Court allows Pennsylvania to redraw GOP-favored district map
Headline Legal News | 2018/02/06 16:55
Justice Samuel Alito, who handles emergency appeals from Pennsylvania, rejected the request from GOP legislative leaders and voters to put on hold an order from the state Supreme Court intended to produce new congressional districts in the coming two weeks.

The Pennsylvania high court ruled last month that the current map of 18 districts violates the state constitution because it unfairly benefits Republicans.

The decision comes just four days before the Republican-controlled Legislature's deadline for submitting a replacement map for Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf to consider. So far, there has been a notable lack of bipartisan movement on getting such a deal.

Pennsylvania's congressional delegation has been 13-5 in favor of Republicans during the three election cycles since the GOP-drawn 2011 map took effect, and experts have said those 13 seats are several more than would have been produced by a nonpartisan map.

Democrats have about 800,000 more registered voters than Republicans and hold all three elected statewide row offices, but Republicans enjoy solid majorities in both chambers of the Legislature.

Under the process laid out two weeks ago by four of the seven Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices, all Democrats, the Legislature has until Friday to approve a new map, after which Wolf will have until Feb. 15 to decide whether to endorse it and submit it to the justices.

Senate Republican Leader Jake Corman said Monday he's had "zero" discussions with Wolf and legislative leaders about new district boundaries and could not guarantee he will meet the deadline.

The state Supreme Court said it expects new districts to be in place by Feb. 19, and the new map is expected to be in play for the May 15 congressional primaries.



Top Connecticut court cases in 2018 involve Newtown, Skakel
Headline Legal News | 2018/01/03 10:43
The Connecticut Supreme Court is expected to issue decisions and hear arguments in a variety of notable cases in 2018, including a newspaper’s quest for documents that belonged to the Newtown school shooter and Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel’s appeal of his murder conviction.

The Hartford Courant and the state Freedom of Information Commission are appealing a decision by a lower court judge, who ruled in April that state police don’t have to release documents that belonged to shooter Adam Lanza. The commission had ordered state police to release the documents.

The 20-year-old Lanza shot his mother to death at their Newtown home before killing 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012. He killed himself as police arrived at the school.

The materials requested by the Courant include a spreadsheet ranking mass murders and a notebook titled “The Big Book of Granny,” which contains a story Lanza wrote in fifth grade about a woman who has a gun in her cane and shoots people and another character who likes hurting people, especially children.

Lawyers in the case did not return messages seeking comment. Andrew Julien, publisher and editor-in-chief of the Courant, declined to comment.


Top German court rejects ex-Auschwitz guard's prison appeal
Headline Legal News | 2017/12/26 10:44
Germany's highest court said Friday it has thrown out a bid by a 96-year-old former Auschwitz death camp guard for a reprieve on serving his sentence as an accessory to murder.

Oskar Groening was convicted in July 2015 of being an accessory to the murder of 300,000 Jews and sentenced to four years in prison. A federal court rejected his appeal against the conviction last year.

Groening has remained free during a dispute over his fitness for prison. Prosecutors argued that he is fit to serve time so long as there is appropriate medical care, and regional courts threw out appeals against their decision.

Germany's Federal Constitutional Court said it has now rejected a complaint arguing that Groening's fundamental right to life and physical safety was being violated. In the ruling dated Dec. 21 and released Friday, it said it saw no constitutional reason to question the lower courts' rulings.

The supreme court noted that German law allows for prison sentences to be interrupted if a detainee's health deteriorates significantly.

It wasn't immediately clear when Groening will be formally summoned to start serving his sentence, but he isn't expected to go to prison before the new year.



Often at odds, Trump and GOP relish tax win, court picks
Headline Legal News | 2017/12/15 10:44
Donald Trump's unpredictable, pugnacious approach to the presidency often worked against him as Republicans navigated a tumultuous but ultimately productive year in Congress.

Trump's major accomplishments, confirmation of conservative Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and a major tax cut, actually came with relatively little drama. But Republicans often struggled to stay on the rails, particularly with a big pratfall on health care and repeated struggles to accomplish the very basics of governing.

