China sentences lawyer who reported on outbreak to 4 years

Legal Insight 2020/12/28 13:05   Bookmark and Share
A Chinese court on Monday sentenced a former lawyer who reported on the early stage of the coronavirus outbreak to four years in prison on charges of “picking fights and provoking trouble,” one of her lawyers said.

The Pudong New Area People’s Court in the financial hub of Shanghai gave the sentence to Zhang Zhan following accusations she spread false information, gave interviews to foreign media, disrupted public order and “maliciously manipulated” the outbreak.

Lawyer Zhang Keke confirmed the sentence but said it was “inconvenient” to provide details ? usually an indication that the court has issued a partial gag order. He said the court did not ask Zhang whether she would appeal, nor did she indicate whether she would.

Zhang, 37, traveled to Wuhan in February and posted on various social media platforms about the outbreak that is believed to have emerged in the central Chinese city late last year.

She was arrested in May amid tough nationwide measures aimed at curbing the outbreak and heavy censorship to deflect criticism of the government’s initial response. Zhang reportedly went on a prolonged hunger strike while in detention, prompting authorities to forcibly feed her, and is said to be in poor health.

China has been accused of covering up the initial outbreak and delaying the release of crucial information, allowing the virus to spread and contributing to the pandemic that has sickened more than 80 million people worldwide and killed almost 1.8 million. Beijing vigorously denies the accusations, saying it took swift action that bought time for the rest of the world to prepare.

China’s ruling Communist Party tightly controls the media and seeks to block dissemination of information it hasn’t approved for release. In the early days of the outbreak, authorities reprimanded several Wuhan doctors for “rumor-mongering” after they alerted friends on social media. The best known of the doctors, Li Wenliang, later succumbed to COVID-19.
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Swiss court declines to remove judge from Sun Yang retrial

Court News 2020/12/26 13:05   Bookmark and Share
A legal challenge by Sun Yang against one of the judges who banned the Chinese swimmer for eight years in a now-overturned ruling has not been accepted by a Swiss federal judge.

Switzerland’s supreme court said Monday it deferred to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to decide if Romano Subiotto is eligible to serve on the judging panel at Sun’s retrial.

Subiotto was picked by the World Anti-Doping Agency last year to sit on the panel of three arbitrators that imposed the ban on three-time Olympic champion Sun for violating rules at a sample collection.

The ban was voided last week by the Swiss Federal Tribunal, whose bench of five judges upheld an appeal by Sun’s lawyers that CAS panel chairman Franco Frattini was biased. It did not consider the merits of the evidence.

Frattini, the former foreign minister of Italy, had posted anti-China comments on social media before Sun’s CAS hearing held in November 2019.

Because the first CAS process was quashed, the federal judge ruled she did not have authority over a request for an arbitrator to be recused, the supreme court said.

Subiotto and the other judge at the original hearing, Philippe Sands, a British barrister selected for the hearing by Sun’s legal team, could be picked for the retrial due next year.

However, Sun’s lawyers would likely object to them ? at a CAS panel that assesses such challenges ? because they were already part of a unanimous 3-0 verdict against him.

Sun’s lawyers have consistently objected to lawyers involved in the case.

Subiotto was selected by WADA after its original choice stepped aside during repeated challenges by Sun’s lawyers, and WADA’s American lead prosecutor stayed on the case despite a failed appeal to federal court  that he had an alleged conflict of interest.

The retrial faces a tight schedule and complications during the coronavirus pandemic to be decided before the Tokyo Olympics.

The 29-year-old Sun is the current world champion in the men’s 400-meter freestyle, which is among the first Olympic events scheduled to begin competition on July 24.
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Trump plan to curb drug costs dealt setback in court

Attorney News 2020/12/23 13:06   Bookmark and Share
A late-term maneuver by President Donald Trump to use lower drug prices paid overseas to limit some of Medicare’s own costs suffered a legal setback Wednesday that appears likely to keep the policy from taking effect before the president leaves office.

U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake in Baltimore issued a nationwide injunction that prevents the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, from carrying out the so-called “most favored nations” rule as scheduled on Jan. 1. The judge wrote in her temporary order that CMS had failed to follow required procedures for notice and comment before imposing such sweeping changes.

The Trump regulation would tie what Medicare pays for certain drugs administered in a doctor’s office to the lowest price paid among a group of economically advanced countries. It would apply to 50 medications that account for the highest spending under Medicare’s “Part B” benefit for outpatient care.

That group includes cancer drugs and other medications delivered by infusion or injection. Trump announced his new policy at the White House before the Thanksgiving holiday, saying, “the drug companies don’t like me too much. But we had to do it.”

