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Nebraska court orders disclosure of execution drug records
Legal Interview | 2020/05/17 20:44
Nebraska prison officials cannot withhold public records that reveal where they purchased their supply of lethal injection drugs, the state's highest court ruled Friday.

In ordering the documents to be disclosed for public scrutiny, the Nebraska Supreme Court sided with two newspapers and a prisoner advocacy group that had sued the Department of Correctional Services after it refused to release records related to its supply of execution drugs in 2017.

The department previously had regularly disclosed such records without objection to anyone who requested them. Department officials at the time were under increasing pressure to obtain lethal injection drugs as death-penalty critics questioned whether Nebraska would ever carry out another execution.

Media outlets including The Associated Press, The Omaha World-Herald and The Lincoln Journal Star filed formal requests in 2017 for records including purchase orders for the lethal injection drugs that would have identified the supplier. The American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska filed a similar request. The Omaha World-Herald, the Lincoln Journal Star and the ACLU of Nebraska sued after the request was denied, arguing that the department had violated Nebraska's open-records laws.

Prison officials said the state's supplier should be considered a member of the official “execution team,” whose identities are confidential under Nebraska law.

A district court judge ordered the department to release the records in 2018, and the case has been under appeal ever since. That same year, Nebraska executed its first inmate since 1997, using the drugs prison officials had obtained from the unknown supplier.




Supreme Court appears likely to reject Trump immunity claim
Headline News | 2020/05/14 03:41
The Supreme Court on Tuesday appeared likely to reject President Donald Trump’s claim that he is immune from criminal investigation while in office. But the court seemed less clear about exactly how to handle subpoenas from Congress and the Manhattan district attorney for Trump’s tax, bank and financial records.

The court’s major clash over presidential accountability could affect the  2020 presidential campaign, especially if a high court ruling leads to the release of personal financial information before Election Day.

The justices heard arguments in two cases by telephone Tuesday that stretched into the early afternoon. The court, which includes six justices age 65 or older, has been meeting by phone because of the coronavirus pandemic.

There was no apparent consensus about whether to ratify lower court rulings that the subpoenas to Trump’s accountant and banks are valid and should be enforced. The justices will meet by phone before the end of the week to take a preliminary vote on how those cases should come out, and decisions are expected by early summer.

On the same day Trump’s lawyers were telling the court that the subpoenas would be a distraction that no president can afford, Trump found the time to weigh in on a long string of unrelated issues on Twitter, about Elon Musk reopening Tesla’s California plant in defiance of local authorities, the credit he deserves for governors’ strong approval ratings for their handling of the virus outbreak, the anger Asian Americans feel “at what China has done to our Country,” oil prices, interest rates, his likely opponent in the November election and his critics.

The justices sounded particularly concerned in arguments over congressional subpoenas about whether a ruling validating the subpoenas would open the door to harassing future presidents.

“In your view, there is really no protection against the use of congressional subpoenas for the purpose of preventing the harassment of a president,” Justice Samuel Alito said to Douglas Letter, the lawyer for the House of Representatives.

Justice Stephen Breyer said he worried about a “future Sen. McCarthy,” a reference to the Communist-baiting Wisconsin senator from the 1950s, with subpoena power against a future president.

But in the case involving Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s subpoena for Trump’s taxes, the justices showed little interest in the broadest argument made by Jay Sekulow, Trump’s lawyer, that a president can’t be investigated while he holds office.


Called to order: Supreme Court holds 1st arguments by phone
Headline News | 2020/05/12 03:39
They politely took turns speaking. Not a child, spouse or dog could be heard in the background. The conference call went long, but not by that much.

And with that, the Supreme Court made history Monday, hearing arguments by telephone and allowing the world to listen in live, both for the first time.

The arguments were essentially a high-profile phone discussion with the nine justices and two arguing lawyers. The session went remarkably smoothly, notable for a high court that prizes tradition and only reluctantly changes the way it operates.

The high court had initially postponed arguments in 20 cases scheduled for March and April because of the coronavirus pandemic. Courtroom sessions were seen as unsafe, especially with six justices aged 65 or older and at risk of getting seriously sick from the virus. But the justices ultimately decided to hear 10 cases by phone  over six days this month.

The court chose a somewhat obscure case about whether the travel website Booking.com can trademark its name for its first foray into remote arguments. The more high-profile arguments come next week.

Monday’s groundbreaking session began at the usual time of 10 a.m. EDT, when Marshal Pamela Talkin called the court to order and Chief Justice John Roberts announced the case.


