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Opening statements begin in Jonathan Majors assault trial in New York
Breaking Legal News | 2023/12/04 09:32
Opening statements began Monday in the criminal trial of actor Jonathan Majors, who was charged last spring for allegedly assaulting his then-girlfriend during an argument.

Majors did not speak as he strode into a Manhattan courthouse seeking to clear his name following an arrest in March that has effectively stalled his fast-rising career.

The six-person jury is expected to hear opposing narratives from 34-year-old Majors and his accuser, Grace Jabbari, a British dancer, about their confrontation in the back of a car.

Prosecutors said Jabbari was riding in a car with Majors in late March when she grabbed the actor’s phone out of his hand after seeing a text message, presumably sent by another woman, that said: “Wish I was kissing you right now.”

When Majors tried to snatch the phone back, he allegedly pulled her finger, twisted her arm behind her back and hit her in the face. After the pair got out out of the vehicle, he threw her back inside, Jabbari said.

Attorneys for Majors have maintained that Jabbari was the aggressor in the confrontation. They have suggested that prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office are targeting Majors because he is Black.

The arrest came weeks after the release of “Creed III,” a break-out role for Majors. He has also starred in the Marvel TV series “Loki” and the film “Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania,” and was awaiting the release of another star vehicle, “Magazine Dreams,” which is now in limbo.

He could be sentenced to up to a year in jail if convicted.


Panama’s high court declared a mining contract unconstitutional
Breaking Legal News | 2023/11/30 15:59
In a historic ruling, Panama’s Supreme Court this week declared that legislation granting a Canadian copper mine a 20-year concession was unconstitutional, a decision celebrated by thousands of Panamanians activists who had argued the project would damage a forested coastal area and threaten water supplies.

The mine, which will now close, has been an important economic engine for the country. But it also triggered massive protests that paralyzed the Central American nation for over a month, mobilizing a broad swath of Panamanian society, including Indigenous communities, who said the mine was destroying key ecosystems they depend on.

In the unanimous decision Tuesday, the high court highlighted those environmental and human rights concerns, and ruled the contract violated 25 articles of Panama’s constitution. Those include the right to live in a pollution-free environment, the obligation of the state to protect the health of minors and its commitment to promote the economic and political engagement of Indigenous and rural communities.

The ruling would lead to the closure of Minera Panama, the local subsidiary of Canada’s First Quantum Minerals and the largest open-pit copper mine in Central America, according to jurists and environmental activists.

The court said the government should no longer recognize the existence of the mine’s concession and Panama’s President Laurentino Cortizo said “the transition process for an orderly and safe closure of the mine will begin.”

Analysts say it appears highly unlikely that Panama’s government and the mining company will pursue a new agreement based on the resounding rejection by Panamanians.

“There are sectors in the country that would like a new contract, but the population itself does not want more open-pit mining, the message was clear,” said Rolando Gordón, dean of the economics faculty at the state-run University of Panama. “What remains now is to reach an agreement to close the mine.”

Analysts say the mining company is free to pursue international arbitration to seek compensation for the closure based on commercial treaties signed between Panama and Canada. Before the ruling, the company said it had the right to take steps to protect its investment.

With the ruling, the Panamanian government and the mining company are headed for arbitration at the World Bank’s international center for arbitration of investment disputes, in Washington, said Rodrigo Noriega, a Panamanian jurist.

Marta Cornejo, one of the plaintiffs, said “we are not afraid of any arbitration claim” and that they are “capable of proving that the corrupt tried to sell our nation and that a transnational company went ahead, knowing that it violated all constitutional norms.”

In a statement after the verdict, the mining company said it had “operated consistently with transparency and strict adherence to Panamanian legislation.” It emphasized that the contract was the result of “a long and transparent negotiation process, with the objective of promoting mutual economic benefits, guaranteeing the protection of the environment.”

Cortizo, who had defended the contract arguing it would keep 9,387 direct jobs, more than what the mine reports, said that the closing of the mine must take place in a “responsible and participative” manner due to the impact it would have.

The company has said the mine generates 40,000 jobs, including 7,000 direct jobs, and that it contributes the equivalent of 5% of Panama’s GDP.

The court verdict and the eventual closure of the mine prompted more protests, this time by mine workers.


Russian authorities ask the Court to declare the LGBTQ ‘movement’ extremist
Breaking Legal News | 2023/11/20 09:33
The Russian Justice Ministry on Friday said it has filed a lawsuit with the nation’s Supreme Court to outlaw the LGBTQ+ “international public movement” as extremist, the latest crippling blow against the already beleaguered LGBTQ+ community in the increasingly conservative country.

