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Wisconsin Supreme Court primary will leave just two
Legal News | 2018/02/12 03:06
The latest battle over the ideological balance of the Wisconsin Supreme Court plays out in the Feb. 20 primary, where one of three candidates will be eliminated a head of a spring election.

Partisan politics have weighed heavy over weeks of campaigning. Madison attorney Tim Burns has most embraced his liberal beliefs, while Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Rebecca Dallet sought to appear as a moderate. Sauk County Circuit Judge Michael Screnock, an appointee of Republican Gov. Scott Walker, has the backing of conservatives.

The primary is the first statewide race this year, and while officially nonpartisan, it could be a bellwether for how Republicans and Democrats stand heading into the fall. Turnout is expected to be low, likely less than 10 percent.

The top two vote-getters advance to the April 3 general election, with the winner replacing outgoing conservative Justice Michael Gableman. He decided against seeking another 10-year term.

The court is currently controlled 5-2 by conservatives, so no matter who wins the ideological control will not change. Burns, who represents clients nationwide in lawsuits against insurance companies, is the only non-judge in the race. He also has little experience litigating in Wisconsin courtrooms, having argued only one case in state court and six in federal court in Wisconsin.

Burns argues his experience outside of Wisconsin is a strength that will help him fix what he views as a broken system. And, he argues a victory for him will energize liberals across the state headed into the fall.

Dallet argues that Burns has gotten too political. But she's walking a fine line trying to win over many of the same liberal voters Burns is appealing to. She ran a commercial attacking Trump and has criticized the current Supreme Court for voting in 2015 to end an investigation into Walker and conservatives.



Court: Lawsuit alleging coerced confessions can go to trial
Legal News | 2018/02/05 15:44
A lawsuit that accuses Evansville police officers of violating three teenagers' constitutional rights by coercing confessions in the killing of a homeless man can proceed to trial, a federal appeals court has ruled.

A panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed there's enough evidence that officers deliberately coerced confessions from siblings William and Deadra Hurt in the death of 54-year-old Marcus Golike to warrant a civil trial.

"False confessions are a real problem ...," the judges wrote in their opinion, which describes the issue of whether police tactics are enough to make confessions involuntary "the ultimate legal question," The Evansville Courier & Press reported .

The suit filed in 2014 on behalf of William, Deadra and Andrea Hurt and their mother, Debbie Hurt, accuses detectives of threatening the teenagers, feeding them facts to coerce confessions and then ignoring evidence disproving those statements, and even manufacturing some evidence.

William Hurt was 18, Deadra Hurt 19 and Andrea Hurt 16 at the time of their arrests in the June 2012 killing of Golike, who was beaten, strangled and dumped in the Ohio River. Another teenager who was also arrested is not a party to the suit.

All charges in the case were ultimately dismissed against everyone but William Hurt, who refused a plea deal. A jury acquitted him of murder in February 2013.

Police began focusing on the teenagers after learning that Golike had visited the Hurt family before his death.

The suit's defendants include the city of Evansville, its police department, four city police detectives and their three supervisors at the time, one of whom is now deceased. The suit also names two Kentucky State Police detectives who were involved because Golike's body was found in their jurisdiction.

"At this juncture, the court has to take the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and then there is an issue for a jury or a judge to decide," said Keith Vonderahe, who's one of several attorneys representing the Evansville officers.




Judge to pick battlefield for court fight over Manson's body
Legal News | 2018/01/18 02:48
Charles Manson orchestrated murders in his adopted hometown of Los Angeles, served time in a state prison in Corcoran and died in a hospital in Bakersfield.

The legal battle for his body or possessions could land in any of three California counties where those cities are located as friends and purported kin wage a court fight Friday that includes nasty accusations about profiteering off the death of the cult leader.

At least three parties have staked claims to collect Manson's body from the Kern County morgue two months after he died and take control of any assets, which could include potentially lucrative rights to the use of his image and songs he wrote and any other property.

"It's a circus show," said a frustrated Ben Gurecki, one of two pen pals who hold dueling wills allegedly signed by Manson. "It's despicable that I'm still sitting here 60 days later and I can't get my friend cremated."

But first a Los Angeles Superior Court judge must decide which court takes up the separate issues of Manson's remains and his estate.

A Florida man, Jason Freeman, claims he's a grandson and the rightful heir and that the killer left no will. He's been challenged in Los Angeles by Michael Channels, another pen pal and collector of Manson memorabilia, who holds a will bearing what appears to be Manson's signature and names him as executor and sole beneficiary.

