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Lawyers will seek to shift blame for warehouse fire at trial
Legal Watch | 2018/08/17 08:15
Lawyers for the two men charged in the Northern California warehouse fire that killed 36 people said Friday they are now preparing for a trial where they will try to shift blame for the blaze from their clients to others, including the building's owner and government officials.

Derick Almena, 48, and Max Harris, 28, on Friday appeared briefly in an Oakland courtroom for the first time since a judge scuttled a plea deal agreed to by prosecutors. They were ordered back to court in three weeks to schedule a trial.

Outside court, the men's lawyers say there's plenty of blame to share for the Dec. 2, 2016, fire in an Oakland warehouse illegally converted into an underground entertainment venue and live-work space for artists. The cause of the fire has never been determined, which the lawyers said is key part of the men's defense.

Serra also said numerous government officials visited the illegally converted warehouse before the fire, and they had a duty to report the building's condition to authorities. Almena lived in the warehouse with his wife and three children and were visited by Alameda County's Child Protective Services officials several times. Oakland police officers were also called to the warehouse on several occasions to investigate noise complaints and tenant disputes, among other issues.


Top Pakistan court bars former minister from holding office
Legal Watch | 2018/08/02 04:27
Pakistan's top court has barred the former deputy interior minister from holding office for the next five years for insulting judges in a speech earlier this year.

Thursday's ruling by the Supreme Court says Talal Chaudhry, who was deputy interior minister under former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, disparaged judges during a March speech.

In the speech, Chaudry assailed the top court for dismissing Sharif from office. The former prime minister is now appealing a 10-year prison sentence for corruption handed down by an anti-graft tribunal in June.

Sharif's party — the Pakistan Muslim League — was defeated in general elections last month that saw former cricket star turn politician Imran Khan's party win the vote.

Khan is expected to form a coalition government and become prime minister later this month.


State Supreme Court returns stalking case to lower court
Legal Watch | 2018/07/22 13:55
Facebook complaints against her neighbor constituted stalking.

The Rapid City Journal reports that a judge in 2016 granted Sarah Thompson's request for a protection order against Wambli Bear Runner over Bear Runner's frequent antagonistic updates against Thompson. The two women had been dating the same man.

One of the posts read, "I'll forever be watching #your enemy unless I get an apology!"

The high court ruled that the circuit court did not show why Bear Runner's comments qualified as stalking. The case has been returned to the lower court.

South Dakota's law against stalking notes harassment can come through verbal, digital, electronic or even telegraphic communication.



Kavanaugh: Watergate tapes decision may have been wrong
Legal Watch | 2018/07/20 13:55
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh suggested several years ago that the unanimous high court ruling in 1974 that forced President Richard Nixon to turn over the Watergate tapes, leading to the end of his presidency, may have been wrongly decided.

Kavanaugh was taking part in a roundtable discussion with other lawyers when he said at three different points that the decision in U.S. v. Nixon, which marked limits on a president's ability to withhold information needed for a criminal prosecution, may have come out the wrong way.

A 1999 magazine article about the roundtable was part of thousands of pages of documents that Kavanaugh has provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee as part of the confirmation process. The committee released the documents on Saturday.

Kavanaugh's belief in robust executive authority already is front and center in his nomination by President Donald Trump to replace the retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. The issue could assume even greater importance if special counsel Robert Mueller seeks to force Trump to testify in the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

"But maybe Nixon was wrongly decided — heresy though it is to say so. Nixon took away the power of the president to control information in the executive branch by holding that the courts had power and jurisdiction to order the president to disclose information in response to a subpoena sought by a subordinate executive branch official. That was a huge step with implications to this day that most people do not appreciate sufficiently...Maybe the tension of the time led to an erroneous decision," Kavanaugh said in a transcript of the discussion that was published in the January-February 1999 issue of the Washington Lawyer.


Conservatives close in on dream: Tipping court right
Legal Watch | 2018/07/12 05:35
project unparalleled in American history to install a reliable conservative majority on the nation’s highest tribunal, one that could shape the direction of the law for years to come.

