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Judge from Mississippi civil rights murder trial dies at 79
Court Center | 2021/04/08 21:49
A private funeral will be held Friday for the Mississippi judge who handed down a life sentence to the white supremacist convicted of killing civil rights leader Medgar Evers.

Retired Hinds County Circuit Court Judge L. Breland Hilburn died Monday at the University of Mississippi Medical Center of complications from COVID-19, according to a news release from the state Administrative Office of Courts. He was 79.

Hilburn presided over the 1994 murder trial of former fertilizer salesman Byron De La Beckwith in the killing of Evers three decades earlier.

The Mississippi NAACP leader was shot to death in his own driveway shortly after midnight on June 12, 1963, while his wife and their three small children were inside the home in Jackson. President John F. Kennedy had given a televised speech about civil rights hours earlier. Prosecutors said Beckwith staked out the Evers home, waiting across the street to assassinate the World War II veteran.

Two all-white juries tried Beckwith in the 1960s, but they deadlocked and mistrials were declared. The case was reopened in the early 1990s after new witnesses came forward. In 1994, an integrated jury convicted  Beckwith of murder, and Hilburn sentenced him to life in prison. Beckwith died in prison in 2001.

Hilburn retired May 31, 2002, after spending 30 years as a city, county or circuit judge. He continued working part-time in retirement as senior status judge until 2017 ? a position appointed by the state Supreme Court. In that role, Hilburn helped Hinds County deal with a long criminal docket when the jail was crowded with pretrial detainees.

William Gowan, another retired Hinds County circuit judge who has worked as a senior status judge, said in the state courts’ news release that Hilburn was “a public servant who could identify with the public.”

“He never tried to impress people with being a judge,” Gowan said.


High court nixes Alex Jones’ appeal in Newtown shooting case
Headline News | 2021/04/05 03:25
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal by Infowars host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who was fighting a Connecticut court sanction in a defamation lawsuit brought by relatives of some of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

Jones was penalized in 2019 by a trial court judge for an angry outburst on his web show against an attorney for the relatives and for violating numerous orders to turn over documents to the families’ lawyers. Judge Barbara Bellis barred Jones from filing a motion to dismiss the case, which remains pending, and said she would order Jones to pay some of the families’ legal fees.

Jones argued he should not have been sanctioned for exercising his free speech rights. The Connecticut Supreme Court upheld Bellis’ ruling last year.

The families and an FBI agent who responded to the shooting, which left 20 first-graders and six educators dead, are suing Jones and his show over claims that the massacre was a hoax. The families said they have been subjected to harassment and death threats from Jones’ followers because of the hoax conspiracy.

Jones, whose show is based in Austin, Texas, has since said he believes the shooting occurred.

The U.S. Supreme Court turned down Jones’ request to hear his appeal without comment.

Jones’ attorney, Norman Pattis, called the court’s decision “a disappointment.”

“Judge Bellis, and the Connecticut Supreme Court, asserted frightening and standardless power over the extrajudicial statements of litigants,” Pattis said in an email to The Associated Press. “Mr. Jones never threatened anyone; had he done so, he would have been charged with a crime. We are inching our way case-by-case toward a toothless, politically correct, First Amendment.”

Joshua Koskoff, a lawyer for the Sandy Hook families, said Jones deserved to be sanctioned for his threatening comments on his show.

“The families are eager to resume their case and to hold Mr. Jones and his financial network accountable for their actions,” Koskoff said in a statement. “From the beginning, our goal has been to prevent future victims of mass shootings from being preyed on by opportunists.”

The sanction came after Jones, on Infowars in 2019, accused an attorney for the families, Christopher Mattei, of planting child pornography that was found in email metadata files that Jones turned over to the Sandy Hook families’ lawyers. Pattis has said the pornography was in emails sent to Jones that were never opened.


Judge rules Mormon church didn’t meddle in death row case
Legal Watch | 2021/03/31 23:00
A Utah judge has ruled that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did not interfere in a death row inmate’s 2015 trial when it laid out ground rules for what local church leaders could say before they testified as character witnesses for the man.

Death row inmate Doug Lovell, 62, claimed the witnesses were effectively silenced by the church, or never contacted at all by his court-appointed attorney, Sean Young, The Salt Lake Tribune reported  Tuesday.

