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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Idaho Judicial Council accepting applications for high court

Court Watch 2017/05/01 08:38   Bookmark and Share
An opening on the Idaho Supreme Court won't be filled through an election but through an application process.

Supreme Court Justice Daniel Eismann announced earlier this year he will retire in August — 16 months before the end of his current six-year term.

Because Eismann is stepping down early, the Idaho Judicial Council will solicit applications and recommend up to four names to the governor for appointment instead of waiting until the 2018 election, The Spokesman-Review reported. Idaho's Supreme Court positions are nonpartisan.

It's a merit-based process that had been used primarily to replace outgoing justices until this past year when former Idaho Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones announced he would retire at the end of his term.

"I would never have been on the court if the only avenue was to go through the Judicial Council and be appointed by the governor," said Jones, 74, who was twice elected Idaho attorney general. "It just didn't even occur to me as a possibility, because if you've been involved in the political arena, you probably at one time or another have stepped on the toes of whoever ends up being governor."

Eismann joined the state's highest court in 2001 after successfully running against incumbent Justice Cathy Silak. That election was the first time in 68 years that a sitting supreme court justice had been ousted in an election.

He caused a stir when he decided to announce his election campaign at a Republican Party event in eastern Idaho. He has since become one of the most outspoken justices, known for his tough questioning and advocating for specialty courts throughout Idaho.
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Court: Wisconsin Bell discriminated against worker

Court Watch 2017/04/01 15:26   Bookmark and Share
A Wisconsin appeals court says state labor officials properly determined that Wisconsin Bell's decision to fire a bipolar employee amounted to discrimination.

According to court documents, Wisconsin Bell fired Charles Carlson in 2011 for engaging in electronic chats with co-workers and leaving work early one day. Carlson maintained he was reacting to news he didn't get a promotion, he was looking for support as his therapist had suggested and he doesn't react like other people.

The Labor Industry Review Commission found the company fired Carlson because of his disability in violation of employment discrimination laws.

The 1st District Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the commission's interpretation was reasonable and there's enough evidence to support imposing liability on Wisconsin Bell.

Wisconsin Bell says it does not tolerate discrimination of any kind, including that based on disability. The company says it disagrees with the ruling and is considering its options.

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S Korea's Park questioned at court hearing on arrest request

Court Watch 2017/04/01 15:24   Bookmark and Share
South Korea's disgraced ex-President Park Geun-hye was being questioned Thursday by a court that will decide if she should be arrested over corruption allegations that have already toppled her from power.

Live TV footage earlier showed a stern-looking Park entering the Seoul Central District Court building amid a barrage of camera flashes. She did not comment to reporters. The court is expected to decide by Friday morning whether to approve her arrest.

If the court approves the arrest warrant requested by prosecutors, Park will be immediately sent to a detention facility as prosecutors can detain her for up to 20 days before laying formal charges.

If the court rejects the arrest request, prosecutors can still indict and charge her.

Prosecutors accuse Park of colluding with a confidante to extort from big businesses, take a bribe from one of the companies and commit other wrongdoings. The allegations prompted millions of South Koreans to stage streets protests every weekend for months before the Constitutional Court ruled to dismiss her on March 10. Park's presidential powers had already been suspended after parliament impeached her in December.

It was a dramatic setback to Park, South Korea's first female president who rose to power four years ago amid conservatives' nostalgia for her late dictator father who is credited by supporters for pulling a war-torn country out of poverty in the 1960-70s. Liberal critics revile her father as a ruthless leader who tortured and imprisoned his opponents.

Earlier Thursday, hundreds of her supporters, mostly elderly conservative citizens, gathered near her Seoul home, waving national flags and chanting slogans when she left for the court.
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NC governor, legislature head to court in power showdown

Court Watch 2017/03/04 10:48   Bookmark and Share
North Carolina's new Democratic governor and majority Republican legislature are charging at each other in a constitutional game of chicken over their powers, a confrontation that could shape the recent conservative direction of state policies and spending.

The confrontation continues Tuesday, when the two branches of state government appear for a court hearing before the third. A panel of three trial judges will gather in Raleigh to hear lawyers for Gov. Roy Cooper dispute attorneys for the state House and Senate leaders over whether new laws are constitutional.

"This is a fight that involves really the three branches of government. It's one of a series of possible contests that we can see as the governor serves his term in office about who is going to make what decisions," High Point University political scientist Martin Kifer said. "It also has to do with the pace of policymaking. This isn't speeding things up."

GOP lawmakers passed several provisions that reduced the incoming governor's powers during a surprise special legislative session two weeks before Cooper took office Jan. 1. The laws:

? require Cooper's choices to run 10 state agencies to be approved by the GOP-led Senate.

? strip Cooper's control over administering elections and gives Republicans control over state and local elections boards during even-numbered years when elections for major statewide and national office are held.

? slash Cooper's patronage hiring discretion and gives civil service protections to hundreds of political appointees hired by former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who narrowly lost to Cooper last fall.

Cooper might not like the increasing number of limits Republicans impose, but he'd better get used to it, attorneys for legislative leaders said in a court filing. The state's constitution and legal precedents have created one of the country's weakest governors, and makes the General Assembly the dominant branch, attorneys for state House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger wrote.

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Supreme Court Hears Case on Fatal Border Shooting

Court Watch 2017/02/24 09:28   Bookmark and Share
How a U.S. Border Patrol argent’s use of lethal force at the U.S-Mexican border implicates constitutional rights and foreign affairs dominated arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday in Hernandez v. Mesa. The lawyer arguing that the agent should be held liable had a rough day in front of the justices.

Both sides agree that while standing on American soil at the border on June 7, 2010, Border Patrol Agent Jesus Mesa fatally shot Sergio Hernandez, a 15-year-old Mexican national standing on the Mexican side. But then the factual accounts diverge.

According to Hernandez’s family, the teenager was playing with his friends near the border opposite El Paso, Texas, where the border runs through the middle of a concrete culvert. There is a fence on the U.S. side of the culvert.

According to Mesa and the federal government, Mesa was detaining one of Hernandez’s companions on the U.S. side of the border, when Hernandez and the other teenagers started throwing rocks at Hernandez. Mesa claims that the rocks posed a danger to his safety. He repeatedly ordered then to stop and back away, but they persisted. Finally Mesa fired in what he claims is self-defense, fatally striking Hernandez.

Hernandez’s family sued, and Mesa filed a motion to dismiss. Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, when considering a motion to dismiss, a federal court must consider the plaintiff’s allegations as true when deciding whether to throw out the lawsuit versus letting it continue. The parties later present evidence to prove their version of the facts if the lawsuit goes forward, but when deciding whether to end the case before it gets started, judges must consider only plaintiff’s version.

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