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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.


Florida school shooting suspect due back in court
Legal Interview | 2019/02/16 19:42
Florida school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz is due back in court for a status hearing on his death penalty case.

The hearing is set Thursday afternoon in Broward County Circuit Court. A number of matters could come up ranging from the pace of defense interviews of witnesses to a potential setting of a tentative trial date.

The 20-year-old Cruz is accused of killing 17 people and wounding 17 others in last year's massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He is also accused of assaulting a jail corrections officer.

Cruz's attorneys have said he will plead guilty in return for a life prison sentence. Prosecutors have insisted instead on seeking the death penalty.


Ex-West Virginia Supreme Court justice set for sentencing
Legal Watch | 2019/02/13 10:17
A former West Virginia Supreme Court justice who had a $32,000 blue suede couch in his office and was at the center of an impeachment scandal is due in federal court for sentencing for using his job for his own benefit.

Allen Loughry is scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Charleston.

Loughry was found guilty of 11 of the 22 charges at his October trial. Most of the charges involved mail and wire fraud involving his personal use of state cars and fuel cards. The judge last month threw out a witness tampering conviction.

Prosecutors are seeking a sentence above the guideline range of 15 to 21 months along with a fine between $7,500 and $75,000.

In a memorandum Monday, prosecutors said Loughry had an "unbridled arrogance" as a Supreme Court justice. They said Loughry's testimony exposed him as a liar and he has shown no remorse for his conduct.

"Corruption is a cancer that erodes the public's confidence in the government and undermines the rule of law," the memorandum said.

Loughry, who wrote a 2006 book while he was a Supreme Court law clerk about the history of political corruption in the state, was removed as chief justice last February. He was then suspended from the bench in June and resigned in November.

At trial, Loughry denied he benefited personally from trips he took when he became a justice in 2013. He said he used state-owned vehicles made available to the justices for what he said was a variety of reasons, including public outreach.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Wright said records showed Loughry took a government car to a wedding, four signings for his book, and "loads it up with Christmas presents" to visit relatives. A neighbor testified she saw Loughry pack presents in a car with a state government license plate around the holidays.

Loughry also was convicted of lying to federal investigators by saying he was unaware about the historical significance and value of a $42,000 state-owned desk that he had transferred to his home. He returned the desk and a green leather couch owned by the state after media reports about it.


Court case to tackle jails' medication-assisted treatment
Legal Watch | 2019/02/12 18:17
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine started making its case in federal court on Monday against the ban on medication-assisted treatment in county jail amid the opioid crisis.

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills recently lifted the Maine Department of Corrections' ban on medication-assisted treatment. The ACLU's lawsuit filed in September argued that it's unconstitutional and harmful for Maine jails to prohibit such treatment.

Madawaska resident Brenda Smith sued, asking to continue using medication-assisted treatment to keep her opioid use disorder in remission. Smith, who is expected to report to Aroostook County Jail this year, testified Monday in U.S. District Court in Portland during a court case that is expected to last all week.

Smith wept on the stand while describing how access to the medicine is critical to stabilizing her life. ACLU lawyers said they will spend the week making the case that such access is a constitutional issue, as well as a protected right under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

"It makes me feel normal, like I'm a normal human being," Smith said.

Smith's lawsuit against the jail comes at a time when jails and prisons across the country are starting to provide addiction medications to inmates, as resistance from long-skeptical corrections officials appears to be loosening amid the national drug epidemic.

Attorneys for the jail have pushed back at the idea that a ban on medically assisted treatment is a violation of a prisoner's rights. Attorney Peter Marchesi, an attorney representing the jail Monday, has previously said medical staff members at the jail have the ability to manage prisoners' withdrawal symptoms.

Monday's court action also included an expert witness, Dr. Ross MacDonald, who has overseen medical care for New York City's jail system. The medical literature supports medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder, and it's important to have that option available to prisoners, he said.



Spain's courts put to test by trial of Catalan separatists
Headline News | 2019/02/10 18:35
Spain is bracing for the nation's most sensitive trial in four decades of democracy this week, with a dozen Catalan separatists facing charges including rebellion over a failed secession bid in 2017.

The proceedings, which begin Tuesday, will be broadcast live on television and all eyes will be focused on the impartiality of the Spanish Supreme Court.

Catalonia's separatists have attacked the court's credibility in the run-up to the trial, saying it is a puppet of the Spanish government and any ruling will be a political one that has been decided in advance.

"In reality, it's democracy itself that will go on trial," Oriol Junqueras, one of the accused, wrote from jail in reply to questions sent by The Associated Press. "We are before a trial which, through a partial investigation full of falsities and irregularities, criminalizes a political option and an ideology."

But Supreme Court president Carlos Lesmes dismisses that notion, saying the trial is the most important since Spain's transition to democracy in 1977 after the death of dictator Gen. Francisco Franco.

"This is a trial following the highest standards set by the European Union," Lesmes recently told a group of journalists.



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