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Supreme Court rules magistrates may preside
Court Center | 2008/05/15 14:36

The US Supreme Court ruled Monday in Gonzalez v. United States that allowing a magistrate judge to oversee jury selection does not deprive a criminal defendant of the right to a jury trial and complies with the Federal Magistrates Act. The holding affirmed a judgment of the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit that defendant's counsel may waive the right to have an Article III judge preside over voir dire, and that it was not error to proceed without first getting the defendant's personal consent. Justice Kennedy announced the judgment of the Court; his opinion was joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Alito. Justice Scalia filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, and Justice Thomas wrote a dissent.

In affirming the Fifth Circuit ruling, Justice Kennedy wrote:

Numerous choices affecting conduct of the trial, including the objections to make, the witnesses to call, and the arguments to advance, depend not only upon what is permissible under the rules of evidence and procedure but also upon tactical considerations of the moment and the larger strategic plan for the trial. These matters can be difficult to explain to a layperson; and to require in all instances that they be approved by the client could risk compromising the efficiencies and fairness that the trial process is designed to promote.

In a separate concurrence, Justice Scalia agreed with the conclusion but not with the reasoning upon which it was based. He wrote:

I would not adopt the tactical-vs.-fundamental approach, which is vague and derives from nothing more substantial than this Court’s say-so.

In his dissent, Justice Thomas advocated overruling the precedents for the decision and wrote:

Where, as here, a mistaken interpretation of a statute leaves the Court with no principled way to answer subsequent questions that arise under the statute, it seems to me that the better course is simply to acknowledge and correct the error.



Widow Says Hamster Virus Killed Husband
Headline News | 2008/05/13 15:26
A transplant recipient died of a virus he contracted from the donor, who got it from her pet hamster, the recipient's widow claims in Superior Court. Three other, similar claims have been filed, at least one of them alleging the organ recipient died from the hamster's virus.

Mary Petraszewski claims her husband, John, received a lung transplant at a Massachusetts hospital on April 10, 2005, and died of lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) 23 days later.

She claims the unnamed donor contracted the disease from her pet hamster, which she bought at Petsmart store in Warwick, R.I., which bought it from the defendant in this case, MidSouth Distributors of Ohio.

She claims that "scientists determined" that her husband died of LCMV that the donor got from her hamster.

Petraszewski claims it was "practical and feasible" for MidSouth to screen its rodents for LCMV, but "Defendant completely failed to conduct such screening."

Petraszewski's complaint names three other organ recipients, all of whom, she says, "have similar cases pending in this court."


Theft Of $1 Million In Comics Followed By Death Threat
Headline News | 2008/05/12 14:44
A comic book auctioneer - Jay Parrino's The Mint - duped a collector for five comic books worth a total $1 million, and threatened to kill him if he took legal action about it, the collector claims in Jackson County Court.

Plaintiff Jaquiez Douglas claims he inherited the comic book collection of his late father, which included first editions from the 1930s in mint collection. Among them, he says, were Action Comic No. 1 of 1938, Detective Comic Nos. 1 and 27 of 1939, The Incredible Hulk No. 1 of 1962 and X-Men No. 1 of 1963.

Defendant Lee Parrino, of Lee's Summit, runs his store, Jay Parrino's The Mint, in Blue Springs, the complaint states.

Douglas claims Parrino offered to pay him "top dollar" for items from Douglas' collection, then after accepting delivery of 46 books, claimed the five books above "were missing." But Douglas says Parrino is advertising for sale on its Web site Action Comic No. 1 and Detective Comic No. 1.

Douglas claims Parrino has all 46 comic books, and that "When Douglas told Defendant Jay Parrino he would initiate legal action to recover the comic books, Defendant Jay Parrino threatened Douglas and said if Douglas tried 'to make trouble' then Defendant Jay Parrino 'would have [Douglas] knocked off.'" (Bracketed word in brackets in complaint.)

Douglas says he and his attorneys have tried to get the police to intervene, but "law enforcement personnel have indicated on each occasion that this is a civil matter and have refused to take action."


