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Court grapples with details on school shooter that were leaked to media
Business Law Info | 2024/06/17 22:27
A media organization is due in court Monday after publishing details from leaked documents about the shooter who killed six people at a Nashville elementary school in March 2023, while the outlet sues for those records and others to be released to the public.

The hearing, ordered by Nashville Chancellor I’Ashea Myles, has led to outcry not only from Star News Digital Media and Editor-in-Chief Michael Leahy, but also from open government advocates and Tennessee lawmakers.

Leahy’s attorney argued the court proceeding would violate his due process rights and infringe on First Amendment protections after his outlet, The Tennessee Star, reported on records leaked to them about the shooter at The Covenant School.

Initially, the judge ordered Leahy and attorneys to explain in court why the recent work involving leaked documents has not violated court protection of records that could subject them to contempt proceedings and sanctions. The judge later denied a request by Leahy to cancel the hearing but said no witnesses would testify.

The public records lawsuit by the conservative Star News and other plaintiffs remains tied up in court after more than a year. A group of Covenant School parents have joined the lawsuit, arguing none of the documents should ever be released because they could inspire copycats and retraumatize their children.

Though the investigative file remains officially closed to the public’s view, two prominent rounds of evidence about the shooter’s writings have leaked to media outlets.

Police have said they could not determine who was responsible for the first leak. While they look into the second, a lieutenant has drawn a connection to a former colleague without directly accusing him of the leak.

In a court declaration Friday, Nashville Police Lt. Alfredo Arevalo said his office led an investigation of the first leak. A former lieutenant, Garet Davidson, was given a copy of the criminal investigative file that was stored in a safe in his office and only Davidson had the key and safe combination, Arevalo said.

Davidson has left the force. Separately, he filed a well-publicized complaint alleging the police department actively lobbied to gut the city’s community oversight board, as well as a number of other misconduct claims.

In his declaration, Arevalo noted Davidson has spoken about details from the Covenant investigative file on Leahy’s radio show and another program.

Arevalo wrote that he is “appalled” by the leak and “saddened by the impact that this leak must have on the victims and families of the Covenant school shooting.”

The shooter who killed three 9-year-old children and three adults at Covenant, a private Christian school, left behind at least 20 journals, a suicide note and an unpublished memoir, according to court filings.

The city of Nashville has argued it doesn’t have to release the documents during an active police investigation. The plaintiffs have countered there is no meaningful criminal investigation underway since the shooter, Audrey Hale, was killed by police.


Unanimous Supreme Court preserves access to widely used abortion medication
Business Law Info | 2024/06/13 16:56
The Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously preserved access to a medication that was used in nearly two-thirds of all abortions in the U.S. last year, in the court’s first abortion decision since conservative justices overturned Roe v. Wade two years ago.

The nine justices ruled that abortion opponents lacked the legal right to sue over the federal Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the medication, mifepristone, and the FDA’s subsequent actions to ease access to it. The case had threatened to restrict access to mifepristone across the country, including in states where abortion remains legal.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was part of the majority to overturn Roe, wrote for the court on Thursday that “federal courts are the wrong forum for addressing the plaintiffs’ concerns about FDA’s actions.”

The decision could lessen the intensity of the abortion issue in the November elections, with Democrats already energized and voting against restrictions on reproductive rights. But the high court is separately considering another abortion case, about whether a federal law on emergency treatment at hospitals overrides state abortion bans in rare emergency cases in which a pregnant patient’s health is at serious risk.

More than 6 million people have used mifepristone since 2000. Mifepristone blocks the hormone progesterone and primes the uterus to respond to the contraction-causing effect of a second drug, misoprostol. The two-drug regimen has been used to end a pregnancy through 10 weeks gestation.

Health care providers have said that if mifepristone is no longer available or is too hard to obtain, they would switch to using only misoprostol, which is somewhat less effective in ending pregnancies.

President Joe Biden’s administration and drug manufacturers had warned that siding with abortion opponents in this case could undermine the FDA’s drug approval process beyond the abortion context by inviting judges to second-guess the agency’s scientific judgments. The Democratic administration and New York-based Danco Laboratories, which makes mifepristone, argued that the drug is among the safest the FDA has ever approved.

The decision “safeguards access to a drug that has decades of safe and effective use,” Danco spokeswoman Abigail Long said in a statement.

The plaintiffs in the mifepristone case, anti-abortion doctors and their organizations, argued in court papers that the FDA’s decisions in 2016 and 2021 to relax restrictions on getting the drug were unreasonable and “jeopardize women’s health across the nation.”

Kavanaugh acknowledged what he described as the opponents’ “sincere legal, moral, ideological, and policy objections to elective abortion and to FDA’s relaxed regulation of mifepristone.”

Federal laws already protect doctors from having to perform abortions, or give any other treatment that goes against their beliefs, Kavanaugh wrote. “The plaintiffs have not identified any instances where a doctor was required, notwithstanding conscience objections, to perform an abortion or to provide other abortion-related treatment that violated the doctor’s conscience since mifepristone’s 2000 approval,” he wrote.

