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California court ruling could limit drought fighting tools
Court News | 2015/04/23 21:35
In a ruling that Gov. Jerry Brown says puts a "straitjacket" on local governments trying to fight the severe statewide drought, an appeals court has found that an Orange County city's tiered water rates are unconstitutional.

The ruling by the 4th District Court of Appeal on Monday against the city of San Juan Capistrano potentially deals a blow to agencies statewide that have used the pricing structure to encourage water conservation.

"The practical effect of the court's decision is to put a straitjacket on local government at a time when maximum flexibility is needed," Brown said in a statement after Monday's ruling. "My policy is and will continue to be: employ every method possible to ensure water is conserved across California."

The 3-0 ruling upholds a Superior Court judge's decision that found that charging bigger water users incrementally higher rates violates a voter-approved law that prohibits government agencies from charging more than the cost of a service.

It comes shortly after Brown issued drought orders that call for rates that encourage people to save water, including tiered pricing. About two-thirds of water districts in the state use some form of tiered pricing, and the ruling was being closely watched to see how it might apply beyond the appellate court, which is only binding in Orange County.


Bond hearing scheduled for millionaire Durst in New Orleans
Court News | 2015/03/23 19:30
Millionaire Robert Durst, facing a murder charge in California and weapons charges in Louisiana, is scheduled for a bond hearing.

The hearing is scheduled for Monday in New Orleans on the weapons charges. Prosecutors say no bond should be allowed. Durst's lawyers want their client released.

They say the 71-year-old was illegally arrested at a New Orleans hotel March 14 on both the weapons charges and the warrant alleging that murdered a female friend in California. His lawyers also say his arrest was orchestrated to coincide with the last episode of an HBO show about him.

One of the weapons charges alleges Durst had a .38-caliber revolver; previous felony convictions make that illegal. The other charge says he had the weapon and illegal drugs: more than 5 ounces of marijuana.

Durst has been held for nearly a week in a mental-health unit in a prison about 70 miles from New Orleans. Jail officials say he's at risk for suicide.


Philippine court enters not guilty plea for US Marine
Court News | 2015/02/25 17:39
A Philippine court entered a not guilty plea Monday for a U.S. Marine charged with murdering a transgender Filipino, allegedly after he discovered her gender when they checked into a hotel.

Marine Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton refused to enter a plea in the brief proceeding in a court in Olongapo city northwest of Manila, according to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima. Journalists were barred from the courtroom.

Dozens of left-wing protesters waved red flags outside the courthouse, demanding justice and an end to the U.S. military presence in the former American colony. Gay and lesbian groups have also staged protests denouncing the killing of Jennifer Laude, whose former name was Jeffrey, as a hate crime.

Monday's arraignment paves the way for Pemberton's trial, which lawyers of the victim's family said is scheduled to start next month.

"Finally justice can be attained for our sibling," Marilou Laude, the victim's sister, told reporters. She said she was shaking in anger when she saw the handcuffed suspect, who was guarded by several security escorts in the courtroom.

Pemberton has been charged by prosecutors in the Oct. 11 killing. They say the U.S. Marine strangled her and then drowned her in a hotel toilet after discovering she was a transgender woman. They had checked into the hotel after meeting in a bar.


Former Massey Energy CEO asks court to dismiss charges
Court News | 2015/02/09 23:14
A former coal company executive is seeking the dismissal of charges stemming from a 2010 mine explosion that killed 29 workers in West Virginia.

Don Blankenship, former chief executive officer of Massey Energy, also has asked the court to disqualify U.S. District Judge Irene Berger from hearing his case.

Blankenship’s lawyers filed a dozen motions to dismiss on Friday, along with the disqualification motion and other documents, exhibits and legal briefs, The Charleston Gazette reported.

Details of filings in the case are unavailable to the public under a gag order issued by Berger. The Charleston Gazette, The Associated Press and other media outlets are challenging the order, which prohibits parties or victims from discussing the case with reporters or releasing court documents.

Blankenship is charged with conspiring to violate safety and health standards at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County. He also is charged with lying to federal financial regulators about safety measures in the deadly explosion. His trial is scheduled to begin April 20 in U.S. District Court in Beckley.

The dismissal motions and other filings came a day after Blankenship sued Alpha Natural Resources in a Delaware court. Bristol, Virginia-based Alpha bought Massey in June 2011.


Alabama begins issuing marriage licenses to gay couples
Court News | 2015/02/09 23:12
Alabama began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples Monday despite an 11th-hour attempt from the state's chief justice - an outspoken opponent - to block the weddings.

The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday morning that it wouldn't stop the marriages, and shortly after, probate judges began granting the licenses to couples, some of whom had been lined up for hours and exited courthouses to applause from supporters.

"It's about time," said Shante Wolfe, 21. She and Tori Sisson of Tuskegee had camped out in a blue and white tent and became the first in the county given a license.

Most probate judges issued the licenses despite Chief Justice Roy Moore's Sunday night order that they refuse. It was a dramatic return to defiance Moore, who was removed from the post in 2003 for refusing to obey a federal court order to remove a washing machine-sized Ten Commandments from the state judicial building. Critics lashed out that Moore had no authority to tell county probate judges to enforce a law that a federal judge already ruled unconstitutional.

Susan Watson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, said she has heard of four counties where judges have refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.


Supreme Court halts 3 upcoming executions in Oklahoma
Court News | 2015/02/03 23:22
The Supreme Court has ordered Oklahoma to postpone lethal injections executions using a controversial sedative until the court rules in a challenge involving the drug.

The court's order Wednesday came as little surprise after both the state and the lawyers for three inmates who faced execution between now and March requested the temporary halt. The justices agreed on Friday to take up the challenge to the use of the sedative midazolam, which has been used in problematic executions in Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma.

The case will be argued in April and decided by late June.

Left open by the court's order is whether Oklahoma can carry out an execution that does not involve midazolam.


Two justices once open to cameras in court now reconsider
Court News | 2015/02/03 23:22
Two Supreme Court justices who once seemed open to the idea of cameras in the courtroom said Monday they have reconsidered those views, dashing even faint hopes that April's historic arguments over gay marriage might be televised.

In separate appearances, Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor said allowing cameras might lead to grandstanding that could fundamentally change the nature of the high court.

Sotomayor told an audience in West Palm Beach, Florida, that cameras could change the behavior of both the justices and lawyers appearing at the court, who might succumb to "this temptation to use it as a stage rather than a courtroom."

"I am moving more closely to saying I think it might be a bad idea," she said.

During her confirmation hearings in 2009, Sotomayor told lawmakers she had a positive experience with cameras and would try to soften other justices' opposition to cameras.

Speaking at the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics, Kagan told an audience that she is "conflicted" over the issue and noted strong arguments on both sides.

Kagan said that when she used to argue cases before the court as Solicitor General, she wanted the public to see how well prepared the justices were for each case "and really look as though they are trying to get it right."

But Kagan said she is wary now of anything "that may upset the dynamic of the institution."

She pointed to Congress, which televises floor proceedings, saying lawmakers talk more in made-for-TV sound bites than to each other.


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