Court: Local Wisconsin heath departments can’t close schools

Court News 2021/06/11 10:15   Bookmark and Share
The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Friday that local health departments do not have the authority to close schools due to emergencies like the coronavirus pandemic, delivering a win to private and religious schools that challenged a Dane County order.

The conservative majority of the court, in a 4-3 decision, also ruled that a school closure order issued last year by Public Health Madison & Dane County infringed on constitutional religious rights.

The ruling is another victory for conservatives who challenged state and local orders issued during the pandemic to close businesses and schools, limit capacity in bars, restaurants and other buildings and require masks to be worn. All of those restrictions have either expired or been rescinded by courts.

Friday’s ruling will have no immediate impact because the 2020-21 school year has ended, but it will limit the powers of health departments in the future by preventing them from ordering school closures.

“Even as the COVID-19 pandemic recedes, the court’s decision provides a critical correction that ought to prevent future abuses of power in an emergency,” said Rick Esenberg, president of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. That group brought the lawsuit on behalf of five private schools and eight families in Dane County, School Choice Wisconsin Action and the Wisconsin Council of Religious and Independent Schools.

Dane County Health Director Janel Heinrich said the ruling “hinders the ability of local health officers in Wisconsin to prevent and contain public health threats for decades to come.”

The lawsuit targeted an order issued in August by the county health department prohibiting in-person instruction for grades 3-12 at any public or private school. The Supreme Court in early September put that order on hold while it considered the case.

While many private and public schools in the county resumed in-person classes, Madison’s school district remained entirely virtual until March. Its school year ended this week.

The law in question allows local health departments to do what is “reasonable and necessary” to suppress a disease outbreak. It does not specifically grant authority to close schools. There is a law giving that power to the state Department of Health Services secretary.
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Court nixes South Carolina’s lifelong sex offender registry

Court News 2021/06/09 10:30   Bookmark and Share
South Carolina’s Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that a state law requiring sex offenders to register for life, without prior judicial review, is unconstitutional.

In a unanimous ruling, justices wrote that “requirement that sex offenders must register for life without any opportunity for judicial review violates due process because it is arbitrary and cannot be deemed rationally related to the General Assembly’s stated purpose of protecting the public from those with a high risk of re-offending.”

Justices set a 12-month timeline to implement the ruling, to give state lawmakers time to “correct the deficiency in the statute regarding judicial review.”

The case stems from a lawsuit originally brought by Dennis Powell, who was arrested in 2008 for criminal solicitation of a minor after authorities said he had graphic online conversations with someone he thought was a 12-year-old girl, but who was actually an undercover officer.

After pleading guilty, Powell was sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to register as a sex offender, which South Carolina’s statute mandates as a lifelong situation.

South Carolina’s sex offender statute requires biannual registration, in-person at a sheriff’s office, but provides for no periodic review by a judge, a situation the Supreme Court called “the most stringent in the country.”

“The lifetime inclusion of individuals who have a low risk of re-offending renders the registry over-inclusive and dilutes its utility by creating an ever-growing list of registrants that is less effective at protecting the public and meeting the needs of law enforcement,” justices wrote. “There is no evidence in the record that current statistics indicate all sex offenders generally pose a high risk of re-offending.”

The court ruled that Powell should be immediately removed from the state’s sex offender registry. Powell had also challenged a portion of the statute that permits the registry to be published online, which the court upheld.

Attorneys for both Powell and the State Law Enforcement Division did not immediately return text messages seeking comment on the ruling.
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Schumer recommending 2 voting rights lawyers to be judges

Court News 2021/06/07 10:41   Bookmark and Share
The Senate’s top Democrat is recommending President Joe Biden nominate two prominent voting rights attorneys to serve as judges on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and on the federal bench in Manhattan.

Sen. Chuck Schumer has recommended the president nominate Myrna Perez, who serves as the director of voting rights and election programs at NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice, for the appeals court post, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press on Monday.

He is also recommending Biden nominate Dale Ho, who leads the Voting Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, as a federal judge in the Southern District of New York, the person said. The person could not discuss the matter publicly ahead of a formal announcement and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

If confirmed, Perez would be the only Latina on the court — one of the most prominent judicial posts in the country. Perez would also be the first Hispanic woman to serve on the court since Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor served on the panel. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has jurisdiction over the federal courts in New York, Connecticut and Vermont.

Schumer’s recommendation that Biden nominate highly experienced litigators in voting and election law is also a calculated political move for Democrats, who have made voting rights one of their biggest priorities.

Days ago, Biden reemphasized a plea for sweeping legislation in Congress to protect the right to vote as Republican-led lawmaking bodies in Texas and other states pass new restrictions making it tougher to cast ballots.

