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Analysis: Outside groups may factor in Arkansas court race
Court Center | 2018/01/23 02:47
Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson lost her bid to run the state's highest court two years ago after coming under fire from conservative groups that spent big on mailers and TV ads targeting her. Two years earlier, David Sterling was defeated in the race for the Republican attorney general nomination despite outside groups going after his rival in that race.

Now, the two are about to face off in what could wind up being another costly and heated fight for a state high court seat that could overshadow other races on the ballot this year. It could also turn into a proxy fight over the state's resumption of executions and the court's role in scaling back what had been an unprecedented plan to put eight men to death over an 11-day period.

Goodson quietly launched her campaign last week, with an adviser confirming that she planned to seek another term on the state's high court in the May judicial election. The same day, Sterling said he planned to challenge the incumbent jurist.

Neither candidate has laid out campaign arguments, but the past two election cycles offer some guide of what to expect. Goodson launched her bid for the chief justice seat ago vowing to represent "conservative values" on the court.

"The Supreme Court is supposed to represent your common sense, conservative values, to uphold the rule of law and to look out for your rights," Goodson said in a campaign video she posted in the fall of 2015.

A year earlier, Sterling was touting his conservative credentials in his campaign for attorney general and promised to use the office to protect Arkansans from "an overreaching federal government." Sterling lost in the runoff for the Republican nomination against Leslie Rutledge, who is now seeking re-election as the state's top attorney.


Court rules Puigdemont must return to Spain for re-election
Court Center | 2018/01/22 02:47
Spain's top court said Saturday that Catalonia's fugitive ex-president must return to the country and be present in the regional parliament to receive the authority to form a new government.

The Constitutional Court ruled that a session of Catalonia's parliament scheduled for Tuesday would be suspended if former leader Carles Puigdemont tries to be re-elected without being physically present in the chamber.

The court also said that Puigdemont must seek judicial authorization to attend the session.

Catalonia's separatist lawmakers have been considering voting Puigdemont back in as regional chief without him returning from Belgium, weighing options that included another parliament member standing in for him or him addressing the lawmakers via video.

The separatist leader fled Spain after the regional parliament made an unsuccessful declaration of independence on Oct. 27 in violation of Spain's Constitution. He is wanted in Spain on possible rebellion and sedition charges and is likely to be arrested if he returns.

The court, in a unanimous decision of the 11 magistrates present, said that the investiture of Puigdemont would be suspended without the previous authorization of a judge, "even if he is physically in the chamber."

That specification comes amid speculation that Puigdemont could try to slip back into Spain and sneak past police into the Barcelona-based parliament to be re-elected. Spain's Interior Minister, Juan Ignacio Zoido, said this week that police were increasing surveillance to ensure that doesn't happen.

The court also ruled that neither Puigdemont nor the four other former members of his Cabinet who also fled to Belgium to avoid a judicial summons three months ago could delegate their vote for Tuesday's session in another candidate.



Court rules that Kushner firm must disclose partners' names
Legal Watch | 2018/01/20 02:47
A federal judge ruled Friday that the family company once run by Jared Kushner isn't allowed to keep secret the identity of its business partners in several Maryland properties.

A U.S. district judge in the state rejected the argument that the privacy rights of the Kushner Cos. partners outweigh the public interest in obtaining judicial records in a lawsuit before the court. The decision means the company tied to President Donald Trump's son-in-law might be forced to provide a rare glimpse into how it finances its real estate ventures.

The ruling backed the argument by The Associated Press and other news organizations that the media has a "presumptive right" to see such court documents and the Kushner Cos. had not raised a "compelling government interest" needed by law to block access.

U.S. District Court Judge James K. Bredar ruled that Westminster Management, a Kushner Cos. subsidiary, must file an unsealed document with the identity of its partners by Feb. 9.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by tenants last year alleging Westminster charges excessive and illegal rent for apartments in the state. The lawsuit seeks class-action status for tenants in 17 apartment complexes owned by the company.

Westminster has said it has broken no laws and denies the charges.

In addition to its privacy argument, the Kushner subsidiary had said media reports of the Maryland dispute were "politically motivated" and marked by "unfair sensationalism." Disclosure of its partners' names would trigger even more coverage and hurt its chances of getting an impartial decision in the case, it had said.

In Friday's ruling, the judge said these are not "frivolous concerns," but the public's right to know is more important.


Judge to pick battlefield for court fight over Manson's body
Legal News | 2018/01/18 02:48
Charles Manson orchestrated murders in his adopted hometown of Los Angeles, served time in a state prison in Corcoran and died in a hospital in Bakersfield.

The legal battle for his body or possessions could land in any of three California counties where those cities are located as friends and purported kin wage a court fight Friday that includes nasty accusations about profiteering off the death of the cult leader.

At least three parties have staked claims to collect Manson's body from the Kern County morgue two months after he died and take control of any assets, which could include potentially lucrative rights to the use of his image and songs he wrote and any other property.

