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Judge strikes down portions of Michigan towing law
Legal Watch | 2021/02/25 01:39
A judge has struck down portions of a Michigan towing law after low-income Detroit residents shared extraordinary stories of high fees and frustration about the whereabouts of their vehicles.

The case centered on the practices of Detroit police and a towing company. The decision by U.S. District Judge Judith Levy could force changes in a law that’s viewed as favorable to the towing industry.

Levy last week ordered Detroit to notify the state within 24 hours after police call for a vehicle to be towed. That information typically triggers a notice to the car owner.

There was no maximum deadline to report a towed vehicle under the law, attorney Jason Katz said Wednesday.

Vehicle owners also can ask a local court to suspend the immediate payment of towing and storage fees before they get a hearing to object to a car’s impoundment, the judge said.

“You have an opportunity to get into court and fight it,” Katz said. “I don’t think first asking for $1,000 is fair.”

Gerald Grays believed his car was stolen in 2016. More than two years later, he finally learned that his car had been towed. He was told he would have to pay $930 just to get a hearing in 36th District Court, according to the lawsuit.

Levy ordered Detroit to pay $2,000 to Grays and $1,500 each to two more people. There was no immediate comment from the city Wednesday.

While the case only involved Detroit, Levy’s decision could be applied elsewhere in Michigan, Katz said.

State attorneys defended the law when Republican Bill Schuette was attorney general but dropped out of the case after Democrat Dana Nessel took office in 2019.


Feds drop legal battle over tribe’s reservation status
Law Firm Business | 2021/02/21 04:13
The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe scored a legal victory Friday when the U.S. Interior Department withdrew a Trump administration appeal that aimed to revoke federal reservation designation for the tribe’s land in Massachusetts.

A federal judge in 2020 blocked the U.S. Interior Department from revoking the tribe’s reservation designation, saying the agency’s decision to do so was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and contrary to law.” The Trump administration appealed the decision, but the Interior Department on Friday moved to dismiss the motion.

In a filing in a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., the Interior Department said it had “conferred with the parties and none opposes this motion.” A judge granted the motion and dismissed the case.

The tribe’s vice chair, Jessie Little Doe Baird, called it a triumph for the tribe and for ancestors “who have fought and died to ensure our Land and sovereign rights are respected.”

“We look forward to being able to close the book on this painful chapter in our history,” Baird said in a statement. “The decision not to pursue the appeal allows us continue fulfilling our commitment to being good stewards and protecting our Land and the future of our young ones and providing for our citizens.”

The Cape Cod-based tribe was granted more than 300 acres (1.2 square kilometers) of land in trust in 2015 by then-President Barack Obama, a move that carved out the federally protected land needed for the tribe to develop its planned $1 billion First Light casino, hotel and entertainment resort.

The tribe learned in March 2020 that the federal government was moving to reverse the reservation designation. The Trump administration decided it could not take the land into trust because the tribe was not officially recognized as of June 1, 1934. That was the year the federal Indian Reorganization Act, which laid the foundation for modern federal Indian policy, became law.

At the time, the tribe’s chair called it a “sucker punch.”  The tribe, which traces its ancestry to the Native Americans that shared a fall harvest meal with the Pilgrims in 1621, gained federal recognition in 2007.

U.S. Representative Bill Keating, D-Mass., whose district includes Cape Cod, applauded the decision to drop the appeal.



European court rejects case vs Germany over Afghan airstrike
Headline News | 2021/02/16 19:10
The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday rejected a complaint against Germany’s refusal to prosecute an officer who ordered the deadly bombing in 2009 of two fuel tankers in northern Afghanistan.

Scores of people died when U.S. Air Force jets bombed the tankers hijacked by the Taliban near Kunduz. The strike was ordered by the commander of the German base in Kunduz, Col. Georg Klein, who feared insurgents could use the trucks to carry out attacks.

Contrary to the intelligence Klein based his decision on, most of those swarming the trucks were local civilians invited by the Taliban to siphon fuel from the vehicles after they had become stuck in a riverbed.

An Afghan man who lost two sons aged 8 and 12 in the airstrike, Abdul Hanan, took the case to the European Court of Human Rights after German authorities declined to prosecute Klein. He alleged that Germany failed to conduct an effective investigation and that no “effective domestic remedy” to that had been available in Germany.

The Strasbourg, France-based court rejected the complaints. It found that German federal prosecutors were “able to rely on a considerable amount of material concerning the circumstances and the impact of the airstrike.”

It also noted that courts including Germany’s highest, the Federal Constitutional Court, rejected cases by Hanan. And it added that a parliamentary commission of inquiry “had ensured a high level of public scrutiny of the case.”

Wolfgang Kaleck, the head of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights who provided legal support to Hanan, said the verdict was a disappointment for the plaintiff and his fellow villagers, but noted that judges had made clear that governments have a duty to at least investigate such cases.



