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Court rules that Kushner firm must disclose partners' names
Court Watch | 2018/01/19 09:39
A federal judge ruled Friday that the family company once run by Jared Kushner isn't allowed to keep secret the identity of its business partners in several Maryland properties.

A U.S. district judge in the state rejected the argument that the privacy rights of the Kushner Cos. partners outweigh the public interest in obtaining judicial records in a lawsuit before the court. The decision means the company tied to President Donald Trump's son-in-law might be forced to provide a rare glimpse into how it finances its real estate ventures.

The ruling backed the argument by The Associated Press and other news organizations that the media has a "presumptive right" to see such court documents and the Kushner Cos. had not raised a "compelling government interest" needed by law to block access.

U.S. District Court Judge James K. Bredar ruled that Westminster Management, a Kushner Cos. subsidiary, must file an unsealed document with the identity of its partners by Feb. 9.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by tenants last year alleging Westminster charges excessive and illegal rent for apartments in the state. The lawsuit seeks class-action status for tenants in 17 apartment complexes owned by the company.

Westminster has said it has broken no laws and denies the charges.

In addition to its privacy argument, the Kushner subsidiary had said media reports of the Maryland dispute were "politically motivated" and marked by "unfair sensationalism." Disclosure of its partners' names would trigger even more coverage and hurt its chances of getting an impartial decision in the case, it had said.

In Friday's ruling, the judge said these are not "frivolous concerns," but the public's right to know is more important.


Court halts execution of Alabama inmate with dementia
Court Watch | 2018/01/18 09:38
The U.S. Supreme Court has halted the execution of an Alabama inmate whose attorneys argue that dementia has left the 67-year-old unable to remember killing a police officer three decades ago.

Justices issued a stay Thursday night, the same evening that Vernon Madison was scheduled to receive a lethal injection at a southwest Alabama prison. The court delayed the execution to consider whether to further review the case.

Madison was sentenced to death for the 1985 killing of Mobile police Officer Julius Schulte, who had responded to a call about a missing child made by Madison's then-girlfriend. Prosecutors have said that Madison crept up and shot Schulte in the back of the head as he sat in his police car.

Madison's attorneys argued that strokes and dementia have left Madison unable to remember killing Schulte or fully understand his looming execution. The Supreme Court has previously ruled that condemned inmates must have a "rational understanding" that they are about to be executed and why.

"We are thrilled that the court stopped this execution tonight. Killing a fragile man suffering from dementia is unnecessary and cruel," attorney Bryan Stevenson, of the Equal Justice Initiative, said Thursday after the stay was granted.

The Alabama attorney general's office opposed the stay, arguing that a state court has ruled Madison competent and Madison has presented nothing that would reverse the finding.


Judge to pick battlefield for court fight over Manson's body
Headline News | 2018/01/17 09:38
Charles Manson orchestrated murders in his adopted hometown of Los Angeles, served time in a state prison in Corcoran and died in a hospital in Bakersfield.

The legal battle for his body or possessions could land in any of three California counties where those cities are located as friends and purported kin wage a court fight Friday that includes nasty accusations about profiteering off the death of the cult leader.

At least three parties have staked claims to collect Manson's body from the Kern County morgue two months after he died and take control of any assets, which could include potentially lucrative rights to the use of his image and songs he wrote and any other property.

"It's a circus show," said a frustrated Ben Gurecki, one of two pen pals who hold dueling wills allegedly signed by Manson. "It's despicable that I'm still sitting here 60 days later and I can't get my friend cremated."

But first a Los Angeles Superior Court judge must decide which court takes up the separate issues of Manson's remains and his estate.

A Florida man, Jason Freeman, claims he's a grandson and the rightful heir and that the killer left no will. He's been challenged in Los Angeles by Michael Channels, another pen pal and collector of Manson memorabilia, who holds a will bearing what appears to be Manson's signature and names him as executor and sole beneficiary.

Gurecki, who like Channels also sells Manson mementos to fans of so-called murderabilia, has filed a will with the Kern County coroner's office bearing Manson's purported signature. It names Gurecki as executor and leaves everything to his "one living child," Matthew Lentz, a Los Angeles musician. Lentz and Gurecki have yet to file the will in court.


