US presses ahead with border wall in court despite shutdown
Areas of Focus | 2019/01/19 11:22
A federal attorney in South Texas said in court this week that during the ongoing partial government shutdown, he only has been allowed to work on cases related to President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall.

The Texas Civil Rights Project on Thursday released a transcript of a Tuesday hearing in a case where the U.S. government has sued a local landowner for her property along the U.S.-Mexico border. Many other civil cases have been delayed during the shutdown, which was triggered by Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion to build a wall.

According to the transcript, U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez noted that government attorneys working on border wall cases have not been furloughed despite the shutdown.

The prosecutor, Eric Paxton Warner, responded, “This is all I’m allowed to work on, Your Honor.”

Warner and a spokeswoman for the local U.S. attorney’s office did not return messages. A spokesman for the Department of Justice says each U.S. attorney had the authority to determine which civil cases should move forward or be delayed, but that civil cases would be delayed “to the extent this can be done without compromising to a significant degree the safety of human life or the protection of property.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said last year that it planned to start building in February. But unlike on other parts of the border, most border land in South Texas is owned privately. That requires the government to seize it through eminent domain, suing private landowners in cases that can take months or years. Some landowners who would be affected have already vowed to fight the government in court.


India's top court paves way for bars with dancers to reopen
Areas of Focus | 2019/01/18 01:32
India's Supreme Court on Thursday paved the way for the reopening of Mumbai's dance bars, which had been a nightlife staple in the country's entertainment capital until they were outlawed six years ago.

The court ruled that the bars featuring young women paid to wear sexy clothing and dance to Bollywood music no longer need to be more than a kilometer (half a mile) from religious sites, schools and colleges. It also scrapped plans to force the bars to have security cameras and a partition between bar rooms and dance floors.

There were some 700 dance bars in Mumbai and another 650 in other parts of Maharashtra state, employing 75,000 dancers, before the state government ordered them closed in 2012 on the grounds they corrupted young people.

The state government framed a new law in 2016 imposing stiff restrictions, but the hotel and restaurant owners found them to be unacceptable and petitioned the top court.

The court, however, accepted the state government's plea that the dance bars be allowed to stay open in Maharashtra state between 6:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. every day and not until 1:30 a.m. as demanded by the Bar Owners Association.

People at these bars can tip the dancers, but can't throw money at them as in the past, the court ruled.


Uber loses UK case on worker rights, expected to appeal
Areas of Focus | 2018/12/17 18:06
Lawyers say the taxi hailing app Uber has lost its appeal against a ruling that its drivers should be classed as workers in a case with broad implications for the gig economy.

Law firm Leigh Day says Britain's Court of Appeal upheld an earlier ruling that found the company's drivers are workers, not independent contractors and therefore should receive the minimum wage and paid holidays. Uber is expected to appeal.

Though the company argued that the case applies to only two drivers, Uber has tens of thousands of drivers in the U.K. who could argue they deserve the same status as the former drivers covered by decision. The court says some 40,000 drivers use the platform in the U.K., though the company said the number had grown since the submission to 50,000.

San Francisco-based Uber has expanded rapidly around the world by offering an alternative to traditional taxis through a smartphone app that links people in need of rides with drivers of private cars. That has drawn protests from taxi drivers who say Uber and similar services are able to undercut them.



Indian court rejects probe into Rafale fighter jet deal
Areas of Focus | 2018/12/13 19:34
India's top court on Friday rejected petitions by activists seeking a probe into the government purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France. Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said there was no reason to doubt the government's decision-making process in the multibillion dollar deal.

The purchase has become a major political issue in India with the main opposition Indian National Congress party accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government of buying the aircraft at nearly three times the price being negotiated when it was the ruling party before Modi came to power in 2014.

The government has denied the claim but says a secrecy clause governs the deal's pricing. Gogoi said it was not the job of the court to deal with the comparative details of the pricing. Activist Prashant Bhushan, a petitioner, said he believes that the court verdict was against the country's interests.

