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The Latest: Suspect in 36 fire deaths appears in court
Legal News | 2017/06/10 21:33
A man who leased the Oakland warehouse where 36 people died in a massive fire appeared briefly in court on charges of involuntary manslaughter.

Derick Almena had been expected to enter a plea Thursday but his attorney asked to delay the arraignment.

A judge ordered the 47-year-old Almena to return June 15 when co-defendant Max Harris is expected to make his first appearance on the same charges.

Officials say the warehouse was illegally turned into living spaces and an unpermitted concert was held there on the night of the fire in December.

Almena's attorney Jeffrey Krasnoff said his client is being used as a scapegoat and plans to fight the charges. Harris doesn't have an attorney yet.


Court: Ohio E-School Can't Delay Repayment of $60M to State
Legal News | 2017/06/09 04:32
ECOT's reported enrollment of 15,000 Ohio students makes it one of the largest online charter schools in the U.S.

Democrats jumped on the court's decision to pile criticism on the school, which has struggled for years against attacks on its enrollment practices and student performance ratings.

"This sham, unaccountable school is a clear waste of taxpayer money and needs to be shut down," said Democratic gubernatorial candidate Betty Sutton. "The main thing that they seem to do well is shower Republican candidates and committees with political donations instead of educating children. Unfortunately, it is a symptom of a much larger disease facing Ohio's education system."

ECOT spokesman Neil Clark said the school didn't get a fair shake in court. He took particular aim at one of the three deciding judges, Gary Tyack, as being biased against the school, online learning and school choice.

"Today, Judge Tyack confirmed that he would put his agenda before the law," Clark said in a statement. "He is desperate to destroy ECOT and is unwilling to even wait for the judicial system to play out before advancing his vendetta."

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor rebuked Tyack after oral arguments were held in the case before the state's high court. She wrote that his comments against the school, its founder and online education were derogatory, extrajudicial, unnecessary and unacceptable.

The school's efforts to revisit the issue of Tyack's impartiality came as it braced for Monday's important school board vote, which comes amid the long-running legal dispute over what attendance-tracking practices should be used to determine state funding.

A state hearing officer ruled against the school in its appeal of the state Education Department's determination that the school owes $64 million for enrollment that can't be justified due to lack of documentation.



Alabama asks US Supreme Court to let execution proceed
Legal News | 2017/06/07 18:07
Alabama’s attorney general on Monday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to let an execution proceed this week, arguing that questions about a lethal injection drug have been settled by the courts.

Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office asked the justices to let the state proceed with Thursday’s scheduled execution of Robert Melson who was convicted of killing three Gadsden restaurant employees during a 1994 robbery.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week granted a stay as it considers appeals from Melson and other inmates who contend that a sedative used by Alabama called midazolam will not render them unconscious before other drugs stop their lungs and heart. The state argues there was no reason to grant the stay since midazolam’s use in lethal injections has been upheld by the high court, and the court has let executions proceed using midazolam in Alabama and Arkansas.

“Alabama has already carried out three executions using this protocol, including one less than two weeks ago in which this court, and the Eleventh Circuit, denied a stay,” lawyers with the attorney general’s office wrote in the motion

“If the stay is allowed to stand, Melson’s execution will be delayed many months, if not years. The State, the victims’ families, and the surviving victim in this case have waited long enough for justice to be delivered. This Court should vacate the lower court’s stay,” attorneys for the state wrote.

Melson is one of several inmates who filed lawsuits, which were consolidated, arguing that the state’s execution method is unconstitutional. A federal judge in March dismissed the lawsuits, and the inmates appealed to the 11th Circuit saying the judge dismissed their claims prematurely.

A three-judge panel of 11th Circuit judges did not indicate whether they thought the inmates would succeed in their appeals. Rather, the judges wrote Friday that they were staying Melson’s execution to avoid the “untenable” prejudging of the inmates’ cases.

Midazolam is supposed to prevent an inmate from feeling pain, but several executions in which inmates lurched or moved have raised questions about its use. An Arkansas inmate in April lurched about 20 times during a lethal injection. Melson’s lawyers wrote in a Friday motion that Alabama “botched” a December execution in which inmate Ronald Bert Smith coughed and moved for the first 13 minutes.

“Mr. Smith’s botched execution supports the argument that midazolam is a vastly different drug than pentobarbital. It does not anesthetize the condemned inmate, and because it does not anesthetize, defendants’ use of potassium chloride is unconstitutional,” Melson’s attorneys wrote last week.





Kim Jong Nam murder suspect asks her parents to pray for her
Legal News | 2017/06/02 01:49
 suspect in the poisoning death of the North Korean leader's half brother wrote to her parents from jail, asking them to pray for her but saying "don't think about me too much."

Siti Aisyah, an Indonesian mother who worked in Malaysia, appeared in court Tuesday along with a second suspect, Doan Thi Huong of Vietnam. Their trial was formally transferred to the High Court as the lower court had no jurisdiction to hear a murder case.

They are the only people who have been arrested in the assassination of Kim Jong Nam at the Kuala Lumpur airport on Feb. 13.
Kim Jong Nam murder suspect asks her parents to pray for her

The suspects are accused of smearing VX nerve agent on Kim's face in the crowded airport terminal; he died soon afterward. The women have said they were duped into thinking they were playing a harmless prank for a hidden-camera show.

