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Court refuses appeal of ex-Cleveland cop who shot Tamir Rice
Court News | 2021/07/06 10:36
The Ohio Supreme Court announced on Tuesday it would not consider an appeal over the firing of a white police officer who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice outside a Cleveland recreation center in 2014.

The appeal was filed in April by the Cleveland Police Patrolment’s Association on behalf former officer Timothy Loehmann. Cleveland fired Loehmann in 2017 not for killing Tamir, who was Black, but for providing false information on his job application. An arbitrator and a county judge upheld his firing.

A state appellate court earlier this year dismissed Loehmann’s appeal, citing the union’s failure to serve notice on outside attorneys hired by the city.

Loehmann, a rookie, shot Tamir within seconds of a cruiser skidding to a stop near a gazebo where the child had been sitting. Officers responded to a call from a man who said someone was waving a gun around. The man also told a dispatcher the gun could be a fake and the person might be a juvenile.

A state grand jury declined to indict Loehmann in Tamir’s shooting and, in December, federal authorities announced they would not bring federal criminal charges.

“I am glad that Loehmann will never have a badge and gun in Cleveland again,” Tamir’s mother, Samaria Rice, said in a statement issued Tuesday.

A message seeking comment was left with the Loehmann’s union attorney, Henry Hilow.


Ruling is final blow to New Hampshire voter registration law
Court News | 2021/07/02 11:38
The New Hampshire Supreme Court struck a final blow Friday to a 2017 voter registration law that faced repeated legislative and court challenges, upholding a previous ruling that it’s unconstitutional.

The law required additional documentation from voters who register within 30 days of an election. It was passed by the Republican Legislature after President Donald Trump alleged that widespread voter fraud led to his loss in the state in 2016, though there is no evidence to support that and voter fraud cases are rare. Supporters said the law would increase trust in elections by requiring people to prove they live where they vote, but opponents argued it was confusing, unnecessary and intimidating.

After the New Hampshire Democratic Party and the League of Women Voters sued, a judge allowed the law to take effect in 2018 but blocked penalties of a $5,000 fine and a year in jail for fraud. In 2019, after Democrats won control of the Legislature, lawmakers passed a bill to repeal the law, but it was vetoed by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu.

The case went to trial in late 2019, and a judge ruled in April 2020 that the law was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court upheld that decision Friday.

“We acknowledge that the interests identified by the state are important, if not vital,” Justice Patrick Donovan wrote in the unanimous order. But the law failed to further those objectives while imposing unreasonable burdens on the right to vote, the court concluded.

Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley said the ruling “sends a clear message to Chris Sununu and NH Republicans that their insidious voter suppression schemes will not stand in New Hampshire.”

“Today, we celebrate this incredible victory for voting rights. Tomorrow, we will continue to work to protect voting rights in the Granite State,” he said in a statement.

Sununu encouraged the Legislature to propose new legislation taking the court order into account.

“It’s disappointing that these commonsense reforms were not supported by our Supreme Court, but we have to respect their decision,” he said.

In its ruling, the court rejected the state’s argument that the law could only be struck down if it was unconstitutional in every set of circumstances. Similarly, it disagreed with the state’s claim that the law shouldn’t be deemed unconstitutional because only some, but not all, voters are burdened by it.



Bill Cosby’s sex assault conviction overturned by court
Court News | 2021/06/30 13:06
Pennsylvania’s highest court overturned Bill Cosby’s sex assault conviction Wednesday after finding an agreement with a previous prosecutor prevented him from being charged in the case.

Cosby has served more than two years of a three- to 10-year sentence at a state prison near Philadelphia. He had vowed to serve all 10 years rather than acknowledge any remorse over the 2004 encounter with accuser Andrea Constand.

The 83-year-old Cosby, who was once beloved as “America’s Dad,” was convicted of drugging and molesting the Temple University employee at his suburban estate.

He was charged in late 2015, when a prosecutor armed with newly unsealed evidence — Cosby’s damaging deposition from her lawsuit — arrested him days before the 12-year statute of limitations expired.

The trial judge had allowed just one other accuser to testify at Cosby’s first trial, when the jury deadlocked. However, he then allowed five other accusers to testify at the retrial about their experiences with Cosby in the 1980s.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court said that testimony tainted the trial, even though a lower appeals court had found it appropriate to show a signature pattern of drugging and molesting women.

