Protasiewicz leads in money race for Wisconsin Supreme Court
Court Watch | 2023/01/18 22:58
Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Janet Protasiewicz raised more money over the last six months of 2022 than her three rivals combined in the pivotal race that will determine majority control of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Protasiewicz along with Dane County Circuit Judge Everett Mitchell are running as liberal candidates in the race. Waukesha County Circuit Judge Jennifer Dorow and former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly are the conservative candidates.

The top two vote-getters in the Feb. 21 primary will advance to the April 4 election. The winner replaces conservative Justice Patience Roggensack, who is retiring.

Races for the Wisconsin Supreme Court are officially nonpartisan, but candidates for years have aligned with either conservatives or liberals as the contests have become expensive partisan battles. The conservative-controlled court for more than a decade has issued consequential rulings in favor of Republicans, with major cases looming that could determine the future of abortion laws, redistricting and rules of elections.

The candidates and outside interests that have promised to spend millions on the race have been relatively quiet up to this point, more than a month before the primary. But those on both sides have made clear they see the race as crucial in the battleground state, with whoever winning determining ideological control of the court heading into the 2024 presidential race and at least a year after.


Ex-Louisiana lawmaker gets 22-month sentence for wire fraud
Court News | 2023/01/11 22:10
Former Louisiana Democratic Party leader Karen Carter Peterson, who resigned from the state Senate last year year citing depression and a gambling addiction — and later pleaded guilty to federal wire fraud — was sentenced on Wednesday to 22 months in prison.

Peterson, who served in the Louisiana Legislature for more than 22 years, admitted in August to taking more than $140,000 in funds from her reelection campaign and from the state Democratic Party. The ex-lawmaker spent a “substantial amount” of that money on casino gambling, according to court documents.

Although the felony charge of federal wire fraud carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years, U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance sentenced Peterson to significantly less, The Advocate reported.

“People trusted me and I breached that trust,” Peterson said in court, WDSU-TV reported.

At the sentencing, Peterson cried at the podium and repented for her criminal wrongdoing — apologizing to her constituents, family and friends.

Ahead of the sentencing, Peterson’s lawyers implored U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance to consider an alternative to prison — such as probation or home confinement.

They said her gambling addiction resulted in “diminished mental capacity,” which can qualify a defendant for a reduced sentence, according to court filings obtained by The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate. In addition, they pointed to her Christian faith, her acceptance of responsibility for the crimes and her participation in Gamblers Anonymous.


South Carolina Supreme Court strikes down state abortion ban
Attorney News | 2023/01/05 21:56
The South Carolina Supreme Court struck down Thursday a ban on abortion after cardiac activity is detected — typically around six weeks — ruling the restriction violates the state constitution’s right to privacy.

The decision comes nearly two years after Republican Gov. Henry McMaster signed the measure into law. The ban, which included exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest or pregnancies that endangered the patient’s life, drew lawsuits almost immediately. Since then, legal challenges have made their way through both state and federal courts.

“The State unquestionably has the authority to limit the right of privacy that protects women from state interference with her decision, but any such limitation must be reasonable and it must be meaningful in that the time frames imposed must afford a woman sufficient time to determine she is pregnant and to take reasonable steps to terminate that pregnancy. Six weeks is, quite simply, not a reasonable period of time for these two things to occur, and therefore the Act violates our state Constitution’s prohibition against unreasonable invasions of privacy,” Justice Kaye Hearn wrote in the majority opinion.

Currently, South Carolina bars most abortions at 20 weeks. Varying orders have given the law’s supporters and opponents both cause for celebration and dismay. Those seeking abortions in the state have seen the legal window expand to the previous limit of 20 weeks before returning to latest restrictions and back again.

Federal courts had previously suspended the law. But the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade allowed the restrictions to take place — for just a brief period. The state Supreme Court temporarily blocked it this past August as the justices considered a new challenge.


State seeks long prison term for accused NYC subway gunman
Attorney News | 2023/01/03 18:45
Prosecutors plan to seek a decades-long prison sentence for a man who is expected to plead guilty this week to opening fire in a subway car and wounding 10 riders in an attack that shocked New York City.

Frank James, 63, is scheduled to enter a guilty plea on Tuesday in Brooklyn federal court, admitting that he was responsible for the April 12 attack. It set off a massive 30-hour manhunt that ended when he called the police on himself.

