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Ohio top court to hear arguments in TV news defamation case
Headline News | 2019/04/23 16:31
Ohio's Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday in an appeal involving a defamation lawsuit that alleged a television station falsely labeled three siblings as "robbers."

A Columbus family sued WBNS-TV in 2016 after the station reported on a hover board robbery at Fort Rapids Indoor Waterpark in Columbus and included a surveillance photo showing the faces of three unnamed individuals. Police had released the photo, asking for the public's help in identifying the three individuals they said may have been involved.

The television's website story was headlined, "Robbers Put Gun to Child's Head and Steal Hoverboard," and underneath was the photo of the three individuals.

Nanita Williams saw the broadcast story and realized it was her three children in the photo, the family's lawsuit said. She took them to a Columbus police station where they told investigators they had gone to the park that day to deliver Thanksgiving dinner to someone who worked there.

Columbus police then issued a second news release saying the three individuals in the surveillance photo weren't the robbery suspects and asked news outlets to stop using the photo. WBNS stopped broadcasting stories about the robbery and removed the photo from its website, but kept the story about the incident online.


Arkansas faces new court fight over sedative for executions
Headline News | 2019/04/22 23:27
A federal lawsuit filed by death row inmates has renewed a court fight over whether the sedative Arkansas uses for lethal injections causes torturous executions, two years after the state raced to put eight convicted killers to death in 11 days before a previous batch of the drug expired.

Arkansas recently expanded the secrecy surrounding its lethal injection drug sources, and the case heading to trial Tuesday could impact its efforts to restart executions that have been on hold due to a lack of the drugs. It’ll also be the latest in a series of legal battles over midazolam, a sedative that other states have moved away from using amid claims it doesn’t render inmates fully unconscious during lethal injections.

States that want to avoid unnecessarily inhumane executions will be watching closely, said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which has criticized the way states carry out the death penalty.

But, Dunham added, “states that are watching because they want to figure out how to just execute people will be looking to see what Arkansas is able to get away with.”

Only four of the eight executions scheduled in Arkansas over 11 days in 2017 actually happened, with courts halting the others. The state currently doesn’t have any executions scheduled, and Arkansas’ supply of the three drugs used in its lethal injection process has expired. Another round of multiple executions is unlikely if Arkansas finds more drugs, since only one death row inmate has exhausted all his appeals.

This time, Arkansas isn’t racing against the clock to execute inmates before a drug expires. The state currently doesn’t have any execution drugs available, but officials believe they’ll be able to get more once the secrecy law takes effect this summer.

State Attorney General Leslie Rutledge says the inmates in the case have a very high burden to meet and cites a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last month against a Missouri death row inmate. Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for the majority in that case, wrote that the U.S. Constitution “does not guarantee a prisoner a painless death.” Rutledge called the federal case in Arkansas the latest attempt by death row inmates to delay their sentences from being carried out.


Australian man loses bullying-by-breaking wind court case
Headline News | 2019/03/26 02:12
An Australian appeals court on Friday dismissed a bullying case brought by an engineer who accused his former supervisor of repeatedly breaking wind toward him.

The Victoria state Court of Appeal upheld a Supreme Court judge's ruling that even if engineer David Hingst's allegations were true, flatulence did not necessarily constitute bullying.

Hingst said he would take his case to the High Court, Australia's final court of appeal. The 56-year-old is seeking 1.8 million Australian dollars ($1.3 million) damages from his former Melbourne employer, Construction Engineering.

Hingst testified that he had moved out of a communal office space to avoid supervisor Greg Short's flatulence.

Hingst told the court that Short would then enter Hingst's small, windowless office several times a day and break wind.

Hingst "alleged that Mr. Short would regularly break wind on him or at him, Mr. Short thinking this to be funny," the two appeal court judges wrote in their ruling.

Hingst said he would spray Short with deodorant and called his supervisor "Mr. Stinky."

"He would fart behind me and walk away. He would do this five or six times a day," Hingst said outside court.

Short told the court he did not recall breaking wind in Hingst's office, "but I may have done it once or twice."

Hingst also accused Short of being abusive over the phone, using profane language and taunting him.

The appeal judges found Hingst "put the issue of Mr. Short's flatulence to the forefront" of his bullying case, arguing that "flatulence constituted assaults."

The court found that Short did not bully or harass Hingst. Hingst had failed to establish that Construction Engineering had been negligent.


Supreme Court seems inclined to retain cross on public land
Headline News | 2019/02/28 03:41
The Supreme Court seemed inclined Wednesday to rule that a 40-foot-tall cross that stands on public land in Maryland is constitutional, but shy away from a sweeping ruling.

The case the justices heard arguments in is being closely watched because it involves the place of religious symbols in public life. But the particular memorial at issue is a nearly 100-year-old cross that was built in a Washington, D.C., suburb as a memorial to area residents who died in World War I.

