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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.



California court blocks pardon of man who killed at age 14
Headline News | 2018/12/18 17:07
In a rare step, the California Supreme Court has blocked Gov. Jerry Brown’s attempt to issue a pardon to a 37-year-old Cambodian refugee who killed a woman when he was 14 years old.

The court gave no reason for the rejection, but earlier noted it only had the authority to do so in the case of an “abuse of power.” Brown’s pardon would have effectively stopped Borey Ai’s deportation to Cambodia, a nation where his mother was born but he has never seen.

The governor in the last 10 months has pardoned seven ex-convicts who otherwise faced the threat of deportation to Cambodia, drawing the ire of President Donald Trump, whose administration has stepped up efforts to deport immigrants with criminal convictions.

It takes at least four votes of the seven justices to block pardons. The unsigned ruling Wednesday didn’t say how many justices voted to block the pardon. The governor is required to obtain the court’s approval for pardons and sentence commutations for twice-convicted felons.


Judge’s ruling on ‘Obamacare’ poses new problems for GOP
Headline News | 2018/12/17 03:07
A federal judge’s ruling that the Obama health law is unconstitutional has landed like a stink bomb among Republicans, who’ve seen the politics of health care flip as Americans increasingly value the overhaul’s core parts, including protections for pre-existing medical conditions and Medicaid for more low-income people.

While the decision by the Republican-appointed judge in Texas was sweeping, it has little immediate practical impact because the Affordable Care Act remains in place while the legal battle continues, possibly to the Supreme Court.

HealthCare.gov , the government’s site for signing up, was taking applications Saturday, the deadline in most states for enrolling for coverage next year, and those benefits will take effect as scheduled Jan. 1. Medicaid expansion will proceed in Virginia, one of the latest states to accept that option. Employers will still be required to cover the young adult children of workers, and Medicare recipients will still get discounted prescription drugs.

But Republicans, still stinging from their loss of the House in the midterm elections, are facing a fresh political quandary after U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor said the entire 2010 health law was invalid.

Warnings about the Texas lawsuit were part of the political narrative behind Democrats’ electoral gains. Health care was the top issue for about one-fourth of voters in the November election, ahead of immigration and jobs and the economy, according to VoteCast, a nationwide survey for The Associated Press. Those most concerned with health care supported Democrats overwhelmingly.


Polish leader appoints top court judges, against ruling
Headline News | 2018/10/07 08:12
Poland's president swore in 27 new Supreme Court judges Wednesday, stepping up the conflict over control of the judiciary and ignoring another top court that said the appointments should be suspended pending an opinion by European Union judges.

Andrzej Duda appointed judges to the civil and penal chambers of the court as well as to its new chamber of extraordinary control, according to his top aide, Pawel Mucha. Reporters were not allowed to witness the ceremony.

"We are implementing another stage of the reform of the justice system that is so important to us," Mucha said, adding: "We are acting in the public interest."

The new judges are part of the sweeping changes that the ruling conservative Law and Justice party has been applying to the justice system since winning power in 2015. It says that judges active during the communist era, before 1989, must be replaced. Many of the court's judges have been forced to retire early under a new law that put their retirement age at 65, from the previous 70.

But critics say the changes violate the constitution and are putting Poland's courts under the party's political control. They also say Duda is acting against the supreme charter and warn he may be brought to account before a special tribunal.

The former head of the Constitutional Tribunal, designed to try actions by politicians, Andrzej Zoll, said Duda must be "brought to account in the future," saying his actions are against the rule of law and could lead to anarchy.


Bill Cosby's day of reckoning arrives in court
Headline News | 2018/09/28 10:20
The woman Bill Cosby was convicted of drugging and sexually assaulting said in a statement released at the comedian's sentencing Tuesday that she has had to cope with years of anxiety and self-doubt that have left her "stuck in a holding pattern."

Andrea Constand, 45, said her training as a professional basketball player had led her to think she could handle anything, but "life as I knew it" ended on the night in 2004 that Cosby knocked her out with pills and violated her.

The statement was released as Judge Steven O'Neill weighed Cosby's punishment and whether to declare the 81-year-old TV star a "sexually violent predator," a legal scarlet letter that would subject the comedian to monthly counseling for the rest of his life and would require that neighbors, schools and day care center be notified of his whereabouts.

The comic once known as America's Dad faced anywhere from probation to 10 years in prison after being convicted in April in the first celebrity trial of the #MeToo era.

Prosecutors asked a judge to give Cosby five to 10 years behind bars, while his lawyers asked for house arrest, saying the former TV star is too old and helpless to do time in prison.

Constand said she now lives alone with her two dogs and has trouble trusting people.

"When the sexual assault happened, I was a young woman brimming with confidence and looking forward to a future bright with possibilities," she wrote in her five-page statement.


Spain rejects extraditing HSBC whistleblower to Switzerland
Headline News | 2018/09/18 19:35
A Spanish court on Tuesday rejected a request to extradite a former HSBC employee to serve a five-year prison sentence in Switzerland, where he was convicted for leaking a massive trove of bank data that led to tax evasion probes worldwide.

The ruling was the second time Spain's National Court refused to extradite Herve Falciani, a French-Italian computer expert who in 2008 disclosed tens of thousands of records of HSBC customers who allegedly used the bank's Swiss branch to avoid taxes. He was convicted in absentia of breaching financial secrecy laws in Switzerland in 2015.

A panel of three National Court judges ruled Tuesday that Falciani had already been cleared from extradition in 2013, when the same court ruled that "aggravated economic espionage" is not a crime in Spain.

The judges also say that Falciani didn't reveal any secrets because he only shared them with authorities who initiated investigations in dozens of countries, including in Spain.

Falciani, 46, was first arrested in Spain in 2012. He spent 170 days in prison before he was released. He was arrested again in Madrid in April, in a renewed effort by Swiss authorities to make him serve his prison time.

Falciani said he believed Spain's previous conservative administration arrested him in order to use him as "a bargaining chip" in requests to extradite pro-independence Catalan politicians in Switzerland.

In an interview with The Associated Press last week, he said the only explanation of why he was arrested again this year after a lull in his case was political.


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