“They’ve been pushing back for 30 years, and, obviously, the announcement is a big step in the right direction,” said Curt Levey, president of the Committee for Justice, a conservative activist group that’s been working toward this goal full time since 2005. “It’ll be the first time we can really say we have a conservative court, really the first time since the 1930s.”

This presumes that Trump can push Kavanaugh through a closely divided Senate heading into a midterm election season, hardly a given. More so than any nomination in a dozen years, Trump’s choice of a successor for Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the influential swing vote retiring at the end of the month, holds the potential of changing the balance of power rather than simply replacing a like-minded justice with a younger version.

But if the president succeeds in confirming his selection, the new justice is expected to join Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch in forming a much more consistently conservative majority than before.

That has not happened by accident. A network of activists and organizations has worked assiduously since the 1980s to reach this point, determined to avoid the disappointment they felt after Republican appointees like Earl Warren, William J. Brennan Jr., David H. Souter, Sandra Day O’Connor and Kennedy proved more moderate or liberal once they joined the court.


Schumer rallies opposition to Trump anti-abortion court pick
Legal Watch | 2018/07/03 07:48
The Senate's top Democrat tried Monday to rally public opposition to any Supreme Court pick by President Donald Trump who'd oppose abortion rights, issuing a striking campaign season call to action for voters to prevent such a nominee by putting "pressure on the Senate."

With Trump saying he'll pick from a list of 25 potential nominees he's compiled with guidance from conservatives, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said any of them would be "virtually certain" to favor overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that affirmed women's right to abortion. They would also be "very likely" to back weakening President Barack Obama's 2010 law that expanded health care coverage to millions of Americans, he said.

Schumer said that while Democrats don't control the Senate — Republicans have a 51-49 edge — most senators back abortion rights. In an unusually direct appeal to voters, he said that to block "an ideological nominee," people should "tell your senators" to oppose anyone from Trump's list.

"It will not happen on its own," the New Yorker wrote in an opinion column in Monday's New York Times. "It requires the public's focus on these issues, and its pressure on the Senate."

Trump has said he is focusing on up to seven potential candidates, including two women, to fill the vacancy of retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, a swing vote on the nine-member court. He's said he'll announce his pick July 9.

Schumer's column appeared a day after Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she would oppose any nominee she believed would overturn Roe v. Wade. Collins said she would only back a judge who would show respect for settled law such as the Roe decision, which has long been anathema to conservatives.



Court deals major financial blow to nation's public employee unions
Legal Watch | 2018/06/27 07:51
A deeply divided Supreme Court dealt a major blow to the nation's public employee unions Wednesday that likely will result in a loss of money, members and political muscle.

After three efforts in 2012, 2014 and 2016 fell short, the court's conservative majority ruled 5-4 that unions cannot collect fees from non-members to help defray the costs of collective bargaining. Justice Samuel Alito wrote the decision, announced on the final day of the court's term, with dissents from Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.

About 5 million workers could be affected by the decision overruling the court's 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education — those who pay dues or "fair-share" fees to unions in 22 states where public employees can be forced to contribute. Workers in 28 states already cannot be forced to join or pay unions.

"We recognize that the loss of payments from nonmembers may cause unions to experience unpleasant transition costs in the short term and may require unions to make adjustments in order to attract and retain members," Alito wrote. "But we must weigh these disadvantages against the considerable windfall that unions have received under Abood for the past 41 years."

From the bench, he noted that Illinois, whose Republican governor initiated the challenge, "has serious financial problems" that are exacerbated by costly union contracts. Gov. Bruce Rauner has sought to renegotiate public employee contracts.

Kagan's main dissent for the four liberal justices accused the court of "weaponizing the First Amendment in a way that unleashes judges, now and in the future, to intervene in economic and regulatory policy."

"It wanted to pick the winning side in what should be -- and until now has been -- an energetic policy debate," she wrote. "Today, that healthy -- that democratic -- debate ends. The majority has adjudged who should prevail."

Justice Neil Gorsuch cast the deciding vote against what conservative opponents have labeled a form of compelled speech. The money helps labor unions maintain political power in some of the nation's most populous states, including California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.


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