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War crimes prosecutor seeks arrest of Israeli and Hamas leaders
Criminal Law Updates | 2024/05/21 18:21
The chief prosecutor of the world’s top war crimes court sought arrest warrants Monday for leaders of Israel and Hamas, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, over actions taken during their seven-month war.

While Netanyahu and his defense minister, Yoav Gallant, do not face imminent arrest, the announcement by the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor was a symbolic blow that deepened Israel’s isolation over the war in Gaza.

The court’s prosecutor, Karim Khan, accused Netanyahu, Gallant, and three Hamas leaders — Yehya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh — of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel.

Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders condemned the move as disgraceful and antisemitic. U.S. President Joe Biden also lambasted the prosecutor and supported Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas.

A panel of three judges will decide whether to issue the arrest warrants and allow a case to proceed. The judges typically take two months to make such decisions.

Israel is not a member of the court, so even if the arrest warrants are issued, Netanyahu and Gallant do not face any immediate risk of prosecution. But the threat of arrest could make it difficult for the Israeli leaders to travel abroad.

Netanyahu called the prosecutor’s accusations against him a “disgrace,” and an attack on the Israeli military and all of Israel. He vowed to press ahead with Israel’s war against Hamas.

Biden said the effort to arrest Netanyahu and Gallant over the war in Gaza was “outrageous,” adding “whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence — none — between Israel and Hamas.”

Hamas also denounced the ICC prosecutor’s actions, saying the request to arrest its leaders “equates the victim with the executioner.”

Netanyahu has come under heavy pressure at home to end the war. Thousands of Israelis have joined weekly demonstrations calling on the government to reach a deal to bring home Israeli hostages in Hamas captivity, fearing that time is running out.

In recent days, the two other members of his war Cabinet, Gallant and Benny Gantz, have threatened to resign if Netanyahu does not spell out a clear postwar vision for Gaza.

But on Monday, Netanyahu received wall-to-wall support as politicians across the spectrum condemned the ICC prosecutor’s move. They included Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, and his two main political rivals, Gantz and opposition leader Yair Lapid.

It is unclear what effect Khan’s move will have on Netanyahu’s public standing. The possibility of an arrest warrant against Netanyahu could give him a boost as Israelis rally behind the flag. But his opponents could also blame him for bringing a diplomatic catastrophe on the country.

Yuval Shany, an expert on international law at Hebrew University and the Israel Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem think tank, said it was far more certain that Netanyahu’s already troubled international standing could be further weakened.


Judge in Trump case orders media not to report where potential jurors work
Criminal Law Updates | 2024/04/19 11:23
The judge in Donald Trump’s hush money trial ordered the media on Thursday not to report on where potential jurors have worked and to be careful about revealing information about those who will sit in judgment of the former president.

Judge Juan Merchan acted after one juror was dismissed when she expressed concerns about participating in the trial after details about her became publicly known.

The names of the jurors are supposed to be a secret, but the dismissed juror told Merchan she had friends, colleagues and family members contacting her to ask whether she was on the case. “I don’t believe at this point I can be fair and unbiased and let the outside influences not affect my decision-making in the courtroom,” she said.

Merchan then directed journalists present in the courthouse not to report it when potential jurors told the court their specific workplaces, past or present. That put journalists in the difficult position of not reporting something they heard in open court.

Some media organizations were considering whether to protest having that onus placed on them. Generally, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution bars judges from ordering journalists not to disclose what they hear and see in courtrooms open to the public, though there are exceptions, such as when military security is at stake.

New York criminal defense lawyer Ron Kuby said that while judges typically can’t control what the media reports, other options are available to protect juror anonymity, including restricting what reporters see and hear in the courtroom.

“There are actions the judge could take,” he said. “Courts have extraordinary powers to protect jurors from tampering and intimidation. It is really where a court’s power is at its peak.”

The court action underscored the difficulty of trying to maintain anonymity for jurors in a case that has sparked wide interest and heated opinions, while lawyers need to sift through as much information as possible in a public courtroom to determine who to choose.

