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Washington Supreme Court weighing legislative records case
Court Watch | 2019/06/12 23:30

Washington Supreme Court justices had pointed questions Tuesday for lawyers representing the Legislature and a media coalition who argued that lawmakers have been violating the law by not releasing emails, daily schedules and written reports of sexual harassment investigations.

The high court heard oral arguments on the appeal of a case that was sparked by a September 2017 lawsuit from a coalition led by The Associated Press. The group sued to challenge lawmakers' assertion they are not subject to the law that applies to other elected officials and agencies.

A Thurston County superior court judge in January 2018 ruled that the offices of individual lawmakers are in fact subject to the Public Records Act, but that the Washington Legislature, the House and Senate were not.

The media coalition's lawsuit had named the individual entities of the Legislature, as well as four legislative leaders. The Legislature has appealed the portion of the ruling that applies to the legislative offices, and the media coalition has appealed the portion of the ruling that applies to the Legislature, House and Senate.

The Public Records Act was passed by voter initiative in 1972. The Legislature has made a series of changes in the decades since, and lawyers for the House and Senate have regularly cited a 1995 revision in their denials to reporters seeking records.


South Korean court orders easing of decades-old abortion ban
Court Watch | 2019/04/09 00:07

In a major reversal, South Korea's Constitutional Court on Thursday ordered the easing of the country's decades-old ban on most abortions, one of the strictest in the developed world.

Abortions have been largely illegal in South Korea since 1953, though convictions for violating the restrictions are rare. Still, the illegality of abortions forces women to seek out unauthorized and often expensive procedures to end their pregnancies, creating a social stigma that makes them feel like criminals.

The court's nine-justice panel said that the parliament must revise legislation to ease the current regulations by the end of 2020. It said the current abortion law was incompatible with the constitution and would be repealed if parliament fails to come up with new legislation by then.

The ruling is final and cannot be appealed, court officials said, but current regulations will remain in effect until they are replaced or repealed.

An easing of the law could open up the door to more abortions for social and economic reasons. Current exceptions to the law only allow abortions when a woman is pregnant through rape or incest, when a pregnancy seriously jeopardizes her health, or when she or her male partner has certain diseases.

A woman in South Korea can be punished with up to one year in prison for having an illegal abortion, and a doctor can get up to two years in prison for performing an unauthorized abortion.

Thursday's verdict was a response to an appeal filed in February 2017 by an obstetrician charged with carrying out about 70 unauthorized abortions from 2013-2017 at the request or approval of pregnant women.

Most other countries in the 36-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the so-called most developed countries, allow abortions for broad social and economic reasons. South Korea is one of only five OECD member states that don't allow such abortions, according to the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family.

The South Korean public has been sharply split over the abortion law. There have been heated panel discussions on TV and internet programs; activists, both for and against, have for months stood with placards near the court. Dozens gathered on Thursday.


Veterans court may be collateral damage in immigration fight
Court Watch | 2019/03/17 06:33

Three decades ago, Lori Ann Bourgeois was guarding fighter jets at an air base. After her discharge, she fell into drug addiction. She wound up living on the streets and was arrested for possession of methamphetamine.

But on a recent day, the former Air Force Security Police member walked into a Veterans Treatment Court after completing a 90-day residential drug treatment program. Two dozen fellow vets sitting on the courtroom benches applauded. A judge handed Bourgeois a special coin marking the occasion, inscribed with the words “Change Attitude, Change Thinking, Change Behavior.”

The program Bourgeois credits for pulling her out of the “black hole” of homelessness is among more than three dozen Oregon specialty courts caught in a standoff between the state and federal government over immigration enforcement.

The Trump administration in 2017 threatened to withhold law enforcement grants from 29 cities, counties or states it viewed as having “sanctuary” policies that limit cooperation with federal immigration agents. Today, all those jurisdictions have received or been cleared to get the money, except Oregon, which is battling for the funds in federal court.

The Veterans Treatment Court in Eugene and 40 other specialty courts, including mental health and civilian drug programs, risk losing all or part of their budgets, said Michael Schmidt, executive director of Oregon’s Criminal Justice Commission, which administers the money.

The commission has managed to keep the courts funded through July, Schmidt said. Unless the Trump administration relents or is forced by court order to deliver the money, or the Oregon Legislature comes up with it, the commission must make “horrible, tough decisions” about where to make the cuts, Schmidt said.

Speaking in her small office in the Eugene courthouse, specialty courts coordinator Danielle Hanson said if the veterans court budget is cut, the vets would have to start paying for drug treatment, and they would be deprived of housing resources and travel funds to go to residential treatment facilities as far as 330 miles (530 kilometers) away. Some veterans might even be turned away.


Supreme Court rules for Alabama death row inmate
Court Watch | 2019/03/04 02:16

The Supreme Court is ordering a new state court hearing to determine whether an Alabama death row inmate is so affected by dementia that he can't be executed.

The justices ruled 5-3 on Wednesday in favor of inmate Vernon Madison, who killed a police officer in 1985. His lawyers say he has suffered strokes that have left him with severe dementia.

Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court's four liberals in siding with Madison.

The high court ruling is not the end of the case. Justice Elena Kagan says in her majority opinion that, if the state wants to put Madison to death, an Alabama state court must determine that Madison understands why he is being executed.

The justices have previously said the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment means that people who are insane, delusional or psychotic cannot be executed.

But Kagan, reading a summary of her ruling, said, "Based on our review of the record, we can't be sure that the state court recognized that Madison's dementia might render him incompetent to be executed."

Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas, who last year would have allowed the execution to proceed without hearing the case, dissented. Justice Brett Kavanaugh was not yet on the court when arguments took place in early October.


Man accused of kidnapping Wisconsin girl to appear in court
Court Watch | 2019/02/06 18:55

A man accused of kidnapping a 13-year-old Wisconsin girl and killing her parents is scheduled to appear in court Wednesday for a preliminary hearing.

Jake Patterson, 21, is accused of killing James and Denise Closs on Oct. 15 and kidnapping their daughter , Jayme Closs, from their Barron home. Jayme escaped on Jan. 10, after 88 days.

Patterson is expected to be in the courtroom Wednesday, according to Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald. The purpose of a preliminary hearing is to determine whether there's grounds for a trial. Both sides can present evidence.

According to the criminal complaint, Patterson told investigators he knew Jayme "was the girl he was going to take" after he saw her getting on a school bus near her home. He made two aborted trips to the family's home before carrying out the attack in which he killed Jayme's mother in front of her.

In the days that followed, thousands of people volunteered to search for Jayme. Investigators believe Patterson hid Jayme in a remote cabin in Gordon, about 60 miles (97 kilometers) north of Barron, before she escaped and got help from a woman walking her dog.

Jayme told police that on the night she was abducted, she awoke to her dog's barking, then woke her parents as a car came up the driveway. Her father went to the front door as Jayme and her mother hid in a bathtub, according to the complaint. Jayme told police she heard a gunshot and knew her dad had been killed.


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