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Indiana high court: Immigration status inadmissible at trial
Legal News | 2017/05/06 13:17
The immigration status of a Mexican native who is suing over lost wages in a workplace injury case should not be considered at trial because it can cause unfair prejudice, the Indiana Supreme Court has ruled.

The state's high court reversed a lower court ruling that the immigration status of Noe Escamilla was admissible in his lawsuit against an Indianapolis construction company. Escamilla, who entered the U.S. illegally from Mexico with his parents at age 15, married a U.S. citizen and has three children who are also American citizens, his attorney has said.

"Indiana's tort trials should be about making injured parties whole — not about federal immigration policies and laws," the high court said in a 5-0 ruling written by Chief Justice Loretta Rush and issued Thursday.

Escamilla sued Shiel Sexton Co. Inc. for lost future wages after he slipped on ice in 2010 and severely injured his back while helping to lift a heavy masonry capstone at Wabash College in Crawfordsville. Court documents say a doctor found Escamilla's injury left him unable to lift more than 20 pounds, effectively ending his career as a masonry laborer.

Because Escamilla is a lawful resident of Mexico, Shiel Sexton argued that any lost wages he is able to claim should be based on the rate of pay available in Mexico, and not U.S. wages. A Montgomery County trial court ruled in Shiel Sexton's favor, finding that two witnesses who reviewed Escamilla's U.S. tax returns could not testify about his lost earnings and that his immigration status could be entered as evidence.






Justices turn away GM appeal over ignition switches
Legal News | 2017/04/23 13:34
The Supreme Court on Monday turned away an appeal from General Motors Co. seeking to block dozens of lawsuits over faulty ignition switches that could expose the company to billions of dollars in additional claims.

The justices without comment left in place a lower court ruling that said the automaker's 2009 bankruptcy did not shield it from liability in the cases.

A federal appeals court ruled last year that GM remains responsible for ignition-switch injuries and deaths that occurred pre-bankruptcy because the company knew about the problem for more than a decade but kept it secret from the bankruptcy court.

The company had argued that well-established bankruptcy law allowed the newly reorganized GM to obtain the old company's assets "free and clear" of liabilities.

GM recalled 2.6 million small cars worldwide in 2014 to replace defective switches that played a role in at least 124 deaths and 275 injuries, according to a victims' fund set up by GM and administered by attorney Kenneth Feinberg.

The automaker has paid nearly $875 million to settle death and injury claims related to the switches. That includes $600 million from Feinberg's fund and $275 million to settle 1,385 separate claims. It also has paid $300 million to settle shareholder lawsuits. But many others are pursuing their claims in court.

After it emerged from the government-funded bankruptcy, the company referred to as New GM was indemnified against most claims made against the pre-bankruptcy company, known as Old GM. A bankruptcy court sided with the company in 2015, ruling that most claims against Old GM could not be pursued.

But the appeals court in Manhattan overturned most of that decision and said hundreds of pre-bankruptcy claims could go forward.


High court ruling could reshape Virginia political map
Legal News | 2017/03/01 17:28
A U.S. Supreme Court decision reviving a challenge to several Virginia legislative districts could send lawmakers back to the drawing board, but Republicans say they are confident the state's current electoral map will withstand further scrutiny.

The justices on Wednesday tossed out a ruling that upheld 11 districts in which African-Americans made up at least 55 percent of eligible voters and ordered the lower court to re-examine the boundaries. The lawsuit accused lawmakers of illegally packing black voters into certain districts to make surrounding districts whiter and more Republican.

Democrats say they're certain the lower court will find the districts unconstitutional and force lawmakers to redraw them. Marc Elias, an attorney for the Virginia voters who brought the case, said they will push for that to happen before the November elections.

"It's important that the people of the Commonwealth don't have to have another election using unconstitutional district lines, and we will move forward as quickly as possible to make sure we have constitutional and fair lines in place for the 2017 elections," Elias said.

The top Republican in the Virginia House, however, said he's confident that the current boundaries will stand.


Kenya court blocks closing of world's biggest refugee camp
Legal News | 2017/02/10 16:48
A Kenyan court ruled Thursday that the government must not close the world's largest refugee camp and send more than 200,000 people back to war-torn Somalia, a decision that eases pressure on Somalis who feared the camp would close by the end of May.

Kenya's internal security minister abused his power by ordering the closure of Dadaab camp, Judge John Mativo said, adding that the minister and other officials had "acted in excess and in abuse of their power, in violation of the rule of law and in contravention of their oaths of office."

