Ruling is final blow to New Hampshire voter registration law
Legal Topics | 2021/07/02 18:36
The New Hampshire Supreme Court struck a final blow Friday to a 2017 voter registration law that faced repeated legislative and court challenges, upholding a previous ruling that it’s unconstitutional.

The law required additional documentation from voters who register within 30 days of an election. It was passed by the Republican Legislature after President Donald Trump alleged that widespread voter fraud led to his loss in the state in 2016, though there is no evidence to support that and voter fraud cases are rare. Supporters said the law would increase trust in elections by requiring people to prove they live where they vote, but opponents argued it was confusing, unnecessary and intimidating.

After the New Hampshire Democratic Party and the League of Women Voters sued, a judge allowed the law to take effect in 2018 but blocked penalties of a $5,000 fine and a year in jail for fraud. In 2019, after Democrats won control of the Legislature, lawmakers passed a bill to repeal the law, but it was vetoed by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu.

The case went to trial in late 2019, and a judge ruled in April 2020 that the law was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court upheld that decision Friday.

“We acknowledge that the interests identified by the state are important, if not vital,” Justice Patrick Donovan wrote in the unanimous order. But the law failed to further those objectives while imposing unreasonable burdens on the right to vote, the court concluded.

Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley said the ruling “sends a clear message to Chris Sununu and NH Republicans that their insidious voter suppression schemes will not stand in New Hampshire.”

“Today, we celebrate this incredible victory for voting rights. Tomorrow, we will continue to work to protect voting rights in the Granite State,” he said in a statement.

Sununu encouraged the Legislature to propose new legislation taking the court order into account.

“It’s disappointing that these commonsense reforms were not supported by our Supreme Court, but we have to respect their decision,” he said.

In its ruling, the court rejected the state’s argument that the law could only be struck down if it was unconstitutional in every set of circumstances. Similarly, it disagreed with the state’s claim that the law shouldn’t be deemed unconstitutional because only some, but not all, voters are burdened by it.



Bill Cosby’s sex assault conviction overturned by court
Legal Topics | 2021/06/30 20:01
Pennsylvania’s highest court overturned Bill Cosby’s sex assault conviction Wednesday after finding an agreement with a previous prosecutor prevented him from being charged in the case.

Cosby has served more than two years of a three- to 10-year sentence at a state prison near Philadelphia. He had vowed to serve all 10 years rather than acknowledge any remorse over the 2004 encounter with accuser Andrea Constand.

The 83-year-old Cosby, who was once beloved as “America’s Dad,” was convicted of drugging and molesting the Temple University employee at his suburban estate.

He was charged in late 2015 when a prosecutor armed with newly unsealed evidence — Cosby’s damaging deposition from her lawsuit — arrested him days before the 12-year statute of limitations expired.

The trial judge had allowed just one other accuser to testify at Cosby’s first trial when the jury deadlocked. However, he then allowed five other accusers to testify at the retrial about their experiences with Cosby in the 1980s.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court said that testimony tainted the trial, even though a lower appeals court had found it appropriate to show a signature pattern of drugging and molesting women.

Cosby was the first celebrity tried and convicted in the #MeToo era, so the reversal could make prosecutors wary of calling other accusers in similar cases. The law on prior bad act testimony varies by state, though, and the ruling only holds sway in Pennsylvania.

Prosecutors did not immediately say if they would appeal or seek to try Cosby for a third time.

The justices voiced concern not just about sex assault cases, but what they saw as the judiciary’s increasing tendency to allow testimony that crosses the line into character attacks. The law allows the testimony only in limited cases, including to show a crime pattern so specific it serves to identify the perpetrator.

In New York, the judge presiding over last year’s trial of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, whose case had sparked the explosion of the #MeToo movement in 2017, let four other accusers testify. Weinstein was convicted and sentenced to 23 years in prison. He is now facing separate charges in California.


