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US soldier sentenced to nearly 4 years in Russian penal colony for theft
Court Feed News | 2024/06/19 18:46
A court in Russia’s far eastern city of Vladivostok on Wednesday convicted a visiting American soldier of stealing and making threats of murder, and it sentenced him to three years and nine months in prison.

Staff Sgt. Gordon Black, 34, flew to the Pacific port city to see his girlfriend and was arrested last month after she accused him of stealing from her, according to U.S. officials and Russian authorities.

Russia’s state news agencies Tass and RIA Novosti reported that the judge in Pervomaisky District Court in Vladivostok also ordered Black to pay 10,000 rubles ($115) in damages. Prosecutors had asked for a sentence of four years and eight months in prison.

Black’s case occurs amid tensions over Russia’s arrests of American journalists and other U.S. nationals as the fighting in Ukraine continues.

Russia has jailed a number of Americans, including corporate security executive Paul Whelan and Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich. The U.S. government has designated both men as wrongfully detained and has been trying to negotiate their release.

Others detained include Travis Leake, a musician who has been living in Russia for years and was arrested last year on drug-related charges; Marc Fogel, a teacher in Moscow who was sentenced to 14 years in prison, also on drug charges; and dual nationals Alsu Kurmasheva and Ksenia Khavana.

The U.S. State Department strongly advises American citizens not to go to Russia.

Black was on leave and in the process of returning to his home base at Fort Cavazos, Texas, from South Korea, where he had been stationed at Camp Humphreys with the Eighth Army.

Cynthia Smith, an Army spokesperson, said Black signed out for his move back home and, “instead of returning to the continental United States, Black flew from Incheon, Republic of Korea, through China to Vladivostok, Russia, for personal reasons.”

Under Pentagon policy, service members must get clearance for any international travel from a security manager or commander.

The U.S. Army said last month that Black hadn’t sought such travel clearance and it wasn’t authorized by the Defense Department. Given the hostilities in Ukraine and threats to the U.S. and its military, it is extremely unlikely he would have been granted approval.


Chad holds presidential election after years of military rule
Court Feed News | 2024/05/06 23:41
Voters in Chad headed to the polls on Monday to cast their ballot in a long delayed presidential election that is set to end three years of military rule under interim president, Mahamat Deby Itno.

Deby Itno seized power after his father who ran the country for more than three decades was killed fighting rebels in 2021. Last year, the government announced it was extending the 18-month transition for two more years, which provoked protests across the country.

There are 10 candidates on the ballot, including a woman. Some 8 million people are registered to vote, in a country of more than 17 million people, one of the poorest in the world. Analysts say Deby Itno is expected to win the vote. A leading opposition figure Yaya Dillo, the current president’s cousin, was killed in February in circumstances that remain unclear.

The oil-exporting country of nearly 18 million people has not had a free-and-fair transfer of power since it became independent in 1960 after decades of French colonial rule.

Chad is seen by the U.S. and France as one of the last remaining stable allies in the vast Sahel region following military coups in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger in recent years. The ruling juntas in all three nations have expelled French forces and turned to Russia’s mercenary units for security assistance instead.

Earlier this year, Niger’s junta ordered all U.S. troops out, meaning Washington will lose access to its key base in Agadez, the center of its counter-terrorism operations in the region. The U.S. and France still have a military presence in Chad, who consider it an especially critical partner.

The West also fears that any instability in Chad, which has absorbed over half a million refugees from Sudan, could increase the flow of illegal migrants north towards Europe.

“These are all the reasons the West is staying relatively quiet about the democratic transition in Chad,” said Ulf Laessing, head of the Sahel program at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. “Everybody just wants this vote to pass so Deby Itno gets elected so they continue to work with him and preserve the stability of the region,” he added.

Along with the arrival of refugees from Sudan, Chad is also dealing with high food prices partly caused by the war in Ukraine and a renewed threat from the Boko Haram insurgency spilling over from its southwestern border with Nigeria.

In March, an attack the government blamed on Boko Haram killed 7 soldiers, reviving fears of violence in the Lake Chad area after a period of peace following a successful operation launched in 2020 by the Chadian army to destroy the extremist group’s bases there. Schools, mosques and churches reopened and humanitarian organizations returned.


Court makes it easier to sue for job discrimination over forced transfers
Court Feed News | 2024/04/16 04:23
The Supreme Court on Wednesday made it easier for workers who are transferred from one job to another against their will to pursue job discrimination claims under federal civil rights law, even when they are not demoted or docked pay.

Workers only have to show that the transfer resulted in some, but not necessarily significant, harm to prove their claims, Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the court.

