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Trump hush money trial: Prosecution, defense look to score final points
Breaking Legal News | 2024/05/28 12:14
Donald Trump’s landmark hush money trial turns on the testimony of a prosecution witness who told lies on the stand and cannot be trusted, a defense lawyer said Tuesday during closing arguments as he pressed jurors for an acquittal in the first criminal case against a former American president.

The arguments, expected to last the entire day, give attorneys one last chance to address the Manhattan jury and to score final points with the panel before it starts deliberating Trump’s fate.

“President Trump is innocent. He did not commit any crimes, and the district attorney has not met their burden of proof, period,” said defense attorney Todd Blanche, who said the evidence in the case should “leave you wanting.”

In an hourslong address to the jury, Blanche attacked the foundational premises of the case, which charges Trump with conspiring to conceal hush money payments prosecutors say were made on his behalf during the 2016 presidential election to stifle a porn actor’s claim that she had a sexual encounter with Trump a decade earlier.

Blanche countered the prosecution’s portrayal of Trump as a detail-oriented manager who paid dutiful attention to the checks he was signing and rejected the idea that the alleged hush money scheme amounted to illegal interference in the election.

“Every campaign in this country is a conspiracy to promote a candidate, a group of people who are working together to help somebody win,” Blanche said.

After more than four weeks of testimony, the summations tee up a momentous and historically unprecedented task for the jury as it decides whether to convict the presumptive Republican presidential nominee in connection with the payments.

Because prosecutors have the burden of proof, they will deliver their arguments last.

Prosecutors will tell jurors that they have heard enough testimony to convict Trump of all charges while defense attorneys aim to create doubts about the strength of the evidence by targeting the credibility of Michael Cohen. Trump’s former lawyer and personal fixer pleaded guilty to federal charges for his role in the hush money payments and served as the star prosecution witness in the trial.

“You cannot convict President Trump of any crime beyond a reasonable doubt on the word of Michael Cohen,” Blanche said, adding that Cohen “told you a number of things that were lies, pure and simple.”

After closing arguments, the judge will instruct the jury on the law governing the case and the factors the panel can take into account during deliberations. Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, charges punishable by up to four years in prison. He has pleaded not guilty and denied any wrongdoing. It’s unclear whether prosecutors would seek imprisonment in the event of a conviction, or if the judge would impose that punishment if asked.

The case centers on a $130,000 payment Cohen made to porn actor Stormy Daniels in the final days of the 2016 election to prevent her from going public with her story of a sexual encounter she says she had with Trump 10 years earlier in a Lake Tahoe hotel suite. Trump has denied Daniels’ account, and his attorney, during hours of questioning in the trial, accused her of making it up.


Trial turns testy as Trump lawyers try to pique fixer-turned-witness
Business | 2024/05/25 15:23
After approximately five weeks, 19 witnesses, reams of documents and a dash of salacious testimony, the prosecution against Donald Trump rested its case Monday, handing over to the defense before closing arguments expected next week.

Trump’s team immediately sought to undermine key testimony against the former president, who is accused of covering up hush money paid to a porn star over an alleged encounter that could have derailed his successful 2016 White House bid.

His attorneys called lawyer Robert Costello — who once advised star prosecution witness Michael Cohen before falling out with him — in an apparent attempt to puncture Cohen’s credibility.

But Costello’s start on the stand was shaky at best, as his dismissive tone provoked an angry response from Judge Juan Merchan.

Merchan chided Costello for remarking “jeez” when he was cut off by a sustained objection and, at another point, “strike it.” Merchan told him: “I’m the only one that can strike testimony in the courtroom. Do you understand that?”

"And then if you don’t like my ruling, you don’t give me side eye and you don’t roll your eyes.”

Merchan was about to bring the jury back in when he asked Costello, “Are you staring me down right now?” and then kicked out the press to further admonish him.

"I’m putting you on notice that your conduct is contemptuous,” Merchan said, according to the transcript of the conversation that occurred when the press was out of the room. ”If you try to stare me down one more time, I will remove you from the stand.”

Costello didn’t return a message seeking comment Monday night.

Trump, speaking to reporters afterward, called the episode “an incredible display,” branding the proceedings “a show trial” and the judge “a tyrant.”

Extended quibbling among the two legal teams, along with the upcoming holiday weekend, means closing arguments that the judge had hoped could start Tuesday are now anticipated for next week.

It’s unlikely and risky, but the door remains open for Trump to take the stand in the criminal trial, the first ever of a former US president.

Experts doubt he will, as it would expose him to unnecessary legal jeopardy and forensic cross-examination by prosecutors — but his lawyer Todd Blanche has raised the prospect.

