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Appeals court won't re-hear the 'dusky gopher frog' case
Lawyer News | 2017/02/20 09:02
Advocates for an endangered species of frog have won a victory in a case that's headed for the U.S. Supreme Court.

A federal appeals court in New Orleans has refused to revive an environmental case involving the "dusky gopher frog."

Last year, a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a Louisiana business's attempt to keep the federal government from listing its timberland as essential for the frog's future.

On Monday the full court voted 8-6 against re-hearing the case.

The frogs now live in some parts of Mississippi but once were found in Alabama and Louisiana as well. Environmentalists say the Louisiana land in question contains a type of pond essential to the species' survival.

The case next goes to the Supreme Court.

The majority offered no comment Monday. Judge Edith Jones wrote a strongly worded 30-page dissent on behalf of the six-member minority. Among her arguments: the habitat in question contains one, but not all, of the features deemed necessary for the dusky gopher frog's survival.

Jones said the appeals court's majority applied federal law incorrectly and the landowner should not be prohibited from developing land where the frog cannot "naturally live and grow."

"She agreed with us that non-habitat can never be critical habitat," said Reed Hopper, an attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation, which represents landowner Markle Interests LLC. He confirmed that a Supreme Court appeal is planned.

Court ponders mass murderer Breivik's prison conditions
Lawyer News | 2017/01/18 17:47
An appeals court in Norway is considering whether the prison conditions under which mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik is being held amount to a violation of his human rights.

The six-day trial ended Wednesday in a makeshift courtroom inside Skien prison in southern Norway where Breivik, 37, is serving a 21-year sentence for killing 77 people in a 2011 bomb-and-shooting rampage.

Breivik's lawyer, Oystein Storrvik, spent most of the last day seeking to show that restrictions on his client's visitors and the strict control over Breivik's mail and phone calls have led to a lack of human interaction and privacy, which amounts to a violation of his rights.

The case is "really about a person that is sitting very, very alone in a small prison within a prison" since 2012, explained Storrvik.

He dismissed the benefits of the weekly visits by a state-appointed prison confidante for Breivik, saying "it's a paid job."

Addressing the court last week, Breivik said his solitary confinement had deeply damaged him and made him even more radical in his neo-Nazi beliefs.

The Norwegian state rejected the criticism and said efforts to find a prison confidante show the authorities have "gone out of their way" to remedy the situation.

In a surprise verdict last year, the Oslo District Court sided with Breivik, finding that his isolation was "inhuman (and) degrading" and breached the European Convention on Human Rights. It ordered the government to pay his legal costs.

Circus operator agrees to plea deal in tent collapse
Lawyer News | 2017/01/04 15:34
Court records show a Florida-based circus operator has agreed to a plea deal following a tent collapse in New Hampshire in 2015 that killed two people and injured dozens.

The Caledonian-Record in Vermont reports details of the plea deal involving Sarasota-based Walker International Events weren't made available.

The company had previously pleaded not guilty to a felony charge of operating without a license and to misdemeanor counts alleging it hadn't complied with state standards. Corporations can face fines and sanctions on criminal convictions.

The company, now out of business, agreed to pay federal safety fines and settled some lawsuits.

Forty-one-year-old Robert Young and his 6-year-old daughter, Annabelle, of Concord, Vermont, died when a storm with 75 mph winds blew through the Lancaster Fairgrounds, toppling the tent.

Lawyers for Egypt's Islamists see high court as last refuge
Lawyer News | 2016/12/03 11:00
Twice this month, Egypt's highest appeals court has struck down harsh sentences against Mohammed Morsi, the elected Islamist president overthrown by the military in 2013, giving some hope to thousands of his supporters, who were jailed or sentenced to death by hasty verdicts following mass trials.

Mohammed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood is outlawed as a terrorist group, and the court has upheld heavy sentences against its members. But its quashing of some of the faultiest rulings has led lawyers to see the appeals court as a last refuge for justice.

President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and other top officials have long insisted that Egypt's judiciary is independent of the government and does not engage in show trials.