The justices unanimously revived a sex discrimination lawsuit filed by a St. Louis police sergeant after she was forcibly transferred, but retained her rank and pay.

Sgt. Jaytonya Muldrow had worked for nine years in a plainclothes position in the department’s intelligence division before a new commander reassigned her to a uniformed position in which she supervised patrol officers. The new commander wanted a male officer in the intelligence job and sometimes called Muldrow “Mrs.” instead of “sergeant,” Kagan wrote.

Muldrow sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion and national origin. Lower courts had dismissed Muldrow’s claim, concluding that she had not suffered a significant job disadvantage.

“Today, we disapprove that approach,” Kagan wrote. “Although an employee must show some harm from a forced transfer to prevail in a Title VII suit, she need not show that the injury satisfies a significance test.”

Kagan noted that many cases will come out differently under the lower bar the Supreme Court adopted Wednesday. She pointed to cases in which people lost discrimination suits, including those of an engineer whose new job site was a 14-by-22-foot wind tunnel, a shipping worker reassigned to exclusively nighttime work and a school principal who was forced into a new administrative role that was not based in a school.

Although the outcome was unanimous, Justices Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas each wrote separate opinions noting some level of disagreement with the majority’s rationale in ruling for Muldrow.

Madeline Meth, a lawyer for Muldrow, said her client will be thrilled with the outcome. Meth, who teaches at Boston University’s law school, said the decision is a big win for workers because the court made “clear that employers can’t decide the who, what, when, where and why of a job based on race and gender.”

The decision revives Muldrow’s lawsuit, which now returns to lower courts. Muldrow contends that, because of sex discrimination, she was moved to a less prestigious job, which was primarily administrative and often required weekend work, and she lost her take-home city car.


Retired Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy has memoir coming
Court Feed News | 2024/04/04 22:53
Retired Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy has a two-volume memoir coming out this fall, tracking his life from growing up in California to his 30 years on the court, when he cast key votes on landmark cases ranging from abortion to gay marriage to campaign finance.

Simon & Schuster announced Tuesday that Kennedy’s “Life and Law: The Early Years” and “Life and Law: The Court Years” will be published Oct. 1, as a boxed set and in individual editions, each around 320 pages. Kennedy was widely regarded as a moderate conservative who wrote the majority opinion on such closely divided cases as Obergefell v. Hodges, which found a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, and Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allowed corporations and other outside entities to spend unlimited money on election campaigns.

“In ‘Life and Law,’ he explains the why’s and how’s of judging,” Simon & Schuster’s announcement reads in part.

“The second volume is filled with moving portraits of Justices O’Connor, Rehnquist, Scalia and Ginsburg that go along with the account of how Kennedy decided his views in the landmark cases. But it is the first volume about his youth in Sacramento and his decade as a practicing lawyer that explains the judicial giant. Readers will see the child who turns into the man, who shaped America as much as any Washington figure in the 21st century.”

Kennedy, 87, noted in the preface to the first volume that his memoirs proved more expansive than originally planned.

“It was my intent (my right hand is raised to swear it so) to recount my earlier years in a summary way. But something happened on the way to the pencil,” he wrote. “More and more of my recollections turned to how our society and its mindset changed in fascinating ways from the ’40s and ’50s to the ’60s and then again in the ’70s. This seemed relevant to the dynamics that influenced me and our larger society.”

“As each day passes, we should strive to learn more about who we are and whom we should strive to become,” he added. “Writing a memoir is a formal way to do this.”

Kennedy was an associate justice from 1988-2018 and his arrival and departure proved equally newsworthy.

He was appointed to the court by President Ronald Reagan, but only after the Senate had voted down Reagan’s first choice, Robert Bork, and after the second choice, Douglas Ginsburg, withdrew amid reports he had smoked marijuana. When Kennedy announced in 2018 that he was stepping down, President Donald Trump nominated a former Kennedy law clerk, Brett Kavanaugh, who was narrowly approved by the Senate after contentious confirmation hearings that included allegations Kavanaugh had assaulted a high school acquaintance, Christine Blasey Ford.

Kennedy’s book will arrive soon after Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s memoir “Lovely One,” which comes out Sept. 3.


Donald Trump appeals $454 million judgment in New York civil fraud case
Court Feed News | 2024/02/26 23:51
Donald Trump has appealed his $454 million New York civil fraud judgment, challenging a judge’s finding that Trump lied about his wealth as he grew the real estate empire that launched him to stardom and the presidency.

The former president’s lawyers filed notices of appeal Monday asking the state’s mid-level appeals court to overturn Judge Arthur Engoron’s Feb. 16 verdict in Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit and reverse staggering penalties that threaten to wipe out Trump’s cash reserves.

