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Court raises chances of diesel bans in German city
Legal Watch | 2017/07/30 14:06
A court opened the door on Friday for possible bans on older diesel cars in the German city of Stuttgart, a major auto industry center, upholding a complaint by an environmental group.

The city's administrative court ordered the state government in Baden-Wuerttemberg to rework a plan to improve the air quality in Stuttgart, saying that it wouldn't bring improvements sufficiently fast, news agency dpa reported.

The state has been trying to avoid unpopular bans on diesel cars thanks to automakers' pledges to retrofit vehicles. But judge Wolfgang Kern said that a year-round ban would the most effective way of keeping to permitted nitrogen dioxide levels, which Stuttgart often exceeds.

The Environmental Action Germany group challenged a clean air plan for Stuttgart that is due to take effect in January.

Friday's ruling leaves open whether, when and how diesel models might be banned. But it increases pressure on German politicians at a time when diesel is under intense scrutiny.

The industry is currently looking for a way out of persistent troubles over excessive diesel emissions, and the government is hosting a meeting with auto bosses next week to discuss ways to reduce them.

Indiana's newest Supreme Court justice joins high court
Legal Watch | 2017/07/25 16:50
Former Wabash County Superior Court Judge Christopher Goff was sworn in Monday as Indiana's newest state Supreme Court justice, joining a high court that's been completely remade since 2010 following a series of retirements.

Chief Justice Loretta Rush administered the oath of office for Goff during the swearing-in at the court's Statehouse offices.

Goff, 45, is now the court's youngest member. He succeeds Justice Robert Rucker, who retired in May after 18 years on the court. Rucker retired five years before reaching the court's mandatory retirement age of 75. In 1999, he became only Indiana's second black justice when Democratic Gov. Frank O'Bannon named him to the high court.

All five justices are now white and all have been appointed since 2010 by Republican governors to replace justices who retired.

Goff joins Rush and justices Steven David, Mark Massa and Geoffrey Slaughter on the court.

Gov. Eric Holcomb will preside over a ceremonial oath and public robing ceremony on Sept. 1 for Goff, who is expected to hear his first oral arguments with the court on Sept. 7.

Holcomb chose Goff in June to fill the court's vacancy from among three finalists selected by Indiana's Judicial Nominating Commission.

New Mexico women plead not guilty in federal fraud case
Legal Watch | 2017/07/22 19:54
The founders of a New Mexico guardianship firm have pleaded not guilty to federal charges that they embezzled millions of dollars from the trust accounts of their clients as part of a decade-long scheme.

Susan Harris and Sharon Moore entered their pleas Thursday in federal court in Albuquerque. They posted the equity in their homes as bond and their conditions of release include supervision pending trial.

A 28-count indictment against the women and their company — Ayudando Guardians, Inc. — includes conspiracy, mail fraud, aggravated identity theft and money laundering charges.

Federal authorities have taken over the company and have set up a special website and phone number for Ayudando clients who need information about their accounts.

Prosecutors say hundreds of clients, including disabled veterans and people with special needs, relied on Ayudando to manage their finances.

North Carolina Court to Rule on Law on Gov's Elections Role
Legal Watch | 2017/07/20 11:53
North Carolina's highest court is speeding up a final decision on whether Republican legislators could strip down the election oversight powers of the state's new Democratic governor.

The state Supreme Court said Wednesday it will take up Gov. Roy Cooper's lawsuit against state legislative leaders. The decision bypasses an intermediate appeals court and schedules a Supreme Court hearing on Aug. 28.

GOP lawmakers have sought to dilute Cooper's powers since he narrowly beat incumbent GOP Gov. Pat McCrory last year.

The contested law takes away Cooper's ability to appoint a majority of the state elections board and make every county's elections board a Democratic majority. The law would make a Republican head of the decision-making state board in presidential election years when most people vote and ballot disputes are hottest.

Kansas faces skeptical state Supreme Court on school funding
Legal Watch | 2017/07/18 11:54
Attorneys for Kansas will try to convince an often skeptical state Supreme Court on Tuesday that the funding increase legislators approved for public schools this year is enough to provide a suitable education for kids statewide.

