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US court bars Trump from reversing transgender troops policy
Legal Watch | 2017/11/02 02:47
A federal judge on Monday barred President Donald Trump's administration from proceeding with plans to exclude transgender people from military service.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled that the transgender service members who had sued over Trump's policy were likely to win their lawsuit. She directed a return to the situation that existed before Trump announced his new policy this summer, saying the administration had provided no solid evidence for why a ban should be implemented.

Trump had ordered a reinstatement of the longstanding policy that barred transgender individuals from joining the military; service members who were revealed to be transgender were subject to discharge. Under President Barack Obama, that policy was changed last year to allow transgender people to serve openly.

The Trump administration may appeal Kollar-Kotelly's decision, but for now, the proposed ban remains unenforceable under Kollar-Kotelly's preliminary injunction.

"We disagree with the court's ruling and are currently evaluating the next steps," said Justice Department spokesman Lauren Ehrsam.

She reiterated the department's view that the lawsuit was premature because the Pentagon was still in the process of reviewing how the transgender policy might evolve.

One of the attorneys handling the lawsuit, Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said the ruling was an enormous relief to his clients.


Illinois to require veterans courts across the state in 2018
Legal Watch | 2017/10/30 07:02
A law passed last year requires every judicial circuit in Illinois to have a veterans treatment court starting Jan. 1.

The courts allow veterans who were honorably discharged to plead guilty to a crime in exchange for a probation sentence, The Chicago Tribune reported. The sentence requires frequent court visits and mental health or substance abuse treatment.

Veterans can also apply to have their records expunged upon completing the sentence. Those who use the courts typically face lower level felonies.

Supporters say the program will help those who risked their lives for their country.

Army veteran Gregory Parker enrolled in the Lake County Veterans Treatment and Assistance Court after his fourth drunken driving arrest resulted in a felony reckless driving charge. Parker graduated from the program in about 18 months. He's quit drinking and continues to go to therapy.

"I finally find myself enjoying things in life I've never enjoyed before," he said.

But some wonder if every community has the resources or the need for a court dedicated to veterans.

Some rural communities may only have a few veterans moving through the court system, said Michelle Rock, executive director of the Illinois Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health and Justice, which provides support for treatment courts statewide.

"We know that it may not be cost-effective for every county in the state to have one," she said.

Before the new law, Kane County officials weighed the need for a veterans court with the availability of resources and decided against offering the court, said Court Administrator Doug Naughton.

The overall court system should be improved, instead of offering one group more options, said Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the ACLU of Illinois.


European Court Asked to Rule on Facebook Data Transfers
Legal Watch | 2017/09/27 13:57
The European Court of Justice has been asked to consider whether Facebook's Dublin-based subsidiary can legally transfer users' personal data to its U.S. parent, after Ireland's top court said Tuesday that there are "well-founded concerns" the practice violates European law.

In a case brought after former U.S. defense contractor Edward Snowden revealed the extent of electronic surveillance by American security agencies, the Irish court found that Facebook's transfers may compromise the data of European citizens.

The case has far-reaching implications for social media companies and others who move large amounts of data via the internet. Facebook's European subsidiary regularly does so.

Ireland's data commissioner had already issued a preliminary decision that such transfers may be illegal because agreements between Facebook and its Irish subsidiary don't adequately protect the privacy of European citizens. The Irish High Court is referring the case to the European Court of Justice because the data sharing agreements had been approved by the European Union's executive Commission.

Ireland's data commissioner "has raised well-founded concerns that there is an absence of an effective remedy in U.S. law . for an EU citizen whose data are transferred to the U.S. where they may be at risk of being accessed and processed by U.S. state agencies for national security purposes in a manner incompatible" with the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights, the Irish High Court said Tuesday.

Austrian privacy campaigner Maximillian Schrems, who has a Facebook account, had challenged this practice through the Irish courts because of concerns that his data was being illegally accessed by U.S security agencies.


With 2 in 3 months, Ohio executions could be back on track
Legal Watch | 2017/09/14 23:06
Court rulings favorable to the state and the outcome of two executions in three months indicate Ohio could be on track to resume putting inmates to death regularly.

The state executed child killer Ronald Phillips in July and double killer Gary Otte on Wednesday in the state death chamber at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville.

Witnesses said Phillips did not appear to be distressed. Otte’s chest rose and fell several times over two minutes in a fashion similar to some executions, though the movement appeared to go on longer than in the past.

Otte’s lawyers believe he suffered a phenomenon known as air hunger and plan to continue their challenge of Ohio’s use of a sedative called midazolam.

“My concerns were that he was obstructing, he was suffering air hunger, trying desperately to get air, and there were tears running down his face, which indicated to me that he was feeling pain or sensations,” federal public defender Carol Wright said after Wednesday’s execution.

Prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said the procedure “was carried out in compliance with the execution policy and without complication.”

The next and last execution scheduled this year is Nov. 15, when the state plans to put Alva Campbell to death. A jury found Campbell, 69, guilty of killing 18-year-old Charles Dials 20 years ago after Campbell, who was in a wheelchair while feigning paralysis, escaped from a court hearing.




Not guilty pleas entered in Lake Coeur d'Alene boat crash
Legal Watch | 2017/09/01 08:59
A former Spokane advertising executive has pleaded not guilty to charges related to a boat crash on Lake Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, that killed three people last year.

The Spokesman-Review reports that Dennis Magner entered his pleas Friday to charges of involuntary manslaughter and criminal conspiracy.

The crash on July 30, 2016 killed 34-year-old Justin Luhr and two 21-year-old passengers, Justin Honken and Caitlin Breeze.

The three victims were struck as they sat in Luhr's anchored boat. It took several days for divers to recover their bodies.

In addition to Magner, the grand jury charged Jonathan Sweat of Spokane with criminal conspiracy based on false statements he made to investigators.

Sweat was a passenger on Magner's boat at the time of the crash.

The crash occurred when Magner's Mastercraft struck and went airborne over the top of Luhr's boat. The collision ripped the top off the cabin.


Otter appoints new justice to Idaho Supreme Court
Legal Watch | 2017/08/28 14:55
Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter has appointed Twin Falls judge Richard Bevan to the state's highest court.

Otter announced Tuesday that Bevan — currently the 5th Judicial District's administrative judge — will replace retiring Idaho Supreme Court Justice Daniel Eismann. Bevan was among four other finalists vying for the open seat. Eismann will retire at the end of the month.

Bevan has been a judge since 2003, where he helped establish the 5th District's mental health court and presided over the Veterans Treatment Court. Previously, he was a private practice attorney and served a term as Twin Falls County prosecuting attorney.

Otter praised Bevan's judicial demeanor and understanding of the legal system, adding that Bevan has shown to have open mind on tough, socially significant issues.



German court sends ECB challenge to European court
Legal Watch | 2017/08/15 23:07
Germany's top court has declined to hear a series of challenges to the European Central Bank's bond-buying stimulus program, referring them instead to the European Court of Justice.

The dpa news agency reports Tuesday that those against the program claimed it constituted illegal budget financing and that Germany's central bank should not be participating.

The Federal Constitutional Court ruled that because the challenge was about European Union regulations, it was up to the European court to decide.

The ECB's 2.28 trillion euro ($2.7 trillion) bond-purchasing program is only due to run through 2017, raising the question of whether the case can be heard before the program has already ended.



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