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EU closer to sanctions on Poland over changes in judiciary
Attorney News | 2017/07/17 09:21
The European Union is coming closer to imposing sanctions on Poland for the government's attempt to take control over the judiciary, a senior official warned Wednesday, but he said the bloc was still open to dialogue.

European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans spoke Wednesday in Brussels, shortly after Poland's lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to send a contentious draft law that would reorganize the nation's top Supreme Court for more work by a special parliamentary commission.

Timmermans said that the EU was closer to triggering Article 7 against Poland because its recent steps toward the judiciary "greatly amplify the threat to the rule of law" and threaten putting the judiciary "under full political control of the government." But he said that dialogue between the EU and Poland should continue while the legislation is being worked on.

The EU's Article 7 allows the bloc to strip a nation of its voting rights. Article 7 was envisioned to ensure democratic standards in EU members. It requires unanimity among all other member states.

The vote in Poland's parliament, which is dominated by the ruling Law and Justice party, was preceded by a heated debate and street protests. It was the latest in a string of conflicts over the policies of the conservative party, which won power in a 2015 election. The government is also under strong criticism from other EU leaders.

Lawmakers voted 434-6 with one abstention for the commission for justice and human rights to review and issue its opinion on the draft law, which gives politicians, not lawyers, the power over appointments to the Supreme Court and reorganizes its structure.

The head of the commission, Stanislaw Piotrowicz, said it wasn't clear when the commission would convene and when its opinion would be known. He said the number of amendments proposed by the opposition was aimed at obstructing its work.

In a heated debate Tuesday, the opposition proposed more than 1,000 amendments to the draft, which, it says, kills judicial independence and destroys the democratic principle of the separation of the judiciary from the executive power.


Kansas faces skeptical state Supreme Court on school funding
Attorney News | 2017/07/16 09:21
Attorneys for Kansas will try to convince an often skeptical state Supreme Court on Tuesday that the funding increase legislators approved for public schools this year is enough to provide a suitable education for kids statewide.

The high court is hearing arguments about a new law that phases in a $293 million increase in education funding over two years. The justices ruled in March that the $4 billion a year in aid the state then provided to its 286 school districts was inadequate, the latest in a string of decisions favoring four school districts that sued Kansas in 2010.

The state argues that the increase is sizable and that new dollars are targeted toward helping the under-performing students identified as a particular concern in the court's last decision.

But lawyers for the Dodge City, Hutchinson, Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas, school districts argue that lawmakers fell at least $600 million short of adequately funding schools over two years. They also question whether the state can sustain the spending promised by the new law, even with an income tax increase enacted this year.

The court has ruled previously that the state constitution requires legislators to finance a suitable education for every child. In past hearings, justices have aggressively questioned attorneys on both sides but have not been shy about challenging the state's arguments.

The court is expected to rule quickly. Attorneys for the districts want the justices to declare that the new law isn't adequate and order lawmakers to fix it by Sept. 1 — only a few weeks after the start of the new school year.


Federal court's agenda has topics that draw Trump's ire
Attorney News | 2017/07/14 09:22
The nation’s largest federal court circuit has clashed repeatedly with President Trump over the past six months, and the agenda for its annual meeting is not shying away from topics that have stoked the president’s ire.

Immigration, fake news and meddling in the U.S. election are among the subjects to be discussed or touched on at the four-day conference of the 9th Circuit courts in San Francisco starting Monday.

Judges in the circuit have blocked both of Trump’s bans on travelers from a group of mostly Muslim countries and halted his attempt to strip funding from so-called sanctuary cities.

Trump has fired back, referring to a judge who blocked his first travel ban as a “so-called judge” and calling the ruling that upheld the decision disgraceful. Republicans have accused the 9th Circuit appeals court of a liberal slant and renewed efforts to break it up — a move Trump supports.

The 9th Circuit’s spokesman, David Madden, acknowledged that someone could see a connection between the conference agenda and the administration, but he said there was no intention to link the two.


