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US court weighs if climate change violates children’s rights
Law Firm Business | 2019/06/05 19:18
In a courtroom packed with environmental activists, federal judges wrestled Tuesday with whether climate change violates the constitutional rights of young people who have sued the U.S. government over the use of fossil fuels.

A Justice Department attorney warned three judges from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that allowing the case to go to trial would be unprecedented and open the doors to more lawsuits.

“This case would have earth-shattering consequences,” Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark said.

He called the lawsuit “a direct attack on the separation of powers” and said the 21 young people who filed it want the courts to direct U.S. energy policy, instead of government officials.

The young people are pressing the government to stop promoting the use of fossil fuels, saying sources like coal and oil cause climate change and violate their Fifth Amendment rights to life, liberty and property.

The judges seemed to feel the enormity of the case, which the plaintiffs’ lawyer compared in scope to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling that mandated desegregation of schools in the 1950s.

If the case moves forward, the judiciary would be “dealing with different branches of government and telling them what to do,” said Judge Andrew Hurwitz, instead of issuing court orders telling officials to stop doing something deemed unconstitutional.

The dire threat to people, particularly the young, demands such action, said Julia Olson, chief legal counsel for Our Children’s Trust, which is representing the plaintiffs.


Swedish court rules not to extradite Assange for rape probe
Law Firm Business | 2019/05/29 02:21
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should not be extradited to Sweden for a revived rape investigation, but should still be questioned in the case while he is imprisoned in Britain, a Swedish court ruled Monday,

The ruling by the Uppsala District Court doesn't mean the preliminary investigation must be abandoned, only that Assange doesn't face extradition to Sweden any time soon.

Eva-Marie Persson, Sweden's deputy director of public prosecutions, said she has not decided whether to appeal.

"I will also issue a European Investigation Order in order to interview Julian Assange," Persson said, adding that she hasn't picked a possible date for the questioning in England.

Assange's lawyer in Sweden, Per E. Samuelsson, said his client would "be happy, we are happy" to learn he won't be extradited to Sweden.

The 47-year-old Assange was evicted on April 11 from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he had been holed up with political asylum since 2012. He was immediately arrested by British police and is currently serving a 50-week sentence for jumping bail in 2012.

He is also fighting extradition to the United States, which accuses him of violating the Espionage Act by publishing secret documents hacked from the Pentagon containing the names of confidential military and diplomatic sources.


Residents sue Tennessee city over code violations court
Law Firm Business | 2019/05/16 20:59
Residents of Nashville, Tennessee, are suing to close the city's environmental code enforcement court, saying it was improperly implemented and unfairly affects poor citizens.

The Tennessean reports the lawsuit was filed Tuesday against the city and state Attorney General Herbert Slatery. The court has collected just over $1.8 million in fines since 2008. The lawsuit focuses on a state constitution provision that says local acts or laws targeting a specific county must include provisions approved by the local legislative body.

The code enforcement court was created by state lawmakers in 1993. In 1994, the City Council voted to enable the court's creation. However, the provision says local acts that don't include the council vote are void, thereby negating the council's later vote.



Group takes oil refinery fight to North Dakota's high court
Law Firm Business | 2019/03/29 19:24
An environmental group is taking its battle against an oil refinery being developed near Theodore Roosevelt National Park to the North Dakota Supreme Court.

The National Parks Conservation Association argued in its Wednesday filing that an air quality permit issued by the state Health Department for the $800 million Davis Refinery and upheld by a state judge violates the federal Clean Air Act.

The Health Department after a two-year review determined the refinery will not be a major source of pollution that will negatively impact the park just 3 miles (5 kilometers) away. The permit the agency issued in June 2018 cleared the way for construction to begin. Meridian Energy Group began site work last summer and plans to resume construction this spring with a goal of having the refinery fully operational by mid-2021.

State District Judge Dann Greenwood ruled in January that the Health Department had effectively supported its position. Greenwood refused to declare the permit invalid and send the case back to the agency for a more rigorous review. The NPCA wants the Supreme Court to overrule him.

"Although the underlying permit contains a requirement for the Davis Refinery to keep monthly logs of its actual emissions ... the permit contains no requirement that the Davis Refinery install monitors to actually collect this data," association attorney Derrick Braaten said.

