Judge rules Mormon church didn’t meddle in death row case

Court Watch 2021/03/31 15:58   Bookmark and Share
A Utah judge has ruled that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did not interfere in a death row inmate’s 2015 trial when it laid out ground rules for what local church leaders could say before they testified as character witnesses for the man.

Death row inmate Doug Lovell, 62, claimed the witnesses were effectively silenced by the church, or never contacted at all by his court-appointed attorney, Sean Young, The Salt Lake Tribune reported  Tuesday.

The lawyers argued the witnesses were family members, inmates and former church leaders who could have told jurors Lovell positively affected their lives. Those testimonies, which were not all given, could have swayed the jurors, they said.

Instead, Lovell was sentenced in 2015 to die by lethal injection for killing Joyce Yost three decades ago in an effort to silence her after she had alleged Lovell had raped her. Lovell appealed the verdict, claiming the church interfered in his trial and he didn’t receive adequate legal representation.

In a recent court ruling, Second District Judge Michael DiReda said Young wasn’t deficient in his representation and didn’t contact several witnesses because they would have said damaging things about his client.

DiReda also said the church didn’t interfere with Lovell’s case and told former bishops to tell the truth, but did not emphasize what they should say.

Lovell pleaded guilty to the murder in 1993 under a plea agreement that would have removed the death penalty if Lovell could show authorities the location of Yost’s body. The body was never found and the agreement was voided, but Lovell still pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and was sentenced to death.

In 2011, the Utah Supreme Court allowed Lovell to withdraw his guilty plea. He was then convicted at trial and again sentenced to death. The state Supreme Court in 2017 heard the case again and sent it back to a district court to determine if Lovell’s attorneys did their jobs properly and if the church asked ecclesiastical leaders to not testify.

The case will now get kicked back to the Utah Supreme Court, which will have the ultimate say in whether Lovell should receive another trial.

Lovell is one of seven men currently on death row in Utah. An execution date is unclear.
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Governor swears in newest Rhode Island state court judge

Court News 2021/03/27 19:28   Bookmark and Share
The newest judge to the Rhode Island Superior Court was sworn in Saturday.

Democratic Gov. Dan McKee presided over the swearing in of R. David Cruise, a longtime political operative and state senator, at the Boys & Girls Club location in Cumberland.

McKee, a former Cumberland mayor who has known Cruise for years, said in a statement that he’s an “honest, fair and thoughtful leader who brings decades of legal and government experience to the bench.”

Cruise is a former state senator and Cumberland town councilor. In recent years, he’s served as former Gov. Gina Raimondo’s director of legislative affairs, former administrative magistrate with the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal and chief of staff to the Rhode Island Senate, among other posts, according to McKee’s office.

In the 1990s, Cruise worked in the commerce department under President Bill Clinton and chief of staff to former Governor Bruce Sundlun. In the 1980s, he was a state senator and before that served on the Cumberland Town Council.

Cruise, who graduated from Providence College and the Suffolk University School of Law, replaces former Superior Court Judge Bennett Gallo, who retired in February.

The Rhode Island Superior Court has 22 judges and five magistrates. It handles both civil and criminal matters.
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Philippine Supreme Court slams killings of lawyers, judges

Lawyer Blog Post 2021/03/23 15:03   Bookmark and Share
The Philippine Supreme Court on Tuesday condemned the alarming number of killings and threats against lawyers and judges. One legal group has said these attacks are considerably higher under President Rodrigo Duterte compared to the past 50 years under six former presidents.

The 15-member high court asked lower courts, law enforcement agencies and lawyers and judges’ groups to provide information about such attacks in the last 10 years, in order for the court to take preemptive steps. The attacks, it said, endanger the rule of law in an Asian bastion of democracy.

“To threaten our judges and our lawyers is no less than an assault on the judiciary. To assault the judiciary is to shake the very bedrock on which the rule of law stands,” the high court said in a rare, strongly-worded censure of the attacks. “This cannot be allowed in a civilized society like ours.”

The court said it would not “tolerate such acts that only perverse justice, defeat the rule of law, undermine the most basic of constitutional principles and speculate on the worth of human lives.”

The Free Legal Assistance Group, a prominent group of lawyers, said at least 61 lawyers have been killed in the five years of Duterte’s presidency compared to at least 25 lawyers and judges slain under six presidents since 1972, when dictator Ferdinand Marcos placed the Philippines under martial law.

Lawyers’ groups said the court’s denunciation was long overdue but nevertheless welcomed it. “We have been sounding out the clarion call and providing information and concrete recommendations for the longest time,” said lawyer Edre Olalia, who heads the left-wing National Union of People’s Lawyers.

A number of lawyers who represented suspected drug dealers or were linked to the illegal drug trade were among those gunned down under Duterte’s rule. When he took office in mid-2016, Duterte launched a massive anti-drug crackdown that has left more than 6,000 mostly petty suspects dead and alarmed Western governments and human rights groups.
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Court upholds Iowa man’s civil judgment in mother’s death

Court News 2021/03/19 14:56   Bookmark and Share
There was enough evidence for a jury to conclude in a wrongful death lawsuit that an Iowa man shot and killed his mother, the state Supreme Court ruled Friday, leaving in place the jury’s $10 million award even though the man was eventually acquitted on criminal charges in her death.

