Bomb suspect set for Florida court appearance
Headline Legal News | 2018/10/30 05:23
Bomb squads were called to a post office in Atlanta on Monday about a suspicious parcel, just hours before a court hearing for a Florida man accused of sending packages containing explosive material to prominent Democrats.

The FBI did not identify to whom the most recent package was addressed, but CNN President Jeff Zucker announced that a suspicious package addressed to the cable television network was intercepted Monday at an Atlanta post office.

Zucker said there was no imminent danger to the CNN Center. Another package was delivered to the cable network's New York offices last week, causing an evacuation.

The latest suspicious package comes just hours before a federal court hearing was to begin for Cesar Sayoc, 56, who faces five federal charges.

He is accused of sending bubble-wrapped manila envelopes to Democrats such as Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. The packages were intercepted from Delaware to California. At least some listed a return address of U.S. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, former chair of the Democratic National Committee.


Polish leader appoints top court judges, against ruling
Headline Legal News | 2018/10/10 23:35
Poland's president swore in 27 new Supreme Court judges Wednesday, stepping up the conflict over control of the judiciary and ignoring another top court that said the appointments should be suspended pending an opinion by European Union judges.

Andrzej Duda appointed judges to the civil and penal chambers of the court as well as to its new chamber of extraordinary control, according to his top aide, Pawel Mucha. Reporters were not allowed to witness the ceremony.

"We are implementing another stage of the reform of the justice system that is so important to us," Mucha said, adding: "We are acting in the public interest."

The new judges are part of the sweeping changes that the ruling conservative Law and Justice party has been applying to the justice system since winning power in 2015. It says that judges active during the communist era, before 1989, must be replaced. Many of the court's judges have been forced to retire early under a new law that put their retirement age at 65, from the previous 70.

But critics say the changes violate the constitution and are putting Poland's courts under the party's political control. They also say Duda is acting against the supreme charter and warn he may be brought to account before a special tribunal.

The former head of the Constitutional Tribunal, designed to try actions by politicians, Andrzej Zoll, said Duda must be "brought to account in the future," saying his actions are against the rule of law and could lead to anarchy.


Cemetery case puts property rights issue before high court
Headline Legal News | 2018/10/05 05:16
Rose Mary Knick makes no bones about it. She doesn't buy that there are bodies buried on her eastern Pennsylvania farmland, and she doesn't want people strolling onto her property to visit what her town says is a small cemetery.

Six years ago, however, Knick's town passed an ordinance that requires anyone with a cemetery on their land to open it to the public during the day. The town ordered Knick to comply, threatening a daily fine of $300 to $600 if she didn't. Knick's response has been to fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard arguments in her case Wednesday.

"Would you want somebody roaming around in your backyard?" Knick asked during a recent interview on her Lackawanna County property, which is posted with signs warning against trespassing.

Her neighbors in Scott Township, the Vail family, say they just want to visit their ancestors' graves.

The Supreme Court isn't going to weigh in on whether there's a cemetery on Knick's land. Instead, it's considering whether people with property rights cases like Knick's can bring their cases to federal court or must go to state court, an issue groups nationwide are interested in.

Knick, 69, says her town's ordinance wouldn't protect her if people injure themselves on her land and sue. And she says if the town is going to take her private property and open it up to the public, they should pay her. She says she believes that the town was trying to make an example out of her for questioning lawmakers' decisions.



UN court asked to probe Venezuela; leader defiant in speech
Headline Legal News | 2018/09/25 23:20
Six nations made the unprecedented move Wednesday of asking the U.N.’s International Criminal Court to investigate Venezuela for possible crimes against humanity, even as President Nicolas Maduro made an unexpected trip to the world body’s headquarters to deliver a nearly hourlong speech declaring his nation “will never give in.”

Maduro’s speech at the General Assembly gathering of world leaders came hours after Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Paraguay and Canada formally asked the ICC to investigate Venezuela on a range of possible charges, from murder to torture and crimes against humanity.

“To remain indifferent or speculative in front of this reality could be perceived as being complicit with the regime. We are not going to be complicit,” said Paraguayan Foreign Minister Andres Rodriguez Pedotti.

The six countries hope the move puts new pressure on Maduro to end the violence and conflict that have sent more than 2 million people fleeing and made Venezuela’s inflation and homicide rates among the highest in the world.

Venezuelan officials have widely rejected international criticism, saying they’re driven by imperialist forces led by the U.S. to justify launching an invasion. And Maduro sounded a defiant tone Wednesday night, complaining that Washington was attacking his country through sanctions and other means and strong-arming other countries into going along in a “fierce diplomatic offensive.”

