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Inmate in landmark Supreme Court case denied parole
Headline Legal News | 2018/02/18 12:25
A 71-year-old Louisiana inmate whose case led to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision on juvenile-offender sentences was denied parole Monday, more than a half-century after he killed a sheriff's deputy at age 17.

A three-member panel from the state parole board voted 2 to 1 to keep Henry Montgomery imprisoned. The hearing was his first chance at freedom since his conviction decades ago and a vote to free him would have had to be unanimous. Montgomery now must wait another two years before he can request another parole hearing.

The Supreme Court's January 2016 decision in Montgomery's case opened the door for roughly 2,000 other juvenile offenders to argue for their release after receiving mandatory life-without-parole sentences.

Montgomery has served 54 years in prison for shooting East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff's deputy Charles Hurt in 1963, less than two weeks after Montgomery's 17th birthday. Last June, a state judge who resentenced Montgomery to life with the possibility of parole called him a "model prisoner" who seemed to be rehabilitated.

Montgomery's lawyers said he has sought to be a positive role model for other prisoners, serving as a coach and trainer for a boxing team he helped form at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

But the two parole board members who voted against Montgomery questioned why he hadn't accessed more prison programs and services that could have benefited him. One of the panelists, Kenneth Loftin, also said he was disappointed in some of Montgomery's statements during the hearing but didn't elaborate.

James Kuhn, the other board member who voted against Montgomery, noted that the Louisiana Sheriffs' Association submitted a statement opposing his release.

"One of the things that society demands, and police officers certainly demand, is that everyone abide by the rule of law. One of the rules of law is you don't kill somebody, and when you do there's consequences," Kuhn said.



GOP to take new congressional map to court
Headline Legal News | 2018/02/17 12:24
Republicans say they’ll go to federal court this week to try to block new court-ordered boundaries of Pennsylvania’s congressional districts from remaining in effect for 2018’s elections.

Top Senate Republican lawyer Drew Crompton said Monday a separation of powers case will form the essence of the GOP’s argument. Crompton won’t say whether Republicans will go to a district court or the U.S. Supreme Court or what type of legal remedy they’ll seek.

But the case will involve making the argument the U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures and governors, not courts, the power to draw congressional boundaries.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court wouldn’t stop the state court’s order to redraw congressional districts. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf calls the new map an effort to remedy the state’s unfair and unequal congressional elections.

Democratic Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf is applauding the new boundaries of congressional districts being imposed by the state Supreme Court.

Wolf said in a statement Monday that Pennsylvanians “are sick and tired of gerrymandering.” He calls the court’s map an effort to remedy the state’s unfair and unequal congressional elections.

Wolf had backed the Democratic-majority state high court’s ruling last month to throw out Pennsylvania’s district boundaries. Republicans have won 13 of Pennsylvania’s 18 seats in three elections under the invalidated map, although statewide elections are often closely contested.


Wisconsin Supreme Court primary will leave just two
Headline Legal News | 2018/02/11 18:49
The latest battle over the ideological balance of the Wisconsin Supreme Court plays out in the Feb. 20 primary, where one of three candidates will be eliminated a head of a spring election.

Partisan politics have weighed heavy over weeks of campaigning. Madison attorney Tim Burns has most embraced his liberal beliefs, while Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Rebecca Dallet sought to appear as a moderate. Sauk County Circuit Judge Michael Screnock, an appointee of Republican Gov. Scott Walker, has the backing of conservatives.

The primary is the first statewide race this year, and while officially nonpartisan, it could be a bellwether for how Republicans and Democrats stand heading into the fall. Turnout is expected to be low, likely less than 10 percent.

The top two vote-getters advance to the April 3 general election, with the winner replacing outgoing conservative Justice Michael Gableman. He decided against seeking another 10-year term.

The court is currently controlled 5-2 by conservatives, so no matter who wins the ideological control will not change. Burns, who represents clients nationwide in lawsuits against insurance companies, is the only non-judge in the race. He also has little experience litigating in Wisconsin courtrooms, having argued only one case in state court and six in federal court in Wisconsin.

