty your honor,” Menendez responded after Judge Sidney H. Stein asked him to enter a plea at a 20-minute hearing at a federal court in Manhattan. Menendez had previously pleaded not guilty to other charges in October.

Menendez and his wife, Nadine, left the courthouse without speaking to reporters. Menendez ignored a shouted question about whether he intends to run for re-election.

The couple is charged with taking bribes of gold bars, cash and a luxury car in return for the senator’s help in projects pursued by three New Jersey businessmen. Prosecutors say that in return for the loot, Menendez helped one of the men get a lucrative meat-certification deal with Egypt — and in doing so took actions favorable to the Egyptian government. An indictment said Menendez helped another associate get a deal with a Qatari investment fund.

Two of the three businessmen accused of bribing Menendez also entered not guilty pleas on Monday. A third, Jose Uribe, pleaded guilty two weeks ago to bribery charges and agreed to testify against the others at a trial set for May 6.

After his fall arrest, Menendez, 70, was forced to relinquish his chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee but said he would not resign from Congress.

If Menendez does choose to seek re-election, he’ll likely have to face two other strong Democratic contenders in a June 4 primary: U.S. Rep. Andy Kim and Tammy Murphy, the wife of New Jersey’s governor.

The new allegations — part of what is now an 18-count indictment — are related to what prosecutors say were efforts to cover up the illegal bribes.

One of those gifts included a Mercedes-Benz convertible that Uribe says he bought for Nadine Menendez because her husband had been trying to use his influence to squash two criminal investigations into people close to him.


Hong Kong court affirms landmark sedition conviction for pro-democracy activist
Legal Business | 2024/03/07 16:43
Criticizing laws or chanting anti-government slogans can be enough to jail someone for sedition in Hong Kong, an appeal court ruled Thursday in a landmark case brought under a colonial-era law increasingly used to crush dissent.

Tam Tak-chi, the first person tried under the city’s sedition law since Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997. Tam’s lawyers had argued his conviction should be overturned because the prosecution did not show he meant to incite violence.

The prosecution is widely seen as part of Beijing’s clampdown on dissent in the former British colony, following widespread anti-government protests in 2019.

Hong Kong court affirms landmark sedition conviction for pro-democracy activist

Tam was convicted on 11 charges in 2022, including seven counts of “uttering seditious words.” A judge at the lower court took issue with him chanting the popular protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” — words the government says imply separatism — and criticizing the Beijing-imposed National Security Law during a primary campaign.

The judge said his words broke the law because they incited discontent against Hong Kong and disobedience to the law.

Tam and his lawyers had drawn hope from a ruling made by a top Commonwealth court in a 2023 case about a similar law. In that case, the London-based Privy Council said that the sedition law in Trinidad and Tobago could not be used to convict people unless they intended to incite violence or disorder. The Privy Council is the court of final appeal for a number of Commonwealth countries.

But the Hong Kong court rejected the argument, finding that the Privy Council ruling only applied to the law in Trinidad and Tobago.

Judge Jeremy Poon said sedition in Hong Kong is a statutory offense, not a common law offense. He added that law’s legislative history made it clear that an intention to incite violence is not a necessary element of most sedition offenses.

“Nothing suggests that any individual, including the applicant, a politician and activist highly critical of the government and a stern opponent of government policy, would be subject to an unacceptably harsh burden because of the restriction on seditious acts or speeches imposed by the offense,” the ruling said.




Prosecutors Drop Charges During ‘Hotel California’ Lyrics Trial
Court Watch | 2024/03/04 00:43
New York prosecutors abruptly dropped their criminal case midtrial Wednesday against three men who had been accused of conspiring to possess a cache of hand-drafted lyrics to “Hotel California” and other Eagles hits.

Assistant Manhattan District Attorney Aaron Ginandes informed the judge at 10 a.m. that prosecutors would no longer proceed with the case, citing newly available emails that defense lawyers said raised questions about the trial’s fairness. The trial had been underway since late February.

