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Kentucky governor, attorney general clash before high court
Attorney Blogs | 2017/08/20 22:18
Kentucky's Democratic attorney general warned the state's highest court on Friday that the accreditation of the state's public colleges and universities would be at risk if they don't take his side against the Republican governor.

But an attorney for Republican Gov. Matt Bevin called Andy Beshear's argument "poppycock." He told the justices they should dismiss Beshear's lawsuit and vacate a lower court's judgment that the governor broke the law when he abolished the University of Louisville's board and replaced its trustees with an executive order last year.

What was supposed to have been a 30-minute hearing stretched more than an hour in a courtroom packed with political aides from both parties as two of Kentucky's top politicians faced off before the Supreme Court for the second time in a year.

Ultimately, Bevin got his wish for a new board at the university after the legislature convened and the Republican majority approved his choices under a new law. That's why a ruling from the Kentucky Supreme Court in this case likely won't affect the new board.

But Beshear is asking the court to declare Bevin's original order illegal and to prevent him from doing it again. If he's successful, it would be his second legal victory against Bevin and would be likely fodder for a potential campaign for governor in 2019.

If Bevin wins, it would bolster the governor's argument that Beshear has wasted time filing frivolous lawsuits against him.

Bevin replaced the board because he said the university needed a "fresh start" after a series of scandals and because the board violated state law by not having proportionate representation of racial minorities and political parties.

In issuing his executive order, Bevin relied on a state law, KRS 12.028 , that lets the governor make temporary changes when the legislature is not in session. The legislature then reviews those changes when they reconvene. If they don't act on them, the changes expire.



Mental health court established for offenders on probation
Attorney Blogs | 2017/08/10 10:58
A specialized court has been established in Pinal County to give defendants with mental problems an alternative path and keep them out of the criminal justice system.

Presiding Judge Stephen McCarville signed an administrative order last month calling for the establishment of Mental Health Treatment Court. It’s a therapeutic, post-sentence court for defendants placed on supervised probation.

People screened with a mental illness are referred to the court by the Pinal County Attorney’s Office or the county’s probation department. Then the court’s staff reviews the defendant’s case to determine whether the person’s situation is appropriate for the program, the Casa Grande Dispatch reported.

The offender undergoes outpatient treatment at a mental health facility while checking in with the court on a weekly basis. If defendants don’t follow the terms of the treatment, then they’re subject to having their probation revoked.

The goal is to keep people with mental disabilities out of the criminal justice system, Pinal County Superior Court Administrator Todd Zweig said. The number of probationers with mental health conditions has been increasing in the county, he added, prompting the need for this type of service.



Supreme Court term ended much different than it began
Attorney Blogs | 2017/06/27 23:42
The Supreme Court began its term nine months ago with Merrick Garland nominated to the bench, Hillary Clinton favored to be the next president, and the court poised to be controlled by Democratic appointees for the first time in 50 years.

Things looked very different when the justices wrapped up their work this week. The court's final decisions and orders were almost emphatic declarations, if there had been any doubt, that this is once again a conservative-leaning court that may only move more to the right in the years to come. The justices gave President Donald Trump the go-ahead to start enforcing at least part of his travel ban, showed that the wall between church and state is perhaps not as high as it once was and invigorated a baker's religion-based refusal to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

"Liberals were certainly looking forward to a Clinton presidency that would alter the direction of the court. This was not an outcome we predicted," said Nan Aron, president of the liberal Alliance for Justice. The first casualty of Trump's election was Garland, the appellate judge whom President Barack Obama nominated to the high court. Instead of Garland on the far right of the bench where the newest justice sits, there was Justice Neil Gorsuch.

The placement also meshed with his votes. The Trump nominee who joined the court in April, Gorsuch staked out the most conservative position in a number of closely watched cases, including the one on the travel ban. The 49-year-old Coloradan restored the court's conservative tilt, nearly 14 months after Justice Antonin Scalia's death left the remaining eight justices divided between four liberal-leaning Democratic appointees and four conservative-leaning Republican appointees.

Trump also could bring seismic change to the court if any of the three oldest justices — 84-year-old Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 80-year-old Anthony Kennedy or 78-year-old Stephen Breyer — steps down in the next few years. The youngest justice was unusually active both as a questioner during arguments and in his writing. Gorsuch wrote separately from the court's majority opinion seven times in less than three months, the same number of such opinions Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her first two years on the court, University of Texas law professor Stephen Vladeck noted on Twitter.



