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Death penalty decision delayed in Rapid City murder trial
Employment Law | 2021/03/30 22:25
A judge in Rapid City, South Dakota Tuesday granted a 90-day extension to the defense attorney of a man accused of murdering three people last year to be notified whether prosecutors will seek the death penalty.

The defense attorney for 36-year-old Arnson Absolu, a New York City man charged with three counts of premeditated first-degree murder for a series of alleged murders in August, asked the judge for the extension so he could investigate circumstances that may mitigate a death penalty sentence and meet with prosecutors, the Rapid City Journal reported. Absolu has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which are punishable by the death penalty or life in prison without parole.

The Pennington County State’s Attorney Office will make a decision on whether to pursue the death penalty after it meets with Absolu’s defense attorney, Timothy Rensch.

If Absolu is convicted, the judge or jury could consider the death penalty if there are aggravating circumstances, such as a murder-for-hire, murder that involved “torture, depravity of the mind or an aggravated battery,” and if the defendant was distributing hard drugs.

The judge or jury would also consider mitigating circumstances, such as the defendant’s childhood experience, mental health or developmental disorders.



Man gets 5 years in prison for arson at Savannah city office
Employment Law | 2021/03/15 17:54
A Georgia man has been sentenced to five years in federal prison for setting fire to a Savannah city government office building.

Stephen Charles Setter, 19, was sentenced by a U.S. District Court judge after pleading guilty to a charge of arson, federal prosecutors said in a news release. In his plea, Setter admitted to setting a blaze that destroyed the city’s code enforcement office last year on May 3.

Setter also told the court he had activated a fire alarm at a local marina that same night to draw firefighters away from their station. He said that allowed him to slip into the station and steal a radio, which he used to listen to fire department communications.

The fire at the code enforcement office spread to the attic and the roof. The building was declared a total loss with damage estimated at nearly $1 million. The fire was set late at night, when the building was unoccupied. No one was injured.

In addition to the prison sentence, the judge ordered Setter to pay $1.2 million in restitution.


Supreme Court could put new limits on voting rights lawsuits
Employment Law | 2021/02/27 06:28
Eight years after carving the heart out of a landmark voting rights law, the Supreme Court is looking at putting new limits on efforts to combat racial discrimination in voting.

The justices are taking up a case about Arizona restrictions on ballot collection and another policy that penalizes voters who cast ballots in the wrong precinct.

The high court’s consideration comes as Republican officials in the state and around the country have proposed more than 150 measures, following last year’s elections, to restrict voting access that civil rights groups say would disproportionately affect Black and Hispanic voters.

A broad Supreme Court ruling would make it harder to fight those efforts in court. Arguments are set for Tuesday via telephone, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It would be taking away one of the big tools, in fact, the main tool we have left now, to protect voters against racial discrimination,” said Myrna Perez, director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s voting rights and elections program.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican, said the high court case is about ballot integrity, not discrimination. “This is about protecting the franchise, not disenfranchising anyone,” said Brnovich, who will argue the case on Tuesday.

President Joe Biden narrowly won Arizona last year, and since 2018, the state has elected two Democratic senators.

The justices will be reviewing an appeals court ruling against a 2016 Arizona law that limits who can return early ballots for another person and against a separate state policy of discarding ballots if a voter goes to the wrong precinct.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the ballot-collection law and the state policy discriminate against minority voters in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act and that the law also violates the Constitution.

The Voting Rights Act, first enacted in 1965, was extremely effective against discrimination at the ballot box because it forced state and local governments, with a history of discrimination, including Arizona, to get advance approval from the Justice Department or a federal court before making any changes to elections.




European court rejects case vs Germany over Afghan airstrike
Employment Law | 2021/02/16 18:50
The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday rejected a complaint against Germany’s refusal to prosecute an officer who ordered the deadly bombing in 2009 of two fuel tankers in northern Afghanistan.

Scores of people died when U.S. Air Force jets bombed the tankers hijacked by the Taliban near Kunduz. The strike was ordered by the commander of the German base in Kunduz, Col. Georg Klein, who feared insurgents could use the trucks to carry out attacks.

Contrary to the intelligence Klein based his decision on, most of those swarming the trucks were local civilians invited by the Taliban to siphon fuel from the vehicles after they had become stuck in a riverbed.

An Afghan man who lost two sons aged 8 and 12 in the airstrike, Abdul Hanan, took the case to the European Court of Human Rights after German authorities declined to prosecute Klein. He alleged that Germany failed to conduct an effective investigation and that no “effective domestic remedy” to that had been available in Germany.

The Strasbourg, France-based court rejected the complaints. It found that German federal prosecutors were “able to rely on a considerable amount of material concerning the circumstances and the impact of the airstrike.”

