Partisan letters cost long-serving Alaska magistrate his job

Lawyer Blog Post 2022/01/11 11:32   Bookmark and Share
The longest serving magistrate in Alaska is no longer on the bench after writing letters to the editor critical of the Republican party.

Former Seward Magistrate George Peck wrote four letters to the editor of the Anchorage Daily News, the latest in December which claimed the Republican party “is actively trying to steer the U.S. into an authoritarian kleptocracy.”

The other letters written since 2019 have been critical of former President Donald Trump and Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, both Republicans, and the GOP, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

Peck did not note his judicial position when signing in the letters, and there have been no complaints filed against him. However, his supervisor, Anchorage Superior Court Judge William Morse, ordered the court’s human resources department to investigate.

Morse said in a formal decision last Wednesday that Peck’s letter was in violation of Alaska’s code of judicial conduct.

“As a magistrate judge, the public entrusts you to decide cases with the utmost fairness, independence and impartiality. The power of your own voice, even when expressed off the bench, can become inextricably tied to your position, especially in a small community where you are the sole judicial officer,” Morse said.

When the 81-year-old Peck was informed Wednesday that he would be fired two days later, he instead immediately submitted his resignation and worked his last day Thursday.

Peck told the Anchorage newspaper that he doesn’t regret the letter and said he was just “stating a fact that the Republican Party tried to overturn the election, which I think most people agree on.”

He also doesn’t blame the juridical system for forcing him out.

“Clearly, they were justified in doing what they’re doing,” Peck said. “I just think they could have found a little better way to do it, but that’s up to them.”

Peck began working as a magistrate judge in 1976 and retired from full-time work in 2016. The court system kept him working on a temporary, part-time basis.

Magistrates oversee minor judicial matters in the court system, such as traffic violations, small-claims cases and time-sensitive matters, such as search warrants and domestic violence cases.
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Griffis beginning 8-year term on Mississippi Supreme Court

Lawyer Blog Post 2021/12/25 13:40   Bookmark and Share
The Mississippi Supreme Court is holding a ceremony Monday for Justice Kenny Griffis to begin a new term of office.

Griffis served 16 years on the state Court of Appeals. In February 2019, then-Gov. Phil Bryant appointed him to fill an open seat on the Supreme Court.

Griffis won an election to the Supreme Court in November 2020. The court has nine justices, and Griffis holds one of two seats with a delay of more than a year between the election and the beginning of the new term.

During the ceremony Monday at the Gartin Justice Building in Jackson, Griffis will take the oath for an eight-year term.

Griffis is a Meridian native who now lives in Ridgeland. He earned accounting and law degrees from the University of Mississippi. He is an adjunct professor at the Mississippi College School of Law and the University of Mississippi School of Law.

Griffis was chief judge of the 10-member Court of Appeals when Bryant moved him to the Supreme Court.
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Anchorage wins lawsuit over failed port construction

Lawyer Blog Post 2021/12/16 15:16   Bookmark and Share
Anchorage has won its lawsuit with a federal agency over failed construction at the state’s largest port.

U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge Edward J. Damich on Thursday found the U.S. Maritime Administration breached its 2003 and 2011 agreements with the Municipality of Anchorage over construction at the Port of Anchorage, KTUU-TV reported. The facility has since been renamed the Port of Alaska.

“It’s an enormous vindication of what we’ve been saying all along, and that’s basically that the federal government had control of this project and they didn’t perform — they messed it up,” assistant municipal attorney Robert Owens said.

In 2014, Anchorage filed a lawsuit against the maritime administration for more than $300 million over failed construction in the effort to replace deteriorating facilities and upgrade port infrastructure to meet increasing demands.

A nine-day trial was held last spring, at which the municipality argued the government’s 2003 and 2011 agreements required the agency to provide technical expertise to oversee, design and construct the expansion project “free of defect,” the court documents show.

The government countered that Anchorage was the party responsible for managing and executing the project, and the maritime administration didn’t breach any duties.

The judge sided with Anchorage, saying the federal agency failed to enforce its contractual duties or administer funds properly.

The amount of damages have not been awarded yet. Both sides have 10 days to submit arguments for what they believe the monetary award should be.

Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson called the verdict a victory for Alaska.

“The Port of Alaska is a vital piece of infrastructure for all Alaskans, with roughly 90% of our population touched by goods that come through the Port,” Bronson said in a statement.

The municipality is working with the state and federal government to secure nearly $1.6 billion to repair the port, Bronson said.

