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German federal court mulls bid to remove antisemitic relic
Legal Watch | 2022/05/30 16:56
A German federal court on Monday mulled a Jewish man’s bid to force the removal of a 700-year-old antisemitic statue from a church where Martin Luther once preached, and said it will deliver its verdict in the long-running dispute next month.

The “Judensau,” or “Jew pig,” sculpture on the Town Church in Wittenberg is one of more than 20 such relics from the Middle Ages that still adorn churches across Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

The case went to the Federal Court of Justice after lower courts ruled in 2019 and 2020 against plaintiff Michael Duellmann. He had argued that the sculpture was “a defamation of and insult to the Jewish people” that has “a terrible effect up to this day,” and has suggested moving it the nearby Luther House museum.

Placed on the church about four meters (13 feet) above ground level, the sculpture depicts people identifiable as Jews suckling the teats of a sow while a rabbi lifts the animal’s tail. In 1570, after the Protestant Reformation, an inscription referring to an anti-Jewish tract by Luther was added.

In 1988, a memorial was set into the ground below, referring to the persecution of Jews and the 6 million people who died during the Holocaust. In addition, a sign gives information about the sculpture in German and English.

In 2020, an appeals court in Naumburg ruled that “in its current context” the sculpture is not of “slanderous character” and didn’t violate the plaintiff’s rights. It said that, with the addition of the memorial and information sign, the statue was now “part of an ensemble which speaks for another objective” on the part of the parish.


Supreme Court rules against Boston in Christian flag case
Legal Watch | 2022/05/02 21:36
A unanimous Supreme Court ruled Monday that Boston violated the free speech rights of a conservative activist when it refused his request to fly a Christian flag on a flagpole outside City Hall.

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the court that the city discriminated against the activist, Harold Shurtleff, because of his “religious viewpoint,” even though it had routinely approved applications for the use of one of the three flagpoles outside City Hall that fly the U.S., Massachusetts and Boston flags.

Occasionally, the city takes down its own pennant and temporarily hoists another flag.

Shurtleff and his Camp Constitution wanted to fly a white banner with a red cross on a blue background in the upper left corner, called the Christian flag, to mark Constitution Day, Sept. 17, in 2017.

The city had approved 284 consecutive applications to fly flags, usually those of other nations, before it rejected Shurtleff’s because it was a Christian flag. The city said he could fly a different banner, but Shurtleff refused, and lower courts upheld the city’s decision.

But the high court said the lower courts and the city were wrong. The case hinged on whether the flag-flying is an act of the government, in which case Boston can do whatever it wants, or private parties like Shurtleff, Breyer wrote.



9 apply for open West Virginia Supreme Court seat
Legal Watch | 2022/03/20 06:25
Nine people have applied for an open West Virginia Supreme Court seat.

Gov. Jim Justice’s office says the applicants are C. Haley Bunn; Nicole A. Cofer; Robert J. Frank; Gregory Howard Jr.; Charles O. Lorensen; Kristina D. Raynes; James J. Rowe; Mark A. Sorsaia; and Joanna I. Tabit.

Bunn practices with Steptoe & Johnson PLLC in Charleston. Cofer is a traffic safety resources prosecutor with the West Virginia Prosecuting Attorneys Institute. Frank has a Lewisburg law firm.

Howard is a Cabell County Circuit Court judge. Lorensen is a member of Kay Casto & Chaney PLLC in Charleston and a one-time chief of staff to former Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

Raynes is a Putnam County assistant prosecutor. Rowe is a senior status judge retired from Greenbrier County circuit court. Sorsaia is Putnam County’s prosecuting attorney. Tabit is a Kanawha County circuit court judge.

Former Justice Evan Jenkins resigned last month to return to private practice.

The governor’s office says a judicial commission will interview candidates in the coming weeks and recommend finalists to him.

A bill awaiting Justice’s signature would let the appointee first face election when Jenkins’ term is up in 2024, rather than holding a special election in November.



Not guilty plea entered in alleged drug deal slaying
Legal Watch | 2022/03/07 19:21
A defendant accused of fatally shooting a man because he didn’t want to pay him for a drug deal pleaded not guilty in Brown County Circuit Court Monday.

Pedro Santiago-Marquez is charged with first-degree intentional homicide and being party to mutilating a corpse in connection with the Sept. 27 murder of Jason Mendez-Ramos.

Prosecutors say Mendez-Ramos was angry that he had not been paid $80,000 for a cocaine deal. A criminal complaint says rather than pay for the cocaine, Santiago-Marquez shot him in the head with a pistol. The victim’s burned body was found at the edge of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay campus, WLUK-TV reported.

Security videos, cell phone tracking information, and DNA tie Rodriguez-Garcia to that scene, according to the criminal complaint.

Another man, 47-year-old Alexander Burgos-Mojica, is charged with harboring or aiding a felon in connection with the case. He returns to court March 18 for a balance of initial appearance. Rodriguez-Garcia returns to court March 21 for a status conference on the charge of mutilating a corpse.


