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Governor says 'no executions' without court-backed drugs
Court Center | 2019/02/26 17:34
Recent statements and actions by Gov. Mike DeWine suggest Ohio could go years without executing another death row inmate.

Last month, the Republican governor ordered the prison system to come up with a new lethal drug protocol after a federal judge's scathing critique of the first drug in Ohio's method.

Last week, DeWine said Ohio "certainly could have no executions" during that search and the court challenges that would follow adopting a new system.

After Ohio started looking for new drugs in 2014, it took the state more than three years to establish its current three-drug lethal injection protocol. Since then, it has become even more difficult for states to find drugs, meaning a new search could easily last as long.

The first drug in Ohio's new system, the sedative midazolam, has been subject to lawsuits that argue it exposes inmates to the possibility of severe pain because it doesn't render them deeply enough unconscious.

Because of Ohio's use of midazolam, federal Judge Michael Merz called the constitutionality of the state's system into question in a Jan. 14 ruling and said inmates could suffer an experience similar to waterboarding.

But because attorneys for death row inmate Keith Henness didn't prove a viable alternative exists, Merz declined to stop the execution. But DeWine did, postponing Henness' execution from Feb. 13 until Sept. 12, although that would be contingent on the state having a new, court-approved lethal injection system in place, which is unlikely in that time frame.

Ohio is also scheduled to execute Cleveland Jackson on May 29, a timeline Merz questioned last week, given the governor's order.


Dominion to ask Supreme Court to hear pipeline appeal
Legal Watch | 2019/02/26 17:33
Dominion Energy said Tuesday it will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its appeal after a lower court refused to reconsider a ruling tossing out a permit that would have allowed the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross two national forests, including parts of the Appalachian Trail.

Lead pipeline developer Dominion said it expects the filing of an appeal in the next 90 days. On Monday, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a request for a full-court rehearing from Dominion and the U.S. Forest Service.

A three-judge panel ruled in December that the Forest Service lacks the authority to authorize the trail crossing and had "abdicated its responsibility to preserve national forest resources" when it approved the pipeline crossing the George Washington and Monongahela National Forests, as well as a right-of-way across the Appalachian Trial.

The 605-mile (974-kilometer) natural gas pipeline would originate in West Virginia and run through North Carolina and Virginia.

The appellate ruling came in a lawsuit filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the Sierra Club, Virginia Wilderness Committee and other environmental groups. The denial "sends the Atlantic Coast Pipeline back to the drawing board," the law center and Sierra Club said in a joint statement on Monday.


Court upholds car rental tax imposed in Maricopa County
Court Center | 2019/02/25 01:35
The Arizona Supreme Court on Monday upheld a car rental tax surcharge that’s imposed in Maricopa County to pay for building a professional football stadium and other sports and recreational facilities, marking the second time an appeals court has ruled the tax is legal.

Car rental companies had challenged the surcharge on the grounds that it violated a section of the Arizona Constitution that requires revenues relating to the operation of vehicles to be spent on public highways.

A lower-court judge had ruled in favor of the rental companies four years, saying the surcharge violated the constitutional provision and ordering a refund of the tax estimated at about $150 million to the companies.

But the Arizona Court of Appeals reversed the decision last spring. The Arizona Supreme Court on Monday echoed the Court of Appeals’ ruling.

The surcharge partially funds the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority, an agency that uses the money to help pay off bonds for the stadium in Glendale where the Arizona Cardinals play, along with baseball spring training venues and youth sports facilities. The rest of the authority’s revenue comes from a hotel bed tax and payments for facilities usage.

The surcharge is charged on car rental companies, but the costs are passed along to customers.

Attorney Shawn Aiken, who represented Saban Rent-A-Car Inc. in the case, said in a statement that the challengers will evaluate in the coming weeks whether to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the case.


Court records reveal a Mueller report right in plain view
Court Center | 2019/02/24 01:37
The Democrats had blamed Russia for the hacking and release of damaging material on his presidential opponent, Hillary Clinton. Trump wasn’t buying it. But on July 27, 2016, midway through a news conference in Florida, Trump decided to entertain the thought for a moment.

“Russia, if you’re listening,” said Trump, looking directly into a television camera, “I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing” — messages Clinton was reported to have deleted from her private email server.