Bankruptcy is Just Filling Out Some Forms, Right?
Legal Topics | 2021/06/22 21:13
Nothing could be further from the truth! My job as a Bankruptcy Attorney is to help clients understand the process, and how to navigate all of the complexities of Bankruptcy Law. My job is also to educate the public about common misconceptions of the Bankruptcy Process, and how it works.
You may think, well, if the client is broke, how can they afford to hire a lawyer? That is a legitimate question. But, in reality, if you are having financial troubles, as a business owner, or as a consumer, you can’t afford NOT to hire an attorney.
Many people might do a google search “how to file Bankruptcy”, and get some results, and with a bit of hunting, find some forms to fill out. What are the forms exactly? When a person or business files for Bankruptcy Protection, they are required to file a “Petition for Bankruptcy Relief”. They are literally asking the Court for Relief from their Creditors (companies they owe). Even if you think your case is simple, what you don’t know can hurt you.
When you Petition the Court for Relief, you are required to tell the Court in the Forms all about your financial life. The Petition asks you to list everything in the world that they own (Yes, the world!). So, if you own a timeshare in Florida, that goes on the list. If you own a plot of land in Europe, that goes on the list too! And, you have to list what you own such as cars and valuable items in your house. You also have to list EVERYONE YOU OWE. Every company, every person, no exceptions! These are just some examples.
There are approximately 60 pages of questions that every person or business owner has to answer UNDER THE PENALTY OF PERJURY. Full, accurate disclosure is the only way you can get relief from the Court. And how you disclose everything on the Petition is very important! This means that if anything is left off, you could be denied your Bankruptcy Discharge (completion document) or worse, be sentenced to Prison for Bankruptcy Fraud.


Court: Local Wisconsin heath departments can’t close schools
Legal Topics | 2021/06/11 17:02
The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Friday that local health departments do not have the authority to close schools due to emergencies like the coronavirus pandemic, delivering a win to private and religious schools that challenged a Dane County order.

The conservative majority of the court, in a 4-3 decision, also ruled that a school closure order issued last year by Public Health Madison & Dane County infringed on constitutional religious rights.

The ruling is another victory for conservatives who challenged state and local orders issued during the pandemic to close businesses and schools, limit capacity in bars, restaurants and other buildings and require masks to be worn. All of those restrictions have either expired or been rescinded by courts.

Friday’s ruling will have no immediate impact because the 2020-21 school year has ended, but it will limit the powers of health departments in the future by preventing them from ordering school closures.

“Even as the COVID-19 pandemic recedes, the court’s decision provides a critical correction that ought to prevent future abuses of power in an emergency,” said Rick Esenberg, president of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. That group brought the lawsuit on behalf of five private schools and eight families in Dane County, School Choice Wisconsin Action and the Wisconsin Council of Religious and Independent Schools.

Dane County Health Director Janel Heinrich said the ruling “hinders the ability of local health officers in Wisconsin to prevent and contain public health threats for decades to come.”

The lawsuit targeted an order issued in August by the county health department prohibiting in-person instruction for grades 3-12 at any public or private school. The Supreme Court in early September put that order on hold while it considered the case.

While many private and public schools in the county resumed in-person classes, Madison’s school district remained entirely virtual until March. Its school year ended this week.

The law in question allows local health departments to do what is “reasonable and necessary” to suppress a disease outbreak. It does not specifically grant authority to close schools. There is a law giving that power to the state Department of Health Services secretary.


Court nixes South Carolina’s lifelong sex offender registry
Legal Topics | 2021/06/09 17:14
South Carolina’s Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that a state law requiring sex offenders to register for life, without prior judicial review, is unconstitutional.

In a unanimous ruling, justices wrote that “requirement that sex offenders must register for life without any opportunity for judicial review violates due process because it is arbitrary and cannot be deemed rationally related to the General Assembly’s stated purpose of protecting the public from those with a high risk of re-offending.”

Justices set a 12-month timeline to implement the ruling, to give state lawmakers time to “correct the deficiency in the statute regarding judicial review.”

The case stems from a lawsuit originally brought by Dennis Powell, who was arrested in 2008 for criminal solicitation of a minor after authorities said he had graphic online conversations with someone he thought was a 12-year-old girl, but who was actually an undercover officer.