The ministry said in an online statement announcing the lawsuit that authorities have identified “signs and manifestations of extremist nature” in “the activities of the LGBT movement active” in Russia, including “incitement of social and religious discord.” Russia’s Supreme Court has scheduled a hearing to consider the lawsuit for Nov. 30, the ministry said.

It is not yet clear what exactly the label would entail for LGBTQ+ people in Russia if the Supreme Court sides with the Justice Ministry, and the ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But the move in itself represents the latest, and possibly by far the most drastic, step in the decade-long crackdown on gay rights in Russia unleashed under President Vladimir Putin, who has put “traditional family values” at the cornerstone of his rule.

The crackdown, which began a decade ago, slowly but surely chipped away at LGBTQ+ rights. In 2013, the Kremlin adopted the first legislation restricting LGBTQ+ rights, known as the “gay propaganda” law, banning any non-critical public depiction of “nontraditional sexual relations” among minors. In 2020, Putin pushed through a constitutional reform to extend his rule by two more terms that also outlawed same-sex marriage.

In 2022, after sending troops into Ukraine, the Kremlin ramped up its rhetoric about protecting “traditional values” from what it called the West’s “degrading” influence, in what rights advocates saw as an attempt to legitimize the war in Ukraine. That same year, the authorities adopted a law banning propaganda of “nontraditional sexual relations” among adults, too, effectively outlawing any public endorsement of LGBTQ+ people.

Another law passed this year prohibited gender transitioning procedures and gender-affirming care for trans people. The legislation prohibited any “medical interventions aimed at changing the sex of a person,” as well as changing one’s gender in official documents and public records. It also amended Russia’s Family Code by listing gender change as a reason to annul a marriage and adding those “who had changed gender” to a list of people who can’t become foster or adoptive parents.

“Do we really want to have here, in our country, in Russia, ‘Parent No. 1, No. 2, No. 3’ instead of ‘mom’ and ‘dad?’” Putin said in September 2022 at a ceremony to formalize Moscow’s annexation of four Ukrainian regions. “Do we really want perversions that lead to degradation and extinction to be imposed in our schools from the primary grades?”

Authorities have rejected accusations of discrimination against LGBTQ+ people. Earlier this week, Russian media quoted Andrei Loginov, a deputy justice minister, as saying that “the rights of LGBT people in Russia are protected” legally. Loginov spoke in Geneva, while presenting a report on human rights in Russia to the U.N. Human Rights Council, and argued that “restraining public demonstration of non-traditional sexual relationships or preferences is not a form of censure for them.”

Putin, speaking at a culture-related event in St. Petersburg on Friday, called LGBTQ+ people “part of the society, too” and said they are entitled to winning various arts and culture awards. He did not comment on the Justice Ministry’s lawsuit.


Sen. Menendez enters not guilty plea to a new conspiracy charge
Breaking Legal News | 2023/10/27 14:58
U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez returned to Manhattan federal court Monday to challenge a new criminal charge alleging that he conspired to act as an agent of the Egyptian government when he chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“Not guilty,” Menendez, 69, said when Judge Sidney H. Stein asked him for a plea to the charge. It was his first appearance before Stein, who is expected to preside over a trial tentatively scheduled for May.

Stein said the plea was the sole purpose for the hearing and adjourned the proceeding after less than five minutes. The New Jersey Democrat left the courthouse minutes later without speaking to reporters waiting outside. At an arraignment before a magistrate judge last month, Menendez was released on a $100,000 bond.

In a statement issued after the hearing, Menendez repeated his claim that the new charge “flies in the face of my long record of standing up for human rights and democracy in Egypt and in challenging leaders of that country.”

He again called it “as outrageous as it is absurd” and said he has been loyal only to the United States his entire life.

“The facts haven’t changed. The government is engaged in primitive hunting, by which the predator chases its prey until it’s exhausted and then kills it. This tactic won’t work,” he said. “I will not litigate this case through the press, but have made it abundantly clear that I have done nothing wrong and once all the facts are presented will be found innocent.”

Menendez was forced to step down from his powerful post leading the Senate committee after he was charged last month. Prosecutors said the senator and his wife, Nadine Menendez, accepted bribes of cash, gold bars and a luxury car over the past five years from three New Jersey businessmen in exchange for a variety of corrupt acts.

The other defendants entered not guilty charges to a superseding indictment last week. The senator was permitted to delay his arraignment so he could tend to Senate duties. He has said that throughout his life he has been loyal to the United States and that he will prove he is innocent.


