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Lawyer for WikiLeaks’ Assange says he would fight charges
Court Center | 2018/11/28 05:57
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will not willingly travel to the United States to face charges filed under seal against him, one of his lawyers said, foreshadowing a possible fight over extradition for a central figure in the U.S. special counsel’s Russia-Trump investigation.

Assange, who has taken cover in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he has been granted asylum, has speculated publicly for years that the Justice Department had brought secret criminal charges against him for revealing highly sensitive government information on his website.

That hypothesis appeared closer to reality after prosecutors, in an errant court filing in an unrelated case, inadvertently revealed the existence of sealed charges. The filing, discovered Thursday night, said the charges and arrest warrant “would need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter.”

A person familiar with the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity because the case had not been made public, confirmed that charges had been filed under seal. The exact charges Assange faces and when they might be unsealed remained uncertain Friday.

Any charges against him could help illuminate whether Russia coordinated with the Trump campaign to sway the 2016 presidential election. They also would suggest that, after years of internal Justice Department wrangling, prosecutors have decided to take a more aggressive tack against WikiLeaks.

A criminal case also holds the potential to expose the practices of a radical transparency activist who has been under U.S. government scrutiny for years and at the center of some of the most explosive disclosures of stolen information in the last decade.

Those include thousands of military and State Department cables from Army Pvt. Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning, secret CIA hacking tools, and most recently and notoriously, Democratic emails that were published in the weeks before the 2016 presidential election and that U.S. intelligence officials say had been hacked by Russia.

Federal special counsel Robert Mueller, who has already charged 12 Russian military intelligence officers with hacking, has been investigating whether any Trump associates had advance knowledge of the stolen emails.


Court: Reds exempt from tax on promotional bobbleheads
Court Center | 2018/11/24 23:43
Quoting the Cincinnati Reds’ long-time play-by-play announcer, the Ohio Supreme Court declared Tuesday that “this one belongs to the Reds.”

The state’s high court ruled 5-2 that the Major League Baseball franchise is exempt from paying tax on the purchase of bobbleheads and other promotional items the team offers to ticket buyers.

The opinion written by Justice Patrick Fischer warned that the ruling was specific to the case and might not apply for other sports organizations. But the Department of Taxation’s chief legal counsel, Matt Chafin, said the decision essentially shows professional teams how to avoid the “use tax” on promotional items.

Reds spokesman Rob Butcher said the club is “happy with the outcome,” but is still reviewing the opinion.

The department argued the bobbleheads should be taxed because they’re bought by the Reds as giveaways, not sold with tickets. The Reds argued they’re exempt because they resell the items as part of the ticket package and Ohio law exempts companies from paying tax on items they buy for resale.

Fischer, a Cincinnati resident, led off the opinion with a long summary of Ohio’s role in baseball history beginning in 1869, when the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first all-professional team. There are references to Hall of Famers from Ohio including players Cy Young, Mike Schmidt and Barry Larkin, to the 1975-76 “Big Red Machine” champions, and firsts such as Larry Doby of the Cleveland Indians becoming the first black American League player and to the first night game being played in Cincinnati.

Then, in explaining the ruling, Fischer wrote that unlike a foul ball or a T-shirt shot into the stands (the Reds use a contraption called “Redzilla” to fire free T-shirts into the crowd) that fans have no expectation of receiving, they buy tickets for games that have been advertised as bobblehead games expecting to get the bobbleheads, which last season included All-Stars Joey Votto and Eugenio Suarez.

After quoting Reds’ broadcaster Marty Brennaman’s signature “this one belongs to the Reds,” Fischer as he neared the opinion’s conclusion also quoted Brennaman’s late broadcasting partner, Joe Nuxhall, saying the justices were “rounding third and heading for home.”

Dissenting Justice Mary DeGenaro wrote that the the Reds were escaping sales tax or use tax on promotional items that generally apply to similar purchases. She pointed out that the Reds often limit the promotional items, such as free to the first 30,000 fans.



New black officers, court officials rethinking US policing
Court Center | 2018/11/20 06:57
Veteran Alabama law enforcement officer Mark Pettway grew up in a black neighborhood called “Dynamite Hill” because the Ku Klux Klan bombed so many houses there in the 1950s and ’60s.

