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McCarthy floats stopgap funding to prevent a government shutdown
Breaking Legal News | 2023/08/17 13:49
Congressional leaders are pitching a stopgap government funding package to avoid a federal shutdown after next month, acknowledging the House and Senate are nowhere near agreement on spending levels to keep federal operations running.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy raised the idea of a months-long funding package, known as a continuing resolution, to House Republicans on a members-only call Monday evening, according to those familiar with the private session and granted anonymity to discuss it.

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the two leaders had spoken about such a temporary measure. It would extend federal funding operations into December to allow more time to work on the annual spending bills.

“I thought it was a good thing that he recognized that we need a CR,” Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters on a call. “We hope that our House Republicans will realize that any funding resolution has to be bipartisan or they will risk shutting down the government,” he said.

A stopgap measure that would keep government offices running past the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year is a typical strategy while the Republican-held House and Democrat-held Senate try to iron out a long-term budget agreement. The government’s new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, when funding approval is needed to avert closures of federal offices.

But this year, the task may prove more politically difficult. McCarthy will need to win over a large portion of his Republican colleagues to pass the stopgap bill or risk political blowback from staunch conservatives if he leaves them behind and cuts a bipartisan deal with Democrats.

Conservatives, including many from the House Freedom Caucus, are usually loathe to get behind short-term funding measures as they push for steeper spending cuts, using the threat of a shutdown as leverage.


Judge upholds the $5 million jury verdict against Trump
Breaking Legal News | 2023/07/21 08:07
A federal judge on Wednesday upheld a $5 million jury verdict against Donald Trump, rejecting the former president’s claims that the award was excessive and that the jury vindicated him by failing to conclude he raped a columnist in a luxury department store dressing room in the 1990s.

Judge Lewis A. Kaplan said the jury’s May award of compensatory and punitive damages to writer E. Jean Carroll for sexual abuse and defamation in the civil case was reasonable.

Trump’s lawyers had asked Kaplan to reduce the jury award to less than $1 million or order a new trial on damages. In their arguments, the lawyers said the jury’s $2 million in compensatory damages granted for Carroll’s sexual assault claim was excessive because the jury concluded that Trump had not raped Carroll at Bergdorf Goodman’s Manhattan store in the spring of 1996.

Kaplan wrote that the jury’s unanimous verdict was almost entirely in favor of Carroll, except that the jury concluded she had failed to prove that Trump raped her “within the narrow, technical meaning of a particular section of the New York Penal Law.”

The judge said the section requires vaginal penetration by a penis while forcible penetration without consent of the vagina or other bodily orifices by fingers or anything else is labeled “sexual abuse” rather than “rape.”

He said the definition of rape was “far narrower” than how rape is defined in common modern parlance, in some dictionaries, in some federal and state criminal statutes and elsewhere.

The judge said the verdict did not mean that Carroll “failed to prove that Mr. Trump ‘raped’ her as many people commonly understand the word ‘rape.’ Indeed ... the jury found that Mr. Trump in fact did exactly that.”

Trump’s lawyers were correct in arguing that the $2 million award for sexual abuse would have been excessive if the jury based the compensatory award on a conclusion that Trump had groped Carroll’s breasts through her clothing or similar conduct, the judge said. But, he said, that’s not what the jury found.


Diversify or die: San Francisco’s downtown is a wake-up call for other cities
Breaking Legal News | 2023/07/17 11:48
Jack Mogannam, manager of Sam’s Cable Car Lounge in downtown San Francisco, relishes the days when his bar stayed open past midnight every night, welcoming crowds that jostled on the streets, bar hopped, window browsed or just took in the night air.

He’s had to drastically curtail those hours because of diminished foot traffic, and business is down 30%. A sign outside the lounge pleads: “We need your support!”

“I’d stand outside my bar at 10 p.m. and look, it would be like a party on the street,” Mogannam said. “Now you see, like, six people on the street up and down the block. It’s a ghost town.”

