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Legal news from Thursday, July 14, 2005




BREAKING NEWS ~ Rehnquist denies retirement rumors
Holly Manges Jones on July 14, 2005 9:25 PM ET

[JURIST] AP is reporting that US Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist is spurning rumors of his retirement after admission to the hospital [JURIST report] this week for a fever, saying he will serve as long as his health allows him. "I am not about to announce my retirement," he is quoted as saying in a statement.

9:40 PM ET - The full statement obtained by AP reads:

I want to put to rest the speculation and unfounded rumors of my imminent retirement. I am not about to announce my retirement. I will continue to perform my duties as chief justice as long as my health permits.
AP now has more.





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Senators urge legislation to define Gitmo prisoner status
Holly Manges Jones on July 14, 2005 8:44 PM ET

[JURIST] US Senators said Thursday at a Senate Armed Services subcommittee hearing [witness list, statements] that Congress should enact legislation to define the legal status of prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay, while the Pentagon called such a plan too restrictive since present laws enable the US to detain the prisoners for an unlimited period of time. Republican Senators Lindsey Graham (SC), John McCain (AZ) and John Warner (VA) [official websites] are spearheading legislation to clarify the current "enemy combatant" title and what it means legally for detainee prosecutions. They contend the legislation is necessary to prevent a further tarnishing of the United States' international reputation and to stop retaliation against US soldiers. European nations and human rights advocacy groups have said the label "enemy combatant" [JURIST news archive] is not recognized in international law and the detainees should be given rights as prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention. Reuters has more.






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Female senators call on O'Connor to reconsider resignation
Holly Manges Jones on July 14, 2005 7:32 PM ET

[JURIST] Four leading women in the US Senate Thursday asked Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor to reconsider her resignation [press release] if Justice William Rehnquist makes the decision to retire. The request from Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) [official websites] came after Justice Rehnquist was admitted to the hospital [JURIST report] for a fever earlier this week and speculation on his retirement was rekindled. The group said they would "strongly recommend" O'Connor's appointment as Chief Justice if Rehnquist steps down, a possibility also raised Sunday on Face the Nation [transcript, PDF] by Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) [official website], Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website], and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT). AP has more.






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Ethiopia ending ban on election protests
Holly Manges Jones on July 14, 2005 6:47 PM ET

[JURIST] The Ethiopian government has said that it will not renew a ban on post-election demonstrations against accusations of election fraud [JURIST report] after it expires Friday. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi [official profile] originally instituted a month-long ban against protests in and near the country's capital beginning on the May 15 election day, but it was extended after demonstrations ensued over the provisional election tallies. The government asserts that 26 people were killed during the demonstrations, while the Ethiopian Human Rights Council [official website] claims over 36 deaths actually occurred [JURIST report] as it continues to investigate reports of missing people. Government Information Minister Bereket Simeon has denied there are still people missing and said an extension on the ban is not necessary because the "situation is very calm" as people wait for the results of votes currently being investigated by the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) [official website]. The Electoral Board confirmed the voting results for 307 constituencies [NEBE press release] last week. Voice of America has more; listen to the VOA report here [audio].






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NHL, players reach agreement in principle to end record sports lockout
Holly Manges Jones on July 14, 2005 6:45 PM ET

[JURIST] The NHL [official website] and the National Hockey League Players' Association (NHLPA) [official website] have come to an agreement in principle [NHL and NHLPA joint statement], ending the longest labor interruption in North American professional sports history. The two groups wrapped up a nine-day collective bargaining session with the agreement, which must still be ratified by the NHL and the players' association. Throughout the 301-day work stoppage, the NHLPA players were locked out [JURIST report] after refusing to come to an agreement regarding salary caps and the 2004-2005 hockey season was ultimately cancelled [JURIST report]. The ratification process is expected to take place next week after which time details of the agreement will be released. From Toronto, the National Post has local coverage.






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States brief ~ WI Supreme Court rules damage cap unconstitutional
Rachel Felton on July 14, 2005 3:31 PM ET

[JURIST] Leading Thursday's states brief, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled [text] today that the state's cap on medical malpractice noneconomic damage awards is unconstitutional because it violates the equal protection guarantees of the state constitution [PDF text] and the legislature's rationale for implementing the cap was too broad and speculative to accept. Noneconomic damages include compensation for mental distress, loss of enjoyment of normal activity, and loss of society and companionship. The legislature approved a $350,000 limit on such damages in medical malpractice awards, with adjustments for inflation, in 1995. Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce [official website] President James S. Haney said the ruling has "terrible implications for the Wisconsin economy." AP has more.

