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Minnesota Supreme Court defers ruling on Minneapolis police
Court Feed News | 2021/09/16 17:34
The Minnesota Supreme Court issued a narrow ruling Thursday in the fight over a ballot question about the future of policing in Minneapolis, but it didn’t settle the bigger question of whether the public will get to vote on the issue.

Chief Justice Lorie Gildea’s ruling lifted a small part of a lower court’s order that rejected the ballot language approved by the City Council, saying that elections officials don’t have to include notes with ballots instructing people not to vote on the question and that any votes won’t be counted.

The order didn’t address the main issue in dispute — whether voters will get to decide on a proposed charter amendment that would replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new Department of Public Safety that “could include” police officers “if necessary.”

The proposal has its roots in the “defund the police” movement that gained steam after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody last summer, but it leaves critical details about the new agency to be determined later.

The Supreme Court was under pressure to rule quickly because early and absentee voting opens Friday in the Minneapolis municipal elections, and ballots have already been printed.

Terrance Moore, an attorney for the Yes 4 Minneapolis campaign, which spearheaded the proposal, said he expects a ruling on the bigger question to come at some point later. The city attorney’s office agreed that the high court has yet to rule on the main issues.

Joe Anthony, an attorney for former City Council member Don Samuels and two other people who challenged the ballot language as misleading, called the order “a little mysterious.” He noted the lower court injunction barring counting and reporting votes was left in place, at least for the moment. There are a few possibilities for what could happen next, he said, including the Supreme Court taking time for fuller arguments, then deciding by Nov. 2 whether the votes cast would count.


Supreme Court hanging up phone, back to in-person arguments
Court Feed News | 2021/09/08 18:14
The justices are putting the “court” back in Supreme Court. The high court announced Wednesday that the justices plan to return to their majestic, marble courtroom for arguments beginning in October, more than a year and a half after the in-person sessions were halted because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The justices had been hearing cases by phone during the pandemic but are currently on their summer break. The court said that oral arguments scheduled for October, November and December will be in the courtroom but that: “Out of concern for the health and safety of the public and Supreme Court employees, the Courtroom sessions will not be open to the public.”

“The Court will continue to closely monitor public health guidance in determining plans,” the announcement said.

The court said that while lawyers will no longer argue by telephone, the public will continue to be able to hear the arguments live. Only the justices, essential court personnel, lawyers in the cases being argued and journalists who cover the court full-time will be allowed in the courtroom. The court that returns to the bench is significantly different from the one that left it.

When the justices last sat together on the bench at their neoclassical building across the street from the U.S. Capitol on March 9, 2020, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the court’s most senior liberal and conservatives held a narrow 5-4 majority. But Ginsburg died in September 2020, and her replacement by conservative Amy Coney Barrett in the final days of the Trump administration has given conservatives a significant 6-3 majority.

Because of the pandemic, Barrett has yet to be part of a traditional courtroom argument, with the justices asking questions of lawyers in rapid succession, jockeying for an opening to ask what’s on their minds. The arguments the court heard by telephone were more predictable and polite, with the justices taking turns asking questions, one by one, in order of seniority. That often meant the arguments went longer than their scheduled hour.

It also meant that lawyers and the public heard from the previously reticent Justice Clarence Thomas in every telephone argument. Before the pandemic Thomas routinely went years without speaking during arguments and had said he doesn’t like his colleagues’ practice of rapid-fire questioning that cuts off attorneys. “I don’t see where that advances anything,” he said in 2012.

One change from the remote arguments will stay for now. The justices said they will continue their practice during the pandemic of allowing audio of oral arguments to be broadcast live by the news media. Before the pandemic, the court would only very occasionally allow live audio of arguments in particularly high profile cases.

That meant that the only people who heard the arguments live were the small number of people in the courtroom. The court releases a transcript of the arguments on the same day but, before the pandemic, only posted the audio on its website days after.


Court rules Catholic school wrongfully fired gay substitute
Court Feed News | 2021/09/06 21:35
A gay substitute teacher was wrongfully fired by a Roman Catholic school in North Carolina after he announced in 2014 on social media that he was going to marry his longtime partner, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn ruled Friday that Charlotte Catholic High School and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Charlotte violated Lonnie Billard’s federal protections against sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Cogburn granted summary judgment to Billard and said a trial must still be held to determine appropriate relief for him.

“After all this time, I have a sense of relief and a sense of vindication. I wish I could have remained to teach all this time,” Billard said in a statement released Friday by the ACLU, which represented him in court. “Today’s decision validates that I did nothing wrong by being a gay man.”

Billard taught English and drama full-time at the school for more than a decade, earning its Teacher of the Year award in 2012. He then transitioned to a role as a regular substitute teacher, typically working more than a dozen weeks per year, according to his 2017 lawsuit.

