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NC governor, legislature head to court in power showdown
Legal Business | 2017/03/06 08:36
North Carolina's new Democratic governor and majority Republican legislature are charging at each other in a constitutional game of chicken over their powers, a confrontation that could shape the recent conservative direction of state policies and spending.

The confrontation continues Tuesday, when the two branches of state government appear for a court hearing before the third. A panel of three trial judges will gather in Raleigh to hear lawyers for Gov. Roy Cooper dispute attorneys for the state House and Senate leaders over whether new laws are constitutional.

"This is a fight that involves really the three branches of government. It's one of a series of possible contests that we can see as the governor serves his term in office about who is going to make what decisions," High Point University political scientist Martin Kifer said. "It also has to do with the pace of policymaking. This isn't speeding things up."

GOP lawmakers passed several provisions that reduced the incoming governor's powers during a surprise special legislative session two weeks before Cooper took office Jan. 1. The laws:

— require Cooper's choices to run 10 state agencies to be approved by the GOP-led Senate.

— strip Cooper's control over administering elections and gives Republicans control over state and local elections boards during even-numbered years when elections for major statewide and national office are held.

— slash Cooper's patronage hiring discretion and gives civil service protections to hundreds of political appointees hired by former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who narrowly lost to Cooper last fall.

Cooper might not like the increasing number of limits Republicans impose, but he'd better get used to it, attorneys for legislative leaders said in a court filing. The state's constitution and legal precedents have created one of the country's weakest governors, and makes the General Assembly the dominant branch, attorneys for state House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger wrote.



Immigration courts: record number of cases, many problems
Court Watch | 2017/03/06 08:35
Everyone was in place for the hearing in Atlanta immigration court: the Guinean man hoping to stay in the U.S., his attorney, a prosecutor, a translator and the judge. But because of some missing paperwork, it was all for nothing.

When the government attorney said he hadn't received the case file, Judge J. Dan Pelletier rescheduled the proceeding. Everybody would have to come back another day.

The sudden delay was just one example of the inefficiency witnessed by an Associated Press writer who observed hearings over two days in one of the nation's busiest immigration courts. And that case is one of more than half a million weighing down court dockets across the country as President Donald Trump steps up enforcement of immigration laws.

Even before Trump became president, the nation's immigration courts were burdened with a record number of pending cases, a shortage of judges and frequent bureaucratic breakdowns. Cases involving immigrants not in custody commonly take two years to resolve and sometimes as many as five.

The backlog and insufficient resources are problems stretching back at least a decade, said San Francisco Immigration Judge Dana Marks, speaking as the president of the National Association of Immigration Judges.


Oklahoma tribe sues oil companies in tribal court over quake
Legal Interview | 2017/03/05 08:35
An Oklahoma-based Native American tribe filed a lawsuit in its own tribal court system Friday accusing several oil companies of triggering the state's largest earthquake that caused extensive damage to some near-century-old tribal buildings.

The Pawnee Nation alleges in the suit that wastewater injected into wells operated by the defendants caused the 5.8-magnitude quake in September and is seeking physical damages to real and personal property, market value losses, as well as punitive damages.

The case will be heard in the tribe's district court with a jury composed of Pawnee Nation members.
"We are a sovereign nation and we have the rule of law here," said Andrew Knife Chief, the Pawnee Nation's executive director. "We're using our tribal laws, our tribal processes to hold these guys accountable."

Attorneys representing the 3,200-member tribe in north-central Oklahoma say the lawsuit is the first earthquake-related litigation filed in a tribal court. If an appeal were filed in a jury decision, it could be heard by a five-member tribal Supreme Court, and that decision would be final.

"Usually tribes have their own appellate process, and then, and this surprises a lot of people, there is no appeal from a tribal supreme court," said Lindsay Robertson, a University of Oklahoma law professor who specializes in Federal Indian Law.



Court officer investigated for photographing lawyer's notes
Topics in Legal News | 2017/03/04 08:35
A court security officer in Maine has been placed on leave while under investigation for sending a cellphone photo of a defense attorney's notes to a prosecutor.

The Kennebec Journal reports that court officials are calling the incident a serious ethical breach and violation of courtroom protocol.

Sgt. Joel Eldridge took the photo Tuesday as a judge and attorneys discussed a case involving robbery, aggravated assault and criminal mischief. Assistant District Attorney Francis Griffin told the judge he saw the photo on his phone and reported the incident to the district attorney.

Defense attorney Sherry Tash said she was told the photo showed her notes of a person's name and number. Eldridge declined comment. He's on administrative leave with pay pending an internal investigation by the Kennebec County Sheriff's Department.


Ohio court considers privacy rights in backpack search
Attorney News | 2017/03/02 08:36
The state Supreme Court will hear arguments over the constitutionality of an Ohio student's backpack search that authorities say led first to the discovery of bullets and later a gun.

At issue before the high court is whether a second search of the backpack violated the student's privacy rights, which are generally weaker inside school walls.

The court scheduled arguments for Wednesday morning. Prosecutors in Franklin County appealed after two lower courts tossed out the evidence because of the second search.

A security official at a Columbus city high school searched the backpack in 2013 after it was found on a bus. The official conducted a second search after he recalled the student had alleged gang ties. That search led to finding a gun on the student.


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