Bill Cosby arrives in court ahead of sexual assault trial

Lawyer Blog Post 2017/06/06 11:01   Bookmark and Share
Bill Cosby arrived at the suburban Philadelphia courthouse for the start of his sexual assault trial Monday. The 79-year-old Cosby showed up at the Montgomery County courthouse at about 8:40 a.m. amid a large media presence.

Arriving with the disgraced comedian were his defense attorneys and his former "Cosby Show" castmate Keshia Knight Pullman who played his daughter Rudy.

Cosby's life and legacy are on the line when his accuser takes the stand in the only criminal case to emerge from the dozens of sexual assault allegations lodged against the actor. The former college basketball manager says Cosby drugged and assaulted her in 2004.

This is the only criminal case to emerge from the dozens of sexual assault allegations lodged against him. Cosby says he had a romantic relationship with her. She will tell her story in public for the first time when she testifies. Those involved in the case worry about duplicating the media frenzy that dominated O.J. Simpson's murder trial.

Cameras are banned in Pennsylvania courtrooms. The jury will be sequestered for the estimated two-week trial.
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Court sides with towns over utilities in tax dispute

Court Watch 2017/06/04 10:36   Bookmark and Share
Two electric utilities seeking to reduce their property taxes in dozens of towns across New Hampshire lost an appeal Friday to the state Supreme Court.

Eversource and the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative sought tax abatements from 64 towns in 2011 and 2012, but the state Board of Tax and Land Appeals rejected most of those requests, and the utilities appealed.

The utilities argued that towns' property tax assessments were too high and that their property taxes instead should be based on a valuation formula used by the state Department of Revenue Administration in levying a separate utility tax.

In the ruling released Friday, the court sided with the towns, though it said it was troubled by substantial differences in assessments by towns for property tax purposes and assessments by the state for utility taxes. The court said such disputes could be avoided by adopting a uniform appraisal method, a decision for the Legislature, not the courts.

Eversource spokesman Martin Murray said the company has a duty to dispute valuations made by communities the company considers extreme outliers compared to the state assessments. He said the company remains concerned about the wide discrepancies.




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Court filing questions innocence panel insistence on secrecy

Legal Insight 2017/06/04 10:36   Bookmark and Share
As a man convicted of murder tries to prove to the North Carolina's innocence commission that he didn't commit the crime, his attorney says the commission has misled a judge in order to keep its files secret, causing delays in the case.

Attorney Chris Mumma represents Robert Bragg, who's serving a sentence of life without parole for a 1994 slaying. Bragg contends he's innocent. Last September his case came before the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, a state agency established to investigate and evaluate post-conviction innocence claims. The commission referred it to a three-judge panel, which is scheduled to hold a hearing in July — 10 months after the original commission hearing and two months after the original May hearing date.

The delay came, in part, as Bragg's attorney fought a protective order that the commission said was necessary to shield a confidential investigative file. The commission said evidence in the file was obtained through methods that require it to be kept under a stricter level of judicial protection than other criminal investigative files.

But in a court filing, Mumma says the commission misrepresented the file's contents. In fact, only one protective order was found in the documents, and defense attorneys already had received that file, Mumma said in the court filing last month in Bragg's case.

While Mumma now has the full commission file and can use it in this appeal, the protective order means she can't use it again in the future without seeking a judge's permission.


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Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch: Rule of law 'a blessing'

Legal Interview 2017/06/03 10:37   Bookmark and Share
Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch acknowledged Friday that there is "a lot of skepticism about the rule of law" in the country but defended the United States judicial system as "a blessing" and "a remarkable gift" during a talk at Harvard University.

The court's newest justice marveled that in America "nine old people in polyester black robes" and other judges can safely decide cases according to their conscience and that the government can lose cases without resorting to the use of armed force to impose its will.

"That is a heritage that is very, very special," he said. "It's a remarkable gift. Travel elsewhere. See how judges live. See whether they feel free to express themselves."

Gorsuch, made the comments during his first public appearance since joining the high court in a conversation with fellow Justice Stephen Breyer at Harvard University.

Gorsuch said that particularly in tumultuous times it's important to convince the next generation "that the project (of justice) is worth it because many of them have grave doubts."

"I think there is a lot of skepticism about the rule of law, but I see it day in and day out in the trenches — the adversarial process of lawyers coming to court and shaking hands before and after, the judges shaking hands as we do, before we ascend to the bench," he said. "That's how we resolve our differences in this society."

Gorsuch, who was nominated to the high court earlier this year by Republican President Donald Trump, said he believes there is still confidence in the judicial system. He said that 95 percent of all cases are decided in the trial court, while only 5 percent are appealed, and the Supreme Court hears about 80 cases in a good year.
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Mom sentenced in Australian court for drowning 3 children

Lawyer Blog Post 2017/06/02 10:38   Bookmark and Share
A mother who drowned three of her children and attempted to kill a fourth by driving the family car into an Australian lake was sentenced Tuesday to 20 years and six months in prison.

Akon Guode, 37, drove a SUV carrying four of her seven children into the lake in Melbourne in April 2015. Her 5-year-old daughter Alual survived after passersby pulled her from the partially submerged car.

But Guodes' 16-month-old son Bol and 4-year-old twins, Hanger and her brother Madit, died.

Victoria state Supreme Court Justice Lex Lasry said he would have sentenced Goude to life in prison if she had not pleaded guilty to murder and attempted murder.

"People don't understand why you did what you did," the judge said. "In my opinion, your actions were the product of extreme desperation," he added.

Goude wept and wailed through her sentencing hearing as the judge outlined her crimes and her troubled life that led to it.

Born one of 16 children in 1979, she fled Sudan's civil war in which her husband died and arrived in Australia as a refugee in 2006.

The judge set a non-parole period of 20 years and said she will likely be deported on release. Her hometown, the city of Wau, is now in South Sudan, which became an independent country in 2011. It's not clear to which country she will be deported.
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In one state, abused animals get a legal voice in court

Legal Business 2017/06/02 10:37   Bookmark and Share
Many states have victim's advocates or child advocates, people in the judicial system who represent those affected by crime or abuse. Now, one state has created legal advocates for abused animals, an experiment being watched across the nation for signs of success.

There are eight approved volunteer advocates across Connecticut — seven lawyers and a UConn law professor, working with her students. It's up to a judge to decide whether to appoint one, but they can be requested by prosecutors or defense attorneys. In the first six months of the law, advocates have been appointed in five cases.

"Every state has the problem of overburdened courts that understandably prioritize human cases over animal cases in allocating resources," said University of Connecticut professor Jessica Rubin, a specialist in animal law. "Here's a way to help."

The American Kennel Club, though, opposed the legislation, saying it could result in confusion over who is responsible for an animal and limit the rights of animal owners, including in cases in which someone else is charged with the abuse.

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