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Malaysian ex-PM Najib arrives in court for graft verdict
Court Center | 2020/07/28 15:56
Ex-Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak arrived at court Tuesday for a verdict in the first of several corruption trials linked to the multibillion-dollar looting of the 1MDB state investment fund.

The outcome is widely seen as a test of the rule of law five months after a new government took power. Najib’s Malay party returned to office as a key player in the new ruling alliance, less than two years after its shocking ouster in 2018 elections driven by public anger over the 1MDB scandal.

Security was tight at the courthouse, with the public barred from entering and staff spraying hand sanitizer for media outside. A crowd of supporters was gathering as Najib, wearing a mask and beige suit, entered the building.

Najib, 67, said in a Facebook post late Monday that he was prepared to fight to the end. He said he would appeal if he was found guilty, and expects prosecutors to appeal if he was acquitted.

“From day one, I have said this is the chance for me to clear my name," he wrote. “Whatever the decision in the High Court tomorrow, it does not end here ... after this, we will go to the Court of Appeal. I am ready."

Najib faces a total of 42 charges in five separate graft trials linked to the 1MDB saga and may be sentenced to years in prison if convicted in the first trial alone.

Analysts said the ruling could affect Najib’s other trials and send a signal to the business community about the strength of Malaysia’s legal system in tackling international financial crime.

The verdict will also test current Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who was fired as Najib’s deputy in 2016 for speaking out on the 1MDB scandal but now relies on Najib’s party for support. Najib’s party is the biggest bloc in the current Malay nationalist alliance, which was formed in March after a political coup by Muhyiddin’s party toppled the former reformist government.


Given a chance, Trump would push court pick before election
Court Center | 2020/07/16 22:25
President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have tried to make it clear: Given the chance, they would push through a Supreme Court nominee should a vacancy occur before Election Day.

The issue has taken on new immediacy with the disclosure Friday that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is receiving chemotherapy for a recurrence of cancer after four earlier bouts with the disease. The 87-year-old liberal, who apologized in 2016 for her pointed public criticism of Trump during his first campaign, says she has no plans to retire.

The development has focused even more on what's at stake this election, with the winner in position to help shape the trajectory of the court for years to come.

Trump administration officials have underscored that Trump would not hesitate to fill an opening before voters have their say Nov. 3, less than four months away, on whether to give him a second term.

Four years ago, also in a presidential election year, the GOP-controlled Senate refused to vote when President Barack Obama, a Democrat, nominated Merrick Garland, a federal judge, to succeed Justice Antonin Scalia after his death in February. Nine months before that year's election, McConnell said voters should determine who would nominate the person to fill that seat.



Ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen back in federal prison
Court Center | 2020/07/12 19:04
President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, was returned to federal prison Thursday, after balking at certain conditions of the home confinement he was granted because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Records obtained by The Associated Press said Cohen was ordered into custody after he “failed to agree to the terms of Federal Location Monitoring” in Manhattan.

But Cohen’s attorneys disputed that, saying Cohen took issue with a condition of his home confinement that forbid him from speaking with the media and publishing a tell-all book he began working on in federal prison. The rules also prohibited him from “posting on social media,” the records show.

“The purpose is to avoid glamorizing or bringing publicity to your status as a sentenced inmate serving a custodial term in the community,” the document says.

Cohen has written a tell-all book that he had been preparing to publish about his time working for the Trump Organization, his lawyers said.

“Cohen was sure this was written just for him,” his attorney, Jeffrey Levine, said of the home confinement conditions. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

A Justice Department official pushed back on that characterization and said Cohen had refused to accept the terms of home confinement, specifically that he submit to wearing an ankle monitor. The official could not discuss the matter publicly and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity.

Cohen legal adviser Lanny Davis called that “completely false,” adding that “at no time did Michael ever object to the ankle bracelet.”

Cohen later agreed to accept all of the requirements of home confinement but was taken into custody nevertheless, Davis said. “He stands willing to sign the entire document if that’s what it takes” to be released.


Lawyer: Over 150 Minneapolis officers seeking disability
Court Center | 2020/07/10 02:05
More than 150 Minneapolis police officers are filing work-related disability claims after the death of George Floyd and ensuing unrest, with about three-quarters citing post-traumatic stress disorder as the reason for their planned departures, according to an attorney representing the officers.

Their duty disability claims, which will take months to process, come as the city is seeing an increase in violent crime and while city leaders push a proposal to replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new agency that they say would have a more holistic approach.

While Floyd’s death in May and the unrest that followed are not the direct cause of many of the disability requests, attorney Ron Meuser said, those events and what Meuser called a lack of support from city leadership were a breaking point for many who had been struggling with PTSD from years on the job. Duty disability means the officer was disabled while engaged in inherently dangerous acts specific to the job.

“Following the George Floyd incident, unfortunately it became too much and as a result they were unable to, and are unable to, continue on and move forward,” Meuser said. “They feel totally and utterly abandoned.”