The lawyers argued the witnesses were family members, inmates and former church leaders who could have told jurors Lovell positively affected their lives. Those testimonies, which were not all given, could have swayed the jurors, they said.

Instead, Lovell was sentenced in 2015 to die by lethal injection for killing Joyce Yost three decades ago in an effort to silence her after she had alleged Lovell had raped her. Lovell appealed the verdict, claiming the church interfered in his trial and he didn’t receive adequate legal representation.

In a recent court ruling, Second District Judge Michael DiReda said Young wasn’t deficient in his representation and didn’t contact several witnesses because they would have said damaging things about his client.

DiReda also said the church didn’t interfere with Lovell’s case and told former bishops to tell the truth, but did not emphasize what they should say.

Lovell pleaded guilty to the murder in 1993 under a plea agreement that would have removed the death penalty if Lovell could show authorities the location of Yost’s body. The body was never found and the agreement was voided, but Lovell still pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and was sentenced to death.

In 2011, the Utah Supreme Court allowed Lovell to withdraw his guilty plea. He was then convicted at trial and again sentenced to death. The state Supreme Court in 2017 heard the case again and sent it back to a district court to determine if Lovell’s attorneys did their jobs properly and if the church asked ecclesiastical leaders to not testify.

The case will now get kicked back to the Utah Supreme Court, which will have the ultimate say in whether Lovell should receive another trial.

Lovell is one of seven men currently on death row in Utah. An execution date is unclear.



Governor swears in newest Rhode Island state court judge
Legal Watch | 2021/03/28 02:29
The newest judge to the Rhode Island Superior Court was sworn in Saturday.

Democratic Gov. Dan McKee presided over the swearing in of R. David Cruise, a longtime political operative and state senator, at the Boys & Girls Club location in Cumberland.

McKee, a former Cumberland mayor who has known Cruise for years, said in a statement that he’s an “honest, fair and thoughtful leader who brings decades of legal and government experience to the bench.”

Cruise is a former state senator and Cumberland town councilor. In recent years, he’s served as former Gov. Gina Raimondo’s director of legislative affairs, former administrative magistrate with the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal and chief of staff to the Rhode Island Senate, among other posts, according to McKee’s office.

In the 1990s, Cruise worked in the commerce department under President Bill Clinton and chief of staff to former Governor Bruce Sundlun. In the 1980s, he was a state senator and before that served on the Cumberland Town Council.

Cruise, who graduated from Providence College and the Suffolk University School of Law, replaces former Superior Court Judge Bennett Gallo, who retired in February.

The Rhode Island Superior Court has 22 judges and five magistrates. It handles both civil and criminal matters.


Philippine Supreme Court slams killings of lawyers, judges
Headline News | 2021/03/23 22:05
The Philippine Supreme Court on Tuesday condemned the alarming number of killings and threats against lawyers and judges. One legal group has said these attacks are considerably higher under President Rodrigo Duterte compared to the past 50 years under six former presidents.

The 15-member high court asked lower courts, law enforcement agencies and lawyers and judges’ groups to provide information about such attacks in the last 10 years, in order for the court to take preemptive steps. The attacks, it said, endanger the rule of law in an Asian bastion of democracy.

“To threaten our judges and our lawyers is no less than an assault on the judiciary. To assault the judiciary is to shake the very bedrock on which the rule of law stands,” the high court said in a rare, strongly-worded censure of the attacks. “This cannot be allowed in a civilized society like ours.”

The court said it would not “tolerate such acts that only perverse justice, defeat the rule of law, undermine the most basic of constitutional principles and speculate on the worth of human lives.”

The Free Legal Assistance Group, a prominent group of lawyers, said at least 61 lawyers have been killed in the five years of Duterte’s presidency compared to at least 25 lawyers and judges slain under six presidents since 1972, when dictator Ferdinand Marcos placed the Philippines under martial law.

Lawyers’ groups said the court’s denunciation was long overdue but nevertheless welcomed it. “We have been sounding out the clarion call and providing information and concrete recommendations for the longest time,” said lawyer Edre Olalia, who heads the left-wing National Union of People’s Lawyers.

