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N Carolina elections board back in court in power struggle
Court Line | 2018/07/30 23:37

The repeatedly altered composition of North Carolina's elections board returned to court Thursday as a proxy for the lengthy power struggle between Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and the Republican-dominated legislature.

A panel of three trial judges listened for over three hours but didn't immediately rule on the request by Cooper's lawyers to throw out a third iteration of a combined elections and ethics board. Structures of two earlier versions created by GOP lawmakers previously have been declared unconstitutional.

GOP lawmakers and Cooper have been embroiled in litigation and political disputes since Cooper was elected governor in 2016. Lawmakers have passed several bills that eroded Cooper's powers. The board is important because its members can approve early-voting sites that could affect election turnout. They can also assess campaign finance penalties and determine ethics law violations.

Republicans argue their latest attempt — the current nine-member board chosen by Cooper, with four Democrats, four Republicans and a ninth who can't be a member of either party — passes constitutional muster.

But Jim Phillips, a Cooper lawyer, told the judges the new board structure suffers the same flaws as the other versions because it still usurps the governor's constitutional duty to ensure state election laws are faithfully executed. While Cooper appoints the entire board, Phillips said, he only has strong influence over the four Democratic choices, picked from a list provided by the state Democratic Party.


Court: Release surveillance video in Florida school shooting
Court Line | 2018/07/25 23:36

An appeals court says news organizations are entitled to obtain surveillance video showing the law enforcement response to the Valentine's Day mass shooting at a Florida high school.

The 4th District Court of Appeal on Wednesday upheld a lower court's ruling that the video is public record that must be disclosed. News organizations including The Associated Press are seeking the video to better understand the actions of law enforcement and first responders during the shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Authorities say the school had 70 operating video cameras that day. The media organizations are not seeking any footage depicting the massacre or any victims.

Broward County prosecutors and its school board opposed the video release. Nineteen-year-old Nikolas Cruz faces murder charges in the shooting.


New Jersey court proposes tossing out old open-warrant cases
Court Line | 2018/07/21 13:45

The highest court in New Jersey is taking steps to do away with hundreds of thousands of open warrants for minor offenses such as parking tickets as part of an overhaul of the state's municipal court system.

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner on Thursday assigned three Superior Court judges to hold hearings on the proposal to dismiss at least 787,764 open warrants for offenses more than 15 years old that were never prosecuted.

"Those old outstanding complaints and open warrants in minor matters raise questions of fairness, the appropriate use of limited public resources by law enforcement and the courts, the ability of the state to prosecute cases successfully in light of how long matters have been pending and the availability of witnesses, and administrative efficiency," Rabner wrote in his order.

NJ.com reported that the order covers open warrants issued before 2003 for failure to appear in low-level cases, including 355,619 parking ticket cases, 348,631 moving violations and some cases related to town ordinance violations.

The open warrant and the underlying unpaid ticket would be dismissed. The order indicates that more serious charges such as speeding and drunken driving would not be included.

Throwing out old low-level cases was among 49 recommendations following a Supreme Court committee's review of the municipal court system. The committee cited a growing "public perception" that municipal courts "operate with a goal to fill the town's coffers," which the panel called contrary to the purpose of the courts.



Georgia officer charged in fatal shooting to appear in court
Court Line | 2018/07/17 17:04

A Georgia police officer charged with voluntary manslaughter in a fatal shooting is scheduled to appear in court.

A pretrial hearing is scheduled Tuesday morning for Zechariah Presley in Camden County Magistrate Court. Presley worked as a police officer in the small city of Kingsland when he was charged in the June 20 shooting of 33-year-old Tony Green.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has said Green was fleeing when Presley shot him following a brief altercation. The bureau said Presley had been following Green's vehicle when Green got out and ran on foot, but it has not said what prompted the pursuit.

Kingsland city officials fired 27-year-old Presley from his police job following his arrest a week after the shooting. The city is located near the Georgia-Florida state line.



Florida school shooting suspect's statement issue in court
Court Line | 2018/07/13 00:05

How much of Florida school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz's statement to investigators should be made public is an issue going before a judge.

A hearing is set Monday on whether any or all of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting suspect's statement should be released. Attorneys for the 19-year-old Cruz want most of the statement suppressed, contending it would improperly influence jurors in his trial.

News organizations including The Associated Press want as much of the statement released as possible. Florida law requires most evidence to be made public once it is turned over by prosecutors to the defense.

Cruz faces the death penalty if convicted of killing 17 people in the Valentine's Day attack. His attorneys say he would plead guilty in exchange for a life prison sentence.


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