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Court: Ex-West Virginia judge ineligible for benefits
Legal Watch | 2018/02/11 11:06
The West Virginia Supreme Court has ruled a former judge serving a corruption sentence and his ex-wife are not eligible for public retirement benefits.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports the court Friday affirmed a 2017 ruling from Kanawha County circuit court to terminate ex-Mingo County Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury's membership in retirement systems for public employees and judges.

The justices also denied access by Thornsbury's ex-wife to the benefits she previously were awarded as part of the couple's divorce settlement.

Thornsbury was sentenced in 2014 to four years and two months in federal prison for conspiring to deprive a campaign sign maker of his constitutional rights..

Thornsbury is being held in a federal residential re-entry facility in Nashville, Tennessee, pending his scheduled release on March 15.


Court rules that Kushner firm must disclose partners' names
Legal Watch | 2018/01/20 02:47
A federal judge ruled Friday that the family company once run by Jared Kushner isn't allowed to keep secret the identity of its business partners in several Maryland properties.

A U.S. district judge in the state rejected the argument that the privacy rights of the Kushner Cos. partners outweigh the public interest in obtaining judicial records in a lawsuit before the court. The decision means the company tied to President Donald Trump's son-in-law might be forced to provide a rare glimpse into how it finances its real estate ventures.

The ruling backed the argument by The Associated Press and other news organizations that the media has a "presumptive right" to see such court documents and the Kushner Cos. had not raised a "compelling government interest" needed by law to block access.

U.S. District Court Judge James K. Bredar ruled that Westminster Management, a Kushner Cos. subsidiary, must file an unsealed document with the identity of its partners by Feb. 9.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by tenants last year alleging Westminster charges excessive and illegal rent for apartments in the state. The lawsuit seeks class-action status for tenants in 17 apartment complexes owned by the company.

Westminster has said it has broken no laws and denies the charges.

In addition to its privacy argument, the Kushner subsidiary had said media reports of the Maryland dispute were "politically motivated" and marked by "unfair sensationalism." Disclosure of its partners' names would trigger even more coverage and hurt its chances of getting an impartial decision in the case, it had said.

In Friday's ruling, the judge said these are not "frivolous concerns," but the public's right to know is more important.


Court halts execution of Alabama inmate with dementia
Legal Watch | 2018/01/16 02:48
The U.S. Supreme Court has halted the execution of an Alabama inmate whose attorneys argue that dementia has left the 67-year-old unable to remember killing a police officer three decades ago.

Justices issued a stay Thursday night, the same evening that Vernon Madison was scheduled to receive a lethal injection at a southwest Alabama prison. The court delayed the execution to consider whether to further review the case.

Madison was sentenced to death for the 1985 killing of Mobile police Officer Julius Schulte, who had responded to a call about a missing child made by Madison's then-girlfriend. Prosecutors have said that Madison crept up and shot Schulte in the back of the head as he sat in his police car.

Madison's attorneys argued that strokes and dementia have left Madison unable to remember killing Schulte or fully understand his looming execution. The Supreme Court has previously ruled that condemned inmates must have a "rational understanding" that they are about to be executed and why.

"We are thrilled that the court stopped this execution tonight. Killing a fragile man suffering from dementia is unnecessary and cruel," attorney Bryan Stevenson, of the Equal Justice Initiative, said Thursday after the stay was granted.

The Alabama attorney general's office opposed the stay, arguing that a state court has ruled Madison competent and Madison has presented nothing that would reverse the finding.



Ohio high court shields full autopsy reports in slaying of 8
Legal Watch | 2017/12/14 19:11
A divided Ohio Supreme Court on Thursday rejected requests for unredacted autopsy reports from the unsolved slayings of eight family members.

The court ruled 4-3 that the Pike County coroner in southern Ohio does not have to release the reports with complete information.

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor, writing for the majority, said Ohio law regarding coroner records clearly exempts the redacted material as "confidential law enforcement investigatory records."

The case before the court involved seven adults and a teenage boy from the Rhoden family who were found shot to death at four homes near Piketon, in rural southern Ohio, on April 22, 2016.

