Man denies kidnapping charge in alleged murder-for-hire plot
Legal Topics | 2022/06/03 16:21
A Colorado man pleaded not guilty Thursday in federal court in Vermont to kidnapping a man who was later found shot to death in a snowbank in 2018 in what prosecutors allege is a murder-for-hire case stemming from a financial dispute.

Federal prosecutors say they believe Jerry Banks, 34, of Fort Garland, Colorado, killed Gregory Davis, 49, of Danville, Vermont, but he has not been charged in the killing. U.S. District Judge Geoffrey Crawford ordered Banks to remain detained until trial, noting the prosecutors’ concerns about his risk of flight and safety risk to potential witnesses.

“Someone who would kill for money would likely kill or improperly influence a witness or otherwise seek to influence the course of a trial that would result in his life in prison,” Paul Van de Graaf and Jonathan Ophardt, assistant U.S. attorneys for Vermont, wrote in their detention request. They said Banks has a history of living “off the grid” and no strong connection to Vermont or anywhere else in the country.

Banks’ federal public defender, Mary Nerino, did not contest detention and would not comment on the charges after the arraignment.

Davis was abducted from his Danville, Vermont, home on Jan. 6, 2018, and found shot to death the next day in a snowbank on a back road in Barnet.

Prosecutors detailed the alleged conspiracy in a filing Monday in federal court in Las Vegas. They wrote that Davis had been threatening to go to the FBI with information that Serhat Gumrukcu, 39, an inventor and the co-founder of a Los Angeles-based biotechnology company, was defrauding Davis in a multimillion-dollar oil deal Gumrukcu and Gumrukcu’s brother had entered into with Davis in 2015.

Gurumkcu was facing felony fraud charges in California in 2017 and was working on a deal that came together soon after Davis’ death that gave him significant ownership stake in Enochian Bioscience.


German federal court mulls bid to remove antisemitic relic
Attorney News | 2022/05/30 16:26
A German federal court on Monday mulled a Jewish man’s bid to force the removal of a 700-year-old antisemitic statue from a church where Martin Luther once preached, and said it will deliver its verdict in the long-running dispute next month.

The “Judensau,” or “Jew pig,” sculpture on the Town Church in Wittenberg is one of more than 20 such relics from the Middle Ages that still adorn churches across Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

The case went to the Federal Court of Justice after lower courts ruled in 2019 and 2020 against plaintiff Michael Duellmann. He had argued that the sculpture was “a defamation of and insult to the Jewish people” that has “a terrible effect up to this day,” and has suggested moving it the nearby Luther House museum.

Placed on the church about four meters (13 feet) above ground level, the sculpture depicts people identifiable as Jews suckling the teats of a sow while a rabbi lifts the animal’s tail. In 1570, after the Protestant Reformation, an inscription referring to an anti-Jewish tract by Luther was added.

In 1988, a memorial was set into the ground below, referring to the persecution of Jews and the 6 million people who died during the Holocaust. In addition, a sign gives information about the sculpture in German and English.

In 2020, an appeals court in Naumburg ruled that “in its current context” the sculpture is not of “slanderous character” and didn’t violate the plaintiff’s rights. It said that, with the addition of the memorial and information sign, the statue was now “part of an ensemble which speaks for another objective” on the part of the parish.


Pakistani court orders probe into ex-minister’s arrest
Court News | 2022/05/23 16:30
A court in Pakistan’s capital has ordered an investigation into the controversial arrest of a former human rights minister over a decades-old land dispute.

Chief Justice Ather Minallah of the Islamabad High Court late Saturday ordered the probe in response to a petition from the daughter of former minister Shireen Mazari.

Minallah questioned the decision by officials in Islamabad to allow police from a Punjab provincial district to make the arrest in the capital.

Mazari, who served in the Cabinet-level position under former Prime Minister Imran Khan, had been detained by police near her Islamabad home earlier in the day.

Fawad Chaudhry, former information minister in Khan’s administration, alleged that Mazari — the senior leader in Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party — had been politically targeted by the new administration of Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif under the guise of a land dispute dating back to 1972.

Hours after Mazari’s arrest, Chief Minister of Punjab province Hamza Shahbaz ordered her release, and late Saturday she was brought to the Islamabad court for an urgent hearing. She was then released.

Mazari has been critical of Sharif’s government on Twitter since Khan’s government was toppled in a no-confidence vote in Parliament last month. Khan’s party lawmakers resigned from the body’s lower house in protest and Khan is mobilizing supporters through public rallies across the country to pressure the government into an early election.


Kansas Supreme Court upholds Republican congressional map
Legal Topics | 2022/05/18 19:30
Kansas’ highest court on Wednesday upheld a Republican redistricting law that makes it harder for the only Democrat in the state’s congressional delegation to win reelection in a big victory for the GOP.

The state Supreme Court declined for now to declare that overly partisan gerrymandering violates the Kansas Constitution. The ruling sets district boundaries less than a month before the state’s June 10 filing deadline for congressional candidates.

The court’s opinion was two paragraphs long, saying only that the voters and voting rights group challenging the map “have not prevailed on their claims” that the map violated the state constitution and that a full opinion would come later.

The brief decision was written by Justice Caleb Stegall, who is seen as the most conservative of the court’s seven justices, five of whom were appointed by Democratic governors. During arguments from attorneys on Monday, he questioned whether anyone could clearly define improper partisan gerrymandering.

