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Judge sides with Alaska attorney who alleged wrongful firing
Breaking Legal News | 2022/01/21 10:22
A U.S. judge sided Thursday with an attorney who alleged she was wrongly fired by the state of Alaska over political opinions expressed on a personal blog.

U.S. District Court Judge John Sedwick ruled that Elizabeth Bakalar’s December 2018 firing violated her free speech and associational rights under the U.S. and state constitutions.

According to Sedwick’s decision, Bakalar was an attorney with the Alaska Department of Law who handled election-related cases and was assigned to advise or represent state agencies in high-profile or complex matters. She began a blog in 2014 that focused on issues such as lifestyle, parenting and politics but began blogging more about politics and then-President Donald Trump after his 2016 election. She also commented about Trump on Twitter, with her name listed as the Twitter handle, the order says.

Shortly after Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s election in 2018, the chair of his transition team and later his chief of staff, Tuckerman Babcock, sent a memo to a broad swath of state employees requesting they submit their resignations along with a statement of interest in continuing to work for the new administration. The request was derided by attorneys for Bakalar and others as a demand for a “loyalty pledge.”

“To keep their jobs employees had to actually offer up a resignation with an accompanying statement of interest in continuing with the new administration and then hope that the incoming administration would reject the resignation,” Sedwick wrote.

Babcock said he fired Bakalar because he considered the tone of her resignation letter to be unprofessional, the order says. But Sedwick said Babcock did not accept the resignation of an assistant attorney general who used the same wording he had found objectionable when used by Bakalar.

While every lawyer in the Department of Law received the memo, just two — Bakalar and another attorney who had been critical of Trump on social media — had their resignation letters accepted, according to Sedwick’s decision.


Appeals court upholds mask requirement for Knox schools
Breaking Legal News | 2021/12/21 10:44
A federal appeals court has upheld the mask requirement for Knox County Schools.

A U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit panel on Monday denied the school board’s request to pause the mask requirement while the issue is debated in court, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported.

U.S. District Judge J. Ronnie Greer ruled in September the school system must adopt a mask mandate to help protect children with health problems more susceptible to the coronavirus pandemic.

Knox County Schools argued virtual classes are a reasonable accommodation, but children attend at home and must be supervised.

“Like the district court, we are not persuaded that virtual schooling is a reasonable alternative to universal masking,” the appeals court wrote. The full appeal of the Knox County case will be heard at a later date, the newspaper reported.

Knox County adopted a mask mandate during the 2020-21 school year but chose not to this year despite COVID-19 numbers that remained high. Public health agencies say indoor mask-wearing is a key coronavirus-prevention tool.


Italy frees man convicted of 2007 murder of Meredith Kercher
Breaking Legal News | 2021/11/28 14:52
The only person convicted in the 2007 murder of British student Meredith Kercher was freed Tuesday after serving most of his 16-year prison sentence, his lawyer said.

Attorney Fabrizio Ballarini said Rudy Guede’s planned Jan. 4 release had been moved up a few weeks by a judge and he was freed on Tuesday. He will continue to work in the library at the Viterbo-based Center for Criminology Studies, Ballarini said in an email.

Guede had already been granted permission to leave prison during the day to work at the center while he served his sentence for the 2007 murder of 21-year-old Kercher.

The case in the university city of Perugia gained international notoriety after Kercher’s American roommate, Amanda Knox, and Knox’s then-boyfriend were placed under suspicion. Both were initially convicted, but Italy’s highest court threw out the convictions in 2015 after a series of flip-flop decisions.

Guede was originally convicted in a fast-track trial procedure. He has denied killing Kercher.


Washington seeks over $38 billion from opioid distributors
Breaking Legal News | 2021/11/16 11:08
After rejecting a half-billion-dollar settlement, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson on Monday took the state’s case against the nation’s three biggest drug distributors to trial, saying they must be held accountable for their role in the nation’s opioid epidemic.

The Democrat delivered part of the opening statement in King County Superior Court himself, calling the case possibly the most significant public health lawsuit his agency had ever filed.

“These companies knew what would happen if they failed to meet their duties,” Ferguson told Judge Michael Ramsey Scott. “We know they were aware of the harms flowing from their conduct because in private correspondence, company executives mocked individuals suffering the painful effects of opioid dependence. ... They displayed a callous disregard for the communities and people who bear the impact of their greed.”

