Business as usual for high court, despite riot, impeachment
Attorney News | 2021/01/14 12:05
Amid insurrection and impeachment, the Supreme Court's big news Thursday was a decision in a bankruptcy case. Wednesday brought arguments over the Federal Trade Commission's ability to recapture ill-gotten gains.

At this fraught moment in U.S. history, the court is doing its best to keep its head down, going about its regular business and putting off as many politically charged issues as it can, including whether President Donald Trump's tax returns must be turned over to prosecutors in New York.

Still, the justices have not been able to completely avoid controversy in recent days. On Tuesday, the court's conservative majority that includes three Trump appointees cleared the way for the administration to execute a woman for the first time in 67 years and also allowed the administration to reinstate a requirement that pregnant women wanting an abortion pick up a pill in person from a medical facility, despite the risks of contracting COVID-19.

The court's work continues even though the coronavirus pandemic is preventing the justices from meeting in person, either for their private conferences or argument sessions. Chief Justice John Roberts has received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, but not every member of the court has, the court said.

The building itself has been closed to the public since March because of the pandemic. Since the weekend, it has been ringed by hard-to-climb fences that also surround the Capitol.

But arguments this week took place as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening, although the ability to listen live to the arguments is a product of the pandemic. Justices made pop culture references to Taylor Swift and the Netflix series “Dirty Money.”

They issued a unanimous decision in a bankruptcy case from Chicago, and they are convening again in private on Friday to discuss new cases to add to their docket.

The workmanlike approach is typical of the court, but it also aligns with the repeated efforts of Roberts to keep his court out of politics as much as possible, especially during Trump's presidency.




India's top court suspends implementation of new farm laws
Headline Legal News | 2021/01/12 12:06
India’s top court on Tuesday temporarily put on hold the implementation of agricultural reform laws and ordered the creation of an independent committee of experts to negotiate with farmers who have been protesting against the legislation.

The Supreme Court's ruling came a day after it heard petitions filed by the farmers challenging the legislation. It said the laws were passed without enough consultation, and that it was disappointed with the way talks were proceeding between representatives of the government and farmers.

Tens of thousands of farmers protesting against the legislation have been blocking half a dozen major highways on the outskirts of New Delhi for more than 45 days. Farmers say they won’t leave until the government repeals the laws.

They say the legislation passed by Parliament in September will lead to the cartelization and commercialization of agriculture, make farmers vulnerable to corporate greed and devastate their earnings. The government insists the laws will benefit farmers and enable them to market their produce and boost production through private investment. Chief Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde said the independent committee of four experts would “amicably resolve” the standoff between the farmers and the government.
The court, however, did not provide details as to how it selected the committee experts.

Farmer unions rejected the idea of an expert committee and said all four members have publicly favored the contentious legislation. They reiterated their demand for the total repeal of the laws. A key union said the court’s decision to suspend the implementation of the legislation was welcome but “not a solution.” “The government must withdraw. It must understand that farmers and people of India are opposed to the laws,” the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee said.

During a virtual hearing on Monday, Bobde said the impasse was causing distress to farmers and the situation at the protest sites was only getting worse. “Each one of us will be responsible if anything goes wrong,” Bobde told India's attorney general, K.K. Venugopal, who was arguing for the government. The two sides have failed to make progress in multiple rounds of talks over the farmers’ main demand that the laws be scrapped. The government has ruled out withdrawing the laws, but says it could make some amendments.



Louisiana Supreme Court has a new chief justice, John Weimer
Legal Business | 2021/01/10 19:50
The Louisiana Supreme Court has a new chief justice. John Weimer, 66, of Thibodaux, took the oath of office this month as the state’s 26th chief justice. A ceremony marking his investiture was held in New Orleans on Thursday. Weimer fills the seat vacated by Bernette Joshua Johnson, who retired Dec. 31 after serving 26 years on the high court.

“I feel a profound sense of humility and the recognition of the obligation of service,” Weimer said. “I have served with three chief justices who have made their mark on the judiciary in special ways … I have learned much from each of them, and I promise to work hard to be dedicated to the principles of impartiality, independence and fairness while pursuing justice and acting with integrity just as my predecessors did.”

The Courier reports that Gov. John Bel Edwards, who spoke at Thursday’s ceremony, said Weimer is becoming Louisiana’s highest jurist during one of history’s most difficult periods, with a global pandemic raging.

“John Weimer is the right person to lead this court during these challenging times,” the Democratic governor said.

