TransCanada doesn't have to pay landowner attorneys
Areas of Focus | 2018/03/09 10:37
The developer of the Keystone XL pipeline doesn't have to reimburse attorneys who defended Nebraska landowners against the company's efforts to gain access to their land, the state Supreme Court ruled Friday.

The high court's ruling resolves a dispute that was triggered when TransCanada Inc. filed eminent domain lawsuits against 71 Nebraska landowners in 2015, only to drop them later amid uncertainty over whether the process it used was constitutional.

"We conclude that none of the landowners established that they were entitled to attorney fees," Chief Justice Michael Heavican wrote in the opinion.

Omaha attorney Dave Domina argued that TransCanada owes his clients about $350,000 to cover their attorney fees. Domina said the landowners clearly asked for representation in the eminent domain cases, and TransCanada should pay their attorney fees because the company effectively lost those cases.

A TransCanada attorney, James Powers, argued that the landowners failed to prove that they actually paid or were legally indebted to Domina or his law partner, Brian Jorde.

"We're pleased the Nebraska Supreme Court agreed with our legal position," Powers said Friday. Domina said he respected the decision but was disappointed for his clients.


Organized labor case goes in front of Supreme Court
Areas of Focus | 2018/02/27 06:58
The Supreme Court is hearing arguments in a case that could deal a painful financial blow to organized labor.

All eyes will be on Justice Neil Gorsuch Monday when the court takes up a challenge to an Illinois law that allows unions representing government employees to collect fees from workers who choose not to join. The unions say the outcome could affect more than 5 million government workers in 24 states and the District of Columbia.

The court split 4-4 the last time it considered the issue in 2016. Gorsuch joined the court in April and has yet to weigh in on union fees. Organized labor is a big supporter of Democratic candidates and interests. Unions strongly opposed Gorsuch's nomination by President Donald Trump.

Illinois government employee Mark Janus says he has a constitutional right not to contribute anything to a union with which he disagrees. Janus and the conservative interests that back him contend that everything unions representing public employees do is political, including contract negotiations.

The Trump administration is supporting Janus in his effort to persuade the court to overturn its 1977 ruling allowing states to require fair share fees for government employees.

The unions argue that so-called fair share fees pay for collective bargaining and other work the union does on behalf of all employees, not just its members. People can't be compelled to contribute to unions' political activities.


Delay in Nevada gun buyer law draws protests at court debate
Areas of Focus | 2018/02/24 06:24
A lawyer seeking a court order to enforce a Nevada gun buyer screening law that has not been enacted despite voter approval in November 2016 blamed the state's Republican governor and attorney general on Friday for stalling the law.

"For either personal or political reasons," attorney Mark Ferrario told a state court judge in Las Vegas, Gov. Brian Sandoval and GOP state Attorney General Adam Laxalt "chose to stand back and really do nothing."

Nevada Solicitor General Lawrence Van Dyke countered that the law was fatally flawed as written because it requires Nevada to have the FBI expend federal resources to enforce a state law.

"State officials here have not tried to avoid implementing the law," Van Dyke said. "They have negotiated (and) talked with the FBI, and the FBI said no, four times."

Clark County District Court Judge Joe Hardy Jr. made no immediate ruling after more than 90 minutes of arguments on an issue that drew about 25 sign-toting advocates outside the courthouse calling for enactment of the measure.

"The people have spoken," said protest speaker Peter Guzman, president of the Las Vegas Latin Chamber of Commerce. "To deny that voice is to deny democracy."

Some speakers, including Democratic state Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui, cited the slayings of 58 people by a gunman firing assault-style weapons from a high-rise casino shot into an concert crowd on the Las Vegas Strip last Oct. 1. Jauregui was at the concert.

Others pointed to gun-control measures being debated nationally following a shooting that killed 17 people last week at a school in Parkland, Florida.

In the courtroom, Ferrario referred to what he called a "movement toward increasing gun checks," while the Nevada law has stalled.

"This loophole that the citizens wanted to close remains open because the governor has failed to take appropriate action," the plaintiffs' attorney said.

Sandoval spokeswoman Mari St. Martin dismissed the accusations as "political posturing." She said the initiative specifically prohibits the state Department of Public Safety from handling background checks, leaving "no clear path forward" to enactment.


Courts: Bail reform working, but sustainable funding needed
Areas of Focus | 2018/02/18 14:07
The number of defendants being held before trial since New Jersey overhauled its bail system last year dropped by 20 percent, but the judge overseeing the program says it faces financial difficulties.

A report submitted last week by Judge Glenn Grant, who runs the state's court system, also shows the program faces financial difficulties because it relies on court fees instead of a "stable sustainable funding stream."

Proponents say the reforms championed by former Republican Gov. Chris Christie keep violent offenders detained until trial while providing poor, low-level defendants the opportunity to be freed.

