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Brazil court largely upholds law that some fear hurts Amazon
Court Center | 2018/02/26 12:33
Brazil's Supreme Court has batted down challenges to key parts of a law that environmentalists say has contributed to increasing deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.

The 2012 law included an amnesty for illegal deforestation that occurred before July 2008, including releasing perpetrators from the obligation to replant areas in compensation. It also weakened protections for some preservation areas by expanding the sorts of activity allowed in them. It was backed by farming interests.

Wednesday's court ruling rejected most of the challenges to the law.

Brazil's non-governmental Socio-environmental Institute says researchers believe the law contributed to rising rates of Amazon deforestation starting in 2012 after years of decreases. However, the rate fell in 2017 as compared to 2016, which saw an exceptionally large swath of forest cut.




Maldives court delays reinstating pro-opposition lawmakers
Court Center | 2018/02/18 14:55
The Supreme Court of the Maldives delayed its order Sunday reinstating 12 pro-opposition lawmakers ahead of a key parliamentary sitting, the latest political turmoil to roil the island nation.

Opposition lawmaker Ahmed Mahloof said the government may call for important votes at a parliamentary sitting Monday to extend a state of emergency or dismiss two Supreme Court judges who have been arrested on allegations of corruption.

President Yameen Abdul Gayoom's ruling party may have lost a majority in the 85-member parliament if the 12 lawmakers were to be allowed to participate Monday.

The Maldives has faced upheaval since Feb. 1, when the Supreme Court ordered the release of Yameen's imprisoned political opponents and the reinstatement of 12 lawmakers sacked after they sided with the opposition.

The prisoners include Mohamed Nasheed, the country's first president elected in a free election, who could have been Yameen's main rival in his re-election bid later this year.

After days of conflict with the judiciary, Yameen declared a 15-day state of emergency and had the country's chief justice and another Supreme Court judge arrested on bribery allegations.



Courts: Bail reform working, but sustainable funding needed
Court Center | 2018/02/18 14:55
The number of defendants being held before trial since New Jersey overhauled its bail system last year dropped by 20 percent, but the judge overseeing the program says it faces financial difficulties.

A report submitted last week by Judge Glenn Grant, who runs the state's court system, also shows the program faces financial difficulties because it relies on court fees instead of a "stable sustainable funding stream."

Proponents say the reforms championed by former Republican Gov. Chris Christie keep violent offenders detained until trial while providing poor, low-level defendants the opportunity to be freed.

But critics — including some lawmakers, law enforcement officials and the bail bond industry — say it has led to the quick release of some who weren't deemed a threat but were soon re-arrested on new charges.

The data shows 44,319 people were issued complaint warrants in New Jersey last year. Prosecutors sought to have 19,366 defendants detained until trial, but only 8,043 of those people were ordered held.

That means the state's pretrial jail population dropped by 20 percent from January 2017 to January 2018, and by 35 percent from January 2015 to January 2018.

At least two lawsuits have been filed seeking to overturn the changes, including one from a group backed by reality TV star Dog the Bounty Hunter.



Judge admonishes victims' dad who charged at Nassar in court
Court Center | 2018/02/04 06:32
A distraught father seething over sexual abuse suffered by three daughters tried to attack former sports doctor Larry Nassar in a Michigan courtroom Friday after a judge rejected his request to confront the "demon" in a locked room, a stunning rush that reflected the anguish felt by parents who trusted him with their children.

Randall Margraves was blocked by an attorney, tackled by sheriff's deputies and hauled out of court. He later apologized, saying he had lost control. Eaton County Judge Janice Cunningham said there was "no way" she would fine him or send him to jail under her contempt-of-court powers.

"I don't know what it would be like to stand there as a father and know that three of your girls were injured physically and emotionally by somebody sitting in a courtroom. I can't imagine that," the judge said.

Nonetheless, she added, it is "not acceptable that we combat assault with assault."

The incident occurred during the third and final sentencing hearing for Nassar, who has admitted to sexually assaulting girls under the guise of medical treatment. This case focuses on his work at Twistars, an elite gymnastics club southwest of Lansing.

Nassar, 54, already will spend the rest of his life in prison. He was sentenced last week to 40 to 175 years in prison for assaults at Michigan State University and his home and was ordered in December to spend 60 years in a federal prison for child pornography crimes.

