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Another key redistricting case goes in front of high court
Court Center | 2018/03/20 02:32
The Supreme Court has already heard a major case about political line-drawing that has the potential to reshape American politics. Now, before even deciding that one, the court is taking up another similar case.

The arguments justices will hear Wednesday in the second case, a Republican challenge to a Democratic-leaning congressional district in Maryland, could offer fresh clues to what they are thinking about partisan gerrymandering, an increasingly hot topic before courts.

Decisions in the Maryland case and the earlier one from Wisconsin are expected by late June. The arguments come nearly six months after the court heard a dispute over Wisconsin legislative districts that Democrats claim were drawn to maximize Republican control in a state that is closely divided between the parties.

The Supreme Court has never thrown out electoral districts on partisan grounds and it’s not clear the justices will do so now. But supporters of limits on partisanship in redistricting are encouraged that the justices are considering two cases.

“In taking these two cases, the Supreme Court wants to say something about partisan gerrymandering. It’s clear the Supreme Court is not walking away from the issue,” said Michael Li, senior counsel at the New York University law school’s Brennan Center for Justice.

The justices’ involvement in partisan redistricting reflects a period of unusual activity in the courts on this topic. Over the past 16 months, courts struck down political districting plans drawn by Republicans in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Federal judges threw out a state legislative map in Wisconsin and a congressional plan in North Carolina. In Pennsylvania, the state Supreme Court invalidated the state’s congressional districts and replaced them with a court-drawn plan.



Arkansas wants court to dissolve stay for death row prisoner
Legal Interview | 2018/03/19 02:31
Lawyers for the state of Arkansas argued Friday that the state prison director has long had the power to determine a death row inmate's sanity and that now isn't the time to change the way it moves the prisoners closer to their executions.

The arguments came in the case of Jack Greene, whose November execution was halted by the Arkansas Supreme Court so it could review his attorneys' arguments that the state correction director, Wendy Kelley, should not be deciding whether he is competent enough to be executed.

Greene's lawyers say doctors have found Greene delusional but Kelley has chosen to rely on outdated assessments of Greene's mental health in determining whether he's eligible to be executed. Greene's lawyers also have argued that Kelley shouldn't be making the determination because her boss, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, sets execution dates.

In papers filed at the state Supreme Court on Friday, assistant attorney general Kathryn Henry wrote that states are entitled to set the guidelines for review, as long as there is a "basic fairness." She also claims that, under the Arkansas Constitution, Greene cannot sue Kelley.

While previous court decisions didn't define "basic fairness," the presumption is that an inmate who is sane at his trial is sane until his execution, Henry wrote. "Only after 'a substantial threshold showing of insanity'" can an inmate win a review — and that review can be "far less formal than a trial," she wrote.

Against his lawyers' advice, Greene has insisted in a number of venues that he is not insane. State lawyers say that is reason enough for justices to dissolve the stay that was issued shortly before Greene's scheduled execution last Nov. 9.

A week before the execution date, a circuit judge said she couldn't hold a hearing on Greene's competence because, under state law, Kelley had the "exclusive authority" to determine whether the inmate was sane enough to be executed. The Arkansas Supreme Court later voted 5-2 to issue a stay and take Greene's case for review, rejecting state arguments.


Randle, an enforcer on the court, is a gentle giant elsewhere
Top Legal News | 2018/03/17 16:32
Nick Young and Jordan Clarkson were not scheduled to speak at Julius Randle’s wedding. It was an elegant affair, bathed in white roses to celebrate a love that began almost instantly when Randle met Kendra Shaw at a friend’s party in college.

The friend who introduced them spoke at the reception. A coach who grew to be like a brother to Randle spoke. So did some childhood friends.

Then Young and Clarkson, lubricated by wedding wine and the firm belief that the wedding guests expected their shenanigans, got an idea. They loved Randle. The people needed to hear them, they presumed. Together, they took the microphone.

Clarkson, then Randle’s teammate with the Lakers, declared he couldn’t stand Randle when they first met. Randle’s punishing style of play in high school irked Clarkson’s friends who played against him back in Texas. Just as Randle’s mother reared up to protect her sweet baby boy, Clarkson finished, saying as he got to know Randle as part of the same Lakers rookie class in 2014, he learned Randle would do anything for his friends and loved ones.


Father testifies in Australian court cardinal abused son
Legal Watch | 2018/03/16 04:29
A father testified in an Australian court Thursday that his son said he was sexually abused by Vatican Cardinal George Pell during a waterskiing outing years ago. When a defense lawyer accused him of lying, the father told the court it was an insult.

The testimony in the Melbourne Magistrate Court came at a hearing to determine whether prosecutors have sufficient evidence to put Pell on trial.