The raft of communications emerged only when Eagles star Don Henley apparently decided last week to waive attorney-client privilege, after he and other prosecution witnesses had already testified. The defense argued that the new disclosures raised questions that it hadn’t been able to ask.

“Witnesses and their lawyers” used attorney-client privilege “to obfuscate and hide information that they believed would be damaging,” Judge Curtis Farber said in dismissing the case.

The case centered on roughly 100 pages of legal-pad pages from the creation of a classic rock colossus. The 1976 album “Hotel California” ranks as the third-biggest seller of all time in the U.S., in no small part on the strength of its evocative, smoothly unsettling title track about a place where “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

The accused had been three well-established figures in the collectibles world: rare books dealer Glenn Horowitz, former Rock & Roll Hall of Fame curator Craig Inciardi, and rock memorabilia seller Edward Kosinski.

Prosecutors had said the men knew the pages had a dubious chain of ownership but peddled them anyway, scheming to fabricate a provenance that would pass muster with auction houses and stave off demands to return the documents to Eagles co-founder Don Henley.

The defendants pleaded not guilty to charges including conspiracy to criminally possess stolen property. Through their lawyers, the men contended that they were rightful owners of pages that weren’t stolen by anyone.



Supreme Court temporarily blocks Texas law that allows police to arrest migrants
Attorney News | 2024/03/02 00:44
Texas’ plans to arrest migrants who enter the U.S. illegally and order them to leave the country is headed to the Supreme Court in a legal showdown over the federal government’s authority over immigration.

An order issued Monday by Justice Samuel Alito puts the new Texas law on hold for at least next week while the high court considers what opponents have called the most dramatic attempt by a state to police immigration since an Arizona law more than a decade ago.

The law, known as Senate Bill 4, had been set to take effect Saturday under a decision by the conservative-leaning 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Alito’s order pushed that date back until March 13 and came just hours after the Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to intervene.

“Make no mistake: S.B. 4 bypasses federal immigration authority and threatens the integrity of our nation’s constitution and laws,” a coalition of groups that sued over the law, including the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed the law in December as part of a series of escalating measures on the border that have tested the boundaries of how far a state can go to keep migrants from entering the country.

The law would allow state officers to arrest people suspected of entering the country illegally. People who are arrested could then agree to a Texas judge’s order to leave the country or face a misdemeanor charge for entering the U.S. illegally. Migrants who don’t leave after being ordered to do so could be arrested again and charged with a more serious felony.

The Justice Department told the Supreme Court that the law would profoundly alter “the status quo that has existed between the United States and the States in the context of immigration for almost 150 years.” It went on to argue that the law would have “significant and immediate adverse effects” on the country’s relationship with Mexico and “create chaos” in enforcing federal immigration laws in Texas.

The federal government cited a 2012 Supreme Court ruling on an Arizona law that would have allowed police to arrest people for federal immigration violations, often referred to by opponents as the “show me your papers” bill. The divided high court found that the impasse in Washington over immigration reform did not justify state intrusion.


Prince Harry loses a court challenge over being stripped of a UK security detail
Court Watch | 2024/02/28 21:57
Prince Harry ‘s fight for publicly funded protection was rejected Wednesday by a London judge who said the U.K. government didn’t act irrationally when it stripped him of security privileges after he quit working as a member of the royal family and moved to the United States. Harry plans to appeal the decision.

High Court Judge Peter Lane said the February 2020 decision to provide “bespoke” security to the Duke of Sussex on an as-needed basis wasn’t unlawful, irrational or unjustified.

“Insofar as the case-by-case approach may otherwise have caused difficulties, they have not been shown to be such as to overcome the high hurdle so as to render the decision-making irrational,” Lane wrote in the 51-page ruling that was censored throughout to protect identities and security arrangements for Harry and other public figures.

Harry said he planned to appeal the ruling and keep challenging the decision made by the group known by the acronym of its former name, the Royal and VIP Executive Committee, or RAVEC, a spokesperson said.

