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With court victory, hand of Brazil's president strengthened
Law Firm News | 2017/06/11 17:21
Fighting to save his job, Brazilian President Michel Temer has received a huge boost from a decision by the country's top electoral court to reject allegations of illegal campaign finance and keep him in office.

The Superior Electoral Tribunal's 4-3 vote late Friday gave Temer a lifeline amid widespread calls that he resign in the face of a corruption scandal.

Last month, a recording emerged that apparently captured Temer endorsing hush money to ex-House Speaker Eduardo Cunha, a former Temer ally serving 15 years in prison for corruption and money laundering. Soon after, details of another bombshell emerged: that Temer was being investigated for taking bribes.

Temer has denied wrongdoing and vowed to stay in office.

However, the fallout from the scandals was so great that many observers expected that the electoral court judges would be swayed to remove Temer from office over unrelated campaign finance allegations. While in theory Brazilian justices are impartial, in reality they are often highly political. Indeed, two of judges who voted in Temer's favor were his appointees.

"While Temer is hard for many people to digest, he will likely remain in office," said Alexandre Barros, a political risk consultant with the Brasilia-based firm Early Warning. "Instability is bad for everybody. So many will say at this point, 'If we have to pay the price for sticking with Temer, let's do it.'"

While Temer has crossed a huge hurdle to staying in power, he is still facing threats on many fronts. The attorney general is considering pressing charges against him for allegedly receiving bribes, over the audio recording and for allegedly trying to obstruct a colossal investigation into billions of dollars in inflated contracts and kickbacks to politicians. Temer's approval rating is hovering around 9 percent and he has a tenuous hold on his ruling coalition.



High court ruling may give voter rights groups a strong tool
Law Firm News | 2017/05/19 09:21
The Supreme Court's ruling that two North Carolina congressional districts relied too heavily on race should give voting-rights advocates a potent tool to fight other electoral maps drawn to give Republicans an advantage in the state.

The justices agreed Monday with a federal court that had struck down two congressional districts as illegally race-based. Because those districts were already redrawn for the 2016 election, the ruling doesn't require immediate changes from North Carolina. But it looms large in other battles unfolding over voting districts there and elsewhere.

Also pending before the high court is a separate challenge to North Carolina state House and Senate districts that have helped the GOP cement veto-proof majorities in both chambers.

A lawyer challenging the General Assembly districts said legislative mapmakers used similar reasoning to defend the congressional and legislative maps, so Monday's ruling bolsters her cause.

"It's abundantly clear that what the state of North Carolina did in drawing its legislative districts cannot withstand constitutional muster," Anita Earls of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice said in a phone interview.

In the case Earls is arguing, a federal court had previously thrown out 28 state House and Senate districts as illegal racial gerrymanders. But earlier this year the Supreme Court temporarily halted an order to redraw those legislative districts. The justices could act on the challenge to the state districts as early as next week.

In recent years, the Supreme Court has ruled for civil rights groups and black voters in challenges to political districts in Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia.

A Democratic group led by former Attorney General Eric Holder is focusing on redistricting challenges to counter political gains Republicans have made since the 2010 census and the redrawing of electoral districts that followed.


Court document: Hawaii mother’s body parts found in freezer
Law Firm News | 2017/04/16 16:27
A Hawaii man accused of killing his mother months ago stuffed her dismembered body parts in seven plastic bags in the kitchen freezer of the Waikiki apartment they shared, according to court documents made public Monday.

Yu Wei Gong has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of Liu Yun Gong.

He called 911 on April 11 and said: “’I killed my Mom,’” according to a detective’s affidavit supporting an arrest warrant. When officers arrived and could not find the woman, Gong told them she was “in the fridge,” the complaint said.  

An officer found what appeared to be body parts.

“Another covered object in the freezer felt to a different officer like a human leg and foot,” the complaint said.

Yu Wei Gong didn’t speak or enter a plea during a brief court appearance Monday. Deputy Public Defender Diamond Grace requested a Mandarin interpreter for his preliminary hearing, scheduled for Wednesday. He remained in custody with bail set at $2 million.

Grace didn’t immediately return a phone message seeking comment after the hearing.

Authorities say Yu Wei Gong told officers that he accidentally killed his mother in September after she became angry when the 26-year-old said he wanted to work instead of going to school.

Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Rachel Lange determined Liu Yun Gong had suffered blunt force injuries to the head, the complaint said. Her identity was confirmed by comparing fingerprints to those on file under her Hawaii driver’s license.

The manager of the apartment building where they lived told police he had not seen the man’s mother since before Christmas, the complaint said.

It said Liu Yun Gong did not show up for work on Aug. 21, 2016. When a supervisor called her phone, it went unanswered. Yu Wei Gong called the supervisor the next day, saying his mother was on another Hawaiian island and had left her phone at home.

Three women watched the hearing and said outside court they wanted to support Gong spiritually because he had attended their church.


Baldwin's Supreme Court nominee fight is early flashpoint
Law Firm News | 2017/04/06 23:29
Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin's support for a filibuster to block President Donald Trump's pick for the U.S. Supreme Court has become an early flashpoint as she faces re-election next year.

While Baldwin and Republicans, including her Wisconsin colleague Sen. Ron Johnson, trade barbs over the nomination of Neil Gorsuch, voters back home in a state that went for Trump in November worry about the continued erosion of bipartisanship and increasing polarization in Washington.

"Nobody is making any concessions and I think this is going to be the downfall of both parties," said Anna Street, a 56-year-old nurse from West Allis, on Tuesday.

Baldwin voted Thursday to support a Democratic filibuster in an attempt to stop Gorsuch's nomination to the nation's highest court, while Johnson voted to end debate. Baldwin argues that Trump should put forward someone who could get enough bipartisan support to garner 60 votes and overcome any filibuster.

But Republicans, on a party-line vote with Johnson in support and Baldwin opposed, changed Senate rules on Thursday to eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, a move labeled the "nuclear option" because it would unravel Senate traditions that have led to reaching bipartisan consensus.

"Republicans and Democrats ought to get to a point where they're talking to each other and not go on with this," said Roger Sunby, a retired public education administrator from Mount Horeb. He said Gorsuch would be confirmed no matter what action Democrats take.

Republicans see Baldwin's opposition to Gorsuch as a vulnerability. Johnson, Gov. Scott Walker and other Republicans have been attacking Baldwin as being out of the "mainstream" because of her opposition to Gorsuch.

Baldwin argues that it's not her, but Gorsuch, who is out of the mainstream, citing his rulings "against disabled students, against workers, and against women's reproductive health care."

Baldwin said in a statement after her votes Thursday that she has "deep concerns" about Gorsuch's record and that she wants a justice who will serve as a check on the executive branch.

"Based on his record and the many questions he has chosen to leave unanswered, I don't have confidence Judge Gorsuch would be that justice and I oppose his confirmation to our highest court," she said.

Baldwin backers argue that her support for a filibuster will only further bolster her bona fides among liberals as someone willing to stand up to Trump.


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