New Mexico Supreme Court won't restore funds to Legislature
Court News | 2017/05/08 09:07
The New Mexico Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a request to override budget vetoes, leaving negotiations about how to solve the state's budget crisis — and restore funding to the Legislature — in the hands of the governor and lawmakers.

In a two-page order, the court said it was too soon to consider any possible constitutional violations related to Gov. Susana Martinez's vetoes of all funding for the Legislature and state universities in the coming fiscal year.

The order said the Legislature's lawsuit was "not ripe for review," siding with attorneys for the governor who cautioned justices against an abuse of their judicial power.

The Republican governor has called a special session for May 24 in an attempt to resolve the state budget crisis linked to faltering tax revenues and a weak state economy.

The Democratic-led Legislature had argued that Martinez overstepped her authority by defunding the legislative branch of government and all state institutions of higher education.

Martinez had urged the state Supreme Court to stay out of budget negotiations and said her vetoes were made in pursuit of reductions to state spending and never sought to abolish the Legislature.

Thursday's ruling sent lawmakers and the governor back to the negotiating table with no signs of agreement on how to shore up wobbly state finances.

"We need to have a little love, and there is not much love going around right now," said Republican Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, describing distrust that stands in the way of a budget deal and related tax reforms.

For the upcoming special session, Martinez has outlined rough proposals to restore most vetoed funding for the fiscal year starting July 1. Democratic lawmakers say the proposals are linked to untenable tax revenue increases on nonprofits and food.

The governor's office issued a statement praising the court decision and prodding legislative leaders to abandon a proposed tax increase on gasoline sales designed to shore up state finances.



Supreme Court says cities can sue banks under anti-bias law
Court News | 2017/05/03 08:56
The Supreme Court ruled Monday that cities may sue banks under the federal anti-discrimination in housing law, but said those lawsuits must tie claims about predatory lending practices among minority customers directly to declines in property taxes.

The justices' 5-3 ruling partly validated a novel approach by Miami and other cities to try to hold banks accountable under the federal Fair Housing Act for the wave of foreclosures during the housing crisis a decade ago.

But the court still threw out an appellate ruling in Miami's favor and ordered a lower court to re-examine the city's lawsuit against Wells Fargo and Bank of America to be sure that there is a direct connection between the lending practices and the city's losses.

Miami claimed that Wells Fargo and Bank of America, as well as Citigroup, pursued a decade-long pattern of targeting African-American and Hispanic borrowers for costlier and riskier loans than those offered to white customers. The loans to minority homeowners went into default more quickly as well, the city said.

Wells Fargo and Bank of America appealed the ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court, arguing that cities can't use the Fair Housing Act to sue over reductions in tax revenues. The banks said the connection between a loan and the tax consequences is too tenuous. Citigroup did not appeal, though its lawsuit also would be affected by what the appeals court does in response to Monday's ruling.


Idaho Judicial Council accepting applications for high court
Court News | 2017/05/01 00:57
An opening on the Idaho Supreme Court won't be filled through an election but through an application process.

Supreme Court Justice Daniel Eismann announced earlier this year he will retire in August — 16 months before the end of his current six-year term.

Because Eismann is stepping down early, the Idaho Judicial Council will solicit applications and recommend up to four names to the governor for appointment instead of waiting until the 2018 election, The Spokesman-Review reported. Idaho's Supreme Court positions are nonpartisan.

It's a merit-based process that had been used primarily to replace outgoing justices until this past year when former Idaho Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones announced he would retire at the end of his term.

"I would never have been on the court if the only avenue was to go through the Judicial Council and be appointed by the governor," said Jones, 74, who was twice elected Idaho attorney general. "It just didn't even occur to me as a possibility, because if you've been involved in the political arena, you probably at one time or another have stepped on the toes of whoever ends up being governor."

Eismann joined the state's highest court in 2001 after successfully running against incumbent Justice Cathy Silak. That election was the first time in 68 years that a sitting supreme court justice had been ousted in an election.

