Supreme Court to consider American Express fee dispute
Opinions | 2017/10/15 15:53
The Supreme Court is taking up an appeal by 11 states that argue American Express violated antitrust laws by barring merchants from asking customers to use other credit cards that charge lower fees.

The justices said Monday they would review a ruling by the federal appeals court in New York that sided with American Express.

The case stems from a lawsuit filed by states and the Obama administration in 2010 against American Express, Mastercard and Visa. The lawsuit said that letting merchants steer customers to cards with lower fees for merchants or to other preferred cards would benefit consumers and increase incentives for networks to reduce card fees.

Visa and MasterCard entered into consent judgments in 2011 and stopped their anti-steering rules for merchants while American Express proceeded to trial.

A trial judge ruled against American Express in 2015, but the appeals court reversed that ruling last year.

The Trump administration said it agreed with the states, but still urged the Supreme Court to reject the case. The administration said the justices should let the issue percolate in the lower courts.

The 11 states that joined the appeal are Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Ohio, Rhode Island, Utah and Vermont.

Other states that were part of the original lawsuit are Arizona, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Tennessee and Texas.

The court will hear argument in Ohio v. American Express, 16-1454, during the winter.


Court agrees to take on US-Microsoft dispute over emails
Legal Business | 2017/10/14 15:53
The Supreme Court agreed Monday to take on a major dispute over the government's authority to force American technology companies to hand over emails and other digital information sought in criminal probes but stored outside the U.S.

The justices intervened in a case of a federal drug trafficking investigation that sought emails that Microsoft keeps on a server in Ireland. The federal appeals court in New York said that the emails are beyond the reach of a search warrant issued by an American judge.

The Trump administration and 33 states told the court that the decision is impeding investigations into terrorism, drug trafficking, fraud and child pornography because other courts are relying on the ruling in preventing U.S. and state authorities from obtaining information kept abroad.

The case is among several legal clashes that Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft and other technology companies have had with the government over questions of digital privacy and authorities' need for information to combat crime and extremism.

Privacy law experts say the companies have been more willing to push back against the government since the leak of classified information detailing America's surveillance programs.

The case also highlights the difficulty that judges face in trying to square decades-old laws with new technological developments. In urging the high court to stay out of the case, Microsoft said Congress needs to bring the law into the age of cloud computing.

In 2013, federal investigators obtained a warrant under a 1986 law for emails from an account they believe was being used in illegal drug transactions as well as identifying information about the user of the email account.



Ex-SKorea leader Park complains about extension of detention
Legal Topics | 2017/10/12 15:54
Jailed former South Korean President Park Geun-hye called herself a victim of "political revenge" in her first public remarks since her high-profile corruption trial began in May, news reports said, as her lawyers resigned Monday in an apparent protest over the court's decision to extend her detention.

The moves appeared to be aimed at applying pressure on the court and rallying her small number of conservative supporters in a development that could intensify a political divide and delay the trial.

The Seoul Central District Court said Park's seven lawyers resigned collectively Monday, three days after it approved an additional six-month arrest warrant for her. Court officials said they will appoint lawyers for Park if her lawyers do not reverse their decision or Park doesn't name a new defense.

A verdict had been expected possibly before the end of the year. If Park has new lawyers, the trial is likely to be delayed because they will need to become familiarized with a massive amount of court and investigation documents, reportedly estimated at more than 100,000 pages.

Park, who was removed from office and arrested in late March, faces a range of corruption and other charges that could lead to a lengthy prison term. Among the key charges are that she colluded with a longtime friend to take tens of millions of dollars from companies in bribes and extortion.

During a court session Monday, Park reiterated her innocence, saying she hopes she will be the last person to suffer "political revenge" orchestrated in the name of justice. She also described her past months of detention as a "wretched and miserable time," and said she had never abused her power or accepted illicit requests for favors while in office, Yonhap news agency reported.

Other South Korean media carried similar reports about Park's comments. The Seoul court said it couldn't confirm them, while calls to her former main lawyer were not answered.

Park denied most of the allegations many times before her March arrest, but Monday's comments were her first in court since her trial started.



Australia's High Court to consider fate of 7 lawmakers
Court News | 2017/10/10 16:18
Australia's prime minister said Monday that he was confident that government lawmakers would win a court challenge this week that threatens his administration's slender majority.

