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Facebook to stop spending against California privacy effort
Law & Politics | 2018/04/09 01:30
Facebook says it will stop spending money to fight a proposed California ballot initiative aimed at giving consumers more control over their data.

The measure, known as the "California Consumer Privacy Act," would require companies to disclose upon request what types of personal information they collect about someone and whether they've sold it. It also would allow customers to opt out of having their data sold.

The company made the announcement Wednesday as chief executive Mark Zuckerberg underwent questioning from Congress about the handling of user data.

Pressure has mounted on Facebook to explain its privacy controls following revelations that a Republican-linked firm conducted widespread data harvesting.

Facebook had donated $200,000 to a committee opposing the initiative in California - part of a $1 million effort by tech giants to keep it off the November ballot.

Facebook said it ended its support "to focus our efforts on supporting reasonable privacy measures in California."

Proponents of the ballot measure applauded the move.

"We are thrilled," said Mary Ross, president of Californians for Consumer Privacy.

The California Chamber of Commerce and other groups are fighting to keep the measure off the ballot through the "Committee to Protect California Jobs." Google, AT&T, Verizon and Comcast also contributed $200,000 each to that effort in February.

Committee spokesman Steve Maviglio said the measure would hurt the California economy.

"It is unworkable and requires the internet in California to operate differently - limiting our choices, hurting our businesses, and cutting our connection to the global economy," he said.


Trump administration backs PLO in victims' high court appeal
Law & Politics | 2018/04/02 04:38
Despite its bumpy relationship with the Palestinians, the Trump administration is siding with the Palestine Liberation Organization in urging the Supreme Court to reject an appeal from American victims of terrorist attacks in the Middle East more than a decade ago.

The victims are asking the high court to reinstate a $654 million verdict against the PLO and Palestinian Authority in connection with attacks in Israel in 2002 and 2004 that killed 33 people and wounded hundreds more.

The case was scheduled to be considered at the justices’ private conference on Thursday. A decision to reject the appeal could come as early as Monday. If the court decides to hear the case, it could say so by the middle of this month.

The federal appeals court in New York tossed out the verdict in 2016. It said U.S. courts can’t consider lawsuits against foreign-based groups over random attacks that were not aimed at the United States.

The victims sued under the Anti-Terrorism Act, signed into law in 1992. The law was passed to open U.S. courts to victims of international terrorism, spurred by the killing of American Leon Klinghoffer during a 1985 terrorist attack aboard the Achille Lauro cruise ship.

The victims argued that offices the Palestinians maintain in the nation’s capital to promote their cause in speeches and media appearances and to retain lobbyists were sufficient to allow the lawsuit in an American court. The appeals court disagreed.

In late June, the justices asked the administration to weigh in on the case, as they often do in cases with foreign policy implications. The Justice Department filed its brief eight months later, saying there was nothing in the appeals court ruling to “warrant this court’s intervention at this time.”

In unusually strong language for a Supreme Court filing, Theodore Olson, the lawyer for the victims, wrote, “The government is not being square with the court.” Olson said the administration was being cagey about its view of the law, even after the lower court cut back on its use by attack victims to try to hold groups financially liable.


Maryland redistricting case comes before Supreme Court
Law & Politics | 2018/03/23 04:41
The Supreme Court is taking up its second big partisan redistricting case of the term amid signs the justices could place limits on drawing maps for political gain.

The justices are hearing arguments Wednesday in an appeal filed by Republicans in Maryland. They complain that Democrats who controlled the state government in 2011 drew a congressional district for the express purpose of ousting the Republican incumbent and replacing him with a Democrat.

In Wisconsin, Democrats are challenging legislative districts drawn by Republicans statewide. Those districts gave Republicans a huge majority in a state that otherwise is closely divided between the parties.

The Supreme Court has never struck down districts for being too partisan.

A decision in favor of opponents of partisan gerrymandering could cut into the political power of the dominant party in states in which one party controls the state government.

