SUPREME COURT NOTEBOOK: Kagan recalls clerking for Marshall
Attorney News | 2018/03/07 18:45
Justice Elena Kagan recalled the moment 30 years ago when her boss looked at her "as though I must have lost my mind."

The boss was Justice Thurgood Marshall and the setting was his Supreme Court office, where Kagan was spending a year as a law clerk after graduating from Harvard Law School.

Kagan had just delivered what she deemed a clear and simple explanation for why Marshall should side against a North Dakota girl who lived 16 miles from her school and whose family could not afford the bus service to get her there. The school district wouldn't waive the fee.

The legal giant who argued for the end of segregated schools and the first African-American on the court was not going to cast a vote against a poor school girl.

The story, recounted Tuesday evening in the courtroom where Marshall worked for 24 years, was part of a warm recollection by three judges and a Harvard law professor of their time spent as Supreme Court law clerks for Marshall, whose first term on the court was 50 years ago. Marshall's widow, Cecilia, and sons Thurgood and John were in the audience.

Sarita Kadrmas, the girl who sued, was white, but that was of no consequence in Marshall's thinking, Kagan said. "His basic idea of what he was there to do was ... to ensure that people like Sarita Kadrmas got to school every morning," Kagan said.

Kagan's initial view of the case turned out to be the majority's view in a 5-4 decision written by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Kagan drafted Marshall's dissent and it took several versions "until he felt like I got the right level of passion and disgust," she said.

Marshall was a master storyteller and Judge Douglas Ginsburg, who sits on the federal appeals court in Washington, remembered Marshall's habit of wandering into his clerks' workspace after lunch and spinning tales for 30 to 45 minutes about his days representing black defendants in the Jim Crow South. The stories could be horrific accounts of racial injustice and also quite funny, often at the same time.

Kagan recalled how Marshall judged the fairness of death penalty trials. "I remember once he said to us that when a jury brought back a sentence of life imprisonment, that's when he absolutely knew that the guy was innocent."

All these years later, Kagan said, Marshall continues to influence her. "His voice in my head never went away in terms of trying to figure out what I was doing and why," she said.



Romania court nixes law allowing officials to own business
Attorney News | 2018/03/06 02:45
A top Romanian court has struck down legislation that would have allowed lawmakers and other public officials to own businesses.

The Constitutional Court ruled Tuesday that the legislation approved by Parliament in December wasn't constitutional.

The development came after President Klaus Iohannis wrote to the court in January, alerting it to the legislation which he said "diminished the standards of integrity" expected of officials and undermined the rule of law.

Iohannis evoked a European Union report that urged Romania to ensure that officials weren't exempt from laws on the conflict of interest and unjustified wealth.

The EU, magistrates and ordinary Romanians have publicly opposed a judicial overhaul being implemented by the left-wing ruling coalition. They say the proposals will weaken judicial independence and harm efforts to combat corruption.


Court: Nike logo of Michael Jordan didn't violate copyright
Attorney News | 2018/03/01 22:57
A U.S. appeals court says an iconic Nike logo of a leaping Michael Jordan didn't violate the copyright of an earlier photograph of the basketball star.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Tuesday that the logo was based on a photograph of Jordan by Nike that was inspired by a 1984 photo by Jacobus Rentmeester.

They both show Jordan leaping with his legs extended outward toward a basketball hoop with a ball above his head. But the court says the photos are unmistakably different in key elements.

Nike used its photo for the "Jumpman" logo — a silhouetted image of Jordan in the pose that the company has used to market billions of dollars of merchandise.

An email to a law firm representing Rentmeester wasn't immediately returned.



Texas executes Dallas man for killing ex-girlfriend in 1999
Attorney News | 2018/01/31 18:17
A Dallas man was executed Tuesday for the 1999 slaying of his ex-girlfriend while he already was on parole for killing his estranged wife.

William Rayford, 64, became the nation's second inmate put to death this year, both in Texas, when he received lethal injection for beating, stabbing and strangling 44-year-old Carol Lynn Thomas Hall. Her body was found about 300 feet (91 meters) inside a drainage pipe behind her home in South Dallas' Oak Cliff area. Hall's 11-year-old son, Benjamin, also was stabbed in the attack but survived. He testified against Rayford.

Asked by the warden at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Huntsville Unit if he had a final statement, Rayford apologized repeatedly to his victim's four children who watched through a window a few feet from him.

"Carol didn't deserve what I done," he said. "Please try to find it in your heart to forgive me. I am sorry. It has bothered me for a long time what I have done."

He said he has made mistakes and asked God to forgive him. "If this gives you closure and makes you feel better, I have no problem with this taking place," Rayford said.

As the lethal dose of pentobarbital began taking effect, he lifted his head from the pillow on the death chamber gurney, repeated that he was sorry and then said he was "going home."

