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Trump administration backs PLO in victims' high court appeal
Legal Watch | 2018/03/31 18:34
Despite its bumpy relationship with the Palestinians, the Trump administration is siding with the Palestine Liberation Organization in urging the Supreme Court to reject an appeal from American victims of terrorist attacks in the Middle East more than a decade ago.

The victims are asking the high court to reinstate a $654 million verdict against the PLO and Palestinian Authority in connection with attacks in Israel in 2002 and 2004 that killed 33 people and wounded hundreds more.

The case was scheduled to be considered at the justices’ private conference on Thursday. A decision to reject the appeal could come as early as Monday. If the court decides to hear the case, it could say so by the middle of this month.

The federal appeals court in New York tossed out the verdict in 2016. It said U.S. courts can’t consider lawsuits against foreign-based groups over random attacks that were not aimed at the United States.

The victims sued under the Anti-Terrorism Act, signed into law in 1992. The law was passed to open U.S. courts to victims of international terrorism, spurred by the killing of American Leon Klinghoffer during a 1985 terrorist attack aboard the Achille Lauro cruise ship.

The victims argued that offices the Palestinians maintain in the nation’s capital to promote their cause in speeches and media appearances and to retain lobbyists were sufficient to allow the lawsuit in an American court. The appeals court disagreed.

In late June, the justices asked the administration to weigh in on the case, as they often do in cases with foreign policy implications. The Justice Department filed its brief eight months later, saying there was nothing in the appeals court ruling to “warrant this court’s intervention at this time.”

In unusually strong language for a Supreme Court filing, Theodore Olson, the lawyer for the victims, wrote, “The government is not being square with the court.” Olson said the administration was being cagey about its view of the law, even after the lower court cut back on its use by attack victims to try to hold groups financially liable.


Father testifies in Australian court cardinal abused son
Legal Watch | 2018/03/16 04:29
A father testified in an Australian court Thursday that his son said he was sexually abused by Vatican Cardinal George Pell during a waterskiing outing years ago. When a defense lawyer accused him of lying, the father told the court it was an insult.

The testimony in the Melbourne Magistrate Court came at a hearing to determine whether prosecutors have sufficient evidence to put Pell on trial.

Pope Francis' former finance minister was charged in June with sexually abusing multiple people in his Australian home state of Victoria. The details of the allegations have yet to be released to the public, though police have described the charges as "historical," meaning they allegedly occurred decades ago.

Pell, 76, has said he will plead not guilty if the magistrate rules a jury trial is warranted.

The father of one of the alleged victims, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, testified via a video link that he first learned of the alleged abuse in 2015 and that his son struggled to talk about it.

Defense lawyer Robert Richter said the father did not name Pell in a statement he made to police then. "Do you have any explanation as to how it is there is no mention of Pell there, as having done anything wrong at the lake?" Richter asked.

The lawyer said the father had only recently named Pell as the alleged offender. "That's an invention of yours since July 2015 when you made your statement," Richter told the father.


South Carolina court questions transportation tax spending
Legal Watch | 2018/03/06 12:32
The South Carolina Supreme Court is questioning how a county is spending transportation tax money.

The court said Wednesday the state revenue department did not have the authority to withhold payments to Richland County.

But the justices also said the revenue department's request for an injunction preventing the county from spending the money should have been approved.

The Supreme Court said a lower court judge should require the county to establish safeguards to make sure the money is spent only on transportation-related projects and some administrative costs.

The high court said the lower court judge could also order the county to repay any previous improper spending.

A county spokeswoman said the ruling is being reviewed by its attorneys.



Inmate in landmark Supreme Court case denied parole
Legal Watch | 2018/02/14 14:53
A 71-year-old Louisiana inmate whose case led to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision on juvenile-offender sentences was denied parole Monday, more than a half-century after he killed a sheriff's deputy at age 17.

A three-member panel from the state parole board voted 2 to 1 to keep Henry Montgomery imprisoned. The hearing was his first chance at freedom since his conviction decades ago and a vote to free him would have had to be unanimous. Montgomery now must wait another two years before he can request another parole hearing.

The Supreme Court's January 2016 decision in Montgomery's case opened the door for roughly 2,000 other juvenile offenders to argue for their release after receiving mandatory life-without-parole sentences.