In other state legal news ...

  • A unanimous Nevada Supreme Court ruled [PDF text] Thursday that parents have no constitutional guarantee to a lawyer in legal proceedings to terminate the custody of their children. Instead, the right to counsel must be assessed on a case-by-case basis. The ruling was the result of an appeal by a mother who claimed her court-appointed attorney failed to properly represent her during a parental rights termination hearing. AP has more.

  • The Wisconsin Supreme Court has denied a former police officer's request for documents relating to a 2000 sexual harassment investigation against him under the state's Open Records Law [text]. The opinion [text] found that the documents fall into an exception under the Open Records Law because they request was made during an ongoing investigation and stated, "Disclosure would also expose the names with statements of informants who were promised confidentiality for their cooperation in the internal investigation." Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson criticized the majority for "creating a rule that unfortunately can be applied in a broad array of cases to deny access to records." The law requires record holders to balance the public's interest in releasing the documents against the government's interest in keeping them private. AP has more.

  • Missouri Governor Matt Blunt has repealed a 2003 early release law which allowed certain nonviolent felons with no prior prison time to seek release after serving 120 days, even though their sentence may have called for years more. According to the Missouri Department of Corrections [official website], only 44 of the 1,011 prisoner requests for early release were granted. The governor also signed additional legislation [Governor's press release] which creates new crimes; increases penalties for certain sex crimes, theft, voter fraud, and traffic offenses; and requires sex offenders whose victims are less than 14 to remain on lifetime electronic surveillance. AP has more.





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UN panel condemns US trial of Castro spies
Tom Henry on July 14, 2005 3:15 PM ET

[JURIST] The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention [official website] Thursday condemned the 2001 Miami federal court conviction of five Cubans who spied on US anti-Castro groups ["Free the Five" advocacy website], calling their long jail terms - including three life sentences - "arbitrary." In an opinion obtained by Reuters on Thursday, the independent five-person panel of lawyers said that the trial lacked "objectivity and impartiality," and also noted that the five had been held in solitary confinement for 17 months prior to trial. The UN group, whose rulings are not binding on countries, urged the US government "to adopt the necessary steps to remedy the situation." Reuters has more.






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Slovak court puts ratification of EU constitution on hold
Jamie Sterling on July 14, 2005 2:35 PM ET

[JURIST] The Slovak Constitutional Court [official website] Thursday delayed Slovakia's ratification of the European Constitution [JURIST news archive], approved in the country's parliament two months ago. Thirteen Slovak citizens filed a complaint [Slovensko report] with the court, arguing that the Constitution should be put to a vote in a public referendum, effectively invalidating the parliament's ratification. The court issued an additional injunction so that the constitution's ratification by President Ivan Gasparovic [Wikipedia profile] is delayed. The Constitutional Court must still decide if parliament's ratification is admissible, or whether a new constitutional bill must be passed for Slovakia's to enter another state entity, on which a vote by referendum is required. Xinhuanet has more.






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First Vioxx trial begins in Texas state court
Jamie Sterling on July 14, 2005 2:20 PM ET

[JURIST] The first trial against pharmaceutical drug company Merck & Co. [corporate website] for distributing the drug Vioxx [JURIST news archive] while aware of an increased chance of heart attack and stroke began Thursday in Texas with opening statements from both sides. The state trial, the first of some 3,800 lawsuits to go to court, involves widow Carol Ernst, who claims that her husband died of arrythmia after taking VIOXX for arthritis in his hands. Lawyers for Ernst claimed that Merck downplayed studies showing the side effects of VIOXX until they were forced to take the drug off the market [FDA Senate testimony] after a 2002 FDA study that showed it doubled a user's risk of heart attack or stroke [FDA public health advisory]. Merck's lawyers claimed that there is no proven link between VIOXX and arrythmia. AP has more.






