Court rules Puigdemont must return to Spain for re-election
Legal Business | 2018/01/24 07:42
Spain's top court said Saturday that Catalonia's fugitive ex-president must return to the country and be present in the regional parliament to receive the authority to form a new government.

The Constitutional Court ruled that a session of Catalonia's parliament scheduled for Tuesday would be suspended if former leader Carles Puigdemont tries to be re-elected without being physically present in the chamber.

The court also said that Puigdemont must seek judicial authorization to attend the session.

Catalonia's separatist lawmakers have been considering voting Puigdemont back in as regional chief without him returning from Belgium, weighing options that included another parliament member standing in for him or him addressing the lawmakers via video.

The separatist leader fled Spain after the regional parliament made an unsuccessful declaration of independence on Oct. 27 in violation of Spain's Constitution. He is wanted in Spain on possible rebellion and sedition charges and is likely to be arrested if he returns.

The court, in a unanimous decision of the 11 magistrates present, said that the investiture of Puigdemont would be suspended without the previous authorization of a judge, "even if he is physically in the chamber."

That specification comes amid speculation that Puigdemont could try to slip back into Spain and sneak past police into the Barcelona-based parliament to be re-elected. Spain's Interior Minister, Juan Ignacio Zoido, said this week that police were increasing surveillance to ensure that doesn't happen.

The court also ruled that neither Puigdemont nor the four other former members of his Cabinet who also fled to Belgium to avoid a judicial summons three months ago could delegate their vote for Tuesday's session in another candidate.


Court rules that Kushner firm must disclose partners' names
Legal Topics | 2018/01/21 07:43
A federal judge ruled Friday that the family company once run by Jared Kushner isn't allowed to keep secret the identity of its business partners in several Maryland properties.

A U.S. district judge in the state rejected the argument that the privacy rights of the Kushner Cos. partners outweigh the public interest in obtaining judicial records in a lawsuit before the court. The decision means the company tied to President Donald Trump's son-in-law might be forced to provide a rare glimpse into how it finances its real estate ventures.

The ruling backed the argument by The Associated Press and other news organizations that the media has a "presumptive right" to see such court documents and the Kushner Cos. had not raised a "compelling government interest" needed by law to block access.

U.S. District Court Judge James K. Bredar ruled that Westminster Management, a Kushner Cos. subsidiary, must file an unsealed document with the identity of its partners by Feb. 9.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by tenants last year alleging Westminster charges excessive and illegal rent for apartments in the state. The lawsuit seeks class-action status for tenants in 17 apartment complexes owned by the company.

Westminster has said it has broken no laws and denies the charges.

In addition to its privacy argument, the Kushner subsidiary had said media reports of the Maryland dispute were "politically motivated" and marked by "unfair sensationalism." Disclosure of its partners' names would trigger even more coverage and hurt its chances of getting an impartial decision in the case, it had said.

In Friday's ruling, the judge said these are not "frivolous concerns," but the public's right to know is more important.


Warrant dropped for professor who spoke Hawaiian in court
Areas of Focus | 2018/01/19 07:43
A judge dropped an arrest warrant Thursday for a University of Hawaii professor who refused to respond in court to English and spoke Hawaiian instead.

Samuel Kaleikoa Kaeo was in court Wednesday facing a trial for charges connected to his participation in a 2017 protest against the construction of a solar telescope on top of Haleakala, a volcano on Maui, Hawaii News Now reported .

When Judge Blaine Kobayashi asked Kaeo to confirm his identity, he repeatedly responded in Hawaiian instead of English.

Kobayashi said he couldn't understand Kaeo and issued a warrant for Kaeo's arrest, saying "the court is unable to get a definitive determination for the record that the defendant seated in court is Mr. Samuel Kaeo."

Kaeo, an associate professor of Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaii Maui College, said he has appeared before the judge before and complained that "it was about the fact that I was speaking Hawaiian that he didn't like."

Kobayashi recalled the bench warrant Thursday, the state Judiciary said in a statement. Judiciary spokesman Andrew Laurence declined to answer questions about the recall, including what prompted it.

Kaeo faces misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and obstructing a sidewalk. Kaeo, who also speaks English, requested a Hawaiian interpreter in the courtroom but prosecutors had objected, saying it was an unnecessary expense that would have caused delays.



Court halts execution of Alabama inmate with dementia
Legal Business | 2018/01/18 07:43
The U.S. Supreme Court has halted the execution of an Alabama inmate whose attorneys argue that dementia has left the 67-year-old unable to remember killing a police officer three decades ago.

Justices issued a stay Thursday night, the same evening that Vernon Madison was scheduled to receive a lethal injection at a southwest Alabama prison. The court delayed the execution to consider whether to further review the case.

