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Pipeline company found guilty in 2015 California oil spill
Legal Interview | 2018/09/08 02:18
A pipeline company was convicted of nine criminal charges Friday for causing the worst California coastal spill in 25 years, a disaster that blackened popular beaches for miles, killed wildlife and hurt tourism and fishing.

A Santa Barbara County jury found Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline guilty of a felony count of failing to properly maintain its pipeline and eight misdemeanor charges, including killing marine mammals and protected sea birds.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement that Plains’ actions were not only reckless and irresponsible but also criminal.

“Today’s verdict should send a message: if you endanger our environment and wildlife, we will hold you accountable,” he said.

Plains said in a statement that the jury didn’t find any knowing misconduct by the company and “accepts full responsibility for the impact of the accident.”

“We are committed to doing the right thing,” the company said.

The company said its operation of the pipeline met or exceeded legal and industry standards, and believes the jury erred in its verdict on one count where California law allowed a conviction under a standard of negligence.

“We intend to fully evaluate and consider all of our legal options with respect to the trial and resulting jury decision,” Plains said.

The company is set to be sentenced on Dec. 13. Because it’s a company, and not a person, Plains only faces fines, though it’s unclear how steep the penalties could be.

Plains had faced a total of 15 charges for the rupture of a corroded pipeline that sent at least 123,000 gallons (465,000 liters) of crude oil gushing onto Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County, northwest of Los Angeles.


Indian Supreme Court orders house arrest for activists
Legal Interview | 2018/09/02 13:52
India's top court ordered Wednesday that five prominent rights activists arrested for alleged Maoist links be kept under house arrest instead of police custody until it rules next week on a petition challenging their detention.

Police, meanwhile, broke up a protest in southern India against the arrests and detained about two dozen people.

Attorney Prashant Bhushan said the court order will prevent police from taking the five to the western city of Pune, where authorities are investigating their alleged links to Maoist rebels in various parts of the country.

The Supreme Court also ordered the federal and state governments to provide detailed reasons for their arrests within three days. It set Sept. 6 for the next hearing in the case.

Those arrested on Tuesday were Telugu-language poet Varavara Rao in Hyderabad, Vernon Gonzalves and Arun Farreira in Mumbai, and Gautam Navalakha and Sudha Bhardwaj in New Delhi and a neighbouring town.

Police accused the five of delivering speeches that triggered protests and violence between low-caste Dalits and right-wing groups near Pune in December.

The government says Maoist rebels, who are active in several states, are India's biggest internal security threat. The rebels, inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, have been fighting the government for more than four decades, demanding land and jobs for the poor and indigenous communities.



Abortion rights supporters decry court ruling
Legal Interview | 2018/07/01 07:50
Abortion-rights supporters say the Supreme Court "turned its back on women" by striking down a California law requiring anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers to provide information about abortion services.

NARAL Pro-Choice America calls the pregnancy centers "fake women's health centers" because they do not provide details about a full range of services. Critics of the centers say they prey on low-income women.

The group says the court's decision is a step toward dismantling abortion rights. Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California is urging the state attorney general and law enforcement officials to "protect the rights of patients from deceptive practices."

Supporters of the court's decision call it a win for free speech and say the law unfairly required the centers to promote abortion.
Abortion-rights supporters say the Supreme Court "turned its back on women" by striking down a California law requiring anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers to provide information about abortion services.

NARAL Pro-Choice America calls the pregnancy centers "fake women's health centers" because they do not provide details about a full range of services. Critics of the centers say they prey on low-income women.

The group says the court's decision is a step toward dismantling abortion rights. Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California is urging the state attorney general and law enforcement officials to "protect the rights of patients from deceptive practices."

Supporters of the court's decision call it a win for free speech and say the law unfairly required the centers to promote abortion.
Assemblyman David Chiu, the bill's author, says the court decision shows reproductive rights are more vulnerable than ever.

The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, which brought the lawsuit, is cheering the court for overturning what it called a "coercive law" forcing the centers to provide "free advertising for tax-funded abortions." Abortion rights groups estimate more than 4,000 such pregnancy centers are operating around the nation.



For new Supreme Court justice, a host of big issues awaits
Legal Interview | 2018/06/30 07:49
Justice Anthony Kennedy's successor will have a chance over a likely decades-long career to tackle a host of big issues in the law and have a role in shaping the answers to them.

Most court-watchers and interest groups are focused on abortion and whether a more conservative justice may mean more restrictions on abortions get upheld or even whether the 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion decision affirming a woman's right to abortion might someday be overturned.

But Kennedy's replacement will quickly confront a host of issues, some prominent and others not. Whomever President Donald Trump chooses, the person is expected to move the court to the right. Conservative groups, seeing a court friendlier to their views, might look at the new court and think it's time to bring challenges to liberal laws currently on the books. And conservative state lawmakers may also attempt to pass legislation testing boundaries they wouldn't have while Kennedy was on the court.