Supreme Court could reveal action on travel ban at any time
Attorney News | 2017/06/22 09:04
The Supreme Court has almost certainly decided what to do about President Donald Trump's travel ban affecting citizens of six mostly Muslim countries.

The country is waiting for the court to make its decision public about the biggest legal controversy in the first five months of Trump's presidency. The issue has been tied up in the courts since Trump's original order in January sparked widespread protests just days after he took office.

The justices met Thursday morning for their last regularly scheduled private conference in June and probably took a vote about whether to let the Trump administration immediately enforce the ban and hear the administration's appeal of lower court rulings blocking the ban.

The court's decision could come any time and is expected no later than late next week, after which the justices will scatter for speeches, teaching gigs and vacations.

Exactly when could depend on whether there are justices who disagree with the outcome and want to say so publicly. It might take time for such an opinion to be written — and perhaps responded to by someone in the majority.

It takes five votes to reinstate the ban, but only four to set the case for argument. Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump's nominee who was confirmed in April, is taking part in the highest-profile issue yet in his three months on the court.

The case is at the Supreme Court because two federal appellate courts have ruled against the Trump travel policy, which would impose a 90-day pause in travel from citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, said the ban was "rooted in religious animus" toward Muslims and pointed to Trump's campaign promise to impose a ban on Muslims entering the country as well as tweets and remarks he has made since becoming president.


After jury deadlocks, Bill Cosby faces 2nd sex assault trial
Attorney News | 2017/06/16 09:04
Bill Cosby, the comedian and actor once known as "America's Dad" for his TV role as paternal Dr. Cliff Huxtable, avoided a conviction on Father's Day weekend as a jury declared itself hopelessly deadlocked on charges he drugged and molested a woman more than a decade ago.

Prosecutors found themselves back to square one Saturday after the judge declared a mistrial following more than 52 hours of deliberations over six days.

Excoriated by the defense for charging Cosby in the first place, District Attorney Kevin Steele vowed to put him on trial a second time, saying accuser Andrea Constand supported the decision.

"She has shown such courage through this, and we are in awe of what she has done," Steele said. "She's entitled to a verdict in this case." Cosby's team declared victory, however temporary.

By sowing doubt among one or more jurors, Cosby's lawyers managed to overcome two years of unrelenting bad publicity for their client after the public release of his damaging testimony about drugs and sex, as well as a barrage of accusations from 60 women who came forward to accuse him of sexual assault.

Constand told jurors Cosby gave her pills that made her woozy and then penetrated her with his fingers as she lay paralyzed on a couch, unable to tell him to stop. The 2004 encounter at Cosby's suburban Philadelphia estate was the only one to result in criminal charges.

Constand is ready to go to trial again, said her lawyer, Dolores Troiani. "She's a very spiritual woman, she believes things happen for a purpose, and I think the purpose is ... it should encourage other women to come forward and have their day in court."

Troiani acknowledged the difficulty of the case, given the passage of time and the impact of the alleged drugging on Constand's ability to recall details. The jury failed to reach a unanimous decision on any of the three counts against the comedian, ending the trial without a verdict. Cosby's team immediately went on the attack.

The entertainer's wife of 53 years, Camille, slammed prosecutors for bringing the case to court, calling Steele "heinously and exploitively ambitious" in a statement released after the trial. She also criticized the judge, the accuser's lawyers and the media.

"How do I describe the judge? Overtly arrogant, collaborating with the district attorney," said her statement, which was tweeted by her husband and read by an associate of the public relations firm representing Cosby.

Cosby himself didn't comment, remaining stoic as the judge declared a mistrial, but Wyatt declared the star's "power is back. It has been restored." That seemed debatable.

Cosby's career and good-guy image were already in tatters by the time his chief accuser took the witness stand, and the prosecution's decision to pursue a second trial keeps him in legal limbo.



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