US court ruling could bring more suits over Nazi-looted art

Topics in Legal News 2017/04/05 22:51   Bookmark and Share
The heirs of Nazi-era Jewish art dealers have spent nearly a decade trying to persuade German officials to return a collection of medieval relics valued at more than $250 million.

But they didn't make much headway until they filed a lawsuit in an American court.

The relatives won a round last week when a federal judge ruled that Germany can be sued in the United States over claims the so-called Guelph Treasure was sold under duress in 1935.

It's the first time a court has required Germany to defend itself in the U.S. against charges of looted Nazi art, and experts say it could encourage other descendants of people who suffered during the Holocaust to pursue claims in court.

The case also is among the first affected by a law passed in Congress last year that makes it easier for heirs of victims of Nazi Germany to sue over confiscated art.

"It open all kinds of other claims based on forced sales in Nazi Germany to jurisdiction in U.S. courts if the facts support it," said Nicholas O'Donnell, an attorney representing the heirs.

The collection includes gold crosses studded with gems, ornate silverwork and other relics that once belonged to Prussian aristocrats. The heirs of the art dealers — Jed Leiber, Gerald Stiebel, and Alan Philipp — say their relatives were forced to sell the relics in a coerced transaction for a fraction of its market value.

The consortium of dealers from Frankfurt had purchased the collection in 1929 from the Duke of Brunswick. They had managed to sell about half of the pieces to museums and collectors, but the remaining works were sold in 1935 to the state of Prussia, which at the time was governed by Nazi leader Hermann Goering.

Following the sale, Goering presented the works as a gift to Adolf Hitler, according to court documents. The collection has been on display in Berlin since the early 1960s and is considered the largest collection of German church treasure in public hands.

German officials claim the sale was voluntary and say the low price was a product of the Great Depression and the collapse of Germany's market for art. In 2014, a special German commission set up to review disputed restitution cases concluded it was not a forced sale due to persecution and recommended the collection stay at the Berlin museum.
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Political fights over Supreme Court seats nothing new

Topics in Legal News 2017/04/01 15:24   Bookmark and Share
Wondering when Supreme Court nominations became so politically contentious? Only about 222 years ago — when the Senate voted down George Washington's choice for chief justice.

"We are in an era of extreme partisan energy right now. In such a moment, the partisanship will manifest itself across government, and there's no reason to think the nomination process will be exempt from that. It hasn't been in the past," University of Georgia law professor Lori Ringhand said.

This year's brouhaha sees Senate Democrats and Republicans bracing for a showdown over President Donald Trump's nominee, Neil Gorsuch. It's the latest twist in the political wrangling that has surrounded the high court vacancy almost from the moment Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016.

Each side has accused the other of unprecedented obstruction. Republicans wouldn't even hold a hearing for Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama's nominee. Democrats are threatening a filibuster, which takes 60 votes to overcome, to try to stop Gorsuch from becoming a justice. If they succeed, Republicans who control the Senate could change the rules and prevail with a simple majority vote in the 100-member body.

As she lays out in "Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings and Constitutional Change," the book she co-wrote, Ringhand said, "There were more rejected nominees in the first half of the nation's history than in the second half. That controversy has been partisan in many cases, back to George Washington."

"Confirmations have been episodically controversial," said Ringhand, who is the Georgia law school's associate dean. "The level of controversy has ebbed and flowed."

John Rutledge, a South Carolinian who was a drafter of the Constitution, was the first to succumb to politics. The Senate confirmed Rutledge as a justice in 1789, a post he gave up a couple of years later to become South Carolina's chief justice.

In 1795, Washington nominated Rutledge to replace John Jay as chief justice. By then, Rutledge had become an outspoken opponent of the Jay Treaty, which sought to reduce tensions with England. A year after ratifying the treaty, the Senate voted down Rutledge's nomination.
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Supreme Court nominee has defended free speech, religion

Topics in Legal News 2017/02/13 00:35   Bookmark and Share
Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch has been a defender of free speech and a skeptic of libel claims, an Associated Press review of his rulings shows. His record puts him at odds with President Donald Trump's disdain for journalists and tendency to lash out at critics.

