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GOP candidate asks North Carolina court to declare he won
Press Releases | 2019/01/03 09:01

The Republican in the nation's last undecided congressional race asked a North Carolina court Thursday to require that he be declared the winner because the now-defunct state elections board didn't act.

A lawsuit by GOP candidate Mark Harris claims the disbanded elections board had been declared unconstitutional, so its investigation into alleged ballot fraud by an operative hired by the Republican's campaign was invalid.

The elections board was dissolved Dec. 28 by state judges who in October declared its makeup unconstitutional but had allowed investigations to continue. A revamped board doesn't officially come into existence until Jan. 31.

"Time is of the essence," Harris' lawsuit states. Because the new elections board won't be created for weeks, "the uniform finality of a federal election is endangered by the State Board's actions and the citizens of the 9th District have no representation in Congress."

State elections staffers on Wednesday said a planned Jan. 11 evidentiary hearing to outline what investigators have found since November's election had to be postponed due to the lack of a board authorized to subpoena witnesses and hold hearings.

The investigation is continuing, however, with Harris being interviewed for two hours Thursday as all other U.S. House winners were sworn into office in Washington.

"We certainly want to help in any way we can with any investigation to get to the bottom of it, but we believe that, again, that I should be certified," Harris said. "We don't believe that the number of ballots in question would change the outcome of this election and we believe, again, that that is the standard ultimately that the board of elections looks to."

Harris narrowly led Democrat Dan McCready in unofficial vote counts, but the elections board refused to certify him as the winner amid an unusually large number of unused absentee ballots and a large advantage in absentees favoring the Republican in two of the 9th congressional district's rural counties.



Mixed rulings for Republicans from Kentucky Supreme Court
Press Releases | 2018/11/15 15:02
In a pair of mixed rulings for Kentucky Republicans, the state Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a law requiring a panel of doctors to review medical malpractice cases before they go to court while upholding the state's law banning mandatory union dues for most employees.

Republicans celebrated when Gov. Matt Bevin signed both laws, made possible only after the GOP won control of the state House of Representatives in 2016 for the first time in nearly 100 years. Bevin has credited the union dues law, known as right-to-work, with boosting record levels of business investment in Kentucky. But the medical review panel law has been criticized for clogging the state's court system.

The medical review law gives a panel of doctors nine months to review medical malpractice lawsuits and issue an opinion about whether they are frivolous. A review of court records in August of this year by the Courier Journal found that in the first year the law was in effect, 11 percent of the 531 malpractice lawsuits filed had been assigned to a panel. Of those, findings had been issued in 3 percent.

The state legislature passed the law in 2017. Tonya Claycomb sued on behalf of her child, Ezra, who was born with severe brain damage and cerebral palsy she says was caused by medical malpractice. She argued the bill delayed her access to the courts, citing section 14 of the Kentucky Constitution. It says all courts shall be open and every person will have access "without ... delay."

Lawyers for Gov. Bevin argued the law is helpful because it gets the two sides talking before a lawsuit is filed, which could lead to an agreement to settle the case outside of court. They also pointed out the state has other laws that limit access to the courts, including requiring heirs to wait at least six months before suing the executor of an estate.


Man admits slaying wife, blames her for daughters' deaths
Press Releases | 2018/08/22 07:56
The father of two young girls found submerged in oil tanks after being missing for days told authorities his pregnant wife killed the children after learning he wanted a separation, and that he erupted in rage after witnessing the killings and strangled their mother inside the family's suburban Denver home, according to court documents.

Days after letting police inside his home so they could help find his missing family, Christopher Watts told investigators "he would tell the truth."

Watts first asked to speak with his father then admitted to killing his wife, Shanann. Watts told police in court papers released Monday that he killed her after witnessing her strangling one of the girls on a baby monitor. The other child had already been killed by the woman, he said.

Watts, 33, faces three first-degree murder charges, two counts of murdering a child under 12, one count of unlawful termination of a pregnancy and three counts of tampering with a deceased human body. He is scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday and is being held without bail.

District Attorney Michael Rourke declined to answer questions about the case Monday but said his office has three prosecutors working on it. Rourke also said it was too early to discuss whether he will seek the death penalty.

Police first visited the family's house on Aug. 13, after a friend asked officers to check on Shanann Watts. She had missed a doctor's appointment and wasn't answering calls or text messages hours after returning home after a business trip, the friend reported.


Yankton lawyer Jason Ravnsborg wins GOP attorney general nod
Press Releases | 2018/06/24 07:01
South Dakota Republicans on Saturday chose Yankton lawyer Jason Ravnsborg to run against Democratic former U.S. Attorney Randy Seiler in the race for state attorney general.

GOP delegates voted to nominate Ravnsborg at their state party convention, where the attorney general contest was the main show for attendees. Democrats nominated Seiler as their candidate at a party gathering last week.

Ravnsborg won out over state Sen. Lance Russell in a second round of voting after Lawrence County State's Attorney John Fitzgerald was dropped from consideration following his third-place showing in the initial ballot.

"We've been working hard," Ravnsborg said after he won. "I've been to every county in our state at least twice."

