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Minn. Supreme Court dismisses Vikings stadium suit
Press Releases | 2014/01/24 22:20
Minnesota's Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit challenging the funding plan for a new Vikings football stadium, eliminating a legal obstacle that threatened a last-minute derailment of the project.

Minnesota finance officials postponed a $468 million bond sale while the case was pending. After the ruling, the chairwoman of the government authority managing the construction said she believed the project could be kept on schedule, despite earlier worries about possible delays and cost overruns.

"We are confident that we will be able to move forward very quickly, to get the financing in place for the bond sale and to keep things on track," said Michele Kelm-Helgen, board chairwoman for the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority.

The nearly $1 billion stadium, on the Metrodome site in downtown Minneapolis, has a planned opening of July 2016.

Doug Mann, an activist and former Minneapolis mayoral candidate, filed the Supreme Court lawsuit on Jan. 10, arguing the stadium funding plan was unconstitutional. But the state's highest court disagreed.

State law "does not confer original jurisdiction on the court to resolve all challenges to legislation authorizing the use of appropriation bonds," the court's five-page ruling read. It was unsigned and issued "per curiam," meaning on behalf of the entire court. Justice Alan Page, a former Minnesota Vikings player, did not participate.


Sotomayor delays health law's birth control mandate
Press Releases | 2014/01/02 22:48
Only hours before the law was to take effect, a Supreme Court justice on Tuesday blocked implementation of part of President Obama's health care law that would have forced some religion-affiliated organizations to provide health insurance for employees that includes birth control coverage.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor's decision came after a different effort by Catholic-affiliated groups from around the U.S. Those groups had rushed to the federal courts to stop Wednesday's start of portions of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Sotomayor acted on a request from an organization of Catholic nuns in Denver, the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged. Its request for an emergency stay had been denied earlier in the day by a federal appeals court.

The government is "temporarily enjoined from enforcing against applicants the contraceptive coverage requirements imposed by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act," Sotomayor said in the order. She gave government officials until 10 a.m. EST (1500 GMT) Friday to respond to her order.

The law requires employers to provide insurance that covers a range of preventive care, free of charge, including contraception. The Catholic Church prohibits the use of contraceptives. That was not acceptable, said the nuns' lawyer, Mark L. Rienzi.


Supreme Court denies appeal in arson case
Press Releases | 2013/12/30 22:53
The Montana Supreme Court has denied a petition for post-conviction relief filed by a Billings man who argued that a District Court judge misinterpreted the state's arson law and that he had ineffective attorneys.

The Dec. 20 Supreme Court ruling left in place a five-year suspended sentence given to Lionel Scott Ellison in 2009 for an October 2007 fire that damaged a woman's car.

Ellison in 2008 entered a no-contest plea to arson on the advice of his attorney, Jeffrey Michael. Pleading no contest means a person admits no guilt for the crime, but the court can determine the punishment.

Ellison then changed his mind and his attorney, having Herbert "Chuck" Watson file a motion to withdraw the no-contest plea, contending Ellison didn't enter it knowingly or voluntarily. But a District Court judge rejected the request, and in May 2009 Ellison received a five-year suspended sentence.

He appealed the District Court's decision, and the Montana Supreme Court in November 2009 sided with the lower court.

In February 2011, Ellison filed for post-conviction relief, arguing the arson statute only applied to property valued at over $1,000. He said that because the damaged vehicle was worth less, there was no factual basis for his no-contest plea. He also argued that Michael and Watson provided ineffective counsel for allowing him to enter a plea for a charge that had an insufficient factual basis and that Watson didn't use those grounds on appeal.


Court: LAPD can continue eased auto impound policy
Press Releases | 2013/12/20 19:06
A California appeals court has issued a stay allowing a Los Angeles police policy that makes it easier for unlicensed drivers to keep their cars instead of having them impounded.