Seven High Court judges will decide whether seven lawmakers should be disqualified from Parliament because of a constitutional ban on dual citizens being elected. The three-day hearing begins Tuesday.

The fate of Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce is most crucial to the government in an unprecedented political crisis.

If the court rules that he was illegally elected in July last year due to New Zealand citizenship he unknowingly inherited from his father, the ruling conservative coalition could lose its single-seat majority in the House of Representatives, where governments are formed.

Joyce could stand in a by-election, having renounced his Kiwi citizenship. But with the government unpopular in opinion polls, voters in his rural electoral division could take the opportunity to throw both the deputy prime minister and his administration out of office.

Two of the six senators under a cloud are government ministers. Fiona Nash inherited British citizenship from her father and Matt Canavan became an Italian through an Australian-born mother with Italian parents. Disqualified senators can be replaced by members of the same party without need for an election.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has given no indication of what his government would do if the court rules against any of the three ministers.



NC high court reviews death penalty of man who beheaded wife
Court Watch | 2017/10/09 23:18
North Carolina's highest court is reviewing whether justice means the death penalty for a survivor of El Salvador's blood-soaked civil war of the 1980s who strangled and then decapitated his estranged wife.

The state's Supreme Court hears oral arguments Monday on whether the state can execute 41-year-old Juan Carlos Rodriguez of Winston-Salem for the 2010 murder of his wife, Maria. The high court automatically reviews death cases.

North Carolina is rare among southern states in that it hasn't had an execution in more than a decade because of various legal challenges. While the state has continued to suffer 500 to 600 murders a year, prosecutors have sought the death penalty only a handful of times each year and juries have condemned killers in only a fraction of those cases.

Rodriguez's children told investigators their father beat and bloodied Maria Rodriguez after she told them she was leaving in November 2010. He tossed the woman's still-breathing body over his shoulder, placed her in his vehicle, and said he was taking her to a hospital. Maria's body and severed head were found at different locations three weeks later, after Juan was already jailed for her kidnapping.

Justices are holding hearings in the case for the second time in almost exactly a year. Monday's hearing comes after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this spring that states needed to use current medical standards in deciding whether a killer is so mentally disabled he can't be executed. The U.S. constitution bans "cruel and unusual punishments," and that has been interpreted to prohibit executing people with severe mental shortcomings.

Rodriguez's IQ was estimated several times at below 70, a threshold for significantly impaired intellectual functioning. But accused killers in North Carolina also must show significant inability to adapt to daily life and that their mental handicaps were evident before adulthood.


Bosnian court acquits ex-Srebrenica commander of war crimes
Legal Topics | 2017/10/08 23:18
Bosnia's war crimes court on Monday acquitted the wartime commander of Srebrenica, who was accused of committing atrocities against Serbs during the 1992-95 Balkan conflict.

The acquittal of Naser Oric immediately prompted anger from Serbian leaders, with Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin saying the court ruling "threatens security, trust and reconciliation in the whole of the Balkans."

Oric was accused of war crimes against three Serb prisoners of war who were slain in villages around the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in the early days of the conflict. A panel of judges presiding over the trial ruled Monday the prosecution did not present evidence proving the case against Oric.
 
Oric had previously been tried by a U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, where he was also acquitted in 2008.



Court nixes class-action status for TGI Friday's drink suit
Court News | 2017/10/07 23:18
A lawsuit accusing restaurant chain TGI Friday's violated consumer fraud laws with its drink pricing can't go ahead as a class action that could have included millions of members, but a similar case involving Carrabba's Italian Grill restaurants can, New Jersey's state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

Debra Dugan sued TGI Friday's after she was charged one price for a drink at the bar and a higher price at a table in 2008. The restaurant didn't list drink prices on its menus, according to the lawsuit.

A lower court in 2012 granted class-action status to anyone who ordered unpriced drinks at 14 of the company's restaurants in New Jersey from 2004 through 2014. TGI Friday's had estimated that could have amounted to as many as 14 million customers, according to court filings. But the plaintiffs disputed that figure.

According to the lawsuit, TGI Friday's conducted research that showed that customers spent an average of $1.72 less on drinks if the prices were displayed than if the prices weren't displayed. The lawsuit sought to prove that that amount could be considered a loss for anyone who had ordered a drink at the restaurants. Wednesday's 5-1 ruling rejected that argument, but said individual claims could still proceed.


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