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Argentina asks top US Court to stop 'catastrophe'
Press Releases | 2014/02/20 23:46
Argentina filed a long-shot appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday asking the justices in Washington to avert an "economic catastrophe" by overturning lower court rulings that could force the South American government to default on billions of dollars in debts.

Making Argentina pay cash in full to investors who didn't accept bond swaps in exchange for defaulted debt could destabilize the global economy by making other voluntary debt restructurings "substantially more difficult, if not impossible," the petition said.

"Full payment of the holdouts would cut Argentina's reserves approximately in half, an unimaginable result for any nation," Argentina's lawyers argued. "Any sovereign would protest if a foreign court issued an extraterritorial order threatening its creditors and citizens and coercing it into turning over billions of dollars from its immune reserves."

By ignoring the federal sovereign immunity law that normally protects other countries' assets from seizure outside the United States, the lower court decisions also could make U.S. assets overseas vulnerable to similar seizures by other governments, the petition said.


Australian court rules ANZ Bank late fees too high
Press Releases | 2014/02/07 00:28
One of Australia's largest banks faces a multimillion dollar payout to thousands of customers after a judge ruled on Wednesday that late payment fees it charged on credit cards were exorbitant.

ANZ Banking Group Ltd. partially lost a class action law suit in the Australian Federal Court brought by more than 43,000 customers who claimed they had been charged excessive fees for years. In some cases the fees were 70 times the cost to the bank of administering late payments.

Justice Michelle Gordon ruled that the bank had been illegally imposing penalties for late payments on credit cards.

She agreed with lead plaintiff Lucio Paciocco's argument that the fees were "extravagant, exorbitant and unconscionable," and represented a breach of contract.

But she also ruled in ANZ's favor by dismissing claims that other types of bank fees were illegal penalties.

It was not clear how much the bank would have to pay back customers who had been charged too much over six years. Lawyers for the bank and customers have until next week to agree on a proposal for repaying customers that the court can rule on.


Viacom, Fox want to run anti-smoking ads too
Press Releases | 2014/01/30 23:32
More TV networks want to gain from tobacco companies' mandate to run anti-smoking ads that will cost tens of millions of dollars.

Fox Broadcasting and the company behind MTV, Comedy Central and BET argue that a court-ordered plan to air anti-tobacco ads on ABC, CBS and NBC won't do a good job reaching young adult and black viewers. Those populations were aggressively targeted by the tobacco industry and are areas of concern for the public health community.

Fox, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch's Twenty-First Century Fox Inc., and Viacom Inc. are asking the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., to include its channels in the anti-smoking ad purchase.

The required ads stem from a 2006 ruling that the nation's largest cigarette makers concealed the dangers of smoking for decades. A judge ordered the tobacco companies to pay for corrective statements related to issues such as the adverse health effects of smoking, the addictiveness of smoking and nicotine and the negative health effects of secondhand smoke. The companies involved in the case include Richmond, Va.-based Altria Group Inc., owner of the biggest U.S. tobacco company, Philip Morris USA; No. 2 cigarette maker, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., owned by Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Reynolds American Inc.; and No. 3 cigarette maker Lorillard Inc., based in Greensboro, N.C.

Along with the TV ads, the tobacco companies are also meant to publish statements in newspapers, websites and on cigarette packs.

The tobacco companies and the federal government last month agreed on how to publish the statements. The court must still approve the deal.


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.


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