Maldives court delays reinstating pro-opposition lawmakers
Court Watch | 2018/02/16 14:07
The Supreme Court of the Maldives delayed its order Sunday reinstating 12 pro-opposition lawmakers ahead of a key parliamentary sitting, the latest political turmoil to roil the island nation.

Opposition lawmaker Ahmed Mahloof said the government may call for important votes at a parliamentary sitting Monday to extend a state of emergency or dismiss two Supreme Court judges who have been arrested on allegations of corruption.

President Yameen Abdul Gayoom's ruling party may have lost a majority in the 85-member parliament if the 12 lawmakers were to be allowed to participate Monday.

The Maldives has faced upheaval since Feb. 1, when the Supreme Court ordered the release of Yameen's imprisoned political opponents and the reinstatement of 12 lawmakers sacked after they sided with the opposition.

The prisoners include Mohamed Nasheed, the country's first president elected in a free election, who could have been Yameen's main rival in his re-election bid later this year.

After days of conflict with the judiciary, Yameen declared a 15-day state of emergency and had the country's chief justice and another Supreme Court judge arrested on bribery allegations.


Kushner firm seeks court change to keep partners secret
Court Watch | 2018/02/10 05:07
The family real estate company once run by presidential adviser Jared Kushner is shifting a federal court case to a new venue so it won't have to reveal the identities of foreign partners behind some of its real estate projects.

With a deadline approaching within hours, the Kushner Cos. filed papers in federal court Friday to move the case involving Maryland apartment complexes it owns with foreign investors back to state court. A federal district court judge ruled last month that the Kushners had to identify its partners by Friday, rejecting arguments from the family company that such disclosures would violate privacy rights.

The Kushner Cos. had also argued that media coverage of the case was "politically motivated" and marked by "unfair sensationalism" given that the company was once run by Jared Kushner, now a senior adviser to his father-in-law, President Donald Trump.

But the judge sided with a motion from The Associated Press and other media organizations that argued the public right to know held sway.

The case has attracted media attention because it promised a rare glimpse into how New York-based Kushner Cos. raises money for its real estate projects, revealing ties to lenders and investors who could possibly raise conflict-of-interest issues.

The fight over disclosure in federal court stems from a lawsuit that started out in Maryland state court last year on an entirely different matter. That lawsuit was brought by tenants alleging a Kushner Cos. affiliate called Westminster Management charges excessive and illegal rent for apartments. It sought class-action status for tenants in 17 apartment complexes. Westminster has said it has broken no laws and denies the charges.


Supreme Court declines gay rights work discrimination case
Court Watch | 2017/12/11 05:09
The Supreme Court is leaving in place a lower court ruling that a federal employment discrimination law doesn't protect a person against discrimination based on their sexual orientation.

The court on Monday declined to take up the question of whether a law that bars workplace discrimination "because of...sex" covers discrimination against someone because of their sexual orientation.

President Barack Obama's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission took the view that it does. But President Donald Trump's administration has argued that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars discrimination based on gender but doesn't cover sexual orientation. Federal appeals courts are split on the issue. That means the issue is likely to come to the court again.

The case the Supreme Court declined to take involved Jameka Evans, a gay woman who worked as a hospital security officer in Georgia. Lower courts said she couldn't use Title VII to sue for discrimination.

The Supreme Court didn't explain why it was declining to hear the case. But the hospital where Evans worked, Georgia Regional Hospital, told the court there were technical legal problems with the case.


Idaho man upset with court tries to crash into courthouse
Court Watch | 2017/12/10 01:10
Authorities say an Idaho man tried to crash a car into a courthouse in downtown Boise because he was upset with the court system.

The Ada County Sheriff's office says 37-year-old Jonathan Joseph Locksmith drove toward the courthouse in the state's capital city Sunday morning.

According to authorities, Locksmith apparently made it onto the courthouse plaza in the car, spinning it around in a "doughnut" before landing the vehicle in a fountain. There were no injuries reported.

Locksmith has been arrested on a misdemeanor reckless driving charge and is now in jail.  It's unclear if he has an attorney.

The sheriff's office says Locksmith told a passer-by that he was upset with the court system and wanted to be arrested to go back to jail.




Court reverses itself and restores woman's murder conviction
Court Watch | 2017/12/10 01:10
Georgia's highest court has reversed it own recent decision and restored the murder conviction of a woman whose husband shot and killed a police officer.

