Colombia warlord asks US court to force deportation to Italy

Legal Insight 2020/08/19 13:48   Bookmark and Share
A lawyer for a former Colombian paramilitary leader is asking a U.S. federal court to force Attorney General William Barr to immediately deport the former warlord to Italy after he completed a long drug sentence.

The emergency petition was filed Monday in Washington, DC federal court on behalf of Salvatore Mancuso, the former top commander of the United Defense Forces of Colombia, known as the AUC. It comes as Colombia is mounting a last-minute campaign to block Mancuso’s removal to Italy after it bungled an extradition request  that had to be withdrawn last month.

Mancuso’s lawyer argues that Barr, Chad Wolf, the acting head of the Department of Homeland Security, and four other senior officials at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement have unlawfully kept Mancuso in federal custody beyond the maximum 90 days allowed for the removal of aliens. Included in the petition is a copy of a final administrative removal order dated April 15 that compels DHS and ICE to remove Mancuso to Italy, where he also has citizenship.

Immigration attorney Hector Mora attributes the delay to strong pressure from Colombia’s conservative government, which he claims is working closely with the U.S. State Department to bring Mancuso back to Colombia. If returned home, he argues his client is likely to be jailed, or even killed, despite having fulfilled his obligations under a 2003 peace deal he negotiated, which caps prison terms at eight years for militia leaders who confess their crimes.

“He and his family are terrified with his possible return to Colombia,” Mora wrote to ICE officials on March 27 — the same day Mancuso completed a 12-year sentence in the U.S. for cocaine trafficking.

Mancuso, 55, was the most remorseful of the former right-wing militia leaders after demobilizing and his eagerness to discuss the paramilitaries’ war crimes has already shaken Colombia’s politics.
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High court won't hear abortion clinic 'buffer zone' cases

Legal Insight 2020/07/02 21:45   Bookmark and Share
The Supreme Court on Thursday turned away pleas from anti-abortion activists to make it easier for them to protest outside clinics, declining to wade back into the abortion debate just days after striking down a Louisiana law regulating abortion clinics.

The justices said in a written order that they would not hear cases from Chicago and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where anti-abortion activists had challenged ordinances that restrict their behavior outside clinics.

As is usual, the justices did not comment in turning away the cases. The order from the court noted Justice Clarence Thomas would have heard the Chicago case.

The Supreme Court has since the late 1990s heard several cases involving demonstration-free zones, called buffer zones, outside abortion clinics. Most recently, in 2014, the justices unanimously struck down a law that created a 35-foot protest-free zone outside Massachusetts abortion clinics. The court said Massachusetts’ law, which made it a crime to stand in the protest-free zone for most people not entering or exiting the clinic or passing by, was an unconstitutional restraint on the free-speech rights of protesters.

On Thursday, one of the two cases the court declined to take up involved an ordinance passed by the city counsel in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania's capital, in 2012 that made it illegal to “congregate, patrol, picket or demonstrate” in a zone 20 feet from a health care facility. Anti-abortion activists sued, arguing that the ordinance violates their free speech rights. Lower courts have upheld the ordinance, however, ruling it doesn't apply to “sidewalk counseling,” where individuals who oppose abortion offer assistance and information about alternatives to abortion to those entering a clinic.
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Courts straining to balance public health with public access

Legal Insight 2020/06/28 12:24   Bookmark and Share
After her son was arrested for allegedly throwing rocks at police during a protest over racial injustice, Tanisha Brown headed to the courthouse in her California hometown to watch her son's arraignment.

She was turned away, told the courthouse was closed to the public because of coronavirus precautions. A day later, the Kern County Superior Court in Bakersfield posted a notice on its website explaining how the public could request special permission from judicial officers to attend court proceedings.

But problems with public access have persisted, according to a federal lawsuit filed Friday on behalf of Brown and several others who have been unable to watch court sessions.

