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Supreme Court term ended much different than it began
Legal Watch | 2017/06/29 22:49
The Supreme Court began its term nine months ago with Merrick Garland nominated to the bench, Hillary Clinton favored to be the next president, and the court poised to be controlled by Democratic appointees for the first time in 50 years.

Things looked very different when the justices wrapped up their work this week. The court's final decisions and orders were almost emphatic declarations, if there had been any doubt, that this is once again a conservative-leaning court that may only move more to the right in the years to come. The justices gave President Donald Trump the go-ahead to start enforcing at least part of his travel ban, showed that the wall between church and state is perhaps not as high as it once was and invigorated a baker's religion-based refusal to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

"Liberals were certainly looking forward to a Clinton presidency that would alter the direction of the court. This was not an outcome we predicted," said Nan Aron, president of the liberal Alliance for Justice. The first casualty of Trump's election was Garland, the appellate judge whom President Barack Obama nominated to the high court. Instead of Garland on the far right of the bench where the newest justice sits, there was Justice Neil Gorsuch.

The placement also meshed with his votes. The Trump nominee who joined the court in April, Gorsuch staked out the most conservative position in a number of closely watched cases, including the one on the travel ban. The 49-year-old Coloradan restored the court's conservative tilt, nearly 14 months after Justice Antonin Scalia's death left the remaining eight justices divided between four liberal-leaning Democratic appointees and four conservative-leaning Republican appointees.

Trump also could bring seismic change to the court if any of the three oldest justices — 84-year-old Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 80-year-old Anthony Kennedy or 78-year-old Stephen Breyer — steps down in the next few years. The youngest justice was unusually active both as a questioner during arguments and in his writing. Gorsuch wrote separately from the court's majority opinion seven times in less than three months, the same number of such opinions Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her first two years on the court, University of Texas law professor Stephen Vladeck noted on Twitter.

McCarthy found guilty of 2nd-degree murder of Bella Bond
Legal Watch | 2017/06/27 22:49
Michael McCarthy has been convicted of 2nd-degree murder in the death of a 2-year-old girl dubbed Baby Doe after her remains washed up on Boston Harbor island.

The verdict was announced in Suffolk Superior Court on Monday.

Michael McCarthy is charged with first-degree murder in the 2015 death of the girl who was later identified as Bella Bond.

Man facing life in prison after being found guilty of murder. A North Carolina man has been found guilty in the death of his fiancée and will serve the rest of his life in prison.

Local media outlets report an Onslow County jury found 59-year-old Timothy Noble guilty on Thursday of first-degree murder in the 2014 death of 58-year-old Debra Holden.

Deputies responding to the scene on Oct. 31, 2014, said Holden was found at a residence with a gunshot wound to her temple. Her death was originally ruled a suicide, but Noble was arrested eight months later after the medical examiner ruled the case a homicide. Noble will get credit for time spent in prison while awaiting trial.

Rhode Island high court vacates conviction in triple slaying
Legal Watch | 2017/06/22 22:51
Rhode Island's highest court has overturned the conviction of a 21-year-old man serving two consecutive life sentences for a 2012 triple slaying at a housing complex.

Authorities allege the then-16-year-old Quandell Husband had plotted with three others to rob a marijuana dealer at a Providence apartment. Shemeeka Barros, her boyfriend Michael Martin— who was the primary target — and their friend, Damien Colon, were fatally shot. Husband was convicted of three murder counts in 2014.

The state Supreme Court on Wednesday found that the Superior Court judge abused his discretion by allowing the jury to consider "enormously prejudicial" evidence that shouldn't have been admitted at the trial.

The case has been sent back to Superior Court. The attorney general's office says the state is prepared to move forward and retry the case.

D.C. on edge: rumors of new Supreme Court vacancy swirl
Legal Watch | 2017/06/20 22:51
White House sources think Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Supreme Court's ideological fulcrum, may announce his retirement today, as the justices gather on the bench for the last time this term.

If that happens, Day 158 instantly becomes President Trump's biggest moment.

Trump's first Court appointment, of Justice Neil Gorsuch, was a one-for-one ideological swap for the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
Replacing Kennedy would be even more historic and consequential: a momentous chance to edge the Court right, since Kennedy is the center of the Court — the one most willing to listen to both sides. On a controversial case, both sides pitch to him. It's been called "Kennedy's Court."

