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California Democratic supremacy tested by crime, inflation
Top Legal News | 2022/05/10 23:28
Democrats in many parts of the country are facing a potentially grim political year, but in California no one is talking about the liberal stronghold changing direction.

California’s largely irrelevant Republican Party could field only little-known candidates for governor and U.S. Senate, and the GOP appears to have only isolated chances for upsets even under what should be favorable conditions for the party.

Mail ballots are already going out for the June 7 primary election that will set the stage for November runoffs. The election is taking place within a cauldron of dicey political issues: the possible repeal of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion, widespread frustration with a homelessness crisis and with residents suffering pocketbook stress from galloping inflation and soaring home costs — the state’s median price hit a record $849,080 in March.

President Joe Biden’s popularity has sagged — even among some of his fellow Democrats — and the party in the White House typically loses congressional seats in midterm elections. California Democrats showed up in historic numbers in 2020 to defeat then-President Donald Trump in landslide, but turnout next month is expected to tumble with little drama at the top of the ticket: Gov. Gavin Newsom and U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla, both Democrats, face only token opposition.

But none of that adds up to a threat to the state’s Democratic supremacy. Republicans haven’t won a statewide election in California since 2006, and Democratic voters outnumber Republicans by nearly 2-to-1 statewide. Democrats are expected to maintain their supermajorities in the Legislature.


Tunisian trial shines light on use of military courts
Top Legal News | 2021/11/25 07:32
A few days after Tunisia’s president froze parliament and took on sweeping powers in July, a dozen men in unmarked vehicles and civilian clothes barged into politician Yassine Ayari’s family home overnight and took him away in his pajamas.

“These men weren’t wearing uniforms and they didn’t have a warrant,” Ayari told The Associated Press. “It was violent. My 4-year-old son still has nightmares about it.”

A 40-year-old computer engineer-turned-corruption fighter, Ayari will stand trial again in a military court on Monday, accused of insulting the presidency and defaming the army. It is the latest in a series of trials that shine a light on Tunisia’s use of military courts to push through convictions against civilians. Rights groups say the practice has accelerated since President Kais Saied’s seizure of power in July, and warn that its use further threatens hard-won freedoms amid Tunisia’s democratic backsliding.

The charges Ayari faces relate to Facebook posts in which he criticized Saied, calling him a “pharaoh” and his measures a “military coup.” Ayari intends to remain silent in court to protest the whole judicial process, according to his lawyer, Malek Ben Amor.

Amnesty International is warning of an “alarming increase” in Tunisian military courts targeting civilians: In the past three months, it says, 10 civilians have been investigated or prosecuted by military tribunals, while four civilians are facing trial for criticizing the president.

That’s especially worrying because Tunisia was long considered the only democratic success story to emerge from the Arab Spring uprisings a decade ago, and was long seen as a model for the region.


New Mexico Supreme court mediates clash on pandemic aid
Top Legal News | 2021/11/21 06:01
New Mexico’s Supreme Court is considering whether state legislators should have a greater say in the spending more than $1 billion in federal pandemic aid.

Arguments in the case were scheduled for Wednesday morning at the five-seat high court. A bipartisan list of state senators is challenging Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham as she asserts authority over federal pandemic aid approved by President Joe Biden in March.

Lujan Grisham, a Democrat running for reelection in 2022, has used the relief funds to replenish the state unemployment insurance trust, underwrite millions of dollars in sweepstakes prizes for people who got vaccinated, prop up agriculture wages amid a shortage of chile pickers and provide incentives for the unemployed to return to work. Decisions still are pending on more than $1 billion in federal relief for New Mexico.

In a written court briefings, Lujan Grisham said a state Supreme Court decision nearly 50 years ago upheld the governor’s discretion over federal funding at universities and should hold true broadly regarding federal pandemic relief funds.

Republican Senate minority leader Gregory Baca of Belen and Democratic Sen. Jacob Candelaria of Albuquerque initiated efforts to challenge the governor’s spending authority.

Supportive legal briefs have been filed by state Treasurer Tim Eichenberg and four long-serving Democratic senators. Critics of the governor have said she has overstepped her constitutional authority, blocking the Legislature’s representation of diverse views on how to spend the pandemic relief money.


Order: Mississippi judges have discretion for COVID safety
Top Legal News | 2021/08/07 18:59
Mississippi judges have the power to delay trials, limit the number of spectators in courtrooms or take other steps to try to slow the spread of COVID-19, the leader of the state Supreme Court says in an emergency order.

Chief Justice Michael Randolph issued the order Thursday in response to the rapid spread of illness caused by highly contagious delta variant of the virus.

Mississippi has one of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the nation, and the state health officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, said Friday that 97% of new cases of COVID-19 in Mississippi are among people who are unvaccinated.

Randolph’s order said judges may postpone jury trials that are scheduled through Sept. 10. In addition to limiting the number of spectators in courtrooms, judges may require people to wear masks and maintain distance between each other. The order encouraged courts to use teleconferencing and videoconferencing, when possible.

Plea hearings in felony cases must still take place in person, but defendants and others in the courtrooms should wear masks and maintain social distancing.

“Any in-person proceedings shall be limited to attorneys, parties, witnesses, security officers, members of the press and other necessary persons, as determined by the trial judge,” Randolph wrote.


Montana bill seeks to charge doctors assisting in suicides
Top Legal News | 2021/03/02 03:39
The Montana Senate is considering a bill that would make it illegal for doctors to help terminal patients take their own life.