The Georgia Supreme Court issued a new opinion Monday that upholds Lisa Ann Lebis' felony murder conviction in the 2012 slaying of Clayton County police officer Sean Callahan.

Barely a month ago the same court had axed Lebis' conviction, saying prosecutors failed to prove she "jointly possessed" the gun that her husband, Tremaine Lebis, used to kill the officer as the couple tried to flee a Stockbridge motel.

The new decision concludes that Lisa Ann Lebis could still be held accountable for the slaying as a co-conspirator.

The opinion Monday does not say why the high court chose to revisit the case.


Cake case before Supreme Court has ties to barbecue decision
Court Watch | 2017/12/02 06:18
The upcoming Supreme Court argument about a baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple makes some civil rights lawyers think of South Carolina's Piggie Park barbecue.

When two African-Americans parked their car at a Piggie Park drive-in in August 1964 in Columbia, South Carolina, the waitress who came out to serve them turned back once she saw they were black and didn't take their order.

In the civil rights lawsuit that followed, Piggie Park owner Maurice Bessinger justified the refusal to serve black customers based on his religious belief opposing "any integration of the races whatsoever."

Federal judges had little trouble dismissing Bessinger's claim.

"Undoubtedly defendant Bessinger has a constitutional right to espouse the religious beliefs of his own choosing, however, he does not have the absolute right to exercise and practice such beliefs in utter disregard of the clear constitutional rights of other citizens," U.S. District Judge Charles Earl Simons Jr. wrote in 1966.

By the time the Supreme Court heard the case in 1968, the issue was the award of fees to the lawyers representing the black South Carolinians who sued Bessinger's restaurants. But in a footnote to its unsigned 8-0 opinion, the court called the religious freedom argument and Bessinger's other defenses "patently frivolous."

Fifty years later, civil rights lawyers are pointing the Supreme Court to Bessinger's case in support of Charlie Craig and David Mullins, the gay couple who were turned away by Colorado baker Jack Phillips, giving rise to the high court case that will be argued Tuesday.

"The logic of Piggie Park and other precedents overwhelmingly rejecting religious justifications for racial discrimination apply squarely to the context of LGBTQ discrimination," the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund said in a Supreme Court brief. The fund also represented the people who sued Piggie Park.

Both cases involve laws intended to prevent discrimination by private businesses that open their doors to the public. In the case of Piggie Park, the law was the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The bake shop case involves the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, which prohibits businesses from refusing to sell their goods to people on the basis of sexual orientation among other things.

As the case has come to the justices, the focus is on Phillips' speech rights, not his religious beliefs. As a cake artist, he claims a right not to say something with which he disagrees.


Walker signs bill inspired by cabin-owners' court fight
Court Watch | 2017/11/28 04:50
Just five months after an adverse ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court had her in tears, Donna Murr was celebrating Monday after Gov. Scott Walker signed into law a bill that gives Wisconsin property owners more rights.

The Murr family fought for more than a dozen years, and all the way to the Supreme Court, for the ability to sell undeveloped land next to their cottage along scenic Lake St. Croix in western Wisconsin.

One of two property rights bills Walker signed Monday will give the family the right to sell or build on substandard lots if the lots were legal when they were created.

The Supreme Court ruled against the Murrs in June, but hours later state Rep. Adam Jarchow was on the phone with Donna Murr promising her he would take the fight to the Legislature.

"It's been a long road," Murr said after she and six other family members came to Walker's Capitol office for his signing of the bill Jarchow and Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, introduced. "It just felt like a culmination of everything we've worked for, coming to a head today after so many years of struggling and battling."

Donna Murr's parents bought two adjacent lots in the early 1960s and built a cottage on one but left the other vacant as an investment. In 2004, Donna Murr and her siblings wanted to sell the undeveloped lot to help pay for renovations to the cottage, but county officials barred the sale because conservation rules from the 1970s treat the two lots as a single property that can't be divided.

The regulations were intended to prevent overcrowding, soil erosion and water pollution. The county argued before the Supreme Court that not enforcing the rules would undermine its ability to minimize flood damage and maintain property values in the area.

But the family claimed those rules essentially stripped the land of its value and amounted to an uncompensated seizure of the property. They sought compensation for the vacant property they were forbidden to sell. The government argued, and the Supreme Court agreed in June, that it's fair to view the property as a whole and said the family is owed nothing.

Now with the law changed in Wisconsin, the Murr family can sell the vacant section. Donna Murr said she and her siblings will take some time to decide what to do next.


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