On Monday, Blanche finished his third day of questioning Cohen after hours of at times digressive, at other times bruising, exchanges.


War crimes prosecutor seeks arrest of Israeli and Hamas leaders
Breaking Legal News | 2024/05/21 11:25
The chief prosecutor of the world’s top war crimes court sought arrest warrants Monday for leaders of Israel and Hamas, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, over actions taken during their seven-month war.

While Netanyahu and his defense minister, Yoav Gallant, do not face imminent arrest, the announcement by the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor was a symbolic blow that deepened Israel’s isolation over the war in Gaza.

The court’s prosecutor, Karim Khan, accused Netanyahu, Gallant, and three Hamas leaders — Yehya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh — of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel.

Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders condemned the move as disgraceful and antisemitic. U.S. President Joe Biden also lambasted the prosecutor and supported Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas.

A panel of three judges will decide whether to issue the arrest warrants and allow a case to proceed. The judges typically take two months to make such decisions.

Israel is not a member of the court, so even if the arrest warrants are issued, Netanyahu and Gallant do not face any immediate risk of prosecution. But the threat of arrest could make it difficult for the Israeli leaders to travel abroad.

Netanyahu called the prosecutor’s accusations against him a “disgrace,” and an attack on the Israeli military and all of Israel. He vowed to press ahead with Israel’s war against Hamas.

Biden said the effort to arrest Netanyahu and Gallant over the war in Gaza was “outrageous,” adding “whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence — none — between Israel and Hamas.”

Hamas also denounced the ICC prosecutor’s actions, saying the request to arrest its leaders “equates the victim with the executioner.”

Netanyahu has come under heavy pressure at home to end the war. Thousands of Israelis have joined weekly demonstrations calling on the government to reach a deal to bring home Israeli hostages in Hamas captivity, fearing that time is running out.

In recent days, the two other members of his war Cabinet, Gallant and Benny Gantz, have threatened to resign if Netanyahu does not spell out a clear postwar vision for Gaza.

But on Monday, Netanyahu received wall-to-wall support as politicians across the spectrum condemned the ICC prosecutor’s move. They included Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, and his two main political rivals, Gantz and opposition leader Yair Lapid.

It is unclear what effect Khan’s move will have on Netanyahu’s public standing. The possibility of an arrest warrant against Netanyahu could give him a boost as Israelis rally behind the flag. But his opponents could also blame him for bringing a diplomatic catastrophe on the country.

Yuval Shany, an expert on international law at Hebrew University and the Israel Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem think tank, said it was far more certain that Netanyahu’s already troubled international standing could be further weakened.


TikTok content creators sue the US government over potential ban
Bankruptcy | 2024/05/15 17:17
Eight TikTok content creators sued the U.S. government on Tuesday, issuing another challenge to the new federal law that would ban the popular social media platform nationwide if its China-based parent company doesn’t sell its stakes within a year.

Attorneys for the creators argue in the lawsuit that the law violates users’ First Amendment rights to free speech, echoing arguments made by TikTok in a separate lawsuit filed by the company last week. The legal challenge could end up before the Supreme Court.

The complaint filed Tuesday comes from a diverse set of content creators, including a Texas-based rancher who has previously appeared in a TikTok commercial, a creator in Arizona who uses TikTok to show his daily life and spread awareness about LGBTQ issues, as well as a business owner who sells skincare products on TikTok Shop, the e-commerce arm of the platform.

The lawsuit says the creators “rely on TikTok to express themselves, learn, advocate for causes, share opinions, create communities, and even make a living.”

“They have found their voices, amassed significant audiences, made new friends, and encountered new and different ways of thinking — all because of TikTok’s novel way of hosting, curating, and disseminating speech,” it added, arguing the new law would deprive them and the rest of the country “of this distinctive means of expression and communication.”

A spokesperson for TikTok said the company was covering the legal costs for the lawsuit, which was filed in a Washington appeals court. It is being led by the same law firm that represented creators who challenged Montana’s statewide ban on the platform last year. In November, a judge blocked that law from going into effect.

The Department of Justice said that the legislation that could ban TikTok “addresses critical national security concerns in a manner that is consistent with the First Amendment and other constitutional limitations. We look forward to defending the legislation in court.”

The federal law comes at a time of intense strategic rivalry between the U.S. and China on a host of issues and as the two butt heads over sensitive geopolitical topics like China’s support for Russia in its invasion of Ukraine. U.S. lawmakers and administration officials have aired concerns about how well TikTok can protect users’ data from Chinese authorities and have argued its algorithm could be used to spread pro-China propaganda, which TikTok disputes.

