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Judge in Trump case orders media not to report where potential jurors work
Attorney News | 2024/04/19 14:25
The judge in Donald Trump’s hush money trial ordered the media on Thursday not to report on where potential jurors have worked and to be careful about revealing information about those who will sit in judgment of the former president.

Judge Juan Merchan acted after one juror was dismissed when she expressed concerns about participating in the trial after details about her became publicly known.

The names of the jurors are supposed to be a secret, but the dismissed juror told Merchan she had friends, colleagues and family members contacting her to ask whether she was on the case. “I don’t believe at this point I can be fair and unbiased and let the outside influences not affect my decision-making in the courtroom,” she said.

Merchan then directed journalists present in the courthouse not to report it when potential jurors told the court their specific workplaces, past or present. That put journalists in the difficult position of not reporting something they heard in open court.

Some media organizations were considering whether to protest having that onus placed on them. Generally, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution bars judges from ordering journalists not to disclose what they hear and see in courtrooms open to the public, though there are exceptions, such as when military security is at stake.

New York criminal defense lawyer Ron Kuby said that while judges typically can’t control what the media reports, other options are available to protect juror anonymity, including restricting what reporters see and hear in the courtroom.

“There are actions the judge could take,” he said. “Courts have extraordinary powers to protect jurors from tampering and intimidation. It is really where a court’s power is at its peak.”

The court action underscored the difficulty of trying to maintain anonymity for jurors in a case that has sparked wide interest and heated opinions, while lawyers need to sift through as much information as possible in a public courtroom to determine who to choose.

Despite the setback, 12 jurors were seated by the end of Thursday for the historic trial. Trump is charged with falsifying his company’s business records to cover up an effort during the 2016 presidential election campaign to squash negative publicity about alleged marital infidelity. Part of the case involves a $130,000 payment made to porn actor Stormy Daniels to prevent her from making public her claims of a sexual meeting with Trump years earlier. Trump has denied the encounter.

New York state law requires trial attorneys to get the names of jurors, but the judge has ordered the lawyers in Trump’s case not to disclose those names publicly. The jurors’ names haven’t been mentioned in court during three days of jury selection.

Still, enough personal information about the jurors was revealed in court that people might be able to identify them anyway.

Some news organizations described details including what Manhattan neighborhoods potential jurors lived in, what they did for a living, what academic degrees they had earned, how many children they had, what countries they grew up in and what their spouses did for a living.

On Fox News Channel Wednesday night, host Jesse Watters did a segment with a jury consultant, revealing details about people who had been seated on the jury and questioning whether some were “stealth liberals” who would be out to convict Trump.


Supreme Court rejects appeal from Black Lives Matter activist
Attorney News | 2024/04/15 11:16
The Supreme Court on Monday allowed a lawsuit to go forward against a Black Lives Matter activist who led a protest in Louisiana in which a police officer was injured. Civil rights groups and free speech advocates have warned that the suit threatens the right to protest.

The justices rejected an appeal from DeRay Mckesson in a case that stems from a 2016 protest over the police killing of a Black man in Baton Rouge.

At an earlier stage of the case, the high court noted that the issue was “fraught with implications for First Amendment rights.”

The justices did not explain their action Monday, but Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a brief opinion that said lower courts should not read too much into it.

The court’s “denial today expresses no view about the merits of Mckesson’s claim,’' Sotomayor wrote.

At the protest in Baton Rouge, the officer was hit by a “rock-like” object thrown by an unidentified protester, but he sued Mckesson in his role as the protest organizer.

A federal judge threw out the lawsuit in 2017, but a panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that the officer should be able to argue that Mckesson didn’t exercise reasonable care in leading protesters onto a highway, setting up a police confrontation in which the officer, identified in court papers only as John Doe, was injured.

In dissent, Judge Don Willett wrote, “He deserves justice. Unquestionably, Officer Doe can sue the rock-thrower. But I disagree that he can sue Mckesson as the protest leader.”

If allowed to stand, the decision to allow the suit to proceed would discourage people from protesting, the American Civil Liberties Union wrote, representing Mckesson.

“Given the prospect that some individual protest participant might engage in law-breaking, only the most intrepid citizens would exercise their rights if doing so risked personal liability for third-parties’ wrongdoing,” the ACLU told the court.

Lawyers for the officer had urged the court to turn away the appeal, noting that the protest illegally blocked the highway and that Mckesson did nothing to dissuade the violence that took place.


Top Europe rights court condemns Switzerland in landmark climate ruling
Court News | 2024/04/11 14:58
Europe’s highest human rights court ruled Tuesday that countries must better protect their people from the consequences of climate change, siding with a group of older Swiss women against their government in a landmark ruling that could have implications across the continent.

The European Court of Human Rights rejected two other, similar cases on procedural grounds — a high-profile one brought by Portuguese young people and another by a French mayor that sought to force governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But the Swiss case, nonetheless, sets a legal precedent in the Council of Europe’s 46 member states against which future lawsuits will be judged.

“This is a turning point,” said Corina Heri, an expert in climate change litigation at the University of Zurich.

Although activists have had success with lawsuits in domestic proceedings, this was the first time an international court ruled on climate change — and the first decision confirming that countries have an obligation to protect people from its effects, according to Heri.