A number of lawyers who represented suspected drug dealers or were linked to the illegal drug trade were among those gunned down under Duterte’s rule. When he took office in mid-2016, Duterte launched a massive anti-drug crackdown that has left more than 6,000 mostly petty suspects dead and alarmed Western governments and human rights groups.



Court upholds Iowa man’s civil judgment in mother’s death
Headline News | 2021/03/19 22:21
There was enough evidence for a jury to conclude in a wrongful death lawsuit that an Iowa man shot and killed his mother, the state Supreme Court ruled Friday, leaving in place the jury’s $10 million award even though the man was eventually acquitted on criminal charges in her death.

The court denied Jason Carter’s appeal of the civil judgment, in which a jury found him responsible for the June 2015 shooting of his mother, Shirley Carter, at her home near Knoxville.

Jason Carter, of Knoxville, and his father, Bill Carter, have been locked in legal disputes since Shirley Carter’s death.

Bill Carter filed the lawsuit on behalf of his late wife’s estate and another son, Billy Dean Carter, in 2016. A jury found Jason Carter liable and awarded a $10 million judgment to be paid to his father and mother’s estate.

Jason Carter was charged with first-degree murder in his mother’s death, but a jury acquitted him in March 2019.

In his appeal of the civil judgment, Jason Carter claimed the judge had wrongly denied his motions to delay the civil trial, saying it should have been postponed because authorities were still investigating his mother’s death and hadn’t charged him yet. But the high court concluded in a decision written by Chief Justice Susan Christensen that “there is no rule requiring trial courts to stay civil proceedings until criminal proceedings conclude.”

Carter also disputed the civil trial judge’s decisions on subpoenas and motions to set aside the jury verdict. His motions were based in part on evidence that had surfaced in which witnesses claimed the shooting was a botched attempt by other people to steal prescription medication from Shirley and Bill Carters’ home. Jason Carter claimed such evidence may have helped him cast doubt on his liability in the civil case.

“We conclude that when viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, a reasonable mind could conclude by a preponderance of the evidence that Jason intentionally shot his mother,” Christensen wrote.

Jason Carter’s lawyer, Alison Kanne, said she and her client disagree with the court’s decision and “we remain satisfied with the fact that Jason Carter was conclusively deemed not guilty by a jury of his peers who had all of the information in front of them, which is something the civil jury did not have.”

Bill Carter’s lawyer, Mark Weinhardt, said they were reviewing the decision and would comment later. In his closing argument before the high court, Weinhardt said Bill Carter was seeking at least some measure of justice for his wife.



Dinamo Zagreb coach quits after receiving prison sentence
Law Firm Business | 2021/03/14 06:21
Zoran Mamic quit as Dinamo Zagreb coach after Croatia’s Supreme Court confirmed his nearly five-year prison sentence for tax evasion and fraud, just days before the Croatian champions play a Europa League match against Tottenham.

“Although I do not feel guilty, as I announced earlier, if the verdict is final, I accept it as such and resign from the position of head coach and sports director of GNK Dinamo,” Mamic said in a statement late Monday. “I wish the club a lot of luck and sporting success in its future work.”

Mamic has no further avenue for appeal, and will have to go to prison upon receiving the formal notification of the court ruling.

Mamic and his brother Zdravko, a former Dinamo Zagreb executive director, were charged with embezzling the equivalent of $18 million from the sale of Dinamo Zagreb players to foreign clubs, and for tax evasion worth $2 million.

The Mamic brothers were suspected of embezzlement through fictitious deals made during transfers of several former Dinamo players to foreign clubs, including Luka Modric to Tottenham in 2008.

The Real Madrid midfielder, a former FIFA player of the year, was a key witness during the trial, testifying about his financial deals with the Mamics.

Zoran Mamic was sentenced to four years and eight months in prison. Zdravko Mamic, who was sentenced to six years and six months, fled to Bosnia shortly after a lower court passed the original sentences in 2018.

The Supreme Court also confirmed a three-year prison sentence for former Dinamo director Damir Vrbanovic.

The club said Mamic would be replaced as coach by Damir Krznar.

Dinamo is scheduled to host Tottenham on Thursday in the return leg of their Europa League playoff. Tottenham won the first leg 2-0 last week.


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