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DeSantis picks female Cuban-American for state's high court
Attorney Blogs | 2019/01/11 07:12
With the first of his three picks for the Florida Supreme Court, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday chose a female Cuban-American appellate judge to become the state's newest justice. Barbara Lagoa, for the past 12 years a judge on the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Miami, was introduced by DeSantis at an event at Miami's Freedom Tower. The site is highly symbolic for Cuban-Americans because so many immigrants who fled the communist reign of Cuban leader Fidel Castro were processed into the U.S. through that building.

"In the country my parents fled, the whim of a single individual could mean the difference between food and hunger, liberty or prison, life or death," Lagoa said. "Unlike the country my parents fled, we are a nation of laws."

DeSantis, who just took office on Tuesday, said Lagoa, 51, has an impeccable judicial background and that her Cuban-American upbringing gives her extra appreciation for the rule of law. He noted that she has considered more than 11,000 cases and written 470 legal opinions.

"She has been the essence of what a judge should be" the governor said. "She understands the rule of law, how important that is to a society."

Lagoa, who grew up in the heavily Cuban-American suburb of Hialeah, attended Florida International University and Columbia University law school where she was associate editor of the Columbia Law Review. She also is a former federal prosecutor in Miami. Her father-in-law is Miami senior U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck and her husband, Paul C. Huck Jr., is a prominent Miami attorney.


S. Korea court upholds conscientious objection to military
Attorney Blogs | 2018/11/01 13:18
South Korea's top court ruled Thursday that South Korean men can legally reject their mandatory military service on conscientious or religious grounds without punishment.

The landmark ruling is expected to affect the cases of more than 930 conscientious objectors on trial. Hundreds of young South Korean men, mostly Jehovah's Witnesses, are imprisoned every year for refusing to serve in the military.

All able-bodied South Korean men must serve about two years in the military under a conscription system aimed at coping with potential aggression from North Korea. The court broke with its own 2004 verdict that rejecting military service because of religious faith was illegal, saying at the time that confrontation with the North made South Korea's draft an indisputable necessity.

The ruling was great news for Jehovah's Witnesses and others who call for improved individual rights and freedom of opinion in South Korea. But many conservatives are likely to criticize it, saying it inadequately considers the North Korean threat.

When South Korea's Constitutional Court ruled in June that the government must provide alternative social service for conscientious objectors by 2019, a heated debate erupted over whether it is the proper time for such a measure because North Korea's nuclear threat remains unchanged. There are also worries that some might exploit alternative service to evade the draft.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court said it quashed a lower court's sentencing of a conscientious objector to 18 months in prison. It said it ordered the lower court to review its earlier verdict. Supreme Court officials said there is little chance the lower court would not abide by the decision.

The majority opinion of a panel of Supreme Court judges is that "conscientious objection of military duty ... can be a valid reason" to avoid military service, the top court said in a statement.

"Forcing a military duty ... with criminal punishment or other punitive measures is an excessive restraint of freedom of conscience," the majority opinion read. "Free democracy can have its legitimacy when it tolerates and embraces minorities though it is run by the principle of majority rule."

Supreme Court officials said lower courts are not officially required to make the same ruling when they handle other cases of conscientious objections, but they are widely expected to do so.

Since the 1950-53 Korean War, South Korea has sent about 19,350 Jehovah's Witnesses to prison for refusing to serve in the military. In recent years, about 500-600 Jehovah's Witnesses went to prison every year and spent 18 months behind bars on average. According to the group and the Supreme Court, Thursday's ruling won't apply to 96 Jehovah's Witnesses currently in prison.


Court: Schools may be due hog giant's environmental payments
Attorney Blogs | 2018/09/01 12:55
North Carolina judges are setting up a court battle to decide whether the world's largest pork producer will keep paying for environmental projects as it promised 18 years ago or if the millions should go to public schools instead.

A divided state Court of Appeals resurrected a lawsuit Tuesday challenging Smithfield Foods's 2000 agreement to pay up to $2 million a year for 25 years. The state attorney general has largely decided who got the money.

The court determined a trial should decide if the payments are actually penalties for bad behavior. The state constitution requires that schools get penalty payments.

Smithfield agreed in the same 2000 deal to phase out open-air hog waste pits within five years. The cesspools are still used on hundreds of farms raising Smithfield's hogs.


