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Court weighs punishment for judge for courthouse affair
U.S. Legal News | 2018/04/24 00:25
A Massachusetts judge who engaged in sexual acts with a social worker in his chambers has damaged the public's faith in the judicial system and can no longer command the respect necessary to remain on the bench, the head of the state's Commission on Judicial Conduct said Tuesday.

Howard V. Neff III, executive director of the commission, told the Supreme Judicial Court that an indefinite suspension that would allow lawmakers to decide whether to remove Judge Thomas Estes from the bench is the only proper punishment for behavior Neff called "egregious."

"Unless this court sets a precedent that makes it absolutely clear that this type of conduct will not be tolerated ... there is little hope that public trust in the administration of public justice in Massachusetts will be restored," Neff said.

Estes admits he had a sexual relationship with Tammy Cagle, who worked in the special drug court where he sat. But Estes denies allegations Cagle made in a federal lawsuit, including that he coerced her into performing oral sex on him and played a role in getting her removed from the drug court when she tried to end the relationship.

Estes, who's married and has two teenage boys, attended Tuesday's hearing but left the courthouse without speaking to reporters. The court did not immediately decide Estes' punishment. He is asking for a four-month suspension.



Supreme Court seems divided over Texas redistricting
U.S. Legal News | 2018/04/23 00:25
The Supreme Court appeared divided Tuesday over Texas' appeal to preserve congressional and legislative districts that a lower court struck down as racially discriminatory.

The justices heard arguments in the latest round of court action over Texas electoral districts that began in 2011.

At issue are two congressional districts and statehouse districts in four counties, and what the challengers say are efforts by Texas Republicans who control the state government to restrain the political influence of a growing Hispanic and African-American population.

The liberal justices seemed favorable to minority voters and civil rights groups that sued over the districts. The court's conservatives appeared to lean toward the state, which also has the support of the Trump administration. Justice Anthony Kennedy said nothing to indicate where his potentially decisive vote would fall.

The justices last year kept the challenged districts in place, even after the lower court ruling. Texas held primary elections in those districts in March.

Max Renea, Hicks, a lawyer for the plaintiffs told the justices Tuesday that even if his side wins at the high court, it is unlikely that new districts would be used before the 2020 elections, the last voting cycle before the next census.

The case is the third major dispute this term that is focused on redistricting, the drawing of electoral maps following the once-a-decade census. The high court's other cases, from Maryland and Wisconsin, focus on the drawing of political districts for partisan advantage.

The Texas situation is unusual. Based on the 2010 census, Texas was awarded four new congressional districts, attributable mainly to the influx of Hispanics.

After the state's original electoral maps were found to be probably unconstitutional, a three-judge federal court produced interim districting plans that were used in the 2012 elections.

In 2013, Republicans rushed to permanently adopt those maps to use for the rest of the decade.

But opponents criticized the adopted maps as a quick fix that didn't purge all districts of the impermissible use of race.

In 2017, the same judges who approved the interim maps in 2012 agreed with the challengers that the maps were the product of intentional discrimination.


Supreme Court rejects anti-abortion pastor's appeal on noise
U.S. Legal News | 2018/04/16 04:22
The Supreme Court won't hear an appeal from a pastor who challenged a state law's noise limit that was used to restrict his anti-abortion protest outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Portland, Maine.

The justices offered no comment Monday in rejecting the appeal from the Rev. Andrew March. He sued after he said Portland police officers repeatedly told him to lower his voice while he was protesting outside the clinic. March says police invoked a part of the Maine Civil Rights Act that applies to noise outside health facilities.

March says the law "targets pro-life advocates" in violation of the Constitution. A district judge temporarily blocked its enforcement, but the federal appeals court in Boston reversed that ruling.



Russian court blocks popular messaging app in privacy row
U.S. Legal News | 2018/04/09 01:30
A Russian court on Friday ordered the blocking of a popular messaging app, Telegram, after it rejected to share its encryption data with authorities.

The Moscow court on Friday ruled in favor of the Russian communications watchdog, which had demanded that Telegram be blocked in Russia until it hands over the keys to its encryption.

The ban comes after a protracted dispute between Telegram and Russian authorities, who insist they need access to the encryption keys to investigate serious crimes, including terrorist attacks. Telegram is arguably the first widely popular means of communications in Russia that has been officially banned.

Telegram, a popular app developed by Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov, argues that Russia's FSB intelligence service is violating consumer rights, while authorities say the app has been used by violent extremists.

Durov had asked his lawyers not to attend Friday's court hearing because he said he saw the verdict as a foregone conclusion.

Pavel Chikov, one of Telegram's lawyers, said in a post on his Telegram channel that the company would not back down in the face of the Russian intelligence services because the court hearing, which lasted about 20 minutes, showed that the case against Telegram is politically motivated.



Retailers hope for certainty as Supreme Court hears tax case
U.S. Legal News | 2018/04/06 01:31
Retailers are hoping for a resolution this year from the Supreme Court, which hears arguments Tuesday in a decades-old dispute: Whether companies must collect sales tax on items sold in a state where they don't have a store or other building.

If the court backs government officials who say they're losing billions of dollars in uncollected taxes, thousands of small companies could be forced to start charging their out-of-state customers for them. Some businesses fear that could alienate customers used to tax-free shopping. On the other side: Retailers who do collect sales tax and believe those who don't have an unfair advantage.

The justices will hear online retailers Wayfair, Overstock.com and Newegg challenging a South Dakota law enacted last May requiring out-of-state retailers that have sales of more than $100,000 or over 200 transactions a year in the state to collect sales tax. Their decision could have national implications on e-commerce, although Congress can pass legislation afterward that broadens or narrows the law.

It's not only about the money, says Stephanie Harvey, owner of exit343design in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. There are more than 10,000 sales tax jurisdictions in the United States: 35 states, the District of Columbia, counties and municipalities.

"Adding this sales tax isn't just about the tax itself — it's about the cost of time to navigate and file (taxes) or the additional expense of hiring someone to do so on behalf of the business," says Harvey, whose design and printing company has an online store and sells merchandise to other retailers.

The justices are likely to rule by June on whether to overturn a 1992 decision, Quill v. North Dakota, that said companies cannot be forced to collect sales tax from customers in a state where they don't have a physical presence like a store or distribution center. Collecting tax from online sales hasn't been a question for big online retailers like Walmart or Macy's since they have physical stores in most or all states. They also have accounting systems and financial staffs to handle the work.

Small retailers have software options to help collect taxes and do the administrative work, but it's an added cost. Whether it's worth it may depend on how much revenue a seller gets from other states. The most comprehensive software can work with the programs retailers use to process sales transactions. The software sellers determine the correct sales tax rate and submit payments and reports to tax authorities.



North Carolina court allows case against dance instructors
U.S. Legal News | 2018/04/04 01:29
North Carolina's highest court says dance instructors who glided away to a competing dance studio can still be sued by the employer who wrangled the foreign-born pair's permission to work in the United States.

Happy Dance Inc. studio owner Michael Krawiec said Wednesday he's not yet discussed with his lawyer how to proceed after last week's ruling by the state Supreme Court.

The court decided breach of contract and other claims can continue against two dance instructors from Bosnia and Serbia, but the Charlotte studio that hired them away is largely out of the woods.

U.S. dance studios face a chronic search for instructors and have filled the gap by importing foreign workers from Eastern Europe and other countries where learning to waltz or tango is part of growing up.


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