Alaska denied oil check benefits to gay couples, dependents
Legal Watch | 2021/04/16 09:01
Alaska discriminated against some same-sex spouses for years in wrongfully denying them benefits by claiming their unions were not recognized even after courts struck down same-sex marriage bans, court documents obtained by The Associated Press show.

The agency that determines eligibility for the yearly oil wealth check paid to nearly all Alaska residents denied a dividend for same-sex spouses or dependents of military members stationed in other states for five years after a federal court invalidated Alaska’s ban on same-sex marriage in 2014, and the Supreme Court legalized the unions nationwide in June 2015, the documents show.

In one email from July 2019, a same-sex spouse living out-of-state with his military husband was denied a check because “unfortunately the state of Alaska doesn’t recognize same sex marriage yet,” employee Marissa Requa wrote to a colleague, ending the sentence with a frown face emoji.

This Permanent Fund Dividend Division practice continued until Denali Smith, who was denied benefits appealed and asked the state to start including her lawyer in its correspondence.

Smith later sued the state, seeking an order declaring that state officials violated the federal court decision and Smith’s constitutional rights to equal protection and due process

Smith and the state on Wednesday settled the lawsuit. Alaska admitted denying benefits to same-sex military spouses and dependents for five years in violation of the permanent injunction put in place by the 2014 U.S. District Court decision. The state also vowed to no longer use the outdated state law, to deny military spouses and dependents oil checks going forward, and updated enforcement regulations.

There were no financial terms to the settlement. In fact, Smith had to pay $400 out of pocket to file the federal lawsuit to get her oil check, and her attorney worked pro bono.

In Alaska, the oil wealth check is seen as an entitlement that people use to buy things like new TVs or snowmobiles, fund college savings accounts or, in rural Alaska, weather high heating and food costs. The nest-egg fund, seeded with oil money, has grown into billions of dollars. A portion traditionally goes toward the checks, but the amount varies. Last year, nearly every single resident received $992. The year before, the amount was $1,606.

About 800 pages of emails provided by the state for the lawsuit show a clear misunderstanding or outright disregard of the 2014 precedent and reluctance to reach out to the attorney general’s office for guidance.


Judge rules Mormon church didn’t meddle in death row case
Legal Watch | 2021/03/31 23:00
A Utah judge has ruled that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did not interfere in a death row inmate’s 2015 trial when it laid out ground rules for what local church leaders could say before they testified as character witnesses for the man.

Death row inmate Doug Lovell, 62, claimed the witnesses were effectively silenced by the church, or never contacted at all by his court-appointed attorney, Sean Young, The Salt Lake Tribune reported  Tuesday.

The lawyers argued the witnesses were family members, inmates and former church leaders who could have told jurors Lovell positively affected their lives. Those testimonies, which were not all given, could have swayed the jurors, they said.

Instead, Lovell was sentenced in 2015 to die by lethal injection for killing Joyce Yost three decades ago in an effort to silence her after she had alleged Lovell had raped her. Lovell appealed the verdict, claiming the church interfered in his trial and he didn’t receive adequate legal representation.

In a recent court ruling, Second District Judge Michael DiReda said Young wasn’t deficient in his representation and didn’t contact several witnesses because they would have said damaging things about his client.

DiReda also said the church didn’t interfere with Lovell’s case and told former bishops to tell the truth, but did not emphasize what they should say.

Lovell pleaded guilty to the murder in 1993 under a plea agreement that would have removed the death penalty if Lovell could show authorities the location of Yost’s body. The body was never found and the agreement was voided, but Lovell still pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and was sentenced to death.

In 2011, the Utah Supreme Court allowed Lovell to withdraw his guilty plea. He was then convicted at trial and again sentenced to death. The state Supreme Court in 2017 heard the case again and sent it back to a district court to determine if Lovell’s attorneys did their jobs properly and if the church asked ecclesiastical leaders to not testify.

The case will now get kicked back to the Utah Supreme Court, which will have the ultimate say in whether Lovell should receive another trial.

Lovell is one of seven men currently on death row in Utah. An execution date is unclear.



Governor swears in newest Rhode Island state court judge
Legal Watch | 2021/03/28 02:29
The newest judge to the Rhode Island Superior Court was sworn in Saturday.

Democratic Gov. Dan McKee presided over the swearing in of R. David Cruise, a longtime political operative and state senator, at the Boys & Girls Club location in Cumberland.

McKee, a former Cumberland mayor who has known Cruise for years, said in a statement that he’s an “honest, fair and thoughtful leader who brings decades of legal and government experience to the bench.”

Cruise is a former state senator and Cumberland town councilor. In recent years, he’s served as former Gov. Gina Raimondo’s director of legislative affairs, former administrative magistrate with the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal and chief of staff to the Rhode Island Senate, among other posts, according to McKee’s office.

In the 1990s, Cruise worked in the commerce department under President Bill Clinton and chief of staff to former Governor Bruce Sundlun. In the 1980s, he was a state senator and before that served on the Cumberland Town Council.

Cruise, who graduated from Providence College and the Suffolk University School of Law, replaces former Superior Court Judge Bennett Gallo, who retired in February.

The Rhode Island Superior Court has 22 judges and five magistrates. It handles both civil and criminal matters.


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