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Court grapples with details on school shooter that were leaked to media
Court News | 2024/06/17 15:22
A media organization is due in court Monday after publishing details from leaked documents about the shooter who killed six people at a Nashville elementary school in March 2023, while the outlet sues for those records and others to be released to the public.

The hearing, ordered by Nashville Chancellor I’Ashea Myles, has led to outcry not only from Star News Digital Media and Editor-in-Chief Michael Leahy, but also from open government advocates and Tennessee lawmakers.

Leahy’s attorney argued the court proceeding would violate his due process rights and infringe on First Amendment protections after his outlet, The Tennessee Star, reported on records leaked to them about the shooter at The Covenant School.

Initially, the judge ordered Leahy and attorneys to explain in court why the recent work involving leaked documents has not violated court protection of records that could subject them to contempt proceedings and sanctions. The judge later denied a request by Leahy to cancel the hearing but said no witnesses would testify.

The public records lawsuit by the conservative Star News and other plaintiffs remains tied up in court after more than a year. A group of Covenant School parents have joined the lawsuit, arguing none of the documents should ever be released because they could inspire copycats and retraumatize their children.

Though the investigative file remains officially closed to the public’s view, two prominent rounds of evidence about the shooter’s writings have leaked to media outlets.

Police have said they could not determine who was responsible for the first leak. While they look into the second, a lieutenant has drawn a connection to a former colleague without directly accusing him of the leak.

In a court declaration Friday, Nashville Police Lt. Alfredo Arevalo said his office led an investigation of the first leak. A former lieutenant, Garet Davidson, was given a copy of the criminal investigative file that was stored in a safe in his office and only Davidson had the key and safe combination, Arevalo said.

Davidson has left the force. Separately, he filed a well-publicized complaint alleging the police department actively lobbied to gut the city’s community oversight board, as well as a number of other misconduct claims.

In his declaration, Arevalo noted Davidson has spoken about details from the Covenant investigative file on Leahy’s radio show and another program.

Arevalo wrote that he is “appalled” by the leak and “saddened by the impact that this leak must have on the victims and families of the Covenant school shooting.”

The shooter who killed three 9-year-old children and three adults at Covenant, a private Christian school, left behind at least 20 journals, a suicide note and an unpublished memoir, according to court filings.

The city of Nashville has argued it doesn’t have to release the documents during an active police investigation. The plaintiffs have countered there is no meaningful criminal investigation underway since the shooter, Audrey Hale, was killed by police.


Unanimous Supreme Court preserves access to widely used abortion medication
Court News | 2024/06/13 09:50
The Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously preserved access to a medication that was used in nearly two-thirds of all abortions in the U.S. last year, in the court’s first abortion decision since conservative justices overturned Roe v. Wade two years ago.

The nine justices ruled that abortion opponents lacked the legal right to sue over the federal Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the medication, mifepristone, and the FDA’s subsequent actions to ease access to it. The case had threatened to restrict access to mifepristone across the country, including in states where abortion remains legal.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was part of the majority to overturn Roe, wrote for the court on Thursday that “federal courts are the wrong forum for addressing the plaintiffs’ concerns about FDA’s actions.”

The decision could lessen the intensity of the abortion issue in the November elections, with Democrats already energized and voting against restrictions on reproductive rights. But the high court is separately considering another abortion case, about whether a federal law on emergency treatment at hospitals overrides state abortion bans in rare emergency cases in which a pregnant patient’s health is at serious risk.

More than 6 million people have used mifepristone since 2000. Mifepristone blocks the hormone progesterone and primes the uterus to respond to the contraction-causing effect of a second drug, misoprostol. The two-drug regimen has been used to end a pregnancy through 10 weeks gestation.

Health care providers have said that if mifepristone is no longer available or is too hard to obtain, they would switch to using only misoprostol, which is somewhat less effective in ending pregnancies.

President Joe Biden’s administration and drug manufacturers had warned that siding with abortion opponents in this case could undermine the FDA’s drug approval process beyond the abortion context by inviting judges to second-guess the agency’s scientific judgments. The Democratic administration and New York-based Danco Laboratories, which makes mifepristone, argued that the drug is among the safest the FDA has ever approved.

