Court to hear challenge to speed up California executions
Legal Business | 2017/06/06 15:49
The California Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday over a ballot initiative designed to speed up executions that could fundamentally change the way the court handles death penalty appeals.

Death penalty opponents are challenging a ballot measure passed by a slim majority of voters in November that aimed to reform a dysfunctional system that hasn't executed a condemned killer in more than a decade.

Foes of capital punishment argue that Proposition 66 was unconstitutional because it would take power away from the state's high court to decide how it handles cases and it would disrupt the court system, cost the state more money and undermine the appeals process.

If allowed to take effect, the measure would require more lawyers to take death penalty appellate cases, some trial court judges would be assigned appeals and all state appeals would have to be completed in five years, which is about a third of the time it typically takes.

With a backlog of 380 death penalty appeals, there's concern judges would be overwhelmed trying to speed through appeals, said Elisabeth Semel, a law professor at University of California, Berkeley, who consulted for death penalty opponents on the case.

"There's an enormous ripple effect to that," said Semel, who directs the school's death penalty clinic. "The attention the justices can pay to each individual case is significantly diminished. When you're talking about life and death, that's important."

The ballot initiative supported by 51 percent of voters was designed to "mend not end" capital punishment in California, where nearly 750 inmates are on Death Row and only 13 have been executed since 1978.

A competing measure to repeal capital punishment lost by a slightly wider margin. Both sides acknowledged the current system is broken.



Bill Cosby arrives in court ahead of sexual assault trial
Legal Interview | 2017/06/05 22:49
Bill Cosby arrived at the suburban Philadelphia courthouse for the start of his sexual assault trial Monday. The 79-year-old Cosby showed up at the Montgomery County courthouse at about 8:40 a.m. amid a large media presence.

Arriving with the disgraced comedian were his defense attorneys and his former "Cosby Show" castmate Keshia Knight Pullman who played his daughter Rudy.

Cosby's life and legacy are on the line when his accuser takes the stand in the only criminal case to emerge from the dozens of sexual assault allegations lodged against the actor. The former college basketball manager says Cosby drugged and assaulted her in 2004.

This is the only criminal case to emerge from the dozens of sexual assault allegations lodged against him. Cosby says he had a romantic relationship with her. She will tell her story in public for the first time when she testifies. Those involved in the case worry about duplicating the media frenzy that dominated O.J. Simpson's murder trial.

Cameras are banned in Pennsylvania courtrooms. The jury will be sequestered for the estimated two-week trial.


Philippine lawmakers ask top court to nullify martial law
Legal Topics | 2017/06/04 22:49
Philippine opposition lawmakers petitioned the Supreme Court on Monday to review and nullify President Rodrigo Duterte's imposition of martial law in the southern third of the country.

The petition filed by six House lawmakers led by Rep. Edcel Lagman said there was no revolution or invasion where public safety required the declaration of martial law and suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. It said the proclamation contained "fatal inaccuracies and falsities."

The petitioners said congressional leaders and the majority of lawmakers allied with Duterte were derelict in their constitutional duty by refusing to convene a joint session of Congress to vote whether to revoke the martial law proclamation.

Duterte made the declaration May 23 after extremists allied with the Islamic State group laid siege to Marawi city. The declaration lasts through mid-July but could be extended with the consent of Congress.

The martial law proclamation said the militants openly attempted to remove that part of the country from its allegiance to the Philippine government by taking over a hospital, establishing several checkpoints in the city, burning down certain government and private facilities, and flying the flag of the Islamic State group in several areas.

But the petitioners said the military acknowledged the conflict in Marawi was precipitated by an attempt by troops to capture Isnilon Hapilon, a high-profile militant commander. They also said the claim that militants took over a hospital and Duterte's claim that a local police chief was decapitated both turned out to be wrong.


In one state, abused animals get a legal voice in court
Court Watch | 2017/06/03 18:07
Many states have victim's advocates or child advocates, people in the judicial system who represent those affected by crime or abuse. Now, one state has created legal advocates for abused animals, an experiment being watched across the nation for signs of success.