Yusron Ambary, counsellor at the Indonesian Embassy, said Siti wrote a letter to her parents recently, asking them not to worry about her.

"I am in good health. Just pray. Don't think about me too much. Keep healthy and pray at night. I have a lot of people helping me. The embassy officials always come to see me, my lawyers also. Don't worry. Pray for me so that the case will be over soon and I can go back home. Send my love to my son Rio," he read from the letter to reporters outside the courtroom.

Armed escorts accompanied the women, who smiled at their embassy representatives as they were brought to the dock.

Prosecutor Iskandar Ahmad said the date for their first appearance in the High Court would usually be within a month. The suspects would then enter pleas and the trial would have to start within 90 days, Iskandar said.

The court was also informed that lawyer Jagjit Singh was appointed by the North Korean Embassy to monitor the case for them. Singh told reporters later that he was engaged to "protect the interest" of the North Korean government. He didn't elaborate.

Police have said four North Korean suspects fled Malaysia the day of the attack. Defense lawyers fear the women will be scapegoats because other people believed to have knowledge of the case left the country.



Ohio Supreme Court justice backs legalizing marijuana
Legal News | 2017/05/19 14:41
An Ohio Supreme Court justice who’s mulling a run for governor thinks it’s time for the state to decriminalize marijuana.

Justice William O’Neill, the lone Democrat holding an Ohio statewide office, said making marijuana legal is working in Colorado and doing it in Ohio would bring hundreds of millions of dollars in sales taxes.

O’Neill announced earlier this year that he’s considering stepping down and making a run for governor, but he doesn’t plan on making a decision until the end of the year.

In a speech mixed with his analysis of last year’s presidential election and thoughts about problems facing the state, O’Neill said he not only wants to legalize marijuana but also release all non-violent marijuana offenders from prison.
 
Doing those two things would generate an estimated $350 million to both combat drug addiction and create a mental health network run by the state, he told members of the Wayne County Democratic Party on Friday night.

“The time has come for new thinking,” O’Neill said in his prepared remarks. “We regulate and tax alcohol and tobacco and imprison people for smoking grass.”

He said the Democratic Party needs new ideas in 2018 if it wants to knock off Republicans who control all branches of Ohio government.

O’Neill wants to see the Ohio Department of Mental Health re-open the network of state hospitals that were closed decades ago and change how the state deals with addiction.

“Treat addiction like the disease it is in the name of compassion,” he said.

There’s already a crowded field lining up on both sides of the governor’s race.

For the Democrats, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, former state Rep. Connie Pillich and state Sen. Joe Schiavoni are making runs.

The field on the Republican side includes U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci and Secretary of State Jon Husted while Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor and Attorney General Mike DeWine are widely expected to seek the GOP nomination.


Court pauses criminal case against Texas' attorney general
Legal News | 2017/05/17 14:41
A state appeals court has temporarily halted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's criminal case on securities fraud charges as he presses for a new judge.

The ruling Tuesday comes as Paxton is scheduled to stand trial in Houston in September on felony accusations that he misled investors in a tech startup. He has pleaded not guilty.

The Dallas-based 5th Court of Appeals is now putting the case on hold while it considers Paxton's demand for a new judge. The Republican has sought to remove state District Judge George Gallagher after the trial was moved from Paxton's hometown near Dallas.

The court didn't indicate when it will make a final decision. If convicted, Paxton faces five to 99 years in prison.


Judge rejects effort to block Confederate statue's removal
Legal News | 2017/05/13 13:19
A last-ditch effort to block the removal of a monument to a Confederate general in New Orleans was rejected Wednesday by a Louisiana judge who turned away arguments that the city doesn't own the statue or the land on which it sits.

"This has gone on an inordinate amount of time," Judge Kern Reese said as he outlined reasons for his refusal to grant an injunction protecting the statue of Gen. P.G.T Beauregard. It was a reference to state and federal court battles that delayed removal of the Beauregard monument and three others for more than a year.

The huge bronze image of Beauregard on horseback sits in the center of a traffic circle at the entrance to New Orleans City Park. Those who don't want it removed argued that it belongs to a park board and, therefore, the city has no authority to remove it.

Reese's rejection of an injunction means the city can remove the statue pending further proceedings in his court. Richard Marksbury, a New Orleans resident and monument supporter, said he may go to an appeal court to block removal.

The Beauregard statue, a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee and one of Confederate President Jefferson Davis are slated for removal. A fourth structure, the Liberty Place monument, was removed late last month. It honored whites who battled a biracial Reconstruction-era government in New Orleans.

The Liberty Place monument was taken down without advance notice in the dead of night by workers in masks and body armor. City officials have been secretive about removal plans due to threats of violence against those tasked with taking down the structures.

In Reese's court, Franklin Jones, an attorney for Marksbury, cited documents asserting that the independent, state-supervised board that oversees City Park owns the Beauregard statue and the tract of land on which it sits. Adam Swensek, an assistant city attorney, noted court precedents holding otherwise and said delays in removing the monuments only prolong a controversy that has resulted in tense confrontations between pro- and anti-monument groups at monument sites.


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