Trials delayed for mother, son in Mississippi fraud cases
Legal Topics | 2021/11/13 04:36
Judges have delayed the state and federal trials of a mother and son charged in one of Mississippi’s largest public corruption cases.

State Auditor Shad White has said Nancy New and Zachary New were responsible for misspending millions of dollars of welfare money that was intended for needy people in one of the poorest states in the U.S.

Their trials were scheduled to begin this week — Monday in Hinds County Circuit Court and Wednesday in federal court. Attorneys have made clear that both trials were unlikely to happen during the same week because of the complexity of the cases.

In late October, judges issued orders setting new trial dates of Jan. 3 in federal court and Feb. 7 in Hinds County Circuit Court.

State court records show Nancy New and Zachary New are both charged with conspiracy, embezzlement, fraud and making false statements to defraud the government, for alleged crimes from September 2018. They were indicted in early 2020.

Federal court records show the mother and son both face several charges, including wire fraud; conspiracy to commit wire fraud; aggravated identity theft; money laundering; and money laundering conspiracy.


International Criminal Court to probe abuses in Venezuela
Legal Topics | 2021/11/09 05:40
The International Criminal Court is opening a formal investigation into allegations of torture and extrajudicial killings committed by Venezuelan security forces under President Nicolás Maduro’s rule, the first time a country in Latin America is facing scrutiny for possible crimes against humanity from the court.

The opening of the probe was announced Wednesday by ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan at the end of a three-day trip to Caracas.

Standing alongside Maduro, Khan said he was aware of the political “fault lines” and “geopolitical divisions” that exist in Venezuela. But he said his job was to uphold the principles of legality and the rule of law, not settle scores.

“I ask everybody now, as we move forward to this new stage, to give my office the space to do its work,” he said. “I will take a dim view of any efforts to politicize the independent work of my office.”

While Khan didn’t outline the scope of the ICC’s investigation, it follows a lengthy preliminary probe started in February 2018 — later backed by Canada and five Latin American governments opposed to Maduro — that focused on allegations of excessive force, arbitrary detention and torture by security forces during a crackdown on antigovernment protests in 2017.

Human rights groups and the U.S.-backed opposition immediately celebrated the decision. Since its creation two decades ago, the ICC has mostly focused on atrocities committed in Africa.

“This is a turning point,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director for Human Rights Watch. “Not only does it provide hope to the many victims of Maduro’s government but it also is a reality check that Maduro himself could be held accountable for crimes committed by his security forces and others with total impunity in the name of the Bolivarian revolution.”

It could be years before any criminal charges are presented as part of the ICC’s investigation.

Maduro said he disagreed with Khan’s criteria in choosing to open the probe. But he expressed optimism that a three-page “letter of understanding” he signed with the prosecutor that would allow Venezuelan authorities to carry out their own proceedings in search of justice, something allowed under the Rome statute that created the ICC.


Palestinians reject offer to delay their Jerusalem eviction
Legal Topics | 2021/11/04 11:53
Palestinian families on Tuesday rejected an offer that would have delayed their eviction by Jewish settlers in a tense Jerusalem neighborhood, where protests and clashes helped ignite the 11-day Gaza war in May.

The four families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood near the Old City said their decision springs from “our belief in the justice of our cause and our right to our homes and our homeland.” They said that rather than submit to an “unjust agreement” they would rely on the “Palestinian street” to raise international awareness of their plight.

The proposal floated by Israel’s Supreme Court last month would have made them “protected tenants,” blocking any eviction and demolition order for at least the next 15 years, according to Ir Amim, an Israeli rights group that closely follows developments in the city.

The families would have been able to continue arguing their case in Israeli courts. But it would have forced them to at least temporarily attest to the settlers’ ownership of the properties, which could weaken the families’ case going forward, and pay rent to the settlers.

The four families are among dozens in Jerusalem who are threatened with eviction by Jewish settler organizations in several cases that have been working their way through the Israeli court system for decades.

The settlers are making use of an Israeli law that allows them to claim properties that were owned by Jews prior to the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation. Palestinians who lost homes, properties and lands in the same conflict do not have the right to recover them.

There was no immediate comment from the settlers, but Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Arieh King, a staunch supporter, said they had accepted the offer.


Video: Officer shoots Illinois inmate after struggle for gun
Legal Topics | 2021/11/01 17:40

Illinois State Police have released video footage showing a tense scene involving an inmate’s attack on a correctional officer at a courthouse and another officer firing his weapon at the inmate and injuring him.

Authorities said 55-year-old Fredrick Goss was at the Jefferson County Courthouse earlier this month for a trial. He was uncuffed while being transported in a wheelchair to trial where he was to be unrestrained.

Footage of the incident, released Friday on an Illinois State Police Facebook page, appeared to show Goss grabbing an officer’s gun and struggling with him before a deputy stepped in and shot Goss, who was hospitalized.

Police did not release further details about his injuries.

The correctional officer had minor injuries while the deputy wasn’t hurt, according to state police.

“To protect the life of the correctional officer and himself, the deputy confronted the armed inmate and was forced to fire his weapon,” police said in a news release. “The inmate was injured by the gunfire. Immediate assistance was requested.”

Goss was facing trial for an armed robbery and exchanging gunfire with police.