In the end, Kavanaugh wrote, the anti-abortion doctors went to the wrong forum and should instead direct their energies to persuading lawmakers and regulators to make changes.

Those comments pointed to the stakes of the 2024 election and the possibility that an FDA commissioner appointed by Republican Donald Trump, if he wins the White House, could consider tightening access to mifepristone.

The mifepristone case began five months after the Supreme Court overturned Roe. Abortion opponents initially won a sweeping ruling nearly a year ago from U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, a Trump nominee in Texas, which would have revoked the drug’s approval entirely. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals left intact the FDA’s initial approval of mifepristone. But it would reverse changes regulators made in 2016 and 2021 that eased some conditions for administering the drug.

The Supreme Court put the appeals court’s modified ruling on hold, then agreed to hear the case, though Justices Samuel Alito, the author of the decision overturning Roe, and Clarence Thomas would have allowed some restrictions to take effect while the case proceeded. But they, too, joined the court’s opinion Thursday.


Three Americans in alleged coup attempt appear in Congo military court
Business Law Info | 2024/06/07 22:06
Three Americans accused of being involved in last month’s coup attempt in Congo appeared in a military court in the country’s capital, Kinshasa, on Friday, along with dozens of other defendants who were lined up on plastic chairs before the judge on the first day of the hearing.

The proceedings before the open-air military court were broadcast live on the local television channel.

Six people were killed during the botched coup attempt led by the little-known opposition figure Christian Malanga last month that targeted the presidential palace and a close ally of President Felix Tshisekedi. Malanga was shot and killed soon after live-streaming the attack for resisting arrest, the Congolese army said.

The defendants face a number of charges, many punishable by death, including terrorism, murder and criminal association. The court said there were 53 names on the list, but the names of Malanga and one other person were removed after death certificates were produced.

Alongside Malanga’s 21-year-old son Marcel Malanga — who is a U.S. citizen — two other Americans are on trial for their alleged role in the attack. All three requested an interpreter to translate the proceedings from French to English.

Malanga’s son was the first to be questioned by the judge, who asked him to confirm his name and other personal details. The military official chosen to translate for him was apparently unable to understand English well.

Eventually, a journalist was selected from the media to replace him, but he too had trouble translating numbers and the details of the proceedings.

“He’s not interpreting right. We need a different interpreter who understands English, please,” Marcel Malanga told the judge after the journalist incorrectly translated his zip code.

But no other translator emerged and the defendants had to make do with the journalist, who worked for the national radio. Malanga appeared frustrated and defiant as the interview stumbled ahead.

Tyler Thompson Jr, 21, flew to Africa from Utah with the younger Malanga for what his family believed was a vacation, with all expenses paid by the elder Malanga. The young men had played high school football together in Salt Lake City suburbs. Other teammates accused Marcel of offering up to $100,000 to join him on a “security job” in Congo.

Thompson appeared before the court with a shaved head and sores on his skin, looking nervous and lost as he confirmed his name and other personal details to the judge.

His stepmother, Miranda Thompson, told The Associated Press that the family found out about the hearing too late to arrange travel to Congo but hoped to be present for future court dates. Before this week, the family had no proof he was still alive.

“We’re thrilled with the confirmation,” she said.

Miranda Thompson had worried that her stepson might not even know that his family knew he’d been arrested. On Monday, the U.S. Embassy in Congo told the AP it had yet to gain access to the American prisoners to provide consular services before the trial.


Trump hush money trial: Prosecution, defense look to score final points
Business Law Info | 2024/05/28 18:17
Donald Trump’s landmark hush money trial turns on the testimony of a prosecution witness who told lies on the stand and cannot be trusted, a defense lawyer said Tuesday during closing arguments as he pressed jurors for an acquittal in the first criminal case against a former American president.

The arguments, expected to last the entire day, give attorneys one last chance to address the Manhattan jury and to score final points with the panel before it starts deliberating Trump’s fate.

“President Trump is innocent. He did not commit any crimes, and the district attorney has not met their burden of proof, period,” said defense attorney Todd Blanche, who said the evidence in the case should “leave you wanting.”

In an hourslong address to the jury, Blanche attacked the foundational premises of the case, which charges Trump with conspiring to conceal hush money payments prosecutors say were made on his behalf during the 2016 presidential election to stifle a porn actor’s claim that she had a sexual encounter with Trump a decade earlier.

Blanche countered the prosecution’s portrayal of Trump as a detail-oriented manager who paid dutiful attention to the checks he was signing and rejected the idea that the alleged hush money scheme amounted to illegal interference in the election.

“Every campaign in this country is a conspiracy to promote a candidate, a group of people who are working together to help somebody win,” Blanche said.

After more than four weeks of testimony, the summations tee up a momentous and historically unprecedented task for the jury as it decides whether to convict the presumptive Republican presidential nominee in connection with the payments.

Because prosecutors have the burden of proof, they will deliver their arguments last.

