Judge strikes down portions of Michigan towing law

Legal Business 2021/02/24 09:41   Bookmark and Share
A judge has struck down portions of a Michigan towing law after low-income Detroit residents shared extraordinary stories of high fees and frustration about the whereabouts of their vehicles.

The case centered on the practices of Detroit police and a towing company. The decision by U.S. District Judge Judith Levy could force changes in a law that’s viewed as favorable to the towing industry.

Levy last week ordered Detroit to notify the state within 24 hours after police call for a vehicle to be towed. That information typically triggers a notice to the car owner.

There was no maximum deadline to report a towed vehicle under the law, attorney Jason Katz said Wednesday.

Vehicle owners also can ask a local court to suspend the immediate payment of towing and storage fees before they get a hearing to object to a car’s impoundment, the judge said.

“You have an opportunity to get into court and fight it,” Katz said. “I don’t think first asking for $1,000 is fair.”

Gerald Grays believed his car was stolen in 2016. More than two years later, he finally learned that his car had been towed. He was told he would have to pay $930 just to get a hearing in 36th District Court, according to the lawsuit.

Levy ordered Detroit to pay $2,000 to Grays and $1,500 each to two more people. There was no immediate comment from the city Wednesday.

While the case only involved Detroit, Levy’s decision could be applied elsewhere in Michigan, Katz said.

State attorneys defended the law when Republican Bill Schuette was attorney general but dropped out of the case after Democrat Dana Nessel took office in 2019.
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Feds drop legal battle over tribe’s reservation status

Legal Insight 2021/02/20 20:09   Bookmark and Share
The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe scored a legal victory Friday when the U.S. Interior Department withdrew a Trump administration appeal that aimed to revoke federal reservation designation for the tribe’s land in Massachusetts.

A federal judge in 2020 blocked the U.S. Interior Department from revoking the tribe’s reservation designation, saying the agency’s decision to do so was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and contrary to law.” The Trump administration appealed the decision, but the Interior Department on Friday moved to dismiss the motion.

In a filing in a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., the Interior Department said it had “conferred with the parties and none opposes this motion.” A judge granted the motion and dismissed the case.

The tribe’s vice chair, Jessie Little Doe Baird, called it a triumph for the tribe and for ancestors “who have fought and died to ensure our Land and sovereign rights are respected.”

“We look forward to being able to close the book on this painful chapter in our history,” Baird said in a statement. “The decision not to pursue the appeal allows us continue fulfilling our commitment to being good stewards and protecting our Land and the future of our young ones and providing for our citizens.”

The Cape Cod-based tribe was granted more than 300 acres (1.2 square kilometers) of land in trust in 2015 by then-President Barack Obama, a move that carved out the federally protected land needed for the tribe to develop its planned $1 billion First Light casino, hotel and entertainment resort.

The tribe learned in March 2020 that the federal government was moving to reverse the reservation designation. The Trump administration decided it could not take the land into trust because the tribe was not officially recognized as of June 1, 1934. That was the year the federal Indian Reorganization Act, which laid the foundation for modern federal Indian policy, became law.

At the time, the tribe’s chair called it a “sucker punch.”  The tribe, which traces its ancestry to the Native Americans that shared a fall harvest meal with the Pilgrims in 1621, gained federal recognition in 2007.

U.S. Representative Bill Keating, D-Mass., whose district includes Cape Cod, applauded the decision to drop the appeal.
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European court rejects case vs Germany over Afghan airstrike

Court News 2021/02/16 11:06   Bookmark and Share
The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday rejected a complaint against Germany’s refusal to prosecute an officer who ordered the deadly bombing in 2009 of two fuel tankers in northern Afghanistan.

Scores of people died when U.S. Air Force jets bombed the tankers hijacked by the Taliban near Kunduz. The strike was ordered by the commander of the German base in Kunduz, Col. Georg Klein, who feared insurgents could use the trucks to carry out attacks.

Contrary to the intelligence Klein based his decision on, most of those swarming the trucks were local civilians invited by the Taliban to siphon fuel from the vehicles after they had become stuck in a riverbed.

An Afghan man who lost two sons aged 8 and 12 in the airstrike, Abdul Hanan, took the case to the European Court of Human Rights after German authorities declined to prosecute Klein. He alleged that Germany failed to conduct an effective investigation and that no “effective domestic remedy” to that had been available in Germany.

The Strasbourg, France-based court rejected the complaints. It found that German federal prosecutors were “able to rely on a considerable amount of material concerning the circumstances and the impact of the airstrike.”

It also noted that courts including Germany’s highest, the Federal Constitutional Court, rejected cases by Hanan. And it added that a parliamentary commission of inquiry “had ensured a high level of public scrutiny of the case.”

Wolfgang Kaleck, the head of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights who provided legal support to Hanan, said the verdict was a disappointment for the plaintiff and his fellow villagers, but noted that judges had made clear that governments have a duty to at least investigate such cases.

