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Georgia high court election cancellation headed for appeal
Legal News | 2020/03/18 17:41
A would-be candidate for a seat on Georgia's highest court on Wednesday asked the state's lower appeals court to step in after a judge this week said the governor had the right to fill the position even though a judge who's resigning won't leave until November.

Georgia Supreme Court Justice Keith Blackwell, whose six-year term ends in December, told Gov. Brian Kemp last month that he planned to resign but would remain on the bench until Nov. 18. Kemp's office then told Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger that the Republican governor intended to fill the seat by appointment, and Raffensperger canceled the scheduled May 19 election for the position.

John Barrow, a former Democratic congressman from Athens, and former Republican state lawmaker Beth Beskin of Atlanta had both planned to challenge Blackwell. They filed separate lawsuits in Fulton County Superior Court saying the election had been illegally canceled and asking a judge to order Raffensperger to put it back on the calendar and allow candidates to qualify.

Judge Emily Richardson on Monday ruled that according to the Georgia Constitution and state law, Blackwell's seat became vacant Feb. 26, when Kemp signed a letter accepting the justice's resignation. Raffensperger was no longer required to hold an election for the seat once the governor signaled his intent to appoint someone to fill it, she wrote.

Even though the effective date of Blackwell’s resignation is after the May election, it is still within his current term, which ends Dec. 31, meaning Kemp has the authority under the state Constitution to fill the vacancy by appointment, Richardson wrote.

Barrow on Wednesday filed an emergency request with the Georgia Court of Appeals, arguing that Richardson was wrong and asking the court to take up the case. Beskin's lawyer, Cary Ichter, said in an email that they intend to do the same on Thursday.



Australian highest court to rule on Cardinal’s appeal later
Legal Watch | 2020/03/17 00:41
Australia’s highest court on Thursday said it will deliver a verdict at a later date on whether to overturn the convictions of the most senior Catholic to be found guilty of child sex abuse.

Cardinal George Pell’s lawyer, Bret Walker, told the High Court that if it found a lower court had made a mistake in upholding Pell’s convictions, he should be acquitted.

Prosecutor Kerri Judd told the seven judges that if there were a mistake, they should send the case back to the Victoria state Court of Appeal to hear it again.

Otherwise, the High Court should hear more evidence and decide itself whether the convictions against Pope Francis’ former finance minister should stand, Judd said.

Pell is one year into a six-year sentence after being convicted of molesting two 13-year-old choirboys in Melbourne’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral while he was the city’s archbishop in the late 1990s.

The 78-year-old cleric’s two-day hearing that ended on Thursday could be his last chance of clearing his name.

Pell was largely convicted on the testimony of one of the choirboys, now in his 30s with a young family.


Supreme Court will decide fate of Obama health care law
Headline News | 2020/03/15 00:37
The Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide a lawsuit that threatens the Obama-era health care law, but the decision is not likely until after the 2020 election.

The court said it would hear an appeal by 20 mainly Democratic states of a lower-court ruling that declared part of the statute unconstitutional and cast a cloud over the rest.

Defenders of the Affordable Care Act argued that the issues raised by the case are too important to let the litigation drag on for months or years in lower courts and that the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans erred when it struck down the health law's now toothless requirement that Americans have health insurance.

The case will be the third major Supreme Court battle over the law popularly known as Obamacare since its passage in 2010. The court has twice upheld the heart of the law, with Chief Justice John Roberts memorably siding with the court's liberals in 2012, amid President Barack Obama's reelection campaign.

The Trump administration supports the total repeal of the law, including its provisions that prohibit insurance companies from discriminating against people with existing health ailments.


Ex-Phoenix area sheriff declares victory despite court loss
Court Center | 2020/03/12 00:35
Former Phoenix-area Sheriff Joe Arpaio lost a bid to erase his criminal conviction for disobeying a 2011 court order, but claimed victory Thursday after an appeal's court said the verdict no longer has any legal consequence because of President Donald Trump's pardon.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals explained Arpaio was pardoned before he could be sentenced and that the final judgment in the case ended up dismissing the contempt charge.

“They can’t use that conviction against me in a court of law,” Arpaio said. “That’s a win.”

Gabriel “Jack" Chin, a professor at the University of California, Davis School of Law, agreed. “Even though Mr. Arpaio did not get the district court's findings vacated, he still won his case.