"It's a circus show," said a frustrated Ben Gurecki, one of two pen pals who hold dueling wills allegedly signed by Manson. "It's despicable that I'm still sitting here 60 days later and I can't get my friend cremated."

But first a Los Angeles Superior Court judge must decide which court takes up the separate issues of Manson's remains and his estate.

A Florida man, Jason Freeman, claims he's a grandson and the rightful heir and that the killer left no will. He's been challenged in Los Angeles by Michael Channels, another pen pal and collector of Manson memorabilia, who holds a will bearing what appears to be Manson's signature and names him as executor and sole beneficiary.

Gurecki, who like Channels also sells Manson mementos to fans of so-called murderabilia, has filed a will with the Kern County coroner's office bearing Manson's purported signature. It names Gurecki as executor and leaves everything to his "one living child," Matthew Lentz, a Los Angeles musician. Lentz and Gurecki have yet to file the will in court.


Court halts execution of Alabama inmate with dementia
Legal Watch | 2018/01/16 02:48
The U.S. Supreme Court has halted the execution of an Alabama inmate whose attorneys argue that dementia has left the 67-year-old unable to remember killing a police officer three decades ago.

Justices issued a stay Thursday night, the same evening that Vernon Madison was scheduled to receive a lethal injection at a southwest Alabama prison. The court delayed the execution to consider whether to further review the case.

Madison was sentenced to death for the 1985 killing of Mobile police Officer Julius Schulte, who had responded to a call about a missing child made by Madison's then-girlfriend. Prosecutors have said that Madison crept up and shot Schulte in the back of the head as he sat in his police car.

Madison's attorneys argued that strokes and dementia have left Madison unable to remember killing Schulte or fully understand his looming execution. The Supreme Court has previously ruled that condemned inmates must have a "rational understanding" that they are about to be executed and why.

"We are thrilled that the court stopped this execution tonight. Killing a fragile man suffering from dementia is unnecessary and cruel," attorney Bryan Stevenson, of the Equal Justice Initiative, said Thursday after the stay was granted.

The Alabama attorney general's office opposed the stay, arguing that a state court has ruled Madison competent and Madison has presented nothing that would reverse the finding.



Warrant dropped for professor who spoke Hawaiian in court
Top Legal News | 2018/01/12 02:47
A judge dropped an arrest warrant Thursday for a University of Hawaii professor who refused to respond in court to English and spoke Hawaiian instead.

Samuel Kaleikoa Kaeo was in court Wednesday facing a trial for charges connected to his participation in a 2017 protest against the construction of a solar telescope on top of Haleakala, a volcano on Maui, Hawaii News Now reported .

When Judge Blaine Kobayashi asked Kaeo to confirm his identity, he repeatedly responded in Hawaiian instead of English.

Kobayashi said he couldn't understand Kaeo and issued a warrant for Kaeo's arrest, saying "the court is unable to get a definitive determination for the record that the defendant seated in court is Mr. Samuel Kaeo."

Kaeo, an associate professor of Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaii Maui College, said he has appeared before the judge before and complained that "it was about the fact that I was speaking Hawaiian that he didn't like."

Kobayashi recalled the bench warrant Thursday, the state Judiciary said in a statement. Judiciary spokesman Andrew Laurence declined to answer questions about the recall, including what prompted it.

Kaeo faces misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and obstructing a sidewalk. Kaeo, who also speaks English, requested a Hawaiian interpreter in the courtroom but prosecutors had objected, saying it was an unnecessary expense that would have caused delays.


Ohio high court shields full autopsy reports in slaying of 8
Legal Watch | 2017/12/14 19:11
A divided Ohio Supreme Court on Thursday rejected requests for unredacted autopsy reports from the unsolved slayings of eight family members.

The court ruled 4-3 that the Pike County coroner in southern Ohio does not have to release the reports with complete information.

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor, writing for the majority, said Ohio law regarding coroner records clearly exempts the redacted material as "confidential law enforcement investigatory records."

The case before the court involved seven adults and a teenage boy from the Rhoden family who were found shot to death at four homes near Piketon, in rural southern Ohio, on April 22, 2016.

Heavily redacted versions of the autopsy reports released last year showed all but one of the victims were shot multiple times in the head, but details about any other injuries and toxicology test results weren't released.

Once a criminal investigation ends, confidential information in autopsy reports can become public records, but the process leading to a suspect can sometimes take time, O'Connor wrote.

"In order that justice might be delivered to all, patience may be required of some," the chief justice said.

The Columbus Dispatch and The Cincinnati Enquirer separately sued for access to the full final autopsies. The Ohio Attorney General's Office, which is leading the investigation, sought to shield the information, arguing that its release could compromise the investigation.

Jack Greiner, an attorney representing the newspapers, called the majority's decision "a classic case of the court making up its mind on how it wanted the case to come out and then finding a path there." He said the ruling sets a negative precedent that will allow police to put whatever they want under the "investigatory records" umbrella.



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