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International brief ~ Pakistan province passes Islamic moral policing law
D. Wes Rist on July 14, 2005 1:50 PM ET

[JURIST] Leading Thursday's international brief, Pakistan's North West Frontier Province [Wikipedia profile] has passed a controversial law [Pakistan Times report] reminiscent of Afghan regulatons under the former Taliban regime that will allow the government to monitor individuals' compliance with Islamic principles. The bill creates the office of "mohtasib," which will be filled by an Islamic cleric responsible for ensuring that Islamic values are adhered to in public places, as well as monitoring content in the media to ensure "publications are useful for the promotion of Islamic values". The bill was passed by the conservative Mutahida Majlis Amal, a six-party alliance that is the ruling party in the Frontier Province. Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain [Wikipedia profile], president of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League political party, called the bill unconstitutional and warned that it would cause tension between provincial governments and the national government. There is no word on the punishments for failure to conform to the bill. BBC News has more.

In other international legal news ...

  • Sources within China's 10th National People's Congress [official website] have stated that China's Criminal Procedure Law [text] has been placed on the legislative agenda for 2006 for a comprehensive revision. The sources said that legislators were especially concerned about provisions that allow torture to be used during police investigations [JURIST report] and permit evidence obtained by torture to be used in criminal proceedings. The willingness to revise the law is prompted by several high profile cases [JURIST report] where evidence obtained through torture was used to convict individuals later determined to be innocent, including one man executed for a rape/murder where the real killer was later identified and captured by police. Several Chinese academic legal experts have called the use of confessions obtained through torture to be China's "biggest unfairness" in their criminal justice system. JURIST's Paper Chase has continuing coverage of China [JURIST news archive]. China Daily has local coverage.

  • Director of the Asia-Pacific department of the International Federation of Journalists [advocacy website] has accused the Nepalese government [official website] of lying to the representatives of several international media rights organizations concerning the current situation of journalists in Nepal following the abolition of the elected government [JURIST report] on February 1. Jacqueline Park said that Nepalese officials had told the mission that journalists were able to write freely and had not been interfered with but that the mission had personally observed three journalists imprisoned for covering the Maoist rebellion. Park maintained that the mission's investigations had demonstrated that journalists operated under serious risk in Nepal. JURIST's Paper Chase has continuing coverage of Nepal [JURIST news archive]. Kantipur Online has local coverage.

  • Families of Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korea [government website, have requested that Japan [government website] extradite Shin Gwang-su, the self-confessed kidnapper of dozens of Japanese citizens in the 1960s and '70s. Shin, held as a political prisoner in South Korea until his repatriation in 2000 and treated as a national hero in North Korea, was recently revealed as the trainer of several other known kidnappers, and Japanese police officials have filed an international arrest warrant should he ever leave North Korea. JURIST's Paper Chase has continuing coverage of Japan [JURIST news archive]. Chosun Ilbo has local coverage.





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FCC drops discussion of media ownership rules from meeting agenda
Jamie Sterling on July 14, 2005 1:38 PM ET

[JURIST] The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) [official wesbite] dropped a scheduled review of its media ownership rules from the agenda of its scheduled monthly open meeting [FCC release] Thursday. Some of the restrictive rules had been overturned [PDF opinion] by the US Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, a decision that the US Supreme Court recently let stand without comment [JURIST report], leaving reconsideration up to the FCC. The Commission had been expected to ask for public comment, the first step in the formulation of new rules, but the unexpected exclusion of the item from the agenda may be indicative of problems the commissioners are having agreeing on an appropriate process. AP has more.






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Rehnquist released from hospital
Tom Henry on July 14, 2005 1:30 PM ET

[JURIST] US Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist [JURIST news archive] has been released from hospital after a two-night stay. He had been "admitted for observation and tests" Wednesday with a high fever, fueling debate [AP report] over the prospect of his retirement. AP has more.






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Federal jury recommends death sentence in first VT capital trial for half-century
David Shucosky on July 14, 2005 1:10 PM ET

[JURIST] A federal jury in Vermont Thursday recommended the death penalty for Donald Fell, convicted [JURIST report] in June of kidnapping and murdering a supermarket worker [Rutland Herald report; case archives] in 2000. Vermont hasn't executed a convict since 1954, and the last death sentence given in 1957 was later commuted. The state formally abolished the death penalty in 1987. The federal government took jurisdiction of the case and brought the federal court proceeding [JURIST report] since Fell kidnapped his victim in Vermont and murdered her in New York. On appeal, the US Second Circuit allowed federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty [Rutland Herald report]. In 2001, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft nixed an agreement by Fell to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence. AP has more.






