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Protesters inside Supreme Court face harsher charges
Attorney News | 2015/04/07 19:25
Protesters who demonstrated inside the U.S. Supreme Court are facing the threat of a year in jail and stiff fines, a sign that prosecutors and the justices themselves are losing patience over the courtroom interruptions after the third protest in just over a year.

Five people arrested last week after voicing displeasure with court decisions that removed limits on political campaign contributions now face charges including one that carries a maximum jail term of a year and up to a $100,000 fine — a sharp escalation from the possible penalties sought after two earlier protests.

A leader of the group behind the protests would not rule out future demonstrations, despite what he called an effort to crack down on the courtroom disturbances. "We are not going to be silenced," said Kai Newkirk, whose group 99Rise opposes the influence of big money in elections.

While protests on the sidewalk outside the U.S. Supreme Court are common, until last year demonstrators had rarely broken the decorum of oral arguments inside the courtroom. In February 2014, however, Newkirk was removed from the courtroom after he stood and called on the court to overturn its 2010 Citizens United decision, which freed corporations and labor unions from some limits on campaign spending. It was the first protest to disrupt an argument session in more than seven years.


Amanda Knox murder conviction overturned by Italy high court
Attorney News | 2015/03/27 23:11

Italy's highest court overturned the murder conviction against Amanda Knox and her ex-boyfriend Friday over the 2007 slaying of Knox's roommate, bringing to a definitive end the high-profile case that captivated trial-watchers on both sides of the Atlantic.

"Finished!" Knox's lawyer Carlo Dalla Vedova exulted after the decision was read out late Friday. "It couldn't be better than this."

In a rare decision, the supreme Court of Cassation overturned last year's convictions by a Florence appeals court and declined to order another trial. The judges declared that the two did not commit the crime, a stronger exoneration than merely finding that there wasn't enough evidence to convict.

In a statement issued from her home in Seattle, Knox said she was "relieved and grateful" for the decision.

"The knowledge of my innocence has given me strength in the darkest times of this ordeal," she said, thanking her supporters for believing in her.

Experts have said such a complete exoneration is unusual for the high court, which could have upheld the conviction or ordered a new trial as it did in 2011 when the case first came up to its review on appeal.

The justices' reasoning will be released within 90 days.

The decision ends the long legal battle waged by Knox and Italian co-defendant Raffaele Sollecito to clear their names in the death of British student Meredith Kercher, after they spent nearly four years in prison immediately after the murder.



Court upholds conviction of woman in Rwanda genocide case
Attorney News | 2015/03/27 23:11
A federal appeals court panel has upheld the conviction of a New Hampshire woman found guilty of lying about her role in the 1994 Rwanda genocide so she could obtain U.S. citizenship.

Beatrice Munyenyezi is serving a 10-year prison sentence after being convicted in 2013.

One of her lawyers, David Ruoff, said Friday they are still mulling their options after the ruling by the three-judge panel, including whether to ask the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston for a rehearing by the full court. He said they have been unable to reach Munyenyezi, who is in a federal prison in Alabama, to tell her about the ruling.

Munyenyezi's appeal said the trial judge should not have allowed prosecutors to use her testimony before an international war crimes tribunal to show she had a propensity to lie. Her lawyers accused a prosecutor of making false assertions while cross-examining a defense witness and said there was insufficient evidence to convict her.

Munyenyezi also said her sentence was too harsh. But the appeals court rejected all those arguments Wednesday and said the case record makes for "a bone-chilling read."

Munyenyezi was convicted in February 2013 in the Concord, New Hampshire, federal courthouse where she had been granted U.S. citizenship a decade earlier. Her citizenship was stripped upon her conviction.

The jury found she lied about being affiliated with a political party that orchestrated much of the genocide. Witnesses say she helped patrol one of the notorious checkpoints at which those bearing a card identifying them as Tutsis were singled out for rape and murder.


Justices pepper health care law opponents with questions
Attorney News | 2015/03/05 21:40

Supreme Court justices peppered opponents of President Barack Obama's health care law with skeptical questions during oral arguments Wednesday on the latest challenge to the sweeping legislation.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose vote is seen as pivotal, suggested that the plaintiffs' argument raises a "serious" constitutional problem affecting the relationship between states and the federal government.

