No holiday respite for Trump's criticism of nation's courts
Legal Topics | 2018/11/23 05:48
President Donald Trump and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts are engaging in an extraordinary public dispute over the independence of America's judiciary, with Roberts bluntly rebuking the president for denouncing a judge who rejected Trump's migrant asylum policy as an "Obama judge."

Trump, still seething over that Monday ruling, began his Thanksgiving Day by asserting that the courts should defer to his administration and law enforcement on border security because judges "know nothing about it and are making our Country unsafe."

And taking aim at a co-equal branch of government, Trump said "Roberts can say what he wants" but the largest of the federal appellate courts, based in San Francisco and with a majority of judges appointed by Democratic presidents, "is a complete & total disaster." That's where an appeal of the asylum ruling would normally go.

Roberts had issued a strongly worded statement Wednesday defending judicial independence and contradicting Trump over his claim that judges are partisans allied with the party of the president who nominated them. Never silent for long, Trump responded with a "Sorry Justice Roberts" tweet.

The dustup is the first time that Roberts, the Republican-appointed leader of the federal judiciary, has offered even a hint of criticism of Trump, who has several times gone after federal judges who have ruled against him.



Court: Reds exempt from tax on promotional bobbleheads
Attorney News | 2018/11/22 05:49
Quoting the Cincinnati Reds’ long-time play-by-play announcer, the Ohio Supreme Court declared Tuesday that “this one belongs to the Reds.”

The state’s high court ruled 5-2 that the Major League Baseball franchise is exempt from paying tax on the purchase of bobbleheads and other promotional items the team offers to ticket buyers.

The opinion written by Justice Patrick Fischer warned that the ruling was specific to the case and might not apply for other sports organizations. But the Department of Taxation’s chief legal counsel, Matt Chafin, said the decision essentially shows professional teams how to avoid the “use tax” on promotional items.

Reds spokesman Rob Butcher said the club is “happy with the outcome,” but is still reviewing the opinion.

The department argued the bobbleheads should be taxed because they’re bought by the Reds as giveaways, not sold with tickets. The Reds argued they’re exempt because they resell the items as part of the ticket package and Ohio law exempts companies from paying tax on items they buy for resale.

Fischer, a Cincinnati resident, led off the opinion with a long summary of Ohio’s role in baseball history beginning in 1869, when the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first all-professional team. There are references to Hall of Famers from Ohio including players Cy Young, Mike Schmidt and Barry Larkin, to the 1975-76 “Big Red Machine” champions, and firsts such as Larry Doby of the Cleveland Indians becoming the first black American League player and to the first night game being played in Cincinnati.

Then, in explaining the ruling, Fischer wrote that unlike a foul ball or a T-shirt shot into the stands (the Reds use a contraption called “Redzilla” to fire free T-shirts into the crowd) that fans have no expectation of receiving, they buy tickets for games that have been advertised as bobblehead games expecting to get the bobbleheads, which last season included All-Stars Joey Votto and Eugenio Suarez.

After quoting Reds’ broadcaster Marty Brennaman’s signature “this one belongs to the Reds,” Fischer as he neared the opinion’s conclusion also quoted Brennaman’s late broadcasting partner, Joe Nuxhall, saying the justices were “rounding third and heading for home.”

Dissenting Justice Mary DeGenaro wrote that the the Reds were escaping sales tax or use tax on promotional items that generally apply to similar purchases. She pointed out that the Reds often limit the promotional items, such as free to the first 30,000 fans.




Immigration detainees denied day in court
Headline Legal News | 2018/11/19 20:34
A civil lawsuit filed by immigration rights advocates in New York City has accused federal authorities of denying detainees their day in court.

The suit filed Thursday in federal court in Manhattan says the amount of time people accused of immigration violations in New York and New Jersey go before a judge is growing at an "alarming rate."

The suit was filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union and other groups against Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security. It says the average wait time between arrest and initial court appearance had grown to 42 days last year, up from 11 days in 2014.

The average was 80 days into July of this year, according to the suit. The ICE office in New York declined comment on Friday.

"While they wait in jail, most detainees lack basic information about the charges and evidence against them, do not know the steps required to prepare to apply for bond or to defend themselves in their removal cases, and do not have lawyers," according to the suit.

One of the plaintiffs is a man who has lived in New York for nearly two decades. The suit says he was detained last month and still hasn't been brought to court.

The detainees "have no effective mechanism to mitigate this delay," according to the suit.



New black officers, court officials rethinking US policing
Headline Legal News | 2018/11/19 20:32
Veteran Alabama law enforcement officer Mark Pettway grew up in a black neighborhood called “Dynamite Hill” because the Ku Klux Klan bombed so many houses there in the 1950s and ’60s.

Now, after becoming the first black person elected sheriff in Birmingham - on the same day voters elected the community’s first black district attorney - Pettway sees himself as part of a new wave of officers and court officials tasked with enforcing laws and rebuilding community trust fractured by police shootings, mass incarceration, and uneven enforcement that critics call racist.

In a state where conservative politicians typically preach about getting tough on crime, Jefferson County’s new sheriff ran and won on an alternative message. He favors decriminalizing marijuana, opposes arming school employees, supports additional jailhouse education programs to reduce recidivism and plans for deputies to go out and talk to people more often, rather than just patrolling.

“Going forward we need to think about being smarter and not being harder,” said the Democrat Pettway, 54.

While the nation’s law enforcement officers are still mostly white men, and groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and Black Lives Matter call for sweeping changes in the criminal justice system, minorities appear to be making gains nationwide.

