EU closer to sanctions on Poland over changes in judiciary

Legal Insight 2017/07/15 22:47   Bookmark and Share
The European Union is coming closer to imposing sanctions on Poland for the government's attempt to take control over the judiciary, a senior official warned Wednesday, but he said the bloc was still open to dialogue.

European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans spoke Wednesday in Brussels, shortly after Poland's lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to send a contentious draft law that would reorganize the nation's top Supreme Court for more work by a special parliamentary commission.

Timmermans said that the EU was closer to triggering Article 7 against Poland because its recent steps toward the judiciary "greatly amplify the threat to the rule of law" and threaten putting the judiciary "under full political control of the government." But he said that dialogue between the EU and Poland should continue while the legislation is being worked on.

The EU's Article 7 allows the bloc to strip a nation of its voting rights. Article 7 was envisioned to ensure democratic standards in EU members. It requires unanimity among all other member states.

The vote in Poland's parliament, which is dominated by the ruling Law and Justice party, was preceded by a heated debate and street protests. It was the latest in a string of conflicts over the policies of the conservative party, which won power in a 2015 election. The government is also under strong criticism from other EU leaders.

Lawmakers voted 434-6 with one abstention for the commission for justice and human rights to review and issue its opinion on the draft law, which gives politicians, not lawyers, the power over appointments to the Supreme Court and reorganizes its structure.

The head of the commission, Stanislaw Piotrowicz, said it wasn't clear when the commission would convene and when its opinion would be known. He said the number of amendments proposed by the opposition was aimed at obstructing its work.

In a heated debate Tuesday, the opposition proposed more than 1,000 amendments to the draft, which, it says, kills judicial independence and destroys the democratic principle of the separation of the judiciary from the executive power.

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Rob Kardashian's ex-fiancee arrives at court for hearing

Legal Insight 2017/07/11 16:54   Bookmark and Share
Rob Kardashian's former fiancée Blac Chyna has arrived at a Los Angeles courthouse to seek a restraining order against the reality television star.

Chyna and her attorney Lisa Bloom walked into the downtown Los Angeles courthouse Monday morning without speaking to reporters.

Bloom has accused Kardashian of cyber bullying over a series of lurid Instagram posts he made last week. The posts got Kardashian's Instagram account shut down, but he continued his attacks on Twitter. The posts became a worldwide trending topic

Kardashian and Chyna announced their engagement in April 2016 and starred in an E! reality show about their relationship. The couple split up a month later. Their daughter, Dream, was born last November.

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Supreme Court deadline nears for suit over wetland loss

Lawyer Blog Post 2017/07/11 16:54   Bookmark and Share
A Louisiana flood board is nearing a deadline for asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review its lawsuit seeking to make oil and gas companies pay for decades of damage to coastal wetlands.

Federal district and appeals courts have rejected the lawsuit, which was met by fierce opposition from the energy industry and many in state government when it was filed in 2013. The suit by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority East said drilling and dredging activity contributed to loss of wetlands that form a hurricane buffer for New Orleans.

Oil industry supporters have labeled the lawsuit an attack on a vital industry. Tuesday marks the deadline for the flood board attorneys to seek Supreme Court review after their last defeat in April.

A federal district judge's 2015 ruling held that federal and state law provided no avenue by which the board could bring the suit.

A three judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling in March and the full 15-member court refused a rehearing in April. Lawyers for the flood board had a 90-day window to seek Supreme Court review.

Flood authority lawyers have argued that the flood board has the right to seek compensation for levee damage under the federal Rivers and Harbors Act. They also argued that federal judges should not have allowed the case to be moved to federal court from the state court where it originally was filed.

Meanwhile, some coastal parishes are pursuing coastal damage suits in state courts on different legal grounds. Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, has urged the energy companies to work toward a settlement. Industry leaders have resisted, saying the suits are meritless.




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Relatives of Slain US Troops Describe Loss to Jordan Court

Legal Insight 2017/07/10 16:54   Bookmark and Share
Relatives of two of the three U.S. military trainers shot dead at the gate of a Jordanian air base last year have described the pain of their loss to a military court trying the alleged killer.