The decision “safeguards access to a drug that has decades of safe and effective use,” Danco spokeswoman Abigail Long said in a statement.

The plaintiffs in the mifepristone case, anti-abortion doctors and their organizations, argued in court papers that the FDA’s decisions in 2016 and 2021 to relax restrictions on getting the drug were unreasonable and “jeopardize women’s health across the nation.”

Kavanaugh acknowledged what he described as the opponents’ “sincere legal, moral, ideological, and policy objections to elective abortion and to FDA’s relaxed regulation of mifepristone.”

Federal laws already protect doctors from having to perform abortions, or give any other treatment that goes against their beliefs, Kavanaugh wrote. “The plaintiffs have not identified any instances where a doctor was required, notwithstanding conscience objections, to perform an abortion or to provide other abortion-related treatment that violated the doctor’s conscience since mifepristone’s 2000 approval,” he wrote.

In the end, Kavanaugh wrote, the anti-abortion doctors went to the wrong forum and should instead direct their energies to persuading lawmakers and regulators to make changes.

Those comments pointed to the stakes of the 2024 election and the possibility that an FDA commissioner appointed by Republican Donald Trump, if he wins the White House, could consider tightening access to mifepristone.

The mifepristone case began five months after the Supreme Court overturned Roe. Abortion opponents initially won a sweeping ruling nearly a year ago from U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, a Trump nominee in Texas, which would have revoked the drug’s approval entirely. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals left intact the FDA’s initial approval of mifepristone. But it would reverse changes regulators made in 2016 and 2021 that eased some conditions for administering the drug.

The Supreme Court put the appeals court’s modified ruling on hold, then agreed to hear the case, though Justices Samuel Alito, the author of the decision overturning Roe, and Clarence Thomas would have allowed some restrictions to take effect while the case proceeded. But they, too, joined the court’s opinion Thursday.


Trump's lawyers ask judge to lift gag order imposed during New York trial
Court Watch | 2024/06/10 12:23
Donald Trump’s lawyers are asking a New York judge to lift the gag order that barred the former president from commenting about witnesses, jurors and others tied to the criminal case that led to his conviction for falsifying records to cover up a potential sex scandal.

In a letter Tuesday, Trump lawyers Todd Blanche and Emil Bove asked Judge Juan M. Merchan to end the gag order, arguing there is nothing to justify “continued restrictions on the First Amendment rights of President Trump” now that the trial is over.

Among other reasons, the lawyers said Trump is entitled to “unrestrained campaign advocacy” in light of President Joe Biden’s public comments about the verdict last Friday, and continued public criticism of him by his ex-lawyer Michael Cohen and porn actor Stormy Daniels, both key prosecution witnesses.

Trump’s lawyers also contend the gag order must go away so he’s free to fully address the case and his conviction with the first presidential debate scheduled for June 27.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office declined to comment.

Merchan issued Trump’s gag order on March 26, a few weeks before the start of the trial, after prosecutors raised concerns about the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s propensity to attack people involved in his cases.

Merchan later expanded it to prohibit comments about his own family after Trump made social media posts attacking the judge’s daughter, a Democratic political consultant. Comments about Merchan and District Attorney Alvin Bragg are allowed, but the gag order bars statements about court staff and members of Bragg’s prosecution team.

Trump was convicted Thursday of 34 counts of falsifying business records arising from what prosecutors said was an attempt to cover up a hush money payment to Daniels just before the 2016 election. She claims she had a sexual encounter with Trump a decade earlier, which he denies. He is scheduled to be sentenced July 11.

Prosecutors had said they wanted the gag order to “protect the integrity of this criminal proceeding and avoid prejudice to the jury.” In the order, Merchan noted prosecutors had sought the restrictions “for the duration of the trial.” He did not specify when they would be lifted.

Blanche told the Associated Press last Friday that it was his understanding the gag order would expire when the trial ended and that he would seek clarity from Merchan, which he did on Tuesday.


