Trump visiting Supreme Court as justices weigh travel ban

Court News 2017/06/15 09:24   Bookmark and Share
President Donald Trump is making his first Supreme Court visit at a moment of high legal drama. The justices are weighing what to do with the president's ban on travelers from six mostly Muslim countries. But the reason for his high court trip Thursday is purely ceremonial, to mark Justice Neil Gorsuch's ascension to the bench.

Trump has no role in the courtroom ceremony, but presidents often make the trip to the court from the White House to honor their nominees. While the dispute over the travel ban and other controversies have simmered during Trump's first few months in office, his choice of the 49-year-old Gorsuch for the Supreme Court won widespread praise in the legal community as well as unanimous Republican support in the Senate.

A federal judge first blocked Trump's initial travel ban in early February. The president issued a revised version in March. It never took effect after judges in Maryland and Hawaii put it on hold. Two federal appeals courts have since upheld those lower court orders.

The Trump administration has asked the Supreme Court to allow the ban to take effect immediately. Gorsuch actually has been a member of the high court since April, and he even issued his first opinion on Monday.

The investiture ceremony typically takes place before a new justice's first day on the bench, but Gorsuch was confirmed and sworn in on a tight schedule.

He filled the seat that had been held for nearly 30 years by Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February 2016. The high court seat was vacant for nearly 14 months after Senate Republicans refused to take up President Barack Obama's nomination of Judge Merrick Garland.
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Fraternity brothers due in court in pledge's fatal fall

Court News 2017/06/11 05:55   Bookmark and Share
Members of a Penn State fraternity facing charges related to the death earlier this year of a pledge after a night of heavy drinking are due in court Monday for a hearing about whether there's enough evidence to head to trial.

Prosecutors in the case against the now-shuttered Beta Theta Pi chapter and 18 of its members are leaning heavily on video surveillance recordings made the night 19-year-old sophomore engineering student Tim Piazza was injured in a series of falls at the fraternity after a pledge acceptance ceremony that included heavy drinking.

The defendants face a variety of charges, with eight accused of dozens of crimes, including involuntary manslaughter and felony aggravated assault, while five others are accused only of a single count of evidence tampering.

Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller says prosecutors will play video in court, and she expects the hearing to last all or most of the day.

Authorities have said members of the fraternity resisted summoning help until well into the next morning.

A grand jury report described how members of the fraternity carried Piazza's limp body upstairs, poured liquid on him and even slapped him on the face. When one of them argued to call for medical help, he was confronted and shoved into a wall, the grand jury said.

Piazza, of Lebanon, New Jersey, died at a hospital Feb. 4 from traumatic brain injury and had suffered severe abdominal bleeding. His blood-alcohol measured at a dangerous level.

"I believe this is a case where the defendants have been overcharged by the district attorney's office," said defense attorney Michael Engle, whose client Gary DiBileo, 21, faces 56 counts, including involuntary manslaughter. "We hope to develop more information during the preliminary hearing process, and beyond, that will demonstrate that many of the charges in this case are just not applicable to the conduct."

Engle said DiBileo, a junior from Scranton who recently withdrew from Penn State, was said by a witness to have advocated for calling an ambulance at some point.
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With court victory, hand of Brazil's president strengthened

Court News 2017/06/10 15:55   Bookmark and Share
Fighting to save his job, Brazilian President Michel Temer has received a huge boost from a decision by the country's top electoral court to reject allegations of illegal campaign finance and keep him in office.

The Superior Electoral Tribunal's 4-3 vote late Friday gave Temer a lifeline amid widespread calls that he resign in the face of a corruption scandal.

Last month, a recording emerged that apparently captured Temer endorsing hush money to ex-House Speaker Eduardo Cunha, a former Temer ally serving 15 years in prison for corruption and money laundering. Soon after, details of another bombshell emerged: that Temer was being investigated for taking bribes.

Temer has denied wrongdoing and vowed to stay in office.

However, the fallout from the scandals was so great that many observers expected that the electoral court judges would be swayed to remove Temer from office over unrelated campaign finance allegations. While in theory Brazilian justices are impartial, in reality they are often highly political. Indeed, two of judges who voted in Temer's favor were his appointees.

"While Temer is hard for many people to digest, he will likely remain in office," said Alexandre Barros, a political risk consultant with the Brasilia-based firm Early Warning. "Instability is bad for everybody. So many will say at this point, 'If we have to pay the price for sticking with Temer, let's do it.'"

