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Trump closes in on Supreme Court pick; 3 judges top list
U.S. Legal News | 2018/07/05 04:44
President Donald Trump is closing in on his next Supreme Court nominee, with three federal judges leading the competition to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Trump's top contenders for the vacancy at this time are federal appeals judges Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh and Raymond Kethledge, said a person familiar with Trump's thinking who was not authorized to speak publicly.

Working closely with a White House team and consulting with lawmakers and outside advisers, Trump has spent the week deliberating on the choice. He conducted interviews on Monday and Tuesday and has spoken to seven possible candidates. He has not yet publicly indicated that he has narrowed the list and could still consider others in the mix.

With customary fanfare, Trump plans to announce his selection Monday night, kicking off a contentious nomination process as Republicans seek to shift the court to the right and Democrats strive to block the effort.

Vice President Mike Pence has also met with some of the contenders for the Supreme Court vacancy created by Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, The Associated Press has learned.

The meetings took place in recent days, according to a person familiar with the search process. The person did not specify which candidates Pence met with and spoke on condition of anonymity Wednesday to describe the private search process.



Feds say ex-firm of Stormy Daniels' lawyer owes unpaid taxes
U.S. Legal News | 2018/07/04 11:40
The Justice Department says Stormy Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, made "misrepresentations" in a bankruptcy case involving his former law firm that owes more than $440,000 in unpaid federal taxes.

Avenatti's former firm, Eagan Avenatti LLP, had agreed in January to pay about $2.4 million in back taxes and penalties as part of a resolution of a bankruptcy case involving the firm.

Court documents show some of the money was paid, but attorneys for the government said in May that the firm still owed a portion of the unpaid tax money.

On Tuesday, the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles filed a motion asking a federal judge to compel the payment of $440,291 in unpaid taxes and more than $11,700 in interest. Lawyers from the U.S. attorney's office represent the government in bankruptcy court when there's a debt to a government agency, like back taxes or unpaid student loans.

Avenatti, who has garnered national attention as the attorney for Daniels, the porn actress who is suing President Donald Trump following an alleged 2006 affair, said Wednesday that the court filing was "part of a smear campaign" and stressed that he doesn't personally owe any of the money.


California high court: Yelp can't be ordered to remove posts
U.S. Legal News | 2018/07/03 00:02
Online review site Yelp.com cannot be ordered to remove posts against a San Francisco law firm that a judge determined were defamatory, a divided California Supreme Court ruled Monday in a closely watched case that internet companies warned could be used to silence online speech.

In a 4-3 opinion, justices agreed, saying removal orders such as the one attorney Dawn Hassell obtained against Yelp "could interfere with and undermine the viability of an online platform."

The decision overturned a lower court ruling that Yelp had said could lead to the removal of negative reviews from the popular website.

Hassell said Yelp was exaggerating the stakes of her legal effort. Her attorney, Monique Olivier, said in a statement that the ruling "stands as an invitation to spread falsehoods on the internet without consequence."

She said her client was considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Hassell's 2013 lawsuit accused a client she briefly represented in a personal injury case of defaming her on Yelp by falsely claiming that her firm failed to communicate with the client, among other things.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Donald Sullivan found the online statements defamatory and ordered the client and Yelp to remove them. Hassell said the client failed to answer her lawsuit or remove the posts, so she had to seek a court order demanding that Yelp do it.

A second judge and a state appeals court upheld Sullivan's order.

"Ms. Hassell did exactly what she should have done," Olivier said Monday. "After both the defamer and Yelp refused to remove untrue and damaging statements, she obtained a judgment against the defamer, and sought to enforce that judgment by requiring Yelp to remove the defamation."

Yelp said the lower court ruling would give businesses unhappy about negative reviews a new legal pathway for getting them removed.

Yelp said the removal order violated a 1996 federal law that courts have widely interpreted as protecting internet companies from liability for posts by third-party users and prohibiting the companies from being treated as the speaker or publisher of users' posts.

Three of the California Supreme Court justices agreed.

"In substance, Yelp is being held to account for nothing more than its ongoing decision to publish the challenged reviews," Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said in an opinion joined by associate justices Ming Chin and Carol Corrigan.

