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Group takes oil refinery fight to North Dakota's high court
Law Firm Business | 2019/03/29 19:24
An environmental group is taking its battle against an oil refinery being developed near Theodore Roosevelt National Park to the North Dakota Supreme Court.

The National Parks Conservation Association argued in its Wednesday filing that an air quality permit issued by the state Health Department for the $800 million Davis Refinery and upheld by a state judge violates the federal Clean Air Act.

The Health Department after a two-year review determined the refinery will not be a major source of pollution that will negatively impact the park just 3 miles (5 kilometers) away. The permit the agency issued in June 2018 cleared the way for construction to begin. Meridian Energy Group began site work last summer and plans to resume construction this spring with a goal of having the refinery fully operational by mid-2021.

State District Judge Dann Greenwood ruled in January that the Health Department had effectively supported its position. Greenwood refused to declare the permit invalid and send the case back to the agency for a more rigorous review. The NPCA wants the Supreme Court to overrule him.

"Although the underlying permit contains a requirement for the Davis Refinery to keep monthly logs of its actual emissions ... the permit contains no requirement that the Davis Refinery install monitors to actually collect this data," association attorney Derrick Braaten said.

The group fears that pollution from the refinery will mar the park's scenery and erode air quality for wildlife and visitors. The park is North Dakota's top tourist attraction, drawing more than 700,000 people annually.

"With the decision to appeal, NPCA is fighting to protect the park that has inspired generations of conservationists," Stephanie Kodish, clean air program director for the association, said in a statement.

Roosevelt ranched in the region in the 1880s and is still revered by many for his advocacy of land and wildlife conservation.

Meridian maintains the facility will be "the cleanest refinery on the planet" thanks to modern technology and will be a model for future refineries. The company in a statement Wednesday said it does not comment on pending litigation.

State Air Quality Director Terry O'Clair said he had not had a chance to review the appeal but that "we're confident in the permit that was issued."

Meridian in late January obtained a needed state water permit . It still faces a separate state court battle related to the refinery's location. Two other environmental groups are challenging a decision by North Dakota regulators who concluded they were barred by state law from wading into the dispute over the site.


Australian man loses bullying-by-breaking wind court case
Headline News | 2019/03/26 02:12
An Australian appeals court on Friday dismissed a bullying case brought by an engineer who accused his former supervisor of repeatedly breaking wind toward him.

The Victoria state Court of Appeal upheld a Supreme Court judge's ruling that even if engineer David Hingst's allegations were true, flatulence did not necessarily constitute bullying.

Hingst said he would take his case to the High Court, Australia's final court of appeal. The 56-year-old is seeking 1.8 million Australian dollars ($1.3 million) damages from his former Melbourne employer, Construction Engineering.

Hingst testified that he had moved out of a communal office space to avoid supervisor Greg Short's flatulence.

Hingst told the court that Short would then enter Hingst's small, windowless office several times a day and break wind.

Hingst "alleged that Mr. Short would regularly break wind on him or at him, Mr. Short thinking this to be funny," the two appeal court judges wrote in their ruling.

Hingst said he would spray Short with deodorant and called his supervisor "Mr. Stinky."

"He would fart behind me and walk away. He would do this five or six times a day," Hingst said outside court.

Short told the court he did not recall breaking wind in Hingst's office, "but I may have done it once or twice."

Hingst also accused Short of being abusive over the phone, using profane language and taunting him.

The appeal judges found Hingst "put the issue of Mr. Short's flatulence to the forefront" of his bullying case, arguing that "flatulence constituted assaults."

The court found that Short did not bully or harass Hingst. Hingst had failed to establish that Construction Engineering had been negligent.


Unions in court over laws limiting Wisconsin governor, AG
Legal Interview | 2019/03/23 02:25
Laws passed by the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature during a lame-duck session in December that weakened powers of the Democratic governor and attorney general were back before a circuit judge Monday, less than a week after another judge struck them down as unconstitutional.

Republicans appealed last week's ruling, and the state appeals court could rule as soon as Monday on that request to immediately reinstate the laws and put last week's ruling on hold.

Gov. Tony Evers moved quickly after last week's order to rescind 82 of former Republican Gov. Scott Walker's appointments that the state Senate confirmed during the lame-duck session. And Attorney General Josh Kaul, at Evers' order, moved to withdraw Wisconsin from a multi-state lawsuit seeking repeal of the Affordable Health Care Act, a power taken away from him during the lame-duck session.

The judge last week ruled that the laws were illegally passed because the type of session lawmakers used to meet in December was unconstitutional. Republicans called themselves into "extraordinary session" to pass the bills, but Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess said there was no basis in state law to call such sessions.

The attorney for Republican lawmakers, Misha Tseytlin, argued that the ruling jeopardizes the validity of thousands of other laws passed during extraordinary sessions.

That case was brought by the League of Women Voters and other groups.

The lawsuit being heard Monday was filed by a coalition of five unions. They argue that the laws violate the state constitution's separation of powers doctrine because they take power from the executive branch and transfer them to the Legislature.

Republicans counter that the laws are constitutional and ensure a proper balance of power between the executive and legislative branches.

The case is being heard by Dane County Circuit Judge Frank Remington. The judge held oral arguments on Monday, beginning the proceedings by informing all the parties that he's already drafted a written decision but wanted clarifications. He blocked off the entire day for the hearing.


