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.


Fugitive treasure hunter to appear in Florida federal court
Court News | 2015/01/30 17:31
A treasure hunter locked in a legal battle over one of the greatest undersea hauls in American history was scheduled to appear in federal court Thursday after two years on the run.

The U.S. Marshals Service captured former fugitive Tommy Thompson at a Hilton hotel in West Boca Raton on Tuesday. The capture was announced Wednesday by Brian Babtist, a senior inspector in the agency's office in Columbus, Ohio, where a federal civil arrest warrant was issued for him in 2012 for failing to show up to a key court hearing. A criminal contempt warrant was unsealed Wednesday.

Thompson had been on the lam for two years, accused of cheating investors out of their share of $50 million in gold bars and coins he had recovered from a 19th century shipwreck.

Thompson made history in 1988 when he found the sunken S.S. Central America, also known as the Ship of Gold. In what was a technological feat at the time, Thompson and his crew brought up thousands of gold bars and coins from the shipwreck. Much of that was later sold to a gold marketing group in 2000 for about $50 million.


Arizona sheriff could face civil contempt hearing in court
Court News | 2015/01/19 22:19
An Arizona sheriff could face a civil contempt hearing in federal court for his office's repeated violations of orders issued in a racial-profiling case.

U.S. District Judge Murray Snow held a telephonic conference Thursday and told Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's attorneys that the six-term sheriff may face an April 21-24 hearing.

But a top lawyer with the Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said Friday that Snow stopped short of officially ordering the hearing. The judge has given both sides until Jan. 23 to file additional paperwork.

At a Dec. 4 hearing, Snow sent strong signals that he intended to pursue contempt cases that could expose Arpaio to fines and perhaps jail time.

Lawyers for the sheriff didn't immediately return calls for comment on the possible civil contempt hearing.

Dan Pochoda, senior counsel for the Arizona ACLU, said Friday that Arpaio's office could face sanctions or fines for not following court orders and "fines to deter future bad acts and fines to compensate anyone permanently harmed" in the racial-profiling cases.


Nebraska court could hold up Keystone pipeline
Court News | 2015/01/08 21:14
The Republican-led Congress appears ready to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline, but no matter what actions are taken in Washington, the entire 1,179-mile project could be delayed until Nebraska signs off on the route.

After several years of intense debate, the routing process is before the Nebraska Supreme Court, and depending on how the justices rule, months or years could pass before construction begins in that state.

Even if approval comes from Washington and the high court, opponents are looking for new ways to block the project, including filing a federal lawsuit on behalf of Native American tribes in Nebraska and South Dakota over the possible disruption of Indian artifacts.

The court is considering whether an obscure agency known as the Nebraska Public Service Commission must review the pipeline before it can cross the state, one of six on the pipeline's route. Gov. Dave Heineman gave the green light in 2013 without the involvement of the panel, which normally regulates telephones, taxis and grain bins.

The justices have given no indication when they will render a decision.

President Barack Obama has said he is waiting for the court's decision, and the White House on Tuesday threatened to veto the bill in what was expected to be the first of many confrontations with the new Congress over energy and environmental policy.


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