Montgomery has served 54 years in prison for shooting East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff's deputy Charles Hurt in 1963, less than two weeks after Montgomery's 17th birthday. Last June, a state judge who resentenced Montgomery to life with the possibility of parole called him a "model prisoner" who seemed to be rehabilitated.

Montgomery's lawyers said he has sought to be a positive role model for other prisoners, serving as a coach and trainer for a boxing team he helped form at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

But the two parole board members who voted against Montgomery questioned why he hadn't accessed more prison programs and services that could have benefited him. One of the panelists, Kenneth Loftin, also said he was disappointed in some of Montgomery's statements during the hearing but didn't elaborate.

James Kuhn, the other board member who voted against Montgomery, noted that the Louisiana Sheriffs' Association submitted a statement opposing his release.

"One of the things that society demands, and police officers certainly demand, is that everyone abide by the rule of law. One of the rules of law is you don't kill somebody, and when you do there's consequences," Kuhn said.



Court: Ex-West Virginia judge ineligible for benefits
Legal Watch | 2018/02/11 11:06
The West Virginia Supreme Court has ruled a former judge serving a corruption sentence and his ex-wife are not eligible for public retirement benefits.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports the court Friday affirmed a 2017 ruling from Kanawha County circuit court to terminate ex-Mingo County Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury's membership in retirement systems for public employees and judges.

The justices also denied access by Thornsbury's ex-wife to the benefits she previously were awarded as part of the couple's divorce settlement.

Thornsbury was sentenced in 2014 to four years and two months in federal prison for conspiring to deprive a campaign sign maker of his constitutional rights..

Thornsbury is being held in a federal residential re-entry facility in Nashville, Tennessee, pending his scheduled release on March 15.


Court rules that Kushner firm must disclose partners' names
Legal Watch | 2018/01/20 02:47
A federal judge ruled Friday that the family company once run by Jared Kushner isn't allowed to keep secret the identity of its business partners in several Maryland properties.

A U.S. district judge in the state rejected the argument that the privacy rights of the Kushner Cos. partners outweigh the public interest in obtaining judicial records in a lawsuit before the court. The decision means the company tied to President Donald Trump's son-in-law might be forced to provide a rare glimpse into how it finances its real estate ventures.

The ruling backed the argument by The Associated Press and other news organizations that the media has a "presumptive right" to see such court documents and the Kushner Cos. had not raised a "compelling government interest" needed by law to block access.

U.S. District Court Judge James K. Bredar ruled that Westminster Management, a Kushner Cos. subsidiary, must file an unsealed document with the identity of its partners by Feb. 9.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by tenants last year alleging Westminster charges excessive and illegal rent for apartments in the state. The lawsuit seeks class-action status for tenants in 17 apartment complexes owned by the company.

Westminster has said it has broken no laws and denies the charges.

In addition to its privacy argument, the Kushner subsidiary had said media reports of the Maryland dispute were "politically motivated" and marked by "unfair sensationalism." Disclosure of its partners' names would trigger even more coverage and hurt its chances of getting an impartial decision in the case, it had said.

In Friday's ruling, the judge said these are not "frivolous concerns," but the public's right to know is more important.


Court halts execution of Alabama inmate with dementia
Legal Watch | 2018/01/16 02:48
The U.S. Supreme Court has halted the execution of an Alabama inmate whose attorneys argue that dementia has left the 67-year-old unable to remember killing a police officer three decades ago.

Justices issued a stay Thursday night, the same evening that Vernon Madison was scheduled to receive a lethal injection at a southwest Alabama prison. The court delayed the execution to consider whether to further review the case.

Madison was sentenced to death for the 1985 killing of Mobile police Officer Julius Schulte, who had responded to a call about a missing child made by Madison's then-girlfriend. Prosecutors have said that Madison crept up and shot Schulte in the back of the head as he sat in his police car.

Madison's attorneys argued that strokes and dementia have left Madison unable to remember killing Schulte or fully understand his looming execution. The Supreme Court has previously ruled that condemned inmates must have a "rational understanding" that they are about to be executed and why.

"We are thrilled that the court stopped this execution tonight. Killing a fragile man suffering from dementia is unnecessary and cruel," attorney Bryan Stevenson, of the Equal Justice Initiative, said Thursday after the stay was granted.

The Alabama attorney general's office opposed the stay, arguing that a state court has ruled Madison competent and Madison has presented nothing that would reverse the finding.



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