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Court: State, governor can't be sued over public defenders
Legal Watch | 2019/01/12 09:50
Missouri and its governor cannot be sued over the state’s underfunded and understaffed public defender system, a federal appeals court has ruled.

A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday said the legal doctrine of sovereign immunity means the state can’t commit a legal wrong and cannot be sued unless the legislature makes exceptions in state law, KCUR reported.

American Civil Liberties Union-Missouri filed the class action lawsuit in 2017. The organization argued the governor and state have ignored their constitutional obligation to provide meaningful legal representation to indigent clients by not providing enough funds to address chronic underfunding and understaffing in the public defender system. ACLU-Missouri argues in the lawsuit that Mississippi is the only state to allocate less than the $355 per case that Missouri spends for its indigent defense budget.

The lawsuit will continue against the head of the public defender system, Michael Barrett, and the public defender commission.

The decision, written by Judge Duane Benton, does not address the merits of the lawsuit. But the ruling means the legislature can’t be forced to appropriate more money to the system.

“It would be easier if the state itself were a defendant,” said Tony Rothert, legal director of ACLU-Missouri.

Rothert said if the ACLU prevails against the other defendants, the court could order the state to reduce public defenders’ caseloads, or prosecutors could use their discretion to not bring charges for certain crimes. Or defendants who aren’t considered dangerous could be released on bail and put on a waiting list for public defenders rather than staying in jail while awaiting trial.


Gun law, hurricanes added to Florida courts' workload
Legal Watch | 2018/12/30 09:12
Florida's new gun law is keeping courts busy, and the state Supreme Court also says lawsuits over hurricane disputes could be on the rise.

The Florida Supreme Court said Friday 100 petitions a month have been filed statewide to try to keep guns out of the hands of people at risk to themselves and others. The Legislature passed new gun restrictions in March following a school shooting in Parkland that left 17 dead.

The court also said to watch out for a rise in claims related to Hurricanes Irma and Michael, particularly involving indebtedness and contracts. Irma affected nearly the entire state in 2017, and Michael devastated communities from Mexico Beach to the Georgia border in October.

The court said four additional circuit court judges are needed next fiscal year, including one in the circuit that covers counties hit by Michael.



Prominent Chinese rights lawyer tried in closed proceedings
Legal Watch | 2018/12/26 05:13
The trial of a prominent human rights lawyer began in northern China on Wednesday with about two dozen plainclothes officers stationed outside a courthouse and at least one supporter taken away by police.

Reporters, foreign diplomats and supporters were prevented from approaching the municipal court in Tianjin city where lawyer Wang Quanzhang was being tried. Wang's wife, Li Wenzu, was kept from attending the proceedings by security agents who had blocked the exit of her apartment complex since Tuesday.

Li told The Associated Press by phone Wednesday that Liu Weiguo, Wang's government-appointed lawyer, confirmed the trial had started. But he did not tell her whether it was now over or whether a verdict had been reached.

The court said in a statement on its website that it "lawfully decided not to make public" the trial hearings because the case involved state secrets. A decision will be announced at a future date, the court said.

Wang is among more than 200 lawyers and legal activists who were detained in a sweeping 2015 crackdown. A member of the Fengrui law firm, among the most recognized in the field broadly known in China as "rights defending," he was charged with subversion of state power in 2016. He has been held without access to his lawyers or family for more than three years.

Fengrui has pursued numerous sensitive cases and represented outspoken critics of the ruling Communist Party. Wang represented members of the Falun Gong meditation sect that the government has relentlessly suppressed since banning it as an "evil cult" in 1999. Group leaders have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms and ordinary followers locked up as alleged threats.


Cancer the latest health woe for resilient Justice Ginsburg
Legal Watch | 2018/12/24 05:33
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is resting in a New York hospital following surgery to remove two malignant growths in her left lung, the third time the Supreme Court’s oldest justice has been treated for cancer and her second stay in a hospital in two months.

Worries over Ginsburg’s health have been a constant of sorts for nearly 10 years, and for liberals, particularly in the last two. Ginsburg, the leader of the court’s liberal wing and known to her fans as the Notorious RBG, has achieved an iconic status rare for Supreme Court justices.

If she did step down, President Donald Trump would have another opportunity to move a conservative court even more to the right. “Wishing Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg a full and speedy recovery!” Trump tweeted after the court’s announcement Friday.

But Ginsburg has always bounced back before, flaunting her physical and mental fitness. After past health scares, she has resumed the exercise routine popularized in a book written by her personal trainer and captured in a Stephen Colbert video. Weeks after cracking three ribs in a fall at the Supreme Court in November, the 85-year-old Ginsburg was asking questions at high court arguments, speaking at a naturalization ceremony for new citizens and being interviewed at screenings of the new movie about her, “On the Basis of Sex.”