A coalition of groups including the Association of Community Cancer Centers and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of American quickly sued to block the rule. Some opponents have likened the Trump policy to a form of socialist price controls.

Blake wrote that the plaintiffs had established a reasonable likelihood their arguments accusing the administration of cutting corners in a rush to regulate would carry the day in a trial. Federal law says that government agencies must provide adequate opportunity for affected parties to comment on proposed regulations. The administration had sought to use emergency authority as a work-around.

The case is hardly trivial, the judge said. “This case deals with a regulation that would for the first time implement the use of a price control mechanism not provided for by Congress,” Blake wrote.

The Health and Human Services department said it is reviewing the ruling, and had no immediate comment.

Trump came into office accusing drug companies of “getting away with murder” and promising to slash costs for American patients. But his administration was unable to drive major drug pricing legislation through Congress.

Even if the Trump rule is ultimately blocked, the idea of using international prices to lower costs for Americans is very much alive. It’s at the heart of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s legislation to empower Medicare to negotiate drug prices. And President-elect Joe Biden also supports the approach.

Blake was nominated to be a U.S. district judge by former Democratic President Bill Clinton.
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Trump wants Supreme Court to overturn Pa. election results

Court Watch 2020/12/21 18:14   Bookmark and Share
Undeterred by dismissals and admonitions from judges, President Donald Trump’s campaign continued with its unprecedented efforts to overturn the results of the Nov 3. election Sunday, saying it had filed a new petition with the Supreme Court.

The petition seeks to reverse a trio of Pennsylvania Supreme Court cases having to do with mail-in ballots and asks the court to reject voters’ will and allow the Pennsylvania General Assembly to pick its own slate of electors.

While the prospect of the highest court in the land throwing out the results of a democratic election based on unfounded charges of voter fraud is extraordinary unlikely, it wouldn’t change the outcome. President-elect Joe Biden would still be the winner even without Pennsylvania because of his wide margin of victory in the Electoral College.

“The petition seeks all appropriate remedies, including vacating the appointment of electors committed to Joseph Biden and allowing the Pennsylvania General Assembly to select their replacements,” Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani said in a statement.

He is asking the court to move swiftly so it can rule before Congress meets on Jan. 6 to tally the vote of the Electoral College, which decisively confirmed Biden’s win  with 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232. But the justices are not scheduled to meet again, even privately, until Jan 8, two days after Congress counts votes.

Pennsylvania last month certified Biden as the winner of the state’s 20 Electoral College votes after three weeks of vote counting and a string of failed legal challenges.

Trump’s campaign and his allies have now filed roughly 50 lawsuits alleging widespread voting fraud. Almost all have been dismissed or dropped because there is no evidence to support their allegations.

Trump has lost before judges of both political parties, including some he appointed. And some of his strongest rebukes have come from conservative Republicans. The Supreme Court has also refused to take up two cases ? decisions that Trump has scorned.

The new case is at least the fourth involving Pennsylvania that Trump’s campaign or Republican allies have taken to the Supreme Court in a bid to overturn Biden’s victory in the state or at least reverse court decisions involving mail-in balloting. Many more cases were filed in state and federal courts. Roughly 10,000 mail-in ballots that arrived after polls closed but before a state court-ordered deadline remain in limbo, awaiting the highest court’s decision on whether they should be counted.

The Trump campaign’s filing Sunday appears to target three decisions of Pennsylvania’s Democratic-majority state Supreme Court. In November, the state’s highest court upheld a Philadelphia judge’s ruling that state law only required election officials to allow partisan observers to be able to see mail-in ballots being processed, not stand close enough to election workers to see the writing on individual envelopes.

It also ruled that more than 8,300 mail-in ballots in Philadelphia that had been challenged by the Trump campaign because of minor technical errors ? such as a voter’s failure to write their name, address or date on the outer ballot envelope ? should be counted. In October, the court ruled unanimously that counties are prohibited from rejecting mail-in ballots simply because a voter’s signature does not resemble the signature on the person’s voter registration form.

The Pennsylvania Republican Party has a pending petition on the state’s mail-in-ballot deadline in which the party specifically says in its appeal that it recognizes the issue will not affect the outcome of the 2020 election.
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Longtime Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Abrahamson dies

Court News 2020/12/19 18:15   Bookmark and Share
Shirley Abrahamson, the longest-serving Wisconsin Supreme Court justice in state history and the first woman to serve on the high court, has died. She was 87.

