Lawyer for WikiLeaks’ Assange says he would fight charges
Court News | 2018/11/18 04:32
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will not willingly travel to the United States to face charges filed under seal against him, one of his lawyers said, foreshadowing a possible fight over extradition for a central figure in the U.S. special counsel’s Russia-Trump investigation.

Assange, who has taken cover in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he has been granted asylum, has speculated publicly for years that the Justice Department had brought secret criminal charges against him for revealing highly sensitive government information on his website.

That hypothesis appeared closer to reality after prosecutors, in an errant court filing in an unrelated case, inadvertently revealed the existence of sealed charges. The filing, discovered Thursday night, said the charges and arrest warrant “would need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter.”

A person familiar with the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity because the case had not been made public, confirmed that charges had been filed under seal. The exact charges Assange faces and when they might be unsealed remained uncertain Friday.

Any charges against him could help illuminate whether Russia coordinated with the Trump campaign to sway the 2016 presidential election. They also would suggest that, after years of internal Justice Department wrangling, prosecutors have decided to take a more aggressive tack against WikiLeaks.

A criminal case also holds the potential to expose the practices of a radical transparency activist who has been under U.S. government scrutiny for years and at the center of some of the most explosive disclosures of stolen information in the last decade.

Those include thousands of military and State Department cables from Army Pvt. Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning, secret CIA hacking tools, and most recently and notoriously, Democratic emails that were published in the weeks before the 2016 presidential election and that U.S. intelligence officials say had been hacked by Russia.

Federal special counsel Robert Mueller, who has already charged 12 Russian military intelligence officers with hacking, has been investigating whether any Trump associates had advance knowledge of the stolen emails.


North Carolina top court orders study of courtroom portraits
Court News | 2018/10/26 12:24
The North Carolina Supreme Court has directed a commission to study the portraits hanging inside its courtroom amid a complaint about one of a pro-slavery judge.

The News & Observer reported Thursday that the state's top court formed a commission tasked with making a recommendation by Dec. 31, 2019.

Also on Thursday, the newspaper published an op-ed from UNC-Chapel Hill law professor Eric Muller and former Chapel Hill Councilmember Sally Greene drawing attention to the courtroom's portrait of Thomas Ruffin. Ruffin served on the court from 1829 to 1852.

He's best known for his decision in State v. Mann, in which he overturned the assault conviction of a slaveowner who shot a slave in the back for refusing him. Ruffin's portrait is the courtroom's largest, hung behind the justices' bench.


Poland: Top court judges return from forced retirements
Court News | 2018/10/22 10:42
Several Supreme Court judges in Poland have returned from government-imposed retirements after the European Union's top court ordered their reinstatements.

Dozens of supporters greeted the six judges as they headed into the Supreme Court building on Monday, ready to resume work.

Some 20 of the court's judges were forced to retire in July after a new law took effect that lowered the retirement age for justices to 65 from 70.

The change is part of a judicial overhaul by Poland's conservative ruling party. EU leaders are challenging it in the European Court of Justice, which on Friday issued an injunction suspending the forced retirements.

Supreme Court First President Malgorzata Gersdorf was among the judges returning to work. She says the court's order was a "kind of win" for the judges.



Court to hear case over ID of Texas execution drug supplier
Court News | 2018/10/20 20:50
The Texas Supreme Court has reversed itself and granted the state's request to review a case dealing with the disclosure of an execution drug supplier that officials have fought for years to keep secret.

The Texas Supreme Court on Friday approved the state's appeal asking that it review a lower court's order that the state's prison agency must identify its execution drug supplier.

In June, the court had denied the state's request to review the ruling by Texas' 3rd Court of Appeals.

The case stems from a lawsuit seeking to identify the supplier Texas used in two 2014 executions. A measure was signed into law the next year allowing the state to keep future supplier records secret. Oral arguments in the case have been set for Jan. 23.



Georgia high court won't stop vote on creation of new city
Court News | 2018/10/16 23:23
Georgia's highest court on Monday declined to stop voting in a referendum on whether a new city of Eagle's Landing should be created from part of the existing city of Stockbridge.