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NY authorizes direct wine shipments in aftermath of Supreme Court ruling
Tom Henry on July 14, 2005 11:16 AM ET

[JURIST] New York Gov. George Pataki [official website] Wednesday signed a bill [press release] allowing the direct shipment of wines into and out of New York, ending limitations that have hampered wine sales since the repeal of Prohibition more than 70 years ago and allowing New York wine enthusiasts to receive wine by mail from wineries all over the US. A May 2005 US Supreme Court ruling [JURIST report; PDF opinion] struck down as discriminatory laws in New York and Michigan that allowed in-state wineries to ship directly to consumers but barred out-of-state wineries from participating in the same practice. Jim Trezise, president of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation [foundation website], praised the move by Pataki and said it would "transform the industry from a local curiosity into a national player." The new law takes effect in one month. AP has more.






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UN urges Colombia not to approve paramilitary amnesty bill
David Shucosky on July 14, 2005 11:01 AM ET

[JURIST] The UN's Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances [official website] has joined Amnesty International [press release] in asking Colombian President Alvaro Uribe not to ratify the Justice and Peace Law, which was recently approved by the legislature [JURIST report]. The bill is designed to encourage former paramilitary soldiers and warlords to disarm, but rights groups are concerned that the law doesn't ensure cooperation with investigations into human rights violations. BBC News has more.






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Indian trust case settlement likely, says McCain
David Shucosky on July 14, 2005 10:21 AM ET

[JURIST] Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs [official website], said Wednesday he expects a settlement in the Corbell v. Norton lawsuit [plaintiffs website] brought by American Indians for back trust royalties owed to them by the US government. But he said the $27.5 billion figure sought is too high, doubting Congress would authorize such a payout. The suit claims the US Department of the Interior [official website] mismanaged resource royalty claims related to Indian lands dating back to 1887. The suit was filed in 1996, and the court has held both Clinton-era Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt and current Secretary Gale Norton in contempt in connection with problems related to government record-keeping. It made news again earlier this week after the federal judge presiding in the case slammed the Interior Department [JURIST report] for management lapses and ordered it to tell Indian trust claimants that it may have provided inaccurate information to them. AP has more.






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Federal appeals court upholds patent verdict against Microsoft
Tom Henry on July 14, 2005 9:59 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit [official website] Wednesday upheld [PDF opinion] a lower court decision that Microsoft Corp. was liable for infringing on an AT&T Corp. patent for converting speech into computer code in copies of Windows operating system sold abroad. The Court said that the software giant had distributed codec technology, used to compress speech signals into data, without authorization from AT&T. In March 2004 Microsoft settled the majority of AT&T's outstanding claims [Microsoft/AT&T press statement] but the two companies could not come to an understanding on the issue of codec technology. Reuters has more.






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Senators introduce bipartisan Patriot Act extension bill
David Shucosky on July 14, 2005 9:59 AM ET

[JURIST] While amended measures to extend the Patriot Act were approved Wednesday by the House Intelligence Committee [JURIST report] and the House Judiciary Committee [JURIST report], Senators introduced their own bipartisan bill setting restrictions and time limits. SB 1389, introduced by Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) [official website] would provide for increased reporting of how the act is used, increase requirements for certain warrants, wiretaps, and electronic monitoring, and make three controversial parts of the act - including roving wiretaps and library monitoring [New York Times report] temporary rather than permanent. Senator Feinstein's office has issued a press release. The Bush Administration has pushed for a complete renewal of the act, while civil liberties groups and Russ Feingold (D-WI), the only Senator to vote against the original Patriot Act [Senate floor speech, October 2001], said the new legislation doesn't do enough to protect individual rights. The Washington Post has more.






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Annan backs Security Council expansion; US still opposes G-4 plan
David Shucosky on July 14, 2005 9:32 AM ET

[JURIST] As UN General Assembly debate continued Wednesday on a proposed expansion of the UN Security Council, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan weighed in on the general proposition, telling reporters, "The council can be more democratic and more representative." The US supports expansion in principle [US General Assembly address], but is opposed the so-called G-4 plan [JURIST report], which would add six permanent seats and four rotating seats to the 15-nation council, although veto powers would not be expanded beyond the present "Big Five" of the US, Russia, China, France, and the UK. Russia and China are also opposed [Xinhuanet report] to the G-4 draft, but France and England approve. The proposal, requiring 128 votes in the 191-nation General Assembly to pass, seems likely to fail [AP report]. Reuters has more.