Ginsburg will remain in the hospital for a few days, the court said. She has never missed arguments in more than 25 years as a justice. The court next meets on Jan. 7.

While it’s hard to refer to good luck and cancer diagnoses in the same breath, this is the second time for Ginsburg that cancerous growths have been detected at an apparently early stage through unrelated medical tests.

The nodules on her lung were found during X-rays and other tests Ginsburg had after she fractured ribs in a fall in her Supreme Court office on Nov. 7, the court said. In 2009, routine follow-up screening after Ginsburg’s colorectal cancer 10 years earlier detected a lesion on her pancreas. Doctors operated and removed the growth they’d previously spotted, plus a smaller one they hadn’t seen before. The larger growth was benign, while the smaller one was malignant.



Appeals court agrees to hear case involving Trump DC hotel
Legal Watch | 2018/12/22 05:35
A federal appeals court agreed Thursday to take up a case accusing Donald Trump of profiting off the presidency in violation of the U.S. Constitution, giving the president's legal team its first major victory in the case.

The order issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Virginia, hits the pause button on the ongoing federal court case in Maryland before deadlines to respond to subpoenas issued earlier this month seeking tax returns, receipts and other records from 13 Trump businesses and other entities.

It came just three days after Justice Department lawyers filed papers seeking a writ of mandamus appeal, criticizing U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte and arguing that that the "intrusive" discovery that has already begun would distract the president from his performance of his constitutional duties and could cause separation of powers concerns.

For Justice to succeed at the appeals level, they must meet a demanding standard that would partly rest on showing Messitte's decisions to be clearly wrong.

The lawsuit brought by the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia alleges that because Trump has not divested himself of his business holdings, foreign and domestic government spending at Trump's Washington hotel amounts to gifts to the president in violation of the Constitution's emoluments clause.

Oral arguments before the three-judge appeals court are scheduled for March, delaying what had been a brisk discovery schedule set in the district court by several months. The order also notes that lawyers should be prepared to also address substantive issues such as whether the plaintiffs in the case can even sue and, if victorious, compel the president to stop violating the Constitution.


Court: Florida police can use 'stand your ground' law
Legal Watch | 2018/12/16 03:06
Florida law enforcement officers can invoke the state's "stand your ground" law to protect them from criminal prosecution in a shooting, the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously Thursday.

The court issued its 7-0 decision in the case of Peter Peraza, a Broward County sheriff's deputy charged with manslaughter in the 2013 fatal shooting of a man carrying what turned out to be an air rifle.

Peraza's lawyers claimed he was immune from prosecution under the stand your ground law, which permits use of deadly force when a person has a legitimate fear of "imminent death or great bodily harm." The justices agreed with two lower court rulings, which concluded that the law applies to law enforcement officers the same as anyone else.

"Simply put, a law enforcement officer is a 'person' whether on duty or off, and irrespective of whether the officer is making an arrest," Justice Alan Lawson wrote for the court.

"In common understanding, 'person' refers to a 'human being,' which is not occupation-specific and plainly includes human beings serving as law enforcement officers," he added.

Peraza shot 33-year-old Jermaine McBean during a confrontation with deputies at his apartment complex. Several people had called 911 to report a man openly carrying a rifle down a busy street and acting erratically.



Russian court challenges International Olympic Committee
Legal Watch | 2018/11/25 21:43
Court ruled Wednesday that bobsledder Alexander Zubkov, who carried the Russian flag at the opening ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Games, should still be considered an Olympic champion despite having been stripped of his medals because of doping. A CAS ruling upholding his disqualification is not enforceable in Russia, the court said.

CAS, however, is the only valid arbiter for sports disputes at the games, according to the Olympic Charter. In rare instances, Switzerland's supreme court can weigh in on matters of procedure.

"The CAS decision in this case is enforceable since there was no appeal filed with the Swiss Federal Tribunal within the period stipulated," the IOC told The Associated Press in an email on Thursday. "The IOC will soon request the medals to be returned."

The law firm representing Zubkov said the Moscow court found the CAS ruling violated Zubkov's "constitutional rights" by placing too much of a burden on him to disprove the allegations against him.

Zubkov won the two-man and four-man bobsled events at the Sochi Olympics but he was disqualified by the IOC last year. The verdict was later upheld by CAS.

Zubkov and his teams remain disqualified in official Olympic results, but the Moscow ruling could make it harder for the IOC to get his medals back.



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