As majority leader, Schumer has been pushing to keep with the president’s pledge to bring on a diverse group of judicial nominees to represent the demographic diversity of the nation.

Democrats, narrowly controlling the Senate for the first time in six years, are eager to turn the page from the Trump administration, especially when it comes to judges. President Donald Trump appointed mostly white men to fill the jobs, and now more than one-quarter of the federal judiciary is made up of his appointees. Trump, a Republican, also nominated three members of the Supreme Court: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.
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Appeals court upholds guilty verdicts in NCAA bribes case

Court News 2021/06/04 10:56   Bookmark and Share
The convictions of a sports business manager and an amateur basketball coach in a conspiracy to bribe top college coaches to get them to steer NBA-bound athletes to favored handlers were upheld Friday by an appeals court.

The ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan affirmed the 2019 convictions of Christian Dawkins and youth basketball coach Merl Code on a single conspiracy count. Dawkins was also convicted of bribery. They were acquitted of some other charges.

The prosecution resulted from a criminal probe that exposed how financial advisers and business managers paid tens of thousands of dollars to college coaches and athletes’ families to steer highly regarded high school players to big-program colleges, sometimes with the help of apparel makers who signed sponsorship deals with schools.

During the trial, universities were portrayed by prosecutors as victims of greedy financial advisers and coaches while defense lawyers asserted that schools were complicit in any corruption that occurred in 2016 and 2017.

Circuit Judge William J. Nardini, writing for a three-judge panel, said the judges rejected arguments that the law used to convict the men was unconstitutionally applied and that various rulings about evidence and other matters by the trial judge were erroneous.

“We are unpersuaded by these arguments,” Nardini wrote, saying the judges did not agree with arguments that the federal law used to convict the men should be limited as it pertains to the universe of “agents” to be influenced or the business of the federally funded organizations involved.
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Ruling: Missed court date in Washington does not imply guilt

Court News 2021/05/29 15:19   Bookmark and Share
The Washington state Supreme Court this month unanimously rejected the notion that a man who skipped his court date could be presented as evidence that he felt guilty about the original crime.

State Supreme Court justices agreed that criminalizing a single missed court date could disproportionately harm people of color, poor people or people without reliable transportation or scheduling conflicts due to child care or work, The Daily Herald reported.

The ruling came less than a year after the state Legislature revised the bail jumping law, which gives people more time to respond to a warrant. Samuel Slater, 27, had one unexcused absence in his case, which predated the new law.

Records show Slater was convicted of violating no-contact orders five times in five years, multiple driving offenses and domestic violence charges. He pleaded guilty in 2016 to assault in Washington state.

A judge ordered him not to have contact with the woman, who was not identified, but he showed up within a day of being let out of jail. He was charged in 2017 with alleged felony violation of a no-contact order and felony bail jumping after missing a court date later in the year.

Slater’s attorney, Frederic Moll, asked for separate trials on the counts. Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Anita Farris, a former public defender, found that the charges could be tried together for “judicial economy reasons” and that they were cross-admissible, meaning one could be used to prove the other.

Judge Ellen Fair presided over the trial and agreed with Farris. State Court of Appeals judges also agreed.

During the trial, deputy prosecutor Adam Sturdivant repeatedly noted how the defendant missed his court date, asking: “If he didn’t do it, why didn’t he show up for trial call a year ago?”

Slater was found guilty on both counts and sentenced to more than two years in prison and a year of probation
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Brazil police probe environment minister over timber exports

Court News 2021/05/19 17:35   Bookmark and Share
Brazil’s Federal Police on Wednesday carried out searches to investigate whether Environment Minister Ricardo Salles and other key figures within the ministry facilitated illegal timber exports to the U.S. and Europe.

The Supreme Court authorized the search of nearly three dozen locations in Sao Paulo state, the Amazonian state of Para and Brazil’s federal district, according to a police statement.

The operation stems from a decision of the court’s Justice Alexandre de Moraes, who ordered the investigation of 10 officials at the ministry and the regulatory agency.

Nine of them were preventatively suspended from working, including agency President Eduardo Bim — but not Salles — according to a copy of de Moraes’ May 13 decision made public on Wednesday. He wrote that there appeared to be a contraband scheme with Salles’ involvement.

Local media G1 reported Salles told reporters in capital Brasilia that he understood the police operation to be overblown and unnecessary, and said his ministry always acts in accordance with laws. The ministry and regulator didn’t respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press.

The justice’s decision alleged that officials issued several certificates retroactively authorizing specific timber shipments after their seizure abroad and that subsequently, in February 2020, Salles and Bim met with lumber companies and lawmakers about exports from Para state.

Bim soon issued an order retroactively loosening requirements for “thousands of loads exported between 2019 and 2020 without respective documentaion,” de Moraes wrote. The judge’s decision also suspended Bim’s order.

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