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Court reinstates Quran lawsuit
Legal Career News | 2007/01/17 19:35

A lawsuit that could determine whether Muslims, Jews and other non-Christians can use the holy texts of their faith to affirm courtroom testimony can move forward, the N.C. Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.

The decision means the controversy that started three years ago when a Guilford County Muslim was not allowed to use a Quran will likely go to trial.

"I'm just excited that we're going to be back in court," said Syidah Mateen, who sparked the debate. "We got over one hurdle."

State law describes laying one's hand on "Holy Scriptures" to take an oath — and it's that phrase that is at issue. The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina argues it is broad enough to include the holy texts of Islam, Judaism and other faiths.

"All we want is people to be allowed to use the holy book of their faith," said Seth Cohen, lead attorney for the ACLU of North Carolina, which initially filed the lawsuit against the state.

Some judges in the state have allowed people to take their oaths on the Quran, but that is rare. State law also allows people to affirm their testimony by raising their right hand without using the Bible.

In August 2003, Mateen asked to take her oath on a Quran in a Guilford County court during a domestic-violence hearing. The 42-year-old Browns Summit woman was told she couldn't because the court didn't have any.

Believing she had the approval of the judge, Mateen shared her experience with other members of Greensboro's Al-Ummil Ummat Islamic Center, which then raised money to buy and donate at least eight Qurans to the Guilford County courts.

But when the Islamic center tried to deliver the holy books in 2005, the offer was rejected by the county's two top judges, who contended that state law only allows for oaths on the Bible.

When the Administrative Office of the Courts did not intervene, the ACLU of North Carolina filed a lawsuit in Wake County Superior Court on behalf of its 8,000 members, some of whom are Jewish and Muslim. Mateen was later added as a plaintiff.

In December 2005, Judge Donald L. Smith tossed the case out, ruling that both the ACLU and Mateen failed to show a legal controversy existed with the state. A three-judge panel of the appeals court disagreed.

"We conclude the complaint is sufficient to entitle both plaintiffs to litigate their claims," Chief Judge John Martin wrote in the unanimous opinion.

Cohen said the ACLU's position is that if the "Holy Scriptures" phrase in state law is not broad enough to include texts other than the Christian Bible, then it is unconstitutional and should be struck down under the First Amendment's establishment clause. But the ACLU thinks there is room under the existing law to include the Hebrew Bible, the Quran and other sacred books.

Noelle Talley, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office, said lawyers with the state were reviewing the appeals court decision and had not yet decided whether to ask the N.C. Supreme Court to take up the matter. The state has 30 days to appeal the decision.

Without an appeal, a trial would likely be several months away, Cohen said.

Agent's lawsuit against CIA can proceed
Court Feed News | 2007/01/17 15:35

A federal judge says a fired CIA agent can continue with a lawsuit challenging his dismissal from the agency.

The one-time covert agent -- identified only as Doe -- contends he was fired for refusing to alter intelligence the Bush administration wanted to cite in making its case for going to war with Iraq.

President Bush justified the war on grounds that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. No such weapons have been found.

The judge ruled the former agent has the right to argue that his dismissal was based on allegedly false information placed in his file.

The plaintiff claims he was the target of two sham investigations launched by the CIA prior before his firing in September 2004.

Iran national sentenced for Visa Fraud
Court Feed News | 2007/01/16 22:59

An Iranian national has pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit visa fraud before the Honorable Ricardo M. Urbina in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher of the Criminal Division announced today.

Shahram Shajirat, a citizen of Iran, was indicted in January 2004 along with his wife and co-conspirator, Soraya Marghi, in connection with a visas-for-sale ring operated out of the U.S. Consulate in Dubai, United Arab Emirates in the summer of 1999. Through this scheme, at least 25 Iranian men, women and children purchased U.S. non-immigrant visas from Shajirat and Marghi for travel to the United States without undergoing the required security protocols. As part of his plea of guilty, Shajirat will cooperate fully with U.S. authorities to identify each of the visa recipients who illegally received non-immigrant visas.

The conspiracy charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000. Judge Urbina set a sentencing date for April 12, 2007.

Marghi, who has dual Canadian and Iranian citizenship, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit visa fraud in connection with the same illegal scheme before Judge Urbina on October 20, 2005. Marghi has cooperated with U.S. authorities.