The General Assembly passed two acts that were signed by the governor earlier this year to create Eagle's Landing from land that is currently part of Stockbridge combined with unincorporated parts of Henry County. The proposed city's creation must be approved by local voters, but Stockbridge residents who live outside the boundaries of the proposed city won't get a say.

Opponents, including the Stockbridge mayor, say creation of a new city would take a significant amount of city's land and tax revenue and harm the Stockbridge's ability to pay municipal bond obligations.

Proponents of a new city say they want to secure better city services, increase property values and attract high-end businesses. But opponents say race is a factor. About 20 miles (30 kilometers) southeast of Atlanta, Stockbridge is predominantly black, while the city of Eagle's Landing would have a higher proportion of white residents.

Stockbridge sued the Henry County elections director and members of the county commission and asked a judge to declare that the acts setting up the referendum violated the state Constitution. The judge declined, and the city appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court, which heard arguments in the case last week.



UN court orders US to lift some Iran sanctions
Court News | 2018/10/03 12:17
The United Nations' highest court on Wednesday ordered the United States to lift sanctions on Iran that affect imports of humanitarian goods and products and services linked to civil aviation safety.

The ruling by the International Court of Justice is legally binding, but it remains to be seen if the administration of President Donald Trump will comply.

Trump moved to restore tough U.S. sanctions in May after withdrawing from Tehran's nuclear accord with world powers. Iran challenged the sanctions in a case filed in July at the International Court of Justice.

In a preliminary ruling, the court said that Washington must "remove, by means of its choosing, any impediments arising from" the re-imposition of sanctions to the export to Iran of medicine and medical devices, food and agricultural commodities and spare parts and equipment necessary to ensure the safety of civil aviation.

By limiting the order to sanctions covering humanitarian goods and the civil aviation industry, the ruling did not go as far as Iran had requested.

The U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands, Peter Hoekstra, pointed that out in a tweet.

"This is a meritless case over which the court has no jurisdiction," the ambassador tweeted. "Even so, it is worth noting that the Court declined today to grant the sweeping measures requested by Iran. Instead, the Court issued a narrow decision on a very limited range of sectors."

While imposing the so-called "provisional measures," the court's president, Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, stressed that the case will continue and the United States could still challenge the court's jurisdiction.


Supreme Court won't hear case over California beach access
Court News | 2018/10/01 23:19
The Supreme Court is refusing to hear an appeal from a California billionaire who doesn't want to open a road on his property so that the public can access a beach.

The justices said Monday that they will not take up Vinod Khosla's appeal of a California appeals court decision. The case had the potential to upend California's longstanding efforts to keep beaches open to the public.

Khosla bought the property in the San Francisco Bay Area for $32.5 million in 2008 and later blocked the public from accessing it. That prompted a lawsuit by the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation.

A state appeals court ruled last year that Khosla needed to apply for a coastal development permit before denying public access.

Khosla — a venture capitalist who co-founded the Silicon Valley technology company, Sun Microsystems — closed a gate, put up a no-access sign and painted over a billboard at the entrance to the property that had advertised access to the beach, according to the appellate ruling.

The secluded beach south of Half Moon Bay, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) south of San Francisco, is only accessible by a road that goes over Khosla's land.

The previous owners of the property allowed public access to the beach for a fee. But Khosla's attorneys say the cost to maintain the beach and other facilities far exceeded revenue from the fees.

The government cannot demand that people keep their private property open to the public without paying them to do so, Khosla's attorneys said in their appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The state appeals court ruling would "throw private property rights in California into disarray," the appeal argued, saying other property owners along California's coast would prefer to exclude the public.

The Surfrider Foundation said Khosla's appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was premature because he had not yet applied for a permit and received a decision from the state.

"This win helps to secure beach access for all people, as is enshrined in our laws," said Angela Howe, legal director of the foundation. "The Surfrider Foundation will always fight to preserve the rights of the many from becoming the assets of the few."



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