Unions in court over laws limiting Wisconsin governor, AG
Court Watch | 2019/03/23 23:25
Laws passed by the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature during a lame-duck session in December that weakened powers of the Democratic governor and attorney general were back before a circuit judge Monday, less than a week after another judge struck them down as unconstitutional.

Republicans appealed last week's ruling, and the state appeals court could rule as soon as Monday on that request to immediately reinstate the laws and put last week's ruling on hold.

Gov. Tony Evers moved quickly after last week's order to rescind 82 of former Republican Gov. Scott Walker's appointments that the state Senate confirmed during the lame-duck session. And Attorney General Josh Kaul, at Evers' order, moved to withdraw Wisconsin from a multi-state lawsuit seeking repeal of the Affordable Health Care Act, a power taken away from him during the lame-duck session.

The judge last week ruled that the laws were illegally passed because the type of session lawmakers used to meet in December was unconstitutional. Republicans called themselves into "extraordinary session" to pass the bills, but Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess said there was no basis in state law to call such sessions.

The attorney for Republican lawmakers, Misha Tseytlin, argued that the ruling jeopardizes the validity of thousands of other laws passed during extraordinary sessions.

That case was brought by the League of Women Voters and other groups.

The lawsuit being heard Monday was filed by a coalition of five unions. They argue that the laws violate the state constitution's separation of powers doctrine because they take power from the executive branch and transfer them to the Legislature.

Republicans counter that the laws are constitutional and ensure a proper balance of power between the executive and legislative branches.

The case is being heard by Dane County Circuit Judge Frank Remington. The judge held oral arguments on Monday, beginning the proceedings by informing all the parties that he's already drafted a written decision but wanted clarifications. He blocked off the entire day for the hearing.


Man charged with killing missing girl's mom due in court
Areas of Focus | 2019/03/21 23:25
A man accused of killing the mother of his child in Milwaukee is due in court. WITI-TV reports that 34-year-old Dariaz Higgins has a preliminary hearing scheduled Monday.

Higgins is accused of fatally shooting 24-year-old Sierra Robinson and wounding another woman earlier this month. He faces several charges including first-degree intentional homicide.

The body of Higgins' 2-year-old daughter, Noelani Robinson, was found in a ditch in Minnesota four days after Higgins was arrested on March 13. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension says the child died from head trauma. Her death remains under investigation.

Funeral services were held Saturday for Sierra and Noelani Robinson in Kansas City, Missouri, where Sierra's father lives.


DC-area sniper shootings case to have Supreme Court hearing
Legal Business | 2019/03/19 19:29
The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to consider Virginia’s plea to reinstate the life-without-parole sentence of a man who as a teenager participated in sniper shootings that terrorized the Washington, D.C., region in 2002.

The justices said they will take up the state’s appeal in the case of Lee Boyd Malvo, who was 17 when he and John Allen Muhammad fatally shot 10 people in Maryland, Virginia and Washington. Malvo was sentenced to life-without-parole terms in Virginia and in Maryland. Muhammad, who was 41 at the time of the shootings, was sentenced to death and was executed in 2009.

Malvo was sentenced to four life terms for crimes he committed in Virginia. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled last year that while Malvo’s life-without-parole sentences were legal when they were imposed, Supreme Court decisions that followed altered sentencing requirements for juvenile offenders.

The appeals court judges said a resentencing would determine whether Malvo qualifies as “one of the rare juvenile offenders” who can be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole because his “crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility.” They said if his crimes instead “reflect the transient immaturity of youth,” he is entitled to a sentence short of life without parole.



Supreme Court to consider Louisiana's non-unanimous juries
Legal Topics | 2019/03/18 22:21
The Supreme Court will consider banning non-unanimous juries in criminal cases in Louisiana, the only state that still allows them.

The justices said Monday they will hear an appeal from a man who was convicted of second-degree murder by a jury's 10-2 vote. First-degree murder charges already require a unanimous jury to convict.

Oregon voters recently approved a state constitutional amendment that ended Oregon's use of divided juries to convict some criminal defendants.

The high court also is agreeing Monday to decide whether states can eliminate the so-called insanity defense for criminal defendants without violating the Constitution.

The appeal comes from a Kansas man who has been sentenced to death for killing his estranged wife, their two daughters and the wife's grandmother. The cases will be argued in the fall.


Veterans court may be collateral damage in immigration fight
Court Watch | 2019/03/18 05:21
Three decades ago, Lori Ann Bourgeois was guarding fighter jets at an air base. After her discharge, she fell into drug addiction. She wound up living on the streets and was arrested for possession of methamphetamine.

But on a recent day, the former Air Force Security Police member walked into a Veterans Treatment Court after completing a 90-day residential drug treatment program. Two dozen fellow vets sitting on the courtroom benches applauded. A judge handed Bourgeois a special coin marking the occasion, inscribed with the words “Change Attitude, Change Thinking, Change Behavior.”

The program Bourgeois credits for pulling her out of the “black hole” of homelessness is among more than three dozen Oregon specialty courts caught in a standoff between the state and federal government over immigration enforcement.

The Trump administration in 2017 threatened to withhold law enforcement grants from 29 cities, counties or states it viewed as having “sanctuary” policies that limit cooperation with federal immigration agents. Today, all those jurisdictions have received or been cleared to get the money, except Oregon, which is battling for the funds in federal court.

The Veterans Treatment Court in Eugene and 40 other specialty courts, including mental health and civilian drug programs, risk losing all or part of their budgets, said Michael Schmidt, executive director of Oregon’s Criminal Justice Commission, which administers the money.

The commission has managed to keep the courts funded through July, Schmidt said. Unless the Trump administration relents or is forced by court order to deliver the money, or the Oregon Legislature comes up with it, the commission must make “horrible, tough decisions” about where to make the cuts, Schmidt said.

Speaking in her small office in the Eugene courthouse, specialty courts coordinator Danielle Hanson said if the veterans court budget is cut, the vets would have to start paying for drug treatment, and they would be deprived of housing resources and travel funds to go to residential treatment facilities as far as 330 miles (530 kilometers) away. Some veterans might even be turned away.



Justices spurn Georgia inmate, despite juror’s racial slurs
Legal Interview | 2019/03/16 05:22
The Supreme Court is rejecting a new appeal from a Georgia death row inmate, despite evidence that a juror in his capital case used racial slurs.

The high court had previously blocked the execution of Georgia inmate Keith Leroy Tharpe. But the justices on Monday refused to take up his case after a lower court ruled against him.

The 59-year-old Tharpe is trying to get his death sentence thrown out because of comments the juror made to defense investigators several years after Tharpe’s trial. The juror signed an affidavit, though he later testified that he voted for Tharpe’s death sentence because of the evidence against him. The juror has since died.



Court to rule on Newtown shooting lawsuit against gun maker
Areas of Focus | 2019/03/14 19:22
The Connecticut Supreme Court is scheduled to rule on whether gun maker Remington can be sued for making the Bushmaster rifle used to kill 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

Justices are split on the question as the court is scheduled to release majority and dissenting opinions Thursday.

The plaintiffs include a survivor and relatives of nine people killed in the massacre. They argue the AR-15-style rifle used by shooter Adam Lanza was designed as a military killing machine and is too dangerous for the public, but Remington glorified the weapon in marketing it to young people.

A lower court judge dismissed the lawsuit in 2016, agreeing with Remington that federal law shields gun makers from liability when their products are used in crimes.


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