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German court excludes Jewish brothers from Auschwitz trial
Court Watch | 2017/02/15 10:03
A German court has excluded two elderly Jewish American men from joining the trial of a 96-year-old former Auschwitz SS medic, because their mother was not killed in the death camp's gas chambers during the time covered in the indictment.

Hubert Zafke is charged with 3,681 counts of accessory to murder for a one-month period in 1944.

The Neubrandenburg state court said Tuesday it was excluding Walter and William Plywaski, of Boulder, Colorado, from joining the trial as co-plaintiffs, as allowed under German law for victims' relatives.

Their attorneys argue that Zafke was present for a longer period than covered by the indictment, and say they'll appeal.

The trial has been repeatedly delayed over the defendant's health and complaints from the co-plaintiffs the judges are biased.


Appeals court won't re-hear the 'dusky gopher frog' case
Legal News | 2017/02/14 10:04
Advocates for an endangered species of frog have won a victory in a case that's headed for the U.S. Supreme Court.

A federal appeals court in New Orleans has refused to revive an environmental case involving the "dusky gopher frog."

Last year, a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a Louisiana business's attempt to keep the federal government from listing its timberland as essential for the frog's future.

On Monday the full court voted 8-6 against re-hearing the case.

The frogs now live in some parts of Mississippi but once were found in Alabama and Louisiana as well. Environmentalists say the Louisiana land in question contains a type of pond essential to the species' survival.

The case next goes to the Supreme Court.

The majority offered no comment Monday. Judge Edith Jones wrote a strongly worded 30-page dissent on behalf of the six-member minority. Among her arguments: the habitat in question contains one, but not all, of the features deemed necessary for the dusky gopher frog's survival.

Jones said the appeals court's majority applied federal law incorrectly and the landowner should not be prohibited from developing land where the frog cannot "naturally live and grow."

"She agreed with us that non-habitat can never be critical habitat," said Reed Hopper, an attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation, which represents landowner Markle Interests LLC. He confirmed that a Supreme Court appeal is planned.


Graft conviction keeps south Indian politician out of office
Legal Business | 2017/02/13 10:04
India's top court on Tuesday upheld the corruption conviction of the head of the ruling party in Tamil Nadu state, ending her chances of becoming the southern state's next chief minister.

The Supreme Court set aside a lower court order that had cleared Sasikala Natarajan of corruption charges.

India's politics are often dominated by outsized personalities and their friends and relatives, creating an environment where corruption is endemic.

Sasikala was the personal assistant to Jayaram Jayalalitha, a former movie star who became Tamil Nadu's top politician, or chief minister. Jayalalitha died in office in December triggering a succession battle within her AIADMK party.

Jayalalitha inspired intense loyalty among her political supporters who called her "Mother." Some of that charisma rubbed off on Sasikala, who was hailed as "Little Mother."

The corruption case, filed in 1996, accused Jayalalitha, Sasikala and two of Sasikala's kin of possessing assets disproportionate to their known sources of income. It was moved to neighboring Karnataka state due to fairness concerns, and the defendants were found guilty in 2014, but nine months later, were acquitted by the Karnataka high court following an appeal. That decision was challenged in the Supreme Court.

Jayalalitha died before the top court could give its decision, but on Tuesday, the judges ordered Sasikala and the two remaining co-defendants to complete their four-year jail terms.

The conviction means Sasikala is barred from contesting an election for six years after completing her jail sentence, thus removing her from the political scene for the next 10 years.



NC court blocks law stripping governor of election powers
Headline Legal News | 2017/02/12 10:04
North Carolina's Supreme Court on Monday again blocked a state law approved by Republicans that strips the new Democratic governor of powers to oversee elections.

A lower appeals court briefly let the law to take effect last week, allowing a revamped state elections board to meet for the first time Friday. It's one of the changes passed in late December that shift power over running elections away from Gov. Roy Cooper.

"We are pleased the Supreme Court has put the injunction back in place until the judges can hear and decide the full case" early next month, Cooper spokeswoman Noelle Talley wrote in an email.

The law ends the practice of allowing the governor's political party to hold majorities on all state and county elections boards. Instead of Democrats holding sway over running elections and resolving voting disputes, elections board positions would be evenly divided between major-party partisans.

Republicans would control elections during even-numbered years, when big races for president, legislature or other major statewide offices are held. The measure also merges the state ethics and elections boards into one.

Lawyers representing state House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, and Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, did not respond to emails seeking comment after the Supreme Court's decision.

Cooper, Moore and Berger are also fighting in court over another new law aiming to restrict the Democrat's ability to alter the state's recent conservative direction.

A panel of three state trial court judges is considering whether to continue blocking a law requiring Senate confirmation of Cooper's Cabinet secretaries.

The law requiring Senate consent to Cooper's top appointees came during a surprise special session barely a week after Republican incumbent Pat McCrory conceded to Cooper in their close gubernatorial race.



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