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Blind justice: No visual cues in high court phone cases
Criminal Law Updates | 2020/05/08 00:22
On the evening before he was to argue a case before the Supreme Court years ago, Jeffrey Fisher broke his glasses. That left the very nearsighted lawyer with an unappealing choice. He could wear contacts and clearly see the justices but not his notes, or skip the contacts and see only his notes.

It wasn’t hard to decide. “I couldn’t imagine doing argument without seeing their faces,” Fisher said.

He won’t have a choice next month. Because of the coronavirus pandemic the high court is, for the first time in its 230-year history, holding arguments by telephone. Beyond not being able to see the justices’ nods, frowns and hand gestures, the teleconference arguments in 10 cases over six days present a range of challenges, attorneys said, but also opportunities.

The unprecedented decision to hold arguments by phone was an effort to help slow the spread of the virus. Most of the justices are at risk because of their age; six are over 65. And hearing arguments by phone allows them to decide significant cases by the court’s traditional summer break.

The attorneys arguing  before the court include government lawyers as well as those in private practice. Three of the 25 are women. Most have made multiple Supreme Court arguments and are familiar to the justices, although seven are giving their first arguments before the court. The Trump administration’s top Supreme Court lawyer, Solicitor General Noel Francisco, will argue twice.

The cases the justices are hearing include fights over subpoenas for President Donald Trump’s financial records  and cases about whether presidential electors are required to cast their Electoral College ballots for the candidate who won their state.

Justices have long said that the written briefs lawyers submit are vastly more important to the cases’ outcomes than what’s said in court. But the arguments also help them resolve nagging issues and occasionally can change a justice’s vote.


Meghan's privacy case against tabloid heard at UK Court
Criminal Law Updates | 2020/04/24 03:20
A preliminary hearing opened Friday at Britain’s High Court in the Duchess of Sussex’s legal action against a British newspaper that published what she describes as a “private and confidential” letter she wrote to her father.

Meghan is suing the Mail on Sunday and its parent company, Associated Newspapers, for publishing parts of an August 2018 letter she wrote to Thomas Markle. The civil lawsuit accuses the newspaper of copyright infringement, misuse of private information and violating the U.K.’s data protection law.

Associated Newspapers published sections of the letter in February last year. It denies the allegations — particularly the claim that the letter was presented in a way that changed its meaning. Lawyers for Associated Newspapers want the court to strike out parts of Meghan’s case ahead of a full trial, arguing that allegations of “dishonesty and malicious intent” should not form part of her case.

As the hearing opened via video conferencing, Anthony White, a lawyer representing the publisher, told the judge that lawyers for Meghan had made “further assertions of improper, deliberate conduct,” and that she accused the publisher of “harassing, humiliating, manipulating and exploiting” Thomas Markle.

White rejected the duchess’s allegations that the publisher had deliberately sought to “manufacture or stoke a family dispute for the sake of having a good story or stories to publish.” He said this was “irrelevant to the claim for misuse of private information”, and asked the judge to strike out that allegation.



Court reinstates order for Russia to pay $50 bln over Yukos
Criminal Law Updates | 2020/02/18 02:47
In a major legal defeat for the Russian government, a Dutch appeals court on Tuesday reinstated an international arbitration panel’s order that it should pay $50 billion compensation to shareholders in former oil company Yukos.

The ruling overturned a 2016 decision by The Hague District Court that quashed the compensation order on the grounds that the arbitration panel did not have jurisdiction because the case was based on an energy treaty that Russia had signed but not ratified.

The Hague Court of Appeal ruled that the 2016 decision “was not correct. That means that the arbitration order is in force again.”

“This is a victory for the rule of law. The independent courts of a democracy have shown their integrity and served justice. A brutal kleptocracy has been held to account,” Tim Osborne, the chief executive of GML, a company made up of Yukos shareholders, said in a statement.

The Russian Justice Ministry said in a statement after the verdict that Russia will appeal. It charged that the Hague appeals court “failed to take into account the illegitimate use by former Yukos shareholders of the Energy Charter Treaty that wasn’t ratified by the Russian federation.”