There are eight approved volunteer advocates across Connecticut — seven lawyers and a UConn law professor, working with her students. It's up to a judge to decide whether to appoint one, but they can be requested by prosecutors or defense attorneys. In the first six months of the law, advocates have been appointed in five cases.

"Every state has the problem of overburdened courts that understandably prioritize human cases over animal cases in allocating resources," said University of Connecticut professor Jessica Rubin, a specialist in animal law. "Here's a way to help."

The American Kennel Club, though, opposed the legislation, saying it could result in confusion over who is responsible for an animal and limit the rights of animal owners, including in cases in which someone else is charged with the abuse.



Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch: Rule of law 'a blessing'
Legal Topics | 2017/06/03 18:07
Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch acknowledged Friday that there is "a lot of skepticism about the rule of law" in the country but defended the United States judicial system as "a blessing" and "a remarkable gift" during a talk at Harvard University.

The court's newest justice marveled that in America "nine old people in polyester black robes" and other judges can safely decide cases according to their conscience and that the government can lose cases without resorting to the use of armed force to impose its will.

"That is a heritage that is very, very special," he said. "It's a remarkable gift. Travel elsewhere. See how judges live. See whether they feel free to express themselves."

Gorsuch, made the comments during his first public appearance since joining the high court in a conversation with fellow Justice Stephen Breyer at Harvard University.

Gorsuch said that particularly in tumultuous times it's important to convince the next generation "that the project (of justice) is worth it because many of them have grave doubts."

"I think there is a lot of skepticism about the rule of law, but I see it day in and day out in the trenches — the adversarial process of lawyers coming to court and shaking hands before and after, the judges shaking hands as we do, before we ascend to the bench," he said. "That's how we resolve our differences in this society."

Gorsuch, who was nominated to the high court earlier this year by Republican President Donald Trump, said he believes there is still confidence in the judicial system. He said that 95 percent of all cases are decided in the trial court, while only 5 percent are appealed, and the Supreme Court hears about 80 cases in a good year.


Trump admin asks Supreme Court to restore travel ban
Legal Business | 2017/06/03 01:07
The Trump administration has asked the Supreme Court to restore the ban on travel to the U.S. from citizens of six Muslim-majority countries.

Per Reuters: "The administration filed two emergency applications with the nine Court justices seeking to block two different lower court rulings that went against Trump's March 6 order barring entry for people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days while the U.S. government implements stricter visa screening."

Last week, an appeals court in Richmond upheld the block on Trump's order. Chief Judge Roger Gregory ruled that it, "speaks with vague words of national security, but in context drips with religious intolerance, animus, and discrimination." There have been conflicting rulings on the order, and on Trump's earlier attempt to implement the ban, as it has worked its way though the courts.


East Timor court drops premier's libel case against media
Legal Interview | 2017/06/02 01:07
An East Timor court on Thursday dismissed a criminal defamation case brought by the country's prime minister against two journalists due to lack of evidence.

Rights groups and press advocates had urged that the case be dropped, fearing it would further undermine press freedom in one of the world's youngest democracies.

Accused journalist Raimundo Oki said there was "big applause" when Dili District Court judge Patrocino Antonino Goncalves issued his ruling. The trial was observed by the International Federation of Journalists, USAID and other groups.

"I am happy with the final decision because since the beginning I have always believed that the judge will do his job freely and independently," Oki said.

Oki and his former editor at the Timor Post, Lourenco Vicente Martins, would have faced up to three years in prison if found guilty of slanderous denunciation.

The defamation accusation stemmed from an error in a story published two years ago about Prime Minister Rui Aria de Araujo's involvement in a state contract for information technology services when he was an adviser to East Timor's finance minister in 2014.

The story, which said Araujo had recommended a particular company for the contract before bids opened, misidentified that company as the eventual winner of the contract.

The newspaper apologized for that error, published a front-page story on Araujo's denial and Martins resigned. But Araujo has insisted on prosecuting. East Timor's fragile press freedom has come under attack with the passing of a restrictive media law in 2014 that can be used to stifle investigative journalism.

A former colony of Portugal, it was occupied by Indonesia for a quarter century until a U.N.-sponsored independence referendum in 1999 sparked violent reprisals by the Indonesian military that killed many and destroyed its economy.


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