While Temer has crossed a huge hurdle to staying in power, he is still facing threats on many fronts. The attorney general is considering pressing charges against him for allegedly receiving bribes, over the audio recording and for allegedly trying to obstruct a colossal investigation into billions of dollars in inflated contracts and kickbacks to politicians. Temer's approval rating is hovering around 9 percent and he has a tenuous hold on his ruling coalition.

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Court to hear challenge to speed up California executions

Court News 2017/06/07 11:02   Bookmark and Share
The California Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday over a ballot initiative designed to speed up executions that could fundamentally change the way the court handles death penalty appeals.

Death penalty opponents are challenging a ballot measure passed by a slim majority of voters in November that aimed to reform a dysfunctional system that hasn't executed a condemned killer in more than a decade.

Foes of capital punishment argue that Proposition 66 was unconstitutional because it would take power away from the state's high court to decide how it handles cases and it would disrupt the court system, cost the state more money and undermine the appeals process.

If allowed to take effect, the measure would require more lawyers to take death penalty appellate cases, some trial court judges would be assigned appeals and all state appeals would have to be completed in five years, which is about a third of the time it typically takes.

With a backlog of 380 death penalty appeals, there's concern judges would be overwhelmed trying to speed through appeals, said Elisabeth Semel, a law professor at University of California, Berkeley, who consulted for death penalty opponents on the case.

"There's an enormous ripple effect to that," said Semel, who directs the school's death penalty clinic. "The attention the justices can pay to each individual case is significantly diminished. When you're talking about life and death, that's important."

The ballot initiative supported by 51 percent of voters was designed to "mend not end" capital punishment in California, where nearly 750 inmates are on Death Row and only 13 have been executed since 1978.

A competing measure to repeal capital punishment lost by a slightly wider margin. Both sides acknowledged the current system is broken.
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Kim Jong Nam murder suspect asks her parents to pray for her

Court News 2017/05/31 10:38   Bookmark and Share
A suspect in the poisoning death of the North Korean leader's half brother wrote to her parents from jail, asking them to pray for her but saying "don't think about me too much."

Siti Aisyah, an Indonesian mother who worked in Malaysia, appeared in court Tuesday along with a second suspect, Doan Thi Huong of Vietnam. Their trial was formally transferred to the High Court as the lower court had no jurisdiction to hear a murder case.

They are the only people who have been arrested in the assassination of Kim Jong Nam at the Kuala Lumpur airport on Feb. 13.
Kim Jong Nam murder suspect asks her parents to pray for her

The suspects are accused of smearing VX nerve agent on Kim's face in the crowded airport terminal; he died soon afterward. The women have said they were duped into thinking they were playing a harmless prank for a hidden-camera show.

Yusron Ambary, counsellor at the Indonesian Embassy, said Siti wrote a letter to her parents recently, asking them not to worry about her.

"I am in good health. Just pray. Don't think about me too much. Keep healthy and pray at night. I have a lot of people helping me. The embassy officials always come to see me, my lawyers also. Don't worry. Pray for me so that the case will be over soon and I can go back home. Send my love to my son Rio," he read from the letter to reporters outside the courtroom.

Armed escorts accompanied the women, who smiled at their embassy representatives as they were brought to the dock.

Prosecutor Iskandar Ahmad said the date for their first appearance in the High Court would usually be within a month. The suspects would then enter pleas and the trial would have to start within 90 days, Iskandar said.

The court was also informed that lawyer Jagjit Singh was appointed by the North Korean Embassy to monitor the case for them. Singh told reporters later that he was engaged to "protect the interest" of the North Korean government. He didn't elaborate.

Police have said four North Korean suspects fled Malaysia the day of the attack. Defense lawyers fear the women will be scapegoats because other people believed to have knowledge of the case left the country.

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Family of Colorado man killed by police settles lawsuit

Court News 2017/05/23 00:15   Bookmark and Share
Court documents show the family of a Colorado man killed by police has settled its lawsuit against the city and the officer.

The Pueblo Chieftain says it obtained documents Thursday which showed the settlement resolved “all pending claims” against officer James Ashby and the city of Rocky Ford.

Reports say Ashby fatally shot 27-year-old Jack Jacquez. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison for the murder.

Jacquez’s mother, his estate and the mothers of his minor children filed a lawsuit against Ashby and the city in October.

The settlement is waiting on the approval of the Otero County Probate Court judge to include the children in it.

A court filling from this week does not show the terms of the settlement.
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