Western powers warn Kosovo on changing war crimes court law
Court News | 2018/01/04 10:42
Five western nations have warned Kosovo against repealing or amending a law on a war crimes court, saying it would suffer negative consequences "in international and Euro-Atlantic integration."

A statement Thursday from the nations — the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Italy — said they were "deeply concerned by ongoing efforts to undermine the work of the Specialist Chambers." It called on Kosovo politicians and lawmakers "to abandon any thought of repealing or re-negotiating any aspect of the law ... (because that) calls into question Kosovo's commitment to the rule of law."

In December, a group of Kosovo lawmakers tried to amend the law, seeking to extend its jurisdiction over Serbs, their former adversaries in the 1998-1999 war for independence. The court now has jurisdiction only over potential war crimes suspects who were Kosovo citizens.

"(This move) puts the interests of certain individuals above the interests of Kosovo society. We condemn such a move," the nations said.

Kosovo detached from Yugoslavia following a three-month NATO air war in 1999 to stop a bloody Serbian crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists. It then declared unilateral independence from Serbia in 2008, a move recognized by 114 states but not by Serbia.

The court law was passed in 2015 as a result of U.S. and European pressure on Kosovo's government to confront alleged war crimes that the Kosovo Liberation Army committed against ethnic Serbs.




Spanish court reviews custody of ex-Catalan vice president
Court News | 2018/01/02 10:43
A Spanish court is reviewing an appeal by former Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras against his jailing as he awaits formal charges over possible rebellion, sedition and embezzlement in the restive region's recent drive for independence from Spain.

A panel of three Supreme Court judges will decide Thursday on whether to keep Junqueras in custody or grant bail, which would ease the way for him to take his oath as a regional lawmaker and possibly become the new Catalan leader.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy deposed Catalonia's government after separatist legislators passed a declaration of independence from Spain in late October.

Pro-secession parties, including a ticket led by the fugitive ousted president Carles Puigdemont and the left-republican party led by Junqueras, won back most seats in fresh elections last month.




Arkansas judge blocks state from issuing birth certificates
Court News | 2017/12/06 01:12
An Arkansas judge on Friday blocked the state from issuing any birth certificates until officials are able to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the state's birth certificate law illegally favors heterosexual parents.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox on Friday set aside his orders requiring the state and three same-sex couples go into mediation on how to fix the state law to comply with the U.S. high court's order. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge earlier this week asked the state Supreme Court to stay or lift Fox's mediation order.

"This case has been pending for over two years and it has been more than six months since the United States Supreme Court ruled the Arkansas statutory scheme unconstitutional," Fox wrote in his order. "There are citizens and residents of the state of Arkansas whose constitutional rights are being violated on a daily basis."


Fox last month had threatened to halt the issuance of birth certificates if both sides couldn't find language by Jan. 5 to be stricken from the law. Rutledge told the court this week that both sides had agreed on an order on how to comply with the high court ruling, but Fox rejected it. A spokeswoman for Rutledge said the AG's office was reviewing Fox's order and did not have an immediate comment.

In his order, Fox said he was hopeful Gov. Asa Hutchinson would have the authority to fix the birth certificate law through executive action. If the state is unable to fix the law, Fox said, the injunction would be in effect until lawmakers could address the issue. Lawmakers are not scheduled to convene again until February for a session focused on the budget. Hutchinson could call a special session.



Prosecutors ask court to send Russia's ex-minister to prison
Court News | 2017/12/04 06:18
Russian prosecutors on Monday asked a court to send a former economic development minister to a high-security prison for 10 years.

Alexei Ulyukayev, the highest-ranking Russian official to have been arrested since 1993, was detained last year at the headquarters of Russia's largest oil producer, the state-owned Rosneft, after a sting operation by Russia's main intelligence agency. Ulyukayev denies the charges and says Rosneft's influential chief executive Igor Sechin has set him up.

The circumstances of the case have ignited speculation that Ulyukayev fell victim to a Kremlin power play by Sechin, a longtime associate of President Vladimir Putin.

A prosecutor on Monday in his remarks during cross-examination asked the court to find Ulyukayev guilty of extorting a $2 million bribe from Sechin and send him to a high-security prison for 10 years as well as fining him roughly $8.5 million.

Ulyukayev deserves such a harsh penalty because his actions "are undermining the authority of the government," the prosecutor told the court.

Prosecutors have said Ulyukayev was extorting a bribe from Sechin in return for giving the green light to Rosneft's purchase of another oil company.


Court: Congregation's display doesn't deserve tax exemption
Court News | 2017/11/30 20:19
A state appeals court says a Catholic congregation's stations of the cross display didn't qualify for a property tax exemption in 2014.

The St. Raphael's Congregation built the display in 2012 on the Madison property where the St. Raphael Cathedral once stood. The cathedral burned down in a 2005 fire.

The congregation sought a property tax exemption for tax year 2014, arguing state statutes at that time granted such exemptions on property necessary for locating church buildings.

A Madison judge denied the exemption. The 4th District Court of Appeals upheld that ruling Thursday, finding that a building must exist to trigger the exemption.

Legislators amended the statutes earlier this year to extend the exemption to property that churches intend to use for buildings to replace buildings destroyed by fire.


Court: Stress no grounds for rescinding guilty pleas
Court News | 2017/11/27 18:50
An appeals court in Chicago says a lower court in Indiana was right to refuse to permit a couple to rescind their guilty pleas in a tax case on grounds their prosecution caused them severe stress.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said stress was common to anyone facing prosecution and wasn't sufficient reason to take back pleas. It added that neither George nor Barbara Gasich could claim they were under some "Napoleonic delusions" when they chose to plead guilty.

The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin reports the Gasiches were indicted in 2014 for making fraudulent claims. Prosecutors said they'd asked for $475,000 in refunds when they owed the IRS far more than that.

The Gasiches were formerly from St. John, Indiana, but lived in Florida when they were arrested.


Belgian court pushes back extradition hearing for 5 Catalans
Court News | 2017/11/21 05:57
A court in Belgium on Friday pushed back the extradition arguments of ex-Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and four allies until at least Dec. 4, likely keeping the secessionist rebels in Belgium right through Catalonia's regional election campaign.

The court hearing in Brussels for the five Catalans is the latest step in their flight from Spain to Brussels and their refusal to return to face rebellion and sedition charges that could land them in jail for 25 years.

Before the court session, the prime ministers of Spain and Belgium discussed their bilateral relations, which have been strained over the case of the Catalan officials who are wanted on a Spanish arrest warrant.

Puigdemont lawyer Paul Bekaert said after the first court session Friday that "we will argue the case on Dec. 4." Whatever decision is made at that stage, two appeals will be possible and a final ruling could well only come only after the Dec. 21 election day in Catalonia.

Bekaert said even though the prosecutor asked for the execution of the extradition request from Spain for the five, the defense lawyers could still give written arguments until early next month.



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