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Nebraska court orders disclosure of execution drug records
Legal Interview | 2020/05/17 20:44
Nebraska prison officials cannot withhold public records that reveal where they purchased their supply of lethal injection drugs, the state's highest court ruled Friday.

In ordering the documents to be disclosed for public scrutiny, the Nebraska Supreme Court sided with two newspapers and a prisoner advocacy group that had sued the Department of Correctional Services after it refused to release records related to its supply of execution drugs in 2017.

The department previously had regularly disclosed such records without objection to anyone who requested them. Department officials at the time were under increasing pressure to obtain lethal injection drugs as death-penalty critics questioned whether Nebraska would ever carry out another execution.

Media outlets including The Associated Press, The Omaha World-Herald and The Lincoln Journal Star filed formal requests in 2017 for records including purchase orders for the lethal injection drugs that would have identified the supplier. The American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska filed a similar request. The Omaha World-Herald, the Lincoln Journal Star and the ACLU of Nebraska sued after the request was denied, arguing that the department had violated Nebraska's open-records laws.

Prison officials said the state's supplier should be considered a member of the official “execution team,” whose identities are confidential under Nebraska law.

A district court judge ordered the department to release the records in 2018, and the case has been under appeal ever since. That same year, Nebraska executed its first inmate since 1997, using the drugs prison officials had obtained from the unknown supplier.




Blind justice: No visual cues in high court phone cases
Legal Interview | 2020/05/03 21:34
On the evening before he was to argue a case before the Supreme Court years ago, Jeffrey Fisher broke his glasses. That left the very nearsighted lawyer with an unappealing choice. He could wear contacts and clearly see the justices but not his notes, or skip the contacts and see only his notes.

It wasn’t hard to decide. “I couldn’t imagine doing argument without seeing their faces,” Fisher said.

He won’t have a choice next month. Because of the coronavirus pandemic the high court is, for the first time in its 230-year history, holding arguments by telephone. Beyond not being able to see the justices' nods, frowns and hand gestures, the teleconference arguments in 10 cases over six days present a range of challenges, attorneys said, but also opportunities.

Roman Martinez, who will argue in a free speech case, said the lack of visual cues may change what sense is most important. “Maybe it will concentrate the mind on listening,” he said.

The unprecedented decision to hold arguments by phone was an effort to help slow the spread of the virus. Most of the justices are at risk because of their age; six are over 65. And hearing arguments by phone allows them to decide significant cases by the court’s traditional summer break.

The attorneys arguing before the court include lawyers for the federal government and states as well as those in private practice. Only a few are women. Most have made multiple arguments and are familiar to the justices, although at least one lawyer is giving his first argument before the court. The Trump administration's top Supreme Court lawyer, Solicitor General Noel Francisco, will argue twice.



Poland's president appoints acting head of Supreme Court
Legal Interview | 2020/05/02 04:33
Polish President Andrzej Duda on Thursday appointed an acting head of the beleaguered Supreme Court following the retirement of its president, who had vehemently defended its independence.

The court under Malgorzata Gersdorf has been critical of the steps that the right-wing government is taking to put Poland’s judiciary under political control.

Gersdorf is retiring Thursday and a crowd is gathering before the Supreme Court to thank her for her role in defending the independence of Poland's judiciary and bid her farewell.

A court general assembly that should have chosen her successor has been put off until social distancing rules against the coronavirus spread are lifted.

President Andrzej Duda, who has the authority to appoint the new head of the court, appointed Judge Kamil Zaradkiewicz on Thursday to be the acting head.



Texas clinics ask Supreme Court to abortions during pandemic
Legal Interview | 2020/04/12 20:02
Abortion clinics in Texas on Saturday asked the Supreme Court to step in to allow certain abortions to continue during the coronavirus pandemic.

The clinics filed an emergency motion asking the justices to overturn a lower-court order and allow abortions when they can be performed using medication.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order last month that bars non-essential medical procedures so that medical resources can go to treating coronavirus patients. Texas' attorney general has said that providing abortions other than for an immediate medical emergency would violate the order.

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday allowed abortions to proceed in cases where a woman would be beyond 22 weeks pregnant, the legal limit for abortions in Texas, on April 22, the day after the governor's order barring non-essential medical procedures is set to expire.


Court lifts part of order blocking Texas abortion ban
Legal Interview | 2020/04/10 07:03
A federal appeals court on Friday partially rescinded a lower-court order that had largely blocked the enforcement of an abortion ban in Texas during the coronavirus pandemic.

By a 2-1 vote, the three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld enforcement of an executive order by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott that includes abortion among non-essential medical procedures banned during the state of emergency.

However, the appeals court allowed the procedure to go ahead if delays would place the pregnancy beyond the 22-week state cutoff for abortions.

The ruling was agreed to by Judges Jennifer Walker Elrod, an appointee of President George W. Bush, and Kyle Duncan, an appointee of President Donald Trump. Judge James L. Dennis, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, dissented and opposed any stay of the lower-court order.

COVID-19 is the illness caused by the new coronavirus. For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.



Court drops rape, other charges against megachurch leader
Legal Interview | 2020/04/08 03:05
A California appeals court ordered the dismissal of a criminal case Tuesday against a Mexican megachurch leader on charges of child rape and human trafficking on procedural grounds.

Naason Joaquin Garcia, the self-proclaimed apostle of La Luz del Mundo, has been in custody since June following his arrest on accusations involving three girls and one woman between 2015 and 2018 in Los Angeles County. Additional allegations of the possession of child pornography in 2019 were later added. He has denied wrongdoing.

While being held without bail in Los Angeles, Garcia has remained the spiritual leader of La Luz del Mundo, which is Spanish for “The Light Of The World.” The Guadalajara, Mexico-based evangelical Christian church was founded by his grandfather and claims 5 million followers worldwide.

It was not clear when he would be released. The attorney general’s office said it was reviewing the court’s ruling and did not answer additional questions.

Garcia’s attorney, Alan Jackson, said he and his client are “thrilled” by the decision.

“In their zeal to secure a conviction at any cost, the Attorney General has sought to strip Mr. Garcia of his freedom without due process by locking him up without bail on the basis of unsubstantiated accusations by unnamed accusers and by denying him his day in court,” Jackson said in a statement.

La Luz del Mundo officials in a statement urged their followers to remain respectful and pray for authorities.


Walker appointee, judge, prof face off in high court primary
Legal Interview | 2020/02/16 05:51
Wisconsin voters will choose between a Republican appointee, a Madison judge and a law professor as they winnow down the candidates for a state Supreme Court seat in a primary Tuesday.

Conservative Justice Dan Kelly will face off against liberal-leaning Jill Karofsky and Ed Fallone. The top two vote-getters will advance to the April 7 general election with a 10-year term on the high court at stake.

The race can’t change the court’s ideological leaning since conservative-leaning justices currently have a 5-2 edge. But a Kelly defeat would cut their margin to 4-3 and give liberals a shot at a majority in 2023.

Then-Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, appointed Kelly to the Supreme Court in 2016 to replace the retiring David Prosser. An attorney by trade, he represented Republican lawmakers in a federal trial over whether they illegally gerrymandered Wisconsin’s legislative district boundaries in 2011. He’s also a member of The Federalist Society, a conservative organization that advocates for a strict interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.

Karofsky is a wiry marathon runner who has completed two Iron Man competitions. She also won the state doubles tennis championship in 1982 for Middleton High School.

She has served as an assistant prosecutor in the Dane County district attorney’s office, general counsel for the National Conference of Bar Examiners and executive director of the state Department of Justice’s Office of Crime Victim Services. She won election as a Dane County circuit judge in 2017.


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