Under the law, TikTok’s parent company ByteDance would be required to sell the platform to an approved buyer within nine months. If a sale is in progress, the company will get a three-month extension to complete the deal.


Abortion consumes US politics, courts two years after SCOTUS draft leak
Biotech | 2024/05/07 10:37
Two years after a leaked draft of a U.S. Supreme Court opinion signaled that the nation’s abortion landscape was about to shift dramatically, the issue is still consuming the nation’s courts, legislatures and political campaigns — and changing the course of lives.

On Wednesday, a ban on abortion after the first six weeks of pregnancy, often before women realize they’re pregnant, took effect in Florida, echoing laws in two other states. In Arizona, meanwhile, lawmakers voted to repeal a total ban on abortion dating back to 1864, decades before Arizona became a state — and the governor signed it a day later. Also this week, the Kansas Legislature increased funding for anti-abortion centers, while advocates in South Dakota submitted the required number of signatures for a ballot measure to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution.

The status of abortion in states across the country has changed constantly, with lawmakers passing measures and courts ruling on challenges to them. Currently, 14 states are enforcing bans on abortion at all stages of pregnancy, with limited exceptions. Most Democratic-led states, meanwhile, have taken steps to preserve or expand access.

“Some of it’s exactly what we knew would happen,” said David Cohen, a professor at the Thomas R. Kline School of Law at Drexel University who studies abortion policy, “and others have been big surprises that have put, frankly, the anti-abortion movement on their heels.”

Although more than 20 states have begun enforcing abortion bans of varying degrees since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022, studies have found that the number of monthly abortions nationally is about the same — or higher — than it was before the ruling. Asked to weigh in on the emotional debate, voters have supported the position favored by abortion rights advocates on all seven statewide ballot measures since then.

The Supreme Court’s decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case was released officially on June 24, 2022, upending nearly 50 years of abortion being legal nationwide. But the world caught a glimpse of it about six weeks earlier, on May 2, after a news outlet published a leaked draft.

“With the Dobbs decision, the will of the people is now able to be adhered to,” said Stephen Billy, vice president of state affairs for Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America. He said abortion rights supporters have sought to create uncertainty about laws he says are clear — especially with assertions that the bans bar abortion in medical emergencies: “They’ve tried to sow political division just to advance their policy agenda,” he said.

At the time Politico published the leaked draft, Amanda Zurawski was undergoing fertility treatment and was about two weeks away from learning she was finally pregnant. The Austin, Texas, woman had always supported abortion rights, and was mad that the right to abortion was on the verge of disappearing. But she didn’t expect a direct impact in her life.

That changed months later when she was denied an abortion despite a premature rupture of membranes, which can lead to dangerous internal bleeding. Days later, she was diagnosed with sepsis, a life-threatening reaction to infection. Her daughter, Willow, was ultimately aborted, but Zurawski nearly died in the process because of the delay.


Trump faces prospect of additional sanctions for violating gag order
Breaking Legal News | 2024/05/03 16:32
Jurors in the hush money trial of Donald Trump heard a recording Thursday of him discussing with his then-lawyer and personal fixer a plan to purchase the silence of a Playboy model who has said she had an affair with the former president.

A visibly irritated Trump leaned forward at the defense table, and jurors appeared riveted as prosecutors played the September 2016 recording that attorney Michael Cohen secretly made of himself briefing his celebrity client on a plan to buy Karen McDougal’s story of an extramarital relationship.

Though the recording surfaced years ago, it is perhaps the most colorful piece of evidence presented to jurors so far to connect Trump to the hush money payments at the center of his criminal trial in Manhattan. It followed hours of testimony from a lawyer who negotiated the deal for McDougal’s silence and admitted to being stunned that his hidden-hand efforts might have contributed to Trump’s White House victory.

“What have we done?” attorney Keith Davidson texted the then-editor of the National Enquirer, which had buried stories of sexual encounters to prevent them surfacing in the final days of the bitterly contested presidential race. “Oh my god,” came the response from Dylan Howard.

“There was an understanding that our efforts may have in some way...our activities may have in some way assisted the presidential campaign of Donald Trump,” Davidson told jurors, though he acknowledged under cross-examination that he dealt directly with Cohen and never Trump.

The testimony from Davidson was designed to directly connect the hush money payments to Trump’s presidential ambitions and to bolster prosecutors’ argument that the case is about interference in the 2016 election rather than simply sex and money. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has sought to establish that link not just to secure a conviction but also to persuade the public of the significance of the case, which may be the only one of four Trump prosecutions to reach trial this year.

