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Chaos marks start of Kavanaugh confirmation hearing
Court Line | 2018/09/03 13:10

Quarreling and confusion marked the start of the Senate's confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Tuesday, with Democrats trying to block the proceedings because of documents being withheld by the White House. Protesters also disrupted the proceedings.

In his opening remarks released ahead of delivery, Kavanaugh sought to tamp down the controversy over his nomination, which would likely shift the closely divided court to the right. He promised to be a "team player" if confirmed, declaring that he would be a "pro-law judge" who would not decide cases based on his personal views.

But Democrats raised objections from the moment Chairman Chuck Grassley gaveled the committee to order. They want to review 100,000 documents about Kavanaugh's record being withheld by the White House as well as some 42,000 documents released to the committee on a confidential basis on the eve of the hearing, along with others not sought by Republicans on the committee.

"We have not been given an opportunity to have a meaningful hearing on this nominee," said Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., made a motion to adjourn.

Grassley denied his request, but the arguments persisted.

More than a dozen protesters, shouting one by one, disrupted the hearing at several points and were removed by police. "This is a mockery and a travesty of justice," shouted one woman. "Cancel Brett Kavanaugh!"

Grassley defended the document production as the most open in history, saying there was "no reason to delay the hearing. He asked Kavanaugh, who sat before the committee with White House officials behind him, to introduce his parents, wife and children.

"I'm very honored to be here," Kavanaugh said.

With majority Republicans appearing united, it's doubtful the hearings will affect the eventual confirmation of President Donald Trump's nominee. But they will likely become a rallying cry for both parties just two months before the midterm elections.

Kavanaugh declared he would be even-handed in his approach to the law.

"A good judge must be an umpire, a neutral and impartial arbiter who favors no litigant or policy," Kavanaugh said in prepared opening remarks. "I am not a pro-plaintiff or pro-defendant judge. I am not a pro-prosecution or pro-defense judge."

"I would always strive to be a team player on the Team of Nine," he added.

The Supreme Court is more often thought of as nine separate judges, rather than a team. And on the most contentious cases, the court tends to split into two sides, conservative and liberal. But the justices often say they seek consensus when they can, and they like to focus on how frequently they reach unanimous decisions.


German court mulls jail for some over Munich air pollution
Court Line | 2018/08/27 10:13

A German newspaper reports that judges are considering jailing senior Bavarian officials for failing to take action against air pollution in Munich, home to automaker BMW.

Daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported Monday that the southern German state's administrative court believes jailing officials may be the most effective way of forcing the Bavarian government to enforce emissions-cutting measures.

Munich topped the ranks of 65 German cities that exceeded levels of harmful particles last year. Bavarian officials have refused to impose measures in the state capital — such as limited bans on driving diesel vehicles — despite heavy fines.

According to the report, Bavarian judges want to seek legal guidance from the European Court of Justice on whether jailing officials — including state Environment Minister Marcel Huber and Governor Markus Soeder — would be permissible.


Lawyers will seek to shift blame for warehouse fire at trial
Court Line | 2018/08/16 07:47

Lawyers for the two men charged in the Northern California warehouse fire that killed 36 people said Friday they are now preparing for a trial where they will try to shift blame for the blaze from their clients to others, including the building's owner and government officials.

Derick Almena, 48, and Max Harris, 28, on Friday appeared briefly in an Oakland courtroom for the first time since a judge scuttled a plea deal agreed to by prosecutors. They were ordered back to court in three weeks to schedule a trial.

Outside court, the men's lawyers say there's plenty of blame to share for the Dec. 2, 2016, fire in an Oakland warehouse illegally converted into an underground entertainment venue and live-work space for artists. The cause of the fire has never been determined, which the lawyers said is key part of the men's defense.

Serra also said numerous government officials visited the illegally converted warehouse before the fire, and they had a duty to report the building's condition to authorities. Almena lived in the warehouse with his wife and three children and were visited by Alameda County's Child Protective Services officials several times. Oakland police officers were also called to the warehouse on several occasions to investigate noise complaints and tenant disputes, among other issues.


Filing period opens for West Virginia Supreme Court seat
Court Line | 2018/08/06 16:38

The filing period has begun for a special election for the West Virginia Supreme Court.

The filing period for the unexpired seat of former Justice Menis Ketchum started Monday and runs through Aug. 21. The special election will be held concurrently with the Nov. 6 general election.

Candidates must be at least 30 years old, residents of West Virginia for at least five years and admitted to practice law for at least 10 years.

Ketchum announced his retirement last month. He had two years remaining in his term.

Last week prosecutors said Ketchum has agreed to plead guilty in federal court to one count of wire fraud stemming from the personal use of state-owned vehicles and fuel cards. He faces a plea hearing and up to 20 years in prison.



High court gives mixed verdict on Burgum-Legislature spat
Court Line | 2018/08/02 23:38

North Dakota's Supreme Court on Monday rejected several of Gov. Doug Burgum's vetoes but sided with the governor in other portions of a dispute with the Legislature that revolved around overreach on both sides.

The high court ruled that Burgum was out of line in four out of five line-item vetoes that the Legislature had challenged. In the vetoes — which included appropriations for the State Water Commission and for information technology spending, among others — the Supreme Court said Burgum had gone too far with vetoes that would have changed legislators' intent.

The Supreme Court sided with Burgum's challenge that lawmakers had improperly delegated authority to a subset of legislators — known as the Budget Section — for how some $299 million for the Water Commission could be shifted among several identified needs.

Burgum made the same successful argument for the Legislature's attempt to have the budget section direct where half of $3.6 million appropriated for information technology would be spent.

"Convenience is no substitute for the mandatory legislative process," Judge Jerod Tufte wrote. He said the Legislature encroached on the executive branch by giving a committee of its members the power to administer appropriations.

Burgum had earlier conceded most of the vetoes would fail. He said in a statement late Monday he was pleased with the court's ruling.


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