The arbitration panel had ruled that Moscow seized control of Yukos in 2003 by hammering the company with massive tax claims. The move was seen as an attempt to silence Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a vocal critic of President Vladimir Putin.

The 2014 arbitration ruling said that Russia was not acting in good faith when it levied the massive claims against Yukos, even though some of the company’s tax arrangements might have been questionable.



Saudis sentence 5 people to death for Khashoggi’s killing
Criminal Law Updates | 2019/12/24 01:37
A court in Saudi Arabia sentenced five people to death Monday for the killing of Washington Post columnist and royal family critic Jamal Khashoggi, whose grisly slaying in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul drew international condemnation and cast a cloud of suspicion over Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Three other people were found guilty by Riyadh’s criminal court of covering up the crime and were sentenced to a combined 24 years in prison, according to a statement read by the Saudi attorney general’s office on state TV.

In all, 11 people were put on trial in Saudi Arabia over the killing. The names of those found guilty were not disclosed by the government. Executions in the kingdom are carried out by beheading, sometimes in public. All the verdicts can be appealed.

A small number of diplomats, including from Turkey, as well as members of Khashoggi’s family were allowed to attend the nine court sessions, though independent media were barred.

While the case in Saudi Arabia has largely concluded, questions linger outside Riyadh about the crown prince’s culpability in the slaying.

“The decision is too unlawful to be acceptable,” Khashoggi’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, said in a text message to The Associated Press. “It is unacceptable.”

Agnes Callamard, who investigated the killing for the United Nations, tweeted that the verdicts are a “mockery” and that the masterminds behind the crime “have barely been touched by the investigation and the trial.” Amnesty International called the outcome “a whitewash which brings neither justice nor truth.”


Kansas Supreme Court getting new member, new chief justice
Criminal Law Updates | 2019/12/14 21:37
The Kansas Supreme Court will have a new member and a new chief justice next week.

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly plans to have a Monday morning news conference to name a replacement for former Justice Lee Johnson, who retired in September.

And Justice Marla Luckert is set to become the state court system's top official Tuesday when current Chief Justice Lawton Nuss retires.

Kelly's appointment Monday will be her first to the seven-member court, and she'll fill a second spot by mid-March because of Nuss' retirement.

The finalists for Kelly's first appointment are Shawnee County District Judge Evelyn Wilson, state Assistant Solicitor General Steven Obermeier and Deputy Kansas Attorney General Dennis Depew.

Johnson left the court after 12 1/2 years. Nuss is stepping down after serving on the court since 2002 and as chief justice since 2010.

Luckert is Nuss' replacement as chief justice because she's the next justice on the seven-member court with the most seniority.


Trump Has Successfully Gamed the Courts
Criminal Law Updates | 2019/12/10 05:38
At its simplest level, the impeachment of President Donald Trump looks like a collision between the legislative and executive branches of government. In that fight, each side is trying to defend its prerogatives as it sees them: For Congress (or at least the Democratic-led House), this includes the power to appropriate foreign aid, and the power to conduct oversight; for the executive branch, this means the power to make foreign policy as it sees fit, and to protect its internal deliberations.

What is missing from this portrait is the crucial role of the third branch of government, the judiciary, which has powerfully shaped the impeachment process by declining to exercise its prerogatives, rather than defending them. By choosing to treat the current moment as business as usual, federal courts have effectively removed themselves from the process. In effect, that has dictated what arguments can be mounted in the impeachment fight and what witnesses Congress, and the public, can hear?narrowing and obscuring the case against Trump.

None of this absolves Democrats of the decisions they’ve made. The House majority could have chosen to fight in court to compel testimony from current and former administration officials, especially former National Security Adviser John Bolton. Those fights would not have been resolved in time to hold an impeachment vote before Christmas, but that deadline is self-imposed and politically motivated. Democrats could have waited, or they could have pursued the court battle while also charging ahead.



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