“This is sort of gallows humor. It was on election night as the results were coming in,” Davidson explained. “There was sort of surprise amongst the broadcasters and others that Mr. Trump was leading in the polls, and there was a growing sense that folks were about ready to call the election.”

Davidson is seen as a vital building block for the prosecution’s case that Trump and his allies schemed to bury unflattering stories in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. He represented both McDougal and porn actor Stormy Daniels in negotiations that resulted in the purchase of rights to their claims of sexual encounters with Trump and those stories getting squelched, a tabloid industry practice known as “catch-and-kill.”

Davidson is one of multiple key players testifying in advance of Cohen, the star prosecution witness who paid Daniels $130,000 for her silence and also recorded himself, weeks before the election, telling Trump about a plan to purchase the rights to McDougal’s story from the National Enquirer so it would never come out. The tabloid had previously bought McDougal’s story to bury it on Trump’s behalf.

At one point in the recording, Cohen revealed that he had spoken to then-Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg about “how to set the whole thing up with funding.” To which Trump can be heard responding: “What do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?”

Trump can be heard suggesting that the payment be made with cash, prompting Cohen to object by saying “no” multiple times. Trump can then be heard saying “check” before the recording cuts off.

Trump’s lawyers sought earlier in the day to blunt the potential harm of Davidson’s testimony by getting him to acknowledge that he never had any interactions with Trump — only Cohen. In fact, Davidson said, he had never been in the same room as Trump until his testimony.

He also said he was unfamiliar with the Trump Organization’s record-keeping practices and that any impressions he had of Trump himself came through others.


Retrial of Harvey Weinstein unlikely to occur soon, if ever, experts say
Breaking Legal News | 2024/05/01 16:32
A retrial in New York of disgraced former movie mogul Harvey Weinstein won’t be coming to a courtroom anytime soon, if ever, legal experts said on a day when one of two women considered crucial to his rape trial said she wasn’t sure she would testify again.

A ruling Thursday by the New York Court of Appeals voided the 2020 conviction of the onetime Hollywood power broker who prosecutors say forced young actors to submit to his prurient desires by dangling his ability to make or break the their careers.

On Saturday, Weinstein was in custody in a Manhattan hospital where he was undergoing multiple tests, attorney Arthur Aidala said. He was returned Friday to New York City jails from a state prison 100 miles (160 kilometers) northwest of Albany. He remains behind bars because he was also convicted in a similar case in California.

“He’s got a lot of problems. He’s getting all kinds of tests. He’s somewhat of a train wreck health wise,” Aidala said.

The appeals court in a 4-3 decision vacated a 23-year jail sentence and ordered a retrial of Weinstein, saying the trial judge erred by letting three women testify about allegations that were not part of the charges and by permitting questions about Weinstein’s history of “bad behavior” if he testified. He did not. He was convicted of forcibly performing oral sex on a TV and film production assistant and of third-degree rape for an attack on an aspiring actor in 2013.

Several lawyers said in interviews Friday that it would be a long road to reach a new trial for the 72-year-old ailing movie mogul and magnet for the #MeToo movement who remains behind bars, and it was doubtful that one could start before next year, if at all.

“I think there won’t be a trial in the end,” said Joshua Naftalis, a former Manhattan federal prosecutor now in private practice. “I don’t think he wants to go through another trial, and I don’t think the state wants to try him again.”

Naftalis said both sides may seek a resolution such as a plea that will eliminate the need to put his accusers through the trauma of a second trial.

Aidala said Saturday that he plans to tell a judge at a Manhattan court appearance Wednesday that he believes a trial could occur anytime after Labor Day.

With the scaled-down case ordered by the appeals court, Aidala predicted that it could be finished in a week and his client would be exonerated.

Deborah Tuerkheimer, a professor at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law and former assistant district attorney in Manhattan, said whether there is a second trial will “hinge on the preferences of the women who would have to testify again and endure the ordeal of a retrial.”

“I think ultimately this will come down to whether they feel it’s something they want to do, are able to do,” she said.

Jane Manning, director of the nonprofit Women’s Equal Justice, which provides advocacy services to sexual assault survivors, agreed “the biggest question is whether the two women are willing to testify again.”

If they are, then Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg “will absolutely retry the case,” said Manning, who prosecuted sex crimes when she was in the Queens district attorney’s office in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Tama Kudman, a West Palm Beach, Florida, criminal defense lawyer who also practices in New Jersey and New York, said prosecutors will likely soon have conversations with key witnesses for a retrial.


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