Abrahamson, who also served as chief justice for a record 19 years, died Saturday after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, her son Dan Abrahamson told The Associated Press on Sunday.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers said in a statement that Abrahamson had a “larger-than-life impact” on the state's legal profession and her legacy is defined “not just by being a first, but her life’s work of ensuring she would not be the last, paving and lighting the way for the many women and others who would come after her.”

Long recognized as a top legal scholar nationally and a leader among state judges, Abrahamson wrote more than 450 majority opinions and participated in more than 3,500 written decisions during her more than four decades on Wisconsin’s highest court. She retired in 2019 and moved to California to be closer with her family.

In 1993, then-President Bill Clinton considered putting her on the U.S. Supreme Court, and she was later profiled in the book, “Great American Judges: An Encyclopedia.”

She told the Wisconsin State Journal in 2006 that she enjoyed being on the court.

“It has a mix of sitting, reading and writing and thinking, which I enjoy doing. And it’s quiet. On the other hand, all of the problems I work on are real problems of real people, and it matters to them, and it matters to the state of Wisconsin. So that gives an edge to it, and a stress,” she said.

The New York City native, with the accent to prove it, graduated first in her class from Indiana University Law School in 1956, three years after her marriage to Seymour Abrahamson. The couple moved to Madison and her husband, a world-renowned geneticist, joined the University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty in 1961. He died in 2016.

She earned a law degree from UW-Madison in 1962, then worked as a professor and joined a Madison law firm, hired by the father of future Gov. Jim Doyle.

Appointed to the state's high court by then-Gov. Patrick Lucey in 1976, Abrahamson won reelection four times to 10-year terms, starting in 1979. She broke the record for longest-serving in justice in 2013, her 36th year on the court.
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High court rules challenge to Trump census plan is premature

Court Watch 2020/12/17 18:15   Bookmark and Share
A divided Supreme Court has dismissed as premature a challenge to President Donald Trump’s plan to exclude people living in the country illegally from the population count used to allot states seats in the House of Representatives.

The court’s decision Friday, led by its conservative justices, is not a final ruling on the matter and, while it allows Trump to pursue the plan for now, it’s not clear whether he will receive final numbers from the Census Bureau before he leaves office next month.

If the president still has not received final census numbers by the time Joe Biden takes office Jan. 20, Trump’s plan will be effectively dead because Biden is extremely unlikely to pursue it. It’s also possible the Biden administration would take steps to try to reverse decisions made under Trump.

For now, though, the high court said it was too soon to rule on the legality of Trump’s plan because it’s not yet clear how many people he would seek to exclude and whether the division of House seats would be affected.

The court said in an unsigned opinion that “we express no view on the merits of the constitutional and related statutory claims presented. We hold only that they are not suitable for adjudication at this time.” At least five of the court’s six conservative justices had to join the opinion to make a majority on the nine-member court.

The three liberal justices dissented, saying the effort to exclude people in the country from the population for divvying up House seats is unlawful.

“I believe this Court should say so,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote, joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.

It’s not clear that Friday’s decision will have much practical effect. Documents leaked to the House committee that oversees the Census Bureau suggest the apportionment numbers won’t be ready until after Jan. 20, when Trump leaves office and Biden becomes president. The Census Bureau has acknowledged the discovery of data irregularities in recent weeks that put the Dec. 31 deadline in federal law for transmitting numbers to the president in jeopardy.

Dale Ho, the American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who argued the case for the challengers, said the decision was about the timing of the case, not whether the plan complies with federal law.

“This ruling does not authorize President Trump’s goal of excluding undocumented immigrants from the census count used to apportion the House of Representatives. The legal mandate is clear ? every single person counts in the census, and every single person is represented in Congress. If this policy is ever actually implemented, we’ll be right back in court challenging it,” Ho said.

No president has tried to do what Trump outlined in a memo in July ? remove millions of noncitizens from the once-a-decade head count of the U.S. population that determines how many seats each state gets in the House of Representatives, as well as the allocation of some federal funding.

States with large populations of people who are in the country illegally could lose seats in the House under Trump’s plan, and the president signaled in his memo that punishing states that “encourage illegal aliens” is one reason he issued it.

By the administration’s estimate, California could lose two to three House seats if people living in the country illegally were excluded based on what the administration said are more than 2 million such California residents.

His administration has defended his authority to exclude at least some people living in the country illegally, including perhaps people who are in immigration detention or those who have been ordered to leave the country.

But during arguments last month, acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall, Trump’s top Supreme Court lawyer, would not rule out larger categories of immigrants, including those who have protection from deportation under the DACA program.
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