The new chief justice rose quickly through judicial ranks. Weimer became a state district judge for the 17th District in Thibodaux in 1995, before being elected to Louisiana’s 1st Circuit Court of Appeal in 1998. He was elected to the state Supreme Court in 2001 during a special election. He was re-elected to 10-year terms without opposition in 2002 and 2012.

Weimer ran as a Democrat through 2002, but without party affiliation in 2012.

His Supreme Court district includes Terrebonne, Lafourche, Assumption, Iberia, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. James, St. John the Baptist, St. Martin and St. Mary parishes and part of Jefferson Parish.



Arizona Supreme Court upholds election challenge dismissal
Attorney News | 2021/01/06 18:37
The Arizona Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a lower court decision dismissing the last in a series of challenges that sought to decerify Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the state.

The high court ruling is the second time the majority-Republican court has turned aside an appeal of a court loss by backers of President Donald Trump seeking to overturn the results of the election. In all, eight lawsuits challenging Biden’s Arizona win have failed. It comes the day before a divided Congress is set to certify Biden’s victory.

Tuesday’s ruling from a four-judge panel of the high court agreed with a trial court judge in Pinal County that plaintiff Staci Burk lacked the right to contest the election. That’s because she wasn’t a registered voter at the time she filed her lawsuit, as required in state election contests. Both courts also agreed that she made her legal challenge too late, after the five-day period for filing such an action had passed.

Burk said in her lawsuit that she was a qualified Arizona voter, but officials said they discovered she wasn’t registered to vote. She later said she mistakenly thought “qualified electors” were people who were merely eligible to vote, and that her voter registration was canceled because election workers were unable to verify her address.

The Supreme Court said the fact that she wasn’t a registered voter was fatal to her ability to file an election challenge and that Burk admitted she knew she wasn’t registered.

“There is nothing before the Court to indicate that Appellant timely contacted the appropriate authorities to correct any problems with her voter registration,” Chief Justice Robert Brutinel wrote. “An election challenge ... is not the proper vehicle to reinstate voter registration.”

Biden won the state over Republican President Donald Trump by more than 10,000 votes and the results were certified last month.

The lawsuit brought by Burk, who isn’t a lawyer but represented herself, is nearly identical to a lawsuit dismissed in early December in federal court in Phoenix.

Burk’s lawsuit alleged Arizona’s election systems have security flaws that let election workers and foreign countries manipulate results. Opposing attorneys said the lawsuit used conspiracy theories to make allegations against a voting equipment vendor without any proof to back up claims of widespread election fraud in Arizona.

No evidence of voter or election fraud has emerged in Arizona. Despite that, Republicans who control the Legislature are pushing to review how Maricopa County, the state’s most populous, ran its election. Two subpoenas issued by the state Senate seeking an audit and to review voting machines, ballots and other materials are being challenged by Maricopa County.

Two of the failed legal challenges focused on the use of Sharpies to complete ballots were dismissed. Another lawsuit in which the Trump campaign sought inspection of ballots was dismissed after the campaign’s lawyer acknowledged the small number of ballots at issue wouldn’t have changed the outcome.

A judge dismissed a lawsuit in which the Arizona Republican Party tried to determine whether voting machines had been hacked.

Then a separate challenge by Arizona GOP Chairwoman Kelli Ward was tossed out by a judge who concluded the Republican leader failed to prove fraud and that the evidence presented at trial wouldn’t reverse Trump’s defeat. The state Supreme Court upheld that decision in an earlier ruling.

And a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit by conservative lawyer Sidney Powell, who alleged widespread election fraud through the manipulation of voting equipment. Burk’s lawsuit repeated some of Powell’s allegations word-for-word.


Republicans condemn 'scheme' to undo election for Trump
Court News | 2021/01/04 17:58
The unprecedented Republican effort to overturn the presidential election has been condemned by an outpouring of current and former GOP officials warning the effort to sow doubt in Joe Biden's  win and keep President Donald Trump in office is undermining Americans’ faith in democracy.

Trump has enlisted support from a dozen Republican senators and up to 100 House Republicans to challenge the Electoral College  vote when Congress convenes in a joint session to confirm President-elect Joe Biden’s  306-232 win.

With Biden set to be inaugurated Jan. 20, Trump is intensifying efforts to prevent the traditional transfer of power, ripping the party apart.

Despite Trump's claims of voter fraud, state officials have insisted the elections ran smoothly and there was no evidence of fraud or other problems that would change the outcome. The states have certified their results as fair and valid. Of the more than 50 lawsuits the president and his allies have filed challenging election results, nearly all have been dismissed or dropped. He’s also lost twice at the U.S. Supreme Court.

