Texas’ high court keeps execution drug supplier secret
Legal Topics | 2019/04/13 23:38
A supplier of Texas’ execution drugs can remain secret under a court ruling Friday that upheld risks of “physical harm” to the pharmacy, ending what state officials called a threat to the entire U.S. death penalty system.

The decision by the Texas Supreme Court, where Republicans hold every seat on the bench, doesn’t change operations at the nation’s busiest death chamber because state lawmakers banned the disclosure of drug suppliers for executions starting in 2015.

A lawsuit filed a year earlier by condemned Texas inmates argued that the supplier’s identity was needed to verify the quality of the drugs and spare them from unconstitutional pain and suffering. Lower courts went on to reject Texas’ claims that releasing the name would physically endanger pharmacy employees at the hands of death-penalty opponents.

Now, however, the state’s highest court has found the risks valid and ordered the identity of the supplier to stay under wraps.

“The voters of Texas have expressed their judgment that the death penalty is necessary, and this decision preserves Texas’ ability to carry out executions mandated by state law,” Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement.

The court deciding that a “substantial” risk of harm exists appeared to largely hinge on an email sent to an Oklahoma pharmacy in which the sender suggested they enhance security and referenced the bombing of an Oklahoma City federal building in 1995.

“I’m speechless with the absurdity of them relying on that singular fact to close, to keep in secret how Texas essentially carries out its execution,” said Maurie Levin, a defense attorney who helped bring the original lawsuit.

The availability of execution drugs has become an issue in many death penalty states after traditional pharmaceutical makers refused to sell their products to prison agencies for execution use. Similar lawsuits about drug provider identities have been argued in other capital punishment states.


Supreme Court to consider Louisiana's non-unanimous juries
Legal Topics | 2019/03/18 22:21
The Supreme Court will consider banning non-unanimous juries in criminal cases in Louisiana, the only state that still allows them.

The justices said Monday they will hear an appeal from a man who was convicted of second-degree murder by a jury's 10-2 vote. First-degree murder charges already require a unanimous jury to convict.

Oregon voters recently approved a state constitutional amendment that ended Oregon's use of divided juries to convict some criminal defendants.

The high court also is agreeing Monday to decide whether states can eliminate the so-called insanity defense for criminal defendants without violating the Constitution.

The appeal comes from a Kansas man who has been sentenced to death for killing his estranged wife, their two daughters and the wife's grandmother. The cases will be argued in the fall.


Ohio Republicans defending state congressional map in court
Legal Topics | 2019/03/11 17:45
Attorneys for Ohio Republican officials will call witnesses this week to defend the state's congressional map.

A federal trial enters its second week Monday in a lawsuit by voter rights groups that say the current seats resulted from "an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander." Their witnesses have included Democratic activists and voters who have expressed frustration and confusion with districts that have stayed at 12 Republicans, four Democrats, since they were drawn ahead of the 2012 elections.

Attorneys for the Republican officials being sued say the map resulted from bipartisan compromise, with each party losing one seat after population shifts in the 2010 U.S. Census caused Ohio to lose two congressional seats.

Among potential GOP witnesses is former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (BAY'-nur) of West Chester, Ohio.


Case about indigent drivers and drivers' licenses in court
Legal Topics | 2019/03/11 00:46
A federal court judge will hear motions in a lawsuit over a North Carolina law that mandates the revocation of drivers' licenses for unpaid traffic tickets even if the driver can't afford to pay.

Advocacy groups sued in May, seeking to declare the law unconstitutional. A hearing will be held Wednesday in Winston-Salem on motions for a preliminary injunction and class certification.

The judge also will consider a motion by the defendant, the commissioner of the Division of Motor Vehicles, for a judgment in his favor.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups sued on behalf of indigent residents facing license revocation or whose licenses have been revoked.

They're asking that a judge declare the law unconstitutional, saying it violates due process rights under the 14th Amendment.


Court upholds car rental tax imposed in Maricopa County
Legal Topics | 2019/02/26 07:31
The Arizona Supreme Court on Monday upheld a car rental tax surcharge that’s imposed in Maricopa County to pay for building a professional football stadium and other sports and recreational facilities, marking the second time an appeals court has ruled the tax is legal.

Car rental companies had challenged the surcharge on the grounds that it violated a section of the Arizona Constitution that requires revenues relating to the operation of vehicles to be spent on public highways.

A lower-court judge had ruled in favor of the rental companies four years, saying the surcharge violated the constitutional provision and ordering a refund of the tax estimated at about $150 million to the companies.

But the Arizona Court of Appeals reversed the decision last spring. The Arizona Supreme Court on Monday echoed the Court of Appeals’ ruling.

The surcharge partially funds the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority, an agency that uses the money to help pay off bonds for the stadium in Glendale where the Arizona Cardinals play, along with baseball spring training venues and youth sports facilities. The rest of the authority’s revenue comes from a hotel bed tax and payments for facilities usage.

The surcharge is charged on car rental companies, but the costs are passed along to customers.

Attorney Shawn Aiken, who represented Saban Rent-A-Car Inc. in the case, said in a statement that the challengers will evaluate in the coming weeks whether to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the case.


Florida school shooting suspect due back in court
Legal Topics | 2019/01/18 17:32
Florida school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz is due back in court for more motions from defense lawyers.

Cruz's lawyers want Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer on Friday to hold the Broward Sheriff's Office in contempt of court for improperly providing the suspect's medical records to a state commission investigating the shooting.

They say only certain authorized investigators and prosecutors should get access to such records in a criminal case, and the commission is not included.

The 20-year-old Cruz faces the death penalty if convicted in the Valentine's Day shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. His lawyers have offered a guilty plea in exchange for life in prison, but prosecutors reject that.




DeSantis picks female Cuban-American for state's high court
Legal Topics | 2019/01/13 08:51
With the first of his three picks for the Florida Supreme Court, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday chose a female Cuban-American appellate judge to become the state's newest justice.

Barbara Lagoa, for the past 12 years a judge on the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Miami, was introduced by DeSantis at an event at Miami's Freedom Tower. The site is highly symbolic for Cuban-Americans because so many immigrants who fled the communist reign of Cuban leader Fidel Castro were processed into the U.S. through that building.

"In the country my parents fled, the whim of a single individual could mean the difference between food and hunger, liberty or prison, life or death," Lagoa said. "Unlike the country my parents fled, we are a nation of laws."

DeSantis, who just took office on Tuesday, said Lagoa, 51, has an impeccable judicial background and that her Cuban-American upbringing gives her extra appreciation for the rule of law. He noted that she has considered more than 11,000 cases and written 470 legal opinions.

"She has been the essence of what a judge should be" the governor said. "She understands the rule of law, how important that is to a society."

Lagoa, who grew up in the heavily Cuban-American suburb of Hialeah, attended Florida International University and Columbia University law school where she was associate editor of the Columbia Law Review. She also is a former federal prosecutor in Miami. Her father-in-law is Miami senior U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck and her husband, Paul C. Huck Jr., is a prominent Miami attorney.



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