Court blocks prosecutors from seizing emails stored overseas
Legal Topics | 2016/07/15 08:29
A federal appeals court Thursday said prosecutors cannot force U.S. companies like Microsoft to turn over customer emails and other data stored on servers overseas — a ruling the government suggested could hamper national security investigations.

The three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously overturned a lower court's contempt finding against Microsoft for not handing over a customer's emails stored in Ireland. Federal prosecutors wanted the material for use in a drug trafficking investigation.

The ruling in the closely watched case was a victory for high-tech companies in the burgeoning "cloud computing" business, in which data is kept not on personal computers but on giant and sometimes distant servers. Microsoft stores data from over 1 billion customers and over 20 million businesses on servers in over 40 countries, the court noted.

The court said prosecutors went beyond what Congress intended when it passed the Stored Communications Act in 1986.

"Neither explicitly nor implicitly does the statute envision the application of its warrant provisions overseas," the court said in a decision written by Circuit Judge Susan L. Carney. She said allowing prosecutors to enforce a warrant outside the U.S. would "jettison ... centuries of law" and "replace the traditional warrant with a novel instrument of international application."

In a concurring opinion, Circuit Judge Gerard E. Lynch said an attempt to apply U.S. law overseas could cause tensions with other countries, "most easily appreciated if we consider the likely American reaction if France or Ireland or Saudi Arabia or Russia proclaimed its right to regulate conduct by Americans within our borders."

Microsoft called the ruling a "major victory for the protection of people's privacy rights under their own laws rather than the reach of foreign governments."

"We hear from customers around the world that they want the traditional privacy protections they've enjoyed for information stored on paper to remain in place as data moves to the cloud," said Brad Smith, Microsoft president and chief legal officer. "Today's decision helps ensure this result."

The Justice Department said it was disappointed and considering its options.


Appeals court orders Utah to fund Planned Parenthood branch
Legal Business | 2016/07/14 08:53
The Utah governor’s order to block funding to Planned Parenthood probably was a political move designed to punish the group, a federal appeals court wrote in an ruling that ordered the state to keep the money flowing.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver decided Tuesday there’s a good chance the governor’s order violated the group’s constitutional rights.

Utah’s Republican Gov. Gary Herbert cut off cash last fall for sexually transmitted disease and sex education programs after the release of secretly recorded videos showing out-of-state employees discussing fetal tissue from abortions.

The head of the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah hailed the ruling as a victory for the clinic’s patients.

“Our doors are open today and they will be tomorrow — no matter what,” CEO Karrie Galloway said in a statement.

Herbert’s spokesman says the governor believes contract decisions should be made by the state and that he was disappointed in the ruling blocking the defunding order while Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit challenging it goes back to be heard by a lower court.

The state is considering its next legal steps, which could include asking the full 10th Circuit to reconsider the panel’s decision.

Herbert didn’t comment on a finding by two appeals court judges that he likely used the controversy to politically attack the group because it provides abortions. A third judge dissented and questioned whether Planned Parenthood would ultimately prevail.

Lawyers for the Utah branch argued it has never participated in fetal donation programs.



Kyrgyzstan sends case of jailed journalist back to court
Legal Business | 2016/07/13 08:54
The Supreme Court in the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan on Tuesday refused to release an ethnic Uzbek journalist and activist serving a life sentence after being convicted of stirring up ethnic hatred, but instead sent his case to a regional court for review. International rights groups consider Azimzhan Askarov a prisoner of conscience.
 
The U.N. Human Rights Committee in April urged Kyrgyzstan to release Askarov, recognizing that he had been arbitrarily detained, tortured and denied his right to a fair trial. This opened the way for a reconsideration of his case, and Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court began hearings on Monday.

The charges against Askarov relate to ethnic unrest in the south of Kyrgyzstan in 2010 when more than 450 people, mostly ethnic Uzbeks, were killed and tens or even hundreds of thousands were displaced. He is accused of inciting the mob killing of a police officer.