After a three-year exile, the pandemic now fading from view, the expected crowds and electric ambience of downtown have not returned.

Empty storefronts dot the streets. Large “going out of business” signs hang in windows. Uniqlo, Nordstrom Rack and Anthropologie are gone. Last month, the owner of Westfield San Francisco Centre, a fixture for more than 20 years, said it was handing the mall back to its lender, citing declining sales and foot traffic. The owner of two towering hotels, including a Hilton, did the same.

Shampoo, toothpaste and other toiletries are locked up at downtown pharmacies. And armed robbers recently hit a Gucci store in broad daylight.

San Francisco has become the prime example of what downtowns shouldn’t look like: vacant, crime-ridden and in various stages of decay. But in truth, it’s just one of many cities across the U.S. whose downtowns are reckoning with a post-pandemic wake-up call: diversify or die.

As the pandemic bore down in early 2020, it drove people out of city centers and boosted shopping and dining in residential neighborhoods and nearby suburbs as workers stayed closer to home. Those habits seem poised to stay.

No longer the purview of office workers, downtowns must become around-the-clock destinations for people to congregate, said Richard Florida, a specialist in city planning at the University of Toronto.


Judge dismisses lawsuit seeking reparations for the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre
Breaking Legal News | 2023/07/10 14:09
An Oklahoma judge has thrown out a lawsuit seeking reparations for the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, dashing an effort to obtain some measure of legal justice by survivors of the deadly racist rampage.

Judge Caroline Wall on Friday dismissed with prejudice the lawsuit trying to force the city and others to make recompense for the destruction of the once-thriving Black district known as Greenwood.

The order comes in a case by three survivors of the attack, who are all now over 100 years old and sued in 2020 with the hope of seeing what their attorney called “justice in their lifetime.”

Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said in a statement that the city has yet to receive the full court order. “The city remains committed to finding the graves of 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre victims, fostering economic investment in the Greenwood District, educating future generations about the worst event in our community’s history, and building a city where every person has an equal opportunity for a great life,” he said.

A lawyer for the survivors — Lessie Benningfield Randle, Viola Fletcher and Hughes Van Ellis — did not say Sunday whether they plan to appeal. But a group supporting the lawsuit suggested they are likely to challenge Wall’s decision.

“Judge Wall effectively condemned the three living Tulsa Race Massacre Survivors to languish — genuinely to death — on Oklahoma’s appellate docket,” the group, Justice for Greenwood, said in a statement. “There is no semblance of justice or access to justice here.”

Wall, a Tulsa County District Court judge, wrote in a brief order that she was tossing the case based on arguments from the city, regional chamber of commerce and other state and local government agencies. She had ruled against the defendants’ motions to dismiss and allowed the case to proceed last year.

Local judicial elections in Oklahoma are technically nonpartisan, but Wall has described herself as a “Constitutional Conservative” in past campaign questionnaires.

The lawsuit was brought under Oklahoma’s public nuisance law, saying the actions of the white mob that killed hundreds of Black residents and destroyed what had been the nation’s most prosperous Black business district continue to affect the city today.


Man gets life sentence for raping 9-year-old Ohio girl
Breaking Legal News | 2023/07/07 10:12
A man who confessed to raping and impregnating a 9-year-old Ohio girl has been sentenced to life in prison in a case that became a national flashpoint on abortion rights because the girl had to travel out of state to end the pregnancy.

Gerson Fuentes, 28, was sentenced to life in prison, but his plea deal stipulates that he can seek parole after serving 25 to 30 years. He would then have to register as a sex offender.

Common Pleas Court Judge Julie Lynch, who was not required to approve the plea agreement, said the girl’s family “begged” the judge to back it. Lynch called the deal a “very hard pill for this court to swallow.”

“Anyone who’s ever been in this courtroom for the last 20 years knows how this court feels about these babies, young people, being violated,” Lynch said. “However, today, by the request of the family, this court will be sentencing without comment.”

