Albanian officials want ex-minister tried over deadly blast

Lawyer Blog Post 2021/05/06 10:02   Bookmark and Share
Albanian prosecutors on Thursday asked Supreme Court judges to allow the trial of a former defense minister over a massive munitions disposal factory blast that killed 26 people in 2008, more than a decade after the case against him was dropped.

The Special Prosecution Against Corruption, or SPAK, formally asked the Supreme Court to revoke its 2009 dismissal of the criminal case against Fatmir Mediu. At the time, Mediu had been spared trial because he had been re-elected to parliament and then lawmakers had immunity.

He is still a member of parliament with an opposition party, but that form of immunity in criminal cases has since been abolished.

Mediu denied wrongdoing and said Thursday that the SPAK move was politically motivated.

The March 15, 2008 explosions at Gerdec, outside the capital, Tirana, killed 26 people, injured 264 and damaged about 5,500 houses. Mediu had been subsequently charged with abuse of power.

In 2012 a court convicted and jailed 19 people over the accident, but angry relatives of the victims complained that top government officials had evaded justice.

The request to resume the case against Mediu followed an appeal to SPAK by Zamira Durda and her husband Feruzan Durda, whose six-year-old son was killed while playing in the back yard of their home near the blast site.

“That is the motive of my life, gaining justice for my son,” said Zamira Durda. “Everything in the Gerdec case should resume from scratch, not only the former minister.”

SPAK was formed under a judicial reform in 2016, prepared with help from European Union and United States experts and intended to ensure political independence for judges and prosecutors and to root out bribery.
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Judges hear arguments over Census’ contentious privacy tool

Legal Insight 2021/05/02 11:30   Bookmark and Share
The fight over whether the U.S. Census Bureau can use a controversial statistical technique to keep people’s information private in the numbers used for drawing political districts on Monday was going before a judicial panel which must decide if the method provides enough data accuracy.

A panel of three federal judges was hearing arguments on whether the method known as “differential privacy” meets the federal legal requirement for keeping private the personal information of people who participated in the 2020 census while still allowing the numbers to be sufficiently accurate for the highly-partisan process of redrawing congressional and legislative districts.

Because a panel of three federal judges will decide the matter, any appeal could go straight to the Supreme Court.

This first major challenge to the Census Bureau’s use of differential privacy comes in the lawsuit filed by the state of Alabama and three Alabama politicians over the statistical agency’s decision to delay the release of data used for drawing congressional and legislative districts. Normally the redistricting data are released at the end of March, but the Census Bureau pushed the deadline to sometime in August, at the earliest, because of delays caused by the pandemic.

Alabama claims the delay was caused by the bureau’s attempt to implement differential privacy, which the state’s attorneys say will result in inaccurate redistricting numbers. At least 16 other states back Alabama’s challenge, which is asking the judges for a preliminary injunction to stop the Census Bureau from implementing the statistical technique. Alabama also wants the agency to release the redistricting data by July 31.

Civil rights advocates, state lawmakers and redistricting experts have raised concerns that differential privacy will produce inaccurate data for drawing districts, and that will result in a skewed distribution of political power and federal funds. They also worry it will make it difficult to comply with sections of the Voting Rights Act requiring the drawing of majority-minority districts when racial or ethnic groups make up a majority of a community.

Differential privacy adds mathematical “noise,” or intentional errors, to the data to obscure any given individual’s identity while still providing statistically valid information. Bureau officials say the change is needed to prevent data miners from matching individuals to confidential details that have been rendered anonymous in the massive data release. In a test using 2010 census data, which was released without the obscuring technique, bureau statisticians said they were able to re-identify 17% of the U.S. population using information in commercial databases.
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Slain girl’s grandmother wants caseworkers deemed ‘reckless’

Legal Business 2021/04/28 14:03   Bookmark and Share
The grandmother of a 2-year-old girl who was beaten and starved to death wants to file a wrongful death lawsuit against three caseworkers who oversaw the girl’s care, and has taken her case to the Ohio Supreme Court.

During oral arguments Wednesday, justices questioned the responsibility the state’s children’s service agency has for protecting children as its caseworkers investigate allegations of abuse.

The child prompting the case, Glenara Bates, weighed under 14 pounds ? almost half the recommended weight for a 2-year-old girl?when she died in March 2015, and Hamilton County authorities said she was beaten by her parents, with visible belt and bite marks among other injuries.

Her father, Glen Bates, was sentenced to death the following year, but his conviction and sentence were later overturned after the state high court said a juror who made racially biased comments on a jury questionnaire should not have been seated in the trial of Bates, who is Black. A new trial is scheduled for January.

The girl’s mother was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.

After Glenara’s death, the girl’s maternal grandmother, Desena Bradley, sued three Hamilton County caseworkers, saying they missed obvious signs of abuse. Three weeks after caseworkers declared the girl “happy and healthy” during a March 2015 visit, she was dead, according to Desena Bradley’s complaint in the Ohio Supreme Court.

“According to the coroner, Glenara had been brutalized for months on end before her death,” Rachel Bloomekatz, an attorney representing the grandmother, said in a November court filing. “But somehow, Glenara’s bruises, scars, bite marks, whip marks, and gaunt, under-fed body completely eluded the caseworkers.”

State law provides case workers immunity from such lawsuits unless they were found to have acted “in a wanton or reckless manner.” Lower courts rejected the grandmother’s claims, saying she hadn’t provided enough evidence that the immunity should be lifted.

Desena Bradley appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court, which held oral arguments Wednesday. A decision isn’t expected for months. It’s unclear from court records whether Desena Bradley stepped in on behalf of her granddaughter when she was alive.

