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US appeals court: Another conflict in New Orleans courts
Business Law Info | 2019/08/20 23:53
A state magistrate judge in New Orleans has a conflict of interest when he sets bail for criminal defendants because bail fees help fund court operations, a federal appeals court said Thursday ? the second time in a week it has found such a conflict in New Orleans courts.

The ruling was in response to an appeal filed by Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Magistrate Judge Harry Cantrell ? often the first court official to preside over a newly arrested defendant’s case, and the one who initially sets bond.

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal rejected Cantrell’s appeal and upheld a lower court finding that there was a conflict because fees collected as part of bail go to a judicial expense fund.

The lower court’s ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by two state criminal defendants, one of whom was jailed for two weeks until money for a bail bond was raised, and another who was never able to come up with the money and stayed in jail for a month.

“Because he must manage his chambers to perform the judicial tasks the voters elected him to do, Judge Cantrell has a direct and personal interest in the fiscal health of the public institution that benefits from the fees his court generates and that he also helps allocate,” Judge Gregg Costa wrote for the appeals panel. The bond fees, the opinion said, contribute between 20% and 25% of the amount spent by the court in recent years.

Last Friday, a separate 5th Circuit panel said the district court judges who hear cases and preside over trials have a conflict of interest when they are faced with deciding whether some defendants are able to pay fines and fees that partially fund their court’s expenses. That decision was in response to a lawsuit filed by criminal defendants who accused the New Orleans-based court of operating what amounted to a debtors’ prison.


Appeal in John Steinbeck lawsuit heard in court
Court Feed News | 2019/08/12 01:37
Both sides had another day in court Tuesday in a family battle that has been waged for decades over who controls the works of iconic author John Steinbeck.

A three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments to an appeal by the estate of Steinbeck’s late son, Thomas Steinbeck. The panel was in Anchorage to hear various cases.

Thomas Steinbeck’s estate is contesting a 2017 federal jury verdict in California that awarded more than $13 million to the author’s stepdaughter, Waverly Scott Kaffaga, whose mother was John Steinbeck’s third wife. The lawsuit said Thomas Steinbeck and his wife, Gail Steinbeck, impeded film adaptations of the classic works. A judge earlier ruled in the same case that the couple breached an agreement between Kaffaga’s late mother and Thomas Steinbeck and his late brother, John Steinbeck IV.

Neither Gail Steinbeck nor Waverly Kaffaga attended Tuesday’s proceeding.

Attorney Matthew Dowd, representing the Thomas Steinbeck estate, told the circuit judges the appeal contends the 1983 agreement was in violation of a 1976 change to copyright law that gave artists or their blood relatives the right to terminate copyright deals. The appeal also disputes the award handed up by the jury, maintaining it was not supported by substantial evidence of Gail Steinbeck’s ability to pay.

Kaffaga’s attorney, Susan Kohlmann, told the circuit judges multiple courts, including an earlier Ninth Circuit decision, have already upheld the agreement as binding and valid, and deemed it enforceable. She called the contract argument a “complete red herring.”

Dowd disagreed. He said previous decisions on the agreement didn’t completely deal with the particular issue involving the 1976 statute. He said Gail Steinbeck was not allowed to fully address the issue in court.


Puerto Ricans get their 3rd governor in 6 days
Business Law Info | 2019/08/08 08:35
Justice Secretary Wanda Vazquez became Puerto Rico’s new governor Wednesday, just the second woman to hold the office, after weeks of political turmoil and hours after the island’s Supreme Court declared Pedro Pierluisi’s swearing-in a week ago unconstitutional.

Accompanied by her husband, Judge Jorge Diaz, and one of her daughters, Vazquez took the oath of office in the early evening at the Supreme Court before leaving without making any public comment. She then issued a brief televised statement late Wednesday, saying she feels the pain that Puerto Ricans have experienced in recent weeks.

“We have all felt the anxiety provoked by the instability and uncertainty,” Vazquez said, adding that she would meet with legislators and government officials in the coming days. “Faced with this enormous challenge and with God ahead, I take a step forward with no interest other than serving the people ... It is necessary to give the island stability, certainty to the markets and secure (hurricane) reconstruction funds.”