Man accused of killing, dismembering woman appears in court
Legal Watch | 2019/03/22 02:27
A South Dakota man accused of killing his girlfriend and dumping her dismembered body into a river in Michigan's Upper Peninsula has made his first court appearance.

Stephen Falkenberg appeared Thursday in Yankton County court. He's charged with second-degree murder in the death of Tamara LaFramboise.

No plea was entered. His attorney, Clint Sargent, says he intends to plead not guilty.

Prosecutors say Falkenberg killed LaFramboise in Yankton, where they both lived, then drove to Menominee County, Michigan, where he grew up. Authorities say he discarded LaFramboise's dismembered body in the Little River, where two boys found it on Saturday.

LaFramboise's head, hands and feet have not been found. A probable cause affidavit says Falkenberg told his sister he argued with LaFramboise, pushed her and she hit her head and died.


A more skeptical high court to hear redistricting challenge
Legal Watch | 2019/03/22 02:26
Last year, proponents of limiting partisan politics in the creation of electoral districts needed to win over Justice Anthony Kennedy. They couldn’t.

The issue is back before the Supreme Court again, with arguments on Tuesday, and it might be harder than ever to convince the justices to rein in the practice known as partisan gerrymandering, designing districts to benefit one political party.

A new round of redistricting awaits after the 2020 census, and the court’s decision could help shape the makeup of Congress and state legislatures over the next 10 years.

With Kennedy retired, the question is whether federal courts will remain open at all to complaints about political line-drawing.

“The question of what the outcome will be in light of recent changes in the membership of the Supreme Court is anybody’s guess,” said Seth Waxman, the former lead high court lawyer in the Clinton administration and a supporter of limits on drawing districts for partisan gain. Justice Brett Kavanaugh is in Kennedy’s seat.

Chief Justice John Roberts is now the court conservative closest to the center and the focus of the arguments for reining in partisan redistricting, said Michael Kimberly, the lawyer for Republican voters who challenged a Democratic congressional district in Maryland.
“The concern now is persuading him,” Kimberly said, acknowledging Roberts’ skepticism about the court’s involvement in the issue during arguments last term.

Critics of partisan manipulation of electoral maps say that when one party controls redistricting, it can exaggerate and entrench its power, even in states that are otherwise closely divided between Republicans and Democrats.

Republicans were the big beneficiaries of the most recent round of redistricting in 2011, following the once-a-decade census, because they scored resounding victories in the 2010 elections.

The court has before it two cases, from Maryland and North Carolina, with strong evidence that elected officials charged with drawing and approving congressional districts acted for maximum partisan advantage. In North Carolina, Republicans ran the process and sought to preserve a 10-3 split in the congressional delegation in favor of the GOP, even as statewide races are usually closely divided. In Maryland, Democrats controlled redistricting and sought to flip one district that had been represented by a Republican for 20 years.

Both plans succeeded and lower courts concluded that the districts violated the Constitution.

Bolstering those court outcomes were the candid appraisals by former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, and North Carolina state Rep. David Lewis, a Republican, of the critical role politics played in redistricting.


Court hearing delayed for Loughlin, husband in college scam
Legal Watch | 2019/03/20 16:27
Actress Lori Loughlin (LAWK'-lin) and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, are scheduled to appear in federal court in Boston next month in a college admissions bribery case.

A judge on Thursday agreed to move their initial appearance to April 3 on charges that they paid $500,000 in bribes to get their daughters into the University of Southern California.

Their attorney had asked the judge to delay the hearing until April 15, saying the legal team had scheduling conflicts when the pair were initially scheduled to be in court on March 29.

Loughlin and Giannulli were among dozens of people arrested last week for allegedly participating in a nationwide college admissions cheating scheme .

Fellow actress Felicity Huffman is also slated to appear in court in Boston on April 3. Neither Loughlin nor Huffman have commented on the allegations.



DC-area sniper shootings case to have Supreme Court hearing
Court Center | 2019/03/19 19:15
The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to consider Virginia’s plea to reinstate the life-without-parole sentence of a man who as a teenager participated in sniper shootings that terrorized the Washington, D.C., region in 2002.

The justices said they will take up the state’s appeal in the case of Lee Boyd Malvo, who was 17 when he and John Allen Muhammad fatally shot 10 people in Maryland, Virginia and Washington. Malvo was sentenced to life-without-parole terms in Virginia and in Maryland. Muhammad, who was 41 at the time of the shootings, was sentenced to death and was executed in 2009.

Malvo was sentenced to four life terms for crimes he committed in Virginia. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled last year that while Malvo’s life-without-parole sentences were legal when they were imposed, Supreme Court decisions that followed altered sentencing requirements for juvenile offenders.

The appeals court judges said a resentencing would determine whether Malvo qualifies as “one of the rare juvenile offenders” who can be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole because his “crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility.” They said if his crimes instead “reflect the transient immaturity of youth,” he is entitled to a sentence short of life without parole.

The Supreme Court will review that decision. As is typical, the justices did not make any comment in agreeing to hear the case, which will be argued in the fall.

Regardless of what the Supreme Court decides, it is unlikely that Malvo would get out of prison anytime soon. He isn’t currently getting a new sentencing hearing in Maryland, where he struck a plea deal and was sentenced to six life-without-parole prison terms for shootings that took place in that state.

A judge previously ruled that Malvo would not get new sentencing hearings in Maryland. Malvo, who has been serving his sentences at Red Onion State Prison in Pound, Virginia, has appealed.


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