On other First Amendment cases involving freedom of religion, however, Gorsuch's rulings in his decade on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver reflect views more in line with the president and conservatives. Gorsuch repeatedly has sided with religious groups when they butt up against the secular state.

In a 2007 opinion involving free speech, Gorsuch ruled for a Kansas citizen who said he was bullied by Douglas County officials into dropping his tax complaints. "When public officials feel free to wield the powers of their office as weapons against those who question their decisions, they do damage not merely to the citizen in their sights but also to the First Amendment liberties," Gorsuch wrote.
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Court orders Wisconsin Legislature to redraw voting maps

Topics in Legal News 2017/01/27 18:09   Bookmark and Share
A panel of federal judges on Friday ordered the Wisconsin Legislature to redraw legislative boundaries by November, rejecting calls from those challenging the maps to have the judges do the work.

The ruling clears the way for the state to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review an earlier decision declaring the current maps unconstitutional, but the judges rejected Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel’s request to delay any work until after the Supreme Court decides whether to hear an appeal.

Schimel’s spokesman, Johnny Koremenos, promised the decision would be swiftly appealed to the Supreme Court. Democrats hailed the ruling and called for public hearings on new maps, but Republicans still control the drawing of district boundaries.

“I hope that legislative Republicans are more competent with their second chance,” said Democratic state Sen. Mark Miller, of Monona.

A dozen voters sued in 2015 over the Republican-drawn maps, alleging they unconstitutionally consolidated GOP power and discriminated against Democrats. The three-judge panel agreed in a 2-1 ruling in November, but didn’t order any immediate action.

In its Friday ruling, the judges ordered the Legislature to redraw the maps by November so they could be in place for the 2018 elections. They forbid the current legislative boundaries from being in effect for any future election. They also declined to do the work themselves, as the Democrats who filed the lawsuit wanted.

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Competing bills target, affirm high court water decision

Topics in Legal News 2017/01/25 18:09   Bookmark and Share
Some lawmakers are taking aim at a recent Washington Supreme Court decision that put the onus on counties to determine whether water is legally available in certain rural areas before they issue building permits.
 
One bill sponsored by Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, amends parts of the state law at the heart of the ruling, known as the Hirst decision. County officials, builders, business and farm groups are among supporting the measure, while environmental groups and tribes oppose it.

A competing bill sponsored by Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, supports the court decision and sets up a program to help counties find ways to meet the requirements.

In October, the high court ruled that Whatcom County failed to protect water resources by allowing new wells to reduce flow in streams for fish and other uses. The court said counties must ensure, independently of the state, that water is physically and legally available before they issue building permits in certain areas.

In the wake of the ruling, some counties have temporarily halted certain rural development, while others changed criteria for obtaining a building permit.

At issue is a struggle to balance competing needs of people and wildlife for limited water, a challenge that has played out across the state for years.
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Supreme Court won’t hear Giordano appeal in child-sex case

Topics in Legal News 2017/01/10 16:44   Bookmark and Share
The U.S. Supreme Court has again refused to hear an appeal by former Waterbury Mayor Philip Giordano, who is fighting a 37-year prison sentence for sexually abusing two young girls while in office.

The court’s decision was released Monday. Justices previously refused to hear two earlier appeals by Giordano.

Giordano was challenging a federal appeals court decision in June to dismiss his request to set aside or correct his sentence. Giordano says the prison sentence is unconstitutional and his lawyer during his 2003 trial, Andrew Bowman, made several mistakes.

Bowman has denied that he provided ineffective counsel.

A federal jury convicted Giordano in 2003 of violating the civil rights of two girls, ages 8 and 10, by sexually abusing them in the mayor’s office and other locations.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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