The high court’s unanimous decision, which could not be appealed, settled the dispute over who will lead the U.S. territory after its political establishment was knocked off balance by big street protests spawned by anger over corruption, mismanagement of funds and a leaked obscenity-laced chat that forced the previous governor and several top aides to resign.

But it was also expected to unleash a new wave of demonstrations because many Puerto Ricans have said they don’t want Vazquez as governor.

“It is concluded that the swearing in as governor by Hon. Pedro R. Pierluisi Urrutia, named secretary of state in recess, is unconstitutional,” the court said in a brief statement.


Puerto Ricans await court decision on potential new governor
Business Law Info | 2019/08/05 08:33
Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court on Monday agreed to rule on a lawsuit that the island’s Senate filed in a bid to oust a veteran politician recently sworn in as the island’s governor.

The court gave all parties until Tuesday at noon to file all necessary paperwork, noting that no extensions will be awarded.

The lawsuit seeks a preliminary injunction ordering Pedro Pierluisi to cease his functions immediately and also asks that the court declare unconstitutional a 2005 law that says a secretary of state does not have to be approved by both the House and Senate if he or she has to step in as governor.

“I want to put an end to this, but I want to do it correctly,” Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz said during a special session in which he stated he would let the court decide the outcome, adding that Pierluisi only had five of 15 votes needed from the Senate for his earlier nomination as secretary of state.

It is unclear how quickly the Supreme Court might rule or whether it would hold a hearing or simply issue a written opinion. The announcement comes as Puerto Ricans who successfully ousted the previous governor from office following nearly two weeks of protests await yet another twist in what is a deepening constitutional crisis.


Gunmaker asks US Supreme Court to hear Sandy Hook appeal
Lawyer Blog News | 2019/08/02 08:31
The maker of the rifle used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its appeal Thursday of a state ruling against the company.

Remington Arms, based in Madison, North Carolina, cited a much-debated 2005 federal law that shields firearms manufacturers from liability in most cases when their products are used in crimes.

Gunman Adam Lanza opened fire at the Newtown, Connecticut, school with a Bushmaster AR-15-style rifle on Dec. 14, 2012, killing 20 first graders and six educators. The 20-year-old gunman earlier shot his mother to death at their Newtown home, and killed himself as police arrived at the school. The rifle was legally owned by his mother.

A survivor and relatives of nine victims filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Remington in 2015, saying the company should have never sold such a dangerous weapon to the public and alleging it targeted younger, at-risk males in marketing and product placement in violent video games.

Citing one of the few exemptions in the federal law, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled 4-3 in March that Remington could be sued under state law over how it marketed the rifle to the public. The decision overturned a ruling by a trial court judge who dismissed the lawsuit based on the 2005 federal law, named the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.

The federal law has been criticized by gun control advocates as being too favorable to gun makers, and it has been used to bar lawsuits over other mass killings.

The case is being watched by gun control advocates, gun rights supporters and gun manufacturers across the country, as it has the potential to provide a roadmap for victims of other mass shootings to circumvent the federal law and sue firearm makers.


Louisiana judge orders man's mouth taped for interruptions
Business Law Info | 2019/07/29 04:01
Court logs show a Louisiana district court judge ordered a man's mouth be taped shut for repeatedly interrupting proceedings.

The Acadiana Advocate reports Michael C. Duhon was being sentenced July 18 for theft and money laundering.

Court minutes show Duhon objected when Judge Marilyn Castle asked him to stop submitting motions on his own behalf instead of through his attorney. After repeatedly requesting for Duhon to be quiet, Castle ordered the bailiff to tape Duhon's mouth shut.

The tape was removed after an objection from Duhon's public defense attorney, Aaron Adams, who requested the judge remove his client from the courtroom instead.

Castle sentenced Duhon to 11 years in prison and recommended he be transferred to a facility with mental health treatment options.

Another public defender in the courtroom faces contempt charges for recording the incident.



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