A message left Sunday for Matt Vaughn, a public defender in Jefferson County who has represented Goss, wasn’t immediately returned.

Online court records show the case is scheduled for a Nov. 30 status hearing.


Cambodia amends charter to bar dual citizens from top office
Legal Topics | 2021/10/26 22:41
Lawmakers in Cambodia on Monday approved an amendment to the constitution barring Cambodians with dual citizenship from holding high government office, a move initiated by Prime Minister Hun Sen and directed at prominent opposition politicians.

The government says the measure is meant to show officials’ loyalty to their homeland and avoid foreign interference. Several opposition leaders hold dual citizenship, while none of the top members of Hun Sen’s party is known to hold dual nationality.

The move is the latest volley in a long struggle for power between Hun Sen, who has led the country for 36 years, and his political rivals from the Cambodia National Rescue Party, which had been the sole credible opposition force until it was disbanded by the Supreme Court.

Unsupported assertions by Sam Rainsy, the self-exiled founder of the opposition party, that Hun Sen sought to purchase citizenship from the European nation of Cyprus triggered the prime minister’s anger. Cypriot nationality has been available through large investments in the island nation.

Sam Rainsy has feuded bitterly with Hun Sen for years. He holds French citizenship and has been living near Paris to avoid imprisonment in Cambodia on charges he says are politically motivated.

“This law would be custom-tailored to target me, as Hun Sen made it clear that as a reprisal against me, he wants to definitely block me from the premiership,” Sam Rainsy said on his Facebook page earlier this month.

Most top leaders of the opposition party fled Cambodia in late 2017, when Hun Sen launched a sweeping crackdown on critics and the high court disbanded the party and removed its lawmakers from Parliament. It is widely believed the court acted to ensure victory for Hun Sen’s party in the 2018 general election, which it ended up sweeping.


Federal appeals court won’t stop health worker COVID mandate
Legal Topics | 2021/10/22 08:00
A federal appeals court dealt another blow to a lawsuit targeting Maine’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers, resulting in an 11th-hour appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday.

A three-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to stop the vaccine requirement, saying a lawsuit brought by opponents of the mandate was unlikely to succeed. The state is due to begin enforcing the vaccine requirement on Oct. 29.

The decision was dated Tuesday, the same day the U.S. Supreme Court declined an emergency request to intervene.

But the Supreme Court left open the door for another appeal, and lawyers swiftly filed a request for a preliminary injunction Wednesday after the appeals court issued its final decision.

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills praised the decision by the appeals court, saying Wednesday that vaccinations “are the best tool we have to protect the lives and livelihoods of Maine people.”

“This rule protects health care workers, their patients and our health care capacity in the face of this deadly virus. Just as vaccination defeated smallpox and vaccination defeated polio, vaccination is the way to defeat COVID-19,” she said in a statement.

The 1st Circuit decision came a week after a federal judge in Maine upheld the vaccination mandate for health workers.

“Maine’s interest in safeguarding its residents is paramount. While we do not diminish the appellants’ liberty of conscience, we cannot find, absent any constitutional or statutory violation, any error in the district court’s conclusion that the rule promotes strong public interests and that an injunction would not serve the public interest,” the 1st Circuit wrote.

The Liberty Counsel, which filed the lawsuit in federal court in Maine, claims to represent more than 2,000 health care workers who don’t want to be forced to be vaccinated.

Mat Staver, founder and chair of the Liberty Counsel, said Wednesday that it’s now up to the Supreme Court “to obtain relief for these health care heroes against Governor Janet Mills’ illegal edict.”

Most health care workers have complied but several dozen have opted to quit over the mandate, and Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston already curtailed some admissions because of a shortage of nurses. Nearly 97% of Maine emergency medical workers are vaccinated against COVID-19, Maine Department of Public Safety said Wednesday.

State agencies vowed to work with hospitals and nursing homes individually to address issues. That includes working with the facilities on recruitment and retention of workers, said Jeanne Lambrew, commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

“We have seen significant improvements in the vaccine rates in our hospitals and long-term care facilities,” she said.


Man arrested after paint thrown on Confederate monument
Legal Topics | 2021/10/14 16:44
An Alabama man was arrested on criminal mischief and other charges after someone threw paint on a Confederate monument that has been the subject of protests at the Lauderdale County Courthouse, the TimesDaily reported.
Sheriff’s Lt. Joe Hamilton said a deputy assigned to provide security at the courthouse saw a man splash paint on the monument Thursday afternoon. The man ran away after seeing the deputy but was captured quickly, Hamilton said.
Courthouse workers used a garden hose to wash away the blue and purple paint, and most of the discoloration was gone within 30 minutes, the newspaper reported.
Seth Jones Robinson, 20, of Florence was charged with second-degree trespassing, third-degree criminal mischief, desecration of a venerated object and attempting to elude. Robinson was booked into the county jail, and court records weren’t available Thursday to show whether he had a lawyer who could speak on his behalf.
Erected in 1903, when Confederate veterans and their descendants were attempting to portray the South’s cause in the Civil War as noble, the monument has been the subject of complaints for years. Project Say Something, a group that opposes the memorial, has sought its removal but county commissioners cited a potential $25,000 state fine for refusing to do anything.


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