Trump trial: accountant testifies, Michael Cohen postpones
Breaking Legal News | 2023/10/23 12:59
Donald Trump returned Tuesday to the civil fraud trial that imperils his real estate empire, watching and deploring the case as an employee and an outside appraiser testified that his company essentially put a thumb on the scale when sizing up his properties’ value.

Incensed by a case that disputes his net worth and could strip him of such signature holdings as Trump Tower, the former president is due to testify later in the trial. But he chose to attend the first three days and came back Tuesday to observe — and to protest his treatment to the news cameras waiting outside the Manhattan courtroom.

Star witness Michael Cohen, a onetime Trump fixer now turned foe, postponed his scheduled testimony because of a health problem.

Instead, Trump company accountant Donna Kidder testified that she was told to make some assumptions favorable to the firm on internal financial spreadsheets. Outside appraiser Doug Larson said he didn’t suggest or condone a former Trump Organization comptroller’s methods of valuing properties.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Larson said of the way the ex-controller reached a $287.6 million value for a prominent Trump-owned retail space in 2013.

Trump, outside court, reiterated his insistence that he’s done nothing wrong and that New York Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit is a political vendetta designed to drag down his 2024 presidential campaign as he leads the Republican field.

“We built a great company — a lot of cash, it’s got a lot of great assets, some of the greatest real estate assets anywhere in the world,” Trump said outside the courtroom. He dismissed the case as “a disgrace,” the legal system as “corrupt” and the Democratic attorney general as a “radical lunatic.”

James’ lawsuit alleges that Trump and his company deceived banks, insurers and others by massively overvaluing his assets and inflating his net worth on his financial statements.


Court upholds judge’s finding that Tesla acquisition of Solar City was fair
Breaking Legal News | 2023/10/14 17:31
The Supreme Court on Monday ordered two internet sellers of gun parts to comply with a Biden administration regulation aimed at ghost guns, firearms that are difficult to trace because they lack serial numbers.

The court had intervened once before, by a 5-4 vote in August, to keep the regulation in effect after it had been invalidated by a lower court. No justice dissented publicly from Monday’s order, which followed a ruling from a federal judge in Texas that exempted the two companies, Blackhawk Manufacturing Group and Defense Distributed, from having to abide by the regulation of ghost gun kits.

Other makers of gun parts also had been seeking similar court orders, the administration told the Supreme Court in a filing.

“Absent relief from this Court, therefore, untraceable ghost guns will remain widely available to anyone with a computer and a credit card — no background check required,” Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, the administration’s top Supreme Court lawyer, wrote.

The regulation changed the definition of a firearm under federal law to include unfinished parts, like the frame of a handgun or the receiver of a long gun, so they can be tracked more easily. Those parts must be licensed and include serial numbers. Manufacturers must also run background checks before a sale - as they do with other commercially made firearms.

The requirement applies regardless of how the firearm was made, meaning it includes ghost guns made from individual parts or kits or by 3D printers.

The regulation will be in effect while the administration appeals the judge’s ruling to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans — and potentially the Supreme Court.


Biden’s second try at student loan cancellation moves forward with debate
Breaking Legal News | 2023/10/10 12:30
President Joe Biden’s second attempt at student loan cancellation began moving forward Tuesday with a round of hearings to negotiate the details of a new plan.

In a process known as negotiated rulemaking, 14 people chosen by the Biden administration are meeting for the first of three hearings on student loan relief. Their goal is to guide the Education Department toward a proposal after the Supreme Court rejected Biden’s first plan in June.

The negotiators all come from outside the federal government and represent a range of viewpoints on student loans. The panel includes students and officials from a range of colleges, along with loan servicers, state officials and advocates including the NAACP.

In opening remarks, Under Secretary of Education James Kvaal said the student debt crisis has threatened to undercut the promise of higher education.

“Student loan debt in this country has grown so large that it siphons off the benefits of college for many students,” Kvaal said in prepared remarks. “Some loans made to young adults stretch into retirement with no hope of being repaid. These debt burdens are shared by families and communities.”

Biden directed the Education Department to find another path to loan relief after the conservative court ruled that he couldn’t cancel loans using a 2003 law called the HEROES Act.

The latest attempt will rest on a sweeping law known as the Higher Education Act, which gives the education secretary authority to waive student loans — although how far that power extends is the subject of legal debate. The department is going through the negotiated rulemaking process to change or add federal rules clarifying how the secretary can cancel debt.


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