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Ex-Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock to appear in court in Chicago
Court Center | 2019/03/07 03:43
Former Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock is scheduled to appear in court for the first time since the U.S. Supreme Court declined to get involved in his corruption case.

A federal judge in Chicago set a Wednesday hearing for the 37-year-old, who once was a rising star of the Republican Party.

Schock resigned from Congress in 2015 amid scrutiny of his spending, including redecorating his office in the style of the "Downton Abbey" TV series. He was indicted in 2016 on 22 counts, i ncluding wire fraud and falsification of election commission filings.

Schock has pleaded not guilty. His attorneys argued the case should be dismissed, saying his prosecution violated separation-of-powers clauses. The Supreme Court declined last month to consider it.

The case was originally filed in central Illinois. The Justice Department transferred it to prosecutors in Chicago last year.


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.


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.


Liberals eye 2020 takeover of Wisconsin Supreme Court
Court Center | 2019/02/08 18:37
Wisconsin liberals hope to take a key step this spring toward breaking a long conservative stranglehold on the state's Supreme Court, in an election that could also serve as a barometer of the political mood in a key presidential swing state.

If the liberal-backed candidate wins the April 2 state Supreme Court race, liberals would be in prime position to take over the court when the next seat comes up in 2020 — during a presidential primary when Democrats expect to benefit from strong turnout.

The bitterly partisan court, which conservatives have controlled since 2008, has upheld several polarizing Republican-backed laws, none more so than former GOP Gov. Scott Walker's law that essentially eliminated collective bargaining for public workers.

If liberals can win in April and again in 2020, they would have the majority until at least 2025.

"It is absolutely critical we win this race," liberal attorney Tim Burns, who lost a Wisconsin Supreme Court race in 2018, said of the April election. "It does set us up for next year to get a court that's likely to look very differently on issues of the day like voters' rights and gerrymandering."

The court could face big decisions on several partisan issues in the coming years, including on the next round of redistricting that follows the 2020 Census, lawsuits challenging the massive Foxconn Technology Group project backed by President Donald Trump, and attempts to undo laws that Republicans passed during a recent lame-duck session to weaken the incoming Democratic governor before he took office.


Ginsburg makes 1st public appearance since cancer surgery
Court Center | 2019/02/05 03:17
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is making her first public appearance since undergoing lung cancer surgery in December.

The 85-year-old Ginsburg is attending a concert at a museum a few blocks from the White House that is being given by her daughter-in-law and other musicians. Patrice Michaels is married to Ginsburg’s son, James. Michaels is a soprano and composer.

The concert is dedicated to Ginsburg’s life in the law.

Ginsburg had surgery in New York on Dec. 21. She missed arguments at the court in January, her first illness-related absence in more than 25 years as a justice.

She has been recuperating at her home in Washington since late December.

Ginsburg had two previous bouts with cancer. She had colorectal cancer in 1999 and pancreatic cancer in 2009.

The justice sat in the back of the darkened auditorium at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

The National Constitution Center, which sponsored the concert, did not permit photography.

James Ginsburg said before the concert that his mother is walking a mile a day and meeting with her personal trainer twice a week.

The performance concluded with a song set to Ginsburg’s answers to questions.

In introducing the last song, Michaels said, “bring our show to a close, but not the epic and notorious story of RBG.”


Model in Russian court apologizes for US election claim
Court Center | 2019/01/17 15:15
A Belarusian model and self-styled sex instructor who last year claimed to have evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election said Saturday that she apologizes to a Russian tycoon for the claim and won't say more about the matter.

Anastasia Vashukevich made the statement in a Moscow court that was considering whether to keep her in jail as she faces charges of inducement to prostitution. The court extended her detention for three more days.

Vashukevich's statement appears to head off any chance of her speaking to U.S. investigators looking into possible collusion between Russia and President Donald Trump's campaign.

Vashukevich, who goes by the name Nastya Rybka on social media, was arrested in Thailand last February on prostitution charges. She and several others were arrested in connection with a sex training seminar they were holding in Thailand.

After her arrest she claimed she had audio tapes of Russian tycoon Oleg Deripaska, who is close to President Vladimir Putin, talking about interference in the U.S. election.

She had shot to world attention a few weeks earlier when a Russian opposition leader published an investigation based on her social media posts that suggested corrupt links between Deripaska and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko. The report featured video from Deripaska's yacht in 2016, when Vashukevich says she was having an affair with him.

She was deported from Thailand on Thursday after pleading guilty and was detained when her flight arrived in Moscow, along with three other deportees including mentor Alexander Kirillov.

She told journalists in the Moscow court that she has apologized to Deripaska and says "I will no longer compromise him."

Deripaska is among the Russian tycoons and officials who have been sanctioned in recent years by the United States in connection with Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea. His business empire includes aluminum, energy and construction assets.

He also once was a client of Paul Manafort, the former campaign manager for Trump. Manafort was convicted last year in the United States of tax and bank fraud.


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