Kavanaugh: Watergate tapes decision may have been wrong
Attorney Blogs | 2018/07/21 13:40
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh suggested several years ago that the unanimous high court ruling in 1974 that forced President Richard Nixon to turn over the Watergate tapes, leading to the end of his presidency, may have been wrongly decided.

Kavanaugh was taking part in a roundtable discussion with other lawyers when he said at three different points that the decision in U.S. v. Nixon, which marked limits on a president's ability to withhold information needed for a criminal prosecution, may have come out the wrong way.

A 1999 magazine article about the roundtable was part of thousands of pages of documents that Kavanaugh has provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee as part of the confirmation process. The committee released the documents on Saturday.

Kavanaugh's belief in robust executive authority already is front and center in his nomination by President Donald Trump to replace the retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. The issue could assume even greater importance if special counsel Robert Mueller seeks to force Trump to testify in the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

"But maybe Nixon was wrongly decided — heresy though it is to say so. Nixon took away the power of the president to control information in the executive branch by holding that the courts had power and jurisdiction to order the president to disclose information in response to a subpoena sought by a subordinate executive branch official. That was a huge step with implications to this day that most people do not appreciate sufficiently...Maybe the tension of the time led to an erroneous decision," Kavanaugh said in a transcript of the discussion that was published in the January-February 1999 issue of the Washington Lawyer.



Man charged in bike path killings speaks in court of 'Allah'
Attorney Blogs | 2018/06/24 23:26
The man charged with murdering eight people on a New York City bike path and injuring many more spoke out in court Friday over a prosecutor's objection, invoking "Allah" and defending the Islamic State.

Sayfullo Saipov, 30, raised his hand to speak immediately after U.S. District Judge Vernon S. Broderick set an Oct. 7, 2019 date for the Uzbek immigrant's trial.

Earlier, he had pleaded not guilty through his lawyer to the latest indictment in the Oct. 31 truck attack near the World Trade Center. A prosecutor said the Justice Department will decide by the end of the summer whether to seek the death penalty against Saipov, who lived in Paterson, New Jersey, before the attack.

Speaking through an interpreter for about 10 minutes, Saipov said the decisions of a U.S. court were unimportant to him. He said he cared about "Allah" and the holy war being waged by the Islamic State.

At the prompting of Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Houle, Broderick interrupted Saipov to read him his rights, including that anything he said in court could be used against him.

"I understand you, but I' m not worried about that at all," Saipov said.

"So the Islamic State is not fighting for land, like some say, or like some say, for oil. They have one purpose, and they're fighting to impose Sharia (Islamic law) on earth," he said.

After Saipov spoke more, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Beaty interrupted him to object that the judge was letting Saipov make the kind of statement publicly that special restrictions placed on him in prison would otherwise prevent, including discussing "terrorist propaganda."

The judge said he believed Saipov was nearing the end of his remarks and let him finish before warning him that he was unlikely to let him speak out in court again in a similar manner. Saipov, though, would be given a chance to testify if his case proceeds to trial and, if convicted, could speak at sentencing.

Saipov thanked the judge for letting him speak but added at one point: "I don't accept this as my judge."

Prosecutors had been seeking an April 2019 trial date. Houle said the families of the dead and the dozens who were injured deserve a "prompt and firm trial date."

"The victims here are anxious now when that trial is going to be," she said. "The public deserves a speedy trial, and the surviving victims deserve to know when that trial is going to be."

Defense lawyers have said the government should accept a guilty plea and a sentence of life in prison without parole to provide victims' families and the public with closure.


Supreme Court again refuses to hear Blagojevich appeal
Attorney Blogs | 2018/04/14 18:23
The Supreme Court for the second time has refused to hear an appeal by imprisoned former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich of his corruption convictions.

The justices didn't comment Monday in letting stand the convictions and 14-year prison term the 61-year-old is serving. His scheduled release date is 2024.

Blagojevich's lawyers had wanted the high court to take up his case to make clear what constitutes illegal political fundraising. They argued that politicians are vulnerable to prosecution because the line between what's allowed and what's illegal is blurry.

His convictions included trying to extort a children's hospital for contributions and seeking to trade an appointment to the Senate seat Barack Obama vacated when he was elected president for campaign cash.

The court also refused to hear his 2016 appeal.



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