Madison was sentenced to death for the 1985 killing of Mobile police Officer Julius Schulte, who had responded to a call about a missing child made by Madison's then-girlfriend. Prosecutors have said that Madison crept up and shot Schulte in the back of the head as he sat in his police car.

Madison's attorneys argued that strokes and dementia have left Madison unable to remember killing Schulte or fully understand his looming execution. The Supreme Court has previously ruled that condemned inmates must have a "rational understanding" that they are about to be executed and why.

"We are thrilled that the court stopped this execution tonight. Killing a fragile man suffering from dementia is unnecessary and cruel," attorney Bryan Stevenson, of the Equal Justice Initiative, said Thursday after the stay was granted.

The Alabama attorney general's office opposed the stay, arguing that a state court has ruled Madison competent and Madison has presented nothing that would reverse the finding.


Hong Kong court to rule later on 3 activists' prison terms
Court News | 2018/01/16 17:43
Three Hong Kong activists will have to wait to learn the outcome of their final appeal Tuesday to overturn prison sentences for their roles in sparking 2014's massive pro-democracy protests in the semiautonomous Chinese city.

Judges at Hong Kong's top court said they would issue their decision at a later, unspecified date following the appeal hearing for Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow against the sentences of up to eight months. Bail for the three was extended.

The three were initially let off with suspended or community service sentences after they were convicted of taking part in or inciting an unlawful assembly by storming a courtyard at government headquarters to kick-off the protests.

But the case sparked controversy when the justice secretary requested a sentencing review that resulted in stiffer sentences, raising concerns about rule of law and fears that the city's Beijing-backed government is tightening up on dissent.

The trio's lawyers said the lower court overstepped its boundaries and put too much emphasis on the need for deterrence in handing down the revised harsher sentence.

"Laying down a heavy sentence will have a deterrent effect, but a balance has to be held between a deterrent and stifling young idealistic people," Law's lawyer, Robert Pang, told the judges.



Supreme Court to hear sales tax collection case
Court News | 2018/01/16 01:44
The Supreme Court agreed Friday to wade into the issue of sales tax collection on internet purchases in a case that could force consumers to pay more for certain purchases and allow states to recoup what they say is billions in lost revenue annually.

Under previous Supreme Court rulings, when internet retailers don't have a physical presence in a state, they can't be forced to collect sales tax on sales into that state. Consumers who purchase from out-of-state retailers are generally supposed to pay the state taxes themselves, but few do. A total of 36 states and the District of Columbia had asked the high court to revisit the issue.

Large brick-and-mortar retailers like Walmart and Target have long bemoaned the fact that they have to collect sales tax on online purchases because they have physical stores nationwide. Meanwhile, smaller online retailers, who don't have vast networks of stores, don't have to collect the tax where they don't have a physical presence.

Internet giant Amazon.com fought for years against collecting sales tax but now does so nationwide, though third-party sellers on its site make their own decisions. But the case before the Supreme Court does directly affect other online retailers, including Overstock.com, home goods company Wayfair and electronics retailer Newegg, who are part of the case the court accepted.

States say the court's previous rulings have also hurt them. According to one estimate cited by the states in a brief they filed with the high court, they'll lose out on nearly $34 billion in 2018 if the Supreme Court's previous rulings stand. The Government Accountability Office, which provides nonpartisan reports to Congress, wrote in a report last year that state and local governments would have been able to gain between $8.5 billion and $13 billion in 2017 if they could require out-of-state sellers to collect tax on sales into the state. All but five states charge a sales tax.



Doctor charged in wife's death moved after threat to him
Court News | 2018/01/15 19:44
A New Jersey doctor accused of having his wife killed to protect an illegal prescription drug ring he was running with an outlaw biker gang has been moved to a different jail nearly 100 miles away due to an alleged plot by a co-defendant to kill him.

James Kauffman, 68, of Linwood, New Jersey, is charged with numerous offenses, including murder, racketeering and weapons offenses.

Kauffman and co-defendant Ferdinand Augello, 61, of Petersburg, New Jersey, are charged in the death of Kauffman's 47-year-old wife, April, a radio talk show host who was fatally shot in her home in May 2012.

The charges, including those relating to April Kauffman's shooting as well as the alleged plot to kill James Kauffman, were announced Tuesday after more than five years of investigation.

On Thursday, following brief initial court appearances via video links, prosecutors said Kauffman has been moved from the Atlantic County Jail in Mays Landing to the Hudson County Jail in Kearney, nearly 100 miles away, for his protection.

"We don't think it would be prudent for those two to be lodged together," Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon Tyner said.


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