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Michigan health chief back in court in Legionnaires' case
Court Watch | 2017/11/02 23:19
Testimony is resuming in a criminal case against Michigan's health director, who is accused of keeping the public in the dark about Legionnaires' disease during the Flint water disaster.

Nick Lyon is charged with involuntary manslaughter and misconduct in office. A judge must decide whether there is enough evidence to send him to trial. The case picks up again Wednesday.

Judge David Goggins hasn't heard testimony since Oct. 6. That's when urban affairs adviser Harvey Hollins said he told Gov. Rick Snyder about a Legionnaires' outbreak a few weeks before the governor made it public in January 2016.

Hollins' testimony contradicts what Snyder has said publicly. Nonetheless, the governor is sticking to his timeline.

Lawyers for Lyons say it's all irrelevant in the case against him.


Burundi becomes 1st to leave International Criminal Court
Court Watch | 2017/10/27 15:32
Burundi has become the first country to withdraw from the International Criminal Court, but officials say the court's prosecutor will move ahead with an examination of the East African nation's deadly political turmoil.

An ICC spokesman confirmed that the pullout took effect Friday, a year after Burundi notified the United Nations secretary-general of its intention to leave the court that prosecutes the world's worst atrocities.

Burundi is the only one of three African nations to go ahead with withdrawal after they made moves last year to leave amid accusations that the court focuses too much on the continent. South Africa's withdrawal was revoked in March. Gambia's new government reversed its withdrawal in February.

On Friday, Burundi's justice minister called the ICC withdrawal "a great achievement" in reinforcing the country's independence. Aimee Laurentine Kanyana also called on police and prosecutors to respect human rights so that "white people" won't have "false proofs to rely on in accusing Burundi."

Burundi's withdrawal doesn't affect the preliminary examination of the country's situation already underway by the court's prosecutor, ICC spokesman Fadi El Abdallah told The Associated Press. That examination began in April 2016.

Burundi has faced deadly political turmoil since April 2015, when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced plans to seek a disputed third term that he ultimately won.


Washington Supreme Court to hear education funding case
Court Watch | 2017/10/23 13:08

The Washington state Supreme Court is set to hear argument on whether the state has met its constitutional requirement to fully fund K-12 education.

Tuesday morning's hearing is on whether the state should still be held in contempt for lack of progress on satisfying a 2012 ruling that found that school funding was not adequate. Lawmakers needed a funded plan in place this year ahead of a Sept. 1, 2018 deadline the court had set.

The plan approved and signed by Gov. Jay Inslee earlier this year relies largely on an increase to the statewide property tax that starts next year. The tax increases from $1.89 to $2.70 per $1,000 of assessed value, with the increase earmarked for education. The plan — which keeps in place local property tax levies but caps them beginning in 2019 at a lower level— will ultimately raise property taxes for some districts and lower them in others.



Court weighing whether graffiti mecca was protected by law
Court Watch | 2017/10/21 18:51
For two decades, Jerry Wolkoff let graffiti artists use his crumbling Queens warehouse complex as a canvas for their vibrant works. Artists gave the spot the name "5Pointz" — a place where all five New York City boroughs come together — but painters traveled from as far as Japan and Brazil to tag, bomb and burn at what became a graffiti mecca and a tourist destination.

But like most graffiti, it didn't last. Wolkoff whitewashed the building in 2013 then tore it down to build luxury apartment towers.

Four years later, some of the artists whose work was destroyed are in court, arguing that even though the building belonged to Wolkoff, the art was protected by federal law.

A trial that started Tuesday at a federal court in Brooklyn will determine whether the artists should be compensated for the lost work.

More than 20 artists sued Wolkoff under the Visual Artists Rights Act, or VARA, a 1990 federal statute that protects artists' rights even if someone else owns the physical artwork.



Court extends house arrest for Russian theater director
Court Watch | 2017/10/20 01:52
A court in Russia's capital ruled Tuesday to extend the house arrest of a widely revered theater and film director.

Kirill Serebrennikov was detained and put under house arrest in August in a criminal case that sent shockwaves across Russia's art community and raised fears of return to Soviet-style censorship.

Moscow's Basmanny District Court decided to keep Serebrennikov under house arrest until Jan. 19 per investigators' request.

Investigators have accused him of scheming to embezzle about $1.1 million in government funds allocated for one of his productions and the projects he directed between 2011 and 2014.

Serebrennikov has dismissed the accusations as absurd.


NC high court reviews death penalty of man who beheaded wife
Court Watch | 2017/10/09 23:18
North Carolina's highest court is reviewing whether justice means the death penalty for a survivor of El Salvador's blood-soaked civil war of the 1980s who strangled and then decapitated his estranged wife.

The state's Supreme Court hears oral arguments Monday on whether the state can execute 41-year-old Juan Carlos Rodriguez of Winston-Salem for the 2010 murder of his wife, Maria. The high court automatically reviews death cases.

North Carolina is rare among southern states in that it hasn't had an execution in more than a decade because of various legal challenges. While the state has continued to suffer 500 to 600 murders a year, prosecutors have sought the death penalty only a handful of times each year and juries have condemned killers in only a fraction of those cases.

Rodriguez's children told investigators their father beat and bloodied Maria Rodriguez after she told them she was leaving in November 2010. He tossed the woman's still-breathing body over his shoulder, placed her in his vehicle, and said he was taking her to a hospital. Maria's body and severed head were found at different locations three weeks later, after Juan was already jailed for her kidnapping.

Justices are holding hearings in the case for the second time in almost exactly a year. Monday's hearing comes after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this spring that states needed to use current medical standards in deciding whether a killer is so mentally disabled he can't be executed. The U.S. constitution bans "cruel and unusual punishments," and that has been interpreted to prohibit executing people with severe mental shortcomings.

Rodriguez's IQ was estimated several times at below 70, a threshold for significantly impaired intellectual functioning. But accused killers in North Carolina also must show significant inability to adapt to daily life and that their mental handicaps were evident before adulthood.


Court eyes Massachusetts church-state dispute
Court Watch | 2017/09/21 15:45
An attorney says a Massachusetts town should not be barred from giving public funds to support the restoration of a historic building just because it happens to be a church.

Nina Pickering-Cook told Massachusetts' highest court on Thursday that communities' ability to protect their historic resources shouldn't change because the structures are owned by a religious entity.

At issue is whether the town of Acton violated Massachusetts' constitution when it approved more than $100,000 in community preservation grants to restore stained-glass windows and identify other needs at a church.

Douglas Mishkin is an attorney for the taxpayers who brought the lawsuit. Mishkin told the court that active houses of worship are clearly prohibited from getting taxpayer dollars.

The Supreme Judicial Court is expected to rule in the coming months.



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