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Polish leader appoints top court judges, against ruling
Court Line | 2018/10/08 00:36

Poland's president swore in 27 new Supreme Court judges Wednesday, stepping up the conflict over control of the judiciary and ignoring another top court that said the appointments should be suspended pending an opinion by European Union judges.

Andrzej Duda appointed judges to the civil and penal chambers of the court as well as to its new chamber of extraordinary control, according to his top aide, Pawel Mucha. Reporters were not allowed to witness the ceremony.

"We are implementing another stage of the reform of the justice system that is so important to us," Mucha said, adding: "We are acting in the public interest."

The new judges are part of the sweeping changes that the ruling conservative Law and Justice party has been applying to the justice system since winning power in 2015. It says that judges active during the communist era, before 1989, must be replaced. Many of the court's judges have been forced to retire early under a new law that put their retirement age at 65, from the previous 70.

But critics say the changes violate the constitution and are putting Poland's courts under the party's political control. They also say Duda is acting against the supreme charter and warn he may be brought to account before a special tribunal.

The former head of the Constitutional Tribunal, designed to try actions by politicians, Andrzej Zoll, said Duda must be "brought to account in the future," saying his actions are against the rule of law and could lead to anarchy.


Arkansas court hears challenge over reworked voter ID law
Court Line | 2018/09/20 07:18

An Arkansas attorney told state's highest court on Thursday it should strike down a law that requires voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot, saying the measure circumvents a 2014 ruling against a nearly identical voter ID requirement.

The Arkansas Supreme Court heard arguments from the state, which is defending the law, and Jeff Priebe, who represents a Little Rock voter challenging the measure as unconstitutional. Justices in May halted a state judge's ruling preventing Arkansas from enforcing the voter ID law, keeping it in place while they consider the case.

The high court in 2014 struck down a previous version of the voter ID law as unconstitutional. The revived voter ID law, which was approved last year, requires voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot. Unlike the previous measure, the new law allows voters to cast provisional ballots if they sign a sworn statement confirming their identities.

"It's closing the ballot booth doors," Priebe said during the roughly hour-long hearing.

Arkansas officials argue the new law complies with part of the Supreme Court's ruling striking down the 2013 measure. Justices in 2014 unanimously struck down the previous voter ID law, with a majority of the court ruling it unconstitutionally added a qualification to vote. Three justices, however, ruled the measure didn't get the two-thirds vote needed to change voter registration requirements. A majority of the court has changed hands since that ruling, and more than two-thirds of the House and Senate approved the new measure last year.

Deputy Secretary of State A.J. Kelly told the justices the lower court "has usurped the power of the Legislature to amend the Constitution" by blocking the law. "A single man has a driver's license and refuses to show it to vote, and he alone has put a constitutional amendment in jeopardy," Kelly said.

Justices did not indicate when they would rule. If they strike the law, it wouldn't affect a separate proposal on the ballot in November that would put a voter ID requirement in the state's constitution.

The court is considering the case weeks before voters head to the polls in an election where national Democrats are trying to flip a Little Rock-area congressional seat currently held by a Republican. Justice Courtney Goodson, who wrote the concurring opinion four years ago citing the two-thirds vote as the reason for striking the previous law, is seeking re-election in November in a race that has already drawn heavy spending from conservative groups opposing her bid.



States urge Supreme Court to hear Kennedy cousin case
Court Line | 2018/09/15 04:06

Eleven states are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear Connecticut's appeal in the murder case of Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel and reinstate his conviction.

The states filed a friend-of-the-court brief on Monday, saying a ruling in Connecticut's favor is needed to thwart excessive appeals that focused on mistakes made by defense lawyers. The court has not yet decided whether to hear Connecticut's appeal.

Skakel, a nephew of Robert F. Kennedy's widow, Ethel Kennedy, cited his trial lawyer's failure to contact an alibi witness in his successful appeal to the Connecticut Supreme Court.

The state court in 2016 upheld Skakel's 2002 murder conviction in the bludgeoning death of Martha Moxley in their wealthy Greenwich neighborhood in 1975, when they were teenagers. But the court reversed that ruling in May and vacated the conviction, after a justice in the 4-3 majority retired and a new justice sided with Skakel - a move that has also drawn scrutiny.

Connecticut prosecutors argue the state high court did not properly weigh the overall performance of Skakel's defense, which they described as vigorous. They say the U.S. Supreme Court needs to correct a misperception by other state and federal courts that any mistake by defense counsel demonstrates incompetence and warrants a new trial.

The friend-of-the-court brief, filed by Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes' office, said allowing the nitpicking of defense lawyer performance produces a variety of problems, including flooding the courts with appeals as a result of lower legal standards and making it harder for defendants to find lawyers willing to undergo such scrutiny.



Chicago, surfer group oppose US Steel settlement in court
Court Line | 2018/09/14 04:06

The city of Chicago and a surfing organization have told a judge that a proposed federal settlement over U.S. Steel's repeated chemical spills into Lake Michigan is inadequate.

The Chicago Law Department and the Surfrider Foundation urged the federal judge Thursday to impose tougher penalties on the steelmaker for last year's hexavalent chromium discharges from its Midwest Plant in Portage, Indiana, into the region's primary source of drinking water, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The nearly $900,000 in fines and penalties proposed by the federal government fall short when compared with the ecological damage caused by the carcinogenic discharges, according to court documents filed by the city of Chicago and the nonprofit foundation. The settlement also requires the steelmaker to test for hexavalent chromium daily, create a preventative maintenance program and upgrade all pollution monitoring.

"The government's inadequate oversight ... demonstrates the need for Surfrider to remain vigilant," said Mark Templeton, the group's attorney.

The University of Chicago's Abrams Environmental Law Clinic discovered last year that the manufacturing and finishing plant had violated chromium limits in its federal water pollution permit at least four times since 2013. The plant's chromium discharges are limited to 30 pounds a day, while hexavalent chromium is limited to about half a pound a day.



Court: No review of 100-year sentence for attempted murders
Court Line | 2018/09/07 04:58

A Louisiana court is refusing to review the case of a 31-year-old man who is serving 100 years for the attempted murder of two people.

Houma Today reports the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal Wednesday denied a review of Joshua Dean’s case.

The Houma man was convicted in 2008 of wounding two people in separate drive-by shootings.

Prosecutors described the shootings as random acts of violence. One victim was shot in the shoulder and another was shot in the back and paralyzed from the waist down.

Dean was sentenced to 50 years in prison on both counts to run consecutively.

He’s currently serving out his sentence at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.



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