After pleading guilty, Powell was sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to register as a sex offender, which South Carolina’s statute mandates as a lifelong situation.

South Carolina’s sex offender statute requires biannual registration, in-person at a sheriff’s office, but provides for no periodic review by a judge, a situation the Supreme Court called “the most stringent in the country.”

“The lifetime inclusion of individuals who have a low risk of re-offending renders the registry over-inclusive and dilutes its utility by creating an ever-growing list of registrants that is less effective at protecting the public and meeting the needs of law enforcement,” justices wrote. “There is no evidence in the record that current statistics indicate all sex offenders generally pose a high risk of re-offending.”

The court ruled that Powell should be immediately removed from the state’s sex offender registry. Powell had also challenged a portion of the statute that permits the registry to be published online, which the court upheld.

Attorneys for both Powell and the State Law Enforcement Division did not immediately return text messages seeking comment on the ruling.


Schumer recommending 2 voting rights lawyers to be judges
Legal Topics | 2021/06/07 17:37
The Senate’s top Democrat is recommending President Joe Biden nominate two prominent voting rights attorneys to serve as judges on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and on the federal bench in Manhattan.

Sen. Chuck Schumer has recommended the president nominate Myrna Perez, who serves as the director of voting rights and election programs at NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice, for the appeals court post, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press on Monday.

He is also recommending Biden nominate Dale Ho, who leads the Voting Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, as a federal judge in the Southern District of New York, the person said. The person could not discuss the matter publicly ahead of a formal announcement and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

If confirmed, Perez would be the only Latina on the court — one of the most prominent judicial posts in the country. Perez would also be the first Hispanic woman to serve on the court since Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor served on the panel. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has jurisdiction over the federal courts in New York, Connecticut and Vermont.

Schumer’s recommendation that Biden nominate highly experienced litigators in voting and election law is also a calculated political move for Democrats, who have made voting rights one of their biggest priorities.

Days ago, Biden reemphasized a plea for sweeping legislation in Congress to protect the right to vote as Republican-led lawmaking bodies in Texas and other states pass new restrictions making it tougher to cast ballots.

As majority leader, Schumer has been pushing to keep with the president’s pledge to bring on a diverse group of judicial nominees to represent the demographic diversity of the nation.

Democrats, narrowly controlling the Senate for the first time in six years, are eager to turn the page from the Trump administration, especially when it comes to judges. President Donald Trump appointed mostly white men to fill the jobs, and now more than one-quarter of the federal judiciary is made up of his appointees. Trump, a Republican, also nominated three members of the Supreme Court: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.


Ruling: Missed court date in Washington does not imply guilt
Legal Topics | 2021/05/30 02:31
The Washington state Supreme Court this month unanimously rejected the notion that a man who skipped his court date could be presented as evidence that he felt guilty about the original crime.

State Supreme Court justices agreed that criminalizing a single missed court date could disproportionately harm people of color, poor people or people without reliable transportation or scheduling conflicts due to child care or work, The Daily Herald reported.

The ruling came less than a year after the state Legislature revised the bail jumping law, which gives people more time to respond to a warrant. Samuel Slater, 27, had one unexcused absence in his case, which predated the new law.

Records show Slater was convicted of violating no-contact orders five times in five years, multiple driving offenses and domestic violence charges. He pleaded guilty in 2016 to assault in Washington state.

A judge ordered him not to have contact with the woman, who was not identified, but he showed up within a day of being let out of jail. He was charged in 2017 with alleged felony violation of a no-contact order and felony bail jumping after missing a court date later in the year.

Slater’s attorney, Frederic Moll, asked for separate trials on the counts. Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Anita Farris, a former public defender, found that the charges could be tried together for “judicial economy reasons” and that they were cross-admissible, meaning one could be used to prove the other.

Judge Ellen Fair presided over the trial and agreed with Farris. State Court of Appeals judges also agreed.

During the trial, deputy prosecutor Adam Sturdivant repeatedly noted how the defendant missed his court date, asking: “If he didn’t do it, why didn’t he show up for trial call a year ago?”

Slater was found guilty on both counts and sentenced to more than two years in prison and a year of probation


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