Court Will Decide Wash. Shooting Case
Areas of Focus | 2008/03/18 00:00
The Supreme Court agreed Monday to consider reinstating the murder conviction of the driver in a gang-related drive-by shooting that horrified Seattle in 1994.

The court will hear arguments in the fall in the case of Cesar Sarausad II. He was convicted for his role as the driver in the shooting in which Melissa Fernandes, 16, was killed and Brent Mason, 17, was wounded outside a Seattle high school on March 23, 1994.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco overturned the conviction because of faulty jury instructions.

In his instructions to the jury, Judge Larry A. Jordan said Sarausad could be convicted of murder regardless of whether he knew of any plan for a killing. The appeals panel ruled that the jury should have been told Sarausad could be convicted of murder only if he knew what was being planned.

The state of Washington asked the Supreme Court to reinstate the conviction, which had been upheld by state appeals courts.



Court to Take Up Voting Rights Suit
Areas of Focus | 2008/03/17 23:59

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court said on Monday it would decide a potentially important voting rights case and whether crime lab reports can be used as trial evidence without the testimony of analysts who prepared them.

In a case from North Carolina, the high court agreed to decide whether the federal voting-rights law applied to districts where a racial minority group constituted less than half the population.

The federal voting-rights law, first adopted in 1965 and considered a landmark in civil rights legislation, is designed to protect the rights of minorities.

In the case, the state of North Carolina appealed and said the issue had been left unresolved by the Supreme Court in five previous opinions over a 20-year period through 2006.

Attorneys for the state said the case likely would be the last opportunity for the Supreme Court to decide the issue before the redrawing of legislative boundaries that will occur after the 2010 Census.

The case involved a district for the North Carolina House of Representatives in which black voters make up less than 50 percent of the population but still have been numerous enough to elect a black candidate in the past, with limited support from white voters.

The district was redrawn and reduced the population of blacks over voting age to 39 percent. The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled the voting rights law does not apply to districts where a minority group accounted for less than half the population.



Palo Alto loses legal battle over police brutality
Areas of Focus | 2008/03/14 10:27

The city of Palo Alto on Wednesday lost an 11-year legal battle over whether police officers violated a man's civil rights and now faces the prospect of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to finally settle the case.

The California Supreme Court turned down the city's request to review and overturn lower court rulings in Schmidlin vs. City of Palo Alto, the civil case in which Michael Schmidlin successfully contended police used excessive force when they arrested him March 29, 1997, on suspicion of public drunkenness.

Unless the city appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court, it could pay $24,000 plus interest to Schmidlin and at least $300,000 in legal fees to his lawyer, Mark Martel. That figure might swell to more than $500,000, said Martel, who will spend the next month or so calculating the exact cost.

City Attorney Gary Baum expressed disappointment when reached for comment Wednesday evening. "We did not feel the elements of excessive force had been met," he said. "Obviously, the (6th District) Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court disagreed with us."

The appeals court in December upheld a 2003 jury verdict against the three police officers Tim Martin, David Trujillo and Burt Milliken accused of excessive force. The officers said they believed Schmidlin was drunk and alleged he "displayed an uncooperative and resistive attitude toward complying" with their demands, according to court



MasterCard "welcomes" dismissal of antitrust suit
Areas of Focus | 2008/03/13 21:40

MasterCard International said on Thursday it welcomed a U.S. appeals court's dismissal of an antitrust lawsuit by a group of merchants claiming that the company, Visa USA and three banks had conspired to set fees charged to businesses for credit card sales.

The ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholds a San Francisco federal judge's 2005 dismissal of the case led by hair salon operator Sheri Kendall and James Maser, who operated a restaurant in Alameda County.

MasterCard General Counsel Noah Hanft said in a statement that the company "welcomed" the appellate ruling on March 7.

"No U.S. court has found interchange to be illegal," he said, referring to the fees charged among card association member banks.