An email sent Friday to the U.S. Maritime Administration seeking comment was not immediately returned.
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Italy frees man convicted of 2007 murder of Meredith Kercher

Lawyer Blog Post 2021/11/28 14:55   Bookmark and Share
The only person convicted in the 2007 murder of British student Meredith Kercher was freed Tuesday after serving most of his 16-year prison sentence, his lawyer said.

Attorney Fabrizio Ballarini said Rudy Guede’s planned Jan. 4 release had been moved up a few weeks by a judge and he was freed on Tuesday. He will continue to work in the library at the Viterbo-based Center for Criminology Studies, Ballarini said in an email.

Guede had already been granted permission to leave prison during the day to work at the center while he served his sentence for the 2007 murder of 21-year-old Kercher.

The case in the university city of Perugia gained international notoriety after Kercher’s American roommate, Amanda Knox, and Knox’s then-boyfriend were placed under suspicion. Both were initially convicted, but Italy’s highest court threw out the convictions in 2015 after a series of flip-flop decisions.

Guede was originally convicted in a fast-track trial procedure. He has denied killing Kercher.
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Tunisian trial shines light on use of military courts

Lawyer Blog Post 2021/11/24 15:27   Bookmark and Share
A few days after Tunisia’s president froze parliament and took on sweeping powers in July, a dozen men in unmarked vehicles and civilian clothes barged into politician Yassine Ayari’s family home overnight and took him away in his pajamas.

“These men weren’t wearing uniforms and they didn’t have a warrant,” Ayari told The Associated Press. “It was violent. My 4-year-old son still has nightmares about it.”

A 40-year-old computer engineer-turned-corruption fighter, Ayari will stand trial again in a military court on Monday, accused of insulting the presidency and defaming the army. It is the latest in a series of trials that shine a light on Tunisia’s use of military courts to push through convictions against civilians. Rights groups say the practice has accelerated since President Kais Saied’s seizure of power in July, and warn that its use further threatens hard-won freedoms amid Tunisia’s democratic backsliding.

The charges Ayari faces relate to Facebook posts in which he criticized Saied, calling him a “pharaoh” and his measures a “military coup.” Ayari intends to remain silent in court to protest the whole judicial process, according to his lawyer, Malek Ben Amor.

Amnesty International is warning of an “alarming increase” in Tunisian military courts targeting civilians: In the past three months, it says, 10 civilians have been investigated or prosecuted by military tribunals, while four civilians are facing trial for criticizing the president.

That’s especially worrying because Tunisia was long considered the only democratic success story to emerge from the Arab Spring uprisings a decade ago, and was long seen as a model for the region.
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International Criminal Court to probe abuses in Venezuela

Lawyer Blog Post 2021/11/08 14:52   Bookmark and Share
The International Criminal Court is opening a formal investigation into allegations of torture and extrajudicial killings committed by Venezuelan security forces under President Nicolás Maduro’s rule, the first time a country in Latin America is facing scrutiny for possible crimes against humanity from the court.

The opening of the probe was announced Wednesday by ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan at the end of a three-day trip to Caracas.

Standing alongside Maduro, Khan said he was aware of the political “fault lines” and “geopolitical divisions” that exist in Venezuela. But he said his job was to uphold the principles of legality and the rule of law, not settle scores.

“I ask everybody now, as we move forward to this new stage, to give my office the space to do its work,” he said. “I will take a dim view of any efforts to politicize the independent work of my office.”

While Khan didn’t outline the scope of the ICC’s investigation, it follows a lengthy preliminary probe started in February 2018 — later backed by Canada and five Latin American governments opposed to Maduro — that focused on allegations of excessive force, arbitrary detention and torture by security forces during a crackdown on antigovernment protests in 2017.

Human rights groups and the U.S.-backed opposition immediately celebrated the decision. Since its creation two decades ago, the ICC has mostly focused on atrocities committed in Africa.

“This is a turning point,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director for Human Rights Watch. “Not only does it provide hope to the many victims of Maduro’s government but it also is a reality check that Maduro himself could be held accountable for crimes committed by his security forces and others with total impunity in the name of the Bolivarian revolution.”

It could be years before any criminal charges are presented as part of the ICC’s investigation.

Maduro said he disagreed with Khan’s criteria in choosing to open the probe. But he expressed optimism that a three-page “letter of understanding” he signed with the prosecutor that would allow Venezuelan authorities to carry out their own proceedings in search of justice, something allowed under the Rome statute that created the ICC.
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