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Mixed rulings for Republicans from Kentucky Supreme Court
Legal Focuses | 2018/11/16 05:02

In a pair of mixed rulings for Kentucky Republicans, the state Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a law requiring a panel of doctors to review medical malpractice cases before they go to court while upholding the state's law banning mandatory union dues for most employees.

Republicans celebrated when Gov. Matt Bevin signed both laws, made possible only after the GOP won control of the state House of Representatives in 2016 for the first time in nearly 100 years. Bevin has credited the union dues law, known as right-to-work, with boosting record levels of business investment in Kentucky. But the medical review panel law has been criticized for clogging the state's court system.

The medical review law gives a panel of doctors nine months to review medical malpractice lawsuits and issue an opinion about whether they are frivolous. A review of court records in August of this year by the Courier Journal found that in the first year the law was in effect, 11 percent of the 531 malpractice lawsuits filed had been assigned to a panel. Of those, findings had been issued in 3 percent.

The state legislature passed the law in 2017. Tonya Claycomb sued on behalf of her child, Ezra, who was born with severe brain damage and cerebral palsy she says was caused by medical malpractice. She argued the bill delayed her access to the courts, citing section 14 of the Kentucky Constitution. It says all courts shall be open and every person will have access "without ... delay."

Lawyers for Gov. Bevin argued the law is helpful because it gets the two sides talking before a lawsuit is filed, which could lead to an agreement to settle the case outside of court. They also pointed out the state has other laws that limit access to the courts, including requiring heirs to wait at least six months before suing the executor of an estate.



Georgia candidate asks court to intervene in vote dispute
Legal Focuses | 2018/11/13 18:44

A Congressional candidate in Georgia says she's asking a federal court to block one of the state's largest counties from certifying its vote totals before ballot disputes are resolved.

Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux's campaign filed a complaint Sunday night accusing Gwinnett County of improperly rejecting hundreds of absentee ballots in Georgia's 7th Congressional District.

Bourdeaux says those votes should be counted, partly because they were rejected based on "immaterial" information such as missing or inaccurate addresses or birth dates.

The race between Bourdeaux and Republican incumbent Rep. Rob Woodall remains too close to call. With all precincts reporting, Woodall held a lead of about 900 votes out of nearly 279,000 votes counted.

Under Georgia law, Bourdeaux could request a recount. Woodall's campaign on Monday didn't immediately return messages seeking comment.




Malaysia court to resume Kim Jong Nam murder trial on Jan. 7
Legal Focuses | 2018/11/06 20:52

A Malaysian court on Wednesday set Jan. 7 for two Southeast Asian women charged with murdering the North Korean leader’s half brother to begin their defense, as their lawyers complained that some witnesses were unreachable.

A High Court judge in August found there was enough evidence to infer that Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, along with four missing North Korean suspects, had engaged in a “well-planned conspiracy” to kill Kim Jong Nam.

The women appeared somber but calm during Wednesday’s hearing. The trial had been due to resume Nov. 1 but was postponed after a defense lawyer fell ill.

Aisyah’s lawyers made a new application to the court to compel prosecutors to provide them with statements that eight witnesses had given to police earlier.

Her lawyer, Kulaselvi Sandrasegaram, said they were informed that one of the witnesses, the man who chauffeured Kim to the airport, had died while two Indonesian women who were Aishah’s roommates were believed to have returned to their homeland. She said they have only managed to interview two of the witnesses offered by prosecutors, while two others didn’t turn up for their appointments and couldn’t be contacted.

The witness statements taken by police are important in “the interest of justice” and to ensure that what they say to defense lawyers is consistent with what they told police, Sandrasegaram told reporters later.

Prosecutor Iskandar Ahmad said the police interviews are privileged statements and shouldn’t be made public.

Judge Azmi Ariffin said the court will make a decision on the defense application on Dec. 14. He also set 10 days from Jan. 7 through February for Aishah’s defense and 14 days from March 11 through April for Huong.

The two are accused of smearing VX nerve agent on Kim’s face in an airport terminal in Kuala Lumpur on Feb. 13, 2017. They have said they thought they were taking part in a prank for a TV show. They are the only suspects in custody. The four North Korean suspects fled the country the same morning Kim was killed.

Lawyers for Aisyah, 25, and Huong, 29, have told the judge they will testify under oath in their defense.

They have said their clients were pawns in a political assassination with clear links to the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, and that the prosecution failed to show the women had any intention to kill. Their intent is key to concluding they are guilty of murder.


Group asks court to reject Arkansas justice's ad lawsuit
Legal Focuses | 2018/10/30 05:37

A Washington-based conservative group is asking a federal court to reject an Arkansas Supreme Court justice's attempt to halt its attack ads and mailers against her.

Attorneys for the Republican State Leadership Committee's Judicial Fairness Initiative on Monday asked the court to reject Justice Courtney Goodson's request for a preliminary injunction against the ads and mailers.

Goodson is running against David Sterling, an attorney for the Department of Human Services, in next month's election. The group's filing Monday said blocking the ads and mailers would be "patently unconstitutional."

RSLC says it's spent $1.1 million so far this fall on the high court race. A state judge in the spring temporarily blocked another group's TV ad attacking Goodson through the May 22 judicial election.



Supreme Court: Ross can't be questioned in census suit
Legal Focuses | 2018/10/23 04:11

The Supreme Court is siding with the Trump administration to block the questioning of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross about his decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

The unsigned order Monday overrides lower federal courts in New York that would have allowed the questioning of Ross to proceed in lawsuits challenging the addition of a citizenship question on the decennial census for the first time since 1950.

The suits by a dozen states and big cities, among others, say the citizenship question will discourage immigrants from participating, diluting political representation and federal dollars for states that tend to vote Democratic.

But the court is allowing the deposition of acting assistant attorney general John Gore to go forward, over the dissent of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas.

A trial is scheduled to begin in New York on Nov. 5, although Gorsuch suggested in a four-page opinion that U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman could delay the proceedings. Gorsuch said he "sees no reason to distinguish between Secretary Ross' deposition and those of other senior executive officials."

Furman based his ruling requiring Ross' deposition on concerns about Ross' truthfulness in relating how the decision to add the citizenship question came about. The judge noted that Ross claimed in March, when the decision to add the citizenship question was announced, that he considered adding it after a request to do so last December from the Justice Department.



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