But a series of swift, mass verdicts issued in the tumultuous months after Morsi's ouster, as security forces were cracking down on his supporters and violently dispersing protests, raised the possibility that Egypt might execute the Brotherhood's leadership.

Many judges on the lower courts openly expressed their disdain for the Islamists and their desire to impose order after the turmoil that followed the 2011 uprising. Defense lawyers say they often relied on faulty police reports citing anonymous security sources.

Among the most notorious rulings were those by a court in the southern city of Minya, which sentenced more than 1,000 alleged Morsi supporters to death in two mass trials that each lasted only a few days. Some of those death sentences were later rescinded by a religious authority, and many of the defendants appealed the rulings and were granted retrials. None were executed.

Scores of other cases were reversed by the Court of Cassation, whose members are appointed by the Supreme Judicial Council, a panel of the country's most experienced and well-respected judges.

Rights lawyers see it as a refuge for those who have been tried, convicted and condemned by the lower courts, as well as public opinion.

ICC prosecutor: African states leaving court is 'regression'
Lawyer News | 2016/12/01 11:01
The International Criminal Court's prosecutor said Tuesday that it is a "regression" for African nations — including her home country of Gambia — to quit the court and said the continent should work with her office to end impunity for atrocities.

Speaking to The Associated Press at the court's headquarters overlooking the North Sea on the edge of The Hague, Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said regional and local courts in Africa can also play a key role in bringing perpetrators of atrocities to justice.

Bensouda's comments came as the court's governing body, the Assembly of States Parties, met nearby with the issue of departing African states figuring prominently in its discussions.

South Africa, Burundi and Gambia have announced plans to leave the court, which has 124 member states, sparking fears of a domino effect among other African nations.

"I think it's a setback for the continent, it's a regression for the continent that there are some African states that are deciding to withdraw from the ICC," Bensouda said.

However, she said that the announced withdrawals have galvanized support for the court among other African countries attending the annual gathering of member states.

"I wanted to emphasize that today during this Assembly of States Parties you have the vast majority of African states recommitting to the ICC and renewing ... support for the ICC," Bensouda said.

One way of the international court engaging with Africa is by supporting local and regional courts, Bensouda said. Her office is working with authorities in Central African Republic to help establish a court to prosecute atrocities in that conflict-torn country.

Nevada high court considering email public records question
Lawyer News | 2016/11/17 10:44
Neighbors' efforts to block the reopening of a mine in a historic Nevada mining town have unearthed a legal question about whether emails kept by elected officials on their personal devices are public records.

The Comstock Residents Association wants the Nevada Supreme Court to order Lyon County to release communications between county commissioners and Comstock Mining Inc. ahead of a January 2014 decision to allow mining again at Silver City.

The question focuses on whether the public has a right to government information contained on personal electronic devices and in personal email accounts.

Senior Washoe County District Court Judge Steven Kosach rejected the request earlier this year, ruling records on personal devices and accounts are outside the public agency's control and aren't covered under the Nevada Public Records Act.

The judge also found the communications were not official actions. But he acknowledged his ruling "may cause public employees to skirt the provision of the (public records law) by conducting business on their personal devices," the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

Barry Smith, director of the Nevada Press Association, said the lower court ruling allows the "electronic version of the old backroom deal."

"Officials could avoid the open-records law by conducting public business through their private phones and email accounts," Smith said.

In a brief filed Nov. 7 with the state high court, association attorney Luke Busby said the court's decision would provide "critical guidance" to public officials about access to public records.

In court filings, Busby noted that then-Commissioner Vida Keller said at the January 2014 commission meeting that she had contacted her colleagues outside the public meeting regarding the land-use change.

"As it turned out, Commissioner Keller and other members of the Lyon County Commissioners used their personal devices or email accounts to conduct official business," Busby said. "An otherwise public record does not lose public status simply because it was created, received or stored on a personal device or personal account."

A three-member panel of justices heard oral arguments in the case Sept. 14. It could be several months before a ruling is made.

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