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Ex-West Virginia Supreme Court justice set for sentencing
Legal Watch | 2019/02/13 10:17
A former West Virginia Supreme Court justice who had a $32,000 blue suede couch in his office and was at the center of an impeachment scandal is due in federal court for sentencing for using his job for his own benefit.

Allen Loughry is scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Charleston.

Loughry was found guilty of 11 of the 22 charges at his October trial. Most of the charges involved mail and wire fraud involving his personal use of state cars and fuel cards. The judge last month threw out a witness tampering conviction.

Prosecutors are seeking a sentence above the guideline range of 15 to 21 months along with a fine between $7,500 and $75,000.

In a memorandum Monday, prosecutors said Loughry had an "unbridled arrogance" as a Supreme Court justice. They said Loughry's testimony exposed him as a liar and he has shown no remorse for his conduct.

"Corruption is a cancer that erodes the public's confidence in the government and undermines the rule of law," the memorandum said.

Loughry, who wrote a 2006 book while he was a Supreme Court law clerk about the history of political corruption in the state, was removed as chief justice last February. He was then suspended from the bench in June and resigned in November.

At trial, Loughry denied he benefited personally from trips he took when he became a justice in 2013. He said he used state-owned vehicles made available to the justices for what he said was a variety of reasons, including public outreach.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Wright said records showed Loughry took a government car to a wedding, four signings for his book, and "loads it up with Christmas presents" to visit relatives. A neighbor testified she saw Loughry pack presents in a car with a state government license plate around the holidays.

Loughry also was convicted of lying to federal investigators by saying he was unaware about the historical significance and value of a $42,000 state-owned desk that he had transferred to his home. He returned the desk and a green leather couch owned by the state after media reports about it.


Court case to tackle jails' medication-assisted treatment
Legal Watch | 2019/02/12 18:17
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine started making its case in federal court on Monday against the ban on medication-assisted treatment in county jail amid the opioid crisis.

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills recently lifted the Maine Department of Corrections' ban on medication-assisted treatment. The ACLU's lawsuit filed in September argued that it's unconstitutional and harmful for Maine jails to prohibit such treatment.

Madawaska resident Brenda Smith sued, asking to continue using medication-assisted treatment to keep her opioid use disorder in remission. Smith, who is expected to report to Aroostook County Jail this year, testified Monday in U.S. District Court in Portland during a court case that is expected to last all week.

Smith wept on the stand while describing how access to the medicine is critical to stabilizing her life. ACLU lawyers said they will spend the week making the case that such access is a constitutional issue, as well as a protected right under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

"It makes me feel normal, like I'm a normal human being," Smith said.

Smith's lawsuit against the jail comes at a time when jails and prisons across the country are starting to provide addiction medications to inmates, as resistance from long-skeptical corrections officials appears to be loosening amid the national drug epidemic.

Attorneys for the jail have pushed back at the idea that a ban on medically assisted treatment is a violation of a prisoner's rights. Attorney Peter Marchesi, an attorney representing the jail Monday, has previously said medical staff members at the jail have the ability to manage prisoners' withdrawal symptoms.

Monday's court action also included an expert witness, Dr. Ross MacDonald, who has overseen medical care for New York City's jail system. The medical literature supports medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder, and it's important to have that option available to prisoners, he said.



Appellate judge announces run for Supreme Court seat
Legal Watch | 2019/02/06 03:16
An appellate judge has announced he will run for a spot on the Kentucky Supreme Court days after Justice Bill Cunningham retired.

Kentucky Court of Appeals Judge Christopher "Shea" Nickell told The Paducah Sun that he is running in November's election for the vacant seat, which represents the First Supreme Court District encompassing 24 counties in western Kentucky. The winner of the general election will serve the rest of Cunningham's current term ending in 2022.

Gov. Matt Bevin will appoint a temporary justice to the seat until November, but Nickell did not submit his name for consideration. He says that would have required him to step down from the appeals court.

Nickell practiced law for 22 years before he became an appellate judge.


Lawyer: Incapacitated woman who gave birth not in coma
Legal Watch | 2019/01/20 15:08
A lawyer for the family of an incapacitated Arizona woman who gave birth in a long-term care facility said she is not in a coma as previously reported.