The court is expected to issue decisions in both cases by late June.

Maryland's 6th Congressional District had been centered in rural, Republican-leaning northwestern Maryland and had elected a Republican to Congress for 20 years. Incumbent Rep. Roscoe Bartlett won re-election in 2010 by 28 percentage points.

But in the 2011 redistricting, Democrats altered the district to take in some Democratic suburbs of Washington, D.C. The new district had 62,000 fewer Republicans and 33,000 more Democrats. Bartlett lost the 2012 election by 21 percentage points.

Republican voters who sued over the changes said the state violated their First Amendment rights.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, a Democrat, is defending the district as competitive for both parties. Frosh said the district has elected a moderate Democrat, and in 2014, a friendlier year for Republican candidates, the victory margin of Democratic Rep. John Delaney dropped to less than 2 percentage points, though it rose again in 2016.


Court rules in favor of fired transgender funeral director
Law & Politics | 2018/03/05 12:01
A woman was illegally fired by a Detroit-area funeral home after disclosing that she was transitioning from male to female and dressed as a woman, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Home in Garden City discriminated against director Aimee Stephens by firing her in 2013.

In a 3-0 decision, the court said "discrimination against employees, either because of their failure to conform to sex stereotypes or their transgender and transitioning status, is illegal under Title VII" of federal civil rights law.

The court overturned a decision by U.S. District Judge Sean Cox, who said the funeral home had met its burden to show that keeping Stephens "would impose a substantial burden on its ability to conduct business in accordance with its sincerely held religious beliefs."

The lawsuit was filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

"The unrefuted facts show that the funeral home fired Stephens because she refused to abide by her employer's stereotypical conception of her sex," said judges Karen Nelson Moore, Helene White and Bernice Donald.

The EEOC learned that the funeral home, until fall 2014, provided clothing to male workers dealing with the public but not females. The court said it was reasonable for the EEOC to investigate and discover the "seemingly discriminatory clothing-allowance policy."

Stephens said in a statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union that nobody "should be fired from their job just for being who they are," adding "I'm thrilled with the court's decision."


Top German court rejects ex-Auschwitz guard's prison appeal
Law & Politics | 2018/01/07 13:56
Germany's highest court said Friday it has thrown out a bid by a 96-year-old former Auschwitz death camp guard for a reprieve on serving his sentence as an accessory to murder.

Oskar Groening was convicted in July 2015 of being an accessory to the murder of 300,000 Jews and sentenced to four years in prison. A federal court rejected his appeal against the conviction last year.

Groening has remained free during a dispute over his fitness for prison. Prosecutors argued that he is fit to serve time so long as there is appropriate medical care, and regional courts threw out appeals against their decision.

Germany's Federal Constitutional Court said it has now rejected a complaint arguing that Groening's fundamental right to life and physical safety was being violated. In the ruling dated Dec. 21 and released Friday, it said it saw no constitutional reason to question the lower courts' rulings.

The supreme court noted that German law allows for prison sentences to be interrupted if a detainee's health deteriorates significantly.

It wasn't immediately clear when Groening will be formally summoned to start serving his sentence, but he isn't expected to go to prison before the new year.



Commission to recommend pretrial reforms for Illinois courts
Law & Politics | 2017/12/22 13:53
Key players in the Illinois court system are set to scrutinize pretrial processes statewide to identify ways to make them fairer and more transparent.

The Illinois Supreme Court says the focal point of the push for reforms will be a Commission on Pretrial Practices. It’ll include everyone from judges and lawyers to legislators and court clerks.

Chief Justice Lloyd Karmeier said in a statement last week that the aim is to enact “sensible and practical reforms” that, among other things, ensure pretrial detention is ordered only when a suspect poses a clear threat.

He says the commission’s goal will be to understand “where the greatest problems lie” and “how those problems differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.” He didn’t say when the commission hoped to release its recommended reforms.


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