Associate Justice Leondra Kruger said in a separate opinion that she agreed that the removal order against Yelp was invalid, but for a different reason. Hassell did not name Yelp as a defendant, so the company did not get its "own day in court," Kruger said.


European Union moves against Poland for its new court law
U.S. Legal News | 2018/06/28 00:03
The European Union opened a rule-of-law procedure Monday against Poland over what it sees as flaws in Poland's Supreme Court law, intensifying a standoff that could eventually see Poland lose its EU voting rights.

The move comes a day before a new law takes effect that forces the early retirement of nearly 40 percent of the court's judges.
The law is the culmination of the ruling populist Law and Justice Party's efforts to put Poland's entire court system until its control, a plan it began nearly three years ago. For their part, party leaders claim they are reforming an inefficient. corrupt court system in the grip of an unaccountable caste of judges.

Critics see the law on Poland's Supreme Court as the most dramatic step in the party's takeover of the courts, giving the ruling party the power to stack the court with its supporters. One of court's jobs is to verify the results of elections, and critics say the new law marks a serious reversal for democracy.

The European Commission said Monday the measures in Poland's new court law "undermine the principle of judiciary independence." It also insisted that it "stands ready to continue the rule-of-law dialogue" despite starting the legal procedure.


Yankton lawyer Jason Ravnsborg wins GOP attorney general nod
U.S. Legal News | 2018/06/23 06:26
South Dakota Republicans on Saturday chose Yankton lawyer Jason Ravnsborg to run against Democratic former U.S. Attorney Randy Seiler in the race for state attorney general.

GOP delegates voted to nominate Ravnsborg at their state party convention, where the attorney general contest was the main show for attendees. Democrats nominated Seiler as their candidate at a party gathering last week.

Ravnsborg won out over state Sen. Lance Russell in a second round of voting after Lawrence County State's Attorney John Fitzgerald was dropped from consideration following his third-place showing in the initial ballot.

"We've been working hard," Ravnsborg said after he won. "I've been to every county in our state at least twice."

Ravnsborg has proposed expanding programs that allow lower-level prisoners to work while serving their sentences and establishing a meth-specific prison and mental health facility in the western part of the state. He said he has leadership and management experience and touted his support among county sheriffs to delegates.

Ravnsborg, 42, of Yankton, is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve. He's looking to succeed outgoing Attorney General Marty Jackley as the state's chief lawyer and law enforcement officer.

The high-profile office has served as a frequent springboard for gubernatorial hopefuls and takes on the state's top legal cases, such as South Dakota's recent successful push to get the U.S. Supreme Court to allow states to make online shoppers pay sales tax.

Russell, a former state's attorney and current chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, had said he wanted to be attorney general to address rising crime and improve government transparency. Fitzgerald has been the Lawrence County state's attorney since 1995 and campaigned on his experience.



Lawsuit seeks lawyer access to immigrants in prison
U.S. Legal News | 2018/06/22 06:26
A rights group filed an emergency lawsuit in federal court Friday against top officials of U.S. immigration and homeland security departments, alleging they have unconstitutionally denied lawyers' access to immigrants in a prison in Oregon.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement transferred 123 immigrants in early June to the federal prison in Sheridan, Oregon, because other holding facilities have been overloaded since the Trump administration enacted a "zero tolerance" policy in April involving people entering the U.S. illegally.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon filed the lawsuit in Portland on behalf of the detainees, who are mostly from Mexico and Central America. The lawyers say they've been denied meaningful access to the detainees, many of whom escaped violence in their home countries and are seeking asylum in the U.S.

"The U.S. Constitution protects everyone who is on U.S. soil," said Mat Dos Santos, legal director of the ACLU of Oregon. "You have fundamental rights to due process of law. You can't just throw them in prison."

An interfaith group, meanwhile, announced it would be holding Sunday morning services outside the prison. The Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice, which is organizing the services, is based in Portland.

"With Attorney General Jeffrey Sessions invoking Romans 13 to validate the immoral separation of immigrant children from their families, this can no longer be a time for 'business as usual' for Christian communities," said the Rev. Michael Ellick of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Portland.

Last week, Sessions cited a Bible verse urging obedience to the laws of government "for the purpose of order."

Among the people being held in the medium-security prison is Luis Javier Sanchez Gonzalez, whose family was separated at the border when they sought asylum at a port of entry, the ACLU said.


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