Cosby was the first celebrity tried and convicted in the #MeToo era, so the reversal could make prosecutors wary of calling other accusers in similar cases. The law on prior bad act testimony varies by state, though, and the ruling only holds sway in Pennsylvania.

Prosecutors did not immediately say if they would appeal or seek to try Cosby for a third time.

The justices voiced concern not just about sex assault cases, but what they saw as the judiciary’s increasing tendency to allow testimony that crosses the line into character attacks. The law allows the testimony only in limited cases, including to show a crime pattern so specific it serves to identify the perpetrator.

In New York, the judge presiding over last year’s trial of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, whose case had sparked the explosion of the #MeToo movement in 2017, let four other accusers testify. Weinstein was convicted and sentenced to 23 years in prison. He is now facing separate charges in California.


Supreme Court won’t revive school’s transgender bathroom ban
Court News | 2021/06/28 10:36
The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a Virginia school board’s appeal to reinstate its transgender bathroom ban.

Over two dissenting votes, the justices left in place lower court rulings that found the policy unconstitutional. The case involved former high school student Gavin Grimm, who filed a federal lawsuit after he was told he could not use the boys bathroom at his public high school. Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas voted to hear the board’s appeal.

The Gloucester County, Virginia, school board’s policy required Grimm to use restrooms that corresponded with his biological sex — female — or private bathrooms.

Seven years ago, Grimm was barred from using the boys restroom when he was a 15-year-old student at Gloucester High School. He sued a year later, and his case has worked its way through the courts ever since.

After learning that the Supreme Court refused to hear the case, Grimm, now 22, said that his long court battle is over. “We won,” he tweeted. “Honored to have been part of this victory,” he added.

David Corrigan, an attorney for the school board, did not immediately respond to email and voice mail messages seeking comment.

In its petition asking the Supreme Court to hear the case, the school board argued that its bathroom policy poses a “pressing federal question of national importance.”

The board argued previously that federal laws protect against discrimination based on sex, not gender identity. Because Grimm had not undergone sex-reassignment surgery and still had female genitalia, the board’s position has been that he remained anatomically a female.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Grimm in his years long lawsuit against Gloucester, argued that federal law makes it clear transgender students are protected from discrimination.


High court to rule whether to hear Maine school choice case
Court Watch | 2021/06/25 10:18
The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court are set to decide whether to hear a case filed by Maine families who want to use a state tuition program to send their children to religious schools.

The case concerns a Maine Department of Education rule that allows families who live in towns that don’t have public schools to receive public tuition dollars to send their children to the public or private school of their choosing. The program excludes religious schools, and families who want to send their children to Christian schools in Bangor and Waterville sued to try to change that.

The justices were slated to meet Thursday to consider whether to hear the case. It was unclear when they would issue a decision about whether the case can go forward.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit rejected the lawsuit last year, and the families appealed to the high court. They face the possibility of taking their case to a Supreme Court that has shifted in a conservative direction since they first filed in federal court three years ago.

Conflicting rules about the subject of public tuition assistance have led to confusion in lower courts, so the Supreme Court should take up the case, said Michael Bindas, the lead attorney for the families and a lawyer with the libertarian public interest firm Institute for Justice.

“Only the Supreme Court can provide that clarity, and make sure students aren’t being treated differently based on where they reside,” Bindas said. “The government shouldn’t be able to deny those parents the ability to send their children to the best available education for them.”

The lawsuit was first filed after the Supreme Court ruled that a Missouri program was wrong to deny a grant to a religious school for playground resurfacing. The issue of public funding for religious schools has also come up in other states.

The Supreme Court ruled in a Montana case last year that states have to give religious schools the same access to public money that other private schools benefit from. Vermont has also faced lawsuits over a voucher program for students who live in locales that don’t have their own schools. The issue has also been raised in New Hampshire.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine has filed court papers in support of Maine’s law that excludes religious schools from the tuition program. States aren’t obligated to fund religious schools, ACLU of Maine legal director Zachary Heiden said.

“Religious views infuse everything, as part of their curriculum and how they are dedicated to training future religious leaders,” Heiden said. “Which is absolutely something they can do, but it’s not something the government should be required to fund.”



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