The Supreme Court in the term that ended Wednesday had two cases before it dealing with whether electoral maps can give an unfair advantage to a political party. The justices ducked that question, sending cases from Wisconsin and Maryland back to lower courts for further review. Kennedy had been the justice who left the door open to court challenges to extreme partisan redistricting, but he never found a way to measure it that satisfied him. A case involving North Carolina's heavily Republican congressional districting map now in a lower court could provide an opportunity for the justices to revisit the issue as soon as next term.

Another unresolved issue recently before the court is whether a business can cite religious objections in order to refuse service to gay and lesbian people. The court could have tackled that issue in a case argued this term about a Colorado baker who wouldn't make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. Instead, the justices found that a member of the Colorado commission that looked at the case displayed an anti-religious bias against the baker but left for another day the broader question.

The justices could have added another case on the issue to the list of cases they'll begin hearing arguments in this fall, a case that involved a flower shop owner who cited her religious beliefs in declining to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding. For now they've sent that case back to a lower court. That same case or another one like it could quickly be in front of the court again.


Man run down, 50 years after killing girl in hit-and-run
Legal Interview | 2018/06/02 06:56
A Vietnam War veteran who confessed five years ago to killing a 4-year-old girl in a 1968 hit-and-run was trying to protect children when a woman drove her car onto a baseball field in Maine during a game, striking and killing him.

Screaming bystanders and ballplayers fled as Carol Sharrow, of Sanford, Maine, drove through an open gate onto the field Friday night, police said. Video shows the car driving around the infield, turning over home plate and then heading toward the stands behind third base.

Douglas Parkhurst, of West Newfield, was near the park's main gate before he was hit and Sharrow sped away, police said. Parkhurst died on the way to the hospital and no one else was hurt.

"It was awful," said Sanford resident, Karyn Bean, who said she saw Parkhurst being struck. "A car driving through the gate hitting a man who was pushing kids out of the way, then her driving up the road easily doing 50 to 60 miles per hour past us.

"It felt awful because we couldn't do anything."

Sharrow was scheduled to appear in court later Monday to face a manslaughter charge. She was to have an attorney appointed to represent her then.

Sharrow has two previous drunken driving convictions in Maine and New Hampshire, according to Sanford police Det. Sgt. Matthew Jones. Authorities have declined to say whether alcohol was involved on Friday.

Parkhurst was never charged in the hit-and-run death that killed Carolee Ashby on Halloween night in 1968. The statute of limitations had long run out when Parkhurst walked into a police station in 2013 and confessed after two interviews with investigators.

In his four-page confession obtained by the Syracuse Post-Standard during its reporting about the case, Parkhurst said he and his brother had been drinking before he hit the girl. He said his brother was passed out in the back seat.


Court to consider fraud investigator in NFL concussion case
Legal Interview | 2018/05/12 06:58
A federal judge in Philadelphia is scheduled to hear arguments in the NFL's request for a special investigator to look into what the league says are fraudulent claims in a $1 billion concussion settlement.

The league last month cited an independent study it said found that more than 400 claims had been recommended for denial based on evidence of fraud by attorneys, doctors and former players.

Plaintiffs' lawyers contend the league is not awarding settlement funds fast enough. So far, $227 million in claims have been awarded.

The league says attempts to scam the system are responsible for delays. The NFL has asked that the investigator be granted subpoena power.

League officials say a special investigator would help ensure the integrity of the settlement. Arguments are scheduled for Wednesday.



Court: Montana minimizes impact of mining near Yellowstone
Legal Interview | 2018/05/09 06:58
A gold exploration proposal near Yellowstone National Park faced a significant setback as a judge blamed Montana officials for understating the potential for mining to harm land, water and wildlife.

The ruling released Friday means the Montana Department of Environmental Quality would have to conduct a lengthy environmental review before Lucky Minerals can proceed.

The Vancouver, Canada, company received approval last year to begin searching for gold, copper and other minerals at 23 locations in Emigrant Gulch, a picturesque area of steep mountains and dense forest in south-central Montana's Paradise Valley. It has a long history of small-scale mining.

The results of the exploration work would guide the company's future plans for commercial-scale mining.

Environmental groups sued over the project last year on behalf of local residents, who are concerned mining could reduce tourism and pollute the nearby Yellowstone River.

State Judge Brenda R. Gilbert agreed with the environmentalists that state officials gave too much deference to the company in considering the project and ignored evidence that water supplies could be damaged.

The agency also should have looked more closely at the project's impacts on grizzly bears and wolverines and considered the broader implications if Lucky Minerals expands onto federal lands, Gilbert said.


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