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Fresno killings suspect shouts out during 1st court hearing
Court News | 2017/04/22 16:28
The suspect in this week's racially motivated shooting rampage in Fresno shouted Friday that natural disasters will increasingly hit the United States as he was ushered into a cramped courtroom for his first appearance before a judge.

Kori Ali Muhammad, 39, was supposed to be officially informed about the first-degree murder charge he is accused of in the shooting death of an unarmed security guard.

Authorities have said he then killed three more people in the rampage, targeting white victims, before he was caught.

But the reading of the charge never happened because Muhammad had another outburst, yelling "Let black people go" and a phrase similar to "in reparations" that was not clearly enunciated.

His court appointed lawyer, Eric Christensen, then told the judge: "I believe this gentleman may not be mentally competent to proceed."

Muhammad yelled again and the judge canceled the proceedings, setting bail at $2.6 million and ordering a mental evaluation for Muhammad.

Police have said Muhammad told them that learning he was wanted for the Williams' killing prompted him to try to kill as many white people as possible before he was caught.

He shot three other white men at random Tuesday, police said, including a Pacific Gas & Electric utility worker sitting in a truck and two men who had come out of a Catholic Charities building.


US court ruling could bring more suits over Nazi-looted art
Court News | 2017/04/05 23:29
The heirs of Nazi-era Jewish art dealers have spent nearly a decade trying to persuade German officials to return a collection of medieval relics valued at more than $250 million.

But they didn't make much headway until they filed a lawsuit in an American court.

The relatives won a round last week when a federal judge ruled that Germany can be sued in the United States over claims the so-called Guelph Treasure was sold under duress in 1935.

It's the first time a court has required Germany to defend itself in the U.S. against charges of looted Nazi art, and experts say it could encourage other descendants of people who suffered during the Holocaust to pursue claims in court.

The case also is among the first affected by a law passed in Congress last year that makes it easier for heirs of victims of Nazi Germany to sue over confiscated art.

"It open all kinds of other claims based on forced sales in Nazi Germany to jurisdiction in U.S. courts if the facts support it," said Nicholas O'Donnell, an attorney representing the heirs.

The collection includes gold crosses studded with gems, ornate silverwork and other relics that once belonged to Prussian aristocrats. The heirs of the art dealers — Jed Leiber, Gerald Stiebel, and Alan Philipp — say their relatives were forced to sell the relics in a coerced transaction for a fraction of its market value.

The consortium of dealers from Frankfurt had purchased the collection in 1929 from the Duke of Brunswick. They had managed to sell about half of the pieces to museums and collectors, but the remaining works were sold in 1935 to the state of Prussia, which at the time was governed by Nazi leader Hermann Goering.

Following the sale, Goering presented the works as a gift to Adolf Hitler, according to court documents. The collection has been on display in Berlin since the early 1960s and is considered the largest collection of German church treasure in public hands.

German officials claim the sale was voluntary and say the low price was a product of the Great Depression and the collapse of Germany's market for art. In 2014, a special German commission set up to review disputed restitution cases concluded it was not a forced sale due to persecution and recommended the collection stay at the Berlin museum.


S Korea's Park questioned at court hearing on arrest request
Court News | 2017/04/01 17:04
South Korea's disgraced ex-President Park Geun-hye was being questioned Thursday by a court that will decide if she should be arrested over corruption allegations that have already toppled her from power.

Live TV footage earlier showed a stern-looking Park entering the Seoul Central District Court building amid a barrage of camera flashes. She did not comment to reporters. The court is expected to decide by Friday morning whether to approve her arrest.

If the court approves the arrest warrant requested by prosecutors, Park will be immediately sent to a detention facility as prosecutors can detain her for up to 20 days before laying formal charges.

If the court rejects the arrest request, prosecutors can still indict and charge her.

Prosecutors accuse Park of colluding with a confidante to extort from big businesses, take a bribe from one of the companies and commit other wrongdoings. The allegations prompted millions of South Koreans to stage streets protests every weekend for months before the Constitutional Court ruled to dismiss her on March 10. Park's presidential powers had already been suspended after parliament impeached her in December.

It was a dramatic setback to Park, South Korea's first female president who rose to power four years ago amid conservatives' nostalgia for her late dictator father who is credited by supporters for pulling a war-torn country out of poverty in the 1960-70s. Liberal critics revile her father as a ruthless leader who tortured and imprisoned his opponents.

Earlier Thursday, hundreds of her supporters, mostly elderly conservative citizens, gathered near her Seoul home, waving national flags and chanting slogans when she left for the court.




High Court Struggles Over Hospital Pension Dispute
Court News | 2017/03/31 17:05
The Supreme Court seemed to struggle on Monday over whether some of the nation's largest hospitals should be allowed to sidestep federal laws protecting pension benefits for workers.

Justices considered the cases of three church-affiliated nonprofit hospital systems being sued for underfunding pension plans covering about 100,000 employees. But the outcome ultimately could affect the retirement benefits of roughly a million employees around the country.

The hospitals — Advocate Health Care Network, Dignity Health and Saint Peter's Healthcare System — say their pensions are "church plans" exempt from the law and have been treated as such for decades by the government agencies in charge. They want to overturn three lower court rulings against them.

Workers suing the health systems argue that Congress never meant to exempt them and say the hospitals are shirking legal safeguards that could jeopardize retirement benefits.

"I'm torn," Justices Sonia Sotomayor said at one point during the hour-long argument. "This could be read either way in my mind."

Justice Anthony Kennedy said the Internal Revenue Service issued hundreds of letters over more than 30 years approving the hospitals' actions. That shows they were "proceeding in good faith with the assurance of the IRS that what they were doing was lawful," he said.

The case could affect dozens of similar lawsuits over pension plans filed across the country.

Much of the argument focused on how to read a federal law that generally requires pension plans to be fully funded and insured. Congress amended that law in 1980 to carve out a narrow exemption for churches and other religious organizations.


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