He posted about his upcoming wedding in October 2014 and was informed by an assistant principal several weeks later that he no longer had a job with the school, according to the ruling.

The defendants said that they fired Billard not because he was gay, but rather because “he engaged in ‘advocacy’ that went against the Catholic Church’s beliefs” when he publicly announced he was marrying another man, the ruling said.

But Cogburn ruled that the school’s action didn’t fit into exemptions to labor law that give religious institutions leeway to require certain employees to adhere to religious teachings, nor was the school’s action protected by constitutional rights to religious freedom.


Judge tells prison to seize Nassar’s money for victims
Court Feed News | 2021/08/24 01:54
A judge ordered the government to take money from the prison account of a former Michigan sports doctor who owes about $58,000 to victims of his child pornography crimes.

Larry Nassar has received about $13,000 in deposits since 2018, including $2,000 in federal stimulus checks, but has paid only $300 toward court-ordered financial penalties and nothing to his victims, prosecutors said.

He had a prison account balance of $2,041 in July.

“Because (Nassar) has received substantial non-exempt funds in his inmate trust account since incarceration, he was required by law to notify the court and the United States attorney and to apply those funds to the restitution that he still owed,” U.S. District Judge Janet Neff said Thursday.

In a court filing, Nassar said he had received “gifts” from “third parties.”

He said inmates should be paid a “living wage” for prison jobs so they can “make reasonable payments towards restitution.”

Nassar was a doctor at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians. He pleaded guilty in federal court to child pornography crimes before pleading guilty in state court to sexually assaulting female gymnasts.

Nassar is serving decades in prison.


US moves to cut backlog of asylum cases at US-Mexico border
Court Feed News | 2021/08/21 00:16
The Biden administration on Wednesday proposed changing how asylum claims are handled, aiming to reduce a huge backlog of cases from the U.S.-Mexico border that has left people waiting years to find out whether they will be allowed to stay in America.

Under the proposal, routine asylum cases no longer would automatically be referred to the overwhelmed immigration court system managed by the Justice Department but would be overseen by asylum officers from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, part of Homeland Security Department.

Advocates for the change see it as a way to help those with legitimate claims for protection while allowing officials to more quickly deal with people who do not qualify for asylum or are taking advantage of the long delay to stay in the United States.

“Individuals who are eligible will receive relief more swiftly, while those who are not eligible will be expeditiously removed,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said.

The proposal must go through a public comment period before it can be adopted as a new policy.

The immigration court system has an all-time high backlog of about 1.3 million cases. The Trump administration tried to deal with the issue in part by imposing stricter criteria for asylum and forcing people to seek protection in Mexico and Central America. President Joe Biden’s proposal would streamline the system.

The reason for the change is that more people have been seeking asylum under U.S. law, particularly at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years.

As the system works now, people who present themselves at the border or are apprehended by the Border Patrol and identify themselves as asylum-seekers must pass what is known as a “credible fear” interview. A USCIS asylum officer determines whether they meet the criteria of someone facing persecution in their homeland because of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.


Holocaust researchers in Poland win libel case on appeal
Court Feed News | 2021/08/18 00:19
An appellate court in Poland on Monday rejected a lawsuit brought against two Holocaust scholars in a case that has been closely watched because it was expected to serve as a precedent for research into the highly sensitive area of Polish behavior toward Jews during World War II.

Poland is governed by a nationalist conservative party that has sought to promote remembrance of Polish heroism and suffering during the wartime German occupation of the country. The party also believes that discussions of Polish wrongdoing distort the historical picture and are unfair to Poles.

The Appellate Court of Warsaw argued in its explanation that it believed that scholarly research should not be judged by courts. But it appeared not to be the end: a lawyer for the plaintiff said Monday that she would appeal Monday’s ruling to the Supreme Court.

The ruling was welcomed by the two researchers, Jan Grabowski and Barbara Engelking, who declared it a “great victory” in a Facebook post.

“We greet the verdict with great joy and satisfaction all the more, that this decision has a direct impact on all Polish scholars, and especially on historians of the Holocaust,” they said.

Monday’s ruling comes half a year after a lower court ordered the two researchers to apologize to a woman who claimed that her deceased uncle had been defamed in a historical work they edited and partially wrote, “Night Without End: The Fate of Jews in Selected Counties of Occupied Poland.”

Lawyers for the niece, 81-year-old Filomena Leszczynska, argued that her uncle was a Polish hero who had saved Jews, and that the scholars had harmed her good name and that of her family by suggesting the uncle was also involved in the killing of Jews.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Monika Brzozowska-Pasieka, said in an emailed statement to The Associated Press that Leszczynska was “astonished” by the judgement and intends to file an appeal to the Polish Supreme Court.


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