Prosecutors will tell jurors that they have heard enough testimony to convict Trump of all charges while defense attorneys aim to create doubts about the strength of the evidence by targeting the credibility of Michael Cohen. Trump’s former lawyer and personal fixer pleaded guilty to federal charges for his role in the hush money payments and served as the star prosecution witness in the trial.

“You cannot convict President Trump of any crime beyond a reasonable doubt on the word of Michael Cohen,” Blanche said, adding that Cohen “told you a number of things that were lies, pure and simple.”

After closing arguments, the judge will instruct the jury on the law governing the case and the factors the panel can take into account during deliberations. Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, charges punishable by up to four years in prison. He has pleaded not guilty and denied any wrongdoing. It’s unclear whether prosecutors would seek imprisonment in the event of a conviction, or if the judge would impose that punishment if asked.

The case centers on a $130,000 payment Cohen made to porn actor Stormy Daniels in the final days of the 2016 election to prevent her from going public with her story of a sexual encounter she says she had with Trump 10 years earlier in a Lake Tahoe hotel suite. Trump has denied Daniels’ account, and his attorney, during hours of questioning in the trial, accused her of making it up.


Starbucks appears likely to win Supreme Court dispute with federal labor agency
Business Law Info | 2024/04/26 20:11
The U.S. Supreme Court appeared to side with Starbucks Tuesday in a case that could make it harder for the federal government to seek injunctions when it suspects a company of interfering in unionization campaigns.

Justices noted during oral arguments that Congress requires the National Labor Relations Board to seek such injunctions in federal court and said that gives the courts the duty to consider several factors, including whether the board would ultimately be successful in its administrative case against a company.

“The district court is an independent check. So it seems like it should be just doing what district courts do, since it was given the authority to do it,” Justice Amy Coney Barrett said.

But the NLRB says that since 1947, the National Labor Relations Act — the law that governs the agency — has allowed courts to grant temporary injunctions if it finds a request “just and proper.” The agency says the law doesn’t require it to prove other factors and was intended to limit the role of the courts.

The case that made it to the high court began in February 2022, when Starbucks fired seven workers who were trying to unionize their Tennessee store. The NLRB obtained a court order forcing the company to rehire the workers while the case wound its way through the agency’s administrative proceedings. Such proceedings can take up to two years.

A district court judge agreed with the NLRB and issued a temporary injunction ordering Starbucks to rehire the workers in August 2022. After the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling, Starbucks appealed to the Supreme Court.

Five of the seven workers are still employed at the Memphis store, while the other two remain involved with the organizing effort, according to Workers United, the union organizing Starbucks workers. The Memphis store voted to unionize in June 2022.

Starbucks asked the Supreme Court to intervene because it says federal appeals courts don’t agree on the standards the NLRB must meet when it requests a temporary injunction against a company.

In its review of what transpired at the Starbucks store in Memphis, the Sixth Circuit required the NLRB to establish two things: that it had reasonable cause to believe unfair labor practices occurred and that a restraining order would be a “just and proper” solution.

But other federal appeals courts have required the NLRB to meet a tougher, four-factor test used when other federal agencies seek restraining orders, including showing it was likely to prevail in the administrative case and that employees would suffer irreparable harm without an injunction.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson appeared to agree with the NLRB’s argument that Congress meant for the agency to operate under a different standard.

She noted the NLRB has already determined it is likely to prevail in a case by the time it seeks an injunction. And she noted that injunctions are very rare. In the NLRB’s 2023 fiscal year, it received 19,869 charges of unfair labor practices but authorized the filing of just 14 cases seeking temporary injunctions.


Supreme Court will weigh banning homeless people from sleeping outside
Business Law Info | 2024/04/22 18:43
The Supreme Court will consider Monday whether banning homeless people from sleeping outside when shelter space is lacking amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

The case is considered the most significant to come before the high court in decades on homelessness, which has reached record levels in the United States.

In California and other Western states, courts have ruled that it’s unconstitutional to fine and arrest people sleeping in homeless encampments if shelter space is lacking.

A cross-section of Democratic and Republican officials contend that makes it difficult for them to manage encampments, which can have dangerous and unsanitary living conditions.

But hundreds of advocacy groups argue that allowing cities to punish people who need a place to sleep will criminalize homelessness and ultimately make the crisis worse as the cost of housing increases.

Dozens of demonstrators gathered outside the court Monday morning with silver thermal blankets and signs like “housing not handcuffs.”

The Justice Department has also weighed in. It argues people shouldn’t be punished just for sleeping outside, but only if there’s a determination they truly have nowhere else to go.

The case comes from the rural Oregon town of Grants Pass, which started fining people $295 for sleeping outside to manage homeless encampments that sprung up in the city’s public parks as the cost of housing escalated.

The measure was largely struck down by the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which also found in 2018 that such bans violated the Eighth Amendment by punishing people for something they don’t have control over. The 9th Circuit oversees nine Western states, including California, which is home to about one-third of the nation’s homeless population.

The case comes after homelessness in the United States grew a dramatic 12%, to its highest reported level as soaring rents and a decline in coronavirus pandemic assistance combined to put housing out of reach for more Americans, according to federal data. The court is expected to decide the case by the end of June.


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