In Pettway’s case, strong turnout by African-American voters, combined with national concern over police shootings of unarmed people of color, helped him defeat longtime Sheriff Mike Hale, a white Republican, said professor Angela K. Lewis, interim chair of political science at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Winners in other cities attributed their success to similar factors.

Houston voters elected 17 black women as judges in the midterms. Even before the election, nearly the entire criminal justice system in the Georgia city of South Fulton, near Atlanta was run by black women, including the chief judge, prosecutor, chief clerk and public defender. They’re offering more chances for criminal defendants to avoid convictions through pre-trial programs and increased use of taxpayer-funded lawyers to protect the rights of the accused.

Chief Judge Tiffany C. Sellers of South Fulton’s municipal court said officials also explain court procedures in detail to defendants, many of whom haven’t been in court before and are scared.


Lawyer for WikiLeaks’ Assange says he would fight charges
Court News | 2018/11/18 04:32
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will not willingly travel to the United States to face charges filed under seal against him, one of his lawyers said, foreshadowing a possible fight over extradition for a central figure in the U.S. special counsel’s Russia-Trump investigation.

Assange, who has taken cover in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he has been granted asylum, has speculated publicly for years that the Justice Department had brought secret criminal charges against him for revealing highly sensitive government information on his website.

That hypothesis appeared closer to reality after prosecutors, in an errant court filing in an unrelated case, inadvertently revealed the existence of sealed charges. The filing, discovered Thursday night, said the charges and arrest warrant “would need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter.”

A person familiar with the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity because the case had not been made public, confirmed that charges had been filed under seal. The exact charges Assange faces and when they might be unsealed remained uncertain Friday.

Any charges against him could help illuminate whether Russia coordinated with the Trump campaign to sway the 2016 presidential election. They also would suggest that, after years of internal Justice Department wrangling, prosecutors have decided to take a more aggressive tack against WikiLeaks.

A criminal case also holds the potential to expose the practices of a radical transparency activist who has been under U.S. government scrutiny for years and at the center of some of the most explosive disclosures of stolen information in the last decade.

Those include thousands of military and State Department cables from Army Pvt. Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning, secret CIA hacking tools, and most recently and notoriously, Democratic emails that were published in the weeks before the 2016 presidential election and that U.S. intelligence officials say had been hacked by Russia.

Federal special counsel Robert Mueller, who has already charged 12 Russian military intelligence officers with hacking, has been investigating whether any Trump associates had advance knowledge of the stolen emails.


Mexico's high court tosses law on policing by military
Attorney News | 2018/11/16 04:34
Mexico's Supreme Court invalidated a controversial law signed last year that created a legal framework for the military to work in a policing role in much of the country, ruling Thursday that the measure violated the constitution by trying to normalize the use of the armed forces in public safety.

Deep-rooted corruption and ineffectiveness among local and state police forces has led Mexico to rely heavily on the military to combat drug cartels in parts of the country.

But military commanders have long expressed uneasiness about what was essentially an open-ended policing mission. The armed forces have been implicated in a number of human rights abuse cases.

On Wednesday, President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announced a security plan that would also lean on the military. He proposed forming a National Guard initially made up of elements from the navy and army police as well as federal police.

After drawing a raft of criticism, especially from human rights groups, Lopez Obrador sought on Thursday to distinguish between his plan and his predecessors'. He said congress would seek a constitutional reform to allow it.

"Because I don't want to use the army and the navy like they have been doing for public safety work if they are not authorized to carry out those functions," Lopez Obrador said.

But the international human rights group Amnesty International said the Supreme Court's decision should cause Lopez Obrador to rethink his security plan.



Court fight likely in 10-year-old girl’s homicide case
Headline Legal News | 2018/11/11 08:46
When a 10-year-old Wisconsin girl was charged with homicide this week in the death of an infant, it was a rare — but not unprecedented — case of adult charges being filed against someone so young.

The girl told investigators she panicked after dropping the baby at a home day care and then stomped on his head when he began crying. She sobbed during a court appearance in Chippewa County, where she was led away in handcuffs and a restraint.

The age at which children get moved to adult court varies by state and can be discretionary in some cases.

Wisconsin is an outlier in that state law requires homicide or attempted homicide charges to be initially filed in adult court if the suspect is at least 10 years old, according to Marcy Mistrett, chief executive at the Campaign for Youth Justice.

Wisconsin is among 28 states that allow juveniles to be automatically tried in adult court for certain crimes, including murder. For most states, the age at which that is triggered is 15 or 16 years old — while some states have decided 10 is even too young for a child to be held responsible in the juvenile justice system, Mistrett said.

Moving a case to juvenile court depends on establishing certain factors, such as whether the child would get needed services in the adult system, said Eric Nelson, a defense attorney who practices in Wisconsin.

For example, prosecutors in an attempted murder case involving a 12-year-old schizophrenic girl who stabbed a classmate said she belonged in adult court, where she could be monitored for years for a disease that isn’t curable. Defense attorneys unsuccessfully argued against those claims.

Homicide cases involving 10-year-old defendants are extremely rare. From 2007 through 2016, 44 children aged 10 or younger were believed to be responsible for homicides in the U.S., according to data compiled by Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox. Only seven of those children were girls.

In 2003, two 12-year-old boys fatally beat and stabbed 13-year-old Craig Sorger after they invited him to play in Washington state. Evan Savoie and Jake Eakin ultimately pleaded guilty in adult court and were sentenced to 20 years and 14 years in prison, respectively.


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