Arapaho Man Who Killed Bald Eagle Loses Ruling
Headline News | 2008/05/09 14:49

A member of the Northern Arapahos in Wyoming faces trial for shooting and killing a bald eagle as a sacrifice for the tribe's Sun Dance religious ceremony. The 10th Circuit upheld the Bald and Golden Eagle Act, which makes it illegal to shoot eagles, as the "least restrictive means of pursuing the government's compelling interest in preserving the bald eagle."

The ruling reversed a federal judge's decision for Winslow Friday, who argued that his "taking" is exempt from the act because the Sun Dance and its offerings are important religious rituals for Plains Indian tribes. Friday's cousin, Nathaniel, was the sponsor for the 2005 ceremony, which meant his family was responsible for getting the materials for the ceremony - including an eagle. During the dance, the tribe offers up the tail fan of an eagle to the Creator by raising it on a pole.

The government charged Friday with violating federal law by shooting the eagle used in the Sun Dance.

Friday did not have the permit needed to take an eagle for religious purposes, but his lawyers argued that he would not have been granted one had he applied.

The court rejected this claim, saying the government occasionally grants tribal permits. And while the circuit judges understood the district court's frustration with the "biased and protracted nature" of the permit process, they said the law is not futile.

"We cannot deny the government its authority to enforce a congressionally enacted criminal statute based on no more evidence than this," Judge McConnell wrote



Taser Stuns Coroners with Win in Autopsy Reports Case
Legal Watch | 2008/05/08 14:37

An Ohio judge has given medical examiners around the country a shock by ordering a coroner to remove any reference to Tasers in her autopsy reports on three men who died after police officers shot them with the stun guns.

Amnesty International estimates that since June 2001, more than 150 people have died in the U.S. following Taser shocks, but the gun's manufacturer has been suing medical examiners who have cited its products in autopsy reports.

That aggressive strategy paid off big time after a four-day bench trial of Taser International's case against Dr. Lisa Kohler, the chief medical examiner of Summit County, Ohio. She had identified the physiological stress of being incapacitated by a 50,000-volt Taser as a contributory cause of the deaths of Dennis Hyde, 30, Richard Holcomb, 18, and Mark McCullaugh, 28.

“There is simply no medical, scientific, or electrical evidence to support the conclusion that the Taser X26 had anything to do with the death[s],” Court of Common Pleas Judge Ted Schneiderman said in a May 2 decision.

Under Ohio law, a judge can direct a coroner “to change his decision as to [the] cause and manner and mode of death.” Schneiderman ordered the county to delete any reference to a “contributing factor of electrical pulse incapacitation” in the Hyde and Holcomb autopsy reports and similar language in the McCullaugh report.



Monopoly Alleged In Crane Certification
Top Legal News | 2008/05/07 14:45
In an antitrust lawsuit, a man who was denied accreditation as a crane operator claims the National Commission for Certification of Crane Operators and the International Assessment Institute conspire to monopolize training schools in California, and that the Institute pays kickbacks to Commission for the tests it administers.

Plaintiff Timothy Maxwell claims he passed all the required courses and tests but the defendants denied him certification anyway, costing him a job.

He demands punitive damages for antitrust violations, breach of contract, unfair competition, false advertising and interference with prospective business.

He is represented in Alameda County Court by James Dombroski of Petaluma.


Texas Judge Sets Execution for Mexican National
Top Legal News | 2008/05/06 14:55

A Texas court Monday set the execution date for Mexican national and Texas prisoner Jose Ernesto Medellin  for August 5, after the US Supreme Court ruled in March that President George W. Bush did not have the authority to direct state courts to comply with a ruling from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) granting new court hearings. The government of Mexico and Medellin's lawyers had requested that the judge hold off on setting an execution date, but Judge Caprice Cosper scheduled the lethal injection after refusing to allow a legal adviser to the Mexican Foreign Secretary to speak before the court.

Medellin, a Mexican national sentenced to death for raping and murdering two teenage girls, had appealed a Texas Court of Criminal Appeals November 2006 ruling that Bush had "exceeded his constitutional authority" by ordering state court rehearings for 51 Mexican nationals, including Medellin, convicted in US courts. The president's February 2005 memorandum instructed the Texas courts to follow a March 2004 ICJ decision that held that Medellin and the other Mexican nationals tried in US courts had been denied their right under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations to contact the Mexican consulate for legal assistance and that the US was obligated to grant review and reconsideration of their convictions and sentences.



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