Hawaii high court hears argument about wind farm, bats

Legal Business 2021/04/04 13:22   Bookmark and Share
The Hawaii Supreme Court has heard arguments regarding a dispute regarding how many endangered Hawaiian hoary bats a wind farm is allowed to kill.

The Na Pua Makani wind farm has sparked controversy after 200 people were arrested trying to stop its massive turbines from being hauled from the port at Kalaeloa to Kahuku, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Friday.

Now the 24-megawatt project is at the center of a legal dispute with the nonprofit Keep the North Shore Country over the developer’s habitat conservation plan and incidental take license, which allows the turbines to kill 51 bats over 21 years.

Lance Collins, the nonprofit’s attorney, told the justices that the agency did not follow the standard set by the Legislature in protecting endangered species.

John Manaut, attorney for Na Pua Makani, told justices at the hearing that the conservation plan is based on the best available science and was compiled by the members of the Endangered Species Recovery Committee and two experts who testified at the case hearing, the newspaper reported.

Scientists estimate there are between a few hundred and a few thousand Hawaiian hoary bats in the main Hawaiian Islands. The species is the state’s only land mammal and is susceptible to extinction due to its low reproductive rates.

Na Pua Makani is an eight-turbine project that will help Oahu reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, Manaut said.
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Colorado court: Speed-reading bills violates constitution

Legal Business 2021/03/15 13:05   Bookmark and Share
The Colorado Supreme Court has ruled that state Senate Democrats violated the constitution in 2019 when they responded to Republicans’ request that bills be read at length by having computers speed-read the bills in an intelligible garble.

The Colorado Sun reports that in a 4-3 ruling released Monday, the court ruled the speed-reading tactic violated the constitution’s mandate that legislation be read at length upon request.

“There are unquestionably different ways by which the legislature may comply with the reading requirement,” Justice Carlos Samour Jr. wrote in the majority opinion. “But the cacophony generated by the computers here isn’t one of them.”

Minority Senate Republicans were trying to delay Democrats’ attempts to overhaul oil and gas regulations by asking that bills be read aloud ? including a 2,000-page measure. When Democrats resorted to computers, Republicans sued. A lower court found for the minority party.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Monica M. Marquez wrote that the court should give direction on how legislation ought to be read in the future.

In 2019, Democrats began negotiating with Republicans to avoid further stalling tactics ? and the GOP has since slowed down work on other occasions to force Democrats to make deals.
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Drug trafficker says he bribed Honduras president

Legal Business 2021/03/11 13:06   Bookmark and Share
A convicted Honduran drug trafficker and former leader of a cartel testified in United States federal court Thursday that he paid now-President Juan Orlando Hernandez $250,000 for protection from arrest in 2012.

Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, former leader of the Cachiros cartel, testified that he made the payment in cash through one of Hernandez’s sisters, Hilda Hernandez, in exchange “for protection so that the military police and preventive police didn’t capture us in Honduras.”

He said he also paid so that he wouldn’t be extradited to the U.S. and so companies used by the Cachiros to launder money would be favored by the government. Rivera Maradiaga has admitted to being involved in 78 murders.

At the time of the alleged bribe, Juan Orlando Hernandez was leader of Honduras’ Congress, but had begun angling for the presidency, which he won in 2013. He took office the following January. Hilda Hernandez, who later served in his administration, died in a helicopter crash in 2017.

The accusation came in the third day of testimony in the trial of alleged drug trafficker Geovanny Fuentes Ramirez. U.S. prosecutors have made it clear that allegations against President Hernandez would arise during the trial, though he has not been charged.

Fuentes Ramirez was arrested in March 2020 in Florida. He is charged with drug trafficking and arms possession.

Hernandez has vehemently denied any connection to drug traffickers. One of his brothers, Juan Antonio Hernandez, was convicted of drug trafficking in the same court in 2019.

During that trial, the president was accused of accepting more than $1 million from Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

U.S. prosecutors have alleged that much of Hernandez’s political rise was funded by drug traffickers who paid to be allowed to move drugs through Honduras without interference.

In January, U.S. federal prosecutors filed motions in the Fuentes Ramirez case saying that Hernandez took bribes from drug traffickers and had the country’s armed forces protect a cocaine laboratory and shipments to the United States.

The documents quote Hernandez ? identified as co-conspirator 4 ? as saying he wanted to “‘shove the drugs right up the noses of the gringos’ by flooding the United States with cocaine.”

This week, Hernandez has said in a series of Twitter messages that the witnesses in New York are seeking to lighten their sentences by making up lies against him.
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State ordered to submit plan for mental health services

Legal Business 2021/03/04 11:37   Bookmark and Share
A federal judge has ordered Mississippi to file a plan to upgrade its mental health services as part of resolving litigation that’s been ongoing for at least half a decade.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves last month ordered attorneys representing the state to file a systematic plan by April 30 to improve the state’s mental health services.

The state can either file an agreed-upon plan with the federal government or file a separate one if the state and federal government disagree on a remedial plan.

