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High court strikes down ‘scandalous’ part of trademark law
Court Center | 2019/06/25 18:15
The Supreme Court struck down a section of federal law Monday that prevented businesses from registering trademarks seen as scandalous or immoral, handing a victory to California fashion brand FUCT.

The high court ruled that the century-old provision is an unconstitutional restriction on speech. Between 2005 and 2015, the United States Patent and Trademark Office ultimately refused about 150 trademark applications a year as a result of the provision. Those who were turned away could still use the words they were seeking to register, but they didn’t get the benefits that come with trademark registration. Going after counterfeiters was also difficult as a result.

The Trump administration had defended the provision, arguing that it encouraged trademarks that are appropriate for all audiences.

The high court’s ruling means that the people and companies behind applications that previously failed as a result of the scandalous or immoral provision can re-submit them for approval. And new trademark applications cannot be refused on the grounds they are scandalous or immoral.

Justice Elena Kagan said in reading her majority opinion that the most fundamental principle of free speech law is that the government can’t penalize or discriminate against expression based on the ideas or viewpoints they convey. She said Lanham Act’s ban on “immoral or scandalous” trademarks does just that.


Census, redistricting top remaining Supreme Court cases
Headline News | 2019/06/24 01:16
The Supreme Court enters its final week of decisions with two politically charged issues unresolved, whether to rein in political line-drawing for partisan gain and allow a citizenship question on the 2020 census.

Both decisions could affect the distribution of political power for the next decade, and both also may test Chief Justice John Roberts’ professed desire to keep his court of five conservatives appointed by Republican presidents and four liberals appointed by Democrats from looking like the other, elected branches of government. Decisions that break along the court’s political and ideological divide are more likely to generate criticism of the court as yet another political institution.

In addition, the justices could say as early as Monday whether they will add to their election-year calendar a test of President Donald Trump’s effort to end an Obama-era program that shields young immigrants from deportation. The court’s new term begins in October.

Twelve cases that were argued between November and April remain to be decided. They include disputes over: a trademark sought by the FUCT clothing line, control of a large swatch of eastern Oklahoma that once belonged to Indian tribes and when courts should defer to decisions made by executive branch agencies.

But the biggest cases by far involve the citizenship question the Trump administration wants to add to the census and two cases in which lower courts found that Republicans in North Carolina and Democrats in Maryland went too far in drawing congressional districts to benefit their party at the expense of the other party’s voters.

The Supreme Court has never invalidated districts on partisan grounds, but the court has kept the door open to these claims. The court has struck down districts predominantly based on race.


EU court says Poland's Supreme Court reforms unlawful
Legal Watch | 2019/06/22 01:18
The European Union's top court ruled Monday that a Polish law that pushed Supreme Court judges into early retirement violates EU law, a setback for Poland's right-wing government but a move welcomed by critics who worried the measure would cause a serious erosion of democratic standards.

In its ruling, the European Court of Justice said the measures breach judicial independence. An interim decision from the Luxembourg-based court in November ordered the Polish government to reinstate judges who were forced to retire early and to amend the law to remove the provisions that took about one-third of the court off the bench.

The court said the law "undermines the principle of the irremovability of judges, that principle being essential to their independence."

There was no immediate reaction from Poland's government, but the decision is a blow to the ruling authorities, who since winning power in 2015 have increasingly taken control of the judicial system.

The government and president have said they wanted to force the early retirement of the Supreme Court judges as part of a larger effort to purge communist-era judges.

But legal experts say that argument holds no water because most communist-era judges are long gone from the judicial system 30 years after the fall of communism. Many critics believe the true aim is to destroy the independence of the Polish judiciary.

The biggest fear is that the judiciary could become so politicized that those not favored by the ruling authorities could be unfairly charged with crimes and sentenced, essentially deprived of fair hearings. Though a separate court, the Constitutional Tribunal, and other bodies are already under the ruling party's control, many judges have continued to show independence, ruling against the authorities, even the justice minister, in recent cases.


Court tosses black man's murder conviction over racial bias
Court Center | 2019/06/20 01:19
Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote the court's majority opinion. Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch dissented.

In Flowers' sixth trial, the jury was made up of 11 whites and one African American. District Attorney Doug Evans struck five black prospective jurors.