Burns argues his experience outside of Wisconsin is a strength that will help him fix what he views as a broken system. And, he argues a victory for him will energize liberals across the state headed into the fall.

Dallet argues that Burns has gotten too political. But she's walking a fine line trying to win over many of the same liberal voters Burns is appealing to. She ran a commercial attacking Trump and has criticized the current Supreme Court for voting in 2015 to end an investigation into Walker and conservatives.


Court: Ex-West Virginia judge ineligible for benefits
Headline Legal News | 2018/02/10 18:49
The West Virginia Supreme Court has ruled a former judge serving a corruption sentence and his ex-wife are not eligible for public retirement benefits.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports the court Friday affirmed a 2017 ruling from Kanawha County circuit court to terminate ex-Mingo County Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury's membership in retirement systems for public employees and judges.

The justices also denied access by Thornsbury's ex-wife to the benefits she previously were awarded as part of the couple's divorce settlement.

Thornsbury was sentenced in 2014 to four years and two months in federal prison for conspiring to deprive a campaign sign maker of his constitutional rights..

Thornsbury is being held in a federal residential re-entry facility in Nashville, Tennessee, pending his scheduled release on March 15.



Officials ask court to send Kennedy cousin back to prison
Headline Legal News | 2018/01/30 10:09
Connecticut officials are asking the state's highest court to revoke Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel's bail and send him back to prison, reminding justices it has been more than a year since they reinstated his murder conviction.

The chief state's attorney's office filed the request Monday with the state Supreme Court.

Skakel, a nephew of Robert F. Kennedy and his widow, Ethel Kennedy, was convicted of murder in 2002 in the bludgeoning death of Martha Moxley in their wealthy Greenwich neighborhood in 1975, when they were both teenagers.

He was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison. But another judge granted him a new trial in 2013, citing mistakes by his lawyer. Skakel was then freed after being allowed to post $1.2 million bail while he awaited the new trial.

Prosecutors appealed the lower court ruling to the state Supreme Court, which reinstated the conviction in December 2016 in a 4-3 ruling. Skakel's lawyers asked the high court to reconsider the decision — a request that remains pending. Skakel has been allowed to remain free on bail pending that ruling.

In Monday's petition to the Supreme Court, prosecutor James Killen wrote the court's usual practice is to rule on a request to reconsider a decision within weeks, and it's not clear why it is taking so long.


Pennsylvania GOP take gerrymandering case to US high court
Headline Legal News | 2018/01/25 10:12
Pennsylvania's top Republican lawmakers asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday to stop an order by the state's highest court in a gerrymandering case brought by Democrats that threw out the boundaries of its 18 congressional districts and ordered them redrawn within three weeks.

Republicans who control Pennsylvania's Legislature wrote that state Supreme Court justices unconstitutionally usurped the authority of lawmakers to create congressional districts and they asked the nation's high court to put the decision on hold while it considers their claims.

The 22-page argument acknowledged that "judicial activism" by a state supreme court is ordinarily beyond the U.S. Supreme Court's purview. But, it said, "the question of what does and does not constitute a 'legislative function' under the Elections Clause is a question of federal, not state, law, and this Court is the arbiter of that distinction."

Justice Samuel Alito, who handles emergency appeals from Pennsylvania, could ask the registered Democratic voters on the other side of the case to respond. Alito could act on his own, though the full court generally gets involved in cases involving elections. An order could come in a matter of days, although there is no deadline for the justices to act.

Pennsylvania's congressional districts are criticized as among the nation's most gerrymandered. Its case is happening amid a national tide of gerrymandering cases from various states, including some already under consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Election law scholars call the Republicans' request for the U.S. Supreme Court's intervention a long shot.

They say they know of no other state court decision throwing out a congressional map because of partisan gerrymandering, and the nation's high court has never struck down an electoral map as a partisan gerrymander.


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