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Review of UK deportation laws ordered
Tom Henry on July 14, 2005 9:23 AM ET

[JURIST] UK Home Secretary Charles Clarke [official website] on Thursday ordered an immediate review of his exclusion and deportation powers. The move in the wake of the London bombings comes after British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Wednesday that his government would tighten border controls [JURIST report] to keep out individuals preaching religious hatred and would take steps to deport from the United Kingdom those already doing so. Clarke briefed the Cabinet Thursday about his proposals to ensure that any non-British citizen suspected of terror incitement is deported immediately and to review all cases where people barred from entering other countries seek entry into the UK. Clarke is expected to meet with opposition leaders David Davis and Mark Oaten next Monday to discuss the changes. BBC News has more.






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Putin puts Russian prisons under Justice Ministry in rights reform
David Shucosky on July 14, 2005 9:15 AM ET

[JURIST] Russian President Vladimir Putin [official website] Wednesday signed a decree [press release] handing control of the country's prisons over to the Russian Ministry of Justice [official website, in Russian]. The move comes in response to pressure from the Council of Europe [official website], which made such prison reforms a condition of Russian membership [COE membership resolution] in the group in 1996. The country's security services [FSB Wikipedia backgrounder; official website, in Russian] previously ran the prisons. AP has more.






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Chilean congress makes changes to Pinochet constitution
Tom Henry on July 14, 2005 8:52 AM ET

[JURIST] Chile's Senate on Wednesday passed reforms to the country's constitution [text] put in place by former dictator Augusto Pinochet [Wikipedia profile] that reduce the presidential term to four years from six and limit military build-up. Sen. Sergio Fernandez, who worked as a co-author to the 25-year-old Constitution, called the changes "an important step that will allow for . . . modernization." Under the new reforms all senators will now be elected, cutting out 10 appointed senate seats, and the possibility of the military exerting influence over court appointments has been eliminated. Reuters has more.






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US proposes UN resolution clarifying terror associations
David Shucosky on July 14, 2005 8:49 AM ET

[JURIST] The US on Wednesday unveiled a draft of a UN Security Council [official website] resolution that would more clearly define associations with groups such as al Qaeda and the Taliban. Currently, sanctions impose weapons and travel bans along with asset freezes on individuals or groups "associated" with them. The US resolution would target those who "participate in financing, planning, facilitating, preparing, perpetrating, or otherwise supporting activities of terrorist acts". No date for a vote is planned yet, but discussion of the resolution should begin next week. Reuters has more.






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Sunnis allege more abuse by Shiite security forces in Iraq
David Shucosky on July 14, 2005 8:36 AM ET

[JURIST] Sunni clerics complained of more rights abuses by Iraq's mostly-Shiite security forces in Iraq on Wednesday, further complicating efforts to encourage Sunni participation [JURIST report] in Iraq's political process. The bodies of 11 Sunni men - including one cleric - were found on Wednesday after they were rounded up police and allegedly tortured, just three days after nine workers, all Sunnis, were detained on suspicion of involvement in the insurgency and were locked up in a metal container for 14 hours, where they suffocated [JURIST report]. Iraq has admitted to abuses [JURIST report] by its security forces, which have also drawn the concern of the US military [JURIST report]. AP has more.






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Russia demands extradition of former Yukos executive
David Shucosky on July 14, 2005 8:09 AM ET

[JURIST] Russia has demanded the extradition from the United States of Leonid Nevzlin [2003 Forbes profile], a former Yukos [JURIST news archive] executive and majority shareholder accused of ordering murders. Nevzlin now lives in exile in Israel, but was in the US Wednesday to address the Helsinki Commission [official website] to discuss how the scandal and eventual conviction of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky has affected business and politics in Russia. Russian officials objected to the meeting [RIA Novosti report] and requested he be extradited [RIA Novosti report]. Nevzlin fled to Israel and was granted citizenship shortly before Khodorkovsky was arrested. Israel has previously said there wasn't enough evidence for them to allow extradition. Reuters has more.

In a related development, the Russian Supreme Court Thursday approved a 20-year sentence [AP report] handed down to former Yukos executive Alexei Pichugin for his roles in organizing murders. His lawyers said they planned to appeal [RIA Novosti report] to the European Court of Human Rights [official website].






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