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EU court says Poland's Supreme Court reforms unlawful
Legal Watch | 2019/06/22 01:18
The European Union's top court ruled Monday that a Polish law that pushed Supreme Court judges into early retirement violates EU law, a setback for Poland's right-wing government but a move welcomed by critics who worried the measure would cause a serious erosion of democratic standards.

In its ruling, the European Court of Justice said the measures breach judicial independence. An interim decision from the Luxembourg-based court in November ordered the Polish government to reinstate judges who were forced to retire early and to amend the law to remove the provisions that took about one-third of the court off the bench.

The court said the law "undermines the principle of the irremovability of judges, that principle being essential to their independence."

There was no immediate reaction from Poland's government, but the decision is a blow to the ruling authorities, who since winning power in 2015 have increasingly taken control of the judicial system.

The government and president have said they wanted to force the early retirement of the Supreme Court judges as part of a larger effort to purge communist-era judges.

But legal experts say that argument holds no water because most communist-era judges are long gone from the judicial system 30 years after the fall of communism. Many critics believe the true aim is to destroy the independence of the Polish judiciary.

The biggest fear is that the judiciary could become so politicized that those not favored by the ruling authorities could be unfairly charged with crimes and sentenced, essentially deprived of fair hearings. Though a separate court, the Constitutional Tribunal, and other bodies are already under the ruling party's control, many judges have continued to show independence, ruling against the authorities, even the justice minister, in recent cases.


High court halts electoral map redrawing in Michigan, Ohio
Legal Watch | 2019/05/24 22:14
The Supreme Court on Friday put on hold court orders in Michigan and Ohio to redraw electoral maps that federal judges found were too partisan.

The high court action comes as it is weighing cases from Maryland and North Carolina that raise similar issues and could affect redistricting everywhere.

The brief orders from the justices do not telegraph the outcome of the redistricting cases that are expected to be decided by the end of June. They more likely reflect that whatever the court decides probably will affect rulings that struck down legislative and congressional districts in Michigan and congressional districts in Ohio.

Ohio lawmakers faced a June 14 deadline to draw new congressional districts, or have the courts do it for them. The deadline in Michigan was Aug. 1.

Judges in both states ordered new maps for the 2020 elections after they found Republicans who controlled the redistricting process in 2011 unconstitutionally created districts that essentially guaranteed continued Republican dominance for the 10 years the political maps would be used.


Russian court extends arrest for American accused of spying
Legal Watch | 2019/05/19 05:18
A Russian court on Friday extended the arrest for a former U.S. Marine charged with espionage, who complained in court about abuse in custody.

Paul Whelan was arrested at the end of December in a hotel room in the Russian capital of Moscow where he was attending a wedding. He was charged with espionage, which carries up to 20 years in prison in Russia.

Whelan denies the charges of spying for the U.S. that his lawyers said stem from a sting operation. Whelan’s lawyer has said his client was handed a flash drive that had classified information on it that he didn’t know about.

The court ruled Friday to keep the Michigan resident, who also holds British, Irish and Canadian citizenship, behind bars for three more months.

Whelan told reporters in court that he has been threatened and subjected to “abuses and harassment” in prison.

“I haven’t had a shower in two weeks. I can’t use a barber, I have to cut my own hair,” a visibly agitated Whelan said from the defendant’s dock. “This is typical prisoner of war isolation technique. They’re trying to run me down so that I will talk to them.”

Andrea Kalan, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, said Friday that they are disappointed with the ruling, arguing there is “no evidence of any wrongdoing.”



NC’s highest court hears arguments about Blackbeard flagship
Legal Watch | 2019/05/16 04:00
A lawsuit over the rights to photos and video from the wreckage of the pirate Blackbeard’s flagship is still winding its way through North Carolina courts, four years after the legal conflict began.

The New Bern Sun Journal reports the state Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday about the ownership issue. The state’s highest court will decide which lower court should hear the case next.

A Florida-based company found the wreckage of the Queen Anne’s Revenge off the North Carolina coast in 1996. Intersal contends the state breached a contract giving the company some exclusivity to images.


An Intersal attorney argued the case should be heard in Business Court, where monetary damages can be awarded. State lawyers argue the case qualifies only for administrative court, where they say it’s been settled.


Supreme Court says 1 state can’t be sued in another’s courts
Legal Watch | 2019/05/11 04:05
The Supreme Court decided Monday that one state cannot unwillingly be sued in the courts of another, overruling a 40-year precedent and perhaps, foreshadowing an argument over the viability of other high court decisions.

The outcome left one dissenting justice wondering “which cases the court will overrule next.”

The justices divided 5-4 to end a long-running dispute between California officials and Nevada inventor Gilbert Hyatt.

Hyatt is a former California resident who sued California’s tax agency for being too zealous in seeking back taxes from him. Hyatt won a judgment in Nevada courts.

But Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court’s conservative justices that the Constitution forbids states from opening the doors of their courts to a private citizen’s lawsuit against another state. In 1979, the high court concluded otherwise.

The four liberal justices dissented, saying they would have left alone the court’s decision in Nevada v. Hall. Justice Stephen Breyer said there are good reasons to overrule an earlier case, including that it is no longer workable or a vestige of an otherwise abandoned legal doctrine.

But Breyer said that justices should otherwise adhere to the principle of stare decisis, Latin for to stand by things decided.



High court declines to take Pennsylvania rap artist’s case
Legal Watch | 2019/04/12 01:02
The Supreme Court is declining to take the case of a Pennsylvania rapper who was convicted of threatening police officers in one of his songs.

The high court declined on Monday to take the case of Jamal Knox, known as Mayhem Mal. In 2012, he and rapper Rashee Beasley were arrested by Pittsburgh police on gun and drug charges. A song they later wrote about the arrest contains phrases including “Let’s kill these cops cuz they don’t do us no good.”

Both were charged with terroristic threats and other crimes.

Knox argued that the song was protected by the First Amendment, but he was ultimately convicted and sentenced to one to three years in prison. Pennsylvania’s highest court upheld his convictions.



6 appear in court on charges they sent mosque attack images
Legal Watch | 2019/04/09 01:00
Six people appeared in a New Zealand court Monday on charges they illegally redistributed the video a gunman livestreamed as he shot worshippers at two mosques last month.

Christchurch District Court Judge Stephen O’Driscoll denied bail to businessman Philip Arps and an 18-year-old suspect who both were taken into custody in March. The four others are not in custody.

The charge of supplying or distributing objectionable material carries a penalty of up to 14 years imprisonment. Arps, 44, is scheduled to next appear in court via video link on April 26.

The 18-year-old suspect is charged with sharing the livestream video and a still image of the Al Noor mosque with the words “target acquired.” He will reappear in court on July 31 when electronically monitored bail will be considered.

Police prosecutor Pip Currie opposed bail for the 18-year-old suspect and said the second charge, involving the words added to the still image, was of significant concern.

New Zealand’s chief censor has banned both the livestreamed footage of the attack and the manifesto written and released by Brenton Harrison Tarrant, who faces 50 murder charges and 39 attempted murder charges in the March 15 attacks.


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