Brazil police probe environment minister over timber exports
Legal Topics | 2021/05/20 00:24
Brazil’s Federal Police on Wednesday carried out searches to investigate whether Environment Minister Ricardo Salles and other key figures within the ministry facilitated illegal timber exports to the U.S. and Europe.

The Supreme Court authorized the search of nearly three dozen locations in Sao Paulo state, the Amazonian state of Para and Brazil’s federal district, according to a police statement.

The operation stems from a decision of the court’s Justice Alexandre de Moraes, who ordered the investigation of 10 officials at the ministry and the regulatory agency.

Nine of them were preventatively suspended from working, including agency President Eduardo Bim — but not Salles — according to a copy of de Moraes’ May 13 decision made public on Wednesday. He wrote that there appeared to be a contraband scheme with Salles’ involvement.

Local media G1 reported Salles told reporters in capital Brasilia that he understood the police operation to be overblown and unnecessary, and said his ministry always acts in accordance with laws. The ministry and regulator didn’t respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press.

The justice’s decision alleged that officials issued several certificates retroactively authorizing specific timber shipments after their seizure abroad and that subsequently, in February 2020, Salles and Bim met with lumber companies and lawmakers about exports from Para state.

Bim soon issued an order retroactively loosening requirements for “thousands of loads exported between 2019 and 2020 without respective documentaion,” de Moraes wrote. The judge’s decision also suspended Bim’s order.



Most virus-related restrictions lifted for Kentucky courts
Legal Topics | 2021/05/18 18:25
Kentucky’s Supreme Court has ended most coronavirus-related restrictions for the state’s court system effective immediately, Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. said Tuesday.

The high court entered administrative orders eliminating most health and safety requirements related to COVID-19 and expanding in-person court operations, Minton said.

“After the most challenging year in the history of the modern court system, I am pleased to announce that the Supreme Court has lifted most of the COVID-19 restrictions for employees, elected officials and those entering court facilities across the commonwealth,” Minton said.
The court’s action “allows us to begin transitioning back to normal operations,” he added.

The changes include allowing in-person access to court facilities for anyone with court business, except for those who have symptoms, tested positive or have been exposed to COVID-19.

The mask mandate is eliminated for fully vaccinated people entering court facilities and for fully vaccinated court officials and employees, but those not fully vaccinated are strongly encouraged to continue using masks. Judges will be permitted to require people in their courtrooms to wear masks.

The court lifted most restrictions on jury trials but requires continuances, postponements and recusals for attorneys, parties and jurors who are ill or at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.


Justices consider hearing a case on ‘most offensive word’
Legal Topics | 2021/05/14 03:13
Robert Collier says that during the seven years he worked as an operating room aide at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, white nurses called him and other Black employees “boy.” Management ignored two large swastikas painted on a storage room wall. And for six months, he regularly rode an elevator with the N-word carved into a wall.

Collier ultimately sued the hospital, but lower courts dismissed his case. Now, however, beginning with a private conference that was scheduled for Thursday, the Supreme Court is considering for the first time whether to hear the case. (Although the court did not comment, the case remained on its calendar, which likely means it was discussed Thursday.)

Focusing on the elevator graffiti, Collier is asking the justices to decide whether a single use of the N-word in the workplace can create a hostile work environment, giving an employee the ability to pursue a case under Title VII of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Already, the court’s two newest members, both appointed by President Donald Trump, are on record with seemingly different views. The case is also a test of whether the justices are willing to wade into the ongoing, complex conversations about race happening nationwide. The public could learn as soon as Monday whether the court will take Collier’s case.

Jennifer A. Holmes, a lawyer with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which has urged the court to take the case, says she hopes the conversations taking place nationally will push the justices in that direction.

Doing so gives the court an “opportunity to show that they’re not insensitive to issues of race,” Holmes said. And courts are “all the time” confronting workplace discrimination claims involving use of the N-word, she said. The question for the justices, she said, is just whether someone who experiences an isolated instance of the N-word can “advance their case beyond the beginning stage.” Two of the court’s nine justices have experience with similar cases.


Death penalty decision delayed in Rapid City murder trial
Legal Topics | 2021/03/30 22:22
A judge in Rapid City, South Dakota Tuesday granted a 90-day extension to the defense attorney of a man accused of murdering three people last year to be notified whether prosecutors will seek the death penalty.

The defense attorney for 36-year-old Arnson Absolu, a New York City man charged with three counts of premeditated first-degree murder for a series of alleged murders in August, asked the judge for the extension so he could investigate circumstances that may mitigate a death penalty sentence and meet with prosecutors, the Rapid City Journal reported. Absolu has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which are punishable by the death penalty or life in prison without parole.

The Pennington County State’s Attorney Office will make a decision on whether to pursue the death penalty after it meets with Absolu’s defense attorney, Timothy Rensch.

If Absolu is convicted, the judge or jury could consider the death penalty if there are aggravating circumstances, such as a murder-for-hire, murder that involved “torture, depravity of the mind or an aggravated battery,” and if the defendant was distributing hard drugs.

