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Access to license-plate data may be possible, court rules
Court News | 2017/09/01 08:57
It would violate people's privacy to publicly release raw data collected by automated license plate readers that police use to determine whether vehicles are linked to crime, but there may be ways to make the information anonymous that would require it to be disclosed, the California Supreme Court said Thursday.

The ruling came in a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union and Electronic Frontier Foundation that sought a week's worth of license plate data — millions of records — from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and Los Angeles Police Department to "understand and educate the public on the risks to privacy posed" by license plate readers in the area.

A unanimous Supreme Court ordered a lower court to consider methods to make the data anonymous and determine whether any of those efforts would require its release.

Jennifer Lehman, assistant county counsel for Los Angeles County, said in a statement that the county was "concerned that even making the information anonymous could pose unique and unintended problems."

She said it would raise those concerns in detail when the case is heard again by the lower court.

A message to the Los Angeles city attorney was not immediately returned.

Law enforcement agencies nationwide are using license plate readers attached to patrol cars and objects such as traffic signals. The devices indiscriminately capture images of license plates that come into view. The information is passed through databases to instantly check whether the car or driver has been linked to crime.

Officials say the scans are useful in tracking stolen vehicles, missing children and people wanted by police. For instance, authorities chasing a suspect in a fatal shooting at Delta State University in Mississippi in 2015 used an automatic license plate reader to track the man as he traveled across state lines.

Privacy advocates say the systems overwhelmingly capture innocent drivers, recording information about their locations that could be used to track their habits and whereabouts.


Court: Cherokee Freedmen have right to tribal citizenship
Court News | 2017/08/31 08:57
Descendants of black slaves, known as freedmen, who were once owned by members of the Cherokee Nation have a right to tribal citizenship under a ruling handed down by a federal court in Washington, D.C.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan ruled Wednesday in a long-standing dispute between the Cherokee Freedmen and the second largest tribe in the United States.

Freedmen have long argued that the Treaty of 1866, signed between the U.S. government and the Tahlequah, Oklahoma-based Cherokees, gave them and their descendants "all the rights of native Cherokees." There are around 3,000 freedmen descendants today.

But Cherokee leaders have argued the tribe has the fundamental right to determine its citizens, and in 2007 more than three-fourths of Cherokee voters approved an amendment to remove the Freedmen from tribal rolls.


French Designer Wins Court Case in Dispute with Brad Pitt
Court News | 2017/08/19 23:40
A French lighting designer has won a $600,000 court ruling in a dispute with Brad Pitt over a grandiose re-design of the chateau in Provence that he and Angelina Jolie shared.

But designer Odile Soudant isn’t stopping there. She says her business went under because of Pitt’s refusal to pay for costly architectural reveries, and she’s now fighting for the intellectual property rights to the Chateau Miraval’s lighting design.

Pitt’s representatives argue the project was late and over-budget and the design was Pitt’s brainchild – not hers.

Soudant’s legal actions are the latest challenge for Pitt, who is in protracted divorce proceedings with Jolie.

The couple stayed at the chateau when she gave birth to their twins in nearby Monaco in 2008, launched a wine venture from its vineyards and married there in 2014.


Texas Executes TaiChin Preyor, Who Said Lawyer Used Wikipedia
Court News | 2017/07/24 16:08
The state of Texas executed TaiChin Preyor on Thursday night after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a last-minute appeal.

Preyor, 46, was put to death by lethal injection at a state corrections unit in Huntsville in the fatal stabbing of Jami Tackett during a drug-related robbery in 2004, The Associated Press reported. He claimed he acted in self-defense but was convicted of capital murder.

Preyor had argued that a previous attorney collaborated with a disbarred lawyer, relied on Wikipedia and double-billed his family and the court.

The attorney who handled Preyor's initial appeal was a real-estate specialist from Beverly Hills, Calif., who partnered with a man who had been disbarred for incompetence 15 years earlier — without informing the court, Preyor said in his latest motions.

"The federal habeas petition the duo filed in the District Court was so facially inadequate that it subsequently became its own ironic meme, circulated among habeas attorneys as an example of what not to do," Preyor's eleventh-hour appeal argued.

The California attorney had never appeared in a case in Texas state court, and a 2014 printout in her files showed that she did not do research about the death penalty in Texas until it was too late.

"It appears she relied on Wikpedia, of all things, to learn the complex ins and outs of Texas capital-punishment law," the motion reads.

"Her files included a copy of the Wikipedia page titled, 'Capital punishment in Texas,' with a post-it note stating 'Research' next to highlighted passages of 'habeas corpus appeals' and 'subsequent or successive writ applications.'"

Preyor's mother paid the duo $45,000 for their services, but the lawyer also billed the court for representing Preyor, the motion said.

"Preyor cannot be bound by the acts of two incompetent charlatans," the new lawyers wrote in their Supreme Court petition. The previous attorney did not respond to a request for comment.

In its response to Preyor's appeal, the state said the inmate failed to show that what his ex-lawyer did "amounts to fraud on the court." The state also said Preyor had waited too long to make his claim, which was filed two weeks before his execution.


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