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Gamers in court for first time after Kansas 'swatting' death
Court News | 2018/06/12 23:10
Two online gamers whose alleged dispute over a $1.50 Call of Duty WWII video game bet ultimately led police to fatally shoot a Kansas man not involved in the argument will make their first appearances in court Wednesday in a case of "swatting" that has drawn national attention.

Casey Viner, 18, of North College Hill, Ohio, and Shane Gaskill, 19, of Wichita, are charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice, wire fraud and other counts.

Viner allegedly became upset at Gaskill while playing the popular online game. Authorities say he then asked 25-year-old Tyler Barriss of Los Angeles to "swat" Gaskill, a form of retaliation sometimes used by gamers, who call police and make a false report to send first responders to an online opponent's address.

Barriss is accused of calling Wichita police from Los Angeles on Dec. 28 to report a shooting and kidnapping at a Wichita address. Authorities say Gaskill had provided the address to Viner and later to Barriss in a direct electronic message. But the location Gaskill gave was his old address and a police officer responding to the call fatally shot the new resident Andrew Finch, 28, after he opened the door.

Viner's defense attorney, Jim Pratt, declined comment. The attorneys for Gaskill and Barriss did not immediately respond to an email.

Viner and Gaskill have not been arrested and both were instead issued a summons to appear at Wednesday's hearing where a judge will decide whether they can remain free on bond. Both men are also likely to enter pleas, although at this stage of the proceedings the only plea a federal magistrate can accept is not guilty.

Barriss and Viner face federal charges of conspiracy to make false reports. Barriss also is charged with making false reports and hoaxes, cyberstalking, making interstate threats, making interstate threats to harm by fire and wire fraud. He will not be in court Wednesday.

A first court appearance on the federal charges has not been set for Barriss because the Sedgwick County district attorney is going forward first with his case on the state charges, said Jim Cross, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Kansas.


MMA star Conor McGregor heads to court for melee charges
Headline Legal News | 2018/06/11 23:10
Mixed martial arts star Conor McGregor is due in court for a hearing on charges stemming from a backstage melee that was caught on video.

He's expected to be joined in Brooklyn on Thursday by friend and co-defendant Cian (KEE'-uhn) Cowley.

Video showed what appeared to be McGregor hurling a hand truck at a bus full of fighters after a news conference for the UFC 223 event at Barclays Center in April. Two fighters hurt by broken glass were unable to compete.

Cowley said on Saturday that he hoped to get the case "out of the way." Prosecutors wouldn't say if they expected a resolution. McGregor's lawyer didn't return a message.

Cowley and McGregor have been free on bond. They took a private jet together from Ireland for the hearing.



Kansas Supreme Court sends DNA request back to lower court
Legal Business | 2018/06/10 18:57
The Kansas Supreme Court has remanded a convicted man's request for DNA testing back to Leavenworth County District Court for further review.

The court on Friday reversed earlier rulings by a district judge and the Kansas Court of Appeals that denied the request from 39-year-old Gregory Mark George Jr., who is serving time for rape, aggravated robbery and aggravated intimidation of a witness.

The Leavenworth Times reports George was convicted of raping a clerk during a robbery at a Lansing convenience store in 2004.

In 2013, George filed a petition for DNA testing of hairs that were collected as part of his case but were never tested.

The state Supreme Court ruling asks a district judge to determine whether the requested testing might produce evidence that could help exonerate George.



Court: Compliance reached in education funding case
Attorney News | 2018/06/10 18:57
A long-running court case over the adequacy of education funding in Washington state has ended, with the state Supreme Court on Thursday lifting its jurisdiction over the case and dropping daily sanctions after the Legislature funneled billions more dollars into public schools.

The court's unanimous order came in response to lawmakers passing a supplemental budget earlier this year that the justices said was the final step needed to reach compliance with a 2012 state Supreme Court ruling that found that K-12 school funding was inadequate. Washington's Constitution states that it is the Legislature's "paramount duty" to fully fund the education system. The resolution of the landmark case in Washington state comes as other states like Arizona, Oklahoma and Kentucky are now responding to calls for more money to be allocated to education.

The state had been in contempt of court since 2014 for lack of progress on that ruling, and daily sanctions of $100,000 — allocated specifically for education spending— had been accruing since August 2015.

"Reversing decades of underfunding has been among the heaviest lifts we've faced in recent years and required difficult and complex decisions, but I'm incredibly proud and grateful for all those who came together on a bipartisan basis to get this job done," Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said in a written statement.

Over the past few years, lawmakers had put significantly more money toward education costs like student transportation and classroom supplies, but the biggest piece they needed to tackle to reach full compliance was figuring out how much the state must provide for teacher salaries. School districts had paid a big chunk of those salaries with local property-tax levies, something the court said had to be remedied.