Before arguments in the case, it seemed that the memorial's supporters, including the Trump administration, had the upper hand based on the court's conservative makeup and its decision to take up the matter. On Wednesday, even liberal justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer suggested that they could join a narrow ruling upholding this particular memorial.

Kagan noted that the cross is a symbol linked with soldiers killed in World War I.

"When you go into a World War I battlefield, there are Stars of David there, but because those battlefields were just rows and rows and rows of crosses, the cross became, in people's minds, the pre-eminent symbol of how to memorialize World War I dead," she said, adding that there are no religious words on the Maryland cross and that it sits in an area with other war memorials. She asked, "So why in a case like that can we not say essentially the religious content has been stripped of this monument?"

Breyer, for his part, asked a lawyer arguing for the cross' challengers what she thought about saying that "history counts" and that "We're not going to have people trying to tear down historical monuments even here."

"What about saying past is past?" he said at another point during arguments conducted in a courtroom whose friezes include depictions of Moses and Muhammed and that began, as always, with the marshal's cry: "God save the United States and this honorable court."

The cross's challengers include three area residents and the District of Columbia-based American Humanist Association, a group that includes atheists and agnostics. They argue that the cross's location on public land violates the First Amendment's establishment clause, which prohibits the government from favoring one religion over others. They say the cross should be moved to private property or modified into a nonreligious monument such as a slab or obelisk. The group lost the first round in court, but in 2017 an appeals court ruled the cross unconstitutional.


Dakota Access developer sues Greenpeace in state court
Headline News | 2019/02/22 01:38
The developer of the Dakota Access oil pipeline is going after the environmental group Greenpeace in state court in North Dakota, after a judge tossed the company's $1 billion racketeering claim out of federal court.

Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners on Thursday sued Greenpeace and several activists it also had targeted in the federal lawsuit that U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson dismissed on Feb. 14. Wilson said he found no evidence of a coordinated criminal enterprise that had worked to undermine ETP and its pipeline project.

ETP had made claims under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and also under North Dakota laws. Wilson did not address the merits of the state claims.

ETP seeks "millions of dollars of damages" in the state lawsuit, which makes similar claims to its federal lawsuit — that Greenpeace and activists conspired to use illegal and violent means such as arson and harassment to disrupt pipeline construction and damage the company, all the while using the highly publicized and prolonged protest to enrich themselves through donations.

"Defendants thus advanced their extremist agenda ... through means far outside the bounds of democratic political action, protest, and peaceful, legally protected expression of dissent," company attorney Lawrence Bender wrote in the complaint.

Greenpeace on Friday had not yet been served with the lawsuit and declined to comment on its specifics. However, Greenpeace attorney Deepa Padmanabha said ETP "is clearly still trying to bully Greenpeace through the legal system."

"We are confident that this latest attempt to silence peaceful advocacy will receive the same fate as the last meritless attack," he said.

Groups and American Indian tribes who feared environmental harm from the pipeline staged large protests that resulted in 761 arrests in southern North Dakota over a six-month span beginning in late 2016. ETP maintains the pipeline is safe. It began moving North Dakota oil through South Dakota and Iowa to a shipping point in Illinois in June 2017.


Spain's courts put to test by trial of Catalan separatists
Headline News | 2019/02/10 18:35
Spain is bracing for the nation's most sensitive trial in four decades of democracy this week, with a dozen Catalan separatists facing charges including rebellion over a failed secession bid in 2017.

The proceedings, which begin Tuesday, will be broadcast live on television and all eyes will be focused on the impartiality of the Spanish Supreme Court.

Catalonia's separatists have attacked the court's credibility in the run-up to the trial, saying it is a puppet of the Spanish government and any ruling will be a political one that has been decided in advance.

"In reality, it's democracy itself that will go on trial," Oriol Junqueras, one of the accused, wrote from jail in reply to questions sent by The Associated Press. "We are before a trial which, through a partial investigation full of falsities and irregularities, criminalizes a political option and an ideology."

But Supreme Court president Carlos Lesmes dismisses that notion, saying the trial is the most important since Spain's transition to democracy in 1977 after the death of dictator Gen. Francisco Franco.

"This is a trial following the highest standards set by the European Union," Lesmes recently told a group of journalists.



NC high court sidesteps decision on tracking sex offenders
Headline News | 2019/02/03 03:18
The North Carolina Supreme Court is brushing aside a rapist's appeal that he shouldn't be forced into a lifetime of electronic monitoring after serving his 41-year prison sentence.

The state's highest court on Friday let stand without comment that 50-year-old Darren Gentle must submit to GPS monitoring after his release, projected for 2048. Gentile was convicted in Randolph County in 2016 of violently raping a 25-year-old pregnant woman with whom he'd been taking drugs.

The court is still considering a separate case on whether forcing sex offenders to be perpetually tracked by GPS-linked devices is justified or is unreasonable search and violates the Constitution. The pending decision in Torrey Grady's case comes after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandating GPS ankle monitors for ex-cons is a serious privacy concern.



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