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Wisconsin’s pandemic election puts focus on state’s court
Business Law Info | 2020/04/09 18:07
Anyone needing proof of the power and significance of the Wisconsin Supreme Court can look no further than the lines of mask-wearing voters that stretched for hours in Milwaukee during an election held despite a stay-at-home order because of the coronavirus pandemic.

An election-eve decision by the court overturning the governor’s order to postpone the vote made the state an outlier in pushing ahead with voting, ignoring pleadings from health experts and local officials about the danger of spreading the virus.

The fact that Wisconsin went forward when other states delayed their elections, and that many voters were willing to endure long waits to cast ballots, reflects the hotly disputed role the court has taken in a state with outsize importance in national politics.

Republicans and Democrats both see Wisconsin as crucial to winning national elections and gaining control of Congress. Historically, elections in the state are decided by close margins and power has flipped between the parties.

Since conservatives have held a majority on the state Supreme Court, the Republican-dominated Legislature has been able to enact laws that enhanced the GOP’s position, including voter ID laws and limits on labor unions, despite legal challenges from Democrats. The court would play a pivotal role in reviewing the drawing of new district lines for legislative and congressional offices following the 2020 census, which has a major impact on the balance of political power.


Lawyers, judges push to close immigration courts amid virus
Business Law Info | 2020/04/08 01:05
Immigration attorneys have sported swim goggles and masks borrowed from friends to meet with clients in detention centers. Masked judges are stocking their cramped courtrooms with hand sanitizer for hearings they want to do by phone.

While much of daily life has ground to a halt to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, the Trump administration is resisting calls from immigration judges and attorneys to stop in-person hearings and shutter all immigration courts. They say the most pressing hearings can be done by phone so immigrants aren’t stuck in detention indefinitely.

Rules change daily as the virus spreads and federal officials struggle to figure out how and whether they can keep the massive system running. Officials say they have not ruled out a total shutdown but are closing specific courts and delaying hearings.

The U.S. Justice Department on Monday postponed hearings for asylum-seekers waiting in Mexico, but only after judges in San Diego canceled hearings in defiance of orders to keep them running amid the pandemic. The government has delayed hearings for immigrants who aren’t in detention but is moving forward for those who are.

Suspected coronavirus infections have forced immigration courts in New York, New Jersey and Colorado to temporarily shut down in the past week. As a precaution, the government announced the closure of several more Wednesday. Others that previously closed had reopened Thursday, including in Seattle. A handful of courts are only accepting documents.


Fight over jaguar habitat in Southwest heads back to court
Business Law Info | 2020/03/30 00:58
A federal appeals court is ordering a U.S. district judge in New Mexico to reconsider a case involving a fight over critical habitat for the endangered jaguar in the American Southwest.

Groups representing ranchers had sued, arguing that a 2014 decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to set aside thousands of acres for the cats was arbitrary and violated the statute that guides wildlife managers in determining whether certain areas are essential for the conservation of a species.

With the order released this week, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned an earlier ruling that had sided with the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Jaguars are currently found in 19 countries. Several individual male jaguars have been spotted in Arizona and New Mexico over the last two decades but there's no evidence of breeding pairs establishing territories beyond northern Mexico.

Shrinking habitats, insufficient prey, poaching and retaliatory killings over livestock deaths are some of the things that have contributed to the jaguar’s decline in the Southwest over the past 150 years.

Under a recovery plan finalized last year, Mexico as well as countries in Central and South America would be primarily responsible for monitoring jaguar movements within their territory. Environmentalists have criticized the plan, saying the U.S. government is overlooking opportunities for recovery north of the international border.



Asylum Seekers Attend Border Court Amid Outbreak
Business Law Info | 2020/03/17 18:12
U.S. immigration courts sharply scaled back operations Monday but have stopped well short of a total shutdown demanded by employees, including judges and government attorneys.

Wearing face masks, about 30 asylum seekers who had been waiting in Mexico were escorted by authorities into a federal building in El Paso, Texas, some carrying children.

They reported, as instructed, to a border crossing at 4 a.m. Monday and were driven to the court in white vans. Journalists were barred from the courtroom on the grounds that it was too crowded.

A lawyer who attended said the judge appeared by video conference, and few, if any migrants wore masks once the hearing began.

“All of the benches are taken up,” Imelda Maynard said. “Most of the children are asleep in their parent’s arms.”

The Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review late Sunday postponed preliminary hearings for people who aren’t in custody through April 10. While significant, the order doesn’t extend to courts in immigration detention centers or to the government’s “Migrant Protection Protocols” policy to make asylum seekers wait in Mexico for hearings in the U.S. It also didn’t apply to final hearings which determine whether migrants are granted asylum.


Trump ally Roger Stone sentenced to over 3 years in prison
Business Law Info | 2020/02/20 18:46
Trump loyalist and ally Roger Stone was sentenced Thursday to more than three years in federal prison, following an extraordinary move by Attorney General William Barr to back off his Justice Department’s original sentencing recommendation.

U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson said Stone’s crimes demanded a significant time behind bars, but she said the seven to nine years originally recommended by the Justice Department were excessive.

Stone’s lawyers had asked for a sentence of probation, citing his age of 67 years, his health and his lack of criminal history. Instead, he drew 40 months.

Stone had no immediate reaction in court when Jackson announced his sentence. Later, he emerged from the courthouse to a crowd exchanging back and forth chants of “Lock him up” and “Pardon Roger Stone.” Stone got into a black SUV without speaking to reporters.

His attorney Bruce Rogow said Stone and his team would “have no comment.” The judge delayed execution of his sentence while she considers Stone’s motion for a new trial.

Stone was convicted in November on all seven counts of an indictment that accused him of lying to Congress, tampering with a witness and obstructing the House investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to tip the 2016 election.

The sentence came amid Trump’s unrelenting defense of his longtime confidant that has led to a mini-revolt inside the Justice Department and allegations the president has interfered in the case.

Trump took to Twitter to denounce as a “miscarriage of justice” the initial recommendation by Justice Department prosecutors that Stone receive at least seven years in prison.  Attorney General William Barr then backed off that recommendation, prompting four prosecutors to quit Stone’s case.

Jackson angrily denied that Stone was being punished for his politics or his allies. “He was not prosecuted, as some have claimed, for standing up for the president. He was prosecuted for covering up for the president,” she said.

She said Stone’s use of social media to stoke public sentiment against the prosecution and the court was intended to reach a wide audience, including using a photo of Jackson with crosshairs superimposed.


Florida can’t bar felons who served their time from registering to vote
Business Law Info | 2020/02/19 02:46
A federal appeals court has ruled that Florida cannot bar felons who served their time from registering to vote simply because they have failed to pay all fines and fees stemming from their cases.

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday upheld a Tallahassee federal judge's decision that the law implementing Amendment 4 amounted to an unfair poll tax.

Amendment 4 was passed overwhelmingly by voters in 2018 to allow as many as 1.6 million ex-felons to regain their right to vote.

The Republican-led Legislature passed a law saying they had to pay any fines and fees first. GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis plans to ask the full 11th Circuit to reconsider the ruling.


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