Court lifts execution reprieve for San Antonio hit man

Headline Legal News 2016/12/06 13:23   Bookmark and Share
Texas' highest criminal court lifted a reprieve on Wednesday that, for the second time in a decade, prevented a convicted hit man from being executed for the 1992 slaying of a San Antonio woman.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals didn't rule on the merits of the appeal filed by 44-year-old Rolando Ruiz, who was five days away from execution when the court stepped in on Aug. 26. Instead, the court ruled that his appeal was not legally proper and dismissed it, clearing the way for prosecutors in Bexar County to seek a new execution date for Ruiz.

Investigators said Ruiz collected $2,000 to kill Theresa Rodriguez at her home in San Antonio at the request of her husband, Michael, and a brother-in-law as part of a life insurance scheme.

Ruiz was convicted of being the triggerman in the plot. Michael Rodriguez also was convicted in the case — but he wound up on death row after becoming one of the notorious Texas Seven gang of inmates who escaped from a prison in December 2000 and killed a Dallas-area police officer. Rodriguez was executed in 2008.

In Ruiz's appeal, his attorneys argued that his trial lawyers and his original appeals lawyers failed to investigate and present mitigating evidence, like his long-term drug abuse and a troubled childhood, that could have convinced jurors to decide on a punishment other than death.

But in a 6-1 ruling with two judges not participating, the criminal appeals court said that claim had been "fully and completely vetted" by the federal courts over the past seven years. The court said the claims of poor legal help at Ruiz's trial had been "inspected, scrutinized, studied, probed, analyzed, reviewed and evaluated by the three main levels of the federal court system."

The court also said it had previously rejected the argument raised in the appeal that executing Ruiz more than two decades after his conviction amounted to unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment.

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Justice Thomas: Honor Scalia by reining in government

Headline Legal News 2016/11/18 12:48   Bookmark and Share
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is calling fellow conservatives to continue the work of the late Justice Antonin Scalia to keep the power of the courts and other branches of government in check.

Thomas tells 1,700 people at a dinner in honor of Scalia that the Supreme Court has too often granted rights to people that are not found in the Constitution. He cited the decision in 2015 that made same-sex marriage legal across the country.

Thomas said he and his longtime friend and colleague formed an "odd couple" of a white New Yorker and a black man from Georgia.

He paraphrased Lincoln's Gettysburg address to exhort the audience to "be dedicated to the unfinished business for which Justice Scalia gave his last full measure of devotion."

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Moscow court orders paper to refute a report on Rosneft CEO

Headline Legal News 2016/10/10 22:44   Bookmark and Share
A court in Moscow has ordered a leading independent newspaper to retract an article about a luxury yacht allegedly owned by the chief of Russia's top state-controlled oil company. retract

The Basmanny District Court ruled Monday that the Novaya Gazeta report linking Rosneft Chairman Igor Sechin to the St. Princess Olga yacht was untrue.

The newspaper used social media and ship tracking data to allege that Sechin was the yacht's possible owner, but the court ruled that the allegations were unfounded.

Sechin has been a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He served as a deputy prime minister before taking helm of the giant Rosneft oil company.

Last month, another Moscow court ordered the business daily Vedomosti to withdraw a report about a mansion it claimed belonged to Sechin.

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Suspected people smuggler charged in Australian court

Headline Legal News 2016/10/02 13:00   Bookmark and Share
An Iranian citizen extradited from Indonesia was charged in a Sydney court on Thursday with attempting to smuggle 73 asylum seekers by boat to Australia.

Mohammad Naghi Karimi Azar, 56, on Wednesday became the eighth suspected people smuggler to be extradited from Indonesia to Australia since 2008, a government statement said.

Azar was charged in Sydney Central Local Court with 43 counts of people smuggling, an offense that carries a minimum five-year sentence and a maximum of 20 years.

He appeared by video from a Sydney police station.

Court documents allege Azar facilitated the passage of 73 men, women and children between 2011 and 2013. His lawyer, Archie Hallas, told the court that Azar had spent the last two and a half years in an Indonesian jail.

Azar did not apply for bail. Hallas told the court his client needed time to read the 100-page prosecution case against him. Azar is to appear in court next on Oct. 5.

Outside the court, another lawyer for Azar, Sayar Dehsabzi, told reporters his client intended to plead not guilty.

Dehsabzi said Azar told him he was a refugee registered with the United Nations and had fled Iran in fear of persecution because he was a member of an ethnic minority.

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Court again says New Jersey can't legalize sports betting

Headline Legal News 2016/08/15 16:11   Bookmark and Share
A federal appeals court on Tuesday dealt another defeat to New Jersey's yearslong attempt to legalize sports betting, setting aside the state's challenge to a federal betting ban.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling invalidated a law passed by New Jersey in 2014 that would have allowed sports betting at casinos and racetracks. The court found New Jersey's law repealing prohibitions against sports gambling violated the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which forbids state-authorized sports gambling.

"Because PASPA, by its terms, prohibits states from authorizing by law sports gambling, and because the 2014 law does exactly that, the 2014 law violates federal law," the court wrote.

Currently, only Nevada offers legal sports betting on individual games. Delaware offers multigame parlay betting in which players must pick several games correctly to win. Both were given exemptions when PASPA was passed.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and supporters in the state Legislature have sought to legalize sports gambling to help prop up the struggling casino and horse racing industries. It's estimated up to hundreds of billions of dollars are bet illegally on sports every year in the U.S.

Monmouth Park, in Oceanport on New Jersey's coast, is the only venue currently set up to offer sports gambling, if it were legalized.

The dispute has a lengthy legal history. New Jersey voters approved legal sports gambling in 2011, but the four major professional sports leagues and the NCAA sued the state the following year. The leagues claimed the expansion of betting to New Jersey would damage the integrity of their games and lead to more game-fixing.

Sports betting supporters have called the leagues' stance hypocritical, saying the leagues condone and profit from sports fantasy leagues in which participants assemble rosters of players from different teams and compete against others.

North Carolina shooting victim's family hires lawyer

The family of a black North Carolina man shot to death in a neighborhood confrontation in Raleigh has hired the lawyer representing two other black men who were killed by white police officers.

State Rep. Justin Bamberg of South Carolina says he is representing relatives of Kouren-Rodney Bernard Thomas.

Thomas was killed Aug. 7 when a white man living two doors down from a neighborhood party called police to complain of "hoodlums" and then fired a shotgun from his garage. Chad Cameron Copley is charged with murder.

Bamberg also is representing the family of Alton Sterling. The Baton Rouge, Louisiana, man was killed last month after he scuffled with two police officers outside a convenience store.

Bamberg also represents the family of Walter Scott, an unarmed South Carolina motorist killed by a North Charleston officer last year. Michael Slager faces state and federal charges.
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Appeals court rejects request to postpone voter ID decision

Headline Legal News 2016/08/11 16:11   Bookmark and Share
An appeals court has quickly decided it won't delay enforcement of its ruling striking down North Carolina's photo identification requirement and other election restrictions, including reducing early in-person voting by seven days.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied the stay Thursday, one day after state leaders' attorneys requested that last week's ruling be set aside as they prepare to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the case.

A 4th Circuit panel had determined a 2013 law Republicans approved amounted to intentional discrimination of black voters.

Thursday's order says the harm to disenfranchised voters outweighs granting a delay. Last week's injunction means no voter ID mandate and 17 days of early voting with same-day registration. The state has other options to seek a delay.

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