Supreme Court sides with Kansas in water dispute
Headline Legal News | 2015/02/25 09:40
The Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered Nebraska to pay Kansas $5.5 million in a long-running legal dispute over use of water from the Republican River.

The justices also gave Nebraska some of what it asked for and ordered changes to the formula for measuring water consumption. Nebraska argued that the formula was unfair.

Justice Elena Kagan, writing the majority opinion, said the court was adopting the recommendations of the independent expert the justices appointed to help resolve the states' differences.

The dispute centers on a 1943 compact allocating 49 percent of the river's water to Nebraska, 40 percent to Kansas and 11 percent to Colorado. Since 1999, Kansas has complained that Nebraska uses more than its fair share of water from the river, which originates in Colorado and runs mostly through Nebraska before ending in Kansas.

"Both remedies safeguard the compact; both insist that states live within its law," Kagan wrote.

Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson's office said it was pleased with the decision. The $5.5 million award is significantly less than the $80 million that Kansas had sought.

"We hope the decision will move the basin states forward and provide continued incentives toward shared solutions to our common problems," the office said in a statement. "We are confident that payment of the court's recommended award will finally allow us to leave the past where it belongs — in the past."

While calling the decision "reasonable," Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said he looked forward to working with his Kansas and Colorado counterparts to move forward.


Philippine court enters not guilty plea for US Marine
Court News | 2015/02/25 09:39
A Philippine court entered a not guilty plea Monday for a U.S. Marine charged with murdering a transgender Filipino, allegedly after he discovered her gender when they checked into a hotel.

Marine Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton refused to enter a plea in the brief proceeding in a court in Olongapo city northwest of Manila, according to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima. Journalists were barred from the courtroom.

Dozens of left-wing protesters waved red flags outside the courthouse, demanding justice and an end to the U.S. military presence in the former American colony. Gay and lesbian groups have also staged protests denouncing the killing of Jennifer Laude, whose former name was Jeffrey, as a hate crime.

Monday's arraignment paves the way for Pemberton's trial, which lawyers of the victim's family said is scheduled to start next month.

"Finally justice can be attained for our sibling," Marilou Laude, the victim's sister, told reporters. She said she was shaking in anger when she saw the handcuffed suspect, who was guarded by several security escorts in the courtroom.

Pemberton has been charged by prosecutors in the Oct. 11 killing. They say the U.S. Marine strangled her and then drowned her in a hotel toilet after discovering she was a transgender woman. They had checked into the hotel after meeting in a bar.


Court nixes faith-based birth control mandate challenge
Attorney News | 2015/02/16 11:40
An appeals court has ruled that the birth control coverage required by federal health care reforms does not violate the rights of several religious groups because they can seek reasonable accommodations.
 
Two western Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses and a private Christian college had challenged the birth control coverage mandates and won lower-court decisions. However, the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court ruling Wednesday said the reforms place "no substantial burden" on the religious groups and therefore don't violate their First Amendment rights.

All three groups — the college and the Pittsburgh and Erie dioceses — are mulling whether to appeal to the entire 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Such a ruling should cause deep concern for anyone who cares about any First Amendment rights, especially the right to teach and practice a religious faith," Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik said in a statement. "This decision says that the church is no longer free to practice what we preach."

At issue is an "accommodation" written into the Affordable Care Act that says religious organizations can opt out of directly providing and paying to cover medical services such groups would consider morally objectionable. In this case, that refers to all contraceptive and abortion services for the Catholic plaintiffs, and contraceptive services like the "week-after" pill and other medical coverage that Geneva College contends violate its anti-abortion teachings. The school in Beaver Falls is affiliated with the Reformed Presbyterian Church.

Justice Department lawyers have argued the accommodation solves the problem because it allows religious groups to opt out of directly providing such coverage. But the plaintiffs contend that merely filing the one-page form, which puts a religious group's objections on record with the government, violates their rights because it still "facilitates" or "triggers" a process that then enables third-party insurers to provide the kind of coverage to which they object.


NYPD officer due in court in stairwell shooting
Headline Legal News | 2015/02/16 11:37
Criminal charges will be unsealed against a rookie police officer who fired into a darkened stairwell at a Brooklyn housing complex, accidentally killing a man who had been waiting for an elevator.

A lawyer says Officer Peter Liang was indicted by a grand jury in the November shooting death of 28-year-old Akai Gurley. It wasn't clear what charges the grand jury considered. He could face a misdemeanor official misconduct, or manslaughter, a felony. A lawyer for Gurley's family says the officer is expected in court Wednesday afternoon.

The case was closely watched following the mass protests and calls for reform of the grand jury system nationwide after a Staten Island grand jury's refusal to indict a white police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner


Former Massey Energy CEO asks court to dismiss charges
Court News | 2015/02/09 15:14
A former coal company executive is seeking the dismissal of charges stemming from a 2010 mine explosion that killed 29 workers in West Virginia.

Don Blankenship, former chief executive officer of Massey Energy, also has asked the court to disqualify U.S. District Judge Irene Berger from hearing his case.

Blankenship’s lawyers filed a dozen motions to dismiss on Friday, along with the disqualification motion and other documents, exhibits and legal briefs, The Charleston Gazette reported.

Details of filings in the case are unavailable to the public under a gag order issued by Berger. The Charleston Gazette, The Associated Press and other media outlets are challenging the order, which prohibits parties or victims from discussing the case with reporters or releasing court documents.

Blankenship is charged with conspiring to violate safety and health standards at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County. He also is charged with lying to federal financial regulators about safety measures in the deadly explosion. His trial is scheduled to begin April 20 in U.S. District Court in Beckley.

The dismissal motions and other filings came a day after Blankenship sued Alpha Natural Resources in a Delaware court. Bristol, Virginia-based Alpha bought Massey in June 2011.


Alabama begins issuing marriage licenses to gay couples
Court News | 2015/02/09 15:12
Alabama began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples Monday despite an 11th-hour attempt from the state's chief justice - an outspoken opponent - to block the weddings.

The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday morning that it wouldn't stop the marriages, and shortly after, probate judges began granting the licenses to couples, some of whom had been lined up for hours and exited courthouses to applause from supporters.

"It's about time," said Shante Wolfe, 21. She and Tori Sisson of Tuskegee had camped out in a blue and white tent and became the first in the county given a license.

Most probate judges issued the licenses despite Chief Justice Roy Moore's Sunday night order that they refuse. It was a dramatic return to defiance Moore, who was removed from the post in 2003 for refusing to obey a federal court order to remove a washing machine-sized Ten Commandments from the state judicial building. Critics lashed out that Moore had no authority to tell county probate judges to enforce a law that a federal judge already ruled unconstitutional.

Susan Watson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, said she has heard of four counties where judges have refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.


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