The Arizona Republic reported Friday that attorney John Micheaels said the 29-year-old woman has “significant intellectual disabilities” and does not speak but has some ability to move, responds to sounds and is able to make facial gestures.

Phoenix police have said the woman was the victim of a sexual assault and have disclosed little other information.

A Jan. 8 statement by San Carlos Apache Tribe officials said the woman, a tribal member, gave birth while in a coma.

News media outlets have reported that the woman, who has not been publicly identified, was in a vegetative state at the facility where she spent many years.

“The important thing here is that contrary to what’s been reported, she is a person, albeit with significant intellectual disabilities. She has feelings and is capable of responding to people she is familiar with, especially family,” Micheaels told the newspaper.




Congo runner-up Fayulu asks court to order election recount
Legal Watch | 2019/01/13 01:58
Congo's presidential runner-up Martin Fayulu has asked the constitutional court to order a recount in the disputed election, declaring on Saturday that "you can't manufacture results behind closed doors."

He could be risking more than the court's refusal. Congo's electoral commission president Corneille Nangaa has said there are only two options: The official results are accepted or the vote is annulled — which would keep President Joseph Kabila in power until another election. The Dec. 30 one came after two years of delays.

"They call me the people's soldier ... and I will not let the people down," Fayulu said. Evidence from witnesses at polling stations across the country is being submitted to the court, which is full of Kabila appointees.

Rifle-carrying members of Kabila's Republican Guard deployed outside Fayulu's home and the court earlier Saturday. It was an attempt to stop him from filing, Fayulu said while posting a video of them on Twitter: "The fear remains in their camp."

Fayulu has accused the declared winner, opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi, of a backroom deal with Kabila to win power in the mineral-rich nation as the ruling party candidate, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, did poorly.

The opposition coalition for Fayulu, a businessman vocal about cleaning up widespread corruption, has said he won 61 percent of the vote, citing figures compiled by the Catholic Church's 40,000 election observers across the vast Central African country.


Court: State, governor can't be sued over public defenders
Legal Watch | 2019/01/12 09:50
Missouri and its governor cannot be sued over the state’s underfunded and understaffed public defender system, a federal appeals court has ruled.

A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday said the legal doctrine of sovereign immunity means the state can’t commit a legal wrong and cannot be sued unless the legislature makes exceptions in state law, KCUR reported.

American Civil Liberties Union-Missouri filed the class action lawsuit in 2017. The organization argued the governor and state have ignored their constitutional obligation to provide meaningful legal representation to indigent clients by not providing enough funds to address chronic underfunding and understaffing in the public defender system. ACLU-Missouri argues in the lawsuit that Mississippi is the only state to allocate less than the $355 per case that Missouri spends for its indigent defense budget.

The lawsuit will continue against the head of the public defender system, Michael Barrett, and the public defender commission.

The decision, written by Judge Duane Benton, does not address the merits of the lawsuit. But the ruling means the legislature can’t be forced to appropriate more money to the system.

“It would be easier if the state itself were a defendant,” said Tony Rothert, legal director of ACLU-Missouri.

Rothert said if the ACLU prevails against the other defendants, the court could order the state to reduce public defenders’ caseloads, or prosecutors could use their discretion to not bring charges for certain crimes. Or defendants who aren’t considered dangerous could be released on bail and put on a waiting list for public defenders rather than staying in jail while awaiting trial.


Gun law, hurricanes added to Florida courts' workload
Legal Watch | 2018/12/30 09:12
Florida's new gun law is keeping courts busy, and the state Supreme Court also says lawsuits over hurricane disputes could be on the rise.

The Florida Supreme Court said Friday 100 petitions a month have been filed statewide to try to keep guns out of the hands of people at risk to themselves and others. The Legislature passed new gun restrictions in March following a school shooting in Parkland that left 17 dead.

The court also said to watch out for a rise in claims related to Hurricanes Irma and Michael, particularly involving indebtedness and contracts. Irma affected nearly the entire state in 2017, and Michael devastated communities from Mexico Beach to the Georgia border in October.

The court said four additional circuit court judges are needed next fiscal year, including one in the circuit that covers counties hit by Michael.



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