Court reinstates order for Russia to pay $50 bln over Yukos
Court News | 2020/02/19 02:22
In a major legal defeat for the Russian government, a Dutch appeals court on Tuesday reinstated an international arbitration panel’s order that it should pay $50 billion compensation to shareholders in former oil company Yukos.

The ruling overturned a 2016 decision by The Hague District Court that quashed the compensation order on the grounds that the arbitration panel did not have jurisdiction because the case was based on an energy treaty that Russia had signed but not ratified.

The Hague Court of Appeal ruled that the 2016 decision “was not correct. That means that the arbitration order is in force again.”

“This is a victory for the rule of law. The independent courts of a democracy have shown their integrity and served justice. A brutal kleptocracy has been held to account,” Tim Osborne, the chief executive of GML, a company made up of Yukos shareholders, said in a statement.

The Russian Justice Ministry said in a statement after the verdict that Russia will appeal. It charged that the Hague appeals court “failed to take into account the illegitimate use by former Yukos shareholders of the Energy Charter Treaty that wasn’t ratified by the Russian federation.”

The arbitration panel had ruled that Moscow seized control of Yukos in 2003 by hammering the company with massive tax claims. The move was seen as an attempt to silence Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a vocal critic of President Vladimir Putin.

The 2014 arbitration ruling said that Russia was not acting in good faith when it levied the massive claims against Yukos, even though some of the company’s tax arrangements might have been questionable.


European court backs Spain on express migrant deportations
Court News | 2020/02/13 02:49
The European Court of Human Rights on Thursday backed Spain’s express deportation of two African migrants back to Morocco from a Spanish enclave in northwest Africa as part of a mass expulsion.

The court’s grand chamber ruled that there had been no violation of two articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The case was taken by a Malian and an Ivorian with the support of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, or ECCHR.

The two men, along with several dozen others, crossed the high three border wire fences separating the Spanish enclave of Melilla from Morocco in August 2014. They were caught by Spanish police and immediately returned to Morocco.

Human rights organizations have long criticized express deportations. They claim that migrants are denied the opportunity to apply for asylum and an assessment of the risks they face if expelled.


Edwards takes treasurer to court over blocked fund transfer
Court News | 2020/02/08 10:52
Gov. John Bel Edwards sued Louisiana's state treasurer Friday for blocking a $25 million fund transfer the governor and lawmakers earmarked for government operating expenses, asking the courts to settle who has ultimate authority over the dollars.

Republican state Treasurer John Schroder repeatedly said if the Democratic governor wanted to spend the unclaimed property dollars included in the state's budget, he'd have to take him to court. After months of disagreement, Edwards complied, filing the lawsuit requesting a judge to declare Schroder's actions are illegal.

Lawmakers appropriated the unclaimed property dollars in Louisiana's $30 billion-plus operating budget. But Schroder has refused to shift the money for spending, and he similarly blocked a $15 million fund transfer last year.

“He doesn't have the discretion not to abide by an appropriation that has been lawfully made by the Legislature,” the governor said ahead of the lawsuit's filing in Baton Rouge district court.

Louisiana collects unclaimed dollars from old savings accounts, payroll checks, stocks and dividends, insurance proceeds, oil royalty payments and utility deposits on behalf of residents. The treasurer's office, designated as custodian of the property, tries to locate people owed the cash and return the money.

Though governors and lawmakers for decades have spent money from the unclaimed property escrow account on programs and services, Schroder said he and his office's lawyers don't believe Louisiana law permits the transfers.


Missouri county sued over jail time for unpaid court costs
Court News | 2020/02/03 11:15
A Missouri man at the heart of a state Supreme Court case that overturned what critics called modern-day debtors’ prisons is back in jail and suing the local officials who put him there.

Warrensburg resident George Richey, 65, is one of two Missouri men who sued over boarding costs for time spent in county jails, which are commonly referred to as board bills.

Richey spent 65 days in jail in 2016 for not paying past board bills. Supreme Court judges last year unanimously sided with him, writing in an opinion that while inmates are responsible for those costs, “if such responsibilities fall delinquent, the debts cannot be taxed as court costs and the failure to pay that debt cannot result in another incarceration.”

The nonprofit legal defense organization ArchCity Defenders on Tuesday sued St. Clair County and Associate Circuit County Judge Jerry Rellihan on behalf of Richey for the harm caused by his unlawful imprisonment.

Richey’s lawyers wrote in a Tuesday court filing that the time he spent in jail meant he lost “his home, all of his personal belongings, and lived in constant fear of arrest for the past four years.”

