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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.


High court won't hear appeal on mortgage ratings
Press Releases | 2015/11/03 17:49
The Supreme Court won't hear an appeal from shareholders who claim the Standard & Poor's ratings firm made false statements about its ratings of risky mortgage investments that helped trigger the financial crisis.

The justices on Monday let stand a lower court ruling that threw out a lawsuit filed by the Boca Raton Firefighters & Police Pension Fund against S&P's parent company, McGraw-Hill.

A federal appeals court ruled 2-1 that statements about the integrity and credibility of S&P's credit ratings used routine, generic language that did not mislead investors.

The shareholders argued that false statements regarding a central aspect of the company's business were enough to violate federal securities laws.



Penn State ex-officials' case heads to appeals court hearing
Press Releases | 2015/08/13 06:30
The criminal case against three former high-ranking Penn State administrators is headed to a Pennsylvania appellate courtroom, nearly four years after two of them were first charged. A decision against them could clear the way for trial.

The group of Superior Court sessions in a state Capitol courtroom on Tuesday will address the actions of Penn State's then-general counsel, Cynthia Baldwin, as the men were being investigated for an alleged cover-up of child sex abuse complaints against Jerry Sandusky.

The judges are expected to conduct three separate half-hour sessions, one each for former university president Graham Spanier, former vice president Gary Schultz and former athletic director Tim Curley.

The appellate court file is sealed, so the precise nature of the legal dispute is somewhat clouded. But the appeals were launched after a January order by Dauphin County Judge Todd Hoover that rejected their arguments attacking the fairness and legality of the process that led to charges.



Court scraps Dutch data retention law, cites privacy concern
Press Releases | 2015/03/12 19:05
A judge scrapped the Netherlands' data retention law Wednesday, saying that while it helps solve crimes it also breaches the privacy of telephone and Internet users.

The ruling by a judge in The Hague followed a similar decision in April by the European Union's top court that wiped out EU data collection legislation it deemed too broad and offering too few privacy safeguards.

The Security and Justice Ministry said it was considering an appeal.

Under the Dutch law, telephone companies were required to store information about all fixed and mobile phone calls for a year. Internet providers had to store information on their clients' Internet use for six months.

The written judgment by Judge G.P. van Ham conceded that scrapping the data storage "could have far-reaching consequences for investigating and prosecuting crimes" but added that this could not justify the privacy breaches the law entails.

The judge did not set a deadline for disposing of the data.

Privacy First, one of the organizations that took the government to court, said the ruling "will bring to an end years of massive privacy breaches" in the Netherlands.

The government said after last year's European court ruling that it would amend its law.


Fla. man pleads guilty to rhino horn trafficking
Press Releases | 2014/07/08 21:21
A South Florida man has pleaded guilty to illegally trafficking in the horns of the black rhinoceros in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

A federal judge is scheduled in September to sentence 76-year-old Gene Harris of Miami following his guilty plea this week. Harris could get up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

According to court records, Harris sold a variety of wildlife products, including taxidermy mounts. In 2011, he arranged for a customer in California to buy two black rhinoceros horns from a seller in Phoenix, Arizona, for $60,000.

Court documents show Harris was paid a $10,000 finder's fee.

Black rhinoceros horns are prized commodities in many Asian countries, where they are turned into ornamental carvings and other items.


High Court Refuses to Block Oregon Gay Marriage
Press Releases | 2014/06/06 22:23
The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to halt same-sex weddings in Oregon while a federal appeals court considers whether a group opposed to gay marriage can intervene in the case.

The order follows an emergency appeal by the National Organization for Marriage, which seeks to overturn U.S. District Judge Michael McShane's May 19 ruling that declared Oregon's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional. The group had unsuccessfully tried to intervene in the lower court proceeding after Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum declined to defend the same-sex ban.

The group filed its request with Justice Anthony Kennedy and he referred it to the full court. The justices denied it without comment.

Hundreds of same-sex couples have obtained marriage licenses since McShane's order, including 245 in Multnomah County, the state's largest.

The Oregon case differs from others where the Supreme Court or federal appeals judges have temporarily blocked lower-court rulings, halting same-sex unions while appeals proceed.

In Oregon, the appeal is focused on whether an outside group can intervene in the case, not on the constitutionality of the same-sex marriage ban, so it raises a different set of legal questions.

Lawyers for the attorney general's office have said they won't appeal McShane's ruling and are fighting the National Organization for Marriage's appeal in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Rosenblum, the attorney general, said there were no legal arguments she could offer in defense of the marriage ban that would be consistent with decisions last year by the U.S. Supreme Court and with state laws.


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