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.



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.


Court: Ohio E-School Can't Delay Repayment of $60M to State
Areas of Focus | 2017/06/08 02:55
ECOT's reported enrollment of 15,000 Ohio students makes it one of the largest online charter schools in the U.S.

Democrats jumped on the court's decision to pile criticism on the school, which has struggled for years against attacks on its enrollment practices and student performance ratings.

"This sham, unaccountable school is a clear waste of taxpayer money and needs to be shut down," said Democratic gubernatorial candidate Betty Sutton. "The main thing that they seem to do well is shower Republican candidates and committees with political donations instead of educating children. Unfortunately, it is a symptom of a much larger disease facing Ohio's education system."

ECOT spokesman Neil Clark said the school didn't get a fair shake in court. He took particular aim at one of the three deciding judges, Gary Tyack, as being biased against the school, online learning and school choice.

"Today, Judge Tyack confirmed that he would put his agenda before the law," Clark said in a statement. "He is desperate to destroy ECOT and is unwilling to even wait for the judicial system to play out before advancing his vendetta."

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor rebuked Tyack after oral arguments were held in the case before the state's high court. She wrote that his comments against the school, its founder and online education were derogatory, extrajudicial, unnecessary and unacceptable.

The school's efforts to revisit the issue of Tyack's impartiality came as it braced for Monday's important school board vote, which comes amid the long-running legal dispute over what attendance-tracking practices should be used to determine state funding.

A state hearing officer ruled against the school in its appeal of the state Education Department's determination that the school owes $64 million for enrollment that can't be justified due to lack of documentation.


8 judges on Venezuela's Supreme Court hit with US sanctions
Areas of Focus | 2017/05/18 13:32
The U.S. imposed a new round of sanctions on high-level Venezuelan officials, this time targeting eight Supreme Court judges that Washington accused of damaging their nation's democracy by steadily stripping the opposition-controlled congress of any authority.

The executive order issued Thursday marked the second time the U.S. has sanctioned leaders of Venezuela's socialist government since Donald Trump became president this year. In February, the U.S. announced it was freezing the assets of Vice President Tareck El Aissami, accusing him of playing a major role in international drug trafficking.

Those blacklisted under the latest decree include Maikel Moreno, the president of the government-packed Supreme Court, as well as all seven justices who signed a ruling in late March nullifying congress. The ruling was later partially reversed amid a surge of international criticism, but it sparked a protest movement that has seen almost daily street demonstrations for nearly two months — sometimes violent unrest that recorded its 45th death Thursday.

"By imposing these targeted sanctions, the United States is supporting the Venezuelan people in their efforts to protect and advance democratic governance in their country," U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez decried the U.S. sanctions on Twitter as "outrageous and unacceptable." She said the order was one more example of U.S. attempts to destabilize Venezuela's government, adding that Maduro strongly backs the Supreme Court magistrates who are "victims of U.S. imperial power."

Trump's administration has repeatedly raised concerns that Maduro is moving toward one-party, authoritarian rule. Earlier Thursday, the U.S. leader expressed dismay about Venezuela's troubles, asking aloud how a nation holding the world's largest oil reserves could be stricken by so much poverty and turmoil.



Brother of victim in unsolved Ohio massacre appears in court
Areas of Focus | 2017/05/18 13:24
The brother of one of eight victims of an unsolved southern Ohio massacre has appeared in court for a hearing on evidence-tampering and vandalism charges over allegations he destroyed a GPS tracking device.

Forty-year-old James Manley, of Peebles, appeared in Pike County Court on the felony charges Wednesday. A judge set an $80,000 bond. Court records don't indicate if Manley has an attorney.

Investigators trying to solve the slayings placed the tracking device on Manley's truck last month. Manley was jailed after turning himself in on Tuesday.


Manley's sister, Dana Rhoden, was among the eight members of the Rhoden family killed in April 2016. They were found shot at four homes near Piketon, about 70 miles (113 kilometers) south of Columbus. No arrests have been made in the slayings.


High court could soon signal view on Trump immigration plans
Areas of Focus | 2017/05/15 21:15
Supreme Court decisions in a half-dozen cases dealing with immigration over the next two months could reveal how the justices might evaluate Trump administration actions on immigration, especially stepped-up deportations.

Some of those cases could be decided as early as Monday, when the court is meeting to issue opinions in cases that were argued over the past six months.

The outcomes could indicate whether the justices are retreating from long-standing decisions that give the president and Congress great discretion in dealing with immigration, and what role administration policies, including the proposed ban on visits to the United States by residents of six majority Muslim countries, may play.

President Trump has pledged to increase deportations, particularly of people who have been convicted of crimes. But Supreme Court rulings in favor of the immigrants in the pending cases “could make his plans more difficult to realize,” said Christopher Hajec, director of litigation for the Immigration Reform Litigation Institute. The group generally supports the new administration’s immigration actions, including the travel ban.

For about a century, the court has held that, when dealing with immigration, the White House and Congress “can get away with things they ordinarily couldn’t,” said Temple University law professor Peter Spiro, an immigration law expert. “The court has explicitly said the Constitution applies differently in immigration than in other contexts.”

Two of the immigration cases at the court offer the justices the possibility of cutting into the deference that courts have given the other branches of government in this area. One case is a class-action lawsuit brought by immigrants who’ve spent long periods in custody, including many who are legal residents of the United States or are seeking asylum. The court is weighing whether the detainees have a right to court hearings.



Top Kansas Court to Revisit Death Penalty in Wichita Murders
Areas of Focus | 2017/05/04 05:56
The Kansas Supreme Court is considering for a second time whether to spare two brothers from being executed for four murders in what became known as "the Wichita massacre" after earlier rulings in the men's favor sparked a political backlash.

The justices were hearing arguments from attorneys Thursday in the cases of Jonathan and Reginald Carr. The brothers were convicted of dozens of crimes against five people in December 2000 that ended with the victims being shot in a snow-covered Wichita field, with one woman surviving to testify against the brothers.

The crimes were among the most notorious in the state since the 1959 slayings of a western Kansas family that inspired the book "In Cold Blood." The state has 10 men on death row, including the Carrs, but it has not executed anyone since hangings in 1965.

The Kansas court overturned the Carr brothers' death sentences in July 2014, citing flaws in their joint trial and sentencing hearing. The decisions stunned the victims' families and friends, as well as legislators. Critics launched unsuccessful efforts to oust six of the seven justices in the 2014 and 2016 elections.

The U.S. Supreme Court later overturned the Kansas court's rulings in a sometimes scathing January 2016 opinion. The nation's highest court returned the men's cases to the Kansas court for further reviews.

The Carr brothers' attorneys are raising some of the same legal questions again, arguing that the Kansas Constitution requires the death sentences to be overturned even if the U.S. Constitution doesn't. The Kansas court has the last word on "state law" issues. There is one new justice since the court last ruled in 2014.

The Kansas court previously concluded that the two men should have had separate sentencing hearings. Jonathan Carr argued that he was not as responsible as his brother for the crimes and that Reginald Carr had been a bad influence on him during their troubled childhoods.


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