“I have the clothes on my back, but that’s it. This has caused me to lose everything,” Richey said in a statement. “I’m not the only one these counties are picking on, and I’m taking a stand because these crooked practices can’t continue.”

Associated Press requests for comment to St. Clair County officials were not immediately returned Wednesday.

Richey’s lawyers also argued that the judge retaliated against him for taking his board bill case to the Supreme Court.

Three months after the high court’s ruling, Rellihan sentenced Richey to more than two years in county jail for probation violations and misdemeanor counts of assault, trespassing and disturbing the peace.



Court: Methodist bishops must testify in sex abuse case
Court News | 2020/01/26 05:13

Two United Methodist bishops must testify in a lawsuit filed by a one-time church member who claimed he was sexually abused, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled Friday, turning away the church leaders’ efforts to stay out of the case.

The all-Republican court, in a 7-2 decision, rejected attempts by the current bishop for north Alabama, Debra Wallace-Padgett, and her predecessor, Will Willimon, to avoid sworn testimony.

Both Wallace-Padgett and Willimon, who now teaches at Duke University, claimed they didn’t know anything personally about the complaints of a male who claimed he was sexually abused as a minor by a United Methodist youth pastor. Wallace-Padgett also argued it would be “unduly burdensome” for her to provide documents.

The justices rejected their arguments, saying neither was protected by a rule that shields high-ranking corporate or government officials from testifying about cases in which they have no direct knowledge.

The decision came as courts nationwide grapple with lawsuits and legal questions raised by complaints of sexual abuse within multiple religious denominations.


Supreme Court rejects appeal in texting suicide case
Court News | 2020/01/14 17:52
The Supreme Court on Monday left in place the conviction of a Massachusetts woman who sent her boyfriend text messages urging him to kill himself.

Michelle Carter is serving a 15-month sentence after being convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the 2014 death of her boyfriend, Conrad Roy III. A judge determined that Carter, who was 17, caused the death of the 18-year-old Roy when she ordered him in a phone call to get back in his carbon monoxide-filled truck that he’d parked in a Kmart parking lot.

The phone call wasn’t recorded, but the judge relied on a text Carter sent her friend in which she said she told Roy to get back in. In text messages sent in the days leading up to Roy’s death, Carter also encouraged Roy to follow through with his suicide plan and chastised him when he didn’t, Massachusetts courts found.

The case has garnered national attention and sparked legislative proposals in Massachusetts to criminalize suicide coercion.

Carter’s lawyers argued in their Supreme Court appeal that the conviction should be thrown out because it was an “unprecedented” violation of her free speech rights that raised crucial questions about whether “words alone” are enough to hold someone responsible for another person’s suicide.

The lawyers also argued there was simply not enough evidence to prove Carter urged Roy to to get back in his truck to die, or that he would have lived if she had called for help or taken other actions to try and save his life.

Joseph Cataldo, one of Carter’s lawyers, said Monday’s decision was an “injustice” and that the legal team is weighing its next steps. He didn’t elaborate.

“The Court passed on the rare chance to clarify an outdated and confusing exception to the First Amendment, which has divided courts around the country,” said Daniel Marx, another one of Carter’s lawyers. “It also missed an invaluable opportunity to address the toxic combination of mental illness, adolescent psychology, and social media that was at the heart of this suicide case and will likely lead to additional tragedies in the future.”

The court’s decision was welcomed by Bristol District Attorney Thomas Quinn III, whose office prosecuted the case.

“The US Supreme Court’s decision today brings closure to the family of Conrad Roy for his tragic death. I hope that the finality of this decision brings some solace to them,” he said in a statement.


UK woman in Cyprus gang rape case gets suspended sentence
Court News | 2020/01/03 03:13
A Cypriot court on Tuesday handed a four-month suspended sentence to a 19-year-old British woman who was found guilty of public mischief after authorities said she made up claims that she was raped by up to a dozen Israelis.

The woman continues to insist that she was raped, and that she was coerced into withdrawing her statement. Her lawyers say she will appeal.

Judge Michalis Papathanasiou said although the public mischief charge was a serious offense, he decided to give the woman a “second chance” because she admitted through her lawyers during mitigation that she made a mistake in making the false rape claim.

He also cited other reasons, including her young age, immaturity, clean criminal record, personal circumstances, psychological condition and the fact that she had already spent a month in detention during the six months that legal proceedings including her trial lasted.

The judge said he also took into account that the huge publicity that her case has received in U.K. and Israeli media had weighed against the woman, who had to put her academic career on hold as she was due to start university in September.

Papathanasiou also fined the woman 140 euros ($156) and told her defense lawyers that the sentence could be activated if she commits another serious offense within three years.


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