The court denied Jason Carter’s appeal of the civil judgment, in which a jury found him responsible for the June 2015 shooting of his mother, Shirley Carter, at her home near Knoxville.

Jason Carter, of Knoxville, and his father, Bill Carter, have been locked in legal disputes since Shirley Carter’s death.

Bill Carter filed the lawsuit on behalf of his late wife’s estate and another son, Billy Dean Carter, in 2016. A jury found Jason Carter liable and awarded a $10 million judgment to be paid to his father and mother’s estate.

Jason Carter was charged with first-degree murder in his mother’s death, but a jury acquitted him in March 2019.

In his appeal of the civil judgment, Jason Carter claimed the judge had wrongly denied his motions to delay the civil trial, saying it should have been postponed because authorities were still investigating his mother’s death and hadn’t charged him yet. But the high court concluded in a decision written by Chief Justice Susan Christensen that “there is no rule requiring trial courts to stay civil proceedings until criminal proceedings conclude.”

Carter also disputed the civil trial judge’s decisions on subpoenas and motions to set aside the jury verdict. His motions were based in part on evidence that had surfaced in which witnesses claimed the shooting was a botched attempt by other people to steal prescription medication from Shirley and Bill Carters’ home. Jason Carter claimed such evidence may have helped him cast doubt on his liability in the civil case.

“We conclude that when viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, a reasonable mind could conclude by a preponderance of the evidence that Jason intentionally shot his mother,” Christensen wrote.

Jason Carter’s lawyer, Alison Kanne, said she and her client disagree with the court’s decision and “we remain satisfied with the fact that Jason Carter was conclusively deemed not guilty by a jury of his peers who had all of the information in front of them, which is something the civil jury did not have.”

Bill Carter’s lawyer, Mark Weinhardt, said they were reviewing the decision and would comment later. In his closing argument before the high court, Weinhardt said Bill Carter was seeking at least some measure of justice for his wife.
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Colorado court: Speed-reading bills violates constitution

Legal Business 2021/03/15 13:05   Bookmark and Share
The Colorado Supreme Court has ruled that state Senate Democrats violated the constitution in 2019 when they responded to Republicans’ request that bills be read at length by having computers speed-read the bills in an intelligible garble.

The Colorado Sun reports that in a 4-3 ruling released Monday, the court ruled the speed-reading tactic violated the constitution’s mandate that legislation be read at length upon request.

“There are unquestionably different ways by which the legislature may comply with the reading requirement,” Justice Carlos Samour Jr. wrote in the majority opinion. “But the cacophony generated by the computers here isn’t one of them.”

Minority Senate Republicans were trying to delay Democrats’ attempts to overhaul oil and gas regulations by asking that bills be read aloud ? including a 2,000-page measure. When Democrats resorted to computers, Republicans sued. A lower court found for the minority party.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Monica M. Marquez wrote that the court should give direction on how legislation ought to be read in the future.

In 2019, Democrats began negotiating with Republicans to avoid further stalling tactics ? and the GOP has since slowed down work on other occasions to force Democrats to make deals.
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Drug trafficker says he bribed Honduras president

Legal Business 2021/03/11 13:06   Bookmark and Share
A convicted Honduran drug trafficker and former leader of a cartel testified in United States federal court Thursday that he paid now-President Juan Orlando Hernandez $250,000 for protection from arrest in 2012.

Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, former leader of the Cachiros cartel, testified that he made the payment in cash through one of Hernandez’s sisters, Hilda Hernandez, in exchange “for protection so that the military police and preventive police didn’t capture us in Honduras.”

He said he also paid so that he wouldn’t be extradited to the U.S. and so companies used by the Cachiros to launder money would be favored by the government. Rivera Maradiaga has admitted to being involved in 78 murders.

At the time of the alleged bribe, Juan Orlando Hernandez was leader of Honduras’ Congress, but had begun angling for the presidency, which he won in 2013. He took office the following January. Hilda Hernandez, who later served in his administration, died in a helicopter crash in 2017.

The accusation came in the third day of testimony in the trial of alleged drug trafficker Geovanny Fuentes Ramirez. U.S. prosecutors have made it clear that allegations against President Hernandez would arise during the trial, though he has not been charged.

Fuentes Ramirez was arrested in March 2020 in Florida. He is charged with drug trafficking and arms possession.

Hernandez has vehemently denied any connection to drug traffickers. One of his brothers, Juan Antonio Hernandez, was convicted of drug trafficking in the same court in 2019.

During that trial, the president was accused of accepting more than $1 million from Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

U.S. prosecutors have alleged that much of Hernandez’s political rise was funded by drug traffickers who paid to be allowed to move drugs through Honduras without interference.

In January, U.S. federal prosecutors filed motions in the Fuentes Ramirez case saying that Hernandez took bribes from drug traffickers and had the country’s armed forces protect a cocaine laboratory and shipments to the United States.

The documents quote Hernandez ? identified as co-conspirator 4 ? as saying he wanted to “‘shove the drugs right up the noses of the gringos’ by flooding the United States with cocaine.”

This week, Hernandez has said in a series of Twitter messages that the witnesses in New York are seeking to lighten their sentences by making up lies against him.
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