Blind justice: No visual cues in high court phone cases
Legal Interview | 2020/05/03 21:34
On the evening before he was to argue a case before the Supreme Court years ago, Jeffrey Fisher broke his glasses. That left the very nearsighted lawyer with an unappealing choice. He could wear contacts and clearly see the justices but not his notes, or skip the contacts and see only his notes.

It wasn’t hard to decide. “I couldn’t imagine doing argument without seeing their faces,” Fisher said.

He won’t have a choice next month. Because of the coronavirus pandemic the high court is, for the first time in its 230-year history, holding arguments by telephone. Beyond not being able to see the justices' nods, frowns and hand gestures, the teleconference arguments in 10 cases over six days present a range of challenges, attorneys said, but also opportunities.

Roman Martinez, who will argue in a free speech case, said the lack of visual cues may change what sense is most important. “Maybe it will concentrate the mind on listening,” he said.

The unprecedented decision to hold arguments by phone was an effort to help slow the spread of the virus. Most of the justices are at risk because of their age; six are over 65. And hearing arguments by phone allows them to decide significant cases by the court’s traditional summer break.

The attorneys arguing before the court include lawyers for the federal government and states as well as those in private practice. Only a few are women. Most have made multiple arguments and are familiar to the justices, although at least one lawyer is giving his first argument before the court. The Trump administration's top Supreme Court lawyer, Solicitor General Noel Francisco, will argue twice.



Poland's president appoints acting head of Supreme Court
Legal Interview | 2020/05/02 04:33
Polish President Andrzej Duda on Thursday appointed an acting head of the beleaguered Supreme Court following the retirement of its president, who had vehemently defended its independence.

The court under Malgorzata Gersdorf has been critical of the steps that the right-wing government is taking to put Poland’s judiciary under political control.

Gersdorf is retiring Thursday and a crowd is gathering before the Supreme Court to thank her for her role in defending the independence of Poland's judiciary and bid her farewell.

A court general assembly that should have chosen her successor has been put off until social distancing rules against the coronavirus spread are lifted.

President Andrzej Duda, who has the authority to appoint the new head of the court, appointed Judge Kamil Zaradkiewicz on Thursday to be the acting head.



Supreme Court sides with government in immigration case
Attorneys News | 2020/04/26 20:31
The Supreme Court is making it harder for noncitizens who are authorized to live permanently in the United States to argue they should be allowed to stay in the country if they've committed crimes.

The decision Thursday split the court 5-4 along ideological lines. The decision came in the case of Andre Barton, a Jamaican national and green card holder. In 1996, when he was a teenager, he was present when a friend fired a gun at the home of Barton's ex-girlfriend in Georgia. And in 2007 and 2008, he was convicted of drug possession in the state.

His crimes made him eligible to be deported, and the government sought to remove him from the country in 2016. Barton argued he should be eligible to stay. Justice Brett Kavanaugh noted in his opinion for the court's conservatives that it was important that Barton's 1996 crime took place in the first seven years he was admitted to the country.

Kavanaugh wrote that “when a lawful permanent resident has amassed a criminal record of this kind,” immigration law makes them ineligible to ask to be allowed to stay in the country.


Meghan's privacy case against tabloid heard at UK Court
Legal Watch | 2020/04/24 03:29
A preliminary hearing opened Friday at Britain’s High Court in the Duchess of Sussex’s legal action against a British newspaper that published what she describes as a “private and confidential” letter she wrote to her father.

Meghan is suing the Mail on Sunday and its parent company, Associated Newspapers, for publishing parts of an August 2018 letter she wrote to Thomas Markle. The civil lawsuit accuses the newspaper of copyright infringement, misuse of private information and violating the U.K.’s data protection law.

Associated Newspapers published sections of the letter in February last year. It denies the allegations — particularly the claim that the letter was presented in a way that changed its meaning. Lawyers for Associated Newspapers want the court to strike out parts of Meghan’s case ahead of a full trial, arguing that allegations of “dishonesty and malicious intent” should not form part of her case.

As the hearing opened via video conferencing, Anthony White, a lawyer representing the publisher, told the judge that lawyers for Meghan had made “further assertions of improper, deliberate conduct,” and that she accused the publisher of “harassing, humiliating, manipulating and exploiting” Thomas Markle.

White rejected the duchess’s allegations that the publisher had deliberately sought to “manufacture or stoke a family dispute for the sake of having a good story or stories to publish.” He said this was “irrelevant to the claim for misuse of private information”, and asked the judge to strike out that allegation.


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