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Myanmar court grants bail for editor in defamation case
Lawyer Blog Post | 2017/08/02 16:11
A court in Myanmar granted bail Friday to a newspaper editor who is being tried under a controversial defamation statute in a telecommunications law.

Kyaw Min Swe, chief editor of The Voice Daily, was arrested in June for publishing online a satirical article that allegedly mocked the efforts of the military to reach a peace agreement with ethnic minority groups.

His previous requests for bail had been rejected, but during his ninth appearance in court, the judge granted his release on bail of 10 million kyats ($7,000).

He was charged under Article 66(D) of the Telecommunications Law, which broadly defines defamation and carries a penalty of up to three years' imprisonment.

Rights groups decry the article as a restriction on freedom of expression, but the country's parliament this week turned down a bid to drop the article and decriminalize the offense.

One of the newspaper's columnists, Kyaw Zwa Naing, was also arrested on June 2 under Article 66(D), but the charge against him was dropped last month.



Court: Violence law unfair to gay South Carolina couples
Lawyer Blog Post | 2017/07/27 16:08
People in same-sex relationships in South Carolina should get the same legal protections against domestic violence as heterosexual couples, the state's highest court ruled Wednesday, deeming a portion of the state's domestic violence law unconstitutional.

The court was asked to weigh in after a woman tried to get a protective order against her former fiancée, also a woman, and was denied.

Current law defines "household members" as a spouse, former spouse, people with a child in common, or men and women who are or have lived together. It does not include unmarried same-sex couples.

Acting Justice Costa Pleicones, who wrote the majority opinion, said during oral arguments in March 2016 that he felt the law was "pretty clearly unconstitutional in its discriminatory impact upon same-sex couples."

In his opinion, Pleicones pointed out lawmakers have over the years addressed the definition of "household members" as covered under domestic violence protections in 1994, amending the language from "persons" living together to "male and female." In 2015, during a massive overhaul of South Carolina's criminal domestic violence law, legislators made changes including increasing penalties for offenders but left the gender-based definition intact.

The U.S. Constitution's Equal Protection Clause, the court wrote, states, "No state shall ... deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws," such as a benefit offered to one class of person but not others.

"In this case, we cannot find a reasonable basis for providing protection to one set of domestic violence victims - unmarried, cohabiting or formerly cohabiting, opposite-sex couples - while denying it to others," the court wrote.

Other states have addressed this issue since the U.S. Supreme Court's 2015 decision legalizing gay marriage nationwide. The Ohio Supreme Court in 2016 adopted the use of gender-neutral references in family court cases. California and Massachusetts proactively changed language in their laws.


Court raises chances of diesel bans in German city
Lawyer Blog Post | 2017/07/23 16:08
A court opened the door on Friday for possible bans on older diesel cars in the German city of Stuttgart, a major auto industry center, upholding a complaint by an environmental group.

The city's administrative court ordered the state government in Baden-Wuerttemberg to rework a plan to improve the air quality in Stuttgart, saying that it wouldn't bring improvements sufficiently fast, news agency dpa reported.

The state has been trying to avoid unpopular bans on diesel cars thanks to automakers' pledges to retrofit vehicles. But judge Wolfgang Kern said that a year-round ban would the most effective way of keeping to permitted nitrogen dioxide levels, which Stuttgart often exceeds.

The Environmental Action Germany group challenged a clean air plan for Stuttgart that is due to take effect in January.

Friday's ruling leaves open whether, when and how diesel models might be banned. But it increases pressure on German politicians at a time when diesel is under intense scrutiny.

The industry is currently looking for a way out of persistent troubles over excessive diesel emissions, and the government is hosting a meeting with auto bosses next week to discuss ways to reduce them.


Kansas faces skeptical state Supreme Court on school funding
Lawyer Blog Post | 2017/07/18 09:14
Attorneys for Kansas will try to convince an often skeptical state Supreme Court on Tuesday that the funding increase legislators approved for public schools this year is enough to provide a suitable education for kids statewide.

The high court is hearing arguments about a new law that phases in a $293 million increase in education funding over two years. The justices ruled in March that the $4 billion a year in aid the state then provided to its 286 school districts was inadequate, the latest in a string of decisions favoring four school districts that sued Kansas in 2010.

The state argues that the increase is sizable and that new dollars are targeted toward helping the under-performing students identified as a particular concern in the court's last decision.

But lawyers for the Dodge City, Hutchinson, Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas, school districts argue that lawmakers fell at least $600 million short of adequately funding schools over two years. They also question whether the state can sustain the spending promised by the new law, even with an income tax increase enacted this year.

The court has ruled previously that the state constitution requires legislators to finance a suitable education for every child. In past hearings, justices have aggressively questioned attorneys on both sides but have not been shy about challenging the state's arguments.

The court is expected to rule quickly. Attorneys for the districts want the justices to declare that the new law isn't adequate and order lawmakers to fix it by Sept. 1 — only a few weeks after the start of the new school year.



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