In the earlier trials, three convictions were tossed out, including one when the prosecutor improperly excluded African Americans from the jury. In the second trial, the judge chided Evans for striking a juror based on race. Two other trials ended when jurors couldn't reach unanimous verdicts.

"The numbers speak loudly," Kavanaugh said in a summary of his opinion that he read in the courtroom, noting that Evans had removed 41 of the 42 prospective black jurors over the six trials. "We cannot ignore that history."

In dissent, Thomas called Kavanaugh's opinion "manifestly incorrect" and wrote that Flowers presented no evidence whatsoever of purposeful race discrimination."

Flowers has been in jail more than 22 years, since his arrest after four people were found shot to death in a furniture store in Winona, Mississippi, in July 1996.

Flowers was arrested several months later, described by prosecutors as a disgruntled former employee who sought revenge against the store's owner because she fired him and withheld most of his pay to cover the cost of merchandise he damaged. Nearly $300 was found missing after the killings.



Oregon city stops jailing poor who can't pay court debts
Headline News | 2019/06/16 23:45
The eastern Oregon city of Pendleton has stopped jailing people unable to pay fines, a city official said, following the settlement of a federal lawsuit contending city officials were running a debtors' prison.

The East Oregonian reports in a story on Saturday that city attorney Nancy Kerns said city court officials recently adopted new policies that ban the use of jail time for fines arising from minor violations.

"No person shall be incarcerated for the inability and lack of financial resources to pay financial obligations to the Court, including fines, costs and restitution," the policy states.

The policy also requires the city court to consider defendants' ability to pay and appoint attorneys to indigent defendants who face jail time.

Anglea Minthorn spent nearly two months in jail in 2017 for owing about $1,000.

She sued in early 2018, contending the city was violating the U.S. Constitution by incarcerating a debtor unable to pay the debt.

Minthorn's "experience is not unique," the lawsuit said. "It is a reflection of how defendants operate a modern-day debtors' prison in which people who cannot afford to pay court-imposed fines arising out of minor violations are arrested, incarcerated, and fined further."

The lawsuit described Minthorn as a low-income person with disabilities who struggled to get stable housing, medical care and food. The lawsuit said she was hospitalized for 74 days in 2016 because of stroke-like symptoms.


Ohio high court won't hear challenge over bite-mark evidence
Headline News | 2019/06/16 06:50
The Ohio Supreme Court won't hear an appeal from a man sentenced to death for the 1985 rape, torture and slaying of a 12-year-old boy.

Attorneys for 52-year-old Danny Lee Hill have unsuccessfully argued bite-mark evidence used against him was unreliable and that he should get a new trial.

A county judge rejected his request, and a state appeals court upheld that decision. The state Supreme Court this week declined to consider a further appeal.

Hill was convicted of aggravated murder in the killing of Raymond Fife in Warren.

Hill is separately challenging his eligibility for the death penalty, citing intellectual deficits. A federal appeals court is slated to hear arguments in that case this fall.




Brazil's supreme court votes to make homophobia a crime
Court Center | 2019/06/14 06:51
Brazil's supreme court officially made homophobia and transphobia crimes similar to racism on Thursday, with the final justices casting their votes in a ruling that comes amid fears the country's far-right administration is seeking to roll back LGBT social gains.

Six of the Supreme Federal Tribunal's 11 judges had already voted in favor of the measure in late May, giving the ruling a majority. The final justices voted Thursday for a tally of eight votes for and three against.

Racism was made a crime in Brazil in 1989 with prison sentences of up to five years. The court's judges ruled that homophobia should be framed within the racism law until the country's congress approves legislation specifically dealing with LGBT discrimination.

The court's judges have said the ruling was to address an omission that had left the LGBT community legally unprotected.

"In a discriminatory society like the one we live in, the homosexual is different and the transsexual is different. Every preconception is violence, but some impose more suffering than others," said justice Carmen Lucia.

Justice Ricardo Lewandowski, one of the judges who voted against the measure, recognized the lack of congressional legislation on the issue but said he voted against putting homophobia inside the framework of the racism legislation because only the legislature has the power to create "types of crimes" and set punishments.


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High court strikes down ‘sc..
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Oregon city stops jailing po..
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Brazil's supreme court votes..
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