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Prosecutor to press court to release church abuse report
Court Watch | 2018/07/01 22:56
Pennsylvania's highest court is being pressed to publicly release a major grand jury report on allegations of child sexual abuse and cover-ups in six of the state's Roman Catholic dioceses.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro will ask the court to swiftly decide lingering legal issues before it, his office said Friday. He expects to make that request Monday.

"The people of Pennsylvania have a right to see the report, know who is attempting to block its release and why, and to hear the voices of the victims of sexual abuse within the Church," Shapiro said in a statement.

The state Supreme Court is blocking the release of the report as the result of legal challenges filed under seal by people apparently named in the report. The court has declined to make those filings or dockets public, or name the people who filed the challenges.

The Supreme Court's chief justice, Thomas Saylor, declined comment through a spokeswoman, and lawyers for the unnamed people challenging the report did not respond to requests for comment.

Meanwhile, seven news organizations, including The Associated Press, on Friday filed a motion to intervene in the case in a bid to argue that the court should release the report, contending that it is required by law. If the court decides it needs more time to consider the legal challenges, it could immediately order the report's release with only those parts that are in question shielded from view, lawyers for the news organizations wrote.

The court also should be consistent with practice in other grand jury matters and make public the filings and dockets in the case, with redactions if necessary, the news organizations wrote.

Victim advocates have said the report is expected to be the largest and most exhaustive such review by any state. The grand jury spent two years investigating allegations of child sex abuse in the dioceses of Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton, churches with some 1.7 million members.


McConnell touts Thapar for Supreme Court seat
Attorney News | 2018/06/29 22:57
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Saturday he has touted fellow Kentuckian Amul Thapar to fill a looming vacancy on the Supreme Court, but acknowledged he has "no idea" who President Donald Trump will choose.

McConnell told reporters he has encouraged Trump to consider Thapar, and said he hopes the federal appeals court judge is "in the final group" as the president looks for a successor to retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Thapar is a former U.S. District Court judge in Kentucky. He has already been nominated once by Trump, for his current seat on the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. McConnell has been a longtime supporter of Thapar, stretching back to the judge's tenure as a federal prosecutor.

"I think he's absolutely brilliant, with the right temperament," McConnell said of Thapar. "But others have their favorites. And I have no idea who the president may choose."

Trump has said he will announce his choice on July 9. The president has promised to draw the next justice from a list of 25 prospective candidates that was first established during the 2016 presidential campaign and updated last fall, with advice from conservatives. Thapar's name has come up among possible nominees being eyed.

In a speech Saturday to a GOP gathering in Louisville, McConnell said the goal is to have a new justice in place in time for the start of the Supreme Court's next term in October. As majority leader, McConnell sets the schedule in the narrowly divided Senate.

"There's not any doubt in my mind that we'll be able to get this new nominee confirmed, and I'm confident the president is going to send up an all-star, somebody of very high quality," McConnell told reporters later.

McConnell predicted the nominee will be similar to Trump's first Supreme Court selection, Neil Gorsuch, in terms of background and philosophy on the judiciary's role.


Georgia officer to appear in court after deadly shooting
Attorney News | 2018/06/27 22:57
A white Georgia police officer charged with voluntary manslaughter after shooting a fleeing black man is set to make his first court appearance.

Kingsland Police Officer Zechariah Presley's hearing will be at 2 p.m. Friday in Camden County, Georgia.

Presley was charged after the Georgia Bureau of Investigation reviewed his body camera recording and other evidence in the death of Anthony Green in the small south Georgia town of Kingsland.

Presley's lawyer, Adrienne Browning, said her client is looking forward to his day in court and declined further comment. The killing has enraged Green's family and friends. They plan to hold a news conference with their lawyers at 11:30 a.m. Friday.