It also noted that courts including Germany’s highest, the Federal Constitutional Court, rejected cases by Hanan. And it added that a parliamentary commission of inquiry “had ensured a high level of public scrutiny of the case.”

Wolfgang Kaleck, the head of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights who provided legal support to Hanan, said the verdict was a disappointment for the plaintiff and his fellow villagers, but noted that judges had made clear that governments have a duty to at least investigate such cases.

“The bombardment and the dozens of civilian deaths didn’t result in a rebuke, there’s no resumption of the criminal case,” he told reporters after the court announced its decision. “On the other hand it will be very important internationally, also in future, that the European Convention on Human Rights applies,” Kaleck said. “That’s to say, those who conduct such military operations have to legally answer for them afterward, hopefully to a greater extent than in the Kunduz case.”

A separate legal effort to force Germany to pay more compensation than the $5,000 it has so far given families for each victim was rejected last year by the Federal Constitutional Court. This civil case can still be appealed in Strasbourg.


Trump plan to curb drug costs dealt setback in court
Employment Law | 2020/12/24 21:49
A late-term maneuver by President Donald Trump to use lower drug prices paid overseas to limit some of Medicare’s own costs suffered a legal setback Wednesday that appears likely to keep the policy from taking effect before the president leaves office.

U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake in Baltimore issued a nationwide injunction that prevents the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, from carrying out the so-called “most favored nations” rule as scheduled on Jan. 1. The judge wrote in her temporary order that CMS had failed to follow required procedures for notice and comment before imposing such sweeping changes.

The Trump regulation would tie what Medicare pays for certain drugs administered in a doctor’s office to the lowest price paid among a group of economically advanced countries. It would apply to 50 medications that account for the highest spending under Medicare’s “Part B” benefit for outpatient care.

That group includes cancer drugs and other medications delivered by infusion or injection. Trump announced his new policy at the White House before the Thanksgiving holiday, saying, “the drug companies don’t like me too much. But we had to do it.”

A coalition of groups including the Association of Community Cancer Centers and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of American quickly sued to block the rule. Some opponents have likened the Trump policy to a form of socialist price controls.

Blake wrote that the plaintiffs had established a reasonable likelihood their arguments accusing the administration of cutting corners in a rush to regulate would carry the day in a trial. Federal law says that government agencies must provide adequate opportunity for affected parties to comment on proposed regulations. The administration had sought to use emergency authority as a work-around.

The case is hardly trivial, the judge said. “This case deals with a regulation that would for the first time implement the use of a price control mechanism not provided for by Congress,” Blake wrote.

The Health and Human Services department said it is reviewing the ruling, and had no immediate comment.

Trump came into office accusing drug companies of “getting away with murder” and promising to slash costs for American patients. But his administration was unable to drive major drug pricing legislation through Congress.

Even if the Trump rule is ultimately blocked, the idea of using international prices to lower costs for Americans is very much alive. It’s at the heart of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s legislation to empower Medicare to negotiate drug prices. And President-elect Joe Biden also supports the approach.

Blake was nominated to be a U.S. district judge by former Democratic President Bill Clinton.


Trump, Biden lawyer up, brace for White House legal battle
Employment Law | 2020/10/25 04:30
President Donald Trump’s and Democratic rival Joe Biden’s campaigns are assembling armies of powerful lawyers for the possibility that the race for the White House is decided not at the ballot box but in court.

They have been engaging in a lawyer’s version of tabletop war games, churning out draft pleadings, briefs and memos to cover scenarios that read like the stuff of a law school hypothetical more than a real-life case in a democracy.

Attorneys for the Republicans and the Democrats are already clashing in courts across the U.S. over mailed-in ballot deadlines and other issues brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. And as Trump tries to sow doubt in the legitimacy of the Nov. 3 election, both sides have built massive legal operations readying for a bitterly disputed race that lands at the Supreme Court.

“We’ve been preparing for this for well over a year,” Republican National Committee Chief Counsel Justin Riemer told The Associated Press. “We’ve been working with the campaign on our strategy for recount preparation, for Election Day operations and our litigation strategy.”

On the Democratic side, the Biden campaign’s election protection program includes a special national litigation team involving hundreds of lawyers led by Walter Dellinger, acting solicitor general in the Clinton administration, and Donald Verrilli, a solicitor general under President Barack Obama, among others. Bob Bauer, a former White House counsel to Obama, and Biden campaign general counsel Dana Remus are focused on protecting the rights of voters, who have been enduring long lines at polling places around the country on the belief that the presidential election will be decided by their ballots.

Both sides are informed by the experience of the 2000 election, which was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore. But this year, because Trump has pushed unsubstantiated claims about the potential for voter fraud with increased voting by mail, sowing doubt about the integrity of the result, lawyers are preparing for a return trip before the high court.


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