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With court victory, hand of Brazil's president strengthened
Headline News | 2017/06/11 08:33
Fighting to save his job, Brazilian President Michel Temer has received a huge boost from a decision by the country's top electoral court to reject allegations of illegal campaign finance and keep him in office.

The Superior Electoral Tribunal's 4-3 vote late Friday gave Temer a lifeline amid widespread calls that he resign in the face of a corruption scandal.

Last month, a recording emerged that apparently captured Temer endorsing hush money to ex-House Speaker Eduardo Cunha, a former Temer ally serving 15 years in prison for corruption and money laundering. Soon after, details of another bombshell emerged: that Temer was being investigated for taking bribes.

Temer has denied wrongdoing and vowed to stay in office.

However, the fallout from the scandals was so great that many observers expected that the electoral court judges would be swayed to remove Temer from office over unrelated campaign finance allegations. While in theory Brazilian justices are impartial, in reality they are often highly political. Indeed, two of judges who voted in Temer's favor were his appointees.

"While Temer is hard for many people to digest, he will likely remain in office," said Alexandre Barros, a political risk consultant with the Brasilia-based firm Early Warning. "Instability is bad for everybody. So many will say at this point, 'If we have to pay the price for sticking with Temer, let's do it.'"

While Temer has crossed a huge hurdle to staying in power, he is still facing threats on many fronts. The attorney general is considering pressing charges against him for allegedly receiving bribes, over the audio recording and for allegedly trying to obstruct a colossal investigation into billions of dollars in inflated contracts and kickbacks to politicians. Temer's approval rating is hovering around 9 percent and he has a tenuous hold on his ruling coalition.



Court: Neighbors can sue pot grower for stinky smells
Headline News | 2017/06/09 04:32
A pot farm's neighbor can sue them for smells and other nuisances that could harm their property values, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling revives a lawsuit between a Colorado horse farm and a neighboring marijuana-growing warehouse.

The horse farm's owners, the Reillys, sued in 2015, claiming that the pot-growing warehouse would diminish their land's value by emitting "noxious odors" and attracting unsavory visitors. A federal district court dismissed the Reillys' claim, and the pot warehouse opened in 2016.

The horse farm owners appealed, and a three-judge appeals panel agreed Wednesday that their claims should be heard. But the judges said the Reillys can't sue Colorado to force the state to enforce federal drug law and not allow the pot warehouse in the first place.

The southern Colorado horse-vs-pot case is interesting because the horse farm owners are trying to use a 1970 federal law crafted to fight organized crime. The Reillys say that federal racketeering laws entitle them to collect damages from the pot farm, even though the pot farm is legal under state law.

"The landowners have plausibly alleged at least one (racketeering) claim," the judges wrote.

Pot opponents say the racketeering strategy gives them a possible tool to break an industry they oppose. It could give private citizens who oppose pot legalization a way to sue the industry out of business, even as federal officials have so far declined to shut down most pot businesses operating in violation of federal drug law.

"This is a tremendous victory for opponents of the marijuana industry," said Brian Barnes, a Washington-based lawyer who represents the Reillys on behalf of the anti-crime nonprofit group Safe Streets Alliance.

Owners of the pot warehouse, owned by a company called Alternative Holistic Healing, did not immediately return a call for comment Wednesday. An attorney representing them in the case could not be reached, either.

The case now goes to back to a federal district court that had earlier dismissed it.

The appeals panel handed pot opponents a defeat on another case Wednesday, however. The judges ruled that a lower court was right to dismiss a claim from a group of sheriffs in Colorado, Nebraska and Oklahoma, who had asked the federal court to block Colorado's pot law.


In one state, abused animals get a legal voice in court
Headline News | 2017/06/04 01:47
Many states have victim's advocates or child advocates, people in the judicial system who represent those affected by crime or abuse. Now, one state has created legal advocates for abused animals, an experiment being watched across the nation for signs of success.

There are eight approved volunteer advocates across Connecticut — seven lawyers and a UConn law professor, working with her students. It's up to a judge to decide whether to appoint one, but they can be requested by prosecutors or defense attorneys. In the first six months of the law, advocates have been appointed in five cases.

"Every state has the problem of overburdened courts that understandably prioritize human cases over animal cases in allocating resources," said University of Connecticut professor Jessica Rubin, a specialist in animal law. "Here's a way to help."

The American Kennel Club, though, opposed the legislation, saying it could result in confusion over who is responsible for an animal and limit the rights of animal owners, including in cases in which someone else is charged with the abuse.