Pope Francis' former finance minister was charged in June with sexually abusing multiple people in his Australian home state of Victoria. The details of the allegations have yet to be released to the public, though police have described the charges as "historical," meaning they allegedly occurred decades ago.

Pell, 76, has said he will plead not guilty if the magistrate rules a jury trial is warranted.

The father of one of the alleged victims, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, testified via a video link that he first learned of the alleged abuse in 2015 and that his son struggled to talk about it.

Defense lawyer Robert Richter said the father did not name Pell in a statement he made to police then. "Do you have any explanation as to how it is there is no mention of Pell there, as having done anything wrong at the lake?" Richter asked.

The lawyer said the father had only recently named Pell as the alleged offender. "That's an invention of yours since July 2015 when you made your statement," Richter told the father.


Facing death penalty, school shooting suspect in court
Headline News | 2018/03/15 11:29
Now formally facing the death penalty, the suspect in the Valentine’s Day school shooting that killed 17 people in Florida is headed for a court appearance Wednesday on a 34-count indictment.

An arraignment hearing is set for 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, whose attorneys say he will plead guilty to all charges if the death penalty is not pursued in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre. But Broward County State Attorney Michael Satz on Tuesday filed formal notice that prosecutors will indeed seek capital punishment.

Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein, whose office is representing Cruz, has said there were so many warning signs that Cruz was mentally unstable and potentially violent, and that the death penalty might be going too far.

In an email Tuesday, Finkelstein said Cruz is “immediately ready” to plead guilty in return for 34 consecutive life sentences.

“We are not saying he is not guilty but we can’t plead guilty while death is still on the table,” Finkelstein said.

If Cruz does not enter a plea himself — known as standing mute before the court — a not guilty plea will likely be entered on his behalf by Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer to keep the legal process moving along, his attorneys have said.

In every case, there is always the possibility of a plea deal. The only other penalty option for Cruz, if convicted, is life in prison with no possibility of parole.

Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jamie Guttenberg died in the shooting, was angry the state decided to pursue the death penalty, noting how tortuously long capital punishment cases last.


Czech top court delays alleged Russian hacker extradition
Lawyer Blogs | 2018/03/14 11:30
The Czech Republic's top court said Tuesday it has delayed the extradition of an alleged Russian hacker until it deals with a last-ditch complaint filed by him.

It means that the justice minister can't finalize Yevgeniy Nikulin's extradition until the Constitutional Court rules on the matter.

Nikulin has exhausted all appeals, but his lawyers presented a final complaint to the court in a bid to postpone his extradition to either the U.S. or Russia. The contents of the complaint weren't made public, but Nikulin's defense has previously said that appeals court judges were biased.

Czech authorities arrested Nikulin in Prague in cooperation with the FBI in October 2016. He is accused by U.S. prosecutors of hacking computers at Silicon Valley firms including LinkedIn and Dropbox in 2012 and the U.S. wanted him extradited to face a trial there.

Moscow also wants him extradited on a separate charge of internet theft in 2009.

Both countries submitted their extradition requests on the same date.

Nikulin denies he's a hacker. His defense attorney claimed his case was politically motivated in the U.S.

Czech courts ruled that both extradition requests meet the necessary legal conditions, leaving the final decision to Justice Minister Robert Pelikan.



Greek court rejects Turkish extradition request
Attorneys News | 2018/03/13 11:30
A Greek court on Wednesday rejected a Turkish extradition request for a young woman who was among nine suspected Turkish militants arrested in Athens ahead of an official visit by Turkey's president late last year.

A panel of three judges ruled 21-year-old Halaz Secer may be tried for issues other than what the extradition request sought her for and that her life could be in danger if returned to Turkey. The judges also ruled that some offences she was being sought for, such as participating in protests and making banners, were not crimes.

The nine, Turkish citizens of Kurdish origin, were arrested for alleged links to the left-wing Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front, which Turkey, the United States and the European Union consider a terrorist organization.

Secer is the third of the nine to see an extradition request from Turkey rejected. Two others - Naci Ozpolat, 48 and Mehmet Dogan, 60 - have also had the extradition request for them rejected in recent weeks.

After the hearing she returned to jail, where she is being held on Greek charges related to the possession of explosives. She denies being part of a terrorist organization.

Proesecutor Ourania Stathea had recommended the judges reject the extradition request, noting that charges for which Turkey was seeking Secer included "forming and running an armed terrorist organization since 2007," when she would have been 10 years old. Stathea noted Turkey has been under a state of emergency since July 2016, after a failed military coup there, which has led to the imprisonment of thousands of people, including civil servants, journalists, judges and military personnel.

Testifying in court, Secer insisted she was not a member of any terrorist organization, and said she had been protesting in Turkey to call for free education. The young woman said she has been arrested three times from the age of 17 for her activism, and held several months each time. She told the court she suffered injuries during each of the arrests.


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