The judge or jury would also consider mitigating circumstances, such as the defendant’s childhood experience, mental health or developmental disorders.


Judge refuses to order remote access to New Hampshire House
Legal Topics | 2021/02/22 12:03
The New Hampshire House can proceed with in-person sessions this week without providing remote access to medically vulnerable lawmakers, a federal judge ruled Monday.

Seven Democratic lawmakers sued Republican House Speaker Sherm Packard last week arguing that holding in-person sessions without a remote option violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and the state and federal constitutions, and forces them to either risk their lives or abandon their duties as elected officials.

They sought a preliminary order requiring remote access, but U.S. District Court Judge Landya McCafferty denied their request. Without ruling on the merits of the case, she said the speaker can’t be sued for enforcing a House rule that is “closely related to core legislative functions.”

“While today’s ruling is a setback, history will judge New Hampshire House Democrats favorably for standing for public health and democracy during this pandemic,” said House Democratic Leader Renny Cushing, one of the suit’s plaintiffs. “Unfortunately, this case has exposed the callous indifference of House Republican leadership toward our most vulnerable members during the COVID-19 crisis that has taken the lives of a half a million Americans.”

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the 400-member House has met several times at the University of New Hampshire ice arena, outside on a UNH athletic field, and - after former Speaker Dick Hinch died of COVID-19 - from their cars in a parking lot. The sessions scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday will be held at a sports complex in Bedford that offers more space to spread out than the previous facilities, as well as separate entrances for members from opposing parties.

“We will continue to work with all House members to ensure that if they choose to attend any legislative meeting in person, that they can be confident that we are taking a high degree of precaution, and have extensive health and safety measures in place,” Packard said in a statement.

But Cushing said ruling makes clear that the speaker is “solely to blame for active and obvious exclusion of members of the House.”

“As we teach our children, just because you can do something does not mean you should,” he said.


Woman accused of helping steal Pelosi laptop freed from jail
Legal Topics | 2021/01/21 18:26
A Pennsylvania woman facing charges that she helped steal a laptop from the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during the attack on the U.S. Capitol will be released from jail, a federal judge decided Thursday.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Martin Carlson directed that Riley June Williams be released into the custody of her mother, with travel restrictions, and instructed her to appear Monday in federal court in Washington to continue her case.

“The gravity of these offenses is great,” Carlson told Williams. “It cannot be overstated.”

Williams, 22, of Harrisburg, is accused of theft, obstruction and trespassing, as well as violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds. Carlson noted Williams has no prior criminal record.

The FBI says an unidentified former romantic partner of Williams tipped them off that she appeared in video from the Jan. 6 rioting and the tipster claimed she had hoped to sell the computer to Russian intelligence.

Williams’ defense lawyer, Lori Ulrich, told Carlson the tipster is a former boyfriend who had been abusive to Williams and that “his accusations are overstated.”

Video from the riot shows a woman matching Williams’ description exhorting invaders to go “upstairs, upstairs, upstairs” during the attack, which briefly disrupted certification of President Joe Biden’s electoral victory.

“It is regrettable that Ms. Williams took the president’s bait and went inside the Capitol,” Ulrich told the judge.

Williams surrendered to face charges on Monday. She was expected to leave the county jail in Harrisburg later Thursday, and will be on electronic monitoring to await trial.




China sentences lawyer who reported on outbreak to 4 years
Legal Topics | 2020/12/27 04:49
A Chinese court on Monday sentenced a former lawyer who reported on the early stage of the coronavirus outbreak to four years in prison on charges of “picking fights and provoking trouble,” one of her lawyers said.

The Pudong New Area People’s Court in the financial hub of Shanghai gave the sentence to Zhang Zhan following accusations she spread false information, gave interviews to foreign media, disrupted public order and “maliciously manipulated” the outbreak.

Lawyer Zhang Keke confirmed the sentence but said it was “inconvenient” to provide details ? usually an indication that the court has issued a partial gag order. He said the court did not ask Zhang whether she would appeal, nor did she indicate whether she would.

Zhang, 37, traveled to Wuhan in February and posted on various social media platforms about the outbreak that is believed to have emerged in the central Chinese city late last year.

She was arrested in May amid tough nationwide measures aimed at curbing the outbreak and heavy censorship to deflect criticism of the government’s initial response. Zhang reportedly went on a prolonged hunger strike while in detention, prompting authorities to forcibly feed her, and is said to be in poor health.

China has been accused of covering up the initial outbreak and delaying the release of crucial information, allowing the virus to spread and contributing to the pandemic that has sickened more than 80 million people worldwide and killed almost 1.8 million. Beijing vigorously denies the accusations, saying it took swift action that bought time for the rest of the world to prepare.

China’s ruling Communist Party tightly controls the media and seeks to block dissemination of information it hasn’t approved for release. In the early days of the outbreak, authorities reprimanded several Wuhan doctors for “rumor-mongering” after they alerted friends on social media. The best known of the doctors, Li Wenliang, later succumbed to COVID-19.



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