Court reverses itself and restores woman's murder conviction
Court Watch | 2017/12/10 01:10
Georgia's highest court has reversed it own recent decision and restored the murder conviction of a woman whose husband shot and killed a police officer.

The Georgia Supreme Court issued a new opinion Monday that upholds Lisa Ann Lebis' felony murder conviction in the 2012 slaying of Clayton County police officer Sean Callahan.

Barely a month ago the same court had axed Lebis' conviction, saying prosecutors failed to prove she "jointly possessed" the gun that her husband, Tremaine Lebis, used to kill the officer as the couple tried to flee a Stockbridge motel.

The new decision concludes that Lisa Ann Lebis could still be held accountable for the slaying as a co-conspirator.

The opinion Monday does not say why the high court chose to revisit the case.


Updated travel ban is headed back to a federal appeals court
Areas of Focus | 2017/12/08 01:11
Thirteen judges on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will be asked to decide if the ban violates the constitution by discriminating against Muslims, as opponents say, or is necessary to protect national security, as the Trump administration says.

The hearing scheduled Friday comes four days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration can fully enforce the ban even as the separate challenges continue before the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th Circuit and the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit appeals courts.

The 4th Circuit is being asked to reverse the decision of a Maryland judge whose injunction in October barred the administration from enforcing the ban against travelers from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen who have bona fide relationships with people or organizations in the U.S. The ban also applies to travelers from North Korea and to some Venezuelan government officials and their families, but the lawsuits didn't challenge those restrictions.

Trump announced his initial travel ban on citizens of certain Muslim-majority nations in late January, bringing havoc and protests to airports around the country. A federal judge in Seattle soon blocked it, and courts since then have wrestled with the restrictions as the administration has rewritten them. The latest version blocks travelers from the listed countries to varying degrees, allowing for students from some of the countries while blocking other business travelers and tourists, and allowing for admissions on a case-by-case basis.

Opponents say the latest version of the ban is another attempt by Trump to fulfill his campaign pledge to keep Muslims out of the U.S. The administration, however, says the ban is based on legitimate national security concerns.

The 4th Circuit rejected an earlier version in May, finding that it "drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination" toward Muslims. The judges cited Trump's campaign pledge on Muslim travelers, as well as tweets and remarks he has made since taking office.


Supreme Court won't hear dispute involving NC TV network
Legal Interview | 2017/12/08 01:10
A lawsuit against a North Carolina city for allegedly discriminating against an African-American-owned television network will go forward after the Supreme Court declined to get involved in the case.

The Supreme Court's announcement Monday that it would not get involved in the dispute leaves in place a ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit earlier this year that revived the lawsuit. A trial court had initially dismissed it.

Black Network Television claims the City of Greensboro rescinded a $300,000 economic development loan because of race. The city says race had nothing to do with it. Appeals court judges ruled 2-1 that the lawsuit had been improperly dismissed.


Arkansas judge blocks state from issuing birth certificates
Court News | 2017/12/06 01:12
An Arkansas judge on Friday blocked the state from issuing any birth certificates until officials are able to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the state's birth certificate law illegally favors heterosexual parents.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox on Friday set aside his orders requiring the state and three same-sex couples go into mediation on how to fix the state law to comply with the U.S. high court's order. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge earlier this week asked the state Supreme Court to stay or lift Fox's mediation order.

"This case has been pending for over two years and it has been more than six months since the United States Supreme Court ruled the Arkansas statutory scheme unconstitutional," Fox wrote in his order. "There are citizens and residents of the state of Arkansas whose constitutional rights are being violated on a daily basis."


Fox last month had threatened to halt the issuance of birth certificates if both sides couldn't find language by Jan. 5 to be stricken from the law. Rutledge told the court this week that both sides had agreed on an order on how to comply with the high court ruling, but Fox rejected it. A spokeswoman for Rutledge said the AG's office was reviewing Fox's order and did not have an immediate comment.

In his order, Fox said he was hopeful Gov. Asa Hutchinson would have the authority to fix the birth certificate law through executive action. If the state is unable to fix the law, Fox said, the injunction would be in effect until lawmakers could address the issue. Lawmakers are not scheduled to convene again until February for a session focused on the budget. Hutchinson could call a special session.



Russian court keeps theater director under house arrest
Legal Business | 2017/12/04 22:18
A Moscow court on Monday ruled that a prominent theater and film director who is being investigated for fraud must remain under house arrest.

Kirill Serebrennikov, arguably Russia's best known director, was detained and put under house arrest in August in a criminal case that raised fears of a return to Soviet-style censorship.

Serebrennikov's plays have often been targeted by conservative circles, which dismiss his work as decadent and unpatriotic.

The court ruled Monday Serebrennikov should stay under house arrest at least until late January, rejecting a plea for bail.

Investigators have accused him of scheming to embezzle about $1.1 million in government funds allocated for one of his productions and the projects he directed between 2011 and 2014.

Serebrennikov has dismissed the accusations as absurd.

Serebrennikov's lawyer, Dmitry Kharitonov, told Russian news agencies on Monday that his client had petitioned the investigators to allow him to attend the premiere of the ballet "Nureyev" at the Bolshoi that he had directed. But the chances that Serebrennikov will be allowed to go to the Bolshoi are "negligible," Kharitonov said.

Tickets for "Nureyev," which premiers later this month, went on sale last month and were sold out in a matter of hours.



Asbestos Court to resolve hundreds of claims
Legal Business | 2017/12/04 06:19
The Montana Supreme Court on Tuesday issued an order creating an asbestos claims court to resolve hundreds of Libby asbestos-related cases pending in the state’s trial courts.

The cases have languished for years because W.R. Grace & Co. — the owner of the defunct vermiculite mine near Libby that is blamed for widespread asbestos disease and death in that community — filed for bankruptcy protection shortly after the Montana Legislature passed the Asbestos Claims Court Act in 2001. Now those cases can proceed in the state court system.

The high court’s order places all pending asbestos cases into a specialty court. Flathead District Judge Amy Eddy, who has an extensive background in complex civil litigation, will preside over the court initially, handling pre-trial proceedings.

“It’s an enormous responsibility, but resolution needs to be brought to these cases,” Eddy said. “It would be devastating to the judicial resources, which are severely underfunded, if they were to be litigated on an individual basis.”

Eddy said her work with the District Court is and will remain a priority, and stressed that no local resources will be used for the asbestos claims court. The venue will be in the Montana Supreme Court, “as a specialty court, using their resources,” she said.


Prosecutors ask court to send Russia's ex-minister to prison
Court News | 2017/12/04 06:18
Russian prosecutors on Monday asked a court to send a former economic development minister to a high-security prison for 10 years.

Alexei Ulyukayev, the highest-ranking Russian official to have been arrested since 1993, was detained last year at the headquarters of Russia's largest oil producer, the state-owned Rosneft, after a sting operation by Russia's main intelligence agency. Ulyukayev denies the charges and says Rosneft's influential chief executive Igor Sechin has set him up.

The circumstances of the case have ignited speculation that Ulyukayev fell victim to a Kremlin power play by Sechin, a longtime associate of President Vladimir Putin.

A prosecutor on Monday in his remarks during cross-examination asked the court to find Ulyukayev guilty of extorting a $2 million bribe from Sechin and send him to a high-security prison for 10 years as well as fining him roughly $8.5 million.

Ulyukayev deserves such a harsh penalty because his actions "are undermining the authority of the government," the prosecutor told the court.

Prosecutors have said Ulyukayev was extorting a bribe from Sechin in return for giving the green light to Rosneft's purchase of another oil company.


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