Groups sue seeking court oversight of Chicago police reforms
Legal Business | 2017/06/15 05:49
Several leading community groups filed a class-action lawsuit against the city of Chicago Wednesday in a bid to bypass or even scuttle a draft agreement between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice that seeks to reform the nation's second largest police force without federal court oversight.

The more than 100-page lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago argues that an overhaul of Chicago's 12,000-officer force in the wake of a damning civil rights report in January can't work without the intense scrutiny of a court-appointed monitor answerable to a judge.

"Absent federal court supervision, nothing will improve," the lawsuit says. "It is clear that federal court intervention is essential to end the historical and on-going pattern and practice of excessive force by police officers in Chicago."

While President Donald Trump's attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has expressed skepticism about court involvement, President Barack Obama's administration saw it as vital to successful reforms. Obama's Justice Department typically took a city reform plan to a judge to make it legally binding in the form of a consent decree.

Wednesday's lawsuit — which names Black Lives Matters Chicago among the plaintiffs — asks for a federal court to intervene and order sweeping reforms to end the "abusive policies and practices undergirding the alleged constitutional and state law violations."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration said earlier this month that a draft deal negotiated by the city and the Justice Department — one that foresees a monitor not selected by a court — is being reviewed in Washington. Justice Department spokesman Devin O'Malle cautioned last week that "there is no agreement at this time."

A lead attorney in the new lawsuit, Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor and outspoken advocate for far-reaching police reforms, said in a telephone interview that reports about the draft influenced the decision to sue now.


Court filing: Marsh seeks OK to sell 26 grocery stores
Court News | 2017/06/14 12:49
A bankruptcy court document says two Ohio-based grocery chains have agreed to buy 26 of Marsh Supermarkets' 44 remaining stores for a total of $24 million.

The court filing posted Tuesday says Fishers-based Marsh is seeking court approval to sell 11 stores to Kroger Co. subsidiary Topvalco Inc. for $16 million and 15 stores to Findlay, Ohio-based Fresh Encounter parent Generative Growth LLC for about $8 million.

Topvalco agreed to buy three stores in Bloomington; two each in Indianapolis, Muncie and Zionsville, and single stores in Fishers and Greenwood.

Generative Growth agreed to buy two Indianapolis stores; other Indiana stores in Columbus, Elwood, Greensburg, Hartford City, Marion, New Palestine, Pendleton, Richmond and Tipton; and Ohio stores in Eaton, Middletown, Troy, and Van Wert.


West Virginia high court excludes inmates from workers' comp
Areas of Focus | 2017/06/13 15:36
Inmates participating in work-release programs do not quality for workers' compensation benefits, the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled has ruled.

The court on Thursday unanimously affirmed a Workers' Compensation Board of Review's 2015 decision to not grant workers' compensation to a work release inmate named William F. Crawford, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported. Crawford's hand was severely injured in a wood chipper in 2013 while he was working on a road crew for the state Division of Highways.

He was employed by the Charleston Work Release Center, now called the Charleston Correctional Center. Inmates live and work there as they prepare to re-enter society after leaving prison.

Crawford's injury required hospitalization and surgery, and his ring and pinky fingers were partially amputated. The state Department of Corrections covered his medical expenses, which exceeded $90,000. He was released on parole shortly after his hospitalization.

Court documents say Crawford sought workers' compensation benefits because "lack of treatment has put him at a significant disadvantage in re-entering society." He had appealed the board of review's decision, saying state law didn't clarify coverage exclusion for work-release inmates. He also said his equal protection rights had been violated, arguing that inmates working for private businesses would receive the benefits, while inmates working for a state agency would not.



Indiana governor names Judge Goff to state Supreme Court
Court News | 2017/06/13 15:36
Indiana's next state Supreme Court justice, Wabash County Superior Court Judge Christopher Goff, said Monday his appointment to the state's highest court is humbling beyond words and something he never would have imagined at the start of his legal career.

Goff's selection to fill the vacancy created by Justice Robert Rucker's retirement was announced by Gov. Eric Holcomb. The governor said Goff, 45, "will bring his unique voice and experiences" from his years in rural Indiana to the five-member court when he becomes its youngest member.

"Judge Goff grew up in a working class neighborhood and has spent most of his life living in a rural county, which will complement his colleagues on the bench with their own deep roots in other urban and suburban regions of the state," Holcomb said at his Statehouse announcement.

He selected Goff over the two other finalists for the vacancy chosen by Indiana's Judicial Nominating Commission: Boone Superior Court Judge Matthew Kincaid and Clark Circuit Court Judge Vicki Carmichael. Twenty people had applied for the vacancy.


Court: Ignorance about allergy medicine crime no excuse
Attorney News | 2017/06/12 22:36
Just because a man previously convicted of methamphetamine-related crimes didn't know it was now illegal for him to buy over-the-counter allergy medicine given his criminal history doesn't mean his rights were violated, a divided North Carolina Supreme Court ruled Friday.