The situation in Kern County highlights the challenges courts across the U.S. are facing as they try to balance public health protections with public access to their proceedings amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to a public trial, but some courts have held arraignments and other pretrial hearings without the public watching or listening. In some cases, the public had no means of participating. In other cases, the defendant's family members, friends or other interested residents weren't aware how to gain access to special video feeds.

"The courtrooms are supposed to be fully public, anybody who’s interested is supposed to be able to watch, and they have not been doing that,” said Sergio De La Pava, legal director of New York County Defender Services, a nonprofit public defenders office in Manhattan.
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Black Lives Matter rallies start in Australia amid court ban

Legal Insight 2020/06/06 09:24   Bookmark and Share
The first of several Black Lives Matter protests across Australia on Saturday got underway against a backdrop of possible clashes between demonstrators and police in Sydney, after a court sided with police that the gathering posed too much risk for spreading the coronavirus.

The first gathering in the southern city of Adelaide was held to honor George Floyd and to protest against the deaths of indigenous Australians in custody.

That was the plan in Sydney as well, where thousands of people were expected to rally. But New South Wales state Supreme Court Justice Des Fagan ruled on Friday that the rally was not an authorized public assembly. Fagan said he understood the rally was designed to coincide with similar events in other countries.

“I don’t diminish the importance of the issues and no one would deny them in normal circumstances,” he said. “No one denies them that but we’re talking about a situation of a health crisis.”

Floyd, a black man, died in handcuffs while a Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee on his neck even after he pleaded for air and stopped moving. In Sydney, outdoor gatherings are restricted to 10 people, while up to 50 people can go to funerals, places of worship, restaurants, pubs and cafes.

Sydney rally organizers, before deciding to lodge a last-minute appeal to Fagan’s ruling, urged anyone still wishing to attend “as an individual” to obey social distancing and wear masks to ensure safety. On Friday, 2,000 demonstrators gathered in the national capital Canberra to remind Australians that the racial inequality underscored by Floyd’s death was not unique to the United States.
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Poland chamber penalizing judges must be suspended

Legal Insight 2020/04/07 11:53   Bookmark and Share
Europe’s top court on Wednesday ordered Poland's government to immediately suspend a body it set up to discipline judges, saying the chamber did not guarantee independence or impartiality of its verdicts.

The Disciplinary Chamber of Poland’s Supreme Court, which was appointed by the right-wing government in 2017, is widely seen as a tool for the government to control judges who are critical of its policies.

The European Union, which has said the chamber violates basic values of judicial independence and Poland's rule of law, took Poland's government to the European Court of Justice in October.

While the case is still being considered, the European court ordered the Disciplinary Chamber suspended, saying its activity could “cause serious and irreparable harm with regard to the functioning of the EU legal order.”

Poland's government argues it has full right to shape its judiciary, saying it needs to be made more efficient and freed of its communist-era legacy.

Deputy Justice Minister Anna Dalkowska said the government will “weigh various options" after the European court's order.
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International court approves Afghanistan investigation

Legal Insight 2020/03/07 11:05   Bookmark and Share
International Criminal Court judges authorized a far-reaching investigation Thursday of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed by Afghan government forces, the Taliban, American troops and U.S. foreign intelligence operatives.

The appellate ruling marked the first time the court’s prosecutor has been cleared to investigate U.S. forces, and set the global tribunal on a collision course with the Trump administration.

Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda pledged to carry out an independent and impartial investigation and called for full support and cooperation from all parties.

“The many victims of atrocious crimes committed in the context of the conflict in Afghanistan deserve to finally have justice,” Bensouda said. “Today they are one step closer to that coveted outcome.”

Washington, which has long rejected the court’s jurisdiction and refuses to cooperate with it, condemned the decision while human rights groups and lawyers for victims applauded it.

A five-judge appellate panel upheld an appeal by prosecutors against a pretrial chamber’s rejection in April last year of Bensouda’s request to open a probe in Afghanistan.

While acknowledging that widespread crimes have been committed in Afghanistan, pretrial judges had said an investigation wouldn’t be in the interests of justice because the expected lack of cooperation meant convictions would ultimately be unlikely.
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