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Wisconsin Supreme Court disallows absentee ballot drop boxes
Court Watch | 2022/07/06 09:53
Wisconsin’s conservative-controlled Supreme Court ruled Friday that absentee ballot drop boxes may be placed only in election offices and that no one other than the voter can return a ballot in person, dealing a defeat to Democrats who said the decision would make it harder to vote in the battleground state.

However, the court didn’t address whether anyone other than the voter can return his or her own ballot by mail. That means that anyone could still collect multiple ballots for voters and, instead of using a drop box, put them in the mail.

Republicans have argued that practice, known as ballot harvesting, is ripe with fraud although there has been no evidence of that happening in Wisconsin. Democrats and others argue that many voters, particularly the elderly and disabled, have difficulty returning their ballots without the assistance of others.

Supporters argue drop boxes are a better option than mailing ballots because they go directly to the clerks and can’t be lost or delayed in transit.

The decision sets absentee ballot rules for the Aug. 9 primary and the fall election; Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers are seeking reelection in key races.

Johnson and other Republicans hailed it as a win for voter integrity.

“This decision is a big step in the right direction,” Johnson said.

Evers and other Democrats said the ruling will make it more difficult for people to vote.

“It’s a slap in the face of democracy itself,” said Democratic Party Chairman Ben Wikler.

The court’s 4-3 ruling also has critical implications in the 2024 presidential race, in which Wisconsin will again be among a handful of battleground states. President Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in 2020 by just under 21,000 votes, four years after Trump narrowly won the state by a similar margin.


Temple prof seeks reinstatement of damage claims against FBI
Court Watch | 2022/02/10 10:41
A Temple University physics professor who was charged with sharing scientific technology with China only for the case to collapse before trial and be dismissed by the Justice Department asked a federal appeals court on Monday to reinstate his clams for damages against the U.S. government.

Lawyers for Xiaoxing Xi and his wife say in a brief filed Monday with a Philadelphia-based appeals court that a judge erred last year when he dismissed most of the claims in their federal lawsuit. They assert that the FBI agent who led the investigation “intentionally, knowingly or recklessly” made false statements and misrepresented evidence so that prosecutors could get an indictment.

“When law enforcement agents abuse the legal process by obtaining indictments and search warrants based on misrepresentations or by fabricating evidence, it undermines the legitimacy of the courts,” Xi’s legal team, which includes lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union, wrote in the brief.


US sanctions Myanmar judiciary officials on coup anniversary
Court Watch | 2022/01/31 12:34
The Biden administration on Monday slapped sanctions on top members of Myanmar’s judiciary and one of its main revenue-producing ports over rights abuses since last year’s coup.

The sanctions on the country’s attorney general, supreme court chief justice and others were announced by the Treasury and State Departments to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the February 2021 coup, which replaced a civilian-led government with a military regime.

The penalties freeze any assets that those targeted may have in U.S. jurisdictions and bar Americans from doing business with them and are to be complemented by similar measures from Britain and Canada.

“One year after the coup, the United States, along with allies in the United Kingdom and Canada, stands with the people of Burma as they seek freedom and democracy,” Treasury said in a statement using the country’s alternate name. “We will continue to target those responsible for the coup and ongoing violence, enablers of the regime’s brutal repression, and their financial supporters.”

Among the judiciary, the new sanctions apply to Attorney General Thida Oo, Supreme Court chief justice Tun Tun Oo, and Tin Oo, the chairman of the Myanmar’s anti-corruption commission. The sanctions also hit the KT Services and Logistics Company, which operates a major port in Myanmar’s economic hub of Yangon, and its CEO as well as the procurement department of the country’s defense ministry.

“The United States will continue to work with our international partners to address human rights abuses and press the regime to cease the violence, release all those unjustly detained, allow unhindered humanitarian access, and restore Burma’s path to democracy,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.


Some Michigan counties pause jury trials amid COVID surge
Court Watch | 2022/01/17 12:54
Jury trials have been paused in some western Michigan counties due to a surge in coronavirus cases, court officials said Monday.

Chief Judge Mark Trusock said all jury trials in Kent County 17th Circuit Court, based in Grand Rapids, were on hold until March 7. Ottawa County Probate Court and the 20th Judicial Circuit Court, based in Grand Haven, will not summon the public to courthouses to serve as jurors until at least Feb. 1, according to a statement released by the court.

