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High court deciding fate of cross-shaped Maryland memorial
Legal PR | 2019/02/25 18:03

The Supreme Court this week is hearing a case challenging the location of a nearly 100-year-old, cross-shaped Maryland war memorial.

Three area residents and the District of Columbia-based American Humanist Association argue the cross' location on public land violates the First Amendment's establishment clause. The clause prohibits the government from favoring one religion over others. They argue the cross should be moved to private property or modified into a slab or obelisk.

The cross' supporters say it doesn't violate the Constitution because it has a secular purpose and meaning: commemorating World War I veterans. The cross' base lists the names of 49 area residents who died in the war.

The American Legion and Maryland officials are defending the cross. They have the support of the Trump administration and 30 states.


Court: Constitutional ban on high fines applies to states
Legal News | 2019/02/21 18:09

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday that the Constitution's ban on excessive fines applies to the states, an outcome that could help efforts to rein in police seizure of property from criminal suspects.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the court's opinion in favor of Tyson Timbs, of Marion, Indiana. Police seized Timbs' $40,000 Land Rover when they arrested him for selling about $400 worth of heroin.

Reading a summary of her opinion in the courtroom, Ginsburg noted that governments employ fines "out of accord with the penal goals of retribution and deterrence" because fines are a source of revenue. The 85-year-old justice missed arguments last month following lung cancer surgery, but returned to the bench on Tuesday.

Timbs pleaded guilty, but faced no prison time. The biggest loss was the Land Rover he bought with some of the life insurance money he received after his father died.

Timbs still has to win one more round in court before he gets his vehicle back, but that seems to be a formality. A judge ruled that taking the car was disproportionate to the severity of the crime, which carries a maximum fine of $10,000. But Indiana's top court said the justices had never ruled that the Eighth Amendment's ban on excessive fines — like much of the rest of the Bill of Rights — applies to states as well as the federal government.

The case drew interest from liberal groups concerned about police abuses and conservative organizations opposed to excessive regulation. Timbs was represented by the libertarian public interest law firm Institute for Justice.

"The decision is an important first step for curtailing the potential for abuse that we see in civil forfeiture nationwide," said Sam Gedge, a lawyer with the Institute for Justice.

Law enforcement authorities have dramatically increased their use of civil forfeiture in recent decades. When law enforcement seizes the property of people accused of crimes, the proceeds from its sale often go directly to the agency that took it, the law firm said in written arguments in support of Timbs.


High court rules for retired US marshal in W.Va. tax dispute
Attorney News | 2019/02/18 18:11

The Supreme Court said Wednesday that the state of West Virginia unlawfully discriminated against a retired U.S. marshal when it excluded him from a more generous tax break given to onetime state law enforcement officers.

The court ruled unanimously for retired marshal James Dawson.

West Virginia law exempts state law enforcement retirees, including former policemen and firefighters, from paying income tax on their retirement benefits. But retired U.S. Marshals Service employees such as Dawson haven’t been getting that tax advantage.

Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote that because there aren’t any significant differences between Dawson’s former job responsibilities and those of state law enforcement retirees, “we have little difficulty concluding” that West Virginia’s law unlawfully discriminates against Dawson under federal law.

West Virginia had argued that it wasn’t doing anything wrong and that Dawson was getting the same benefit, a $2,000 income tax exemption, that applies to virtually all retired federal, state and local employees in West Virginia. The state said that only a “surpassingly small” number people who participate in specific, state-managed retirement plans get the exemption Dawson wanted to claim.

The U.S. government had backed Dawson, who served in the U.S. Marshals Service from 1987 to his retirement in 2008. He led the Marshals Service in the Southern District of West Virginia for the past six years.

In 2013, he filed paperwork seeking to amend his tax returns for two years and claim the more favorable tax exemption. Dawson said the state owed him $2,174 for 2010 and $2,111 for 2011. State tax officials disagreed, so Dawson took his case to court.



Ex-West Virginia Supreme Court justice set for sentencing
Legal PR | 2019/02/13 09:52

A former West Virginia Supreme Court justice who had a $32,000 blue suede couch in his office and was at the center of an impeachment scandal is due in federal court for sentencing for using his job for his own benefit.

Allen Loughry is scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Charleston.

Loughry was found guilty of 11 of the 22 charges at his October trial. Most of the charges involved mail and wire fraud involving his personal use of state cars and fuel cards. The judge last month threw out a witness tampering conviction.

Prosecutors are seeking a sentence above the guideline range of 15 to 21 months along with a fine between $7,500 and $75,000.

In a memorandum Monday, prosecutors said Loughry had an "unbridled arrogance" as a Supreme Court justice. They said Loughry's testimony exposed him as a liar and he has shown no remorse for his conduct.

"Corruption is a cancer that erodes the public's confidence in the government and undermines the rule of law," the memorandum said.

Loughry, who wrote a 2006 book while he was a Supreme Court law clerk about the history of political corruption in the state, was removed as chief justice last February. He was then suspended from the bench in June and resigned in November.

At trial, Loughry denied he benefited personally from trips he took when he became a justice in 2013. He said he used state-owned vehicles made available to the justices for what he said was a variety of reasons, including public outreach.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Wright said records showed Loughry took a government car to a wedding, four signings for his book, and "loads it up with Christmas presents" to visit relatives. A neighbor testified she saw Loughry pack presents in a car with a state government license plate around the holidays.

Loughry also was convicted of lying to federal investigators by saying he was unaware about the historical significance and value of a $42,000 state-owned desk that he had transferred to his home. He returned the desk and a green leather couch owned by the state after media reports about it.



Court case to tackle jails' medication-assisted treatment
Attorney News | 2019/02/12 17:52

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine started making its case in federal court on Monday against the ban on medication-assisted treatment in county jail amid the opioid crisis.

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills recently lifted the Maine Department of Corrections' ban on medication-assisted treatment. The ACLU's lawsuit filed in September argued that it's unconstitutional and harmful for Maine jails to prohibit such treatment.

Madawaska resident Brenda Smith sued, asking to continue using medication-assisted treatment to keep her opioid use disorder in remission. Smith, who is expected to report to Aroostook County Jail this year, testified Monday in U.S. District Court in Portland during a court case that is expected to last all week.

Smith wept on the stand while describing how access to the medicine is critical to stabilizing her life. ACLU lawyers said they will spend the week making the case that such access is a constitutional issue, as well as a protected right under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

"It makes me feel normal, like I'm a normal human being," Smith said.

Smith's lawsuit against the jail comes at a time when jails and prisons across the country are starting to provide addiction medications to inmates, as resistance from long-skeptical corrections officials appears to be loosening amid the national drug epidemic.

Attorneys for the jail have pushed back at the idea that a ban on medically assisted treatment is a violation of a prisoner's rights. Attorney Peter Marchesi, an attorney representing the jail Monday, has previously said medical staff members at the jail have the ability to manage prisoners' withdrawal symptoms.

Monday's court action also included an expert witness, Dr. Ross MacDonald, who has overseen medical care for New York City's jail system. The medical literature supports medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder, and it's important to have that option available to prisoners, he said.


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