He caused a stir when he decided to announce his election campaign at a Republican Party event in eastern Idaho. He has since become one of the most outspoken justices, known for his tough questioning and advocating for specialty courts throughout Idaho.


Fresno killings suspect shouts out during 1st court hearing
Court News | 2017/04/22 22:44
The suspect in this week's racially motivated shooting rampage in Fresno shouted Friday that natural disasters will increasingly hit the United States as he was ushered into a cramped courtroom for his first appearance before a judge.

Kori Ali Muhammad, 39, was supposed to be officially informed about the first-degree murder charge he is accused of in the shooting death of an unarmed security guard.

Authorities have said he then killed three more people in the rampage, targeting white victims, before he was caught.

But the reading of the charge never happened because Muhammad had another outburst, yelling "Let black people go" and a phrase similar to "in reparations" that was not clearly enunciated.

His court appointed lawyer, Eric Christensen, then told the judge: "I believe this gentleman may not be mentally competent to proceed."

Muhammad yelled again and the judge canceled the proceedings, setting bail at $2.6 million and ordering a mental evaluation for Muhammad.

Police have said Muhammad told them that learning he was wanted for the Williams' killing prompted him to try to kill as many white people as possible before he was caught.

He shot three other white men at random Tuesday, police said, including a Pacific Gas & Electric utility worker sitting in a truck and two men who had come out of a Catholic Charities building.


Not guilty pleas entered for accused in Canada polygamy case
Court News | 2017/04/20 06:56
The trial of two Canadian men from a fundamentalist sect that allows men to have multiple wives opened Tuesday with not guilty pleas being entered on charges of practicing polygamy.

Winston Blackmore and James Oler each face one count of polygamy. Both men have served as bishops for the religious settlement of Bountiful, British Columbia which follows the teachings of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-Day Saints, often referred to as the FLDS.

Oler is accused of having four wives. He pleaded not guilty. Blackmore remained mute and Justice Sheri Ann Donegan said a not guilty plea would be entered on his behalf. Blackmore is accused of marrying 24 women over 25 years.

Blackmore's lawyer, Blair Suffredine, said outside court his client chose to say nothing for religious reasons.

"He doesn't want to deny his faith. He doesn't feel guilty," Suffredine said. "The technical way around that is don't say anything and they'll enter the plea not guilty."

Special prosecutor Peter Wilson told the court his case includes marriage records seized from the church's Yearning for Zion Ranch in Texas, which were used in 2010 to sentence leader Warren Jeffs to life in a U.S. prison for sexually assaulting two young girls.


Ohio high court will review full autopsies from 8 slayings
Court News | 2017/04/18 20:57
The Ohio Supreme Court wants to see unredacted autopsy reports from eight slayings in one family as justices consider media lawsuits seeking access to those full reports from the year-old, unsolved case.

The court on Wednesday ordered the Pike County coroner in southern Ohio to submit the reports within two weeks for justices to review outside of public view.

The case involves seven adults and a teenage boy from the Rhoden family who were found shot to death at four homes near Piketon last April.

The Columbus Dispatch and The Cincinnati Enquirer separately sued for access to the full autopsies.

Authorities want to shield information, arguing that its release could compromise the investigation. The coroner also says victims' relatives raised concerns about sharing details of how their loved ones died.



2 inmates seek execution stays from Arkansas high court
Court News | 2017/04/13 15:37
The first two inmates facing lethal injection under Arkansas' unprecedented multiple execution plan are seeking a stay from the state Supreme Court.

Attorneys for Don Davis and Bruce Ward asked justices Wednesday to block their executions, scheduled for Monday, while the U.S. Supreme Court takes up a case concerning access to independent mental health experts by defendants. The U.S. high court is set to hold oral arguments in that case April 24, a week after the two are set to be put to death.

The inmates' attorneys say they were denied access to independent mental health experts in their cases.

The two men are among seven inmates Arkansas plans to put to death over a 10-day period. The filing is among a flurry of lawsuits aimed at halting the executions.


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