“The U.S. wants to continue just giving orders to the world as though the world were its own property,” Maduro said. “Venezuela will never give in.”

But at the same time, he said he was willing to talk with Trump.

Wednesday marked the first time that member countries have referred another country to the Netherlands-based U.N. court.

Canada was among nations referring Venezuela to the ICC, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seized the moment to defend the idea of global justice the court represents — the day after Trump attacked it in a stinging speech that challenged multilateral organizations.


Belgian court rules out extradition for Spanish rapper
Headline Legal News | 2018/09/17 19:15
A Belgian court on Monday ruled that Spanish rapper Valtonyc should not be sent back to Spain, where he was sentenced to prison accused of writing lyrics that praise terror groups and insult the royal family.

The rapper, whose real name is Jose Miguel Arenas Beltran, was supposed to turn himself in voluntarily in May to authorities in Spain, where he faces prison sentences totaling three and a half years, but instead fled to Belgium.

"The judge has decided there will be no extradition and discarded all three charges," his lawyer, Simon Bekaert, told reporters near the court in the city of Ghent.

Bekaert said the judge ruled "there is no terrorism involved, there is no incitement of terrorism, so there is no question of a crime according to Belgian law." He said the judge also found that there is no crime to answer to over insulting the Spanish king and that no threat was made that could warrant extradition.

"I feel good, I am happy. But I am sad for the people in Spain, who unlucky, they don't have justice like me here," Arenas told reporters, in English."

The ruling could re-ignite tensions between Belgium and Spain over extradition demands.

Late last year, Spain dropped a European arrest warrant against former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont after it became clear that Belgian justice authorities were unlikely to recognize some of the Spanish charges against him.




Court: Cities can't prosecute people for sleeping on streets
Headline Legal News | 2018/09/05 23:58
Cities can't prosecute people for sleeping on the streets if they have nowhere else to go because it amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, which is unconstitutional, a federal appeals court said Tuesday.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with six homeless people from Boise, Idaho, who sued the city in 2009 over a local ordinance that banned sleeping in public spaces. The ruling could affect several other cities across the U.S. West that have similar laws.

It comes as many places across the West Coast are struggling with homelessness brought on by rising housing costs and income inequality.

When the Boise lawsuit was filed, attorneys for the homeless residents said as many as 4,500 people didn't have a place to sleep in Idaho's capital city and homeless shelters only had about 700 available beds or mats. The case bounced back and forth in the courts for years, and Boise modified its rules in 2014 to say homeless people couldn't be prosecuted for sleeping outside when shelters were full.

But that didn't solve the problem, the attorneys said, because Boise's shelters limit the number of days that homeless residents can stay. Two of the city's three shelters also require some form of religious participation for some programs, making those shelters unsuitable for people with different beliefs, the homeless residents said.

The three-judge panel for the 9th Circuit found that the shelter rules meant homeless people would still be at risk of prosecution even on days when beds were open. The judges also said the religious programming woven into some shelter programs was a problem.


Blankenship ballot bid denied by West Virginia Supreme Court
Headline Legal News | 2018/08/31 16:02
The state Supreme Court on Wednesday denied a last-minute bid by former coal CEO Don Blankenship to get his name on the ballot in November's U.S. Senate race in West Virginia.

The court upheld a decision by the secretary of state denying Blankenship's application for a third-party candidacy.

"The West Virginia Secretary of State is ordered to take whatever measures are necessary to ensure that Donald L. Blankenship does not appear on the 2018 General Election Ballot for the Office of United States Senator for the State of West Virginia," the decision said.

The court itself is in a state of upheaval. One of the judges hearing the case Wednesday was filling in for a suspended justice, and two sat in for judges who retired after lawmakers voted to impeach them over allegations of improper use of court funds.

The justices issued the decision in the form of an order, rather than an opinion that would have laid out how each one voted and included comments from a majority ruling.

In a statement, Blankenship thanked his supporters and said he will evaluate his next step with his attorneys, which could include an appeal.

"For those who believe in democracy, it is a frightening decision," he said. "Americans desperately need to pay attention as the politicians continue to move voters to the sidelines and out of the election process."

Secretary of State Mac Warner had blocked Blankenship's bid to run as the Constitution Party's nominee, based on the state's "sore loser" law. It prohibits major-party primary candidates who lose from switching to a minor party. Blankenship finished third in the Republican primary in May.


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