”The Ninth Circuit clearly ruled that after the pardon there is neither a conviction for criminal purposes (say, sentencing in the future), nor a finding of fact binding in any future criminal or civil cases," Chin added. “On the other hand, the underlying facts are out there for whatever the court of public opinion wants to do with them.”

Arpaio was convicted for disobeying an order barring his traffic patrols that targeted immigrants.

The 87-year-old lawman, who was defeated for reelection in 2016 after six terms, had argued the misdemeanor contempt of court conviction should be removed from his record so it can't be raised against him in future court cases.

A 2017 lower court decision said Trump’s pardon removed his possible punishments and that pardons don’t erase convictions or the facts of cases.


Court sides with Trump in ‘sanctuary cities’ grant fight
Court Center | 2020/03/03 01:30
The Trump administration can withhold millions of dollars in law enforcement grants to force states to cooperate with U.S. immigration enforcement, a federal appeals court in New York ruled Wednesday in a decision that conflicted with three other federal appeals courts.

The ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan overturned a lower court’s decision ordering the administration to release funding to New York City and seven states ? New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Washington, Massachusetts, Virginia and Rhode Island.

The states and city sued the U.S. government after the Justice Department announced in 2017 that it would withhold grant money from cities and states until they gave federal immigration authorities access to jails and provide advance notice when someone in the country illegally is about to be released.

Before the change, cities and states seeking grant money were required only to show they were not preventing local law enforcement from communicating with federal authorities about the immigration status of people who were detained.

At the time, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions said: “So-called ‘sanctuary’ policies make all of us less safe because they intentionally undermine our laws and protect illegal aliens who have committed crimes.”

In 2018, the Justice Department imposed additional conditions on the grant money, though challenges to those have not yet reached the appeals court in New York.

The 2nd Circuit said the plain language of relevant laws make clear that the U.S. attorney general can impose conditions on states and municipalities receiving money.

And it noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly observed that the federal government maintains broad power over states when it comes to immigration policies.


UK court blocks Heathrow expansion over climate concerns
Court Center | 2020/02/29 01:33
Heathrow Airport’s plans to increase capacity of Europe’s biggest travel hub by over 50% were stalled Thursday when a British court said the government failed to consider its commitment to combat climate change when it approved the project.

The ruling throws in doubt the future of the 14 billion-pound ($18 billion) plan to build a third runway at Heathrow, the west London hub that already handles more than 1,300 flights a day.

While Heathrow officials said they planned to appeal, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government indicated it wouldn’t challenge the ruling by the Court of Appeal.

“We won!” said London Mayor Sadiq Khan, a long-time opponent of the project who joined other local officials and environmental groups in challenging the national government’s approval of Heathrow’s expansion plans.

At stake is a project that business groups and Heathrow officials argue is crucial for the British economy as the U.K. looks to increase links with countries from China to the United States after leaving the European Union. Heathrow has already reached the capacity of its current facilities, and a third runway is needed to serve the growing demands of travelers and international trade, they say.

Environmental campaigners, however, challenged the project because of concerns that a third runway would encourage increased air travel and the carbon emissions blamed for global warming. The British government has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions as a signatory to the 2016 Paris Agreement, which seeks to limit temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels.



Arkansas candidate's political ties targeted in court race
Lawyer Blogs | 2020/02/22 21:47
The race for a seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court is technically nonpartisan, but the close ties of one of the two main candidates to the state Republican Party — she's married to its leader — highlight just how partisan such campaigns have become, with outside conservative groups outspending the candidates themselves.

Barbara Webb, chief administrative law judge for the Arkansas Workers Compensation Commission and the wife of the state Republican Party chairman, is running against Pulaski County Circuit Judge Morgan “Chip” Welch in the March 3 election.

Although both candidates have been promising to be independent voices if elected to the court, Welch has been making noise about Webb's appeals to Republicans and speeches to GOP gatherings around the state. She's had public support from top Republican leaders, including Sen. Tom Cotton and former White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, and one of Webb's campaign mailings features a photo of GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

“It hadn't escaped my notice that party politics is the family business,” Welch said recently. “It is some concern to me. I noticed that she's pretty much talking to an echo chamber of one political party.”

Webb and Welch are running for the seat being vacated by retiring Justice Jo Hart, and whoever wins will be elected to an eight year term. The court has angered conservatives in recent years with rulings blocking part of the state's plan to execute eight inmates in quick succession in 2017 and disqualifying a GOP-backed 2018 ballot measure that sought to cap the amount of damages that could be awarded in lawsuits.


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