Court allows Pennsylvania to redraw GOP-favored district map

Court News 2018/02/06 23:36   Bookmark and Share
Justice Samuel Alito, who handles emergency appeals from Pennsylvania, rejected the request from GOP legislative leaders and voters to put on hold an order from the state Supreme Court intended to produce new congressional districts in the coming two weeks.

The Pennsylvania high court ruled last month that the current map of 18 districts violates the state constitution because it unfairly benefits Republicans.

The decision comes just four days before the Republican-controlled Legislature's deadline for submitting a replacement map for Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf to consider. So far, there has been a notable lack of bipartisan movement on getting such a deal.

Pennsylvania's congressional delegation has been 13-5 in favor of Republicans during the three election cycles since the GOP-drawn 2011 map took effect, and experts have said those 13 seats are several more than would have been produced by a nonpartisan map.

Democrats have about 800,000 more registered voters than Republicans and hold all three elected statewide row offices, but Republicans enjoy solid majorities in both chambers of the Legislature.

Under the process laid out two weeks ago by four of the seven Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices, all Democrats, the Legislature has until Friday to approve a new map, after which Wolf will have until Feb. 15 to decide whether to endorse it and submit it to the justices.

Senate Republican Leader Jake Corman said Monday he's had "zero" discussions with Wolf and legislative leaders about new district boundaries and could not guarantee he will meet the deadline.

The state Supreme Court said it expects new districts to be in place by Feb. 19, and the new map is expected to be in play for the May 15 congressional primaries.
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Prosecutor asks for prison terms in Paris terror trial

Headline Legal News 2018/02/05 23:35   Bookmark and Share
A French prosecutor has requested four years in prison for a man accused of harboring killers in the 2015 Islamic State attacks on Paris, less than the maximum term.

In closing arguments Tuesday, Nicolas Le Bris said Jawad Bendaoud knew he was hiding criminals, but that there wasn't sufficient evidence he knew they were involved in the Nov. 13, 2015, attacks.

However, he called for the maximum 5-year sentence for co-defendant Youssef Ait-Boulhacen, arguing that Ait-Boulhacen knew who the men were, what they had done, and that they were plotting another attack.

Ait-Boulahacen's sister, Hasna, found the hideout for the fugitives and died with them in a police standoff.

The trial is the first time a French court has heard a case related to the attacks, which killed 130 people.
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Court: Lawsuit alleging coerced confessions can go to trial

Headline Legal News 2018/02/04 23:35   Bookmark and Share
A lawsuit that accuses Evansville police officers of violating three teenagers' constitutional rights by coercing confessions in the killing of a homeless man can proceed to trial, a federal appeals court has ruled.

A panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed there's enough evidence that officers deliberately coerced confessions from siblings William and Deadra Hurt in the death of 54-year-old Marcus Golike to warrant a civil trial.

"False confessions are a real problem ...," the judges wrote in their opinion, which describes the issue of whether police tactics are enough to make confessions involuntary "the ultimate legal question," The Evansville Courier & Press reported .

The suit filed in 2014 on behalf of William, Deadra and Andrea Hurt and their mother, Debbie Hurt, accuses detectives of threatening the teenagers, feeding them facts to coerce confessions and then ignoring evidence disproving those statements, and even manufacturing some evidence.

William Hurt was 18, Deadra Hurt 19 and Andrea Hurt 16 at the time of their arrests in the June 2012 killing of Golike, who was beaten, strangled and dumped in the Ohio River. Another teenager who was also arrested is not a party to the suit.

All charges in the case were ultimately dismissed against everyone but William Hurt, who refused a plea deal. A jury acquitted him of murder in February 2013.

Police began focusing on the teenagers after learning that Golike had visited the Hurt family before his death.

The suit's defendants include the city of Evansville, its police department, four city police detectives and their three supervisors at the time, one of whom is now deceased. The suit also names two Kentucky State Police detectives who were involved because Golike's body was found in their jurisdiction.

"At this juncture, the court has to take the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and then there is an issue for a jury or a judge to decide," said Keith Vonderahe, who's one of several attorneys representing the Evansville officers.
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Samsung heir freed after appeal wins suspended jail term

Lawyer Blog Post 2018/02/02 23:35   Bookmark and Share
Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong was freed Monday after a South Korean appeals court gave him a 2 ½-year suspended jail sentence for corruption in connection with a scandal that toppled the country's president.

