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Spain's courts put to test by trial of Catalan separatists
Criminal Law Updates | 2019/02/11 05:46
Spain is bracing for the nation's most sensitive trial in four decades of democracy this week, with a dozen Catalan separatists facing charges including rebellion over a failed secession bid in 2017.

The proceedings, which begin Tuesday, will be broadcast live on television and all eyes will be focused on the impartiality of the Spanish Supreme Court.

Catalonia's separatists have attacked the court's credibility in the run-up to the trial, saying it is a puppet of the Spanish government and any ruling will be a political one that has been decided in advance.

"In reality, it's democracy itself that will go on trial," Oriol Junqueras, one of the accused, wrote from jail in reply to questions sent by The Associated Press. "We are before a trial which, through a partial investigation full of falsities and irregularities, criminalizes a political option and an ideology."

But Supreme Court president Carlos Lesmes dismisses that notion, saying the trial is the most important since Spain's transition to democracy in 1977 after the death of dictator Gen. Francisco Franco.

"This is a trial following the highest standards set by the European Union," Lesmes recently told a group of journalists.



Court upholds order to unseal records in brazen lynching
Class Action News | 2019/02/11 05:45
A historian who has spent years looking into the unsolved lynching of two black couples in rural Georgia more than 70 years ago hopes some answers may finally be within his grasp.

A federal appeals court on Monday upheld a lower court ruling to unseal the transcripts of the grand jury proceedings that followed a monthslong investigation into the killings.

Roger and Dorothy Malcom and George and Mae Murray Dorsey were riding in a car that was stopped by a white mob at Moore's Ford Bridge, overlooking the Apalachee River, in July 1946. They were pulled from the car and shot multiple times along the banks of the river.

Amid a national outcry over the slayings, President Harry Truman sent the FBI to rural Walton County, just over 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of Atlanta. Agents investigated for months and identified dozens of possible suspects, but a grand jury convened in December 1946 failed to indict anyone.

Anthony Pitch, who wrote a 2016 book on the lynching — "The Last Lynching: How a Gruesome Mass Murder Rocked a Small Georgia Town" — has sought access to the grand jury proceedings, hoping they may shed some light on what happened.


Hearing set on end to decades-old Everglades court oversight
Criminal Law Updates | 2019/02/11 05:45
A decades-old court order that oversees water quality in the Florida Everglades would end if water managers get their way.

A hearing is set Monday before Miami U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno on a motion by the South Florida Water Management District to end a decree signed in 1992. Among other things, the order sets thresholds for the amount of phosphorous in the Everglades, an ingredient in fertilizer from the vast sugar-growing regions to the north.

The water district and sugar growers say the decree is no longer needed and thwarts projects that would benefit the Everglades. The U.S. government, environmental groups and an Indian tribe disagree, saying the decree is key to pursuing potential violations. State officials seek a 120-day delay in any decision.


Liberals eye 2020 takeover of Wisconsin Supreme Court
Class Action News | 2019/02/09 05:46
Wisconsin liberals hope to take a key step this spring toward breaking a long conservative stranglehold on the state's Supreme Court, in an election that could also serve as a barometer of the political mood in a key presidential swing state.

If the liberal-backed candidate wins the April 2 state Supreme Court race, liberals would be in prime position to take over the court when the next seat comes up in 2020 — during a presidential primary when Democrats expect to benefit from strong turnout.

The bitterly partisan court, which conservatives have controlled since 2008, has upheld several polarizing Republican-backed laws, none more so than former GOP Gov. Scott Walker's law that essentially eliminated collective bargaining for public workers.

If liberals can win in April and again in 2020, they would have the majority until at least 2025.

"It is absolutely critical we win this race," liberal attorney Tim Burns, who lost a Wisconsin Supreme Court race in 2018, said of the April election. "It does set us up for next year to get a court that's likely to look very differently on issues of the day like voters' rights and gerrymandering."

The court could face big decisions on several partisan issues in the coming years, including on the next round of redistricting that follows the 2020 Census, lawsuits challenging the massive Foxconn Technology Group project backed by President Donald Trump, and attempts to undo laws that Republicans passed during a recent lame-duck session to weaken the incoming Democratic governor before he took office.


Supreme Court blocks Louisiana abortion clinic law
Criminal Law Updates | 2019/02/08 09:46
A divided Supreme Court stopped Louisiana from enforcing new regulations on abortion clinics in a test of the conservative court's views on abortion rights.

The justices said by a 5-4 vote late Thursday that they will not allow the state to put into effect a law that requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court's four liberals in putting a hold on the law, pending a full review of the case.

President Donald Trump's two Supreme Court appointees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, were among the four conservative members of the court who would have allowed the law to take effect.

Kavanaugh wrote a dissenting opinion in which he said the court's action was premature because the state had made clear it would allow abortion providers an additional 45 days to obtain admitting privileges before it started enforcing the law.

If the doctors succeed, they can continue performing abortions, he said. If they fail, they could return to court, Kavanaugh said. The law is very similar to a Texas measure the justices struck down three years ago. Roberts dissented in that case.

But the composition of the court has changed since then, with Kavanaugh replacing Justice Anthony Kennedy, who voted to strike down the Texas law. Trump had pledged during the campaign to appoint "pro-life" justices, and abortion opponents are hoping the more conservative bench will be more open to upholding abortion restrictions.

Louisiana abortion providers and a district judge who initially heard the case said one or maybe two of the state's three abortion clinics would have to close under the new law. There would be at most two doctors who could meet its requirements, they said.

But the federal appeals court in New Orleans rejected those claims, doubting that any clinics would have to close and saying the doctors had not tried hard enough to establish relationships with local hospitals.


High court upholds texting suicide manslaughter conviction
Business Law Info | 2019/02/06 18:09
The involuntary manslaughter conviction of a young woman who encouraged her boyfriend through dozens of text messages to kill himself was upheld Wednesday by Massachusetts' highest court.

The Supreme Judicial Court agreed with a lower court judge who found that Michelle Carter caused Conrad Roy III's death when she told him to "get back in" his truck that was filling with toxic gas after he told her he was scared. The judge said Carter had a duty to call the police or Roy's family when she knew he was killing himself.

"And then after she convinced him to get back into the carbon monoxide filled truck, she did absolutely nothing to help him: she did not call for help or tell him to get out of the truck as she listened to him choke and die," Justice Scott Kafker wrote in the Supreme Judicial Court's ruling.

Carter's lawyers noted the only evidence she instructed Roy to get back in the truck was a long, rambling text she sent to a friend two months later in which she called Roy's death her fault.

Carter was 17 when Roy, 18, was found dead of carbon monoxide poisoning in July 2014. Carter, now 22, was sentenced to 15 months in jail, but has remained free while she pursues her appeals.

Prosecutors had argued Carter could have stopped Roy from killing himself, but instead bullied him into going through with his plan through text messages that became more insistent as he delayed.


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