The bill heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday would open doctors up to possible homicide charges if they prescribe a lethal dose of medication at the request of their patients.

A 2009 state Supreme Court decision protects doctors from prosecution for the practice, though it is not explicitly allowed in state law.

Supporters of the bill said that allowing physician-assisted death would send the wrong message to those considering suicide in the state. Montana has one of the highest suicide rates in the U.S.

“Once allowed this is a severely slippery slope,” said bill sponsor Republican Sen. Carl Glimm. “We need to show in every way we can that suicide is wrong.”

Opponents of the bill made clear that medically assisted death is not related to the state’s suicide rate. The practice is only available to those suffering from terminal disease.

“Medical aid in dying is not suicide. These patients are not depressed ? they are dying. There is a very big difference,” said Dr. Colette Kirchhoff, a hospice and palliative care physician from Bozeman. “It’s a way to alleviate suffering.”

Leslie Mutchler, the daughter of Robert Baxter, the plaintiff in the Montana Supreme Court case that allowed the practice, testified in opposition to the bill. Her son chose physician assistance to end his life in 2016 after being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer.

“He gained so much peace of mind when he was able to obtain the life-ending medication from a physician,” Mutchler said. “It’s not suicide. It’s a life that is already ending. It is just a way to hasten it.”

Several states allow physician-assisted suicide, including California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

Similar measures to criminalize physicians for the practice have faltered in Montana in every legislative session in the past decade ? when the bills have died before reaching the governor’s desk.

This year, the bill may find a more favorable fate with the support of the administration of Gov. Greg Gianforte, the state’s first Republican governor in 16 years. Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras testified in favor of the bill on Friday, saying the governor supports the measure.

Juras said two of her grandchildren are diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a disease that causes persistent lung infections and over time reduces lung capacity.

“We are committed to walking with them through the hard days. I do not want you to send them the message when they have a tough day that suicide is an acceptable option,” she said.


Justice: Technology helped Nebraska courts face pandemic
Top Legal News | 2021/01/21 20:39
Nebraska’s courts have faced a big challenge due to the coronavirus pandemic but continue to serve the public with the use of technology, the state’s chief justice said Thursday.

Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Heavican said the pandemic forced the courts to turn to livestreaming and video chatting services to ensure that proceedings were accessible to the public and people involved in the system.

“We would not have had the ability to rapidly respond to the pandemic if the courts had not built a strong technological foundation over the past decade,” Heavican said in his annual State of the Judiciary address to lawmakers. “As we entered 2020, we were well positioned to transition to distance operations because we had already begun to implement new courtroom technology and programming.”

Heavican said the court’s online payment systems allowed residents to pay traffic tickets and court fines without leaving their homes, and the judiciary also offered an online education system to help judges, lawyers, guardians and others meet continuous education requirements.

New attorneys were sworn into office via online ceremonies across the state, Heavican said. In Dawson County, one judge is broadcasting court proceedings on YouTube.

Heavican said schools and private organizations have hosted trials in counties whose courthouses are too small for adequate social distancing to prevent transmission of the coronavirus. He said jury trials were held at the University of Nebraska-Kearney, Grand Island Central Community College and local K-12 schools and the Lincoln Masonic Lodge.

Heavican also touted the benefits of probation services and problem-solving courts. He said probation costs nearly $2,000 per person, per year, and problem-solving courts costs about $4,000, compared to $41,000 for a person in prison.


High court to decide whether Nazi art case stays in US court
Top Legal News | 2020/12/07 00:19
Jed Leiber was an adult before he learned that his family was once part-owner of a collection of centuries-old religious artworks now said to be worth at least $250 million.

Over a steak dinner at a New York City restaurant in the 1990s he had asked his mother about his grandfather, a prominent art dealer who fled Germany after Adolf Hitler came to power. “What was grandpa most proud of in his business?” he asked.

“He was very, very proud to have acquired the Guelph Treasure, and then was forced to sell it to the Nazis,” she told him. That conversation set Leiber, of West Hollywood, California, on a decadeslong mission to reclaim some 40 pieces of the Guelph Treasure on display in a Berlin museum. It’s a pursuit that has now landed him at the Supreme Court, in a case to be argued Monday.

For centuries, the collection, called the Welfenschatz in German, was owned by German royalty. It includes elaborate containers used to store Christian relics; small, intricate altars and ornate crosses. Many are silver or gold and decorated with gems.

In 2015, Leiber’s quest for the collection led to a lawsuit against Germany and the the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation. The state-run foundation owns the collection and runs Berlin’s Museum of Decorative Arts, where the collection is housed. Germany and the foundation asked the trial-level court to dismiss the suit, but the court declined. An appeals court also kept the suit alive.

Now, the Supreme Court, which has been hearing arguments by telephone because of the coronavirus pandemic, will weigh in. A separate case involving Hungarian Holocaust victims is being heard the same day.

At this point, the Guelph Treasure case is not about whether Leiber’s grandfather and the two other Frankfurt art dealer firms that joined to purchase the collection in 1929 were forced to sell it, a claim Germany and the foundation dispute. It’s just about whether Leiber and two other heirs of those dealers, New Mexico resident Alan Philipp and London resident Gerald Stiebel, can continue seeking the objects’ return in U.S. courts.

In a statement, Hermann Parzinger, president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, argued that the suit should be dismissed. The foundation and Germany have the Trump administration’s support.




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