A majority of the seven justices reversed a lower appeals court decision overturning the conviction of Austin Lynn Miller for buying one box of capsules at a Walmart in Boone in early 2014, barely a month after an expanded purchase prohibition law took effect.

Miller was barred from buying anything beyond minuscule amounts of the medicine because it contained pseudoephedrine, which can be used to make meth, due to his 2012 convictions on possession of meth and keeping a car or house to sell controlled substances.

A jury convicted Miller for possessing the allergy medicine. He received a suspended sentence with probation.

State law already required the nonprescription medicine to be kept behind the counter and mandated electronic record keeping to monitor whether a meth lab was buying up the drugs. Often purchasers follow screen prompts saying they understand buying the medicines in large quantities or too frequently is illegal.

Miller's lawyer argued his client's due process rights were violated because he had no knowledge the purchasing law had changed in December 2013 and that he didn't intend to violate the law. There were no signs in pharmacies about the changes, either, the attorney said.

A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals ruled unanimously in March 2016 the law was unconstitutional as it applied to a convicted felon like Miller who failed to receive notice from the state that their "otherwise lawful conduct is criminalized" unless there's other proof the person knew about the law.

State attorneys argued that Miller's ignorance of the law was no excuse and that it was his intentional action of purchasing the medicine that led to the crime.

Writing the majority opinion, Justice Sam Ervin IV sided with the state and rejected Miller's arguments that the retail purchase was an innocuous act that raised no alarms about whether he was breaking the law.



Fraternity brothers due in court in pledge's fatal fall
Areas of Focus | 2017/06/10 23:07
Members of a Penn State fraternity facing charges related to the death earlier this year of a pledge after a night of heavy drinking are due in court Monday for a hearing about whether there's enough evidence to head to trial.

Prosecutors in the case against the now-shuttered Beta Theta Pi chapter and 18 of its members are leaning heavily on video surveillance recordings made the night 19-year-old sophomore engineering student Tim Piazza was injured in a series of falls at the fraternity after a pledge acceptance ceremony that included heavy drinking.

The defendants face a variety of charges, with eight accused of dozens of crimes, including involuntary manslaughter and felony aggravated assault, while five others are accused only of a single count of evidence tampering.

Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller says prosecutors will play video in court, and she expects the hearing to last all or most of the day.

Authorities have said members of the fraternity resisted summoning help until well into the next morning.

A grand jury report described how members of the fraternity carried Piazza's limp body upstairs, poured liquid on him and even slapped him on the face. When one of them argued to call for medical help, he was confronted and shoved into a wall, the grand jury said.

Piazza, of Lebanon, New Jersey, died at a hospital Feb. 4 from traumatic brain injury and had suffered severe abdominal bleeding. His blood-alcohol measured at a dangerous level.

"I believe this is a case where the defendants have been overcharged by the district attorney's office," said defense attorney Michael Engle, whose client Gary DiBileo, 21, faces 56 counts, including involuntary manslaughter. "We hope to develop more information during the preliminary hearing process, and beyond, that will demonstrate that many of the charges in this case are just not applicable to the conduct."

Engle said DiBileo, a junior from Scranton who recently withdrew from Penn State, was said by a witness to have advocated for calling an ambulance at some point.


With court victory, hand of Brazil's president strengthened
Attorney News | 2017/06/10 23:07
Fighting to save his job, Brazilian President Michel Temer has received a huge boost from a decision by the country's top electoral court to reject allegations of illegal campaign finance and keep him in office.

The Superior Electoral Tribunal's 4-3 vote late Friday gave Temer a lifeline amid widespread calls that he resign in the face of a corruption scandal.

Last month, a recording emerged that apparently captured Temer endorsing hush money to ex-House Speaker Eduardo Cunha, a former Temer ally serving 15 years in prison for corruption and money laundering. Soon after, details of another bombshell emerged: that Temer was being investigated for taking bribes.

Temer has denied wrongdoing and vowed to stay in office.

However, the fallout from the scandals was so great that many observers expected that the electoral court judges would be swayed to remove Temer from office over unrelated campaign finance allegations. While in theory Brazilian justices are impartial, in reality they are often highly political. Indeed, two of judges who voted in Temer's favor were his appointees.

"While Temer is hard for many people to digest, he will likely remain in office," said Alexandre Barros, a political risk consultant with the Brasilia-based firm Early Warning. "Instability is bad for everybody. So many will say at this point, 'If we have to pay the price for sticking with Temer, let's do it.'"

While Temer has crossed a huge hurdle to staying in power, he is still facing threats on many fronts. The attorney general is considering pressing charges against him for allegedly receiving bribes, over the audio recording and for allegedly trying to obstruct a colossal investigation into billions of dollars in inflated contracts and kickbacks to politicians. Temer's approval rating is hovering around 9 percent and he has a tenuous hold on his ruling coalition.


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