Circuit court judge accused of altering paperwork
Legal Watch | 2021/02/11 22:32
A New Hampshire circuit court judge has been accused of altering court paperwork with white out in a 2019 family division case while she was under investigation by the judicial branch.

Julie Introcaso, a Bedford judge who was suspended in October, was charged Thursday with two felony counts of falsifying physical evidence and three misdemeanors alleging tampering with public records or information and unsworn falsification.

The attorney general’s office said Introcaso will be arraigned at a later date. It wasn’t immediately known if she had a lawyer, and a number could not be found for her.

The attorney general’s office began an investigation last fall after the state Judicial Conduct Committee released a document alleging that Introcaso violated the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct.

That complaint alleges that Introcaso oversaw a child custody case for about six months despite having a friendship with a lawyer who was serving as a guardian ad litem in the matter. She approved rulings on the guardian’s fees and method of payment.

She eventually recused herself, citing a conflict of interest, but a party in the case made a complaint about her to the committee, which started an investigation. The committee alleges she altered the court orders during the investigation.



Georgia court officials eye March for jury trial resumption
Law Firm Business | 2021/02/08 23:35
Georgia court officials say they are hopeful jury trials will resume in March given the recent decline in coronavirus cases along with the rollout of vaccines.

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold D. Melton signed an order on Sunday extending for another 30 days a statewide judicial emergency that suspends the trials because of concerns about COVID-19.

But the order says the surge in virus cases that led to the suspension appears to be declining, and it is anticipated that superior and state courts will get the green light to resume the trials at their discretion in March.

Online payment of court costs, fines expands in Kentucky

The Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts has expanded its online payment options.

As of last week, people who owe court costs, fines, fees or restitution on eligible cases can make full or partial payments, the office said in a news release. Previously the ePay program only allowed payment in full in prepayable cases, which is one that doesn't require a court appearance.

"The primary advantage is that anyone who owes court costs can now pay online," Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. said. "We're also easing the financial strain for those who have a prepayable case by allowing them to pay over time, if needed."


Polish court rules record compensation for wrongful jailing
Law Firm Business | 2021/02/05 07:33
A Polish court on Monday ordered a record high compensation of nearly 13 million zlotys ($3.4 million) to a man who had spent 18 years in prison for a rape and murder of a teenager he didn't commit.

Tomasz Komenda's case has shocked Poland, and the right-wing government highlighted it as an example of why it says the justice system needs the deep changes it has been implementing.

Komenda, now in his mid-40s was arrested in 2000 over a 1997 rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl at a New Year's village disco party. He was initially handed a 15-year prison term, which was later increased to 25 years, despite him protesting his innocence.

As a result of family efforts, the prosecutors reviewed the case and came to the conclusion that he couldn't have committed the crime. Komenda was cleared after DNA tests, among other factors, showed that he wasn't involved.

Komenda was acquitted of all charges and released in 2018, having wrongfully served 18 years of his term. He had been seeking 19 million zlotys ($5 million) in damages and in compensation.

A court in Opole ruled Monday that he should receive most of that amount — the highest ever compensation awarded in Poland. The verdict is subject to appeal.

Two other men have been convicted and handed 25-year prison terms in the 1997 case. Komenda's story was told in 2020 Polish movie “25 Years of Innocence. The Case of Tomek Komenda.”


More protests called in Moscow to demand Navalny’s release
Headline News | 2021/02/02 23:02
Moscow braced for more protests seeking the release of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who faces a court hearing Tuesday after two weekends of nationwide rallies and thousands of arrests in the largest outpouring of discontent in Russia in years.

Tens of thousands filled the streets across the vast country Sunday, chanting slogans against President Vladimir Putin and demanding freedom for Navalny, who was jailed last month and faces years in prison. Over 5,400 protesters were detained by authorities, according to a human rights group.

One of those taken into custody for several hours was Navalny’s wife, Yulia, who was ordered Monday to pay a fine of about $265 for participating in an unauthorized rally.

While state-run media dismissed the demonstrations as small and claimed that they showed the failure of the opposition, Navalny’s team said the turnout demonstrated “overwhelming nationwide support” for the Kremlin’s fiercest critic. His allies called for protesters to come to the Moscow courthouse on Tuesday.

“Without your help, we won’t be able to resist the lawlessness of the authorities,” his politician’s team said in a social media post.

Mass protests engulfed dozens of Russian cities for the second weekend in a row despite efforts by authorities to stifle the unrest triggered by the jailing of 44-year-old Navalny.

He was arrested Jan. 17 upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin. Russian authorities reject the accusation. He faces a prison term for alleged probation violations from a 2014 money-laundering conviction that is widely seen as politically motivated.

Last month, Russia’s prison service filed a motion to replace his 3 1/2-year suspended sentence from the conviction with one he must serve. The Prosecutor General’s office backed the motion Monday, alleging Navalny engaged in “unlawful conduct” during the probation period.


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