Gurecki, who like Channels also sells Manson mementos to fans of so-called murderabilia, has filed a will with the Kern County coroner's office bearing Manson's purported signature. It names Gurecki as executor and leaves everything to his "one living child," Matthew Lentz, a Los Angeles musician. Lentz and Gurecki have yet to file the will in court.


Ohio crime victims' rights issue could face court challenge
Legal News | 2017/11/09 03:50
A civil rights group is weighing a legal challenge to the crime victim rights amendment passed by Ohio voters.

An ACLU of Ohio spokesman said Wednesday the organization is watching to see how Marsy's Law is implemented across Ohio.

Issue 1 amends the Ohio Constitution to give crime victims and their families the same rights as the accused, including notice of court proceedings, input on plea deals and the opportunity to tell their story.

The issue was approved in all 88 counties Tuesday and received nearly 83 percent support statewide. A second ballot issue aimed at curbing skyrocketing drug costs lost in a landslide with nearly 80 percent opposition.

The ACLU argues the victim rights amendment will erode due process rights. Montana's high court declared Marsy's Law unconstitutional last week.



Inmate asks Arkansas high court to halt upcoming executio
Legal News | 2017/11/06 03:48
An Arkansas inmate scheduled to receive a lethal injection this week asked the state's highest court Monday to halt his execution amid his attorneys' claims that he doesn't understand why he is to be put to death.

Attorneys for Jack Greene asked the state Supreme Court to issue an emergency stay of execution. Greene is scheduled to be executed Thursday night for the 1991 death of Sidney Burnett, who was beaten with a can of hominy, stabbed and later shot.

Greene's attorneys asked for the stay while they appeal a lower court's dismissal of their lawsuit challenging an Arkansas law giving the state's top prison official the authority to determine whether Greene is competent to be executed. Greene's attorneys say he suffers from psychotic delusions, and say the inmate believes the attorneys and prison officials have conspired to torture him.

The judge who dismissed the suit said the law had already been upheld as constitutional and that she didn't have the authority to stay the execution.

The filing cited the court's decision to halt the execution of another inmate, Bruce Ward, in April over similar claims about his mental competency.

"The court should not allow the state to avoid the substantial questions presented here by executing Greene before the court can address them — as it has already committed itself to do in another case," Greene's attorneys said in Monday's filing.



Court weighing whether graffiti mecca was protected by law
Legal News | 2017/10/27 14:01
For two decades, Jerry Wolkoff let graffiti artists use his crumbling Queens warehouse complex as a canvas for their vibrant works. Artists gave the spot the name "5Pointz" — a place where all five New York City boroughs come together — but painters traveled from as far as Japan and Brazil to tag, bomb and burn at what became a graffiti mecca and a tourist destination.

But like most graffiti, it didn't last. Wolkoff whitewashed the building in 2013 then tore it down to build luxury apartment towers.

Four years later, some of the artists whose work was destroyed are in court, arguing that even though the building belonged to Wolkoff, the art was protected by federal law.

A trial that started Tuesday at a federal court in Brooklyn will determine whether the artists should be compensated for the lost work.

More than 20 artists sued Wolkoff under the Visual Artists Rights Act, or VARA, a 1990 federal statute that protects artists' rights even if someone else owns the physical artwork.

A trial that started Tuesday at a federal court in Brooklyn will determine whether the artists should be compensated for the lost work.

More than 20 artists sued Wolkoff under the Visual Artists Rights Act, or VARA, a 1990 federal statute that protects artists' rights even if someone else owns the physical artwork.

Barry Werbin, an attorney specializing in intellectual property, said the case is significant because no lawsuit under the statute has been tried by a jury before.



Court nixes class-action status for TGI Friday's drink suit
Legal News | 2017/10/12 13:58
A lawsuit accusing restaurant chain TGI Friday's violated consumer fraud laws with its drink pricing can't go ahead as a class action that could have included millions of members, but a similar case involving Carrabba's Italian Grill restaurants can, New Jersey's state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

Debra Dugan sued TGI Friday's after she was charged one price for a drink at the bar and a higher price at a table in 2008. The restaurant didn't list drink prices on its menus, according to the lawsuit.

A lower court in 2012 granted class-action status to anyone who ordered unpriced drinks at 14 of the company's restaurants in New Jersey from 2004 through 2014. TGI Friday's had estimated that could have amounted to as many as 14 million customers, according to court filings. But the plaintiffs disputed that figure.

According to the lawsuit, TGI Friday's conducted research that showed that customers spent an average of $1.72 less on drinks if the prices were displayed than if the prices weren't displayed. The lawsuit sought to prove that that amount could be considered a loss for anyone who had ordered a drink at the restaurants. Wednesday's 5-1 ruling rejected that argument, but said individual claims could still proceed.




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