If Mississippi submits a jointly agreed plan with the federal government, that plan would mostly likely be the order the court agrees to, The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported.

The state was forced to enter into a remedial process after Judge Reeves ruled in September 2019 that Mississippi was in violation of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act because there were inadequate resources in Mississippi communities to treat people with mental illnesses effectively.

“Despite the state’s episodic improvement, it operates a system that unlawfully discriminates against persons with serious mental illness,” Reeves said in the opinion.

The opinion concluded that Mississippians with mental illness were essentially being segregated to state-run hospitals instead of being treated within community centers.

The federal government first filed suit against the state over the services in 2016.

If the state’s attorneys cannot reach common ground, the Justice Department will file a separate proposed solution no later than 21 days after the state submits its own proposal.

Michael Hogan, the appointed special master who is ensuring the court’s wishes are carried out during the litigation, will have a chance to weigh in on any potential disagreements by June 4.

If the parties disagree on a plan to improve the state’s mental health services, Reeves will then issue a new order on which party’s plan he agrees with more.

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Judge strikes down portions of Michigan towing law

Legal Business 2021/02/24 09:41   Bookmark and Share
A judge has struck down portions of a Michigan towing law after low-income Detroit residents shared extraordinary stories of high fees and frustration about the whereabouts of their vehicles.

The case centered on the practices of Detroit police and a towing company. The decision by U.S. District Judge Judith Levy could force changes in a law that’s viewed as favorable to the towing industry.

Levy last week ordered Detroit to notify the state within 24 hours after police call for a vehicle to be towed. That information typically triggers a notice to the car owner.

There was no maximum deadline to report a towed vehicle under the law, attorney Jason Katz said Wednesday.

Vehicle owners also can ask a local court to suspend the immediate payment of towing and storage fees before they get a hearing to object to a car’s impoundment, the judge said.

“You have an opportunity to get into court and fight it,” Katz said. “I don’t think first asking for $1,000 is fair.”

Gerald Grays believed his car was stolen in 2016. More than two years later, he finally learned that his car had been towed. He was told he would have to pay $930 just to get a hearing in 36th District Court, according to the lawsuit.

Levy ordered Detroit to pay $2,000 to Grays and $1,500 each to two more people. There was no immediate comment from the city Wednesday.

While the case only involved Detroit, Levy’s decision could be applied elsewhere in Michigan, Katz said.

State attorneys defended the law when Republican Bill Schuette was attorney general but dropped out of the case after Democrat Dana Nessel took office in 2019.
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Supreme Court ends Trump emoluments lawsuits

Legal Business 2021/01/23 13:15   Bookmark and Share
The Supreme Court on Monday brought an end to lawsuits over whether Donald Trump illegally profited off his presidency, saying the cases are moot now that Trump is no longer in office.

The high court’s action was the first in an expected steady stream of orders and rulings on pending lawsuits involving Trump now that his presidency has ended. Some orders may result in dismissals of cases since Trump is no longer president. In other cases, proceedings that had been delayed because Trump was in the White House could resume and their pace even quicken.

The justices threw out Trump’s challenge to lower court rulings that had allowed lawsuits to go forward alleging that he violated the Constitution’s emoluments clause by accepting payments from foreign and domestic officials who stay at the Trump International Hotel and patronize other businesses owned by the former president and his family.

The high court also ordered the lower court rulings thrown out as well and directed appeals courts in New York and Richmond, Virginia, to dismiss the suits as moot now that Trump is no longer in office.

The outcome leaves no appellate court opinions on the books in an area of the law that has been rarely explored in U.S. history.

The cases involved suits filed by Maryland and the District of Columbia, and high-end restaurants and hotels in New York and Washington, D.C., that “found themselves in the unenviable position of having to compete with businesses owned by the President of the United States.”

The suits sought financial records showing how much state and foreign governments have paid the Trump Organization to stay and eat at Trump-owned properties.

The cases never reached the point where any records had to be turned over. But Karl Racine and Brian Frosh, the attorneys general of Washington, D.C., and Maryland, respectively, said in a joint statement that a ruling by a federal judge in Maryland that went against Trump “will serve as precedent that will help stop anyone else from using the presidency or other federal office for personal financial gain the way that President Trump has over the past four years.”

Other cases involving Trump remain before the Supreme Court, or in lower courts.

Trump is trying to block the Manhattan district attorney ’s enforcement of a subpoena for his tax returns, part of a criminal investigation into the president and his businesses. Lower courts are weighing congressional subpoenas for Trump’s financial records. And the justices also have before them Trump’s appeal of a decision forbidding him from blocking critics on his Twitter account. Like the emoluments cases, Trump’s appeal would seem to be moot now that he is out of office and also had his Twitter account suspended.

Republican senators and some legal scholars have said that Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate cannot proceed now that he is once again a private citizen. But many scholars have said that Trump’s return to private life poses no impediment to an impeachment trial.
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