Challenger accuses Supreme Court’s Kelly of corruption
Court Watch | 2019/11/17 11:30
Wisconsin Supreme Court challenger Jill Karofsky suggested Tuesday that Justice Daniel Kelly is corrupt because he repeatedly rules in favor of conservative groups, saying it makes no sense that the law could be on their side all the time.

Karofsky made the remarks at the candidates’ first debate. Karofsky and Kelly used the opportunity to paint each other as partisan and the third candidate, Ed Fallone, struggling to get a word in during their exchanges.

Kelly is part of the high court’s five-justice conservative majority. Karofsky went right at him as soon as the debate began, saying it’s “amazing” that a justice is being supported by right-wing special interest groups. Twice she implied that Kelly is corrupt, questioning why he repeatedly rules in conservative groups’ favor.

“What voters see is that you get support from special interests. You ignore the rule of law and you find in favor of those special interests over and over and over again, and that feels like corruption to people in the state of Wisconsin,” Karofsky said.

Kelly shot back that Karofsky scores the outcome of cases through a political lens. He said he applies the law fairly and uses hard logic to reach his decisions.


Court sentences Congo warlord to 30 years for atrocities
Court Watch | 2019/11/08 00:44
The International Criminal Court passed its highest ever sentence Thursday, sending a Congolese warlord known as “The Terminator” to prison for 30 years for crimes including murder, rape and sexual slavery.

Bosco Ntaganda was found guilty in July of 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role as a military commander in atrocities during a bloody ethnic conflict in a mineral-rich region of Congo in 2002-2003.

Ntaganda showed no emotion as Presiding Judge Robert Fremr passed sentences ranging from eight years to 30 years for individual crimes and an overarching sentence of 30 years.

The court’s maximum sentence is 30 years, although judges also have the discretion to impose a life sentence. Lawyers representing victims in the case had called for a life term.

Fremr said despite the gravity of the crimes and Ntaganda’s culpability, his convictions “do not warrant a sentence of life imprisonment.”

Ida Sawyer, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Africa division, welcomed the ruling.



Analysis: Louisiana figures in 2 major Supreme Court cases
Court Watch | 2019/10/12 09:57
Among cases on the U.S. Supreme Court docket for the term that began this month, two Louisiana cases stand out — one because of its implications for criminal justice in the state, the other because of what it portends for abortion rights and access nationwide.

And, both, in part, because they deal with matters that, on the surface, might appear to have been settled.

Yes, voters approved a constitutional amendment requiring unanimous jury verdicts in felony cases — following Pulitzer Prize winning reporting by The Advocate on the racial impacts of allowing 10-2 verdicts. But sometimes lost amid celebrations of the measure’s passage is its effective date: it applies to crimes that happened on or after Jan. 1 of this year.

No help to people like Evangelisto Ramos, who was convicted on a 10-2 jury vote in 2016 of second-degree murder in the killing of a woman in New Orleans. Ramos is serving a life sentence with no chance of parole.


Dutch Supreme Court asked to clarify euthanasia case
Court Watch | 2019/09/28 12:46
Prosecutors have asked the Netherlands' Supreme Court to clarify legal matters in a landmark euthanasia case, saying Thursday they want to lay down unambiguous jurisprudence for the future.

The Public Prosecution Service said by instituting "cassation in the interest of the law" proceedings they aim to clarify how doctors deal with euthanasia on "incapacitated patients" without subjecting a doctor acquitted at a trial to a new legal battle.

Prosecutors said in a statement they want "legal certainty to be created for doctors and patients about this important issue in euthanasia legislation and medical practice."

The retired nursing home doctor was cleared earlier this month by judges in The Hague who ruled that she adhered to all criteria for carrying out legal euthanasia when she administered a fatal dose of drugs to a 74-year-old woman with severe dementia.

The cassation proceedings mean that the doctor's acquittal will not be called into question.

The doctor carried out euthanasia on the woman in 2016, acting on a written directive the patient had drawn up earlier. The woman later gave mixed signals about her desire to die, but the doctor, in close consultation with the woman's family, decided to go ahead with the mercy killing.

The Hague District Court ruled that in rare cases of euthanasia on patients with severe dementia - and who had earlier made a written request for euthanasia - the doctor "did not have to verify the current desire to die."

Prosecutors said they disagreed with the Hague court and want the Supreme Court to rule on legal issues in the case.


Fines, jail, probation, debt: Court policies punish the poor
Court Watch | 2019/07/08 18:32
Johnny Gibbs has been trying to get a valid driver’s license for 20 years, but he just can’t afford it.

