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Prosecutors ask court to imprison Samsung heir for 12 years
Headline News | 2017/08/07 23:10
South Korean prosecutors have recommended a 12-year jail term for Lee Jae-yong, 49-year-old billionaire heir of the Samsung business empire, urging a court to convict him of bribery and other crimes.

Lee, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, became emotional Monday as he denied ever trying to seek political favors in his final remarks in the four-month-long trial. Lee was arrested in February amid a tumultuous corruption scandal that triggered months of massive public protests and culminated with the ouster of South Korea's president.

A panel of three judges at the Seoul Central District Court said they will hand down their verdict on Aug. 25.

Lee, princeling of South Korea's richest family and its biggest company, choked up during his final remarks, saying his ordeal was unjust but he had reflected during his six months in jail and realized that the bigger Samsung became, "the stricter and higher the expectations from the public and the society," a pool report from Monday's hearing said.

"Whether it was for my personal profit or for myself, I have never asked the president for any favors," he told the court.

In his remarks wrapping up the trial, Special Prosecutor Park Young Soo said Samsung's alleged bribery was typical of the corrupt and cozy ties between the South Korea's government and big businesses. Such dealings once helped fuel the country's rapid industrialization but now increasingly are viewed as illegal and unfair.

Park also accused Samsung officials of lying in their testimonies to protect Lee.

In past cases, South Korean courts have often given suspended prison terms to members of the founding families of the chaebol, the big, family-controlled businesses that dominate South Korea's economy. In some cases, presidents have pardoned them, citing their contributions to the national economy. But recent rulings on white collar crimes have shown less leniency. If convicted, Lee may be the first in his family to serve a prison term.

Lee was indicted in February on charges that included offering $38 million in bribes to four entities controlled by a friend of then-President Park Geun-hye, including a company in Germany set up to support equestrian training for the daughter of one of Park's friends, Choi Soon-sil.

Prosecutors alleged the bribes were offered in exchange for government help with a merger that strengthened Lee's control over Samsung at a crucial time for organizing a smooth leadership transition after his father fell ill.

Park was removed from office in March and is being tried separately. Her friend Choi also is on trial.

Lee has denied all charges. He has said he did not know of Choi or her daughter before the scandal grabbed national headlines and said Samsung's succession situation was not discussed during three meetings he held with the former president.

Samsung's lawyers do not contest having donated a large sum of money to the entities controlled by Choi. They disagreed with the prosecutors about the nature of the funds and insisted that at the time the donations were made Samsung was unaware that Choi controlled them.


Court: Indiana layoffs of older workers not discrimination
Headline News | 2017/07/31 07:05
A federal appeals court has ruled against 20 former Lake County employees who claimed their layoffs were driven by age discrimination.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled Wednesday that the plaintiffs, many of whom are now in their 70s and 80s, weren't victims of deliberate discrimination.

The Northwest Indiana Times reports  falling tax revenues prompted county officials to terminate or send into early retirement employees older than 65 with promises that included a Medicare supplemental insurance plan.

But they later learned that insurance plan was only for retirees and opted to terminate the older workers in 2013 rather than buy another plan.

The court found the county wasn't practicing unlawful age discrimination because it retained a larger group of older employees not covered by that insurance.


Federal court's agenda has topics that draw Trump's ire
Headline News | 2017/07/16 11:55
The nation’s largest federal court circuit has clashed repeatedly with President Trump over the past six months, and the agenda for its annual meeting is not shying away from topics that have stoked the president’s ire.

Immigration, fake news and meddling in the U.S. election are among the subjects to be discussed or touched on at the four-day conference of the 9th Circuit courts in San Francisco starting Monday.

Judges in the circuit have blocked both of Trump’s bans on travelers from a group of mostly Muslim countries and halted his attempt to strip funding from so-called sanctuary cities.

Trump has fired back, referring to a judge who blocked his first travel ban as a “so-called judge” and calling the ruling that upheld the decision disgraceful. Republicans have accused the 9th Circuit appeals court of a liberal slant and renewed efforts to break it up — a move Trump supports.

The 9th Circuit’s spokesman, David Madden, acknowledged that someone could see a connection between the conference agenda and the administration, but he said there was no intention to link the two.


Supreme Court deadline nears for suit over wetland loss
Headline News | 2017/07/12 02:38
A Louisiana flood board is nearing a deadline for asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review its lawsuit seeking to make oil and gas companies pay for decades of damage to coastal wetlands.

Federal district and appeals courts have rejected the lawsuit, which was met by fierce opposition from the energy industry and many in state government when it was filed in 2013. The suit by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority East said drilling and dredging activity contributed to loss of wetlands that form a hurricane buffer for New Orleans.

Oil industry supporters have labeled the lawsuit an attack on a vital industry. Tuesday marks the deadline for the flood board attorneys to seek Supreme Court review after their last defeat in April.

A federal district judge's 2015 ruling held that federal and state law provided no avenue by which the board could bring the suit.

A three judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling in March and the full 15-member court refused a rehearing in April. Lawyers for the flood board had a 90-day window to seek Supreme Court review.

Flood authority lawyers have argued that the flood board has the right to seek compensation for levee damage under the federal Rivers and Harbors Act. They also argued that federal judges should not have allowed the case to be moved to federal court from the state court where it originally was filed.

Meanwhile, some coastal parishes are pursuing coastal damage suits in state courts on different legal grounds. Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, has urged the energy companies to work toward a settlement. Industry leaders have resisted, saying the suits are meritless.



