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Montana vote adds to win streak for abortion rights backers
Breaking Legal News | 2022/11/11 14:20
Abortion rights supporters secured another win Thursday as voters in Montana rejected a ballot measure that would have forced medical workers to intercede in the rare case of a baby born after an attempted abortion.

The result caps a string of ballot defeats, months after the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade galvanized abortion-rights voters.

Michigan, California and Vermont voted to enshrine abortion rights in their state constitutions, and Kentucky voters rejected an anti-abortion amendment in a tally that echoed a similar August vote in Kansas.

Abortion rights groups said the outcomes show that voters across the political spectrum support access to abortion, even after a dozen Republican-governed states legislatures adopted near-total bans in the wake of the Roe decision. Anti-abortion groups, on the other hand, say they were outspent in the state races and point out anti-abortion candidate victories.

Like voters nationwide, only about 1 in 10 voters in California, Michigan, Montana Kentucky or Vermont said abortion should generally be illegal in all cases, according to AP VoteCast.

The Montana ballot measure would have raised the prospect of criminal charges carrying up to 20 years in prison for health-care providers unless they take “all medically appropriate and reasonable actions to preserve the life” of an infant born alive, including in the rare case of a birth after an abortion.

Doctors and other opponents argued the law could keep parents of babies born with incurable diseases from spending peaceful moments with their infants if doctors were forced to attempt treatment.


Court rejects appeal to give American Samoans citizenship
Breaking Legal News | 2022/10/17 11:22
The Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal seeking to give people born in American Samoa U.S. citizenship.

In leaving in place an appeals court decision, the court also passed up an invitation to overturn a series of decisions dating back to 1901 known as the Insular Cases, replete with racist and anti-foreign rhetoric. Justice Neil Gorsuch had called for the cases to be overturned in April.

But the justices refused to take up an appeal from people born in American Samoa, and living in Utah, who argued that a federal law declaring that they are “nationals, but not citizens, of the United States at birth” is unconstitutional.

A trial judge in Utah ruled in their favor, but the federal appeals court in Denver said Congress, not courts, should decide the citizenship issue. The appeals court also noted that American Samoa’s elected leaders opposed the lawsuit for fear that it might disrupt their cultural traditions.

American Samoa is the only unincorporated territory of the United States where the inhabitants are not American citizens at birth.

Instead, those born in the cluster of islands some 2,600 miles (4,184 kilometers) southwest of Hawaii are granted “U.S. national” status, meaning they can’t vote for U.S. president, run for office outside American Samoa or apply for certain jobs. The only federal election they can cast a vote in is the race for American Samoa’s nonvoting U.S. House seat.

The Insular Cases, which arose following the Spanish-American War, dealt with the administration of overseas territories.

In their conclusion that residents of territories had some, but not all, rights under the Constitution, justices wrote in stark racial and xenophobic terms. Citizenship could not be automatically given to “those absolutely unfit to receive it,” one justice wrote.

That history prompted Gorsuch to comment in a case involving benefits denied to people who live in Puerto Rico, decided in April. He wrote that the Insular Cases were wrongly decided because they deprived residents of U.S. territories of some constitutional rights.


W.Va. Supreme Court hears arguments in school voucher case
Breaking Legal News | 2022/10/06 10:06
A voucher program that would provide West Virginia parents state money to pull their children out of K-12 public schools is blatantly unconstitutional and would disproportionately impact poor children and those with disabilities, a lawyer representing parents who sued the state argued Tuesday in West Virginia’s Supreme Court.

The Hope Scholarship Program, which was passed by the GOP-controlled state legislature last year and would have been one of the most far-reaching school choice programs in the country, “negatively and intentionally” impacts West Virginia’s system of free schools, lawyer Tamerlin Godley told justices during oral arguments.

“It decreases enrollment, and thus funding,” said Godley, who is representing two parents of children who receive special education supports in West Virginia public schools. “It utilizes public funding for subsidizing more affluent families that have chosen private and homeschooling and it silos the poor and special needs children who cannot use the vouchers.”

Signed by Republican Gov. Jim Justice last year, the program was set to go into effect this school year but was blocked by Circuit Court Judge Joanna Tabit in July. In a lawsuit supported by the West Virginia Board of Education and Superintendent of Schools, three parents of special education students said the scholarship program takes money away from already underfunded public schools and is prohibitive because there aren’t local private schools that could meet their children’s needs. One family has since withdrawn from the case.

The state immediately appealed the ruling. It’s unclear when justices will make a decision on the program, although the court’s current term ends in November.

The law that created the Hope Scholarship Program allows families to apply for state funding to support private school tuition, homeschooling fees and a wide range of other expenses. More than 3,000 students had been approved to receive around $4,300 each during the program’s inaugural cycle, according to the West Virginia State Treasurer’s Office.

Families could not receive the money if their children were already homeschooled or attending private school. To qualify, students had to have been enrolled in a West Virginia public school last year or set to begin kindergarten this school year.


Arizonan sentenced for Vegas-based scheme targeting migrants
Breaking Legal News | 2022/09/23 11:40
nearly six years in prison by a federal judge in Las Vegas, authorities announced.

Court documents show Douglas Lee Thayer, 70, of Mohave Valley collected payments of between $7,000 and $20,000 from at least 160 recent immigrants by promising them the company he ran would find a family to adopt them as adults. He told the victims he would then get them new birth certificates and other documents that would let them gain U.S. citizenship.

A federal jury in Las Vegas convicted Thayer of two criminal counts of mail fraud on April. 18, and he was sentenced on Friday. He is set to surrender to start his sentence next month.

