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Death sentences at lowest level in 30 years
Legal Career News | 2007/01/06 04:15

The number of death sentences issued in 2006 reached the lowest level in 30 years, according to a 2006 year-end report issued by the Death Penalty Information Center. The DPIC reported that there were at most 114 death sentences issued in 2006, as opposed to 128 in 2005 and the 1996 high of 317. In addition, only 53 executions were carried out, as opposed to the 60 performed in 2005. Deborah Fleischaker, director of the American Bar Association's Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project, cited a lack of public confidence in the death penalty as a result of the possibility of making mistakes, illuminated by the release of 123 people from questionable death row sentences since 1976.

A total of 53 executions were carried out in 2006, down from 60 in 2005. Executions over the past three decades peaked at 98 in 1999. Among the many causes given by prosecutors, lawyers and death penalty critics: the passage of more state laws that allow juries to impose life without parole; an overall drop in violent crime; and a reluctance among some authorities to pursue the death penalty because of the high costs of prosecuting a capital case.

On Tuesday, a New Jersey State commission recommended that the state abolish the death penalty completely, replacing it with a life sentence without the possibility of parole. If the commission's report makes its way into law New Jersey will become the first US jurisdiction to ban capital punishment in over 35 years. In December, Florida Governor Jeb Bush suspended all executions in that state after a lethal injection execution there was botched, and a federal judge in California effectively suspended capital punishment there by ruling that that state's lethal injection procedure creates "an undue and unnecessary risk" of cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution.

Supreme Court Hears Pivotal First Amendment Case
Court Feed News | 2007/01/06 02:29
The Supreme Court case, Washington v. Washington Education Association, to be heard on Wednesday, January 10, is a pivotal case in protecting teachers' First Amendment rights. The case addresses the 1992 Washington paycheck protection law that requires unions to gain permission from their non-members before their money is used for political purposes.

The Washington Supreme Court ruled that this law places an undue burden on the
union. The U.S. Supreme Court will answer the divisive question of whether the union's First Amendment rights trump the constitutional rights of teachers.

"No one has the right to take our money and spend it on causes we don't believe in," said Cindy Omlin, executive director of Northwest Professional Educators. "In a country that places such a high value on freedom, it is incredible that the constitutional rights of an individual can be so severely violated."

Bi-coastal U.S. law firm merger off
Headline News | 2007/01/06 01:13

A bi-coastal U.S. law firm merger that would have created a 1,200-lawyer national firm with annual revenue of $1 billion has been called off, the firms say.

Dewey Ballantine of New York and San Francisco`s Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe called off the merger less than three months after the firms` executive committees backed the combination, The American Lawyer reported.

Since the initial agreement, a number of 'significant challenges' arose, the firms said. Adding to the strain, more than 10 Dewey partners left, though not all departures were merger-related, the American Lawyer said.

A former partner attributed the breakdown of the merger to a leak early in the discussions between the two firms.

The combined firm, whose name would have been Dewey Orrick, would have ranked among the 10 largest law firms in the United States.

Appellate court upholds Indiana voter ID law
Court Feed News | 2007/01/05 00:48

The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit on Thursday upheld an Indiana law requiring voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot. In its ruling, the court upheld a lower court decision that the law does not put an undue burden on the right to vote and therefore does not violate the US Constitution. The Indiana Democratic Party and the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana had appealed the district court's decision, but during oral arguments Judge Richard Posner, who wrote the appeals court ruling, was skeptical of the plaintiffs' contention that the law would prevent voters from casting ballots.

The US Supreme Court issued a per curiam opinion last October ruling that Arizona could enforce its voter ID law, which requires voters to show government-issued ID cards at the polls. Similar voter ID laws have been upheld in Georgia and Pennsylvania, though the Missouri Supreme Court struck down a law last year requiring voters to show ID cards at the polls. A lawsuit over Ohio's voter ID legislation ended just before last November's mid-term election in a settlement requiring future Ohio absentee voters to show proof of ID when applying for absentee ballots, but allowing absentee ballots already obtained without ID to be counted.

Many Happy Returns: Tax Filing Season Begins
Lawyer News | 2007/01/04 23:21

The Internal Revenue Service began its 2007 filing system with instructions on how to apply for newly enacted tax breaks and recommendations that more taxpayers give up paper and file electronically.

The agency said that it will send out 17 million tax packages this week to taxpayers who previously filed paper returns. The IRS expects to process about 136 million individual tax returns for 2006, with more than half filed electronically.

It pointed out that one major change this year will be the telephone excise tax refund. The government stopped collecting the federal excise tax on long-distance service last August and plans to provide refunds for these taxes billed after Feb. 28, 2003, and before Aug. 1, 2006.

The agency said taxpayers can avoid collecting 41 months of old phone bills by choosing standard amounts. Under standard amounts a person filing a return with one exemption can claim $30, with the amount rising to $40 for those with two exemptions, $50 for three exemptions and $60 for four or more exemptions.

Those desiring a refund based on actual amount of taxes paid should use Form 8913.

The agency also advised taxpayers on how to take advantage of tax breaks renewed by Congress in December, after the IRS had printed its forms for the 2007 filing season. The most significant of the breaks allow taxpayers to deduct state and local sales taxes instead of state income taxes and provide deductions for higher education tuition and fees and for personal expenses incurred by schoolteachers.

The IRS will mail Publication 600 to 6 million taxpayers who receive the Form 1040 package this month with instructions on claiming the sales tax deduction. The agency also advised that it will not be able to process tax returns claiming the belatedly renewed tax breaks until early February. It said that last year about 930,000 tax returns claiming the three tax breaks were filed by Feb. 1.

"As we always do, we encourage taxpayers who think they may claim these deductions to file electronically," said IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson. "They will get their refunds faster through e-file. Even more importantly, e-file will greatly reduce the chances for making an error compared to claiming the deductions on the paper 1040."

Another change this year is that taxpayers can split refunds among up to three accounts held by U.S. financial institutions such as banks, mutual funds, brokerage firms or credit unions.

The tax agency also urged taxpayers who earn $52,000 or less to make use of Free File, a free electronic program that is a partnership between the IRS and private tax service providers. It noted that this year private sector partners have agreed to remove from their programs side offerings such Refund Anticipation Loans that offer taxpayers immediate payment of expected refunds but sometimes come with high interest rates and fees.

It noted that taxpayers, after filing returns, can track their refund through the online tool "Where's my refund?" on the IRS web site, "With all the changes taking place, this is a good year for paper filers to try e-file," Everson said. "We remind taxpayers that e-filing is fast, secure and reliable."

Brazilian Court Orders Closure of YouTube
Court Feed News | 2007/01/04 21:20

According to wire reports, a Brazilian court has ordered YouTube to cease operations until it removes a celebrity sex video involving model Daniela Cicarelli, the ex-wife of soccer star Ronaldo.

Cicarelli filed suit against the Google-owned content site over the video, in which she is said to be seen having sex with her boyfriend, Tato Malzoni, on the beach. According to reports, it quickly became the most viewed video in Brazil. Cicarelli ordered the site to remove the video and demanded $116,000 in damages for each day the video remains on the site. While YouTube did remove the clip, the site’s users have since reposted it.

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