He began to snore. Within seconds, all movement stopped. He was pronounced dead at 8:48 p.m., 13 minutes after the powerful sedative was injected.

Among the four witnesses present was the victim's son who was also stabbed in the attack. He and three siblings showed no emotion as they watched Rayford die. They declined interviews afterward.


Judge to pick battlefield for court fight over Manson's body
Attorney News | 2018/01/25 07:44
Charles Manson orchestrated murders in his adopted hometown of Los Angeles, served time in a state prison in Corcoran and died in a hospital in Bakersfield.

The legal battle for his body or possessions could land in any of three California counties where those cities are located as friends and purported kin wage a court fight Friday that includes nasty accusations about profiteering off the death of the cult leader.

At least three parties have staked claims to collect Manson's body from the Kern County morgue two months after he died and take control of any assets, which could include potentially lucrative rights to the use of his image and songs he wrote and any other property.

"It's a circus show," said a frustrated Ben Gurecki, one of two pen pals who hold dueling wills allegedly signed by Manson. "It's despicable that I'm still sitting here 60 days later and I can't get my friend cremated."

But first a Los Angeles Superior Court judge must decide which court takes up the separate issues of Manson's remains and his estate.

A Florida man, Jason Freeman, claims he's a grandson and the rightful heir and that the killer left no will. He's been challenged in Los Angeles by Michael Channels, another pen pal and collector of Manson memorabilia, who holds a will bearing what appears to be Manson's signature and names him as executor and sole beneficiary.

Gurecki, who like Channels also sells Manson mementos to fans of so-called murderabilia, has filed a will with the Kern County coroner's office bearing Manson's purported signature. It names Gurecki as executor and leaves everything to his "one living child," Matthew Lentz, a Los Angeles musician. Lentz and Gurecki have yet to file the will in court.


Women taking their right to go topless to state's high court
Attorney News | 2018/01/12 20:44
In a case that pits freedom of expression and equality against public decency, three women are challenging a New Hampshire city ordinance prohibiting public nudity and taking it to the state's highest court.

Heidi Lilley, Kia Sinclair and Ginger Pierro were ticketed in 2016 in Laconia after they went topless at Weirs Beach over Memorial Day weekend. Pierro was doing yoga, while the other two were sunbathing.

Some beachgoers complained and a police officer asked them to cover up. When they refused, they were arrested. A legal motion to dismiss a case against the women was denied so they have appealed it to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, which is expected to hear the case Feb. 1. The women want to the court to dismiss their conviction by invalidating the city's ordinance.

The three women argue there's no state law forbidding female toplessness and that the ordinance is discriminatory since men are allowed to go shirtless. They also contend their constitutional rights to freedom of expression were violated.

"The law in the state of New Hampshire is that it is legal for a woman to go topless so we're trying to get the town of Laconia to recognize and to stay with the state," Lilley said. "The town ordinance, in our opinion, is not constitutional. We're hoping the Supreme Court will see that."

The women are part of the Free the Nipple movement, a global campaign that argues it should be acceptable for women to bare their nipples in public, since men can. Supporters of the campaign also are taking their causes to courts with mixed success.

A U.S. District Court judge ruled in October that a public indecency ordinance in Missouri didn't violate the state constitution by allowing men, but not women, to show their nipples. But in February, a U.S. District Court judge blocked the city of Fort Collins, Colorado, from enforcing a law against women going topless, arguing it was based on gender discrimination. The city is appealing.''



Supreme Court takes the wheel in 2 cases of vehicle searches
Attorney News | 2018/01/12 02:39
The Supreme Court's justices put themselves in the driver's seat Tuesday, hearing arguments in two cases involving vehicle searches, but it was unclear what routes the justices will take to resolve the cases.

One case involved Pennsylvania state troopers' stop of a rental car driven by a man who wasn't on the rental agreement. The second involved a policeman's search for a stolen motorcycle in Virginia.

"One of the things that I think is very important in these types of cases is the ability to give clear guidance not only to the courts but to the police," Chief Justice Roberts said. Justice Stephen Breyer, when trying to describe a resolution to the case, said he was "looking for something simple."

The first case involves Terrence Byrd, who was driving his fiancee's rental car on a Pennsylvania highway when a state trooper pulled him over for an alleged minor traffic violation. He acted nervous during the stop and told troopers he had a marijuana cigarette in the car, and officers decided to search the car.

Because the rental agreement didn't authorize Byrd to drive the gray Ford Fusion, troopers told him they didn't need his consent for the search. And when troopers opened the trunk, they found body armor and about 2,500 little bags of heroin. Byrd later acknowledged he planned to sell the drugs for roughly $7,000, and a court sentenced him to 10 years in prison.

Byrd's attorneys argue his case has potential consequences for the 115 million car rentals that take place annually in the United States. They say that if the government wins, police will have an incentive to pull over a rental car driver who commits a traffic violation because police will know they can search the car if the driver isn't on the rental agreement.



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