The Seoul High Court softened the original ruling against Lee, rejecting most of the bribery charges leveled against Lee by prosecutors who sought a 12-year prison term.

While the ruling clears the way for the Samsung vice chairman to resume his role at the helm of the industrial giant founded by his grandfather after a year in prison, he faces a slew of challenges outside prison.

Chief among them will be winning trust that he is capable of running South Korea's biggest company, and assuaging public anger among those who viewed the court's surprise decision as a setback in the war on corruptions.

"The past year was a precious time for personal reflection," Lee told reporters waiting outside the gates of a detention center in southern Seoul.

Lee's first stop from the prison was a Samsung hospital where his father has been hospitalized after suffering a heart attack in 2014.

Lee was charged with offering $38 million in bribes to former President Park Geun-hye and her confidant Choi Soon-sil, embezzling Samsung funds, hiding assets overseas, concealing proceeds from criminal activities and perjury.

The appeals court said Lee was unable to reject the then-president's request to financially support her confidante and was coerced into making the payments. The court still found Lee guilty of giving 3.6 billion won ($3.3 million) in bribes for equestrian training of Choi's daughter and of embezzling the money from Samsung funds.
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Thai court drops royal insult charges against academic

Lawyer Blog Post 2018/01/30 11:33   Bookmark and Share
A Thai military court on Wednesday dropped royal insult charges against an 84-year old historian who questioned whether a Thai king had actually defeated a Burmese adversary in combat on elephant-back over 500 years ago.

Sulak Sivaraksa was charged in October under the draconian lese majeste law that protects the monarchy from libel and defamation. The Bangkok military court had agreed to hear views from historians and experts before it decided to drop the charges for lack of evidence.

Sulak, a veteran academic and proclaimed royalist, said he had petitioned Thailand's new king, Vajiralongkorn, for help in dropping the charges against him.

"I contacted many people for help but no one dared to. So I petitioned the king. If it weren't for His Majesty's grace, this case would not have been dropped," he said.

His case stems from a 2014 university lecture when he told the audience to "not fall prey to propaganda" and questioned whether King Naraesuan had really won the 1593 battle by defeating a Burmese prince in solo combat mounted on a war elephant. The story is one of Thailand's most celebrated historical feats and the date of the combat is marked each year with a military parade on Jan. 18.

Insulting the monarchy is punishable by three to 15 years in prison. The law in writing appears to only protect the king, queen, and heir apparent but in practice the rules are more widely interpreted.
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Pennsylvania court throws out congressional boundaries

Lawyer Blog Post 2018/01/30 11:33   Bookmark and Share
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down the state's widely criticized congressional map Monday, granting a major victory to Democrats who alleged the 18 districts were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Republicans and setting off a scramble to draw a new map.

In the Democratic-controlled court's decision, the majority said the boundaries "clearly, plainly and palpably" violate the state's constitution and blocked the boundaries from remaining in effect for the 2018 elections with just weeks until dozens of people file paperwork to run for Congress.

The justices gave the Republican-controlled Legislature until Feb. 9 to pass a replacement and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf until Feb. 15 to submit it to the court. Otherwise, the justices said they will adopt a plan in an effort to keep the May 15 primary election on track.

The decision comes amid a national tide of gerrymandering cases, including some that have reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

Democrats cheered the decision to toss out a Republican-drawn map used in three general elections going back to 2012. The map, they say, gave Republicans crucial help in securing 13 of 18 seats in a state where registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans 5 to 4.

"We won the whole thing," said David Gersch of the Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer law firm in Washington, D.C., which is helping represent the group of registered Democrats who filed the lawsuit last June.

The defendants — top Republican lawmakers — said they would ask the U.S. Supreme Court this week to step in and put the decision on hold. The state court's decision lacks clarity, precedent and respect for the constitution and would introduce chaos into the state's congressional races, they said.

The Senate's top Republican lawyer, Drew Crompton, called the timeline to draw new districts "borderline unworkable," but said Republicans will do everything they can to comply.

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