The case is being prosecuted by Matthew C. Solomon and William J. Corcoran of the Public Integrity Section of the Criminal Division, headed by Acting Chief Edward C. Nucci. The case is being investigated by the Visa Fraud Branch of the Diplomatic Security Service of the U.S. Department of State.

Bush Shifts Nominee for Appeals Court
Law & Politics | 2007/01/16 20:58

President Bush on Tuesday shifted a controversial federal appeals court nominee from one opening to another to satisfy Senate Democrats.

In a nod to the Senate's new Democratic leadership, Bush withdrew the nomination of Norman Randy Smith of Idaho for one seat on the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and nominated him for a different seat.

Federal appeals court seats traditionally stay in the hands of judges from the same states. Bush nominated Smith to a 9th Circuit seat held by a judge who lived in Idaho but previously had lived in California.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a Judiciary Committee member, threatened to block the Smith nomination, contending the seat was a California seat. She argued that if Smith were confirmed, California would be underrepresented on the nation's largest federal appeals court.

Only last week Bush resubmitted Smith's name to the Senate for the California seat, which had been held by Judge Stephen Trott, On Tuesday he withdrew that nomination and nominated Smith to replace Thomas G. Nelson of Idaho.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., welcomed the move, saying that Bush had "avoided a needless fight over a judicial nominee."

UN marks soaring Iraq death toll
Legal World News | 2007/01/16 17:38

U.N. officials in Baghdad say more than 34,000 Iraqis perished in violent incidents last year, far more than the government had reported.  U.N. experts say it is urgent to strengthen the police, courts, and other institutions to stem the bloodshed.  VOA's Jim Randle reports from Baghdad.

The chief of the U.N. Human Rights Office in Iraq, Gianni Magazzeni, says U.N. staffers gathered the information from hospitals and the Ministry of Health. The statistics are grim.

"During 2006, a total of 34,452 civilians have been violently killed and 36,685 wounded," he said.

The report says an average of almost 100 people a day die in Iraq's violence.

These figures are much higher than those from Iraq's government, and government officials have called previous U.N. reports "exaggerated."

This report says the security services have been infiltrated by sectarian militia members and are ineffective.

Magazzeni says the appalling toll will not stop until Iraqis have reason to have faith in their police, courts and other institutions of justice.

Historians in court for "Da Vinci Code" appeal
Court Feed News | 2007/01/16 17:30

Two historians who lost a plagiarism case against "The Da Vinci Code" author Dan Brown launched an appeal on Tuesday to have the verdict overturned.

Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, who wrote "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" which they say Brown copied, were at London's High Court to hear the opening of the appeal.

Their lawyer, Jonathan Rayner James, will argue that the original judge was wrong to dismiss the idea of a "central theme" in the historians' research which he says was used extensively in six chapters of "The Da Vinci Code."

"The ... judge 'rejected' the central theme because, inter alia, it was not the substantial part of HBHG (The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail)," he said in a printed summary of his argument to be presented in court.

"This approach is incorrect; it does not have to be the substantial part of HBHG ...

"Was there enough of an expenditure of skill and labor to warrant copyright protection? The appellants submit that there was."

Brown, who was called as a witness during the original case last year, is not expected to be present for the appeal.

Judge Peter Smith ruled in April that the central themes were too general or abstract to be protected by copyright.

Brown said at the time that novelists must be allowed to draw from historical works without fear of being sued.

"The Da Vinci Code" is one of the most successful novels of all time, selling more than 40 million copies worldwide and being turned into a major Hollywood movie. It is published in Britain by Random House, as is "The Holy Blood."

The appeal is likely to focus on legal argument, and lack the original case's colorful and often heated debate about the Merovingian monarchy, the knights Templar and Jesus' bloodline.

Both "The Da Vinci Code" and "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" raise the possibility that Jesus had a child by Mary Magdalene, that she fled to France after the Crucifixion and that Christ's bloodline survives to this day.

They also associate Magdalene with the Holy Grail.

As in the case last year, the appeal will also focus on Brown's wife Blythe, who emerged as a key contributor to "The Da Vinci Code" through research and ideas.

"In this case, Mrs. Brown knew that she was exclusively using HBHG for that subject matter comprising the Langdon/Teabing lectures," Rayner James said, referring to the six chapters around which the case centers.

"She took a 'short cut' through the research and investigation and simply lifted the material from HBHG."

The appeal is expected to wind up on Friday. The judgment is likely to be delivered in written form at a later date.

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