According to the indictment and a sentencing memorandum from federal prosecutors, Thayer ran a Las Vegas-based business called U.S. Adult Adoption Services. After the Justice Department announced in 2016 that it had shut down a similar scheme in Sacramento, California, Thayer offered refunds to the Asian and Hispanic immigrants.

He had charged more than $1 million in fees, but the refunds were only a fraction of what he collected, and prosecutors said he netted more than $850,000.

The owner of the Sacramento business was later sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Prosecutors said Thayer’s victims were particularly vulnerable because they mostly were recent immigrants who spoke little English and knew little if anything about immigration law. The government does not provide an easier path to citizenship for immigrants who are adopted as adults by Americans.

“This prison sentence should serve as a warning that taking advantage of vulnerable victims, regardless of citizenship status, will be investigated and prosecuted,” U.S. Attorney for Nevada Jason Frierson said in a statement.

In pushing for a harsh sentence, Assistant U.S. Attorney Simon Kung said in his sentencing memo to U.S. District Judge Gloria M. Navarro that Thayer “has spent his entire life committing crimes,” included armed robbery, attempted murder and rape, narcotics and the latest, fraud.

“Despite spending more than 20 years in prison prior to the instant offense, he has not been deterred from crime,” Kung wrote.


Alabama must disclose status of nitrogen hypoxia executions
Breaking Legal News | 2022/09/14 13:24
A federal judge told Alabama to stop being vague and give a firm answer by Thursday evening on if the prison system is ready to use the untested execution method of nitrogen hypoxia at an execution next week.

U.S. District Judge R. Austin Huffaker, Jr. gave the state the deadline to file an affidavit, or declaration, on whether the state could try to execute inmate Alan Miller by nitrogen hypoxia on Sept. 22 if the use of lethal injection is blocked. The order came after the state dangled the possibility during a Monday court hearing of being ready to become the first state to attempt an execution with nitrogen hypoxia.

Nitrogen hypoxia is a proposed execution method in which death would be caused by forcing the inmate to breathe only nitrogen, thereby depriving him or her of the oxygen needed to maintain bodily functions. It’s authorized as an execution method in three states — Alabama, Oklahoma and Mississippi — but has never been used.

The state provided “vague and imprecise statements regarding the readiness and intent to move forward with an execution on September 22, 2022, by nitrogen hypoxia,” Huffaker said.

The judge asked the state Monday whether it was ready to use the method at Miller’s execution. A state attorney replied that it was “very likely” it could use nitrogen hypoxia next week, but said the state prison commissioner has the final decision.

“On or before September 15, 2022 at 5:00 p.m. CDT, the defendants shall file an affidavit or declaration of Commissioner John Q. Hamm, Attorney General Steve Marshall, or other appropriate official with personal knowledge, definitively setting forth whether or not the Defendants can execute the Plaintiff by nitrogen hypoxia on September 22, 2022,” the judge wrote in a Tuesday order.

Miller is seeking to block his scheduled execution by lethal injection, claiming prison staff lost paperwork he returned in 2018 choosing nitrogen hypoxia as his execution method.

Miller testified Monday that he is scared of needles so he signed a form selecting nitrogen hypoxia as his execution method. He said he left the form in his cell door tray for an prison officer to pick up. The state said there is no evidence to corroborate his claim.


Kenya’s Supreme Court upholds Ruto’s narrow presidential win
Breaking Legal News | 2022/09/06 09:24
Kenya’s Supreme Court on Monday unanimously rejected challenges to the official results of the presidential election and upheld Deputy President William Ruto’s narrow win in East Africa’s most stable democracy.

Ruto is expected to be sworn in on Sept. 13. Opposition candidate Raila Odinga had alleged irregularities in the otherwise peaceful Aug. 9 election that was marked by last-minute drama when the electoral commission split and traded accusations of misconduct.

The court found little or no evidence for the various allegations and called some “nothing more than hot air.” It also expressed puzzlement why the four dissenting commissioners participated until the final minutes in a vote-tallying process they criticized as opaque.

The commission “needs far-reaching reforms,” the court acknowledged, “but are we to nullify an election on the basis of a last-minute boardroom rupture?”

The Supreme Court shocked Kenyans in the previous election in 2017 by overturning the results of the presidential election, a first in Africa, and ordered a new vote after Odinga filed a challenge. He then boycotted that new election.

This time, Odinga was backed by former rival and outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta in the latest example of shifting political alliances. Odinga’s team had challenged the technology used by the electoral commission and alleged that voting results had been tampered with, and it argued that the electoral commission chair had essentially acted alone in declaring the winner.

The election had been seen as the country’s most transparent, with results from tens of thousands of polling stations posted online within hours of the vote for Kenyans to follow the tally themselves. Such reforms were in part the result of Odinga’s previous election challenge.


Lobster fishing union drops lawsuit about new whale closure
Breaking Legal News | 2022/08/26 11:06
A lobster fishing union in Maine has decided to drop part of its lawsuit against the federal government over new restrictions meant to protect rare whales.

The Maine Lobstering Union sued the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration after the government instated a seasonal ban on lobster fishing gear in a nearly 1,000-square-mile area off New England to try to protect North Atlantic right whales. The whales are vulnerable to entanglement in the gear.

Lawyers for the lobster fishing union told WCSH-TV the union wants instead to focus on other ongoing litigation about new rules intended to protect whales. New fishing rules meant to protect the whales are the subject of other lawsuits that are still under consideration by federal court.

A federal court ruling last month came down in favor of stronger protections for the animals. U.S. District Judge James Boasberg ruled in July that the federal government hasn’t done enough to protect the whales, and must craft new rules. The lobstering union and other fishing groups have pledged to follow that process closely with an eye to protecting the industry.


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