Despite the setback, 12 jurors were seated by the end of Thursday for the historic trial. Trump is charged with falsifying his company’s business records to cover up an effort during the 2016 presidential election campaign to squash negative publicity about alleged marital infidelity. Part of the case involves a $130,000 payment made to porn actor Stormy Daniels to prevent her from making public her claims of a sexual meeting with Trump years earlier. Trump has denied the encounter.

New York state law requires trial attorneys to get the names of jurors, but the judge has ordered the lawyers in Trump’s case not to disclose those names publicly. The jurors’ names haven’t been mentioned in court during three days of jury selection.

Still, enough personal information about the jurors was revealed in court that people might be able to identify them anyway.

Some news organizations described details including what Manhattan neighborhoods potential jurors lived in, what they did for a living, what academic degrees they had earned, how many children they had, what countries they grew up in and what their spouses did for a living.

On Fox News Channel Wednesday night, host Jesse Watters did a segment with a jury consultant, revealing details about people who had been seated on the jury and questioning whether some were “stealth liberals” who would be out to convict Trump.


Top Europe rights court condemns Switzerland in landmark climate ruling
Criminal Law Updates | 2024/04/11 22:02
Europe’s highest human rights court ruled Tuesday that countries must better protect their people from the consequences of climate change, siding with a group of older Swiss women against their government in a landmark ruling that could have implications across the continent.

The European Court of Human Rights rejected two other, similar cases on procedural grounds — a high-profile one brought by Portuguese young people and another by a French mayor that sought to force governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But the Swiss case, nonetheless, sets a legal precedent in the Council of Europe’s 46 member states against which future lawsuits will be judged.

“This is a turning point,” said Corina Heri, an expert in climate change litigation at the University of Zurich.

Although activists have had success with lawsuits in domestic proceedings, this was the first time an international court ruled on climate change — and the first decision confirming that countries have an obligation to protect people from its effects, according to Heri.

She said it would open the door to more legal challenges in the countries that are members of the Council of Europe, which includes the 27 EU nations as well as many others from Britain to Turkey.

The Swiss ruling softened the blow for those who lost Tuesday.

“The most important thing is that the court has said in the Swiss women’s case that governments must cut their emissions more to protect human rights,” said 19-year-od Sofia Oliveira, one of the Portuguese plaintiffs. “Their win is a win for us, too, and a win for everyone!”

The court — which is unrelated to the European Union — ruled that Switzerland “had failed to comply with its duties” to combat climate change and meet emissions targets.


The Man Charged in an Illinois Attack That Left 4 Dead Is Due Back in Court
Criminal Law Updates | 2024/04/02 23:24
A northern Illinois man charged with killing four people and injuring seven others by stabbing, beating and driving over them is expected back in court on Tuesday.

A judge in the city of Rockford is expected to consider prosecutors' request that Christian Soto remain jailed pending trial. The 22-year-old appeared briefly in court on Thursday, a day after the attacks in Rockford and his arrest. His defense asked for more time to prepare for the hearing.

The Winnebago County Public Defender's office, listed as Soto's representative in court documents, has not returned messages from The Associated Press seeking comment on his behalf.

The Winnebago County coroner on Thursday identified those killed as 63-year-old Romona Schupbach; 23-year-old Jacob Schupbach; 49-year-old Jay Larson; and 15-year-old Jenna Newcomb.

Authorities last week described a series of frenzied attacks within minutes at multiple addresses in a Rockford neighborhood, but said they had not determined a motive.

Winnebago County State’s Attorney J. Hanley said Soto told police after his arrest that he had smoked marijuana with Jacob Schupbach and believed the drugs “were laced with an unknown narcotic" that made him paranoid.

Authorities have said Soto first stabbed Schupbach and his mother then violently attacked other people in the area and inside other homes. They said he beat, stabbed and used a truck to run over Larson, who was working as a mail carrier; wounded three people inside one home; and beat Newcomb, her sister and a friend with a baseball bat inside another home.

Authorities said Winnebago County sheriff deputies arrested Soto as he fled from another home where he had stabbed a woman and had been slowed down by a man driving by who stopped to intervene.


