Supreme Court to take up LGBT job discrimination cases

Headline Legal News 2019/04/20 09:17   Bookmark and Share
The Supreme Court is taking on a major test of LGBT rights in cases that look at whether federal civil rights law bans job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The justices said Monday they will hear cases involving people who claim they were fired because of their sexual orientation and another that involves a funeral home employee who was fired after disclosing that she was transitioning from male to female and dressed as a woman.

The cases will be argued in the fall, with decisions likely by June 2020 in the middle of the presidential election campaign. The issue is whether Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, protects LGBT people from job discrimination. Title VII does not specifically mention sexual orientation or transgender status, but federal appeals courts in Chicago and New York have ruled recently that gay and lesbian employees are entitled to protection from discrimination. The federal appeals court in Cincinnati has extended similar protections for transgender people.

The big question is whether the Supreme Court, with a strengthened conservative majority, will do the same. The cases are the court's first on LGBT rights since the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who authored the court's major gay rights opinions. President Donald Trump has appointed two justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

The justices had been weighing whether to take on the cases since December, an unusually long time, before deciding to hear them. It's unclear what caused the delay.
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Court case threatens to take gloss off Ostersund's rise

Headline Legal News 2019/04/18 09:21   Bookmark and Share
It was one of European soccer's most heartwarming stories, an unconventional club from a sleepy city in central Sweden making an eight-year journey from the amateur ranks to beating Arsenal in the Europa League.

But was the remarkable rise of Ostersund built on illegal foundations?

In a case that has rocked Swedish sport in recent months, Daniel Kindberg, the larger-than-life former chairman of Ostersund who is regarded as the mastermind behind the team's success, is heading to court for a trial in which he is accused of serious financial crimes.

The basic premise? Kindberg is alleged to have helped funnel 11.8 million kronor ($1.3 million) of taxpayers' money into the club in an elaborate scheme that involved two other men and three companies — one being the municipality's housing corporation for which Kindberg was chief executive.

Kindberg could go to jail for a maximum of six years, according to the Swedish Economic Crime Authority. Ostersund could lose its place in the top league in Sweden. A small soccer club's great achievement, which was celebrated and enjoyed across the continent, might be tainted.

"As good as it was for the Ostersund brand with this fairy tale of the OFK team going into Europe," Ostersund's mayor, Bosse Svensson, told The Associated Press, "this is just as bad."

Kindberg, who denies the charges, was arrested a year ago and has stood down from his role as Ostersund chairman.

The case has both shocked and polarized the natives of this remote city — located 300 miles (480 kilometers) northwest of Stockholm and with a population of around 50,000 — that is better known for its winter sports than its soccer.
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Court: State, governor can't be sued over public defenders

Headline Legal News 2019/01/12 15:19   Bookmark and Share
Missouri and its governor cannot be sued over the state’s underfunded and understaffed public defender system, a federal appeals court has ruled.

A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday said the legal doctrine of sovereign immunity means the state can’t commit a legal wrong and cannot be sued unless the legislature makes exceptions in state law, KCUR reported.

American Civil Liberties Union-Missouri filed the class action lawsuit in 2017. The organization argued the governor and state have ignored their constitutional obligation to provide meaningful legal representation to indigent clients by not providing enough funds to address chronic underfunding and understaffing in the public defender system. ACLU-Missouri argues in the lawsuit that Mississippi is the only state to allocate less than the $355 per case that Missouri spends for its indigent defense budget.

The lawsuit will continue against the head of the public defender system, Michael Barrett, and the public defender commission.

The decision, written by Judge Duane Benton, does not address the merits of the lawsuit. But the ruling means the legislature can’t be forced to appropriate more money to the system.

“It would be easier if the state itself were a defendant,” said Tony Rothert, legal director of ACLU-Missouri.

Rothert said if the ACLU prevails against the other defendants, the court could order the state to reduce public defenders’ caseloads, or prosecutors could use their discretion to not bring charges for certain crimes. Or defendants who aren’t considered dangerous could be released on bail and put on a waiting list for public defenders rather than staying in jail while awaiting trial.
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Human rights court rules against Greece in Sharia law case

Headline Legal News 2018/12/16 10:56   Bookmark and Share
Greece violated a prohibition on discrimination by applying Islamic religious law to an inheritance dispute among members of the country's Muslim minority, the European Court of Human Rights ruled Wednesday.