Doctor arrested at Trump hotel on gun charges due in court
Headline News | 2017/06/03 01:48
The tip received by police was vague, but potentially dire: a Pennsylvania physician was on his way to the nation's capital with a carload of weapons, planning to visit the president.

As a result, Bryan Moles, 43, of Edinboro, Pennsylvania, was arrested on weapons charges after checking in to the Trump International Hotel in Washington, a few blocks from the White House.

He is expected to make an initial court appearance Thursday afternoon.

While the Secret Service interviewed Moles and determined he posed no threat to the president or anyone else they protect, D.C.'s police chief said the tip averted a potential disaster.

"I was very concerned about this circumstance," Chief Peter Newsham said. When people come to the District "armed with those types of weapons, it's a serious concern. ... He doesn't have a really good reason for being here."

Moles was charged with carrying a pistol without a license and having unregistered ammunition. A police report said authorities seized a Glock 23 pistol, a Bushmaster assault-style rifle and 90 rounds of ammunition from Moles' vehicle.

Newsham added that the department does not presently have enough evidence to charge Moles with making threats.

Newsham declined to comment on what may have motivated Moles. He said he did not have a license to carry firearms in the District, which has strict gun laws. He did not know whether he was licensed to carry in Pennsylvania.


8 judges on Venezuela's Supreme Court hit with US sanctions
Headline News | 2017/05/21 14:42
The U.S. imposed a new round of sanctions on high-level Venezuelan officials, this time targeting eight Supreme Court judges that Washington accused of damaging their nation's democracy by steadily stripping the opposition-controlled congress of any authority.

The executive order issued Thursday marked the second time the U.S. has sanctioned leaders of Venezuela's socialist government since Donald Trump became president this year. In February, the U.S. announced it was freezing the assets of Vice President Tareck El Aissami, accusing him of playing a major role in international drug trafficking.

Those blacklisted under the latest decree include Maikel Moreno, the president of the government-packed Supreme Court, as well as all seven justices who signed a ruling in late March nullifying congress. The ruling was later partially reversed amid a surge of international criticism, but it sparked a protest movement that has seen almost daily street demonstrations for nearly two months — sometimes violent unrest that recorded its 45th death Thursday.

"By imposing these targeted sanctions, the United States is supporting the Venezuelan people in their efforts to protect and advance democratic governance in their country," U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez decried the U.S. sanctions on Twitter as "outrageous and unacceptable." She said the order was one more example of U.S. attempts to destabilize Venezuela's government, adding that Maduro strongly backs the Supreme Court magistrates who are "victims of U.S. imperial power."

Trump's administration has repeatedly raised concerns that Maduro is moving toward one-party, authoritarian rule. Earlier Thursday, the U.S. leader expressed dismay about Venezuela's troubles, asking aloud how a nation holding the world's largest oil reserves could be stricken by so much poverty and turmoil.


Man arrested near UK Parliament in court on terror charges
Headline News | 2017/05/10 13:18
Prosecutors say a British man arrested with several knives near Parliament last month is also accused of being an al-Qaida bomb-maker in Afghanistan.

Khalid Mohamed Omar Ali appeared in court Wednesday to face one charge of preparing terrorist acts and two of making or having explosives.

The 27-year-old Londoner was arrested at gunpoint in the street near Parliament on April 27 as part of what police called an ongoing counterterrorism operation. They said he had been under surveillance.

Prosecutors say Ali's fingerprints were allegedly found on parts for improvised explosive devices recovered by the U.S. in Afghanistan in 2012.

Ali refused to enter pleas during the hearing at Westminster Magistrates' Court.

Not-guilty pleas were entered on his behalf and he was ordered detained until his next court appearance May 19.


Trump tabs Minnesota Justice Stras for federal appeals court
Headline News | 2017/05/09 13:18
Minnesota Supreme Court Associate Justice David Stras, who was nominated by President Donald Trump to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday, once clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and believes in a limited role for the judiciary.

Stras, 42, a former University of Minnesota Law School professor, was on Trump's list of possible Supreme Court nominees. The 8th Circuit serves Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, and Arkansas.

The nomination is subject to Senate confirmation. Sen. Al Franken, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement he would take a close look at Stras' record. He criticized a nomination process that he said "relied heavily on guidance from far-right ... special interest groups."

Stras planned to issue a statement later Monday.

When Stras was appointed to the Minnesota court in 2010 by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Thomas traveled to Minnesota to administer the oath.

"I remain mindful that the role of a judge is a limited one, and that judges can't solve every problem," Stras said then. "But at the same time, judges play a crucial role in safeguarding liberty and protecting the rights of all citizens."

Stras has held to those beliefs, said Peter Knapp, a professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law.



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