On a call disclosed Sunday, Trump can be heard pressuring Georgia officials  to “find” him more votes.

But some senior lawmakers, including prominent Republicans, are pushing back.

“The 2020 election is over,” said a statement Sunday from a bipartisan group of 10 senators, including Republicans Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Mitt Romney of Utah.

The senators wrote that further attempts to cast doubt on the election are “contrary to the clearly expressed will of the American people and only serve to undermine Americans’ confidence in the already determined election results.”

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland said, “The scheme by members of Congress to reject the certification of the presidential election makes a mockery of our system and who we are as Americans.”

Former House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, said in a statement that “Biden’s victory is entirely legitimate" and that efforts to sow doubt about the election “strike at the foundation of our republic.”

Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the third-ranking House Republican, warned in a memo to colleagues that objections to the Electoral College results “set an exceptionally dangerous precedent.”

One of the more outspoken conservatives in Congress, Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton, said he will not oppose the counting of certified electoral votes on Jan. 6. "I’m grateful for what the president accomplished over the past four years, which is why I campaigned vigorously for his reelection. But objecting to certified electoral votes won’t give him a second term—it will only embolden those Democrats who want to erode further our system of constitutional government.”

Cotton said he favors further investigation of any election problems, separate from the counting of the certified Electoral College results.


Appeals court vacates order delaying woman’s execution
Court Watch | 2021/01/03 01:58
A federal appeals court has cleared the way for the only woman on federal death row to be executed before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

The ruling, handed down Friday by a three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, concluded that a lower court judge erred when he vacated Lisa Montgomery’s execution date in an order last week.

U.S. District Court Judge Randolph Moss had ruled the Justice Department unlawfully rescheduled Montgomery’s execution and he vacated an order from the director of the Bureau of Prisons scheduling her death for Jan. 12.

Montgomery had been scheduled to be put to death at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana, in December, but Moss delayed the execution after her attorneys contracted coronavirus visiting their client and asked him to extend the time to file a clemency petition.

Moss concluded that the under his order the Bureau of Prisons could not even reschedule Montgomery’s execution until at least Jan. 1. But the appeals panel disagreed.

Meaghan VerGow, an attorney for Montgomery, said her legal team would ask for the full appeals court to review the case and said Montgomery should not be executed on Jan. 12.

Montgomery was convicted of killing 23-year-old Bobbie Jo Stinnett in the northwest Missouri town of Skidmore in December 2004. She used a rope to strangle Stinnett, who was eight months pregnant, and then cut the baby girl from the womb with a kitchen knife, authorities said. Montgomery took the child with her and attempted to pass the girl off as her own, prosecutors said.

Montgomery’s lawyers have argued that their client suffers from serious mental illnesses. Biden opposes the death penalty and his spokesman, TJ Ducklo, has said he would work to end its use. But Biden has not said whether he will halt federal executions after he takes office Jan. 20.


Hong Kongers charged in China plead guilty, relatives told
Court Watch | 2020/12/29 20:32
Relatives of the 10 Hong Kongers accused of fleeing the city by speedboat during a government crackdown on dissent say they've been informed that their family members pleaded guilty, according to a support group.

The families of the detainees were informed by court-appointed lawyers Tuesday that a court in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen will deliver the verdicts on Wednesday, according to the 12 Hongkongers Concern Group, which is assisting the families.

It was not clear whether the 10 would also be sentenced on Wednesday, but Chinese courts often issue sentences at the same time as verdicts.

The 10 defendants all faced charges of illegally crossing the border, while two of them faced additional charges of organizing the attempt, according to an indictment issued in Shenzhen. The trials began on Monday afternoon, according to a statement issued by the Shenzhen Yantian District court.

Separate hearings were expected for two minors who were also aboard the boat that was apparently heading for Taiwan when it was stopped by the Chinese coast guard on Aug. 23.

The defendants are believed to have feared they would be prosecuted for their past activities in support of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. Hong Kong media reports said at least one may have had a warrant out for his arrest under a tough new national security law imposed on the semi-autonomous territory by Beijing in June.

Relatives of the defendants say that they have been prevented from hiring their own lawyers and that the accusations are politically motivated. The defendants can be sentenced to up to a year in prison for crossing the border and seven years for organizing the trip.

They were picked up after entering mainland Chinese waters for crossing the maritime border without permission. While Hong Kong is part of China, travelers must still pass through immigration when going to and from the mainland. The defendants apparently needed to pass through Chinese waters to get to open seas.


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