Amnesty International sharply criticized the court's decision on Tuesday to keep 65-year-old Askarov in prison while a lower court reviews his case.

"It's a missed opportunity for Kyrgyzstan to do the right thing by finally releasing a man who should never have been jailed in the first place. Today's decision by the Supreme Court ignores Kyrgyzstan's obligations under international human rights law," Amnesty International senior research director Anna Neistat said in a statement.


Court orders release of detained immigrant kids, not parents
Legal Interview | 2016/07/12 09:40
A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that Homeland Security officials must quickly release immigrant children — but not their parents — from family detention centers after being picked up crossing the border without documentation.

The San Francisco-based 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals said that lengthy detentions of migrant children violated a 19-year-old legal settlement ordering their quick release after processing. Government lawyers had argued that the settlement covered only immigrant children who crossed the border unaccompanied by adult relatives. But the three-judge panel ruled that immigration officials aren't required to release the parents detained along with the children, reversing U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee's ruling last year.

Advocates seeking stricter immigration controls said they hoped the ruling would discourage adults crossing the border illegally from exploiting children as a way to stay out of custody in the United States.

Mark Krikorian, Center for Immigration Studies executive director and an advocate for stricter border controls, said allowing the parents to be released may have encouraged illegal immigration of adults traveling with children.



Court denies hospital's bid to perform brain death test
Court News | 2016/07/12 09:40
The Virginia Supreme Court has denied a hospital's request to allow it to immediately perform a test to determine whether a 2-year-old who choked on a piece of popcorn is brain dead.
 
The court Friday denied a petition from Virginia Commonwealth University Health System, which wants to perform an apnea test on Mirranda Grace Lawson. Mirranda's family has refused to allow it.

The Richmond Circuit Court ruled against the Lawsons last month but allowed them to pay a $30,000 bond barring the hospital from conducting the test while they appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court.

The hospital asked the state Supreme Court to throw out the circuit court's bond order. The Supreme Court didn't explain why it rejected the hospital's petition.

The Lawsons' appeal is due to the state Supreme Court in September.



Illinois’ court fees rising to cover special programs
Court Watch | 2016/07/11 23:25
Court fees and fines in Illinois have become bloated over the years with surcharges to pay for programs and services, resulting in steep increases to what people pay in civil and criminal cases, according to a new report.

Sometimes the added surcharges fund things unrelated to a case, such as law libraries, zero-interest loans for fire departments to buy new trucks, and waiting rooms for children while their parents are in court. In a recent case in central Illinois’ McLean County, for example, a DUI offender paid $1,742 in fees distributed across 25 state and local funds, including a Children’s Advocacy Center and a Fire Prevention Fund. Only about 8 percent of what was paid went to actual court costs related to the case.

And the amounts people pay vary widely from county to county. In southern Illinois’ Macoupin County, a DUI costs $344.

The findings come from the Statutory Court Fee Task Force, which was created by the Illinois Legislature. The group released its report in late June after a yearlong study by lawmakers, circuit court clerks, and judges who were part of the 15-member panel. The report highlights another aspect of the swollen bureaucracy in Illinois, a state with the most units of government in the nation - everything from park districts to counties and townships.

“What happens is every special interest group, if you will, has a really good idea and they say, ‘My very good idea will only cost a $5 filing fee,” said Republican Rep. Steven Andersson, a lawmaker on the task force. “And no one really tallied them up.”



Candidate filing begins Monday for appeals court seat
Legal Business | 2016/07/11 22:43
Another election will be on the November ballot in North Carolina because an appeals court judge recently resigned to take a job in private practice.
 
The candidate filing period for the seat on the state Court of Appeals vacated by Martha Geer begins at noon Monday at the State Board of Elections and continues until midday Friday.

Every candidate who files will appear on the fall ballot. Since Geer left her seat a couple of months ago, there won't be a primary.

The candidate with the most votes will win an eight-year term on the court, which is comprised of 15 judges who hear intermediate appeals while sitting in panels of three. Candidates already are determined for three other Court of Appeals elections set for November.



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