Denying same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, a Japanese high court says
Criminal Law Updates | 2024/03/14 20:53
A Japanese high court ruled Thursday that denying same-sex marriage is unconstitutional and called for urgent government action to address the lack of any law allowing for such unions. Plaintiffs and the LGBTQ+ community in Japan cheered it as a landmark decision that gives them hope for change toward equality.

The court does not have the power to overturn the current marriage law, which has been interpreted to restrict marriage as between a man and a woman. Government offices may continue to deny marriage status to same-sex couples unless the existing law is revised to include LGBTQ+ couples or a new law is enacted that allows for other types of unions.

The Sapporo High Court ruling said that not allowing same-sex couples to marry and enjoy the same benefits as straight couples violates their fundamental right to equality and freedom of marriage. The case was brought by three same-sex couples who appealed three years ago after a lower court recognized the unconstitutionality of excluding same-sex couples from marriage equality but dismissed compensation claims for their suffering.

A lower court issued a similar ruling earlier Thursday, becoming the sixth district court to do so. But the Tokyo District Court ruling was only a partial victory for Japan’s LGBTQ+ community calling for equal marriage rights, as it doesn’t change or overturn the current civil union law that the government says defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Five previous court decisions in various cities said Japan’s policy of denying same-sex marriage is either unconstitutional or nearly so. However, unlike the Sapporo ruling Friday, none of the district-level courts clearly deemed the Japanese government’s existing policy to reject same-sex couples unconstitutional.

Sapporo High Court Judge Kiyofumi Saito said the constitutional freedom of marriage is about partnership between two human beings, and the right to marry should equally protect couples of different and same sexes. With their exclusion, same-sex couples have experienced significant disadvantages, suffering or loss of identity, the judge said.

“Disallowing marriage to same-sex couples is a discrimination that lacks rationality,” the ruling said. But allowing same-sex marriage creates no disadvantage or harm to anyone, it said.

A plaintiff, Eri Nakaya, said the traditional definition of marriage repeatedly made her feel that same-sex couples are treated as if they do not exist.

“The ruling clearly stated that same-sex couples have the same right as others and deserve to live in this country, and reminded me it’s okay just to be me,” she said.

Japan is the only member of the Group of Seven nations that still excludes same-sex couples from the right to legally marry and receive spousal benefits.


Supreme Court casts doubt on GOP-led states’ efforts to regulate social media
Criminal Law Updates | 2024/03/01 19:12
The Supreme Court cast doubt Monday on state laws that could affect how Facebook, TikTok, X, YouTube and other social media platforms regulate content posted by their users. The cases are among several this term in which the justices could set standards for free speech in the digital age.

In nearly four hours of arguments, several justices questioned aspects of laws adopted by Republican-dominated legislatures and signed by Republican governors in Florida and Texas in 2021. But they seemed wary of a broad ruling, with Justice Amy Coney Barrett warning of “land mines” she and her colleagues need to avoid in resolving the two cases.

While the details vary, both laws aimed to address conservative complaints that the social media companies were liberal-leaning and censored users based on their viewpoints, especially on the political right.

Differences on the court emerged over how to think about the platforms — as akin to newspapers that have broad free-speech protections, or telephone companies, known as common carriers, that are susceptible to broader regulation.

Chief Justice John Roberts suggested he was in the former camp, saying early in the session, “And I wonder, since we’re talking about the First Amendment, whether our first concern should be with the state regulating what we have called the modern public square?”

Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas appeared most ready to embrace arguments made by lawyers for the states. Thomas raised the idea that the companies are seeking constitutional protection for “censoring other speech.”

Alito complained about the term “content moderation” that the sites employ to keep material off their platforms.

“Is it anything more than a euphemism for censorship?” he asked, later musing that term struck him as Orwellian. But Justice Brett Kavanaugh, seemingly more favorable to the companies, took issue with calling the actions of private companies censorship, a term he said should be reserved for restrictions imposed by the government.

“When I think of Orwellian, I think of the state, not the private sector, not private individuals,” Kavanaugh said.

The precise contours of rulings in the two cases were not clear after arguments, although it seemed likely the court would not let the laws take effect. The justices posed questions about how the laws might affect businesses that are not their primary targets, including e-commerce sites like Uber and Etsy and email and messaging services.


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