Heavily redacted versions of the autopsy reports released last year showed all but one of the victims were shot multiple times in the head, but details about any other injuries and toxicology test results weren't released.

Once a criminal investigation ends, confidential information in autopsy reports can become public records, but the process leading to a suspect can sometimes take time, O'Connor wrote.

"In order that justice might be delivered to all, patience may be required of some," the chief justice said.

The Columbus Dispatch and The Cincinnati Enquirer separately sued for access to the full final autopsies. The Ohio Attorney General's Office, which is leading the investigation, sought to shield the information, arguing that its release could compromise the investigation.

Jack Greiner, an attorney representing the newspapers, called the majority's decision "a classic case of the court making up its mind on how it wanted the case to come out and then finding a path there." He said the ruling sets a negative precedent that will allow police to put whatever they want under the "investigatory records" umbrella.



Greek court backs extraditing Russian bitcoin suspect to US
Legal Watch | 2017/12/12 03:10
Greece's Supreme Court has ruled in favor of extraditing a Russian cybercrime suspect to the United States to stand trial for allegedly laundering billions of dollars using the virtual currency bitcoin.

Alexander Vinnik made his final appearance at an Athens court Wednesday amid an ongoing legal battle between the U.S. and Russia, who are both seeking his extradition.

Greece's justice minister will ultimately decide on whether Vinnik will be sent to Russia or the U.S.

The case was heard amid growing global interest in virtual currencies and their underlying blockchain technology, fuelled by the ongoing boom in the price of bitcoin.

The 38-year-old former bitcoin platform operator denies any wrongdoing but is not contesting the Russian request on less serious charges.

U.S. authorities accuse Vinnik of laundering $4 billion worth of bitcoins through BTC-e, one of the world's largest digital currency exchanges, which he allegedly operated.

Garrick Hileman, a research fellow at the University of Cambridge, said bitcoin's growing acceptance by mainstream markets makes criminal cases surrounding the currency more significant.

"For bitcoin to continue to attract regulated and institutional investors it will need to operate within the law," he told the AP.

"The United States, with the support of evidence from various cyber sleuths, is arguing that Vinnik and BTC-e were two of the biggest bad actors in the crypto-currency industry. Bringing bad actors to justice will help bitcoin move beyond its tainted history."

Vinnik was arrested at a northern Greek holiday resort in July and a lower court has already approved his extradition to the U.S.

Ilias Spyrliadis, a lawyer for Vinnik's defense, said they would formally respond after Wednesday's decision is published, in about one week.

"The Supreme Court has in essence accepted that our client should be sent to the United States," the lawyer said. "Our client has not made any response. He listened to the ruling as it was read out ... It is now up to the justice minister to decide when and where our client will be sent."


Ex-police officer pleads guilty in daughter's hot car death
Legal Watch | 2017/12/11 03:11
A former Mississippi police officer charged in the death of her daughter in a hot patrol car has pleaded not guilty.

The Sun Herald reports 28-year-old Cassie Barker was arraigned Monday on a charge of second-degree murder in the 3-year-old girl's death.

The former Long Beach officer is accused of leaving Cheyenne Hyer unattended in a patrol car for more than four hours while she was in another officer's home. The car's air conditioner was on but wasn't blowing cold air. Hyer was found unresponsive in the car and died Sept. 30, 2016.

Barker was fired days later and initially charged with manslaughter.


Comedian Artie Lange arrested for skipping court
Legal Watch | 2017/12/08 03:10
Comedian Artie Lange has been arrested for skipping a court appearance.

NJ.com reports Lange was arrested Tuesday night at his home in Hoboken. Authorities say Lange failed to appear in Superior Court in Essex County for charges stemming from a drug arrest earlier this year.

Police said they found Lange with a bag of heroin during a traffic stop in May. Lange faces charges of possession of a controlled dangerous substance and drug paraphernalia in the case.

Lange's arrest follows a strange incident over the weekend in which the comedian tweeted a picture of himself with a swollen nose. Hoboken police responded to Lange's home and he later apologized.

Lange wrote in a tweet that he missed court because of a "bad communication" with his lawyer.



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