Several shutdown deadlines came and went, and a default on the government's debt was averted, thanks to a momentary rapprochement with top Democrats, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer. But a promised solution to the plight of young immigrants brought to the country illegally as infants or children was delayed, while a routine reauthorization of a program providing health care to 9 million low-income kids stalled as well.

Often it seemed as if Trump were more interested in picking fights on Twitter than the nuts and bolts of legislating.

A catchall spending deal in May got relatively little attention for what it accomplished, overshadowed by Trump's threat to shut the government down if he didn't get a better deal the next time. But there was no next time — and about $1.2 trillion in unfinished agency budgets got punted into the new year.

Still, there was no shortage of drama this year on Capitol Hill. Trump displayed a penchant for picking fights with fellow Republicans: Arizona's two senators John McCain and Jeff Flake; Tennessee's Bob Corker and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Onetime Republican rivals such as Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina came firmly into Trump's fold — even as Corker and Flake, both facing potentially difficult primary races, announced their retirements.



Court: Stress no grounds for rescinding guilty pleas
Headline Legal News | 2017/11/23 21:56
An appeals court in Chicago says a lower court in Indiana was right to refuse to permit a couple to rescind their guilty pleas in a tax case on grounds their prosecution caused them severe stress.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said stress was common to anyone facing prosecution and wasn't sufficient reason to take back pleas. It added that neither George nor Barbara Gasich could claim they were under some "Napoleonic delusions" when they chose to plead guilty.

The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin reports the Gasiches were indicted in 2014 for making fraudulent claims. Prosecutors said they'd asked for $475,000 in refunds when they owed the IRS far more than that.

The Gasiches were formerly from St. John, Indiana, but lived in Florida when they were arrested.


Top German court strengthens intersex identity rights
Headline Legal News | 2017/11/09 03:10
Germany’s highest court has decided that people must be allowed to be entered in official records as neither male nor female, saying in a ruling published Wednesday that authorities should create a third identity or scrap gender entries altogether.

The Federal Constitutional Court ruled on a case in which a plaintiff, identified by advocacy group Dritte Option only as Vanja, born in 1989, sought to have their entry in the birth register changed from “female” to “inter/diverse” or “diverse.”

Officials rejected the application on the grounds that the law only allows for children to be registered as male or female, or for the gender to be left blank.

The plaintiff argued that that was a violation of their personal rights. In a three-year legal battle, Vanja provided courts with a genetic analysis showing the plaintiff has one X chromosome but no second sex chromosome. Women have two X chromosomes, while men have one X and one Y chromosome.

The supreme court found that the law protects sexual identity, which has a “key position” in how individuals perceive themselves and are perceived by others. It said that “the sexual identity of those people who can be assigned neither to the male nor the female sex is also protected,” and said the constitution also protects them against discrimination because of their gender. The government has until the end of 2018 to draw up new rules.



Human rights group accuses Guatemalan courts of delays
Headline Legal News | 2017/11/07 03:10
An international human rights group says Guatemalan courts are foot- dragging on high-profile cases and threatening the work of the country's prosecutors and a U.N. anti-corruption commission.

Human Rights Watch analyzed eight major cases that have bogged down and concluded the courts are undermining the anticorruption work by taking too long to process appeals and pretrial motions. In a report released Sunday, the group accuses the courts of trying to run out the clock on prosecutions by keeping defendants from ever making it to trial.

Among the cases is a customs fraud scandal that allegedly sent kickbacks to then President Otto Perez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti. They resigned and were jailed to await trial, but more than 100 defense filings have delayed the trial.

Perez Molina and Baldetti, who resigned in 2015, both deny the charges against them.

Daniel Wilkinson, managing director of the Americas division at Human Rights Watch, said Guatemala has made progress on holding officials accountable for abuses of power, but still needs to "move forward and close those circles with trials." "The strategic defense (of those accused) was always to delay the cases," Wilkinson said.

The report notes a pattern in which pretrial proceedings drag on as defense lawyers appeal court decisions and file petitions seeking the recusal of judges.

"The repeated filing of such petitions has brought many key prosecutions to a standstill, and lawyers are not effectively sanctioned even when filing petitions that are manifestly frivolous," Wilkinson said.


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