Hong Kong court to rule later on 3 activists' prison terms
Court Watch | 2018/01/16 22:56
Three Hong Kong activists will have to wait to learn the outcome of their final appeal Tuesday to overturn prison sentences for their roles in sparking 2014's massive pro-democracy protests in the semiautonomous Chinese city.

Judges at Hong Kong's top court said they would issue their decision at a later, unspecified date following the appeal hearing for Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow against the sentences of up to eight months. Bail for the three was extended.

The three were initially let off with suspended or community service sentences after they were convicted of taking part in or inciting an unlawful assembly by storming a courtyard at government headquarters to kick-off the protests.

But the case sparked controversy when the justice secretary requested a sentencing review that resulted in stiffer sentences, raising concerns about rule of law and fears that the city's Beijing-backed government is tightening up on dissent.

The trio's lawyers said the lower court overstepped its boundaries and put too much emphasis on the need for deterrence in handing down the revised harsher sentence.

"Laying down a heavy sentence will have a deterrent effect, but a balance has to be held between a deterrent and stifling young idealistic people," Law's lawyer, Robert Pang, told the judges.


Supreme Court to hear sales tax collection case
Court Watch | 2018/01/14 22:56
The Supreme Court agreed Friday to wade into the issue of sales tax collection on internet purchases in a case that could force consumers to pay more for certain purchases and allow states to recoup what they say is billions in lost revenue annually.

Under previous Supreme Court rulings, when internet retailers don't have a physical presence in a state, they can't be forced to collect sales tax on sales into that state. Consumers who purchase from out-of-state retailers are generally supposed to pay the state taxes themselves, but few do. A total of 36 states and the District of Columbia had asked the high court to revisit the issue.

Large brick-and-mortar retailers like Walmart and Target have long bemoaned the fact that they have to collect sales tax on online purchases because they have physical stores nationwide. Meanwhile, smaller online retailers, who don't have vast networks of stores, don't have to collect the tax where they don't have a physical presence.

Internet giant Amazon.com fought for years against collecting sales tax but now does so nationwide, though third-party sellers on its site make their own decisions. But the case before the Supreme Court does directly affect other online retailers, including Overstock.com, home goods company Wayfair and electronics retailer Newegg, who are part of the case the court accepted.

States say the court's previous rulings have also hurt them. According to one estimate cited by the states in a brief they filed with the high court, they'll lose out on nearly $34 billion in 2018 if the Supreme Court's previous rulings stand. The Government Accountability Office, which provides nonpartisan reports to Congress, wrote in a report last year that state and local governments would have been able to gain between $8.5 billion and $13 billion in 2017 if they could require out-of-state sellers to collect tax on sales into the state. All but five states charge a sales tax.



Women taking their right to go topless to state's high court
Headline News | 2018/01/12 22:55
In a case that pits freedom of expression and equality against public decency, three women are challenging a New Hampshire city ordinance prohibiting public nudity and taking it to the state's highest court.

Heidi Lilley, Kia Sinclair and Ginger Pierro were ticketed in 2016 in Laconia after they went topless at Weirs Beach over Memorial Day weekend. Pierro was doing yoga, while the other two were sunbathing.

Some beachgoers complained and a police officer asked them to cover up. When they refused, they were arrested. A legal motion to dismiss a case against the women was denied so they have appealed it to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, which is expected to hear the case Feb. 1. The women want to the court to dismiss their conviction by invalidating the city's ordinance.

The three women argue there's no state law forbidding female toplessness and that the ordinance is discriminatory since men are allowed to go shirtless. They also contend their constitutional rights to freedom of expression were violated.

"The law in the state of New Hampshire is that it is legal for a woman to go topless so we're trying to get the town of Laconia to recognize and to stay with the state," Lilley said. "The town ordinance, in our opinion, is not constitutional. We're hoping the Supreme Court will see that."

The women are part of the Free the Nipple movement, a global campaign that argues it should be acceptable for women to bare their nipples in public, since men can. Supporters of the campaign also are taking their causes to courts with mixed success.

A U.S. District Court judge ruled in October that a public indecency ordinance in Missouri didn't violate the state constitution by allowing men, but not women, to show their nipples. But in February, a U.S. District Court judge blocked the city of Fort Collins, Colorado, from enforcing a law against women going topless, arguing it was based on gender discrimination. The city is appealing.''


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