For new Supreme Court justice, a host of big issues awaits
Court News | 2018/06/26 22:58
Justice Anthony Kennedy's successor will have a chance over a likely decades-long career to tackle a host of big issues in the law and have a role in shaping the answers to them.

Most court-watchers and interest groups are focused on abortion and whether a more conservative justice may mean more restrictions on abortions get upheld or even whether the 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion decision affirming a woman's right to abortion might someday be overturned.

But Kennedy's replacement will quickly confront a host of issues, some prominent and others not. Whomever President Donald Trump chooses, the person is expected to move the court to the right. Conservative groups, seeing a court friendlier to their views, might look at the new court and think it's time to bring challenges to liberal laws currently on the books. And conservative state lawmakers may also attempt to pass legislation testing boundaries they wouldn't have while Kennedy was on the court.

The Supreme Court in the term that ended Wednesday had two cases before it dealing with whether electoral maps can give an unfair advantage to a political party. The justices ducked that question, sending cases from Wisconsin and Maryland back to lower courts for further review. Kennedy had been the justice who left the door open to court challenges to extreme partisan redistricting, but he never found a way to measure it that satisfied him. A case involving North Carolina's heavily Republican congressional districting map now in a lower court could provide an opportunity for the justices to revisit the issue as soon as next term.

Another unresolved issue recently before the court is whether a business can cite religious objections in order to refuse service to gay and lesbian people. The court could have tackled that issue in a case argued this term about a Colorado baker who wouldn't make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. Instead, the justices found that a member of the Colorado commission that looked at the case displayed an anti-religious bias against the baker but left for another day the broader question.

The justices could have added another case on the issue to the list of cases they'll begin hearing arguments in this fall, a case that involved a flower shop owner who cited her religious beliefs in declining to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding. For now they've sent that case back to a lower court. That same case or another one like it could quickly be in front of the court again.


Supreme Court adopts new rules for cell phone tracking
Headline Legal News | 2018/06/24 21:32
The Supreme Court says police generally need a search warrant if they want to track criminal suspects’ movements by collecting information about where they’ve used their cellphones. The justices’ 5-4 decision Friday is a victory for privacy in the digital age. Police collection of cellphone tower information has become an important tool in criminal investigations.

The outcome marks a big change in how police can obtain phone records. Authorities can go to the phone company and obtain information about the numbers dialed from a home telephone without presenting a warrant. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion, joined by the court’s four liberals. Roberts said the court’s decision is limited to cellphone tracking information and does not affect other business records, including those held by banks.

He also wrote that police still can respond to an emergency and obtain records without a warrant. Justices Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch dissented. Kennedy wrote that the court’s “new and uncharted course will inhibit law enforcement” and “keep defendants and judges guessing for years to come.”

The court ruled in the case of Timothy Carpenter, who was sentenced to 116 years in prison for his role in a string of robberies of Radio Shack and T-Mobile stores in Michigan and Ohio. Cell tower records that investigators got without a warrant bolstered the case against Carpenter. Investigators obtained the cell tower records with a court order that requires a lower standard than the “probable cause” needed to obtain a warrant. “Probable cause” requires strong evidence that a person has committed a crime.

The judge at Carpenter’s trial refused to suppress the records, finding no warrant was needed, and a federal appeals court agreed. The Trump administration said the lower court decisions should be upheld. The American Civil Liberties Union, representing Carpenter, said a warrant would provide protection against unjustified government snooping. The administration relied in part on a 1979 Supreme Court decision that treated phone records differently than the conversation in a phone call, for which a warrant generally is required.

In a case involving a single home telephone, the court said then that people had no expectation of privacy in the records of calls made and kept by the phone company. That case came to the court before the digital age, and the law on which prosecutors relied to obtain an order for Carpenter’s records dates from 1986, when few people had cellphones. The Supreme Court in recent years has acknowledged technology’s effects on privacy. In 2014, the court held unanimously that police must generally get a warrant to search the cellphones of people they arrest. Other items people carry with them may be looked at without a warrant, after an arrest.