The family members attended a court hearing in Jordan's capital Monday and will remain until the verdict, expected next week.

A Jordanian soldier charged with murder in the shootings faces life in prison if convicted.

The soldier, who allegedly opened deadly fire on U.S. troops at the gate, has pleaded "not guilty." The judge has said he has no ties to terrorist groups.

The defense attorney said his client fired because he feared the base was under attack The prosecutor said the defendant acted with intent, having fired dozens of rounds over several minutes.
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First Opioid Court in the U.S. Focuses on Keeping Users Alive

Court News 2017/07/09 16:54   Bookmark and Share
After three defendants fatally overdosed in a single week last year, it became clear that Buffalo's ordinary drug treatment court was no match for the heroin and painkiller crisis.

Now the city is experimenting with the nation's first opioid crisis intervention court, which can get users into treatment within hours of their arrest instead of days, requires them to check in with a judge every day for a month instead of once a week, and puts them on strict curfews. Administering justice takes a back seat to the overarching goal of simply keeping defendants alive.

"The idea behind it," said court project director Jeffrey Smith, "is only about how many people are still breathing each day when we're finished."

Funded with a three-year $300,000 U.S. Justice Department grant, the program began May 1 with the intent of treating 200 people in a year and providing a model that other heroin-wracked cities can replicate.

Two months in, organizers are optimistic. As of late last week, none of the 80 people who agreed to the program had overdosed, though about 10 warrants had been issued for missed appearances.

Buffalo-area health officials blamed 300 deaths on opioid overdoses in 2016, up from 127 two years earlier. That includes a young couple who did not make it to their second drug court appearance last spring. The woman's father arrived instead to tell the judge his daughter and her boyfriend had died the night before.

"We have an epidemic on our hands. ... We've got to start thinking outside the box here," said Erie County District Attorney John Flynn. "And if that means coddling an individual who has a minor offense, who is not a career criminal, who's got a serious drug problem, then I'm guilty of coddling."

Regular drug treatment courts that emerged in response to crack cocaine in the 1980s take people in after they've been arraigned and in some cases released. The toll of opioids and profile of their users, some of them hooked by legitimate prescriptions, called for more drastic measures.

Acceptance into opioid crisis court means detox, inpatient or outpatient care, 8 p.m. curfews, and at least 30 consecutive days of in-person meetings with the judge. A typical drug treatment court might require such appearances once a week or even once a month.

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Court: Detained immigrant children entitled to court hearing

Court News 2017/07/08 16:55   Bookmark and Share
Immigrant children who cross the border without their parents have the right to a court hearing to challenge any decision to detain them instead of turning them over to family in the U.S., a federal appeals court said Wednesday.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said two laws passed by Congress did not end the right to a bond hearing for unaccompanied immigrant children who are detained by federal authorities.

Tens of thousands of unaccompanied children fleeing gang and drug violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have entered the U.S. in recent years.

Federal officials place the vast majority of them with family in the U.S., who care for the minors while they attend school and while their cases go through the immigration court system.

But the Department of Human Services has the authority to hold children in secure facilities if they pose a danger to themselves or others or have committed a crime. Some have spent months in detention.

Immigration advocates estimate the size of the group in secure custody at several hundred children and say bond hearings allow them to understand why they are being held and challenge their detention.

"If you don't give kids transparency and a clear finite date when their detention will end you see all kinds of psychological effects," said Holly Cooper, co-director of the Immigration Law Clinic at the University of California, Davis.

Cooper represented plaintiffs in the legal fight over the bond hearings. The 9th Circuit ruling cited a declaration from one teenager who was held for 16 months, mostly at a juvenile detention center in Northern California. The teen, referred to only by his first name, Hector, said federal officials provided no explanation for his continued detention, and he received no hearing before an immigration judge. He was eventually released to his mother.

The Obama administration argued that two laws — one approved in 2002 and the other in 2008 — did away with the bond hearing requirement in a 1997 court settlement by giving the human services department all authority over custody and placement decisions for unaccompanied children.

The Department of Justice said in a 2016 court filing that immigration judges "are not experts in child-welfare issues and possess significantly less expertise in determining what is in the best interest of the child" than human services officials.
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