Hamilton County officials wants the high court to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing the girl was killed by her parents and not by county workers. There’s no evidence the caseworkers acted maliciously or in bad faith, county attorneys said.

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Nevada inmate fighting on several fronts to avoid execution

Court News 2021/04/24 14:15   Bookmark and Share
A convicted Nevada mass murderer is mounting a range of legal challenges to a bid to schedule his execution in early June, including questioning whether the district attorney in Las Vegas really wants the lethal injection carried out at a decommissioned prison in Carson City.

Prosecutor Alexander Chen on Friday said that’s a mistake that will be corrected in court filings next week.

Attorneys for Zane Michael Floyd filed new documents this week asking a state court judge to halt the process at least long enough to determine if the state’s lethal injection procedure would be unconstitutionally cruel and inhumane, and to force prisons officials to show they have the three drugs they would use.

“We would add to that the opportunity to present clemency on behalf of our client,” Floyd’s attorney, Brad Levenson, said in an email. “We are indeed litigating in state and federal court on many serious issues.”

District Attorney Steve Wolfson didn’t immediately respond to messages about documents that Levenson filed Wednesday.

One seeks a stay of execution. The other opposes Wolfson’s request for Clark County District Judge Michael Villani to issue a warrant to set Floyd’s execution date the week beginning June 7.

The prosecutor’s April 15 application for a death warrant specifies that the execution should be “within the limits of the State Prison, located at or near Carson City.”

Villani has scheduled court hearings on May 14. Floyd, 45, was sentenced in 2000 to die for killing four people with a shotgun and badly wounding a fifth in a Las Vegas supermarket in 1999.

He is one of 65 inmates housed on death row at Ely State Prison, a facility 250 miles (402 kilometers) north of Las Vegas and some 260 miles (418 kilometers) east of Carson City where a new lethal injection chamber was built in 2016 at a cost of about $860,000. It has never been used.

Floyd’s attorneys want a judge to force state Department of Corrections officials to say if they’ve changed a procedure posted in July 2018 for a lethal injection that was later called off; to prove they have the drugs they would use; and to demonstrate that witnesses would not be exposed to COVID-19.
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Supreme Court rejects defendant’s appeal in 2015 slaying

Court Watch 2021/04/20 14:37   Bookmark and Share
The South Dakota Supreme Court has upheld the life prison sentence given to a man who plotted the slaying of his ex-girlfriend, a 22-year-old Rapid City woman.

Jonathan Klinetobe pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter in a deal with prosecutors and was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Klinetobe was originally facing the death penalty in connection with the fatal stabbing of Jessica Rehfeld in 2015.

Prosecutors said Klinetobe was upset that Rehfeld broke up with him and convinced two other men to kidnap and kill her.

In his appeal, Klinetobe argued the judge who sentenced him abused her discretion and that the life term violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, the Rapid City Journal  reported.

The justices unanimously rejected both arguments. Klinetobe convinced Richard Hirth and David Schneider to kill Rehfeld after he made up a story that the Hell’s Angels would pay an $80,000 bounty since she had information on the motorcycle gang, according to prosecutors.

After Hirth and Schneider kidnapped and stabbed her to death while pretending to give her a ride to work, Klinetobe helped them bury her body in the woods near Rockerville, officials said.

Two weeks later, he hired Garland Brown and Michael Frye to help him dig up Rehfeld’s body from the shallow grave and bury her farther into the woods and deeper underground. Everyone but Hirth has pleaded guilty and been sentenced.
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Alaska denied oil check benefits to gay couples, dependents

Headline Legal News 2021/04/17 18:57   Bookmark and Share
Alaska discriminated against some same-sex spouses for years in wrongfully denying them benefits by claiming their unions were not recognized even after courts struck down same-sex marriage bans, court documents obtained by The Associated Press show.

The agency that determines eligibility for the yearly oil wealth check paid to nearly all Alaska residents denied a dividend for same-sex spouses or dependents of military members stationed in other states for five years after a federal court invalidated Alaska’s ban on same-sex marriage in 2014, and the Supreme Court legalized the unions nationwide in June 2015, the documents show.

In one email from July 2019, a same-sex spouse living out-of-state with his military husband was denied a check because “unfortunately the state of Alaska doesn’t recognize same sex marriage yet,” employee Marissa Requa wrote to a colleague, ending the sentence with a frown face emoji.

This Permanent Fund Dividend Division practice continued until Denali Smith, who was denied benefits appealed and asked the state to start including her lawyer in its correspondence.

Smith later sued the state, seeking an order declaring that state officials violated the federal court decision and Smith’s constitutional rights to equal protection and due process

Smith and the state on Wednesday settled the lawsuit. Alaska admitted denying benefits to same-sex military spouses and dependents for five years in violation of the permanent injunction put in place by the 2014 U.S. District Court decision. The state also vowed to no longer use the outdated state law, to deny military spouses and dependents oil checks going forward, and updated enforcement regulations.

There were no financial terms to the settlement. In fact, Smith had to pay $400 out of pocket to file the federal lawsuit to get her oil check, and her attorney worked pro bono.

In Alaska, the oil wealth check is seen as an entitlement that people use to buy things like new TVs or snowmobiles, fund college savings accounts or, in rural Alaska, weather high heating and food costs. The nest-egg fund, seeded with oil money, has grown into billions of dollars. A portion traditionally goes toward the checks, but the amount varies. Last year, nearly every single resident received $992. The year before, the amount was $1,606.

About 800 pages of emails provided by the state for the lawsuit show a clear misunderstanding or outright disregard of the 2014 precedent and reluctance to reach out to the attorney general’s office for guidance.
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