Michigan health officials said last week that the state’s record-high COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations could peak in late January or early February, and they urged the public to take steps to help control the spread.

Ottawa County court officials said their decision was made in consultation with the Ottawa County Department of Public Health. Circuit Court Administrator Susan Franklin said judges don’t want to bring large numbers of people into the courthouses given the current rates of COVID transmission.

Courts across the U.S. have paused jury trials at various points during the pandemic. The highly contagious omicron variant has prompted additional pauses in recent days, including in Indiana’s largest county and in the state’s second most-populous county.


Appeals court: Illinois counties must end ICE contracts
Court Watch | 2022/01/14 13:47
A federal appeals court has ruled two counties that hold immigrant detainees at local jails must terminate contracts with federal authorities starting Thursday.

Leaders in Kankakee and McHenry counties sued over an Illinois law aimed at ending immigration detention in the state by Jan. 1 and lost. But they were allowed to delay while on appeal.

In the ruling, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the counties hadn’t made their case.

“We conclude that the counties have not made a ‘strong showing’ that they are likely to succeed on the merits,” the three-judge panel concluded.

Roughly 100 detainees remain at the jails. Winding down the contracts is expected to take a few weeks.

The Illinois law has been celebrated by immigrant rights activists who say detaining people awaiting immigration hearings is inhumane and costly. They’re pushing to release detainees instead of transferring them elsewhere.

Last year, downstate Pulaski County cleared its jail of immigrant detainees. Court records show 15 were released. Dozens of others were transferred to Kansas and the two Illinois facilities.

Officials in McHenry and Kankakee counties, who didn’t return messages Thursday, have previously said they’d continue to appeal. They say the contracts are lucrative and argue that ending them simply transfers detainees further from their families.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement didn’t return a message Thursday.


Cobb County jury trials paused as COVID-19 spreads
Court Watch | 2022/01/08 12:27
As COVID-19 cases continue rising across the state of Georgia, the court system in one of its counties has decided to pause jury trials.

Cobb County Superior Court Judge Robert D. Leonard issued an order Monday to cancel trial jurors through Jan. 21, WSB-TV reported.

“I did not make this decision lightly,” Leonard said. “We must keep in mind that jury service compels people of all walks of life, with all health conditions and vaccination status to attend court. Additionally, the likelihood of successfully getting through a lengthy jury trial when our community spread is at this record level is slim.”

According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, 11,902 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Cobb County in the last two weeks.

Jury trials across Georgia were paused for much of the pandemic. Trials in Cobb County ultimately resumed last April.

Leonard also said that the State Court of Cobb County will be undertaking the same measures.

Grand jury proceedings will not be affected.


Judges send Tyson workers’ virus lawsuit back to state court
Court Watch | 2022/01/03 18:31
A federal appeals court has ruled that Tyson Foods can’t claim it was operating under the direction of the federal government when it tried to keep its processing plants open as the coronavirus spread rapidly within them during the early days of the pandemic.

So the Des Moines Register reports that a lawsuit filed by several families of four workers who died after contracting COVID-19 while working at Tyson’s pork processing plant in Waterloo will be heard in state court. The families allege that Tyson’s actions contributed to the deaths.

Tyson had sought to move the case to federal court because it said federal officials wanted it to keep its plants running. The company cited an executive order former President Donald Trump signed that designated meat processors as essential infrastructure.

“The fact that an entity — such as a meat processor — is subject to pervasive federal regulation alone is not sufficient to confer federal jurisdiction,” Judge Jane Kelly wrote in the decision.

The court also noted that Trump’s order was signed in late April 2020 after many of its workers were infected. More than 1,000 Tyson workers at the Waterloo plant tested positive for the virus that spring and at least six died.

Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson said the Springdale, Arkansas-based company is disappointed in the court ruling, but he defended the steps Tyson took to keep workers safe during the pandemic.

“We’re saddened by the loss of any of our team members to COVID-19 and are committed to protecting the health and safety of our people,” Mickelson said. “We’ve implemented a host of protective measures in our facilities and in 2021 required all of our U.S. team members to be vaccinated.”


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