The maximum sentence would have been life without parole. Settling the case before trial will spare the survivor from having to testify in court.

Zachary Olah, an attorney who represented Fuentes, told The Columbus Dispatch after the hearing that his client has been cooperative since the beginning.

“He was anxious to get this resolved,” Olah said.

The girl, who turned 10 before having the abortion, confirmed that Fuentes attacked her, Franklin County prosecutors have said, and Fuentes confessed to Columbus police detectives. DNA testing of the aborted fetus confirmed Fuentes was the father, prosecutors said.

Fuentes, who is from Guatemala and was living in Columbus, had been held without bond since his arrest. If he eventually wins parole, he would likely be deported given that authorities have said they have not found any evidence he is authorized to live in the U.S. legally.


Supreme Court rules for nursing home patient’s family
Breaking Legal News | 2023/06/28 10:11
The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled for the family of a nursing home resident with dementia that had sued over his care, declining to use the case to broadly limit the right to sue government workers.

The man’s family went to court alleging that he was given drugs to keep him easier to manage in violation of his rights. The justices had been asked to use his case to limit the ability of people to use a federal law to sue for civil rights violations. That outcome could have left tens of millions of people participating in federal programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, without an avenue to go to court to enforce their rights.

The Supreme Court has previously said that a section of federal law — “Section 1983” — broadly gives people the right to sue state and local governments when their employees violate rights created by any federal statute.

The court by a 7-2 vote reiterated that Thursday, with Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson writing that Section 1983 “can presumptively be used to enforce unambiguously conferred federal individual rights.” Both liberal and conservative justices joined her majority opinion while conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.

The court had been asked to say that when Congress creates a federal spending program — giving states money to provide services such as Medicare and Medicaid — they shouldn’t face lawsuits from individuals under Section 1983. The court rejected that invitation.

The specific case the justices heard involves the interaction of Section 1983 and the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act, a 1987 law that outlines requirements for nursing homes that accept federal Medicare and Medicaid funds. The court was being asked to answer whether a person can use Section 1983 to go to court with claims their rights under the nursing home act are violated. The answer is yes, the court said.


Native American tribes say Supreme Court challenge was never just about foster kids
Breaking Legal News | 2023/06/21 14:28
Native American nations say the Supreme Court’s rejection of a challenge to the Indian Child Welfare Act has reaffirmed their power to withstand threats from state governments.

They say the case conservative groups raised on behalf of four Native American children was a stalking horse for legal arguments that could have broadly weakened tribal and federal authority.

“It’s a big win for all of us, a big win for Indian Country. And it definitely strengthens our sovereignty, strengthens our self-determination, it strengthens that we as a nation can make our own decisions,” Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren said Monday.

In fact, the 7-2 ruling released Thursday hardly touched on the children, who were supposed to be placed with Native foster families under the law. The justices said the white families that have sought to adopt them lack standing to claim racial discrimination, in part because their cases are already resolved, save for one Navajo girl whose case is in Texas court.

Instead, the justices focused on rejecting other arguments aimed at giving states more leverage, including sweeping attacks on the constitutional basis for federal Indian Law.

“This was never a case about children,” Erin Dougherty Lynch, senior staff attorney for the Native American Rights Fund, told The Associated Press. “The opposition was essentially trying to weaken tribes by putting their children in the middle, which is a standard tactic for entities that are seeking to destroy tribes.”

Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s majority opinion said these plaintiffs wrongly claimed that “the State gets to call the shots, unhindered by any federal instruction to the contrary.”

Justice Neil Gorsuch spent 38 pages explaining how up to a third of Native children were taken from their families and placed in white homes or in boarding schools to be assimilated. In response, the 1978 law requires states to notify tribes if a child is or could be enrolled in a federally recognized tribe, and established a system favoring Native American families in foster care and adoption proceedings.


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