She said it would open the door to more legal challenges in the countries that are members of the Council of Europe, which includes the 27 EU nations as well as many others from Britain to Turkey.

The Swiss ruling softened the blow for those who lost Tuesday.

“The most important thing is that the court has said in the Swiss women’s case that governments must cut their emissions more to protect human rights,” said 19-year-od Sofia Oliveira, one of the Portuguese plaintiffs. “Their win is a win for us, too, and a win for everyone!”

The court — which is unrelated to the European Union — ruled that Switzerland “had failed to comply with its duties” to combat climate change and meet emissions targets.


Elon Musk will be investigated over fake news and obstruction in Brazil
Court Watch | 2024/04/08 15:14
A crusading Brazilian Supreme Court justice included Elon Musk as a target in an ongoing investigation over the dissemination of fake news and opened a separate investigation late Sunday into the executive for alleged obstruction.

In his decision, Justice Alexandre de Moraes noted that Musk on Saturday began waging a public “disinformation campaign” regarding the top court’s actions, and that Musk continued the following day — most notably with comments that his social media company X would cease to comply with the court’s orders to block certain accounts.

“The flagrant conduct of obstruction of Brazilian justice, incitement of crime, the public threat of disobedience of court orders and future lack of cooperation from the platform are facts that disrespect the sovereignty of Brazil,” de Moraes wrote.

Musk will be investigated for alleged intentional criminal instrumentalization of X as part of an investigation into a network of people known as digital militias who allegedly spread defamatory fake news and threats against Supreme Court justices, according to the text of the decision. The new investigation will look into whether Musk engaged in obstruction, criminal organization and incitement.

Musk has not commented on X about the latest development as of late Sunday.

Brazil’s political right has long characterized de Moraes as overstepping his bounds to clamp down on free speech and engage in political persecution. In the digital militias investigation, lawmakers from former President Jair Bolsonaro’s circle have been imprisoned and his supporters’ homes raided. Bolsonaro himself became a target of the investigation in 2021.

De Moraes’ defenders have said his decisions, although extraordinary, are legally sound and necessary to purge social media of fake news as well as extinguish threats to Brazilian democracy — notoriously underscored by the Jan. 8, 2023, uprising in Brazil’s capital that resembled the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection in the U.S. Capitol.

On Saturday, Musk — a self-declared free speech absolutist — wrote on X that the platform would lift all restrictions on blocked accounts and predicted that the move was likely to dry up revenue in Brazil and force the company to shutter its local office.

“But principles matter more than profit,” he wrote.

He later instructed users in Brazil to download a VPN to retain access if X was shut down and wrote that X would publish all of de Moraes’ demands, claiming they violate Brazilian law. Musk had not published de Moraes’ demands as of late Sunday and prominent blocked accounts remained so, indicating X had yet to act based on Musk’s previous pledges.


Retired Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy has memoir coming
Court News | 2024/04/04 15:52
Retired Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy has a two-volume memoir coming out this fall, tracking his life from growing up in California to his 30 years on the court, when he cast key votes on landmark cases ranging from abortion to gay marriage to campaign finance.

Simon & Schuster announced Tuesday that Kennedy’s “Life and Law: The Early Years” and “Life and Law: The Court Years” will be published Oct. 1, as a boxed set and in individual editions, each around 320 pages. Kennedy was widely regarded as a moderate conservative who wrote the majority opinion on such closely divided cases as Obergefell v. Hodges, which found a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, and Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allowed corporations and other outside entities to spend unlimited money on election campaigns.

“In ‘Life and Law,’ he explains the why’s and how’s of judging,” Simon & Schuster’s announcement reads in part.

“The second volume is filled with moving portraits of Justices O’Connor, Rehnquist, Scalia and Ginsburg that go along with the account of how Kennedy decided his views in the landmark cases. But it is the first volume about his youth in Sacramento and his decade as a practicing lawyer that explains the judicial giant. Readers will see the child who turns into the man, who shaped America as much as any Washington figure in the 21st century.”

Kennedy, 87, noted in the preface to the first volume that his memoirs proved more expansive than originally planned.

“It was my intent (my right hand is raised to swear it so) to recount my earlier years in a summary way. But something happened on the way to the pencil,” he wrote. “More and more of my recollections turned to how our society and its mindset changed in fascinating ways from the ’40s and ’50s to the ’60s and then again in the ’70s. This seemed relevant to the dynamics that influenced me and our larger society.”

“As each day passes, we should strive to learn more about who we are and whom we should strive to become,” he added. “Writing a memoir is a formal way to do this.”

Kennedy was an associate justice from 1988-2018 and his arrival and departure proved equally newsworthy.

He was appointed to the court by President Ronald Reagan, but only after the Senate had voted down Reagan’s first choice, Robert Bork, and after the second choice, Douglas Ginsburg, withdrew amid reports he had smoked marijuana. When Kennedy announced in 2018 that he was stepping down, President Donald Trump nominated a former Kennedy law clerk, Brett Kavanaugh, who was narrowly approved by the Senate after contentious confirmation hearings that included allegations Kavanaugh had assaulted a high school acquaintance, Christine Blasey Ford.

Kennedy’s book will arrive soon after Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s memoir “Lovely One,” which comes out Sept. 3.


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