Court lifts execution reprieve for San Antonio hit man

Headline Legal News 2016/12/06 13:23   Bookmark and Share
Texas' highest criminal court lifted a reprieve on Wednesday that, for the second time in a decade, prevented a convicted hit man from being executed for the 1992 slaying of a San Antonio woman.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals didn't rule on the merits of the appeal filed by 44-year-old Rolando Ruiz, who was five days away from execution when the court stepped in on Aug. 26. Instead, the court ruled that his appeal was not legally proper and dismissed it, clearing the way for prosecutors in Bexar County to seek a new execution date for Ruiz.

Investigators said Ruiz collected $2,000 to kill Theresa Rodriguez at her home in San Antonio at the request of her husband, Michael, and a brother-in-law as part of a life insurance scheme.

Ruiz was convicted of being the triggerman in the plot. Michael Rodriguez also was convicted in the case — but he wound up on death row after becoming one of the notorious Texas Seven gang of inmates who escaped from a prison in December 2000 and killed a Dallas-area police officer. Rodriguez was executed in 2008.

In Ruiz's appeal, his attorneys argued that his trial lawyers and his original appeals lawyers failed to investigate and present mitigating evidence, like his long-term drug abuse and a troubled childhood, that could have convinced jurors to decide on a punishment other than death.

But in a 6-1 ruling with two judges not participating, the criminal appeals court said that claim had been "fully and completely vetted" by the federal courts over the past seven years. The court said the claims of poor legal help at Ruiz's trial had been "inspected, scrutinized, studied, probed, analyzed, reviewed and evaluated by the three main levels of the federal court system."

The court also said it had previously rejected the argument raised in the appeal that executing Ruiz more than two decades after his conviction amounted to unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment.

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Court: Star Chinese investor pleads guilty in stock case

Legal Insight 2016/12/06 13:22   Bookmark and Share
A Chinese court says a star securities trader who was arrested following last year's stock market collapse has pleaded guilty to insider trading and manipulating share prices.

The court in the eastern city of Qingdao said in a statement Tuesday that Xu Xiang and two co-defendants pleaded guilty at the start of a trial but no verdict had been issued.

Xu was arrested in November after a rapid rise in Chinese share prices collapsed. Top executives of China's biggest state-owned securities firm also were arrested in a separate case.

The court statement said Xu and his co-defendants were accused of conspiring with executives of 13 companies from 2010 to 2015 to inflate their share price and then sell.

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Supreme Court takes up cases about race in redistricting

Court Watch 2016/12/05 13:22   Bookmark and Share
The Supreme Court is taking up a pair of cases in which African-American voters maintain that Southern states discriminated against them in drawing electoral districts.

The justices are hearing arguments Monday in redistricting disputes from North Carolina and Virginia.

The claim made by black voters in both states is that Republicans created districts with more reliably Democratic black voters than necessary to elect their preferred candidates, making neighboring districts whiter and more Republican.

A federal court struck down two North Carolina districts as unconstitutional because they relied too heavily on race. In Virginia, a court rejected a constitutional challenge to 12 state legislative districts. The justices have frequently considered the intersection of race and politics.

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Supreme Court won't hear challenge to FBI fitness test

Legal Insight 2016/12/04 13:22   Bookmark and Share
The Supreme Court won't hear a dispute over whether a physical fitness test for FBI special agents is biased against men.

The justices on Monday turned down an appeal from an Illinois man who failed the test after completing 29 out of 30 untimed pushups.

Jay Bauer said it's unfair that female trainees have to do only 14 pushups as part of the fitness test that includes situps, a 300-meter sprint and 1.5-mile run.

A federal judge ruled that the test discriminates on the basis of sex. But a federal appeals court sided with the FBI, saying it used "gender-normed" standards that require the same level of fitness for all trainees.

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Muslim cleric is in US court fighting against deportation

Court Watch 2016/12/03 13:22   Bookmark and Share
The leader of one of New Jersey's largest mosques has taken the stand to defend himself against charges that he lied on his green card application.

Imam Mohammad Qatanani is the leader of the Islamic Center of Passaic County.

A judge ruled against immigration authorities' attempt to have him deported eight years ago. Federal officials say he didn't disclose that he'd been convicted in Israel for being a member of Hamas.

Qatanani began testifying Tuesday before an immigration court judge in Newark as part of the appeals process.

Qatanani denies he was ever part of the group classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. He says he was only detained and never convicted.

Qatanani came to the U.S. from Jordan. He was born in the West Bank.

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Court blocks federal plan to extend overtime pay to many

Court News 2016/12/02 13:21   Bookmark and Share
In a blow to the Obama administration's labor-law plans, a federal court has blocked the start of a rule that would have made an estimated 4 million more American workers eligible for overtime pay heading into the holiday season.

As a result of Tuesday's ruling, overtime changes set to take effect Dec. 1 are now unlikely be in play before vast power shifts to a Donald Trump administration, which has spoken out against Obama-backed government regulation and generally aligns with the business groups that stridently opposed the overtime rule.

The U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Texas granted the nationwide preliminary injunction, saying the Department of Labor's rule exceeds the authority the agency was delegated by Congress.

"Businesses and state and local governments across the country can breathe a sigh of relief now that this rule has been halted," said Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who led the coalition of 21 states and governors fighting the rule and has been a frequent critic of what he characterized as Obama administration overreach. "Today's preliminary injunction reinforces the importance of the rule of law and constitutional government."

The regulation sought to shrink the so-called "white collar exemption" that allows employers to skip overtime pay for salaried administrative or professional workers who make more than about $23,660 per year. Critics say it's wrong that some retail and restaurant chains pay low-level managers as little as $25,000 a year and no overtime — even if they work 60 hours a week.



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