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Court gives fertilizer dealers a reprieve from policy change
Court Watch | 2016/09/26 22:14

A court ruling has given farm fertilizer dealers a reprieve from a federal policy change that some say would unfairly burden the industry.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration policy change announced last year would regulate retail dealers of farm fertilizer such as anhydrous ammonia under the same standards as manufacturers. It came after a deadly explosion at a Texas plant in 2013.

The Agricultural Retailers Association and The Fertilizer Institute say the change would affect 3,800 fertilizer retailers nationwide, costing them more than $100 million. The two organizations sued a year ago.

The change was to take effect this coming Saturday. But a federal appeals court has ruled that OSHA can't implement it without going through a formal rule-making process.



Court asks judges to respond to Louisiana sheriff's claims
Legal PR | 2016/09/26 22:14

A federal appeals court on Monday asked two judges to respond to a petition by a Louisiana sheriff who claims another judge was improperly removed from his criminal case without explanation.

A letter from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals says Chief Judge Dee Drell of the Western District of Louisiana and U.S. District Judge Donald Walter in Shreveport are "invited" to file written responses by Oct. 6. The appeals court also asked two federal prosecutors to respond to Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal's arguments.

Ackal's attorney, John McLindon, argued in a court filing Friday that U.S. District Judge Patricia Minaldi's mysterious removal from the sheriff's case violated court rules and apparently was done without her consent earlier this year.

McLindon also is challenging Walter's decision to hold the trial in Shreveport instead of Lafayette, where the case originated.

The letter from the 5th Circuit doesn't specify what issues the judges and prosecutors should address in their responses to Ackal's petition. The letter indicated that they discussed the matter by telephone on Monday morning.

Ackal awaits trial next month on charges over the alleged beatings of jail inmates. Nine former employees of the sheriff's office already have pleaded guilty and are cooperating with the Justice Department's civil rights investigation.

Minaldi originally was assigned to preside over the high-profile cases against the sheriff and 11 of his subordinates. But Drell abruptly reassigned the cases to Walter in March, two days after Ackal's indictment. Drell didn't give a reason for the switch in his one-sentence orders.

Four days before Minaldi's removal from the cases, she was in the middle of accepting guilty pleas by two former sheriff's deputies when a prosecutor cut her off mid-sentence and asked to speak to a defense attorney. Then, after a short break and private discussion with the attorneys, Minaldi adjourned the March 7 hearing in Lake Charles without giving a reason on the record.



Court cites racial profiling in tossing gun charge
Attorney News | 2016/09/24 22:14

The highest court in Massachusetts on Tuesday threw out a gun conviction against a Boston man in a ruling that says black men who flee when approached by police may be reacting to racial profiling rather than trying to hide criminal activity.

In its ruling, the Supreme Judicial Court found that Boston police had "far too little information" to stop Jimmy Warren after seeing him and another black man walking in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood about 30 minutes after they received a report of a home break-in in 2011.

Police had received only a vague description of three black males wearing dark clothing and hooded sweatshirts seen leaving the home. Warren ran when police approached him. After a foot chase, an officer arrested him in a backyard. He was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm after a handgun was found on the front lawn.

The SJC found that police did not have a reasonable suspicion to stop Warren and his friend, noting that an officer's hunch is not enough. The court cited a report by the Boston Police Department that found black men were disproportionately stopped and frisked by Boston police between 2007 and 2010. The court said black men in Boston who flee when approached by police does not necessarily indicate that they are guilty of a crime.



California Supreme Court to consider suit over Yelp review
Court Watch | 2016/09/23 22:14

The California Supreme Court agreed Wednesday to consider a lawsuit that Yelp.com warns could lead to the removal of negative reviews on the popular website.

The seven-member court voted unanimously Wednesday to take up an appeal by Yelp of a lower court ruling upholding an order requiring Yelp to remove posts against a San Francisco law firm.

Yelp wants the Supreme Court to overturn the ruling, saying that if it's allowed to stand, it will open the door for businesses to force the company to remove critical reviews.

Dawn Hassell, the law firm's managing attorney, says the business review website is exaggerating the stakes of her legal effort. She says it aims only to remove from Yelp lies by a former client that a judge determined were defamatory, not just negative.

Hassell referred comment Wednesday to her attorney, Monique Olivier, who said in a statement she was not surprised the Supreme Court has taken up the case given the "amount of attention" it has received.

"This case is not one of a 'bad review' " she said. "It is a case where a court adjudicated statements to be defamatory after receiving and reviewing evidence about the falsity of those statements."

Aaron Schur, Yelp's senior director of litigation, said the company looked forward to explaining to the court "how the lower court's decision is ripe for abuse, contradicts longstanding legal principles, and restricts the ability of websites to provide a balanced spectrum of views online."


Bosnian Serbs vote in referendum banned by top court
Court Watch | 2016/09/22 22:15

Bosnian Serbs on Sunday voted in a referendum banned by the country's constitutional court, risking Western sanctions against their autonomous region and criminal charges against their leaders.

The vote was whether to keep Jan. 9 as a holiday in Republika Srpska, commemorating the day in 1992 that Bosnian Serbs declared the creation of their own state, igniting the ruinous 1992-95 war. It comes despite the top court's ruling that the date, which falls on a Serb Christian Orthodox religious holiday, discriminates against Muslim Bosniaks and Catholic Croats in Bosnia.

Authorities said turnout was between 56 and 60 percent. Preliminary results after 30.76 percent of the ballots were counted say 99.8 percent of the voters were in favor of the holiday.

The vote has raised tensions and fears of renewed fighting as Bosniaks and Croats see the referendum as an attempt to elevate the Serb region above the country's constitutional court. It is also a test for a more serious referendum that Bosnian Serb leaders have announced for 2018 — one on independence from Bosnia.


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