Supreme Court troubled by DA's rejection of black jurors

Headline Legal News 2015/11/03 09:35   Bookmark and Share
The Supreme Court signaled support Monday for a black death row inmate in Georgia who claims prosecutors improperly kept African-Americans off the jury that convicted him of killing a white woman.
 
Justice Stephen Breyer likened the chief prosecutor to his excuse-filled grandson. Justice Elena Kagan said the case seemed as clear a violation "as a court is ever going to see" of rules the Supreme Court laid out in 1986 to prevent racial discrimination in the selection of juries.

At least six of the nine justices indicated during arguments that black people were improperly singled out and kept off the jury that eventually sentenced defendant Timothy Tyrone Foster to death in 1987.

Foster could win a new trial if the Supreme Court rules his way. The discussion Monday also suggested that a technical issue might prevent the justices from deciding the substance of Foster's case.

Georgia Deputy Attorney General Beth Burton had little support on the court for the proposition that prosecutor Stephen Lanier advanced plausible "race-neutral" reasons that resulted in an all-white jury for Foster's trial. Foster was convicted of killing 79-year-old Queen Madge White in her home in Rome, Georgia.

Several justices noted that Lanier's reasons for excusing people from the jury changed over time, including the arrest of the cousin of one black juror. The record in the case indicates that Lanier learned of the arrest only after the jury had been seated. "That seems an out and out false statement," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said.

Breyer drew an analogy with a grandson who was looking for any reason not to do his homework, none of them especially convincing.

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German court: former SS Auschwitz guard fit for trial

Headline Legal News 2015/11/02 09:35   Bookmark and Share
A German court says a 93-year-old former SS sergeant charged with 170,000 counts of accessory to murder on allegations he served as an Auschwitz death camp guard has been declared fit for trial.
 
The Detmold state court said Monday a doctor determined that Reinhold H., whose last name wasn't given for privacy reasons, is fit to stand trial so long as sessions are limited to two hours per day.

Defense attorneys and prosecutors now have two weeks to submit responses to the expert opinion. The court will then decide whether to open a trial.

H. is accused of being an accessory to murders at Auschwitz from January 1943 to June 1944. The suspect says he was assigned to a part of the camp not involved in the mass murders.

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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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