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Circuit court judge accused of altering paperwork

Legal Insight 2021/02/11 14:28   Bookmark and Share
A New Hampshire circuit court judge has been accused of altering court paperwork with white out in a 2019 family division case while she was under investigation by the judicial branch.

Julie Introcaso, a Bedford judge who was suspended in October, was charged Thursday with two felony counts of falsifying physical evidence and three misdemeanors alleging tampering with public records or information and unsworn falsification.

The attorney general’s office said Introcaso will be arraigned at a later date. It wasn’t immediately known if she had a lawyer, and a number could not be found for her.

The attorney general’s office began an investigation last fall after the state Judicial Conduct Committee released a document alleging that Introcaso violated the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct.

That complaint alleges that Introcaso oversaw a child custody case for about six months despite having a friendship with a lawyer who was serving as a guardian ad litem in the matter. She approved rulings on the guardian’s fees and method of payment.

She eventually recused herself, citing a conflict of interest, but a party in the case made a complaint about her to the committee, which started an investigation. The committee alleges she altered the court orders during the investigation.

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Justices: California can’t enforce indoor church service ban

Court Watch 2021/02/06 14:28   Bookmark and Share
The Supreme Court is telling California that it can’t bar indoor church services because of the coronavirus pandemic, but it can keep for now a ban on singing and chanting indoors.

The high court issued orders late Friday in two cases where churches had sued over coronavirus-related restrictions in the state. The high court said that for now, California can’t ban indoor worship as it had in almost all of the state because virus cases are high.

The justices said the state can cap indoor services at 25% of a building’s capacity. The justices also declined to stop California from enforcing a ban put in place last summer on indoor singing and chanting. California had put the restrictions in place because the virus is more easily transmitted indoors and singing releases tiny droplets that can carry the disease.

The justices were acting on emergency requests to halt the restrictions from South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista and Pasadena-based Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry, which has more than 160 churches across the state.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that “federal courts owe significant deference to politically accountable officials” when it comes to public health restrictions, but he said deference “has its limits.”

Roberts wrote that California’s determination “that the maximum number of adherents who can safely worship in the most cavernous cathedral is zero?appears to reflect not expertise or discretion, but instead insufficient appreciation or consideration of the interests at stake.”

In addition to Roberts, Justice Neil Gorsuch and Justice Amy Coney Barrett also wrote to explain their views. Gorsuch and Justice Clarence Thomas would have kept California from enforcing its singing ban. Barrett, the court’s newest justice, disagreed. Writing for herself and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, she said it wasn’t clear at this point whether the singing ban was being applied “across the board.”

She wrote that “if a chorister can sing in a Hollywood studio but not in her church, California’s regulations cannot be viewed as neutral,” triggering a stricter review by courts. The justices said the churches who sued can submit new evidence to a lower court that the singing ban is not being applied generally.

The court’s three liberal justices dissented, saying they would have upheld California’s restrictions. Justice Elena Kagan wrote in a dissent for herself, Justice Stephen Breyer and Justice Sonia Sotomayor that the court’s action “risks worsening the pandemic.” She said that the court was “making a special exception for worship services” rather than treating them like other activities where large groups of people come together “in close proximity for extended periods of time.” In areas of California where COVID-19 is widespread, which includes most of the state, activities including indoor dining and going to the movies are banned.

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More protests called in Moscow to demand Navalny’s release

Court News 2021/02/02 14:56   Bookmark and Share
Moscow braced for more protests seeking the release of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who faces a court hearing Tuesday after two weekends of nationwide rallies and thousands of arrests in the largest outpouring of discontent in Russia in years.

Tens of thousands filled the streets across the vast country Sunday, chanting slogans against President Vladimir Putin and demanding freedom for Navalny, who was jailed last month and faces years in prison. Over 5,400 protesters were detained by authorities, according to a human rights group.

One of those taken into custody for several hours was Navalny’s wife, Yulia, who was ordered Monday to pay a fine of about $265 for participating in an unauthorized rally.

While state-run media dismissed the demonstrations as small and claimed that they showed the failure of the opposition, Navalny’s team said the turnout demonstrated “overwhelming nationwide support” for the Kremlin’s fiercest critic. His allies called for protesters to come to the Moscow courthouse on Tuesday.

“Without your help, we won’t be able to resist the lawlessness of the authorities,” his politician’s team said in a social media post.

Mass protests engulfed dozens of Russian cities for the second weekend in a row despite efforts by authorities to stifle the unrest triggered by the jailing of 44-year-old Navalny.

He was arrested Jan. 17 upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin. Russian authorities reject the accusation. He faces a prison term for alleged probation violations from a 2014 money-laundering conviction that is widely seen as politically motivated.

Last month, Russia’s prison service filed a motion to replace his 3 1/2-year suspended sentence from the conviction with one he must serve. The Prosecutor General’s office backed the motion Monday, alleging Navalny engaged in “unlawful conduct” during the probation period.
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