Trump’s lawyers wrote in court papers that they’re asking the appeals court to decide whether Engoron “committed errors of law and/or fact” and whether he abused his discretion or “acted in excess” of his jurisdiction.

Trump’s appeal paperwork did not address whether Trump was seeking to pause collection of the judgment while he appeals by putting up money, assets or an appeal bond covering the amount owed to qualify for an automatic stay.

Messages seeking comment were left with Trump’s lawyers and the New York attorney general’s office. Engoron found that Trump, his company and top executives, including his sons Eric and Donald Trump Jr., schemed for years to deceive banks and insurers by inflating his wealth on financial statements used to secure loans and make deals. Among other penalties, the judge put strict limitations on the ability of Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, to do business.

The appeal ensures that the legal fight over Trump’s business practices will persist into the thick of the presidential primary season, and likely beyond, as he tries to clinch the Republican presidential nomination in his quest to retake the White House.

If upheld, Engoron’s ruling will force Trump to give up a sizable chunk of his fortune. Engoron ordered Trump to pay $355 million in penalties, but with interest the total has grown to nearly $454 million. That total will increase by nearly $112,000 per day until he pays.

Trump maintains that he is worth several billion dollars and testified last year that he had about $400 million in cash, in addition to properties and other investments. James, a Democrat, told ABC News that if Trump is unable to pay, she will seek to seize some of his assets.

Trump’s appeal was expected. Trump had vowed to appeal and his lawyers had been laying the groundwork for months by objecting frequently to Engoron’s handling of the trial.

Trump said Engoron’s decision, the costliest consequence of his recent legal troubles, was “election interference” and “weaponization against a political opponent.”

Trump complained he was being punished for “having built a perfect company, great cash, great buildings, great everything.” Trump’s lawyer Christopher Kise said after the verdict that the former president was confident the appeals court “will ultimately correct the innumerable and catastrophic errors made by a trial court untethered to the law or to reality.”

“Given the grave stakes, we trust that the Appellate Division will overturn this egregious verdict and end this relentless persecution against my clients,” Trump lawyer Alina Habba said.


Why Trump's bid for president is in the hands of the Supreme Court
Court Feed News | 2024/02/08 18:19
The fate of former President Donald Trump’s attempt to return to the White House is in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Thursday, the justices will hear arguments in Trump’s appeal of a Colorado Supreme Court ruling that he is not eligible to run again for president because he violated a provision in the 14th Amendment preventing those who “engaged in insurrection” from holding office.

Many legal observers expect the nation’s highest court will reverse the Colorado ruling rather than remove the leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination from the ballot. But it’s always tricky to try to predict a Supreme Court ruling, and the case against Trump has already broken new legal ground.

“No Person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two thirds of each House, remove such disability.”

Trump’s lawyers say this part of the Constitution wasn’t meant to apply to the president. Notice how it specifically mentions electors, senators and representatives, but not the presidency.

It also says those who take an oath to “support” the United States, but the presidential oath doesn’t use that word. Instead, the Constitution requires presidents to say they will “preserve, protect and defend” the Constitution. And finally, Section 3 talks about any other “officer” of the United States, but Trump’s lawyers argue that language is meant to apply to presidential appointees, not the president.

That was enough to convince the Colorado district court judge who initially heard the case. She found that Trump had engaged in insurrection, but also agreed that it wasn’t clear that Section 3 applied to the president. That part of her decision was reversed by the Colorado Supreme Court.

The majority of the state’s highest court wrote: “President Trump asks us to hold that Section 3 disqualifies every oath-breaking insurrectionist except the most powerful one and that it bars oath-breakers from virtually every office, both state and federal, except the highest one in the land.”

Trump’s lawyers contend that the question of who is covered by a rarely used, once obscure clause should be decided by Congress, not unelected judges. They contend that the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol wasn’t an insurrection. They say the attack wasn’t widespread, didn’t involve large amounts of firearms or include other markers of sedition. They say Trump didn’t “engage” in anything that day other than in exercising his protected free speech rights.

Others who have been skeptical of applying Section 3 to Trump have made an argument that the dissenting Colorado Supreme Court justices also found persuasive: The way the court went about finding that Trump violated Section 3 violated the former president’s due process rights. They contend he was entitled to a structured legal process rather than a court in Colorado trying to figure out if the Constitution applied to him.

That gets at the unprecedented nature of the cases. Section 3 has rarely been used after an 1872 congressional amnesty excluded most former Confederates from it. The U.S. Supreme Court has never heard such a case.


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