No one's predicting: Court watchers say no one knows, and Kennedy has said nothing publicly. He could well wait one more year: The Court buzz is that it'll be this year or next.

Be smart: Few domestic developments could more instantly and decisively change the national conversation — blotting out almost everything else, and vastly reducing the sting for conservatives is healthcare tanks.

A Washington wise man emails: "With two court appointments and maybe one more, Trump's presidency will be consequential even if he has few legislative achievements. This week may well demonstrate both."

Groups sue seeking court oversight of Chicago police reforms
Legal Watch | 2017/06/15 16:36
Several leading community groups filed a class-action lawsuit against the city of Chicago Wednesday in a bid to bypass or even scuttle a draft agreement between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice that seeks to reform the nation's second largest police force without federal court oversight.

The more than 100-page lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago argues that an overhaul of Chicago's 12,000-officer force in the wake of a damning civil rights report in January can't work without the intense scrutiny of a court-appointed monitor answerable to a judge.

"Absent federal court supervision, nothing will improve," the lawsuit says. "It is clear that federal court intervention is essential to end the historical and on-going pattern and practice of excessive force by police officers in Chicago."

While President Donald Trump's attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has expressed skepticism about court involvement, President Barack Obama's administration saw it as vital to successful reforms. Obama's Justice Department typically took a city reform plan to a judge to make it legally binding in the form of a consent decree.

Wednesday's lawsuit — which names Black Lives Matters Chicago among the plaintiffs — asks for a federal court to intervene and order sweeping reforms to end the "abusive policies and practices undergirding the alleged constitutional and state law violations."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration said earlier this month that a draft deal negotiated by the city and the Justice Department — one that foresees a monitor not selected by a court — is being reviewed in Washington. Justice Department spokesman Devin O'Malle cautioned last week that "there is no agreement at this time."

A lead attorney in the new lawsuit, Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor and outspoken advocate for far-reaching police reforms, said in a telephone interview that reports about the draft influenced the decision to sue now.

Indiana governor names Judge Goff to state Supreme Court
Legal Watch | 2017/06/13 23:35

Indiana's next state Supreme Court justice, Wabash County Superior Court Judge Christopher Goff, said Monday his appointment to the state's highest court is humbling beyond words and something he never would have imagined at the start of his legal career.

Goff's selection to fill the vacancy created by Justice Robert Rucker's retirement was announced by Gov. Eric Holcomb. The governor said Goff, 45, "will bring his unique voice and experiences" from his years in rural Indiana to the five-member court when he becomes its youngest member.

"Judge Goff grew up in a working class neighborhood and has spent most of his life living in a rural county, which will complement his colleagues on the bench with their own deep roots in other urban and suburban regions of the state," Holcomb said at his Statehouse announcement.

He selected Goff over the two other finalists for the vacancy chosen by Indiana's Judicial Nominating Commission: Boone Superior Court Judge Matthew Kincaid and Clark Circuit Court Judge Vicki Carmichael. Twenty people had applied for the vacancy.

Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch: Rule of law 'a blessing'
Legal Watch | 2017/06/04 01:47
Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch acknowledged Friday that there is "a lot of skepticism about the rule of law" in the country but defended the United States judicial system as "a blessing" and "a remarkable gift" during a talk at Harvard University.

The court's newest justice marveled that in America "nine old people in polyester black robes" and other judges can safely decide cases according to their conscience and that the government can lose cases without resorting to the use of armed force to impose its will.

"That is a heritage that is very, very special," he said. "It's a remarkable gift. Travel elsewhere. See how judges live. See whether they feel free to express themselves."

Gorsuch, made the comments during his first public appearance since joining the high court in a conversation with fellow Justice Stephen Breyer at Harvard University.

Gorsuch said that particularly in tumultuous times it's important to convince the next generation "that the project (of justice) is worth it because many of them have grave doubts."

"I think there is a lot of skepticism about the rule of law, but I see it day in and day out in the trenches — the adversarial process of lawyers coming to court and shaking hands before and after, the judges shaking hands as we do, before we ascend to the bench," he said. "That's how we resolve our differences in this society."

Gorsuch, who was nominated to the high court earlier this year by Republican President Donald Trump, said he believes there is still confidence in the judicial system. He said that 95 percent of all cases are decided in the trial court, while only 5 percent are appealed, and the Supreme Court hears about 80 cases in a good year.

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