The court, based in the eastern French city of Strasbourg, ruled Greece violated the European Convention on Human Rights by applying Sharia law in the case, under which a Muslim Greek man's will bequeathing all he owned to his wife was deemed invalid after it was challenged by his sisters.

The man's widow, Chatitze Molla Sali, appealed to the European court in 2014, having lost three quarters of her inheritance. She argued she had been discriminated against on religious grounds as, had her husband not been Muslim, she would have inherited his entire estate under Greek law.

The European court agreed. It has not yet issued a decision on what, if any, penalty it will apply to Greece.

"Greece was the only country in Europe which, up until the material time, had applied Sharia law to a section of its citizens against their wishes," the court said in its ruling.

"That was particularly problematic in the present case because the application of Sharia law had led to a situation that was detrimental to the individual rights of a widow who had inherited her husband's estate in accordance with the rules of civil law but who had then found herself in a legal situation which neither she nor her husband had intended."

Molla Sali's husband had drawn up his will according to Greek law, and both a first instance and an appeals court initially ruled in her favor in the dispute with her sisters-in-law. But further court decisions ruled that inheritance issues within the Muslim minority had to be dealt with under Islamic religious law, and the will was deemed invalid.

Legislation concerning minorities in Greece was based on international treaties drawn up in the 1920s following the wars that broke out in the aftermath of the Ottoman empire's collapse. Civil cases involving the 100,000-strong Muslim minority in northeastern Greece were dealt with under Islamic law and presided over by a single official, a state-appointed Muslim cleric, or mufti.

But in January this year, the Greek parliament voted to limit the powers of Islamic courts. The new law, which was backed by the country's largest political parties, eliminated rules referring many civil cases involving members of the Muslim community to Sharia law. It had been brought to parliament following Sali's complaint.

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The Latest: Porn star's lawyer shows up at Cohen sentencing

Headline Legal News 2018/12/12 11:14   Bookmark and Share
The Latest on the sentencing of Michael Cohen, a former lawyer for President Donald Trump (all times local):

The outspoken lawyer for porn star Stormy Daniels has turned up at the federal courthouse in Manhattan where Michael Cohen is scheduled to be sentenced for crimes including a hush-money payment to the performer.

Michael Avenatti represented Daniels in a legal dispute with Cohen in which she sought to be released from the non-disclosure agreement.

Avenatti has bashed Cohen for months on cable television, saying President Donald Trump's former lawyer deserves to go to prison.

Cohen's sentencing will begin Wednesday at 11 a.m.

Cohen pleaded guilty to evading $1.4 million in taxes, bank fraud and campaign finance violations.

Prosecutors say the $130,000 payment Cohen made to Daniels exceeded legal limits.

His lawyers say some of his crimes were motivated by overenthusiasm for Trump.

New York prosecutors have urged a judge to give Cohen substantial prison time.
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China court reduces sentence of American Wendell Brown

Headline Legal News 2018/12/01 13:47   Bookmark and Share
A Chinese court has reduced the prison sentence for former college football player and American citizen Wendell Brown from four years to three for his involvement in a bar fight, a rights monitoring group said Wednesday.

Brown, a native of Detroit who played for Ball State University in Indiana, had been teaching English and American football in southwest China when he was arrested in September 2016 and charged with intentional assault. He denied hitting a man at a bar and said he was defending himself after being attacked.

The San Francisco-based Dui Hua Foundation said Brown will be transferred from a detention center to a prison in the southwestern city of Chongqing, from where he can then apply for early release. He is now due to be set free on Sept. 24, 2019.

The court issued no official statement and an assistant judge in the case, reached by phone, directed inquiries to the court's management office, which did not immediately respond to faxed questions seeking comment.

Brown, 31, was convicted on June 28 and his reduction in sentence is one of an estimated 15 percent of appeals that are successful in China, Dui Hua said. Friends, family and supporters had hoped he would be immediately deported, as is allowed under Chinese law.

"While this is not the result we hoped for it is nevertheless the best that could be achieved," the group's executive director, John Kamm, said in an emailed statement.

"I salute the team of legal advisers and friends who have worked tirelessly to bring Wendell home. Dui Hua acknowledges the sympathetic handling of the case by the appellate judges in Chongqing," Kamm said.
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