Ravnsborg has proposed expanding programs that allow lower-level prisoners to work while serving their sentences and establishing a meth-specific prison and mental health facility in the western part of the state. He said he has leadership and management experience and touted his support among county sheriffs to delegates.

Ravnsborg, 42, of Yankton, is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve. He's looking to succeed outgoing Attorney General Marty Jackley as the state's chief lawyer and law enforcement officer.

The high-profile office has served as a frequent springboard for gubernatorial hopefuls and takes on the state's top legal cases, such as South Dakota's recent successful push to get the U.S. Supreme Court to allow states to make online shoppers pay sales tax.

Russell, a former state's attorney and current chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, had said he wanted to be attorney general to address rising crime and improve government transparency. Fitzgerald has been the Lawrence County state's attorney since 1995 and campaigned on his experience.




Court: Government can't block immigrant teens from abortion
Press Releases | 2018/04/01 18:35
A federal court in Washington has told the Trump administration that the government can't interfere with the ability of pregnant immigrant teens being held in federal custody to obtain abortions.

A judge issued an order Friday evening barring the government from "interfering with or obstructing" pregnant minors' access to abortion counseling or abortions, among other things, while a lawsuit proceeds. The order covers pregnant minors being held in federal custody after entering the country illegally.

Lawyers for the Department of Health and Human Services, which is responsible for sheltering children who illegally enter the country unaccompanied by a parent, have said the department has a policy of "refusing to facilitate" abortions. And the director of the office that oversees the shelters has said he believes teens in his agency's care have no constitutional right to abortion.

The American Civil Liberties Union brought a lawsuit on behalf of the minors, which the judge overseeing the case also Friday allowed to go forward as a class action lawsuit.

"We have been able to secure justice for these young pregnant women in government custody who will no longer be subject to the government's policy of coercion and obstruction while the case continues," said ACLU attorney Brigitte Amiri after the judge's order became public.

The government can appeal the judge's order. A Department of Justice spokesman didn't immediately respond to an emailed request for comment Friday evening.

The health department said in a statement Saturday that it "strongly maintains that taxpayers are not responsible for facilitating the abortion of unaccompanied minors who entered the country illegally and are currently in the government's care." It said it is "working closely with the Justice Department to review the court's order and determine next steps."

The ACLU and Trump administration have been sparring for months over the government's policy. In a high-profile case last year, the ACLU represented a teen who entered the U.S. illegally in September and learned while in federal custody in Texas that she was pregnant.

The teen, referred to in court paperwork as Jane Doe, obtained a state court order permitting her to have an abortion and secured private funding to pay for it, but federal officials refused to transport her or temporarily release her so that others could take her to get the procedure.

The teen was ultimately able to get an abortion in October as a result of the lawsuit, but the Trump administration has accused the ACLU of misleading the government during the case, a charge the ACLU has denied.


Court eyes Massachusetts church-state dispute
Press Releases | 2017/09/16 16:07
An attorney says a Massachusetts town should not be barred from giving public funds to support the restoration of a historic building just because it happens to be a church.

Nina Pickering-Cook told Massachusetts' highest court on Thursday that communities' ability to protect their historic resources shouldn't change because the structures are owned by a religious entity.

At issue is whether the town of Acton violated Massachusetts' constitution when it approved more than $100,000 in community preservation grants to restore stained-glass windows and identify other needs at a church.

Douglas Mishkin is an attorney for the taxpayers who brought the lawsuit. Mishkin told the court that active houses of worship are clearly prohibited from getting taxpayer dollars.

The Supreme Judicial Court is expected to rule in the coming months.


Challenge filed in court to Australian gay marriage ballot
Press Releases | 2017/08/06 23:09
Gay-rights advocates filed a court challenge Thursday to the government's unusual plan to canvass Australians' opinion on gay marriage next month, while a retired judge said he would boycott the survey as unacceptable.

The mail ballot is not binding, but the conservative government won't legislate the issue without it. If most Australians say "no," the government won't allow Parliament to consider lifting the nation's ban on same-sex marriage.

Lawyers for independent lawmaker Andrew Wilkie and marriage equality advocates Shelley Argent and Felicity Marlowe, applied to the High Court for an injunction that would prevent the so-called postal plebiscite from going ahead.

"We will be arguing that by going ahead without the authorization of Parliament, the government is acting beyond its power," lawyer Jonathon Hunyor said.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the government had legal advice that the postal ballot would withstand a court challenge.

"I encourage every Australian to exercise their right to vote on this matter. It's an important question," Turnbull said.

Gay-rights advocates and many lawmakers want Parliament to legislate marriage equality now without an opinion poll, which they see as an unjustifiable hurdle to reform.

Retired High Court judge Michael Kirby, a gay man who supports marriage equality, dismissed the ballot as "irregular and unscientific polling."

"It's just something we've never done in our constitutional arrangements of Australia, and it really is unacceptable," Kirby told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Kirby would not comment on the legality of the government proceeding with the 122 million Australian dollar ($96 million) ballot without Parliament's approval, but said: "I'm not going to take any part in it whatsoever."

Plebiscites in Australia are referendums that don't deal with questions that change the constitution. Voting at referendums is compulsory to ensure a high voter turnout and that the legally-binding result reflects the wishes of a majority of Australians.


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