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High court gives mixed verdict on Burgum-Legislature spat
Court News | 2018/07/30 23:02
North Dakota's Supreme Court on Monday rejected several of Gov. Doug Burgum's vetoes but sided with the governor in other portions of a dispute with the Legislature that revolved around overreach on both sides.

The high court ruled that Burgum was out of line in four out of five line-item vetoes that the Legislature had challenged. In the vetoes — which included appropriations for the State Water Commission and for information technology spending, among others — the Supreme Court said Burgum had gone too far with vetoes that would have changed legislators' intent.

The Supreme Court sided with Burgum's challenge that lawmakers had improperly delegated authority to a subset of legislators — known as the Budget Section — for how some $299 million for the Water Commission could be shifted among several identified needs.

Burgum made the same successful argument for the Legislature's attempt to have the budget section direct where half of $3.6 million appropriated for information technology would be spent.

"Convenience is no substitute for the mandatory legislative process," Judge Jerod Tufte wrote. He said the Legislature encroached on the executive branch by giving a committee of its members the power to administer appropriations.

Burgum had earlier conceded most of the vetoes would fail. He said in a statement late Monday he was pleased with the court's ruling.




N Carolina elections board back in court in power struggle
Court Watch | 2018/07/29 23:02
The repeatedly altered composition of North Carolina's elections board returned to court Thursday as a proxy for the lengthy power struggle between Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and the Republican-dominated legislature.

A panel of three trial judges listened for over three hours but didn't immediately rule on the request by Cooper's lawyers to throw out a third iteration of a combined elections and ethics board. Structures of two earlier versions created by GOP lawmakers previously have been declared unconstitutional.

GOP lawmakers and Cooper have been embroiled in litigation and political disputes since Cooper was elected governor in 2016. Lawmakers have passed several bills that eroded Cooper's powers. The board is important because its members can approve early-voting sites that could affect election turnout. They can also assess campaign finance penalties and determine ethics law violations.

Republicans argue their latest attempt — the current nine-member board chosen by Cooper, with four Democrats, four Republicans and a ninth who can't be a member of either party — passes constitutional muster.

But Jim Phillips, a Cooper lawyer, told the judges the new board structure suffers the same flaws as the other versions because it still usurps the governor's constitutional duty to ensure state election laws are faithfully executed. While Cooper appoints the entire board, Phillips said, he only has strong influence over the four Democratic choices, picked from a list provided by the state Democratic Party.




Court: Ban seafood caught with nets that harm tiny porpoises
Court Watch | 2018/07/27 23:03
A judge has ordered the U.S. government to ban imports of seafood caught by Mexican fisheries that use a net blamed for killing off the vaquita, the world's smallest and most-endangered porpoise.

Judge Gary Katzmann, of The U.S. Court of International Trade, on Thursday granted a motion after three environmental groups filed a lawsuit seeking a ban on seafood caught with gillnets in part of the Gulf of California, where the vaquita live.

Some scientists estimate that there could be as few as 15 of the vaquita — Spanish for "little cow" — left. The court noted that experts believe they could be extinct by 2021 without intervention.

Their numbers have been severely reduced illegal fishing and by the gillnets, which are used to catch a variety of shrimp and fish.

The nets are hung in the water to catch seafood. The Mexican government has banned their use in some areas and for some species, but allows it for other species.

There also is illegal fishing in the vaquitas habitat for the Mexican totoaba fish, which goes for high prices because its swim bladder is considered a delicacy in China and reputed to boost fertility.

The Justice Department, which had opposed the ban, did not immediately answer an email seeking comment.

The groups that filed the suit are the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Animal Welfare Institute.



Court: Release surveillance video in Florida school shooting
Attorney News | 2018/07/25 16:52
An appeals court says news organizations are entitled to obtain surveillance video showing the law enforcement response to the Valentine's Day mass shooting at a Florida high school.