Prosecutors told Judge William F. Kuntz II in a letter late last week that they plan to ask him to go beyond the roughly 32-year to 39-year sentence that federal sentencing guidelines would recommend. James planned the attack for years and endangered the lives of dozens of people, prosecutors said in the letter.

Defense attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday, when courts were closed to observe the New Year’s holiday.

James had been scheduled to stand trial in late February.

His lawyers informed the judge on Dec. 21 that James wanted to plead guilty. Prosecutors say he plans to plead guilty to 11 charges without a plea agreement.

Ten of those charges — each one corresponding to a specific victim — accuse him of committing a terrorist attack against a mass transportation system carrying passengers and employees.


Military police enforce driving ban in snow-stricken Buffalo
Legal Topics | 2022/12/27 17:32
State and military police were sent Tuesday to keep people off Buffalo’s snow-choked roads, and officials kept counting fatalities three days after western New York’s deadliest storm in at least two generations.

Amid some signs of progress — suburban roads reopened and emergency response service was restored — County Executive Mark Poloncarz warned that police would be stationed at entrances to Buffalo and at major intersections to enforce a ban on driving within New York’s second-most populous city.

“Too many people are ignoring the ban,” Poloncarz, a Democrat, said at a news conference.

The National Weather Service predicted that as much as 2 inches (2.5 to 5 centimeters) more snow could fall Tuesday in Erie County, which includes Buffalo and its 275,000 residents. County Emergency Services Commissioner Dan Neaverth Jr. said officials also were somewhat concerned about the potential for flooding later in the week, when the weather is projected to warm and start melting the snow.

The rest of the United States also was reeling from the ferocious winter storm, with at least an additional two dozen deaths reported in other parts of the country, and power outages in communities from Maine to Washington state.


North Dakota woman who brought raccoon to bar gets probation
Court News | 2022/12/24 02:41
A woman who brought a wild raccoon into a bar earlier this year will spend a year on probation.

On Tuesday, Erin Christensen of Maddock, 38, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of providing false information to law enforcement, tampering with evidence and unlawful possession of a live furbearer, reported the Bismarck Tribune.

Northeast District Judge Donovan Foughty gave her a suspended six-month jail sentence and a year on probation. He also ordered her to pay $1,100 in fines and fees.

She faced a maximum sentence of about two years in jail and $7,500 in fines.

According to court documents, Christensen said her family found the raccoon, nicknamed Rocky, on the side of a road and was nursing it back to health when she brought it into the bar on Sept. 6. A bartender said Rocky didn’t got loose nor did he bite anyone but state health officials still issued a warning about potential rabies exposure.

Authorities arrested Christensen on Sept. 14 after serving several search warrants in and around Maddock to find her and the raccoon. According to court documents, she wouldn’t disclose Rocky’s location.

Keeping a wild raccoon as a pet is illegal under state law — as is keeping a bat or skunk because they are known carriers of rabies, according to North Dakota’s Game and Fish website. Authorities ultimately euthanized the racoon, who tested negative for rabies.

Christensen has said Rocky’s fate has left her family traumatized.


Canada condo killer faced possible eviction before shooting
Attorney News | 2022/12/20 21:12
A suburban Toronto man who was killed by police after authorities say he fatally shot five people in his condominium building, including three members of the condo board, had a court hearing scheduled for the next day to determine if the building’s management could evict him.

Francesco Villi, 73, attacked neighbors on three floors of his building on Sunday night, killing three men and two women and wounding a sixth person, a 66-year-old woman who is expected to survive, according to police. One of the officers who responded to a call about an active shooter inside the building in the suburb of Vaughan shot and killed Villi, authorities said.

The attack happened the day before a scheduled online court hearing in which lawyers for the condominium corporation were set to argue that it should be allowed to evict Villi because he had spent years harassing building employees, board members and other neighbors. In court documents, the building’s lawyers said Villi ignored court orders to end the harassment and stop posting online about a longstanding dispute he had with the condo’s management.

Villi long claimed in videos posted on social media and in court documents that vibrations, noises and emissions from the building’s electrical room under his unit were making him sick, and that board members and the building’s developer were to blame.

According to court documents, at least two condominium managers quit because of him, and security guards quit or changed shifts to avoid him. Residents also said Villi would swear at them and film them.


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