The plaintiffs argue that only residents of states that set up their own insurance markets can get federal subsidies to help pay their premiums.

Millions of people could be affected by the court's decision. The justices are trying to determine whether the law makes people in all 50 states eligible for federal tax subsidies to cut the cost of insurance premiums. Or, does it limit tax credits only to people who live in states that created their own health insurance marketplaces?

During oral arguments, the courts' liberal justices also expressed doubts. In an earlier case involving the law, however, Kennedy was on the opposite side, voting to strike down a key requirement.

A ruling that limits where subsidies are available would have dramatic consequences because roughly three dozen states opted against their own marketplace, or exchange, and instead rely on the U.S. Health and Human Services Department's healthcare.gov. Independent studies estimate that 8 million people could lose insurance coverage.


Bankrupt Caesars unit gets court's OK to use cash, for now
Attorney News | 2015/03/05 21:39
A federal judge in Chicago ruled Wednesday that a bankrupt division of Caesars Entertainment Corp. can tap some of the $847 million in cash it has on hand for at least five weeks.

Judge Benjamin Goldgar said Caesars Entertainment Operating Co. could access its cash in the interim despite objections from some of the company's creditors.

A budget the company submitted to the court indicated it plans to spend $334 million through April 3. The documents showed revenue is expected to offset spending and leave the company with $834 million in cash at the end of five weeks.

Goldgar scheduled a hearing to reconsider the motion on March 26.

Several other motions, including requests for an examiner to investigate the company's pre-bankruptcy transactions, were delayed until March 25.

The company was also seeking to get out from under several contracts that would save it $675,000 a month.

Among the contracts is a suite for Kansas City Chiefs football games, a sponsorship with the New York Mets, an advertising agreement with The Forum in Los Angeles, and deals with a tour bus operator to support its Horseshoe Bossier City casino in Louisiana and a nearby Springhill Suites hotel operator where the company regularly reserved a block of rooms.


Court nixes faith-based birth control mandate challenge
Attorney News | 2015/02/16 19:40
An appeals court has ruled that the birth control coverage required by federal health care reforms does not violate the rights of several religious groups because they can seek reasonable accommodations.
 
Two western Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses and a private Christian college had challenged the birth control coverage mandates and won lower-court decisions. However, the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court ruling Wednesday said the reforms place "no substantial burden" on the religious groups and therefore don't violate their First Amendment rights.

All three groups — the college and the Pittsburgh and Erie dioceses — are mulling whether to appeal to the entire 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Such a ruling should cause deep concern for anyone who cares about any First Amendment rights, especially the right to teach and practice a religious faith," Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik said in a statement. "This decision says that the church is no longer free to practice what we preach."

At issue is an "accommodation" written into the Affordable Care Act that says religious organizations can opt out of directly providing and paying to cover medical services such groups would consider morally objectionable. In this case, that refers to all contraceptive and abortion services for the Catholic plaintiffs, and contraceptive services like the "week-after" pill and other medical coverage that Geneva College contends violate its anti-abortion teachings. The school in Beaver Falls is affiliated with the Reformed Presbyterian Church.

Justice Department lawyers have argued the accommodation solves the problem because it allows religious groups to opt out of directly providing such coverage. But the plaintiffs contend that merely filing the one-page form, which puts a religious group's objections on record with the government, violates their rights because it still "facilitates" or "triggers" a process that then enables third-party insurers to provide the kind of coverage to which they object.


Court won't hear free speech challenge to metals dealers law
Attorney News | 2015/01/12 23:40
The Supreme Court won't consider the constitutionality of an Ohio law that bars precious metals dealers from advertising without a license.

The justices on Monday declined to take up an appeal from Liberty Coins, a gold and silver dealer that claims the law violates the free speech rights of businesses.

Ohio officials say the 1996 law was enacted to protect consumers from theft and help police track down stolen wedding rings, gold bracelets and other items resold at stores that buy gold and silver merchandise.

A federal judge in 2012 ruled the law unconstitutional because the state failed to prove the license requirement was effective in curbing theft, fraud and terrorism. But the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that ruling last year.


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