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Partisan letters cost long-serving Alaska magistrate his job
Court Feed News | 2022/01/12 03:02
The longest serving magistrate in Alaska is no longer on the bench after writing letters to the editor critical of the Republican party.

Former Seward Magistrate George Peck wrote four letters to the editor of the Anchorage Daily News, the latest in December which claimed the Republican party “is actively trying to steer the U.S. into an authoritarian kleptocracy.”

The other letters written since 2019 have been critical of former President Donald Trump and Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, both Republicans, and the GOP, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

Peck did not note his judicial position when signing in the letters, and there have been no complaints filed against him. However, his supervisor, Anchorage Superior Court Judge William Morse, ordered the court’s human resources department to investigate.

Morse said in a formal decision last Wednesday that Peck’s letter was in violation of Alaska’s code of judicial conduct.

“As a magistrate judge, the public entrusts you to decide cases with the utmost fairness, independence and impartiality. The power of your own voice, even when expressed off the bench, can become inextricably tied to your position, especially in a small community where you are the sole judicial officer,” Morse said.

When the 81-year-old Peck was informed Wednesday that he would be fired two days later, he instead immediately submitted his resignation and worked his last day Thursday.

Peck told the Anchorage newspaper that he doesn’t regret the letter and said he was just “stating a fact that the Republican Party tried to overturn the election, which I think most people agree on.”

He also doesn’t blame the juridical system for forcing him out.

“Clearly, they were justified in doing what they’re doing,” Peck said. “I just think they could have found a little better way to do it, but that’s up to them.”

Peck began working as a magistrate judge in 1976 and retired from full-time work in 2016. The court system kept him working on a temporary, part-time basis.

Magistrates oversee minor judicial matters in the court system, such as traffic violations, small-claims cases and time-sensitive matters, such as search warrants and domestic violence cases.


Cobb County jury trials paused as COVID-19 spreads
Court Feed News | 2022/01/08 11:56
As COVID-19 cases continue rising across the state of Georgia, the court system in one of its counties has decided to pause jury trials.

Cobb County Superior Court Judge Robert D. Leonard issued an order Monday to cancel trial jurors through Jan. 21, WSB-TV reported.

“I did not make this decision lightly,” Leonard said. “We must keep in mind that jury service compels people of all walks of life, with all health conditions and vaccination status to attend court. Additionally, the likelihood of successfully getting through a lengthy jury trial when our community spread is at this record level is slim.”

According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, 11,902 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Cobb County in the last two weeks.

Jury trials across Georgia were paused for much of the pandemic. Trials in Cobb County ultimately resumed last April.

Leonard also said that the State Court of Cobb County will be undertaking the same measures.

Grand jury proceedings will not be affected.


Judges send Tyson workers’ virus lawsuit back to state court
Lawyer Blog News | 2022/01/03 23:59
A federal appeals court has ruled that Tyson Foods can’t claim it was operating under the direction of the federal government when it tried to keep its processing plants open as the coronavirus spread rapidly within them during the early days of the pandemic.

So the Des Moines Register reports that a lawsuit filed by several families of four workers who died after contracting COVID-19 while working at Tyson’s pork processing plant in Waterloo will be heard in state court. The families allege that Tyson’s actions contributed to the deaths.

Tyson had sought to move the case to federal court because it said federal officials wanted it to keep its plants running. The company cited an executive order former President Donald Trump signed that designated meat processors as essential infrastructure.

“The fact that an entity — such as a meat processor — is subject to pervasive federal regulation alone is not sufficient to confer federal jurisdiction,” Judge Jane Kelly wrote in the decision.

The court also noted that Trump’s order was signed in late April 2020 after many of its workers were infected. More than 1,000 Tyson workers at the Waterloo plant tested positive for the virus that spring and at least six died.

Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson said the Springdale, Arkansas-based company is disappointed in the court ruling, but he defended the steps Tyson took to keep workers safe during the pandemic.

“We’re saddened by the loss of any of our team members to COVID-19 and are committed to protecting the health and safety of our people,” Mickelson said. “We’ve implemented a host of protective measures in our facilities and in 2021 required all of our U.S. team members to be vaccinated.”


Griffis beginning 8-year term on Mississippi Supreme Court
Court Feed News | 2021/12/26 05:29
The Mississippi Supreme Court is holding a ceremony Monday for Justice Kenny Griffis to begin a new term of office.

Griffis served 16 years on the state Court of Appeals. In February 2019, then-Gov. Phil Bryant appointed him to fill an open seat on the Supreme Court.

Griffis won an election to the Supreme Court in November 2020. The court has nine justices, and Griffis holds one of two seats with a delay of more than a year between the election and the beginning of the new term.

During the ceremony Monday at the Gartin Justice Building in Jackson, Griffis will take the oath for an eight-year term.

Griffis is a Meridian native who now lives in Ridgeland. He earned accounting and law degrees from the University of Mississippi. He is an adjunct professor at the Mississippi College School of Law and the University of Mississippi School of Law.

Griffis was chief judge of the 10-member Court of Appeals when Bryant moved him to the Supreme Court.


Appeals court upholds mask requirement for Knox schools
Court Feed News | 2021/12/21 18:41
A federal appeals court has upheld the mask requirement for Knox County Schools.

A U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit panel on Monday denied the school board’s request to pause the mask requirement while the issue is debated in court, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported.

U.S. District Judge J. Ronnie Greer ruled in September the school system must adopt a mask mandate to help protect children with health problems more susceptible to the coronavirus pandemic.

Knox County Schools argued virtual classes are a reasonable accommodation, but children attend at home and must be supervised.

“Like the district court, we are not persuaded that virtual schooling is a reasonable alternative to universal masking,” the appeals court wrote. The full appeal of the Knox County case will be heard at a later date, the newspaper reported.

Knox County adopted a mask mandate during the 2020-21 school year but chose not to this year despite COVID-19 numbers that remained high. Public health agencies say indoor mask-wearing is a key coronavirus-prevention tool.


Anchorage wins lawsuit over failed port construction
Court Feed News | 2021/12/17 07:09
Anchorage has won its lawsuit with a federal agency over failed construction at the state’s largest port.

U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge Edward J. Damich on Thursday found the U.S. Maritime Administration breached its 2003 and 2011 agreements with the Municipality of Anchorage over construction at the Port of Anchorage, KTUU-TV reported. The facility has since been renamed the Port of Alaska.

“It’s an enormous vindication of what we’ve been saying all along, and that’s basically that the federal government had control of this project and they didn’t perform — they messed it up,” assistant municipal attorney Robert Owens said.

In 2014, Anchorage filed a lawsuit against the maritime administration for more than $300 million over failed construction in the effort to replace deteriorating facilities and upgrade port infrastructure to meet increasing demands.

A nine-day trial was held last spring, at which the municipality argued the government’s 2003 and 2011 agreements required the agency to provide technical expertise to oversee, design and construct the expansion project “free of defect,” the court documents show.

The government countered that Anchorage was the party responsible for managing and executing the project, and the maritime administration didn’t breach any duties.

The judge sided with Anchorage, saying the federal agency failed to enforce its contractual duties or administer funds properly.

The amount of damages have not been awarded yet. Both sides have 10 days to submit arguments for what they believe the monetary award should be.

Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson called the verdict a victory for Alaska.

“The Port of Alaska is a vital piece of infrastructure for all Alaskans, with roughly 90% of our population touched by goods that come through the Port,” Bronson said in a statement.

The municipality is working with the state and federal government to secure nearly $1.6 billion to repair the port, Bronson said.

An email sent Friday to the U.S. Maritime Administration seeking comment was not immediately returned.


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