The group fears that pollution from the refinery will mar the park's scenery and erode air quality for wildlife and visitors. The park is North Dakota's top tourist attraction, drawing more than 700,000 people annually.

"With the decision to appeal, NPCA is fighting to protect the park that has inspired generations of conservationists," Stephanie Kodish, clean air program director for the association, said in a statement.

Roosevelt ranched in the region in the 1880s and is still revered by many for his advocacy of land and wildlife conservation.

Meridian maintains the facility will be "the cleanest refinery on the planet" thanks to modern technology and will be a model for future refineries. The company in a statement Wednesday said it does not comment on pending litigation.

State Air Quality Director Terry O'Clair said he had not had a chance to review the appeal but that "we're confident in the permit that was issued."

Meridian in late January obtained a needed state water permit . It still faces a separate state court battle related to the refinery's location. Two other environmental groups are challenging a decision by North Dakota regulators who concluded they were barred by state law from wading into the dispute over the site.


Court: Germany must press US over Yemen drone strikes
Law Firm Business | 2019/03/17 02:17
A court in Germany ruled Tuesday that the government has partial responsibility to ensure U.S. drone strikes controlled with the help of an American base on German territory are in line with international law, but judges stopped short of ordering the ban that human rights activists had called for.

The case was brought by the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights on behalf of three Yemeni plaintiffs, who allege their relatives were killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2012. A lower court had dismissed their case in 2015, concluding at the time that the government had fulfilled its legal duties and was within its rights to balance them with “foreign and defense policy interests.”

The Muenster administrative court said in a statement that available evidence suggests the Ramstein U.S. air base in southern Germany plays “a central role” for the relay of flight control data used for armed drone strikes in Yemen.

Judges ordered the German government to take “appropriate measures” to determine whether the use of armed drones controlled via Ramstein is in line with international law and, if necessary, to press Washington to comply with it.

“The judgment from the court in Muenster is an important step toward placing limits on the drone program as carried out via Ramstein,” said Andreas Schueller, a lawyer with the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights. “Germany must now face up to its responsibility for these strikes.”

The German Foreign Ministry said it would study the ruling.

“The German government is in regular and confidential contact with the United States about the role the U.S. air base Ramstein plays in the U.S.’s international deployment of unmanned aircrafts,” the ministry said in a statement.

A spokesman for U.S. Air Force Europe said the Ramstein base is used to “conduct operational level planning, monitoring and assessment of assigned airpower missions throughout Europe and Africa.”

“The U.S. Air Force does not launch or operate remotely piloted aircraft from Germany as part of our counter terrorism activities,” Lt. Col. Dustin M. Hart said in an emailed comment.


Ohio Republicans defending state congressional map in court
Law Firm Business | 2019/03/11 19:42
Attorneys for Ohio Republican officials will call witnesses this week to defend the state's congressional map.

A federal trial enters its second week Monday in a lawsuit by voter rights groups that say the current seats resulted from "an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander." Their witnesses have included Democratic activists and voters who have expressed frustration and confusion with districts that have stayed at 12 Republicans, four Democrats, since they were drawn ahead of the 2012 elections.

Attorneys for the Republican officials being sued say the map resulted from bipartisan compromise, with each party losing one seat after population shifts in the 2010 U.S. Census caused Ohio to lose two congressional seats.

Among potential GOP witnesses is former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (BAY'-nur) of West Chester, Ohio.


Court: $700M judgment against North Carolina still unpaid
Law Firm Business | 2019/03/07 19:42
A North Carolina judge has affirmed that a court judgment issued more than 10 years ago stating school districts are owed over $700 million in civil penalties from several state agencies is still nearly all unpaid.

The order signed Wednesday by Wake Superior Court Judge Vince Rozier ends a lawsuit filed last summer by the North Carolina School Boards Association and many local boards.

But Rozier's ruling makes clear he can't direct how and when the General Assembly should pay because of constitutional limitations. The school districts hope the new litigation will revive efforts to get lawmakers to repay the $730 million.

At issue were fees collected by agencies for late tax payments, overweight vehicles and other items that never got forwarded to schools, as the state constitution required.


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