Alabama asks US Supreme Court to let execution proceed
Attorney Blogs | 2017/06/06 15:56
Alabama’s attorney general on Monday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to let an execution proceed this week, arguing that questions about a lethal injection drug have been settled by the courts.

Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office asked the justices to let the state proceed with Thursday’s scheduled execution of Robert Melson who was convicted of killing three Gadsden restaurant employees during a 1994 robbery.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week granted a stay as it considers appeals from Melson and other inmates who contend that a sedative used by Alabama called midazolam will not render them unconscious before other drugs stop their lungs and heart. The state argues there was no reason to grant the stay since midazolam’s use in lethal injections has been upheld by the high court, and the court has let executions proceed using midazolam in Alabama and Arkansas.

“Alabama has already carried out three executions using this protocol, including one less than two weeks ago in which this court, and the Eleventh Circuit, denied a stay,” lawyers with the attorney general’s office wrote in the motion

“If the stay is allowed to stand, Melson’s execution will be delayed many months, if not years. The State, the victims’ families, and the surviving victim in this case have waited long enough for justice to be delivered. This Court should vacate the lower court’s stay,” attorneys for the state wrote.

Melson is one of several inmates who filed lawsuits, which were consolidated, arguing that the state’s execution method is unconstitutional. A federal judge in March dismissed the lawsuits, and the inmates appealed to the 11th Circuit saying the judge dismissed their claims prematurely.

A three-judge panel of 11th Circuit judges did not indicate whether they thought the inmates would succeed in their appeals. Rather, the judges wrote Friday that they were staying Melson’s execution to avoid the “untenable” prejudging of the inmates’ cases.

Midazolam is supposed to prevent an inmate from feeling pain, but several executions in which inmates lurched or moved have raised questions about its use. An Arkansas inmate in April lurched about 20 times during a lethal injection. Melson’s lawyers wrote in a Friday motion that Alabama “botched” a December execution in which inmate Ronald Bert Smith coughed and moved for the first 13 minutes.

“Mr. Smith’s botched execution supports the argument that midazolam is a vastly different drug than pentobarbital. It does not anesthetize the condemned inmate, and because it does not anesthetize, defendants’ use of potassium chloride is unconstitutional,” Melson’s attorneys wrote last week.


Trump repeats criticism of court that halted 1st travel ban
Attorney Blogs | 2017/04/30 01:12
President Donald Trump is once again taking aim at a federal appeals court district that covers Western states, saying he is considering breaking up a circuit that is a longtime target of Republicans and is where his first travel ban was halted.

Yet it would take congressional action to break up the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Republicans have introduced bills this year to do just that.

Asked Wednesday during a White House interview by the Washington Examiner if he'd thought about proposals to break up the court, Trump replied, "Absolutely, I have."

"There are many people that want to break up the 9th Circuit. It's outrageous," he told the Examiner. He accused critics of appealing to the 9th district "because they know that's like, semi-automatic."

The comments echoed his Twitter criticism of the court Wednesday morning.

Trump called U.S. District Judge William Orrick's preliminary injunction against his order stripping money from so-called sanctuary cities "ridiculous" on Twitter. He said he planned to take that case to the Supreme Court. However, an administration appeal of the district court's decision must go first to the 9th Circuit.

Republicans have talked for years about splitting the circuit into two appellate courts, but earlier legislative proposals have failed, most recently in 2005. Those battles have often pitted lawmakers from California against members from smaller, more conservative states.

Critics say the court has a liberal slant, a high caseload and distances that are too far for judges to travel. The circuit is the largest of the federal appellate courts, representing 20 percent of the U.S. population. It includes California, Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.

The circuit has 29 judges, many more than the 5th, which is the next largest circuit with 17 judges. It was created in 1891 when the American West was much less populated.

Democrats have opposed the split. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., was a leading opponent in the 2005 push, which she said was politically motivated. She has suggested adding judges to the court instead.



High court sides with Goodyear in sanctions dispute
Attorney Blogs | 2017/04/18 12:49
A unanimous Supreme Court is siding with Goodyear Rubber & Tire Co. in a dispute over $2.7 million the company and its lawyers were ordered to pay in a personal injury case.

The justices on Tuesday sent the case back to a lower court to decide whether an Arizona family injured in a 2003 motor home accident is entitled to the entire amount.

The family sued Goodyear after they were seriously injured when a tire failed on their motor home, causing it to flip off the road. After settling the case in 2010, the family discovered the company hadn't turned over key testing data.

A federal judge said nearly all of the family's attorney fees could be blamed on the misconduct. A federal appeals court agreed.


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