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Judge sides with Alaska attorney who alleged wrongful firing
Legal Business | 2022/01/21 10:10
A U.S. judge sided Thursday with an attorney who alleged she was wrongly fired by the state of Alaska over political opinions expressed on a personal blog.

U.S. District Court Judge John Sedwick ruled that Elizabeth Bakalar’s December 2018 firing violated her free speech and associational rights under the U.S. and state constitutions.

According to Sedwick’s decision, Bakalar was an attorney with the Alaska Department of Law who handled election-related cases and was assigned to advise or represent state agencies in high-profile or complex matters. She began a blog in 2014 that focused on issues such as lifestyle, parenting and politics but began blogging more about politics and then-President Donald Trump after his 2016 election. She also commented about Trump on Twitter, with her name listed as the Twitter handle, the order says.

Shortly after Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s election in 2018, the chair of his transition team and later his chief of staff, Tuckerman Babcock, sent a memo to a broad swath of state employees requesting they submit their resignations along with a statement of interest in continuing to work for the new administration. The request was derided by attorneys for Bakalar and others as a demand for a “loyalty pledge.”

“To keep their jobs employees had to actually offer up a resignation with an accompanying statement of interest in continuing with the new administration and then hope that the incoming administration would reject the resignation,” Sedwick wrote.

Babcock said he fired Bakalar because he considered the tone of her resignation letter to be unprofessional, the order says. But Sedwick said Babcock did not accept the resignation of an assistant attorney general who used the same wording he had found objectionable when used by Bakalar.

While every lawyer in the Department of Law received the memo, just two — Bakalar and another attorney who had been critical of Trump on social media — had their resignation letters accepted, according to Sedwick’s decision.


Some Michigan counties pause jury trials amid COVID surge
Legal Business | 2022/01/17 12:33
Jury trials have been paused in some western Michigan counties due to a surge in coronavirus cases, court officials said Monday.

Chief Judge Mark Trusock said all jury trials in Kent County 17th Circuit Court, based in Grand Rapids, were on hold until March 7. Ottawa County Probate Court and the 20th Judicial Circuit Court, based in Grand Haven, will not summon the public to courthouses to serve as jurors until at least Feb. 1, according to a statement released by the court.

Michigan health officials said last week that the state’s record-high COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations could peak in late January or early February, and they urged the public to take steps to help control the spread.

Ottawa County court officials said their decision was made in consultation with the Ottawa County Department of Public Health. Circuit Court Administrator Susan Franklin said judges don’t want to bring large numbers of people into the courthouses given the current rates of COVID transmission.

Courts across the U.S. have paused jury trials at various points during the pandemic. The highly contagious omicron variant has prompted additional pauses in recent days, including in Indiana’s largest county and in the state’s second most-populous county.


Appeals court: Illinois counties must end ICE contracts
Court News | 2022/01/15 13:29
A federal appeals court has ruled two counties that hold immigrant detainees at local jails must terminate contracts with federal authorities starting Thursday.

Leaders in Kankakee and McHenry counties sued over an Illinois law aimed at ending immigration detention in the state by Jan. 1 and lost. But they were allowed to delay while on appeal.

In the ruling, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the counties hadn’t made their case.

“We conclude that the counties have not made a ‘strong showing’ that they are likely to succeed on the merits,” the three-judge panel concluded.

Roughly 100 detainees remain at the jails. Winding down the contracts is expected to take a few weeks.

The Illinois law has been celebrated by immigrant rights activists who say detaining people awaiting immigration hearings is inhumane and costly. They’re pushing to release detainees instead of transferring them elsewhere.

Last year, downstate Pulaski County cleared its jail of immigrant detainees. Court records show 15 were released. Dozens of others were transferred to Kansas and the two Illinois facilities.

Officials in McHenry and Kankakee counties, who didn’t return messages Thursday, have previously said they’d continue to appeal. They say the contracts are lucrative and argue that ending them simply transfers detainees further from their families.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement didn’t return a message Thursday.


Wisconsin judge rejects attempt to block election subpoena
Legal Business | 2022/01/12 16:58
A Wisconsin judge on Monday rejected an attempt by the state’s Democratic attorney general to block a subpoena issued by a Republican-hired attorney seeking to interview the state’s chief elections administrator and obtain election-related documents and data as part of a GOP-ordered investigation.

The ruling from Dane County Circuit Judge Rhonda Lanford is a partial victory for Michael Gableman, a former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice who was hired last year by Republicans to investigate the 2020 election. It means that he can move forward — at least for now — with a closed-door interview with the state’s top elections official, Meagan Wolfe, even as other legal battles over his authority are pending.

President Joe Biden won Wisconsin by nearly 21,000 votes, an outcome that has withstood recounts and numerous lawsuits. An Associated Press review of battleground states contested by Trump, including Wisconsin, found too few cases of fraud to affect the outcome.

Republicans have called for a number of election reviews, including the ongoing one led by Gableman. The Legislature’s nonpartisan Audit Bureau found no widespread fraud and neither did a report by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.

In a blow to Gableman on Monday, the judge refused to dismiss the lawsuit as he requested and said she could reconsider her decision later if he attempts to enforce the subpoenas before the legal challenge to the subpoenas runs its course.


Cobb County jury trials paused as COVID-19 spreads
Legal Business | 2022/01/09 11:30
As COVID-19 cases continue rising across the state of Georgia, the court system in one of its counties has decided to pause jury trials.

Cobb County Superior Court Judge Robert D. Leonard issued an order Monday to cancel trial jurors through Jan. 21, WSB-TV reported.

“I did not make this decision lightly,” Leonard said. “We must keep in mind that jury service compels people of all walks of life, with all health conditions and vaccination status to attend court. Additionally, the likelihood of successfully getting through a lengthy jury trial when our community spread is at this record level is slim.”

According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, 11,902 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Cobb County in the last two weeks.

Jury trials across Georgia were paused for much of the pandemic. Trials in Cobb County ultimately resumed last April.

Leonard also said that the State Court of Cobb County will be undertaking the same measures.

Grand jury proceedings will not be affected.


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