Court: State can’t order unions, companies to reach binding contracts
Headline Legal News | 2015/05/18 00:19
A California appeals court sided with one of the largest fruit farms in the nation, ruling that a law allowing the state to order unions and farming companies to reach binding contracts was unconstitutional.

Labor activists say the mandatory mediation and conciliation law is a key to helping farm workers improve working conditions.

However, the 5th District Court of Appeal said Thursday it does not clearly state the standards that the contracts are supposed to achieve.

The ruling came in a fight between Gerawan Farming and the United Farm Workers, the union launched by Cesar Chavez. The union won the right to represent Gerawan workers in 1992, but the two sides did not agree to a contract.

At the union’s request, the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board in 2013 ordered Gerawan and the UFW to enter into binding mediation. The two sides couldn’t come to an agreement so a deal was crafted by the mediator and adopted by the labor relations board, the appeals court said. Gerawan objected to the terms.


Attorney: Court orders release of anti-nuclear activists
Court Watch | 2015/05/16 00:19
A federal appeals court has ordered the immediate release of an 85-year-old nun and two fellow Catholic peace activists who vandalized a uranium storage bunker, their attorney said Friday.
 
The order came after the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati last week overturned the 2013 sabotage convictions of Sister Megan Rice, 66-year-old Michael Walli and 59-year-old Greg Boertje-Obed and ordered resentencing on their remaining conviction for injuring government property. The activists have spent two years in prison, and the court said they likely already have served more time than they will receive for the lesser charge.

On Thursday, their attorneys petitioned the court for an emergency release, saying that resentencing would take weeks if normal court procedures were followed. Prosecutors on Friday afternoon responded that they would not oppose the release, if certain conditions were met.

After the close of business on Friday, attorney Bill Quigley said the court had ordered the activists' immediate release. He said he was working to get them out of prison and was hopeful they could be released overnight or on the weekend.

"We would expect the Bureau of Prisons to follow the order of the court and release them as soon as possible," he said.

Rice, Walli and Boertje-Obed are part of a loose network of activists opposed to the spread of nuclear weapons. To further their cause, in July 2012, they cut through several fences to reach the most secure area of the Y-12 complex. Before they were arrested, they spent two hours outside a bunker that stores much of the nation's bomb-grade uranium, hanging banners, praying and spray-painting slogans.

In the aftermath of the breach, federal officials implemented sweeping security changes, including a new defense security chief to oversee all of the National Nuclear Security Administration's sites.

Rice was originally sentenced to nearly three years and Walli and Boertje-Obed were each sentenced to just over five years. In overturning the sabotage conviction, the Appeals Court ruled that the trio's actions did not injure national security.


Pandora loses to BMI in court hearing, vows to appeal
Court Watch | 2015/05/15 00:20
royalty rates, but the Internet streaming leader said it will appeal.

Pandora said it's confident it can win later since the appeals court — the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York — last week ruled in its favor in a case against the other major publishing group known as ASCAP.

Thursday's ruling would force Pandora to pay 2.5 percent of its revenue to songwriters and music publishers, up from 1.75 percent. Last week's appeals court ruling allowed Pandora's 1.85 percent rate to ASCAP to stay intact.

If the appeal fails, Pandora says its costs could rise by 0.8 percent of revenue, which would have amounted to about $1.7 million last quarter.

BMI called the ruling a victory for the more than 650,000 songwriters, composers and publishers it represents.


Appeals court skeptical of fairness of trader's conviction
Legal Topics | 2015/05/14 00:20
An appeals court panel on Wednesday expressed doubts about the fairness of a prosecution that led to a prison sentence for a man convicted of defrauding a government bailout program.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had plenty of questions for a prosecutor as it conducted oral arguments in an appeal by Jesse Litvak, a bond trader on the Stamford, Connecticut, trading floor at Jefferies & Co. Inc.

Litvak, who's from New York, was sentenced last year to two years in prison after a jury convicted him of securities fraud, defrauding the Troubled Asset Relief Program and making false statements to the federal government. He has not had to serve his sentence pending appeal.

The conviction made Litvak, 40, the first person convicted of a crime related to the program, which used bailout funds in the financial meltdown to boost the economy.


Duke Energy will be in federal court for coal ash crimes
Court Watch | 2015/05/13 00:20
As the nation's largest electricity company prepares to plead guilty to violating the federal Clean Water Act, Duke Energy has started delivering bottled water to people with tainted wells close to its North Carolina coal ash pits.

Duke has long denied its 32 dumps in the state have contaminated the drinking water of its neighbors, suggesting any worrying chemicals found in the wells is likely naturally occurring.

But recent state-mandated tests found that more than 150 residential wells tested near Duke's dumps have failed to meet state groundwater standards, and residents have been advised not to use their water for drinking or cooking.

Many of the results showed troublesome levels of toxic heavy metals like vanadium and hexavalent chromium — both of which can be contained in coal ash. And some of the residents have retained lawyers.

Duke spokeswoman Erin Culbert told The Associated Press that any homeowner who gets a state letter warning of a tainted well will get safe bottled water from Duke, if they request it.

While denying responsibly for the problem, Culbert said Duke simply wants to provide the homeowners "peace of mind."

Duke is scheduled to plead guilty Thursday to nine environmental crimes as part of a negotiated settlement with federal prosecutors requiring it to pay $102 million in fines and restitution. The proposed settlement over years of illegal pollution leaking from ash dumps at five of Duke's plants has been sealed, so it wasn't clear before the hearing whether people with contaminated well water will benefit.


Ohio man accused in US Capitol terror plot returns to court
Headline Legal News | 2015/05/12 00:20
A suburban Cincinnati man accused of plotting to attack the U.S. Capitol in support of Islamic State extremists is due back in federal court.

An indictment last week added a fourth charge against 21-year-old Christopher Lee Cornell. The count of attempting to provide material support to a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization carries a potential sentence of up to 15 years in prison with conviction.

He already faced two charges with possible 20-year sentences. Cornell pleaded not guilty to those charges.

He is scheduled for arraignment Tuesday in Cincinnati on the new count. He has been held without bond since his Jan. 14 arrest.

His father has said Cornell was coerced by a government "snitch."

U.S. authorities are on alert for "lone wolf" terrorist plots inspired by the Islamic State group.


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