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Court won't reconsider making public family slain autopsies
Law Center | 2018/04/25 10:47
The Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday once again rejected requests for unredacted autopsy reports from the unsolved slayings of eight family members.

The court ruled 5-2 without comment against reconsidering its December decision that the Pike County coroner in southern Ohio does not have to release the reports with complete information.

The case before the court involved seven adults and a teenage boy from the Rhoden family who were found shot to death at four homes near Piketon, in rural southern Ohio, on April 22, 2016. No arrests have been made or suspects identified.

Heavily redacted versions of the autopsy reports released in 2016 showed all but one of the victims were shot multiple times in the head, but details about any other injuries and toxicology test results weren't released.

In the 4-3 December ruling, Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor, writing for the majority, said Ohio law regarding coroner records clearly exempts the redacted material as "confidential law enforcement investigatory records."

Once a criminal investigation ends, confidential information in autopsy reports can become public records, but the process leading to a suspect can sometimes take time, O'Connor wrote.


Italy's high court refuses to release migrant rescue ship
Law Firm News | 2018/04/25 10:46
Italy's highest court has rejected a request by a German group to release its migrant rescue boat seized eight months ago by prosecutors investigating allegations that non-governmental organizations colluded with migrant smugglers.

The German group, Jugend Rettet, said Tuesday that it was devastated by the Cassation Court's ruling and that "we will fight for the right to rescue people in danger at sea."

Doctors Without Borders said the ruling "sends a working signal (that) Europe will continue to criminalize humanitarian organizations conducting search-and-rescue operations ... rather than strengthening capacities to save lives at sea."

Prosecutors told the court that the Iuventa was seized based on three episodes in which crew members had contact with migrant smugglers. The group's spokesman, Philipp Kulker, said in Berlin that the evidence had been fabricated.



Trump travel ban is focus of Supreme Court's last arguments
Topics | 2018/04/24 10:47
President Donald Trump's ban on travelers from several mostly Muslim countries is the topic of arguments Wednesday at the Supreme Court, with a Trump administration lawyer facing questions during the first half of arguments.

The travel ban case is the last case the justices will hear until October.

A little over 20 minutes into arguments, Justice Anthony Kennedy asked Solicitor General Noel Francisco, who was defending the ban, whether statements Trump made during the presidential campaign should be considered in evaluating the administration's ban. Francisco told the justices that they shouldn't look at Trump's campaign statements, which included a pledge to shut down Muslim entry into the U.S.

But Kennedy, whose vote is pivotal in cases that divide the court along ideological lines and whose vote the administration will almost certainly need to win, pressed Francisco on that point. Speaking of a hypothetical "local candidate," he asked if what was said during the candidate's campaign was irrelevant if on "day two" of his administration the candidate acted on those statements.

The Trump administration is asking the court to reverse lower court rulings striking down the ban. The policy has been fully in effect since December, but this is the first time the justices are considering whether it violates immigration law or the Constitution.

The court will consider whether the president can indefinitely keep people out of the country based on nationality. It will also look at whether the policy is aimed at excluding Muslims from the United States.

People have been waiting in line for a seat for days, and on Wednesday morning opponents of the ban demonstrated outside the court holding signs that read "No Muslim Ban. Ever." and "Refugees Welcome," among other things. In another sign of heightened public interest, the court is taking the rare step of making an audio recording of the proceedings available just hours after the arguments end. The last time the court did that was the gay marriage arguments in 2015.



Supreme Court seems divided over Texas redistricting
Topics | 2018/04/23 10:46
The Supreme Court appeared divided Tuesday over Texas' appeal to preserve congressional and legislative districts that a lower court struck down as racially discriminatory.

The justices heard arguments in the latest round of court action over Texas electoral districts that began in 2011.

At issue are two congressional districts and statehouse districts in four counties, and what the challengers say are efforts by Texas Republicans who control the state government to restrain the political influence of a growing Hispanic and African-American population.

The liberal justices seemed favorable to minority voters and civil rights groups that sued over the districts. The court's conservatives appeared to lean toward the state, which also has the support of the Trump administration. Justice Anthony Kennedy said nothing to indicate where his potentially decisive vote would fall.

The justices last year kept the challenged districts in place, even after the lower court ruling. Texas held primary elections in those districts in March.

Max Renea, Hicks, a lawyer for the plaintiffs told the justices Tuesday that even if his side wins at the high court, it is unlikely that new districts would be used before the 2020 elections, the last voting cycle before the next census.

The case is the third major dispute this term that is focused on redistricting, the drawing of electoral maps following the once-a-decade census. The high court's other cases, from Maryland and Wisconsin, focus on the drawing of political districts for partisan advantage.

The Texas situation is unusual. Based on the 2010 census, Texas was awarded four new congressional districts, attributable mainly to the influx of Hispanics.

After the state's original electoral maps were found to be probably unconstitutional, a three-judge federal court produced interim districting plans that were used in the 2012 elections.

In 2013, Republicans rushed to permanently adopt those maps to use for the rest of the decade.

But opponents criticized the adopted maps as a quick fix that didn't purge all districts of the impermissible use of race.

In 2017, the same judges who approved the interim maps in 2012 agreed with the challengers that the maps were the product of intentional discrimination.



Supreme Court wrestles with administrative law judge case
Legal Interview | 2018/04/23 10:45
The Supreme Court wrestled Monday with a case brought by a former financial adviser known for his "Buckets of Money" strategy who is challenging the appointment of the administrative law judge who ruled against him.

The case involves the Securities and Exchange Commission's administrative law judges, who conduct hearings on alleged securities law violations and issue initial decisions. The federal government employs administrative law judges in more than 30 agencies, however, giving the case the potential to have a broader impact.

During arguments Monday, Justice Anthony Kennedy wanted to know "what effect, if any" the case would have on administrative law judges in other agencies. Attorney Mark Perry suggested that the court's decision could impact some 150 administrative law judges in 25 agencies.

The question the justices are being asked to decide is whether the SEC's administrative law judges are SEC employees or instead "inferior officers" of the United States. The answer is important in determining who can appoint them to their positions.

The case before the Supreme Court involves former financial adviser Raymond J. Lucia, who as a radio show host, author and seminar leader promoted a retirement strategy he called "Buckets of Money." Lucia's strategy was that in retirement investors should first sell safer investments, giving riskier investments time to grow.



Court weighs punishment for judge for courthouse affair
Headline News | 2018/04/22 10:46
A Massachusetts judge who engaged in sexual acts with a social worker in his chambers has damaged the public's faith in the judicial system and can no longer command the respect necessary to remain on the bench, the head of the state's Commission on Judicial Conduct said Tuesday.

Howard V. Neff III, executive director of the commission, told the Supreme Judicial Court that an indefinite suspension that would allow lawmakers to decide whether to remove Judge Thomas Estes from the bench is the only proper punishment for behavior Neff called "egregious."

"Unless this court sets a precedent that makes it absolutely clear that this type of conduct will not be tolerated ... there is little hope that public trust in the administration of public justice in Massachusetts will be restored," Neff said.

Estes admits he had a sexual relationship with Tammy Cagle, who worked in the special drug court where he sat. But Estes denies allegations Cagle made in a federal lawsuit, including that he coerced her into performing oral sex on him and played a role in getting her removed from the drug court when she tried to end the relationship.

Estes, who's married and has two teenage boys, attended Tuesday's hearing but left the courthouse without speaking to reporters. The court did not immediately decide Estes' punishment. He is asking for a four-month suspension.


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