But critics — including some lawmakers, law enforcement officials and the bail bond industry — say it has led to the quick release of some who weren't deemed a threat but were soon re-arrested on new charges.

The data shows 44,319 people were issued complaint warrants in New Jersey last year. Prosecutors sought to have 19,366 defendants detained until trial, but only 8,043 of those people were ordered held.

That means the state's pretrial jail population dropped by 20 percent from January 2017 to January 2018, and by 35 percent from January 2015 to January 2018.

At least two lawsuits have been filed seeking to overturn the changes, including one from a group backed by reality TV star Dog the Bounty Hunter.


Inmate in landmark Supreme Court case denied parole
Areas of Focus | 2018/02/14 14:07
A 71-year-old Louisiana inmate whose case led to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision on juvenile-offender sentences was denied parole Monday, more than a half-century after he killed a sheriff's deputy at age 17.

A three-member panel from the state parole board voted 2 to 1 to keep Henry Montgomery imprisoned. The hearing was his first chance at freedom since his conviction decades ago and a vote to free him would have had to be unanimous. Montgomery now must wait another two years before he can request another parole hearing.

The Supreme Court's January 2016 decision in Montgomery's case opened the door for roughly 2,000 other juvenile offenders to argue for their release after receiving mandatory life-without-parole sentences.

Montgomery has served 54 years in prison for shooting East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff's deputy Charles Hurt in 1963, less than two weeks after Montgomery's 17th birthday. Last June, a state judge who resentenced Montgomery to life with the possibility of parole called him a "model prisoner" who seemed to be rehabilitated.

Montgomery's lawyers said he has sought to be a positive role model for other prisoners, serving as a coach and trainer for a boxing team he helped form at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

But the two parole board members who voted against Montgomery questioned why he hadn't accessed more prison programs and services that could have benefited him. One of the panelists, Kenneth Loftin, also said he was disappointed in some of Montgomery's statements during the hearing but didn't elaborate.

James Kuhn, the other board member who voted against Montgomery, noted that the Louisiana Sheriffs' Association submitted a statement opposing his release.

"One of the things that society demands, and police officers certainly demand, is that everyone abide by the rule of law. One of the rules of law is you don't kill somebody, and when you do there's consequences," Kuhn said.


UN court lays down Costa Rica, Nicaragua maritime borders
Areas of Focus | 2018/02/03 07:48
The International Court of Justice laid down definitive maritime boundaries Friday between Costa Rica and Nicaragua in the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean and a small land boundary in a remote, disputed wetland.

As part of the complex ruling, the United Nations' highest judicial organ ruled that a Nicaraguan military base on part of the disputed coastline close to the mouth of the San Juan River is on Costa Rican territory and must be removed.

Ruling in two cases filed by Costa Rica, the 16-judge U.N. panel took into account the two countries' coastlines and some islands in drawing what it called "equitable" maritime borders that carved up the continental shelf underneath the Caribbean and Pacific.


Such rulings can affect issues including fishing rights and exploration for resources like oil.

Earlier, the court ordered Nicaragua to compensate Costa Rica for damage Nicaragua caused with unlawful construction work near the mouth of the San Juan River, the court's first foray into assessing costs for environmental damage.

The order by the United Nations' principal judicial organ followed a December 2015 ruling that Nicaragua violated Costa Rica's sovereignty by establishing a military camp and digging channels near the river, part of a long-running border dispute in the remote region on the shores of the Caribbean Sea.

In total, Nicaragua was ordered to pay just over $378,890 for environmental damage and other costs incurred by Costa Rica— a small fraction of the $6.7 million sought by San Jose.





Warrant dropped for professor who spoke Hawaiian in court
Areas of Focus | 2018/01/19 07:43
A judge dropped an arrest warrant Thursday for a University of Hawaii professor who refused to respond in court to English and spoke Hawaiian instead.

Samuel Kaleikoa Kaeo was in court Wednesday facing a trial for charges connected to his participation in a 2017 protest against the construction of a solar telescope on top of Haleakala, a volcano on Maui, Hawaii News Now reported .

When Judge Blaine Kobayashi asked Kaeo to confirm his identity, he repeatedly responded in Hawaiian instead of English.

Kobayashi said he couldn't understand Kaeo and issued a warrant for Kaeo's arrest, saying "the court is unable to get a definitive determination for the record that the defendant seated in court is Mr. Samuel Kaeo."

Kaeo, an associate professor of Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaii Maui College, said he has appeared before the judge before and complained that "it was about the fact that I was speaking Hawaiian that he didn't like."

Kobayashi recalled the bench warrant Thursday, the state Judiciary said in a statement. Judiciary spokesman Andrew Laurence declined to answer questions about the recall, including what prompted it.

Kaeo faces misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and obstructing a sidewalk. Kaeo, who also speaks English, requested a Hawaiian interpreter in the courtroom but prosecutors had objected, saying it was an unnecessary expense that would have caused delays.



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