Three Americans in alleged coup attempt appear in Congo military court
Legal Interview | 2024/06/07 15:05
Three Americans accused of being involved in last month’s coup attempt in Congo appeared in a military court in the country’s capital, Kinshasa, on Friday, along with dozens of other defendants who were lined up on plastic chairs before the judge on the first day of the hearing.

The proceedings before the open-air military court were broadcast live on the local television channel.

Six people were killed during the botched coup attempt led by the little-known opposition figure Christian Malanga last month that targeted the presidential palace and a close ally of President Felix Tshisekedi. Malanga was shot and killed soon after live-streaming the attack for resisting arrest, the Congolese army said.

The defendants face a number of charges, many punishable by death, including terrorism, murder and criminal association. The court said there were 53 names on the list, but the names of Malanga and one other person were removed after death certificates were produced.

Alongside Malanga’s 21-year-old son Marcel Malanga — who is a U.S. citizen — two other Americans are on trial for their alleged role in the attack. All three requested an interpreter to translate the proceedings from French to English.

Malanga’s son was the first to be questioned by the judge, who asked him to confirm his name and other personal details. The military official chosen to translate for him was apparently unable to understand English well.

Eventually, a journalist was selected from the media to replace him, but he too had trouble translating numbers and the details of the proceedings.

“He’s not interpreting right. We need a different interpreter who understands English, please,” Marcel Malanga told the judge after the journalist incorrectly translated his zip code.

But no other translator emerged and the defendants had to make do with the journalist, who worked for the national radio. Malanga appeared frustrated and defiant as the interview stumbled ahead.

Tyler Thompson Jr, 21, flew to Africa from Utah with the younger Malanga for what his family believed was a vacation, with all expenses paid by the elder Malanga. The young men had played high school football together in Salt Lake City suburbs. Other teammates accused Marcel of offering up to $100,000 to join him on a “security job” in Congo.

Thompson appeared before the court with a shaved head and sores on his skin, looking nervous and lost as he confirmed his name and other personal details to the judge.

His stepmother, Miranda Thompson, told The Associated Press that the family found out about the hearing too late to arrange travel to Congo but hoped to be present for future court dates. Before this week, the family had no proof he was still alive.

“We’re thrilled with the confirmation,” she said.

Miranda Thompson had worried that her stepson might not even know that his family knew he’d been arrested. On Monday, the U.S. Embassy in Congo told the AP it had yet to gain access to the American prisoners to provide consular services before the trial.


Spanish court summons prime minister’s wife in corruption probe
Headline Legal News | 2024/06/04 11:00
A Spanish investigative judge has summoned the wife of Spain’s prime minister to give testimony as part of a probe into allegations that she used her position to influence business deals, a Madrid-based court said Tuesday.

Begoña Gómez is to appear at court on July 5 to answer questions.

Gómez has yet to speak publicly on the case, but Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has called it a “smear campaign” to damage Spain’s leftist coalition government led by his Socialist party.

The probe is based on allegations against Gómez made by a group called Manos Limpias, or “Clean Hands.” Manos Limpias describes itself as a union, but its main activity is as a platform pursuing legal cases. Many have been linked to right-wing causes targeting leftist politicians, and most of them never succeed.

After the probe was launched in April, Sánchez stunned the nation by saying he would contemplate stepping down for what he said was the “attack without precedent” against his wife. After five days of silence, Sánchez said he had decided to remain in office.

The summoning of Gómez comes before this week’s European Parliament election, with Spaniards voting on Sunday. Far-right parties across Europe aim for big gains.

“I want to express our surprise for the fact and coincidence that this news is coming out precisely this week,” said Pilar Alegría, spokeswoman for Spain’s government.

“We are absolutely calm because we know there is nothing (to the allegations),” Alegría said. “What does exist is a mudslinging campaign by the right and far right.”

Manos Limpias has said its allegations against Gómez were entirely based on media reports: “If they are not true, it would be up to those who published them to admit to their falsehood, but if they are true, then we believe that the legal case should continue forward.”

Spain’s public prosecutors’ office recommended the probe be thrown out, but a provincial court ruled that the lower-court judge could continue the investigation. The judge will either table the probe or recommend it go to trial.


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