The 4th District Court of Appeal on Wednesday upheld a lower court's ruling that the video is public record that must be disclosed. News organizations including The Associated Press are seeking the video to better understand the actions of law enforcement and first responders during the shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Authorities say the school had 70 operating video cameras that day. The media organizations are not seeking any footage depicting the massacre or any victims.

Broward County prosecutors and its school board opposed the video release. Nineteen-year-old Nikolas Cruz faces murder charges in the shooting.



Top court: Social media posts violate no-contact order
Legal Business | 2018/07/24 23:52
Social media posts can represent a violation of a protection order, the state's highest court ruled on Tuesday, affirming the conviction of a man who made threats on Facebook.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court rejected Richard Heffron III's arguments that his Facebook comments were a protected form of speech, that the posts didn't constitute direct or indirect contact, and that he wasn't told that his posts represented a violation.

In its ruling, the court concluded Heffron's social media comments violated the court-approved no-contact order and were outside the realm of constitutional protections.

"The court correctly determined that Heffron's communications with the protected person fell short of those that deserve constitutional protection," Justice Jeffrey Hjelm wrote, noting that the conviction "did not place his First Amendment rights at risk."

Heffron and the woman with whom he'd had a relationship were no longer Facebook friends but still had friends in common. In the posts, Heffron referred to the woman by name and threatened to harm her. A friend brought the comments to the woman's attention.

James Mason, Heffron's attorney, said courts in other states have reached different conclusions but that the facts didn't perfectly align with the Maine case.

"Obviously I'm disappointed," Mason said. "I think that there was no evidence that he ever intended to have these comments reach her."

After being convicted, Heffron was ordered to serve 21 days in jail, which was the length of time he was jailed before posting bail. He also was sentenced to a year of probation.

Mason said the ruling served as a cautionary tale. "It lets people know that they do need to be careful about what they post on the internet," he said. "It makes it clear that you have limited First Amendment protections on the internet, especially on Facebook."


Judge, calm in court, takes hard line on splitting families
Legal Topics | 2018/07/23 07:25
separated at the border. He challenged the Trump administration to explain how families were getting a fair hearing guaranteed by the Constitution, but also expressed reluctance to get too deeply involved with immigration enforcement.

"There are so many (enforcement) decisions that have to be made, and each one is individual," he said in his calm, almost monotone voice. "How can the court issue such a blanket, overarching order telling the attorney general, either release or detain (families) together?"

Sabraw showed how more than seven weeks later in a blistering opinion faulting the administration and its "zero tolerance" policy for a "crisis" of its own making. He went well beyond the American Civil Liberties Union's initial request to halt family separation — which President Donald Trump effectively did on his own amid a backlash — by imposing a deadline of this Thursday to reunify more than 2,500 children with their families.

Unyielding insistence on meeting his deadline, displayed in a string of hearings he ordered for updates, has made the San Diego jurist a central figure in a drama that has captivated international audiences with emotional accounts of toddlers and teens being torn from their parents.

Circumstances changed dramatically after the ACLU sued the government in March on behalf of a Congolese woman and a Brazilian woman who were split from their children. Three days after the May hearing, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the zero tolerance policy on illegal entry was in full effect, leading to the separation of more than 2,300 children in five weeks.



State Supreme Court returns stalking case to lower court
Legal Topics | 2018/07/22 18:25
Facebook complaints against her neighbor constituted stalking.

The Rapid City Journal reports that a judge in 2016 granted Sarah Thompson's request for a protection order against Wambli Bear Runner over Bear Runner's frequent antagonistic updates against Thompson. The two women had been dating the same man.

One of the posts read, "I'll forever be watching #your enemy unless I get an apology!"

The high court ruled that the circuit court did not show why Bear Runner's comments qualified as stalking. The case has been returned to the lower court.

South Dakota's law against stalking notes harassment can come through verbal, digital, electronic or even telegraphic communication.


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