But Ferguson’s legal strategy isn’t without risk, as a loss by three California counties in a similar case this month — and an Oklahoma Supreme Court decision overturning a $465 million judgment against drug manufacturer Johnson & Johnson — demonstrates.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Peter Wilson issued a tentative ruling Nov. 1 that the counties, plus the city of Oakland, had not proven the pharmaceutical companies used deceptive marketing to increase unnecessary opioid prescriptions and create a public nuisance. The Oklahoma ruling said a lower court wrongly interpreted the state’s public nuisance law.

In an email, Ferguson stressed that the relevant Washington laws differ and called the cases “apples and oranges.”

Public nuisance claims are at the heart of some 3,000 lawsuits brought by state and local governments against drug makers, distribution companies and pharmacies. Washington’s is the first by a state against drug distribution companies to go to trial. Ferguson is claiming public nuisance and violations of state consumer protection law.


Trials delayed for mother, son in Mississippi fraud cases
Breaking Legal News | 2021/11/13 13:23
Judges have delayed the state and federal trials of a mother and son charged in one of Mississippi’s largest public corruption cases.

State Auditor Shad White has said Nancy New and Zachary New were responsible for misspending millions of dollars of welfare money that was intended for needy people in one of the poorest states in the U.S.

Their trials were scheduled to begin this week — Monday in Hinds County Circuit Court and Wednesday in federal court. Attorneys have made clear that both trials were unlikely to happen during the same week because of the complexity of the cases.

In late October, judges issued orders setting new trial dates of Jan. 3 in federal court and Feb. 7 in Hinds County Circuit Court.

State court records show Nancy New and Zachary New are both charged with conspiracy, embezzlement, fraud and making false statements to defraud the government, for alleged crimes from September 2018. They were indicted in early 2020.

Federal court records show the mother and son both face several charges, including wire fraud; conspiracy to commit wire fraud; aggravated identity theft; money laundering; and money laundering conspiracy.


Palestinians reject offer to delay their Jerusalem eviction
Breaking Legal News | 2021/11/04 15:05
Palestinian families on Tuesday rejected an offer that would have delayed their eviction by Jewish settlers in a tense Jerusalem neighborhood, where protests and clashes helped ignite the 11-day Gaza war in May.

The four families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood near the Old City said their decision springs from “our belief in the justice of our cause and our right to our homes and our homeland.” They said that rather than submit to an “unjust agreement” they would rely on the “Palestinian street” to raise international awareness of their plight.

The proposal floated by Israel’s Supreme Court last month would have made them “protected tenants,” blocking any eviction and demolition order for at least the next 15 years, according to Ir Amim, an Israeli rights group that closely follows developments in the city.

The families would have been able to continue arguing their case in Israeli courts. But it would have forced them to at least temporarily attest to the settlers’ ownership of the properties, which could weaken the families’ case going forward, and pay rent to the settlers.

The four families are among dozens in Jerusalem who are threatened with eviction by Jewish settler organizations in several cases that have been working their way through the Israeli court system for decades.

The settlers are making use of an Israeli law that allows them to claim properties that were owned by Jews prior to the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation. Palestinians who lost homes, properties and lands in the same conflict do not have the right to recover them.

There was no immediate comment from the settlers, but Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Arieh King, a staunch supporter, said they had accepted the offer.


Video: Officer shoots Illinois inmate after struggle for gun
Breaking Legal News | 2021/11/01 10:50
Illinois State Police have released video footage showing a tense scene involving an inmate’s attack on a correctional officer at a courthouse and another officer firing his weapon at the inmate and injuring him.

Authorities said 55-year-old Fredrick Goss was at the Jefferson County Courthouse earlier this month for a trial. He was uncuffed while being transported in a wheelchair to trial where he was to be unrestrained.

Footage of the incident, released Friday on an Illinois State Police Facebook page, appeared to show Goss grabbing an officer’s gun and struggling with him before a deputy stepped in and shot Goss, who was hospitalized.

Police did not release further details about his injuries.

The correctional officer had minor injuries while the deputy wasn’t hurt, according to state police.

“To protect the life of the correctional officer and himself, the deputy confronted the armed inmate and was forced to fire his weapon,” police said in a news release. “The inmate was injured by the gunfire. Immediate assistance was requested.”

Goss was facing trial for an armed robbery and exchanging gunfire with police.

A message left Sunday for Matt Vaughn, a public defender in Jefferson County who has represented Goss, wasn’t immediately returned.

Online court records show the case is scheduled for a Nov. 30 status hearing.


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