Thousands turn up at court to support Catalan leader

Headline Legal News 2015/10/16 00:25   Bookmark and Share
Thousands waving Catalan independence flags rallied Thursday in support of regional acting President Artur Mas who was being questioned at a Barcelona court for holding a symbolic referendum on secession from Spain.
   
Some 400 pro-independence mayors and independence party leaders joined Mas and his government councilors as he walked parade-style to the court building, cheered on by some 5,000 supporters. Chants of "Independence! Independence!" and "This court does not represent us!" rang out as Mas stopped to salute the crowd at the building's steps.

Speaking later, Mas said he accepted full responsibility for last year's referendum and accused the central Spanish government in Madrid of turning what he considered a democratic process into a criminal one.

Mas is under investigation for grave disobedience, abuse of public funds, prevarication, usurping powers and obstructing justice. If tried and found guilty, he could face disqualification from office or up to one year in jail. Two associates are also under investigation.

The probe was opened after Catalonia went ahead with the Nov. 9, 2014 referendum, defying a ruling by Spain's Constitutional Court. In the mock poll, less than half of those eligible took part, with some 80 percent voting in favor of breaking away from Spain.

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Suspect in some Phoenix freeway shootings pleads not guilty

Headline Legal News 2015/10/09 14:22   Bookmark and Share
A man accused in some of the freeway shootings that put Phoenix drivers on edge for weeks pleaded not guilty Thursday as his defense lawyers questioned the strength of the evidence against him.

Attorneys for Leslie Allen Merritt Jr., 21, who was arraigned on 15 felony counts, including aggravated assault and carrying out a drive-by shooting, said outside court that the investigation by state police does not place him at the shooting scenes.

"We're going to work diligently to make sure that we investigate this fully, and we believe in his innocence," said Ulises Ferragut, one of Merritt's two attorneys.

Ferragut and attorney Jason Lamm also cited investigators' evolving timeline of the shootings. They plan to do their own investigation, looking into another person possibly admitting responsibility for any of the 11 shootings, Lamm said. They didn't identify that person or provide details.

"It's very, very early in the game to get hard confirmation on that," Lamm said.

Department of Public Safety investigators used ballistics tests to tie Merritt to four of the 11 shootings that occurred on Phoenix-area freeways between Aug. 22 and Sept. 10.
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Appeals court weighs Justice deal to settle Iran charges

Headline Legal News 2015/09/13 18:06   Bookmark and Share
A federal appeals court on Friday considered whether a judge could reject as too lenient a deal to settle criminal charges against a Dutch company accused of illegally selling aircraft parts to Iran, Sudan and Myanmar.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia heard arguments in a case involving the Justice Department's decision not to prosecute Fokker Services BV under an agreement that called for $21 million in penalties.

A federal judge earlier this year refused to accept the deal, which he called "grossly disproportionate to the gravity of Fokker Services' conduct in a post-9/11 world."

The dispute comes as the Justice Department this week trumpeted its commitment to hold company executives more accountable for corporate fraud. The new guidance follows persistent criticism that the department has not been aggressive enough in prosecuting individuals for financial misconduct, including after the mortgage crisis that led to an economic meltdown.

The Justice Department says the judge is interfering with the discretion of prosecutors, but that argument faced resistance from the three-judge panel hearing the case. All three appellate judges agreed that courts have some authority to decide whether to accept settlements, though they disagreed over the extent of that authority.

"You have a very steep hill to climb," Judge David Sentelle told Justice Department lawyer Aditya Bamzai during arguments that took place on the 14th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

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Court fines Washington state over education funding

Headline Legal News 2015/08/14 08:58   Bookmark and Share
Washington officials are considering a special legislative session after the state Supreme Court issued daily fines a of $100,000 until lawmakers comply with a court order to improve the way the state pays for its basic education system.
 
Thursday's order, signed by all nine justices of the high court, ordered that the fine start immediately, and be put into a dedicated education account.

The court encouraged Gov. Jay Inslee to call a special session, saying that if the Legislature complies with the court's previous rulings for the state to deliver a plan to fully fund education, the penalties accrued during a special session would be refunded.

Inslee and legislative leaders are set to meet Monday in Seattle discuss what next steps the state should take.

"There is much that needs to be done before a special session can be called," Inslee said in a statement. "I will ask lawmakers to do that work as quickly as humanly possible so that they can step up to our constitutional and moral obligations to our children and lift the court sanctions."

The ruling was the latest development in a long-running impasse between lawmakers and justices, who in 2012 ruled that the state is failing to meet its constitutional duty to pay for the cost of basic education for its 1 million schoolchildren.

Thomas Ahearne, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said that the court's action "is long overdue."

"The state has known for many, many years that it's violating the constitutional rights of our public school kids," Ahearne said. "And the state has been told by the court in rulings in this case to fix it, and the state has just been dillydallying along."

The lawsuit against the state was brought by a coalition of school districts, parents, teachers and education groups — known as the McCleary case for the family named in the suit.

In its original ruling, and repeated in later follow-up rulings, the justices have told the Legislature to find a way to pay for the reforms and programs they had already adopted, including all-day kindergarten, smaller class sizes, student transportation and classroom supplies, and to fix the state's overreliance on local tax levies to pay for education. Relying heavily on local tax levies leads to big disparities in funding between school districts, experts say.
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Appeals court won't reconsider ex-Virginia governor's case

Headline Legal News 2015/08/13 23:35   Bookmark and Share
A federal appeals court on Tuesday declined to review the case of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, letting his convictions on public corruption charges stand.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had unanimously upheld McDonnell's convictions in July. In its brief order on Tuesday, the full 15-member court said it won't reconsider that panel's ruling.

Eight judges voted against rehearing McDonnell's case, and seven others "deeming themselves disqualified, did not participate," the order said.

A jury in September found McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, guilty of doing favors for wealthy vitamin executive Jonnie Williams in exchange for more than $165,000 in gifts and loans.

The former Republican governor, once widely considered a possible running mate for presidential candidate Mitt Romney, was convicted of 11 counts and was sentenced to two years in prison. His wife was sentenced to one year and one day on eight counts. Both have been free while they pursue separate appeals.

It's unclear whether Bob McDonnell will now be required to report to prison. He can still appeal his convictions to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Wife says Chinese rights lawyer being denied legal counsel

Headline Legal News 2015/07/20 09:30   Bookmark and Share
A prominent Chinese rights lawyer whose trial is drawing near on charges of inciting ethnic hatred and provoking trouble has been denied access to lawyers for nearly a month, his wife and one of his attorneys said Monday.

Meng Qun, wife of Pu Zhiqiang, raised the concern in an open letter addressed to the leadership of the Beijing detention center where her husband is being held, urging authorities to honor China's own rules to allow Pu access to lawyers.

One of Pu's attorneys, Shang Baojun, confirmed that Pu last met his lawyers on June 23 and verified the authenticity of Meng's letter.

Pu is widely believed to be politically persecuted amid Beijing's crackdown on civil society. The charges stem from his online posts that questioned China's ethnic policies in the wake of deadly violence involving ethnic minority Uighurs, and others that mocked several political figures.

He was taken away in May 2014 and was indicted on May 15 this year, after one year in detention.

Shang said he expects a Beijing court to hold Pu's trial soon, because by law Chinese courts have three months from the indictment to hold a trial and issue a verdict, but the authorities have not yet announced a date.








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