Man charged in bike path killings speaks in court of 'Allah'
Court News | 2018/06/23 04:32
The man charged with murdering eight people on a New York City bike path and injuring many more spoke out in court Friday over a prosecutor's objection, invoking "Allah" and defending the Islamic State.

Sayfullo Saipov, 30, raised his hand to speak immediately after U.S. District Judge Vernon S. Broderick set an Oct. 7, 2019 date for the Uzbek immigrant's trial.

Earlier, he had pleaded not guilty through his lawyer to the latest indictment in the Oct. 31 truck attack near the World Trade Center. A prosecutor said the Justice Department will decide by the end of the summer whether to seek the death penalty against Saipov, who lived in Paterson, New Jersey, before the attack.

Speaking through an interpreter for about 10 minutes, Saipov said the decisions of a U.S. court were unimportant to him. He said he cared about "Allah" and the holy war being waged by the Islamic State.

At the prompting of Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Houle, Broderick interrupted Saipov to read him his rights, including that anything he said in court could be used against him.

"I understand you, but I' m not worried about that at all," Saipov said.

"So the Islamic State is not fighting for land, like some say, or like some say, for oil. They have one purpose, and they're fighting to impose Sharia (Islamic law) on earth," he said.

After Saipov spoke more, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Beaty interrupted him to object that the judge was letting Saipov make the kind of statement publicly that special restrictions placed on him in prison would otherwise prevent, including discussing "terrorist propaganda."

The judge said he believed Saipov was nearing the end of his remarks and let him finish before warning him that he was unlikely to let him speak out in court again in a similar manner. Saipov, though, would be given a chance to testify if his case proceeds to trial and, if convicted, could speak at sentencing.

Saipov thanked the judge for letting him speak but added at one point: "I don't accept this as my judge."

Prosecutors had been seeking an April 2019 trial date. Houle said the families of the dead and the dozens who were injured deserve a "prompt and firm trial date."

"The victims here are anxious now when that trial is going to be," she said. "The public deserves a speedy trial, and the surviving victims deserve to know when that trial is going to be."

Defense lawyers have said the government should accept a guilty plea and a sentence of life in prison without parole to provide victims' families and the public with closure.



Indonesia court sentences cleric behind attacks to death
Court News | 2018/06/22 04:32
Radical cleric Aman Abdurrahman was sentenced to death by an Indonesian court Friday for ordering Islamic State group-affiliated militants to carry out attacks including the January 2016 suicide bombing at a Starbucks in Jakarta.

Abdurrahman, who police and prosecutors say is a key ideologue for IS militants in the world's largest Muslim nation, kneeled and kissed the floor as the panel of five judges announced the sentence while counterterrorism officers guarding him uttered "praise be to God."

Several hundred paramilitary and counterterrorism police secured the Jakarta court where the trial took place. Fears of attacks have been elevated in Indonesia after suicide bombings in the country's second-largest city, Surabaya, last month that were carried out by families including their young children. Police say the leader of those bombers was part of the network of militants inspired by Abdurrahman.

During the trial, prosecutors said Abdurrahman's instructions from prison, where he was serving a terrorism-related sentence, resulted in several attacks in Indonesia in 2016 and 2017.

They included the Starbucks attack in the capital that killed four civilians and four militants, an attack on a bus terminal in Jakarta that killed three police officers and an attack on a church in Kalimantan that killed a 2-year-old girl. Several other children suffered serious burns from the Kalimantan attack.

The defendant's "speeches, teachings and instructions have inspired his group and followers to commit criminal acts of terrorism in Indonesia," said presiding Judge Ahmad Zaini.

The court said there was no reason for leniency. It gave defense lawyers seven days to consider lodging an appeal.

Abdurrahman has refused to recognize the authority of the court, part of his rejection of secular government in Indonesia and desire to replace it with Shariah law.


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