“The duke is not asking for preferential treatment, but for a fair and lawful application of RAVEC’s own rules, ensuring that he receives the same consideration as others in accordance with RAVEC’s own written policy,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

Harry claimed in the lawsuit that he and his family were endangered when visiting the U.K. because of hostility toward him and his wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, on social media and relentless hounding by news media.

His lawyer argued that RAVEC, which is made up of members of the royal family staff, the Metropolitan Police and several government offices, acted irrationally and failed to follow its own policies that should have required a risk analysis of the duke’s safety.

A government lawyer said Harry had been treated fairly and was still provided protection on some visits, citing a security detail that guarded him in June 2021 when he was chased by photographers after attending an event with seriously ill children at Kew Gardens in west London.


Witness at trial recounts fatal shooting of cinematographer by Alec Baldwin
Court News | 2024/02/26 05:57
Testimony at trial Monday turned emotional and argumentative as an eyewitness recounted the fatal 2021 shooting of a cinematographer by actor Alec Baldwin during a movie rehearsal and described gun misfires, crew members walking out and a “ludicrous” pace of work.

Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who was the armorer for the upcoming Western movie “Rust,” is fighting charges of involuntary manslaughter and tampering with evidence at a trial that entered its third day of testimony Monday. A trial date was set for Baldwin in July on a single charge of involuntary manslaughter in the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. He has pleaded not guilty.

Defense attorneys highlighted Gutierrez-Reed’s unusual disadvantage and vulnerability at the time as a part-time, 24-year-old armorer without trade-union membership on a set where few dared confront Baldwin directly about concerns about safety and related budgeting.

Monday’s testimony veered into the actor’s handling of the revolver that killed Hutchins — including a video of Baldwin twice practicing a cross-draw maneuver for a camera on Oct. 21, 2021, shortly before the fatal shooting that day. Investigators found no video of the shooting.

The video of Baldwin was accompanied by searing testimony from Ross Addiego, a front-line “Rust” crew member who helped guide the film’s camera. Addiego said that in the moments after a shot rang out on set, he made eye contact with a wounded Hutchins and tried to calm wounded director Joel Souza.

“The first person I made eye contact with was Halyna, who was clearly injured. In fact, she was starting to go flush and I think holding her right side,” said Addiego, breaking into tears. “I think I yelled out, ‘If you can’t help, get ... out of here, and someone call 911.’”

Prosecutors guided Addiego through testimony in which he described his anger and frustration with safety procedures on set, including the sight of a storage cart for guns and ammunition that frequently appeared to be unattended and Gutierrez-Reed’s work as an armorer in charge of loading guns with blank and dummy rounds. Investigators found six live rounds on the set of “Rust,” including the one that killed Hutchins.

Addiego noted two gun misfires on set — confirmed as blank rounds without projectiles by workplace safety regulators — and just one safety meeting over the course about two work weeks, when daily meetings are the norm.

He said prior to the fatal shooting he lodged safety complaints with union representatives and the film’s top safety official, assistant director David Halls, who pleaded no contest last year to a charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon and may be called on to testify.



Court rejects appeal from 3 GOP House members over $500 mask fines
Attorney News | 2024/02/21 22:45
The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected appeals from three Republican U.S. House members who challenged fines for not wearing face coverings on the House floor in 2021.

The justices did not comment on leaving in place $500 fines issued in May 2021 to U.S. Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Ralph Norman of South Carolina.

The mask requirement was part of the House’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the mandate remained in place even after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance noting that “fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing.”

The lawmakers showed up on the House floor without masks, even posing for a selfie. The requirement was lifted in June 2021.

Lower courts had refused to disturb the fines, ruling that courts lack the power to review the mask policy.

Lawyers for House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican, had urged the court to reject the appeal from fellow Republican representatives, though they noted that Johnson and every other member of the Republican leadership voted against the mask policy.


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