In November, the court said a plan passed by the Legislature last year — which included a statewide property tax increase earmarked for education — satisfied its earlier ruling, but justices took issue with the fact that the teacher salary component of the plan wasn't fully funded until September 2019. This year, lawmakers expedited that timeframe to Sept. 1, 2018.

Democratic House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan said that the court's order was a relief, though he noted that legislative debates over education funding aren't over. Sullivan said there is more work to be done on areas like special education, as well as recruiting and retaining teachers.



Seals can keep using San Diego children's beach, court says
Court Watch | 2018/06/09 18:07
A California appeals court has upheld a San Diego city ordinance that closes a picturesque children's beach for nearly half the year so that seals may give birth, nurse and wean their pups.

In a decision filed Thursday, the 4th District Court of Appeal reversed a lower court ruling that set aside the ordinance governing Children's Pool Beach in La Jolla, an affluent seaside community in San Diego.

Thursday's ruling will allow for the beach to continue to be closed between Dec. 15 and May 15 every year. Violators face misdemeanor penalties of up to $1,000 in fines or six months in jail.

The Children's Pool is an artificial cove that was used as a swimming hole for youngsters until seals began moving in during the 1990s — spurring a yearslong feud between supporters of the animals and those who want beach access.

In 2014, the City Council approved closing the beach for part of the year after concluding that other efforts to protect the seals during their breeding season haven't worked. The California Coastal Commission issued a permit allowing that action.

Visitors to the area often walk up to the seals, pose for selfies with them and mimic the barking noise they make. When they're disturbed, seals can abandon their pups, give birth prematurely or miscarry, or become frightened and accidentally stampede babies. They've also nipped at humans.

The group Friends of the Children's Pool sued San Diego and the coastal commission, arguing that the Marine Mammal Protection Act and California Coastal Act give the federal government jurisdiction over marine mammals, not local governments. The group won a trial court ruling in the matter.

The appeals court rejected the group's argument and the lower court's ruling, saying nothing in the protection act pre-empts a state's ability to regulate access to its own property.



Top Texas court says condemned inmate not mentally disabled
Areas of Focus | 2018/06/07 16:00
Texas' highest criminal court narrowly ruled Wednesday that a death row inmate is mentally capable enough to execute, despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that his intellectual capacity had been improperly assessed and agreement by his lawyer and prosecutors that he shouldn't qualify for the death penalty.

In a 5-3 ruling with one judge not participating, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said it reviewed the case of convicted killer Bobby James Moore under guidance from the Supreme Court's March 2017 decision and determined that Moore isn't intellectually disabled based on updated standards from the American Psychiatric Association.

"It remains true under our newly adopted framework that a vast array of evidence in this record is inconsistent with a finding of intellectual disability," the Texas court's majority wrote. "We conclude that he has failed to demonstrate adaptive deficits sufficient to support a diagnosis of intellectual disability."

The Supreme Court last year said the state court used outdated standards to reach its earlier decision on Moore. In a lengthy dissent joined by judges Bert Richardson and Scott Walker, Judge Elsa Alcala wrote that the majority got it wrong. "The majority opinion's assessment of the evidence in this record is wholly divorced from the diagnostic criteria that it claims to adhere to," she wrote.

The ruling came despite Harris County prosecutors telling the court they believed Moore is mentally disabled and shouldn't be found eligible for the death penalty. Cliff Sloan, who argued Moore's case before the Supreme Court, said Wednesday's ruling was "inconsistent" with the high court's decision.



UK Supreme Court criticizes Northern Ireland abortion laws
Attorney News | 2018/06/07 16:00
Britain's Supreme Court on Thursday criticized Northern Ireland's strict anti-abortion laws but dismissed a legal challenge.

A majority of the court decided that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which initiated the case, did not have the standing to bring the challenge to the abortion law. The court dismissed the case without taking action.

The justices went on to say, however, that a majority finds Northern Ireland's abortion prohibitions "disproportionate" and that they violate European human rights laws.

That part of the ruling gave hope to abortion rights activists seeking to liberalize Northern Ireland's laws. Strict Northern Ireland laws that prohibit abortions in cases of pregnancy as a result of incest or rape, and in cases when the fetus has a likely fatal abnormality, have drawn scrutiny since the Republic of Ireland voted overwhelmingly in May to repeal its own strict laws.

When Ireland replaces the constitutional ban with more liberal legislation after a debate in parliament, Northern Ireland will be the only remaining region in Britain and Ireland to outlaw the procedure.

Rosa Curling, from the law firm Leigh Day that helped bring the legal challenge, called the court's ruling "a momentous day for women in Northern Ireland" and said it is now up to British Prime Minister Theresa May to take action to ease the laws.

She said May has an obligation to make sure the U.K. government is "now longer acting unlawfully by breaching the human rights of women across Northern Ireland."

However, the fact that the Supreme Court dismissed the case because of doubts about the Human Rights Commission's right to bring it means the judges' views on the anti-abortion laws do not have legal force, which is reassuring for abortion foes.



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