Nassar pleaded guilty to molesting nine victims in Eaton and Ingham counties, but the courts have been open to anyone who says she was assaulted during his decades of work at Michigan State, Twistars and USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians. More than 200 accusers so far have spoken or submitted statements in the two counties, and at least 80 percent have agreed to be publicly identified.

Margraves' dramatic move occurred after he listened to two of his daughters speak in court for 10 minutes. Lauren Margraves, a college student, said her parents were "filled with regret" because they took three daughters to see Nassar for sports injuries.

"I see the look in their faces and I know they want to be able to do something but they can't," she told Nassar. "The guilt they have will never go away. All this is because of you."

Her father then stepped up and asked the judge if she would grant him "five minutes in a locked room with this demon." Cunningham declined and also turned down his request for "one minute." That is when Randall Margraves rushed toward Nassar.

There were gasps and tears in the courtroom. Assistant Attorney General Angela Povilaitis turned to the gallery and told families to "use your words," not violence.


UN court lays down Costa Rica, Nicaragua maritime borders
Court Center | 2018/02/03 14:32
The International Court of Justice laid down definitive maritime boundaries Friday between Costa Rica and Nicaragua in the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean and a small land boundary in a remote, disputed wetland.

As part of the complex ruling, the United Nations' highest judicial organ ruled that a Nicaraguan military base on part of the disputed coastline close to the mouth of the San Juan River is on Costa Rican territory and must be removed.

Ruling in two cases filed by Costa Rica, the 16-judge U.N. panel took into account the two countries' coastlines and some islands in drawing what it called "equitable" maritime borders that carved up the continental shelf underneath the Caribbean and Pacific.

Such rulings can affect issues including fishing rights and exploration for resources like oil.

Earlier, the court ordered Nicaragua to compensate Costa Rica for damage Nicaragua caused with unlawful construction work near the mouth of the San Juan River, the court's first foray into assessing costs for environmental damage.

The order by the United Nations' principal judicial organ followed a December 2015 ruling that Nicaragua violated Costa Rica's sovereignty by establishing a military camp and digging channels near the river, part of a long-running border dispute in the remote region on the shores of the Caribbean Sea.

In total, Nicaragua was ordered to pay just over $378,890 for environmental damage and other costs incurred by Costa Rica— a small fraction of the $6.7 million sought by San Jose.



Texas executes Dallas man for killing ex-girlfriend in 1999
Court Center | 2018/01/31 02:44
A Dallas man was executed Tuesday for the 1999 slaying of his ex-girlfriend while he already was on parole for killing his estranged wife.

William Rayford, 64, became the nation's second inmate put to death this year, both in Texas, when he received lethal injection for beating, stabbing and strangling 44-year-old Carol Lynn Thomas Hall. Her body was found about 300 feet (91 meters) inside a drainage pipe behind her home in South Dallas' Oak Cliff area. Hall's 11-year-old son, Benjamin, also was stabbed in the attack but survived. He testified against Rayford.

Asked by the warden at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Huntsville Unit if he had a final statement, Rayford apologized repeatedly to his victim's four children who watched through a window a few feet from him.

"Carol didn't deserve what I done," he said. "Please try to find it in your heart to forgive me. I am sorry. It has bothered me for a long time what I have done."

He said he has made mistakes and asked God to forgive him. "If this gives you closure and makes you feel better, I have no problem with this taking place," Rayford said.

As the lethal dose of pentobarbital began taking effect, he lifted his head from the pillow on the death chamber gurney, repeated that he was sorry and then said he was "going home."

He began to snore. Within seconds, all movement stopped. He was pronounced dead at 8:48 p.m., 13 minutes after the powerful sedative was injected.

Among the four witnesses present was the victim's son who was also stabbed in the attack. He and three siblings showed no emotion as they watched Rayford die. They declined interviews afterward.



Nassar to face another sentence, victims in return to court
Court Center | 2018/01/29 02:45
Sports doctor Larry Nassar's return to court to face another prison sentence for molesting gymnasts could unfold much the same as a hearing last week in another Michigan county.

Judge Janice Cunningham has set aside several days for roughly 60 people who want to confront Nassar or have their statement read in court. This time Nassar is to be confronted by gymnasts from an elite Michigan club run by an Olympic coach.

Last week Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison. The hearing starting Wednesday in Eaton County centers on his assaults at Twistars, a Lansing-area gymnastics club that was run by 2012 Olympic coach John Geddert. Nassar admits penetrating three girls with his hands when he was supposed to be treating them for injuries.


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