Rights groups Amnesty International, Kituo cha Sheria and the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights had challenged the government's order to close the camp, which has operated for more than a quarter-century.

Kenya's government quickly said it will appeal the ruling. "Being a government whose cardinal responsibility is first to Kenyans, we feel this decision should be revoked," spokesman Eric Kiraithe said.

The judge called the order discriminatory, saying it goes against the Kenyan constitution as well as international treaties that protect refugees against being returned to a conflict zone.

President Uhuru Kenyatta's government has not proved Somalia is safe for the refugees to return, the judge said, also calling the orders to shut down the government's refugee department "null and void."

Somalia remains under threat of attacks from homegrown extremist group al-Shabab. Some Kenyan officials have argued that the sprawling refugee camp near the border with Somalia has been used as a recruiting ground for al-Shabab and a base for launching attacks inside Kenya. But Kenyan officials have not provided conclusive proof of that.



Driver due in court in Cleveland officer's hit-and-run death
Legal News | 2017/01/26 09:58
The driver accused in the fatal hit-and-run of a Cleveland patrolman on an interstate is set to appear in court.

Forty-four-year-old Israel Alvarez, of Lorain, was scheduled for arraignment Thursday morning on charges of aggravated vehicular homicide and failing to stop after a fatal accident. Court records don't indicate whether he has an attorney.

Police say 39-year-old Patrolman David Fahey was struck Tuesday while setting down flares to close lanes of Interstate 90 after an accident.

Authorities allege Alvarez was driving over 60 mph and disregarded emergency vehicles that were parked along the road with their lights flashing. He was arrested in Lorain later Tuesday.

A viewing for Fahey is scheduled Friday at a North Olmsted funeral home. A funeral Mass is planned Saturday at a Cleveland church.


Supreme Court to hear case about party in vacant DC house
Legal News | 2017/01/20 12:31
The Supreme Court will hear a case in which people arrested for having a party in a vacant house sued police for violating their constitutional rights and won.

The justices said Thursday they will review lower court rulings in favor of 16 people who gathered in a house in Washington about three miles east of the nation's Capitol for a party.

Police arrested the group after no one could identify whose house it was, some said it was a birthday party and others said it was a bachelor party. No one could identify the guest of honor. Several women were scantily clad, with money hanging out of their garter belts. The officers said that the scene resembled a strip club, according to court papers.

Several of the partygoers said someone named "Peaches" gave them permission to have the party.

But when an officer later contacted the purported owner of the home, he denied having given anyone permission to have a party.

The group was arrested for trespassing, a charge later changed to disorderly conduct and then dropped altogether. But the 16 people sued for false arrest and were awarded $680,000.

The issue for the court is whether the officers had sufficient reason to arrest the group for trespassing. The court also will determine whether the officers should be shielded from liability even if their actions are found to violate the law.

A panel of the federal appeals court in Washington upheld the judgment, but four other judges on the court said that the officers should have been protected, citing a string of Supreme Court decisions.



Court ponders mass murderer Breivik's prison conditions
Legal News | 2017/01/18 12:31
An appeals court in Norway is considering whether the prison conditions under which mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik is being held amount to a violation of his human rights.

The six-day trial ended Wednesday in a makeshift courtroom inside Skien prison in southern Norway where Breivik, 37, is serving a 21-year sentence for killing 77 people in a 2011 bomb-and-shooting rampage.

Breivik's lawyer, Oystein Storrvik, spent most of the last day seeking to show that restrictions on his client's visitors and the strict control over Breivik's mail and phone calls have led to a lack of human interaction and privacy, which amounts to a violation of his rights.

The case is "really about a person that is sitting very, very alone in a small prison within a prison" since 2012, explained Storrvik.

He dismissed the benefits of the weekly visits by a state-appointed prison confidante for Breivik, saying "it's a paid job."

Addressing the court last week, Breivik said his solitary confinement had deeply damaged him and made him even more radical in his neo-Nazi beliefs.

The Norwegian state rejected the criticism and said efforts to find a prison confidante show the authorities have "gone out of their way" to remedy the situation.

In a surprise verdict last year, the Oslo District Court sided with Breivik, finding that his isolation was "inhuman (and) degrading" and breached the European Convention on Human Rights. It ordered the government to pay his legal costs.

But it dismissed Breivik's claim that his right to respect for private and family life was violated by restrictions on contacts with other right-wing extremists, a decision that Breivik is appealing.

If the state loses the appeal, Breivik's prison regime will have to be revised. The government could decide to take the case to the Norwegian Supreme court. A ruling is expected in February.


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