The high court is hearing arguments about a new law that phases in a $293 million increase in education funding over two years. The justices ruled in March that the $4 billion a year in aid the state then provided to its 286 school districts was inadequate, the latest in a string of decisions favoring four school districts that sued Kansas in 2010.

The state argues that the increase is sizable and that new dollars are targeted toward helping the under-performing students identified as a particular concern in the court's last decision.

But lawyers for the Dodge City, Hutchinson, Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas, school districts argue that lawmakers fell at least $600 million short of adequately funding schools over two years. They also question whether the state can sustain the spending promised by the new law, even with an income tax increase enacted this year.

The court has ruled previously that the state constitution requires legislators to finance a suitable education for every child. In past hearings, justices have aggressively questioned attorneys on both sides but have not been shy about challenging the state's arguments.

The court is expected to rule quickly. Attorneys for the districts want the justices to declare that the new law isn't adequate and order lawmakers to fix it by Sept. 1 — only a few weeks after the start of the new school year.

Appeals court backs Jimmy John's franchisee in labor dispute
Legal Watch | 2017/07/06 09:40
A company that owns 10 Jimmy John's sandwich shops in the Twin Cities was within its rights to fire six union workers who circulated posters critical of the company's sick-leave policy, a federal appeals court ruled Monday.

The full 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a three-judge appeals panel, which had affirmed a National Labor Relations Board ruling in favor of the workers, who were part of a unionization drive by the Industrial Workers of the World at shops owned by MikLin Enterprises.

The full appeals court concluded that the poster attack was "so disloyal" that it wasn't protected by federal labor law.

The posters were timed to the flu season in early 2011. They protested the company's policy against workers calling in sick without finding replacements to take their shifts, and accused the company of putting the health of its customers at risk. The poster features two identical photos of Jimmy John's sandwiches but said one was made by a healthy worker and one was made by a sick worker.

"Can't tell the difference?" the poster read. "That's too bad because Jimmy John's workers don't get paid sick days. Shoot, we can't even call in sick. We hope your immune system is ready because you're about to take the sandwich test."

The poster and a press release were distributed to more than 100 local and national news organizations, and the IWW threatened wider distribution if its demands were not met.

The NLRB concluded that MikLin violated protections for employee communications to the public that are part of an ongoing labor dispute. The three-judge appeals panel agreed. But the full appeals court said the board misapplied a controlling precedent set in a 1953 U.S. Supreme Court case that permits firings for disloyalty when the quality of a company's product is attacked, as opposed to communications targeting the employer's labor practices.

Court: Energy firm can pass $55M cleanup costs
Legal Watch | 2017/07/05 09:40
The Ohio Supreme Court says an energy company is allowed to pass on the $55 million cost of cleaning up two polluted sites to its customers in the form of an added charge on their monthly bills.

Duke Energy has been adding $1.67 to bills in Ohio for about three years to help pay for the cleanup of two long-closed facilities in Cincinnati. A spokeswoman says the charge will likely continue for two more years.

The Supreme Court ruled last week that cleanup costs can be treated like other business expenses.

The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that Charlotte, North Carolina-based Duke Energy inherited the plants from another company. They were closed in 1928 and 1963, but cleanup had been a low priority because there was little public access to the sites.

Abduction suspect makes first appearance in court

Hundreds of people gathered outside a federal courthouse Monday as the suspect in the kidnapping of a Chinese scholar at the University of Illinois made his first appearance since being arrested last week.

During the nine-minute hearing, 28-year-old Brendt Christensen acknowledged to the judge that he understood his rights, but did not say anything else. U.S. Magistrate Eric Long ordered Christensen held without bond in the kidnapping of Yingying Zhang. Authorities say facts in the case indicate the 26-year-old Zhang is dead, although her body hasn't been found.

Long ordered Christensen to return to the court in Urbana on Wednesday to determine bond. A preliminary hearing was set for July 14, but that would be waived if a grand jury returns an indictment before then. The federal kidnapping charge carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, according to a U.S. attorney's office spokeswoman.

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