Now, after becoming the first black person elected sheriff in Birmingham - on the same day voters elected the community’s first black district attorney - Pettway sees himself as part of a new wave of officers and court officials tasked with enforcing laws and rebuilding community trust fractured by police shootings, mass incarceration, and uneven enforcement that critics call racist.

In a state where conservative politicians typically preach about getting tough on crime, Jefferson County’s new sheriff ran and won on an alternative message. He favors decriminalizing marijuana, opposes arming school employees, supports additional jailhouse education programs to reduce recidivism and plans for deputies to go out and talk to people more often, rather than just patrolling.

“Going forward we need to think about being smarter and not being harder,” said the Democrat Pettway, 54.

While the nation’s law enforcement officers are still mostly white men, and groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and Black Lives Matter call for sweeping changes in the criminal justice system, minorities appear to be making gains nationwide.

In Pettway’s case, strong turnout by African-American voters, combined with national concern over police shootings of unarmed people of color, helped him defeat longtime Sheriff Mike Hale, a white Republican, said professor Angela K. Lewis, interim chair of political science at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Winners in other cities attributed their success to similar factors.

Houston voters elected 17 black women as judges in the midterms. Even before the election, nearly the entire criminal justice system in the Georgia city of South Fulton, near Atlanta was run by black women, including the chief judge, prosecutor, chief clerk and public defender. They’re offering more chances for criminal defendants to avoid convictions through pre-trial programs and increased use of taxpayer-funded lawyers to protect the rights of the accused.

Chief Judge Tiffany C. Sellers of South Fulton’s municipal court said officials also explain court procedures in detail to defendants, many of whom haven’t been in court before and are scared.


European court: Russia's arrests of Navalny were political
Court Center | 2018/11/13 15:05
The European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday that Russian authorities' arrests of opposition leader Alexei Navalny were politically motivated, a decision that deals a blow to the Kremlin's dismissal of Navalny as a mere troublemaker.

Navalny hailed the ruling as an example of "genuine justice" and said it is an important signal for many people in Russia who face arbitrary detentions for their political activities.

The court's highest chamber found that Russian authorities violated multiple human rights in detaining Navalny seven times from 2012 to 2014, and that two of the arrests were expressly aimed at "suppressing political pluralism."

It ordered Russia to pay Navalny 63,000 euros ($71,000) in damages, and called on Russia to fix legislation to "take due regard of the fundamental importance of the right to peaceful assembly."

The ruling is final and binding on Russia as a member of the Council of Europe, the continent's human rights watchdog.

"I'm very pleased with this ruling — this is genuine justice," Navalny told reporters after the hearing. "This ruling is very important not only for me but also for many people in Russia who face similar arrests on a daily basis."

Russia is obliged to carry out the court's rulings, which enforce the European Convention on Human Rights , but it has delayed implementing past rulings from the court and argued against them as encroaching on Russian judicial sovereignty.

Navalny told reporters that he expects the Russian government to ignore this ruling and dismiss it on political grounds.

Navalny, arguably Russian President Vladimir Putin's most serious foe, has been convicted of fraud in two separate trials that have been widely viewed as political retribution for his investigations of official corruption and his leading role in staging anti-government protests.


Ginsburg, 85, hospitalized after fracturing 3 ribs in fall
Court Center | 2018/11/08 13:10
Eighty-five-year-old Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg fractured three ribs in a fall in her office at the court and is in the hospital, the court said Thursday.

The court’s oldest justice fell Wednesday evening, the court said. She called Supreme Court police to take her to George Washington University Hospital in Washington early Thursday after experiencing discomfort overnight, court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said.

She was admitted to the hospital for treatment and observation after tests showed she fractured three ribs.

In her absence, the court went ahead Thursday with a courtroom ceremony welcoming new Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who joined the court last month. President Donald Trump and new acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker were on hand.

Ginsburg has had a series of health problems. She broke two ribs in a fall in 2012. She has had two prior bouts with cancer and had a stent implanted to open a blocked artery in 2014. She also was hospitalized after a bad reaction to medicine in 2009.