The plaintiffs' attorney, Richard Archer, had no comment on the ruling.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the merchants had failed to present facts to support claims of a conspiracy among the credit card companies and Bank of America Corp, Wells Fargo & Co and U.S. Bancorp.

The merchants had accused the card associations of fixing prices on "merchant discount fees," which are transaction fees between merchants and banks, and interchange fees.

The court dismissed the case without leave to amend, which means the merchants cannot refile the case.



Lawyer says imprisoned man innocent
Areas of Focus | 2008/03/11 16:58
A lawyer says a man imprisoned for killing another man at a Chicago McDonald's 26 years ago is innocent and he may get a new trial.

Alton Logan was sentenced to life in prison as an accomplice in the 1982 killing. The alleged shooter, Edward Hope, received the death penalty.

Hope told his lawyer, Marc Miller, he had never seen Logan in his life, telling him to relay to Logan's attorney that he is "representing an innocent man," The Chicago Tribune reported Tuesday.

Career criminal Andrew Wilson admitted to the crime, but Hope's attorney's were bound by attorney-client privilege and only came forward with the new information following Wilson's death in November. Wilson was never charged in the McDonald's shooting.

Three attorneys representing defendants in the case signed an affidavit in 1982 that Hope was innocent but could not reveal it because of attorney-client privilege. The affidavit sat in a lock box under a bed for 26 years.

Logan, now 54, could get a new trial, but that all depends on whether or not Miller's testimony in a Cook County court about Wilson's confession is admissible or not.


Justice often slow for elder crimes
Areas of Focus | 2008/03/09 16:42
So far, Mary Morris has spent three years and $73,000 to get back just part of the $475,000 that was withdrawn from her mother's accounts by the relative who was overseeing the elderly woman's affairs.

Morris' mother agreed, three years before she died at age 96 in 2004, to give legal power of attorney to a grandnephew. It's a step that many advocates for older people say should be considered when people begin to show signs they are having difficulty managing finances, selling property, making acquisitions and buying insurance.

But a caution always accompanies that advice: Be careful whom you trust, and be careful about giving total authority to one person.

"You need to make sure that you either thoroughly trust your agent or you have some kind of controls on the agent's abilities to move assets," said Bob Mason, an Asheboro lawyer and vice chairman of the elder law section of the N.C. Bar Association.

Legal experts project a massive increase in lawsuits and prosecutions involving older Americans in decades to come as baby boomers reach retirement age and beyond. Already, substantiated instances of elder abuse are rising nationally at the rate of 15 percent a year, according to the American Bar Association. ABA members recently adopted a resolution urging that prosecutors be given more resources to fight elder crime.

Last year, North Carolina adult protective services sent county district attorneys written notices of 1,451 cases involving abuse, neglect or exploitation of adults. The numbers represent a 15 percent increase in cases since 2004.

Advocates say civil and criminal legal protections for older people are at the stage where domestic violence and child abuse safeguards were two decades ago -- in need of reform.

"As we have an aging population, there are reasons to say prosecutors should be paying more attention and using more resources to deal with what's going to be an increasing problem," said Stephen Salzburg, a Georgetown University law professor and co-author of the ABA resolution.



D.C. Gun Case Draws Crowd of High Court 'Friends'
Areas of Focus | 2008/03/09 03:35

With the Supreme Court examining for the first time in 70 years the right to bear arms guaranteed by the Second Amendment, a group of gay and transgender gun owners called the Pink Pistols could not miss out on a chance to tell the justices about its special needs. With the opaque and oddly punctuated 27 words of 18th-century prose at last under the microscope, linguistic professors wanted the court to know that "the Second Amendment's absolute construction functions as a sentence modifier."

With the intentions of the Framers in question and modern social policy at stake, justices considering whether the District of Columbia's ban on handguns violates the Constitution have received an avalanche of advice from professors, doctors, social scientists, district attorneys, historians, religious groups, members of Congress and, of course, Vice President Cheney. They may be nothing more than an ego boost for a client or provide the argument that wins the case, but such amicus curiae briefs have become an essential part of high-stakes Supreme Court cases.



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