"The aircraft deal needed a proper investigation in view of allegations about its pricing" and the choice of Indian partners, Bhushan said.

Congress party President Rahul Gandhi has accused Modi's government of favoring a company owned by industrialist Anil Ambani, Reliance Group, when choosing an Indian partner for Dassault, the aircraft manufacturer.


Defamation lawsuit against activist continues in state court
Areas of Focus | 2018/12/11 02:47
A Maine activist who accused an orphanage founder in Haiti of being a serial pedophile asked the state supreme court on Tuesday to dismiss a defamation lawsuit that was moved from federal court.

An attorney for Paul Kendrick told justices that the assertions were protected by a Maine law that protects people from meritless suits aimed at chilling First Amendment rights.

The argument that invoked Maine's Anti-SLAPP statute was met with skepticism from justices who questioned whether the law was intended to apply to harassment and cyberbullying.

But Supreme Court Chief Justice Leigh Saufley suggested there's a balancing act when between free speech and defamation.

"Are we not sliding into an areas where we have to be very careful not to chill the voices of people who say we must speak up in support of children who have been abused?" she asked an attorney at one point. "We know that if people are afraid to speak up that abuse can go on for decades."



Court deadlines set stage for more Russia probe details
Areas of Focus | 2018/12/07 02:48
Robert Mueller is set to reveal more details about his Russia investigation on Friday as he faces court deadlines in the cases of two men who worked closely with President Donald Trump.

The special counsel and federal prosecutors in New York are filing court memos detailing the cooperation of longtime Trump legal fixer Michael Cohen, who has admitted lying to Congress and orchestrating hush-money payments to protect the president. And Mueller's team will also be disclosing what they say former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort lied about when his plea deal fell apart last month.

Cohen and Manafort are among five former Trump associates whom prosecutors have accused of lying either to federal investigators or to Congress.

The court filings will close out a week in which Mueller's team for the first time provided some details of the help they've received from former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn. Prosecutors, who said Flynn's assistance was "substantial" and merited no prison time, disclosed that he had cooperated not only with the Russia investigation but also with at least one other undisclosed criminal probe.

The new details about Mueller's investigation are set to become public as Trump continues to lash out at the Russia investigation and those who help prosecutors. Trump singled out Cohen, accusing him of lying to get a reduced prison sentence. The president also praised another associate, Roger Stone, for saying he wouldn't testify against him, and Trump said a pardon for Manafort isn't off the table.


Malaysia court to resume Kim Jong Nam murder trial on Jan. 7
Areas of Focus | 2018/11/07 00:26
A Malaysian court on Wednesday set Jan. 7 for two Southeast Asian women charged with murdering the North Korean leader’s half brother to begin their defense, as their lawyers complained that some witnesses were unreachable.

A High Court judge in August found there was enough evidence to infer that Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, along with four missing North Korean suspects, had engaged in a “well-planned conspiracy” to kill Kim Jong Nam.

The women appeared somber but calm during Wednesday’s hearing. The trial had been due to resume Nov. 1 but was postponed after a defense lawyer fell ill.

Aisyah’s lawyers made a new application to the court to compel prosecutors to provide them with statements that eight witnesses had given to police earlier.

Her lawyer, Kulaselvi Sandrasegaram, said they were informed that one of the witnesses, the man who chauffeured Kim to the airport, had died while two Indonesian women who were Aishah’s roommates were believed to have returned to their homeland. She said they have only managed to interview two of the witnesses offered by prosecutors, while two others didn’t turn up for their appointments and couldn’t be contacted.

The witness statements taken by police are important in “the interest of justice” and to ensure that what they say to defense lawyers is consistent with what they told police, Sandrasegaram told reporters later.

Prosecutor Iskandar Ahmad said the police interviews are privileged statements and shouldn’t be made public.

Judge Azmi Ariffin said the court will make a decision on the defense application on Dec. 14. He also set 10 days from Jan. 7 through February for Aishah’s defense and 14 days from March 11 through April for Huong.


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