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Court weighing whether graffiti mecca was protected by law
Law Center | 2017/10/20 12:17
For two decades, Jerry Wolkoff let graffiti artists use his crumbling Queens warehouse complex as a canvas for their vibrant works. Artists gave the spot the name "5Pointz" — a place where all five New York City boroughs come together — but painters traveled from as far as Japan and Brazil to tag, bomb and burn at what became a graffiti mecca and a tourist destination.

But like most graffiti, it didn't last. Wolkoff whitewashed the building in 2013 then tore it down to build luxury apartment towers.

Four years later, some of the artists whose work was destroyed are in court, arguing that even though the building belonged to Wolkoff, the art was protected by federal law.

A trial that started Tuesday at a federal court in Brooklyn will determine whether the artists should be compensated for the lost work.

More than 20 artists sued Wolkoff under the Visual Artists Rights Act, or VARA, a 1990 federal statute that protects artists' rights even if someone else owns the physical artwork.

A trial that started Tuesday at a federal court in Brooklyn will determine whether the artists should be compensated for the lost work.

More than 20 artists sued Wolkoff under the Visual Artists Rights Act, or VARA, a 1990 federal statute that protects artists' rights even if someone else owns the physical artwork.

Barry Werbin, an attorney specializing in intellectual property, said the case is significant because no lawsuit under the statute has been tried by a jury before.



NC high court reviews death penalty of man who beheaded wife
Law Center | 2017/10/12 12:19
North Carolina's highest court is reviewing whether justice means the death penalty for a survivor of El Salvador's blood-soaked civil war of the 1980s who strangled and then decapitated his estranged wife.

The state's Supreme Court hears oral arguments Monday on whether the state can execute 41-year-old Juan Carlos Rodriguez of Winston-Salem for the 2010 murder of his wife, Maria. The high court automatically reviews death cases.

North Carolina is rare among southern states in that it hasn't had an execution in more than a decade because of various legal challenges. While the state has continued to suffer 500 to 600 murders a year, prosecutors have sought the death penalty only a handful of times each year and juries have condemned killers in only a fraction of those cases.

Rodriguez's children told investigators their father beat and bloodied Maria Rodriguez after she told them she was leaving in November 2010. He tossed the woman's still-breathing body over his shoulder, placed her in his vehicle, and said he was taking her to a hospital. Maria's body and severed head were found at different locations three weeks later, after Juan was already jailed for her kidnapping.

Justices are holding hearings in the case for the second time in almost exactly a year. Monday's hearing comes after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this spring that states needed to use current medical standards in deciding whether a killer is so mentally disabled he can't be executed. The U.S. constitution bans "cruel and unusual punishments," and that has been interpreted to prohibit executing people with severe mental shortcomings.

Rodriguez's IQ was estimated several times at below 70, a threshold for significantly impaired intellectual functioning. But accused killers in North Carolina also must show significant inability to adapt to daily life and that their mental handicaps were evident before adulthood.


Ohio taxpayers lose right to take disputes to high court
Law Center | 2017/10/02 12:21
Ohioans lost the right Friday to appeal disputed tax decisions directly to the state’s high court, a scarcely debated policy change that critics say will have sweeping consequences for businesses, individuals and governments.

The Ohio Supreme Court advocated for and defends the change, arguing it was necessary to lighten its docket of a flood of market-driven property tax disputes and to preserve its role as arbiter of the state’s most significant legal questions.

Administrative Director Mike Buenger said the Supreme Court is intended to deal with categories of cases that are of great statewide public importance or of constitutional magnitude.

“We started looking at these cases because there was concern by the court that many of them presented basic disputes over mathematic valuations and calculations, and often little more than that,” he said. “With limited exception, these cases did not present great questions of statewide importance.”

A court analysis found that only 14 of the 152 appeals of Ohio Board of Tax Appeals decisions the court was compelled to accept in 2014 involved matters of law appropriate for the high court’s attention.

Justices took their concerns to the Ohio Senate, which quietly slipped language into the state budget bill signed in June removing the court’s obligation to accept direct tax appeals - an option since 1939 - and sending them through the appellate courts first.

Business groups pushed back, arguing that sending tax appeals through regional appellate courts would add costs, inconsistency and competitive disadvantages to Ohio’s tax system.

“The impact will be extremely negative. Over time, it will erode the uniformity of the tax code in the state of Ohio,” said Tom Zaino, a Columbus tax attorney and former state tax commissioner under Republican Gov. Bob Taft. “It’s going to be equally bad for government as it is for taxpayers.”

Zaino said his business tax clients often have more than one location and eliminating direct Supreme Court appeals will lead to decisions that are applicable in only one part of the state, to some but not all of a business’ properties or to one competitor but not another.


Pakistan ex-PM criticizes judiciary for his disqualification
Law Center | 2017/09/26 12:22
Pakistan's former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Tuesday criticized the country's judiciary for rejecting his appeal over his disqualification from office and vowed again to fight a legal battle to clear his name.

In July, the Supreme Court barred him from office for concealing financial assets. Sharif has since been replaced by a member of his ruling party but has vowed to fight and prove he never indulged in corruption. Earlier this month, the top court rejected Sharif's request for a review of its July 28 ruling.

Tuesday's remarks by Sharif came just after he made his first appearance before an anti-corruption court to face corruption charges earlier in the day. He has returned home from London, where he travelled to see his ailing wife who is undergoing medical treatment in Britain.

"I know for what reasons I am being punished," Sharif told a news conference, without elaborating.

Sharif is likely to be indicted on Oct. 2 in connection with three corruption cases that were filed against him by the country's anti-corruption body earlier this month. Sharif resigned after the Supreme Court disqualified him, but afterward said he was being punished over a trivial charge.

As he appeared before the corruption court earlier on Tuesday, a group of Sharif's followers gathered outside the court and later some chanted slogans in his support inside the courtroom.



Kenya Supreme Court says why it annulled presidential poll
Law Center | 2017/09/22 02:46
Kenya's Supreme Court is delivering its full judgment on why it annulled President Uhuru Kenyatta's re-election in August.

The court annulled Kenyatta's victory in the August 8 election saying there were irregularities and illegalities, in response to opposition leader Raila Odinga's petition challenging the official results that Kenyatta won with 54 percent of the vote. The electoral commission has set Oct. 17 as the date for a fresh election. Kenya's Chief Justice David Maraga said Tuesday that since the September 1 judgment nullifying the election results, there have been attempts to intimidate judges.

Kenyatta has called the Supreme Court judges "crooks" and warned of unspecified action against the judiciary if he is re-elected next month. Kenyatta's supporters demonstrated outside the Supreme Court Tuesday ahead of the full judgment on Wednesday.


Toys R Us files for Chapter 11 reorganization
Law Center | 2017/09/20 12:31
Toys R Us, the pioneering big box toy retailer, has announced it has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection while continuing with normal business operations.

A statement by the Wayne, New Jersey-based company late Monday says it voluntarily is seeking relief in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Richmond - and that its Canadian subsidiary is seeking similar protection through a Canadian court.

Toys R Us says court-supervised proceedings will help restructure its outstanding debt and reorganize for long-term growth.

The company says separate operations outside the U.S. and Canada, including more than 250 licensed stores and a joint venture partnership in Asia, are not part of the filings.

It emphasizes that its approximately 1,600 locations will remain open, that it will continue to work with suppliers and sell merchandise.


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