Case of gay couple's wedding cake heads to Supreme Court
Headline News | 2017/06/30 15:48
A Colorado clash between gay rights and religion started as an angry Facebook posting about a wedding cake but now has big implications for anti-discrimination laws in 22 states.

Baker Jack Phillips is challenging a Colorado law that says he was wrong to have turned away a same-sex couple who wanted a cake to celebrate their 2012 wedding.

The justices said Monday they will consider Phillips' case, which could affect all states. Twenty-two states include sexual orientation in anti-discrimination laws that bar discrimination in public accommodations.

Phillips argues that he turned away Charlie Craig and David Mullins not because they are gay, but because their wedding violated Phillips' religious belief.

After the couple was turned away in 2012, they complained about Masterpiece Cakeshop on Facebook, then filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The state sided with the couple.

"It solidified the right of our community to have a right to public accommodations, so future couples are not turned away from a business because of who they are," Mullins said Monday.

Phillips says that artisans cannot be compelled to produce works celebrating an event that violates the artist's religion. A lawyer for Phillips pointed out that another Denver-area baker was not fined for declining to bake a cake with an anti-gay message.

"The government in Colorado is picking and choosing which messages they'll support and which artistic messages they'll protect," said Kristen Waggoner of the Alliance Defending Freedom, which took the baker's case.

The decision to take on the case reflects renewed energy among the high court's conservative justices, whose ranks have recently been bolstered by the addition of Justice Neil Gorsuch.

The Colorado case could settle challenges from at least a half-dozen other artists in the wedding industry who are challenging laws in other states requiring them to produce work for same-sex ceremonies.


More court challenges expected for Trump's new travel ban
Headline News | 2017/06/30 15:48
A scaled-back version of President Donald Trump's travel is now in force, stripped of provisions that brought protests and chaos at airports worldwide in January yet still likely to generate a new round of court fights. The new rules, the product of months of legal wrangling, aren't so much an outright ban as a tightening of already-tough visa policies affecting citizens from six Muslim-majority countries.

Refugees are covered, too. Administration officials promised that implementation this time, which started at 8 p.m. EDT, would be orderly. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Dan Hetlage said his agency expected "business as usual at our ports of entry," with all valid visa holders still being able to travel. Still, immigration and refugee advocates are vowing to challenge the new requirements and the administration has struggled to explain how the rules will make the United States safer.

Under the temporary rules, citizens of Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iran and Yemen who already have visas will be allowed into the United States. But people from those countries who want new visas will now have to prove a close family relationship or an existing relationship with an entity like a school or business in the U.S. It's unclear how significantly the new rules will affect travel. In most of the countries singled out, few people have the means for leisure travel. Those that do already face intensive screenings before being issued visas. Nevertheless, human rights groups girded for new legal battles.

The American Civil Liberties Union, one of the groups challenging the ban, called the new criteria "extremely restrictive," ''arbitrary" in their exclusions and designed to "disparage and condemn Muslims." The state of Hawaii filed an emergency motion Thursday asking a federal judge to clarify that the administration cannot enforce the ban against relatives — such as grandparents, aunts or uncles — not included in the State Department's definition of "bona fide" personal relationships.

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer met with customs officials and said he felt things would go smoothly. "For tonight, I'm anticipating few issues because, I think, there's better preparation," he told reporters at Los Angeles International Airport on Thursday night. "The federal government here, I think, has taken steps to avoid the havoc that occurred the last time."

Much of the confusion in January, when Trump's first ban took effect, resulted from travelers with previously approved visas being kept off flights or barred entry on arrival in the United States. Immigration officials were instructed Thursday not to block anyone with valid travel documents and otherwise eligible to visit the United States.


Court: Ignorance about allergy medicine crime no excuse
Headline News | 2017/06/11 23:34
Just because a man previously convicted of methamphetamine-related crimes didn't know it was now illegal for him to buy over-the-counter allergy medicine given his criminal history doesn't mean his rights were violated, a divided North Carolina Supreme Court ruled Friday.

A majority of the seven justices reversed a lower appeals court decision overturning the conviction of Austin Lynn Miller for buying one box of capsules at a Walmart in Boone in early 2014, barely a month after an expanded purchase prohibition law took effect.

Miller was barred from buying anything beyond minuscule amounts of the medicine because it contained pseudoephedrine, which can be used to make meth, due to his 2012 convictions on possession of meth and keeping a car or house to sell controlled substances.

A jury convicted Miller for possessing the allergy medicine. He received a suspended sentence with probation.

State law already required the nonprescription medicine to be kept behind the counter and mandated electronic record keeping to monitor whether a meth lab was buying up the drugs. Often purchasers follow screen prompts saying they understand buying the medicines in large quantities or too frequently is illegal.

Miller's lawyer argued his client's due process rights were violated because he had no knowledge the purchasing law had changed in December 2013 and that he didn't intend to violate the law. There were no signs in pharmacies about the changes, either, the attorney said.

A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals ruled unanimously in March 2016 the law was unconstitutional as it applied to a convicted felon like Miller who failed to receive notice from the state that their "otherwise lawful conduct is criminalized" unless there's other proof the person knew about the law.

State attorneys argued that Miller's ignorance of the law was no excuse and that it was his intentional action of purchasing the medicine that led to the crime.

Writing the majority opinion, Justice Sam Ervin IV sided with the state and rejected Miller's arguments that the retail purchase was an innocuous act that raised no alarms about whether he was breaking the law.


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