To punish him for high school truancy in 1999, Tennessee officials told him he would not be able to legally drive until he turned 21. He drove anyway, incurring two tickets and racking up more than $1,000 in fines and fees.

Like other low-income defendants in similar situations across the country, Gibbs couldn’t pay and ended up serving jail time and probation. That incurred another cost: a monthly supervision fee to a private probation company.

Rather than risk another arrest, Gibbs, now 38, decided to quit driving, which he said makes it nearly impossible to work. He said he spent several years living in a motel room with his mother, his disabled father and his sister before they all became homeless. In August, the family found housing in a dilapidated trailer, miles from the nearest town or food source.

A growing number of legal groups and nonprofit organizations throughout the U.S. are challenging these practices, but they continue — despite a 1983 U.S. Supreme Court decision that found it unconstitutional to incarcerate defendants too poor to pay fines.

In Oklahoma, for example, the Washington-based Civil Rights Corps, which has litigated more than 20 lawsuits since it was founded in 2016 to undo various aspects of “user-funded justice,” is challenging policies that it claims have led to one of the highest incarceration rates in the world.

Counties across the state of Oklahoma refer debt collection to a for-profit company, Aberdeen Enterprizes II, which adds an additional 30 percent fee and threatens debtors with arrest. Many of those who can’t pay are not just thrown in jail; they’re also made to pay for their incarceration, further increasing their debt.

Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Bivens said reforming fees, fines and bail is a priority of the Conference of Chief Justices, a nonprofit organization comprising top judicial officials from each of the 50 states.


EU court says Poland's Supreme Court reforms unlawful
Court Watch | 2019/06/24 00:30
The European Union's top court ruled Monday that a Polish law that pushed Supreme Court judges into early retirement violates EU law, a setback for Poland's right-wing government but a move welcomed by critics who worried the measure would cause a serious erosion of democratic standards.

In its ruling, the European Court of Justice said the measures breach judicial independence. An interim decision from the Luxembourg-based court in November ordered the Polish government to reinstate judges who were forced to retire early and to amend the law to remove the provisions that took about one-third of the court off the bench.

The court said the law "undermines the principle of the irremovability of judges, that principle being essential to their independence."

There was no immediate reaction from Poland's government, but the decision is a blow to the ruling authorities, who since winning power in 2015 have increasingly taken control of the judicial system.

The government and president have said they wanted to force the early retirement of the Supreme Court judges as part of a larger effort to purge communist-era judges.

But legal experts say that argument holds no water because most communist-era judges are long gone from the judicial system 30 years after the fall of communism. Many critics believe the true aim is to destroy the independence of the Polish judiciary.

The biggest fear is that the judiciary could become so politicized that those not favored by the ruling authorities could be unfairly charged with crimes and sentenced, essentially deprived of fair hearings. Though a separate court, the Constitutional Tribunal, and other bodies are already under the ruling party's control, many judges have continued to show independence, ruling against the authorities, even the justice minister, in recent cases.



High court lets Virginia voting go ahead under redrawn map
Court Watch | 2019/06/16 22:46
Virginians will elect members of the House of Delegates using a map seen as favorable to Democrats, according to ruling Monday by the Supreme Court.

The 5-4 decision was perhaps telegraphed by the fact that the justice previously allowed election planning to go forward with the new map. Virginia held its primary last week, and the November general election will be the last time the state uses this map because legislative districts will need to be redrawn to account for results from the 2020 census.

The political boundaries are important because Republicans currently control the House by a 51-49 margin.

The justices let stand a lower court decision putting in place the new map, saying Republicans in the state House did not have right to appeal to the Supreme Court. The state could have decided to bring the case but did not, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote.

“One House of its bicameral legislature cannot alone continue the litigation against the will of its partners in the legislative process,” she wrote. The four justices who joined her were Clarence Thomas, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Neil Gorsuch, a lineup that included conservatives and liberals. Dissenting were Chief Justice John Roberts and three other justices — Samuel Alito, Stephen Breyer and Brett Kavanaugh.

The case stemmed from a map drawn by Republican lawmakers in 2011, after the last census, and used in the four elections since. Democratic voters sued in 2014, accusing Republicans of packing black voters into certain districts to make surrounding ones whiter and more Republican.

A lower court ruled 2-1 last year that the previous, legislative-crafted map improperly factored race into the drawing of 11 of the 100 House districts. After lawmakers were unable to reach an agreement on a redistricting plan, the lower court chose a new map from a series of proposals submitted by a special master.


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