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Court sides with towns over utilities in tax dispute
Employment Law | 2017/06/04 07:22
Two electric utilities seeking to reduce their property taxes in dozens of towns across New Hampshire lost an appeal Friday to the state Supreme Court.

Eversource and the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative sought tax abatements from 64 towns in 2011 and 2012, but the state Board of Tax and Land Appeals rejected most of those requests, and the utilities appealed.

The utilities argued that towns' property tax assessments were too high and that their property taxes instead should be based on a valuation formula used by the state Department of Revenue Administration in levying a separate utility tax.

In the ruling released Friday, the court sided with the towns, though it said it was troubled by substantial differences in assessments by towns for property tax purposes and assessments by the state for utility taxes. The court said such disputes could be avoided by adopting a uniform appraisal method, a decision for the Legislature, not the courts.

Eversource spokesman Martin Murray said the company has a duty to dispute valuations made by communities the company considers extreme outliers compared to the state assessments. He said the company remains concerned about the wide discrepancies.


NC court blocks law stripping governor of election powers
Employment Law | 2017/02/14 08:00
North Carolina's Supreme Court on Monday again blocked a state law approved by Republicans that strips the new Democratic governor of powers to oversee elections.

A lower appeals court briefly let the law to take effect last week, allowing a revamped state elections board to meet for the first time Friday. It's one of the changes passed in late December that shift power over running elections away from Gov. Roy Cooper.

"We are pleased the Supreme Court has put the injunction back in place until the judges can hear and decide the full case" early next month, Cooper spokeswoman Noelle Talley wrote in an email.

The law ends the practice of allowing the governor's political party to hold majorities on all state and county elections boards. Instead of Democrats holding sway over running elections and resolving voting disputes, elections board positions would be evenly divided between major-party partisans.

Republicans would control elections during even-numbered years, when big races for president, legislature or other major statewide offices are held. The measure also merges the state ethics and elections boards into one.

Lawyers representing state House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, and Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, did not respond to emails seeking comment after the Supreme Court's decision.

Cooper, Moore and Berger are also fighting in court over another new law aiming to restrict the Democrat's ability to alter the state's recent conservative direction.

A panel of three state trial court judges is considering whether to continue blocking a law requiring Senate confirmation of Cooper's Cabinet secretaries.

The law requiring Senate consent to Cooper's top appointees came during a surprise special session barely a week after Republican incumbent Pat McCrory conceded to Cooper in their close gubernatorial race.


Driver due in court in Cleveland officer's hit-and-run death
Employment Law | 2017/01/27 22:50
The driver accused in the fatal hit-and-run of a Cleveland patrolman on an interstate is set to appear in court.

Forty-four-year-old Israel Alvarez, of Lorain, was scheduled for arraignment Thursday morning on charges of aggravated vehicular homicide and failing to stop after a fatal accident. Court records don't indicate whether he has an attorney.

Police say 39-year-old Patrolman David Fahey was struck Tuesday while setting down flares to close lanes of Interstate 90 after an accident.

Authorities allege Alvarez was driving over 60 mph and disregarded emergency vehicles that were parked along the road with their lights flashing. He was arrested in Lorain later Tuesday.

A viewing for Fahey is scheduled Friday at a North Olmsted funeral home. A funeral Mass is planned Saturday at a Cleveland church.



Nevada high court considering email public records question
Employment Law | 2016/11/18 18:21
Neighbors' efforts to block the reopening of a mine in a historic Nevada mining town have unearthed a legal question about whether emails kept by elected officials on their personal devices are public records.

The Comstock Residents Association wants the Nevada Supreme Court to order Lyon County to release communications between county commissioners and Comstock Mining Inc. ahead of a January 2014 decision to allow mining again at Silver City.

The question focuses on whether the public has a right to government information contained on personal electronic devices and in personal email accounts.

Senior Washoe County District Court Judge Steven Kosach rejected the request earlier this year, ruling records on personal devices and accounts are outside the public agency's control and aren't covered under the Nevada Public Records Act.

The judge also found the communications were not official actions. But he acknowledged his ruling "may cause public employees to skirt the provision of the (public records law) by conducting business on their personal devices," the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

Barry Smith, director of the Nevada Press Association, said the lower court ruling allows the "electronic version of the old backroom deal."

"Officials could avoid the open-records law by conducting public business through their private phones and email accounts," Smith said.

In a brief filed Nov. 7 with the state high court, association attorney Luke Busby said the court's decision would provide "critical guidance" to public officials about access to public records.

In court filings, Busby noted that then-Commissioner Vida Keller said at the January 2014 commission meeting that she had contacted her colleagues outside the public meeting regarding the land-use change.

"As it turned out, Commissioner Keller and other members of the Lyon County Commissioners used their personal devices or email accounts to conduct official business," Busby said. "An otherwise public record does not lose public status simply because it was created, received or stored on a personal device or personal account."

A three-member panel of justices heard oral arguments in the case Sept. 14. It could be several months before a ruling is made.


Supreme Court stays execution of Alabama inmate
Employment Law | 2016/11/11 18:21
The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday night stayed the execution of an Alabama man convicted of the 1982 shooting death of a woman's husband in a murder-for-hire arrangement.

Five justices voted to stay the execution of Tommy Arthur as the high court considers whether to take up his challenge to Alabama's death penalty procedure. Arthur, 74, was scheduled to be executed Thursday by lethal injection at a south Alabama prison.

"We are greatly relieved by the Supreme Court's decision granting a stay and now hope for the opportunity to present the merits of Mr. Arthur's claims to the Court," Arthur's attorney Suhana Han said in a statement.

This is the seventh time that Arthur, who has waged a lengthy legal battle over his conviction and the constitutionality of the death penalty, has received a reprieve from an execution date, a track record that has frustrated the state attorney general's office and victims' advocacy groups.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote Thursday that he did not think the case merited a stay, but voted to grant it as a courtesy to the four justices who wanted to "more fully consider the suitability of this case for review." The execution stay will expire if the court does not take up Arthur's case.

The attorney general's office had unsuccessfully urged the court to let the execution go forward and expressed disappointment at the decision.



Israel's Supreme Court rejects former PM Olmert's appeal
Employment Law | 2016/10/02 19:29
Israel's imprisoned former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert faces an additional eight months behind bars after the country's Supreme Court rejected an appeal.

Olmert is already serving a 19-month sentence after being convicted of bribery and obstructing justice. The court this week unanimously rejected the appeal of a separate set of charges that included accepting cash-stuffed envelopes from a U.S. businessman.

He began his sentence in February. Olmert was a longtime fixture in Israel's hawkish right wing when he began taking a dramatically more conciliatory line toward the Palestinians as deputy prime minister a decade ago.

He played a leading role in Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005. He became prime minister in January 2006 after then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a debilitating stroke.


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