Actually, Russia was doing more than listening: It had been trying to help Republican Trump for months. That very day, hackers working with Russia’s military intelligence tried to break into email accounts associated with Clinton’s personal office.

It was just one small part of a sophisticated election interference operation carried out by the Kremlin — and meticulously chronicled by special counsel Robert Mueller.

We know this, though Mueller has made not a single public comment since his appointment in May 2017. We know this, though the full, final report on the investigation, believed to be in its final stages, may never be made public. It’s up to Attorney General William Barr.

We know this because Mueller has spoken loudly, if indirectly, in court — indictment by indictment, guilty plea by guilty plea. In doing so, he tracked an elaborate Russian operation that injected chaos into a U.S. presidential election and tried to help Trump win the White House. He followed a GOP campaign that embraced the Kremlin’s help and championed stolen material to hurt a political foe. And ultimately, he revealed layers of lies, deception, self-enrichment and hubris that followed.


Dakota Access developer sues Greenpeace in state court
Headline News | 2019/02/22 01:38
The developer of the Dakota Access oil pipeline is going after the environmental group Greenpeace in state court in North Dakota, after a judge tossed the company's $1 billion racketeering claim out of federal court.

Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners on Thursday sued Greenpeace and several activists it also had targeted in the federal lawsuit that U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson dismissed on Feb. 14. Wilson said he found no evidence of a coordinated criminal enterprise that had worked to undermine ETP and its pipeline project.

ETP had made claims under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and also under North Dakota laws. Wilson did not address the merits of the state claims.

ETP seeks "millions of dollars of damages" in the state lawsuit, which makes similar claims to its federal lawsuit — that Greenpeace and activists conspired to use illegal and violent means such as arson and harassment to disrupt pipeline construction and damage the company, all the while using the highly publicized and prolonged protest to enrich themselves through donations.

"Defendants thus advanced their extremist agenda ... through means far outside the bounds of democratic political action, protest, and peaceful, legally protected expression of dissent," company attorney Lawrence Bender wrote in the complaint.

Greenpeace on Friday had not yet been served with the lawsuit and declined to comment on its specifics. However, Greenpeace attorney Deepa Padmanabha said ETP "is clearly still trying to bully Greenpeace through the legal system."

"We are confident that this latest attempt to silence peaceful advocacy will receive the same fate as the last meritless attack," he said.

Groups and American Indian tribes who feared environmental harm from the pipeline staged large protests that resulted in 761 arrests in southern North Dakota over a six-month span beginning in late 2016. ETP maintains the pipeline is safe. It began moving North Dakota oil through South Dakota and Iowa to a shipping point in Illinois in June 2017.


Kenya court postpones ruling on anti-gay laws to May 24
Legal Watch | 2019/02/19 01:40
A Kenyan court Friday postponed a ruling on whether to decriminalize same sex relationships, disappointing many in the country's LGBT community.

The ruling will not be made until May 24 because some judges had been busy, Justice Chaacha Mwita of the High Court said.

Several activists who went to the court for the landmark ruling expressed their dismay.

"To say we are disappointed would be an understatement," the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, which is among the petitioners in the case, said in a tweet.

A case so important should have been should have been given the time it deserves, said activist Grace Mbijiwa outside the courtroom.

"However we are looking forward because we have a date in May 2019," said Mbijiwa. "We are looking forward and hoping for the best, looking forward for LGBT being legalized."

Activists argue that the colonial-era law which criminalizes same consensual sex-relations between adults is in breach of the constitution because it denies basic rights.


Court to rule on car rental tax imposed in Maricopa County
Legal Interview | 2019/02/17 01:41
The Arizona Supreme Court is scheduled to release a decision Monday in a challenge of a car rental tax surcharge imposed in Maricopa County to pay for building a football stadium and other sports and recreational facilities.

The state’s highest court said last year that it would review a lower court’s ruling that concluded the surcharge is legal.

Attorneys for car rental companies had argued that a constitutional provision meant the surcharge revenue can be used only to build and maintain roads.

The surcharge partially funds the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority. The agency uses the money to help pay off bonds for the stadium where the Arizona Cardinals play, along with baseball spring training venues and youth sports facilities.


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