Lawsuits over new congressional district lines have proliferated across the U.S., with Republicans looking to recapture a U.S. House majority in this year’s midterm elections. Congressional maps in at least 17 states have inspired lawsuits, according to the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice.

In the past, congressional district lines have been reviewed by federal judges and not the state Supreme Court. The conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision in 2019 that complaints about partisan gerrymandering are political issues and not for the federal courts to resolve.

The state’s Republican-appointed solicitor general argued in defending the GOP-drawn map that because the state constitution doesn’t specifically mention gerrymandering or congressional redistricting, the Kansas Supreme Court should reject the legal challenges. He and other state officials said that the justices had no guidance on how to define improper political gerrymandering.


Man denies killing mother at sea to inherit family’s estate
Court Watch | 2022/05/11 07:38
A 28-year-old man who was rescued from a raft off the coast of New England in 2016 after his boat sank pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges he killed his mother at sea to inherit the family’s estate.

Nathan Carman was arraigned in federal court in Rutland on multiple fraud charges and a first-degree murder charge in the death of Linda Carman. He shouted “not guilty” in the direction of reporters who had asked him on his way into the courthouse whether he killed his mother.

Authorities allege in the indictment unsealed Tuesday that Carman also killed his grandfather, John Chakalos, at his home in Windsor, Connecticut, in 2013 as part of a scheme to obtain money and property from his grandfather’s estate, but he was not charged with that killing.

“As a central part of the scheme, Nathan Carman murdered John Chakalos and Linda Carman,” the indictment reads.

Carman was found in an inflatable raft eight days after leaving a Rhode Island marina to go fishing with his mother, who was never found. Prosecutors allege Carman altered the boat to make it more likely to sink that day. He has denied doing anything to intentionally make the boat unseaworthy.

Carman, who was arrested Tuesday, faces life in prison if convicted of killing his mother, Linda Carman, of Middletown, Connecticut. His attorney did not comment after the arraignment.


Abortion rights protesters rally in cities around US
Headline Legal News | 2022/05/09 22:43
Abortion rights protesters rallied in cities around the United States on Saturday, vowing to fight to ensure that abortion remains a legal option for women nationwide.

Hundreds gathered in Chicago, Atlanta, Houston and other cities days after a draft U.S. Supreme Court opinion was leaked to the public suggesting the court is poised to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion nationwide. The draft opinion, which comes amid nearly 50 years of federal abortion protections, could change before the ruling is finalized in coming weeks.

“To think that, after all this time, people still want to control what women can do and our rights to make our personal healthcare decisions is just really outrageous,” Carole Levin, chair of Courts Matter Illinois, told WMAQ-TV during the rally in Chicago.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker attended the rally and vowed to protect reproductive rights in Illinois.

“I’m proud Illinois is an island for reproductive freedom in the Midwest,” he said. “Our shores remain open for any person left marooned by these extremist politicians.”

In the nation’s capital, abortion rights protesters stood outside the Supreme Court, holding signs that said abortion is a human right, or “Abort the Court.” Protesters who oppose abortion demonstrated across the street.

In Atlanta, demonstrators carried signs in favor of abortion rights as they marched through that city’s downtown and chanted, “Not the church and not the state, women must decide our fate.”

In Houston, thousands attended a reproductive rights rally headlined by Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who is running for Texas governor. Texas is one of several states that would automatically ban abortion, leaving no exceptions for rape or incest, if the high court overturns the nationwide right to abortion.

An investigation is underway to determine who leaked the Supreme Court draft opinion to Politico.



Tennessee, South Carolina extend health care for new moms
Attorney News | 2022/05/06 19:08
Tennessee and South Carolina are joining five other states in extending health care coverage to women with low-to-modest incomes for a full year after childbirth, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra announced on Friday.

The expansion of Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program comes as the U.S. Supreme Court could be poised to overturn women’s constitutional right to abortion. That could make the coverage more urgently needed than ever if more women, especially older women or those in poorer health, end up carrying pregnancies to term. In Tennessee, a trigger law would outlaw abortion in the state if Roe v. Wade were overturned. South Carolina has a law banning abortions after six weeks.

States are currently required to provide 60 days of coverage after childbirth, but medical experts say women can die from pregnancy-related conditions up to a year after giving birth and that most pregnancy-related deaths are preventable. Maternal mortality is particularly serious for Black women, whose pregnancy-related death rate is three times that of white women.

Asked about the effect of an abortion ban on Tennessee women at a Thursday news conference, Republican Gov. Bill Lee, who opposes abortion, pointed to the extension.

“It’s important that we recognize that women in crisis need support and assistance through this process. For example, that’s why we’ve expanded our postpartum coverage for women in TennCare,” Lee said.

TennCare is Tennessee’s version of Medicaid, the federal-state program covering about one in five Americans, from many newborns, to low-income adults and frail nursing home residents. The program pays for about four out of every 10 births in the United States.

About 700 U.S. women die annually because of pregnancy-related problems, a little over half after the woman has given birth, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly 12% of maternal deaths occur 43 to 365 days after delivery.

The expanded coverage is made possible by a provision in the COVID-19 relief bill that will expire after five years unless Congress reapproves it or makes it permanent.


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