But she has never missed Supreme Court arguments. The court won’t hear arguments again until Nov. 26.

Rib fractures are common among older adults, particularly after falls. The severity depends in part on whether the ribs are cracked or broken all the way through, and how many are broken. The extent of Ginsburg’s injury was not clear.

A complete break requires making sure the two ends are in alignment, so that a sharp piece of bone doesn’t puncture nearby blood vessels or organs. Broken ribs typically heal on their own in six weeks to a month, and patients are advised to limit strenuous activity. But they can be very painful and controlling pain is key. A chief complication is pneumonia, when patients don’t breathe deeply enough or cough enough because of the rib pain.

Appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993, Ginsburg rebuffed suggestions from some liberals that she should step down in the first two years of President Barack Obama’s second term, when Democrats also controlled the Senate and would have been likely to confirm her successor.

She already has hired clerks for the term that extends into 2020, indicating she has no plans to retire. Ginsburg leads the court’s liberal wing.


Supreme Court agrees to hear Maryland cross memorial case
Court Center | 2018/11/05 06:34
The Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear a case about whether a nearly 100-year-old, cross-shaped war memorial located on a Maryland highway median violates the Constitution's required separation of church and state, a case that could impact hundreds of similar monuments nationwide.

A federal appeals court in Virginia had previously ruled against the approximately four-story-tall cross. The judges said that it "has the primary effect of endorsing religion and excessively entangles the government in religion."

But the Maryland officials who maintain the memorial told the Supreme Court that the monument's context and history show it is intended to convey a secular message of remembrance, not a religious message. They said the appeals court's decision would "compel the removal or dismemberment of a cherished war memorial that has served as a site of solemn commemoration and civic unity for nearly a century." In urging the high court to take the case, officials argued that the lower court's decision puts at risk hundreds of other monuments nationwide.

The approximately 40-foot-tall cross at the center of the case is located in Bladensburg, Maryland, about 5 miles from the Supreme Court. Sometimes called the "Peace Cross," it was completed in 1925, and it honors 49 men from the surrounding county who died in World War I. A plaque on the cross' base lists the names of those soldiers, and both faces of the cross have a circle with the symbol of the American Legion, the veterans organization that helped raise money to build it.

Today, responsibility for the cross falls to a Maryland parks commission that took over ownership and maintenance of it in 1961 because of traffic safety concerns. The massive concrete structure could be dangerous to motorists if it were to fall or crumble.


Supreme Court hopeful had DWI charge in 2009
Court Center | 2018/10/21 11:38
A candidate for the North Carolina Supreme Court pleaded guilty more than nine years ago to trespassing and driving while impaired.

The Charlotte Observer reports Republican Chris Anglin was stopped by police in Greensboro in January 2009 and charged after he registered a blood-alcohol level of 0.14, nearly twice the legal limit. The following September, he pleaded guilty.

That December, Anglin was charged with attempted breaking and entering and pleaded guilty to second-degree trespassing. On Wednesday, he attributed both cases to struggles with alcohol in his 20s.

Both incidents happened while Anglin was a student at Elon University School of Law. He said that in 2010, he sought help for his drinking problem with a lawyer-assistance program. He said he's since gotten sober.

Anglin criticized N.C. Republican Party Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse for emailing Anglin's arrest records to a listserv the GOP maintains. Anglin has feuded with the GOP since he switched party affiliation and entered the Supreme Court race.

Woodhouse has previously said Anglin "will be treated like the enemy he is," and Anglin said the GOP is acting desperate "by sending something out that occurred almost a decade ago."

Republicans have described Anglin as a Democratic plant in the race and Woodhouse said as much Wednesday, writing that "Democrats had one of their own with a very questionable background pretend to be a Republican, so they could try and fool the voters."

Republican legislators responded earlier this summer to Anglin's campaign by passing a law, which was later overturned as unconstitutional, that would have banned Anglin from listing his Republican Party on the ballot even though his opponents could list their parties.

Anglin is one of three candidates seeking a place on the court. The other candidates are Barbara Jackson, a Republican who's seeking re-election, and Anita Earls, a Democrat and longtime civil rights lawyer.


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