He said many officers he represents were at a precinct that police abandoned  as people were breaking in during the unrest. Some officers feared they wouldn’t make it home, he said, and wrote final notes to loved ones. People in the crowd ultimately set fire to the building.

Mayor Jacob Frey issued a statement saying that COVID-19 and unrest following Floyd’s death tested the community and officers in profound ways. He said cities need resources to reflect the realities on the ground.

“In the meantime, I am committed to supporting those officers committed to carrying out their oath to serve and protect the people of Minneapolis during a challenging time for our city,” he said.

Meuser said in recent weeks, 150 officers have retained his office for help in filing for duty disability benefits through the state’s Public Employment Retirement Association, or PERA. So far, 75 of them have already left the job, he said.

Police spokesman John Elder questioned Meuser’s figure of 150, though he does expect an increase in departures. The department currently has about 850 officers and will adjust staffing to ensure it can do its job, he said.

The city said it has received 17 PTSD workers compensation claims in the last month, but when it comes to PERA duty disability, officers are not obligated to notify the Police Department that an application was submitted. Meuser said the city isn’t being transparent about departures, and the numbers it sees will lag as PERA benefits take months to process.



Supreme Court doesn’t wade into Texas mail-in voting battle
Court Center | 2020/06/27 02:41
The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday rejected a request by Texas Democrats to allow all of the state’s 16 million registered voters to vote by mail during the coronavirus pandemic.

The denial is not the end of the ongoing battle over mail-in voting in Texas, but it remains a loss for Democrats who made the emergency ruling request while the original case is tied up at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor urged the lower court to consider the case “well in advance of the November election.” Voting by mail in Texas is generally limited to those 65 or older or those with a “sickness or physical condition” that prevents voting in person.

For months, Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has fought expanding mail-in balloting during the pandemic, saying fear of contracting the virus is an insufficient reason. A federal judge in Texas sided with Democrats in May, but that decision is on hold pending appeal.

Early voting in Texas begins Monday for primary runoff elections that had been postponed to July over coronavirus fears, but Texas is now one of the nation’s coronavirus hotspots as confirmed cases reach record levels and Gov. Greg Abbott reimposes restrictions.


Top Manhattan prosecutor leaves job after standoff with Barr
Court Center | 2020/06/24 02:36
An extraordinary standoff between the Justice Department and Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman ended Saturday when the prosecutor agreed to leave his job with an assurance that his investigations into allies of President Donald Trump would not be disturbed.

The announcement capped two days of conflicting statements, allegations of political interference in prosecutions, and defiance from Berman. On Saturday, Attorney General William Barr said Berman’s refusal to resign under pressure prompted Trump to fire him. Trump tried to distance himself from the dispute, telling reporters the decision “was all up to the attorney general.”

This episode deepened tensions between the Justice Department and congressional Democrats, who have accused Barr of politicizing the agency and acting more like Trump’s personal lawyer than the country’s chief law enforcement officer. It also raised questions about ongoing investigations in the Southern District of New York, most notably a probe into Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney.

Barr set off the whirlwind chain of events on Friday night with a surprise announcement that Berman was resigning, without explanation. But Berman insisted he had not resigned, was not stepping down and his investigations would continue.

On Saturday morning, he showed up to work, telling reporters, “I’m just here to do my job.” Hours later, Barr announced Berman’s firing.  “Unfortunately, with your statement of last night, you have chosen public spectacle over public service,” Barr wrote in a letter released by the Justice Department. He said the idea that Berman had to continue on the job to safeguard investigations was “false.”

Although Barr said Trump had removed Berman, the president told reporters: “That’s all up to the attorney general. Attorney General Barr is working on that. That’s his department, not my department.” Trump added: “I wasn’t involved.”

The administration’s push to cast aside Berman amounted to a political and constitutional clash between the Justice Department and one of the nation’s top districts, which has tried major mob, financial crimes and terrorism cases over the years.



Court to weigh state’s request to close Carlisle auto show
Court Center | 2020/06/23 02:39
The state Health Department’s effort to shut down a large auto show in central Pennsylvania over claims it represents a risk to the public will be the subject of an emergency hearing, a state court said late Wednesday.

The order from Commonwealth Court scheduled a Thursday morning hearing at the judicial center in Harrisburg, with social distancing rules because of the pandemic.

The unsigned order also declined to immediately shut down Spring Carlisle over the state’s claim the event runs afoul of a 250-person limit for gatherings in Cumberland County.

Attendees streamed into the fairgrounds Wednesday, the first day of the event put on by defendant Carlisle Productions Inc., also known as Carlisle Events. It is scheduled to run through Saturday.

Business closures and social distancing have saved lives, lawyers for the Health Department said.

“When individuals choose to ignore those safeguards ? such as by holding an event anticipating 100,000 attendees ? they put the lives of Pennsylvanians at risk and threaten to reverse the significant progress that has been made to resolve this crisis. That dangerous conduct must be stopped before it can occur,” they told the court.

Carlisle Events has held the spring auto show at the Carlisle Fairgrounds since 1976. It typically draws about 100,000 people, although organizers say they expect a smaller crowd for this year’s event.


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