In August a lower court struck down the policy known as Special Order 7, saying it conflicted with the state's vehicle code.

But in October the appeals court issued a temporary stay allowing the policy to continue, and Wednesday extended that stay until a city appeal is resolved.

Special Order 7 allows some unlicensed drivers who are stopped to produce registration and proof of insurance to avoid having their cars impounded for 30 days.

The police union sued to nullify the policy, saying it left officers with conflicting orders.

LA'S city attorney and police chief issued statements lauding Wednesday's decision.


Hearing: Which court should hear coastal lawsuit?
Press Releases | 2013/12/20 19:06
A legal tug-of-war continues in a state levee board's lawsuit against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies over the erosion of wetlands.

The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East wants U.S. District Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown to send the case back to Orleans Parish Civil District Court, where the board filed it in July.

Attorneys for Chevron USA Inc. got the lawsuit moved to federal court in August, arguing that federal laws govern many of its claims.

Since then, lawyers have filed hundreds of pages of arguments and exhibits just on the question of which court should hear the case.

Brown scheduled arguments Wednesday.

The lawsuit says oil and gas canal and pipeline work has contributed to the erosion of wetlands that protect New Orleans when hurricanes move ashore. Corrosive saltwater from a network of oil and gas access and pipeline canals has killed plants that anchored the wetlands, letting waves sweep away hundreds of thousands of coastal land, it says.

Gov. Bobby Jindal has blasted the lawsuit as a windfall for trial lawyers and his coastal protection chief, Garret Graves, said the suit would undermine Louisiana's work with the industry to rebuild wetlands. An association of state levee districts voted to oppose the suit.

Since then, however, two coastal parishes heavily dependent on the industry have filed lawsuits of their own raising similar issues.

Earlier this month, the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association sued the state's attorney general, accusing him of illegally approving the Southeast Louisiana board's contract with lawyers who filed its lawsuit.

The association contends that Buddy Caldwell had no authority to approve the contract and that the suit will have "a chilling effect on the exploration, production, development and transportation" of Louisiana's oil and gas.


Court looks at EPA rule on cross-state pollution
Press Releases | 2013/12/12 21:41
The Supreme Court indicated Tuesday it could breathe new life into a federal rule requiring states to reduce power plant pollution from the South and Midwest that fouls the air in the eastern U.S.

Several justices suggested during a 90-minute argument that they believe the Environmental Protection Agency did not exceed its authority when it issued its cross-state air pollution rule in 2011. A divided federal appeals court panel invalidated the rule last year.

The EPA sought to reduce pollution from power plants in 28 states that drifts above states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. Texas led 14 states and industry groups in challenging the rule. Most downwind states support it.

Justice Department lawyer Malcolm Stewart said the EPA is trying to be "an honest broker" between upwind and downwind states.

Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollution from power plants can be carried long distances and the pollutants react with other substances to form smog and soot, which have been linked to illnesses. The cross-border pollution has prevented many cities from complying with health-based standards set by law.


Haiti protest derides Dominican court ruling
Press Releases | 2013/12/09 22:30
Hundreds of protesters gathered Friday to criticize a recent court decision in the Dominican Republic that could strip the citizenship of generations of people of Haitian descent living in the neighboring country.

The crowd peaked at about 2,000 people but thinned out during the march uphill to the Dominican Embassy to protest the decision passed two months ago by that country's court. The demonstrators urged people to boycott travel to the Dominican Republic.

Riot police set up metal barricades on a major thoroughfare that block protesters from reaching the district where the diplomatic mission is located.

The ruling has been met with sharp objection, from Caribbean leaders to the United Nations. On Friday, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights became the latest international entity to oppose the court decision, calling on the Dominican government to take urgent measures to guarantee the rights of those people affected.

Advocacy groups estimate 200,000 people, many of them of Haitian descent, could lose their Dominican citizenship because of the court ruling. Dominican officials say only about 24,000 would be affected.


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