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Legal news from Thursday, August 26, 2010




Prosecutors drop all charges against Blagojevich's brother
Megan McKee on August 26, 2010 3:39 PM ET

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[JURIST] Federal prosecutors announced Thursday that they would dismiss all charges against Robert Blagojevich, the brother of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich [JURIST news archive]. Robert Blagojevich faced four counts for his suspected involvement in the alleged conspiracy to sell the Senate seat left vacant by President Barack Obama. In a hearing Thursday before Judge James Zagel of the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois [official website], prosecutors announced that they would proceed with their case against Rod Blagojevich. While Rod Blagojevich was found guilty [JURIST report] earlier this month of making false statements to the FBI, the jury was deadlocked on the 23 additional charges. Zagel announced that the retrial of Rod Blagojevich will likely begin in early January.

Rod and Robert Blagojevich and four associates were indicted [JURIST report] on corruption charges in April 2009 by a federal grand jury. Rod Blagojevich was charged with numerous felonies including wire fraud, attempted extortion, racketeering conspiracy, extortion conspiracy and making false statements. The indictment alleged that the suspects systematically planned to use Blagojevich's office for their own gain, including conspiring to sell or trade the Senate seat left vacant by Obama, obtaining illegal campaign contributions, and threatening to withhold assistance to the Chicago Tribune with the sale of Wrigley Field unless two editorial writers who had been critical of Blagojevich were fired. In January 2009, the Illinois State Senate voted unanimously [JURIST report] to convict Blagojevich of abuse of power and remove him from office.




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EU socialists claim France Roma deportations violate EU law
Christian Ehret on August 26, 2010 12:22 PM ET

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[JURIST] The EU Parliament Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats [official website] on Thursday accused France of violating EU law [press release] by deporting up to 1,000 Roma migrants [JURIST news archive] from the country. The group cited EU directive 38/2004 [text, PDF] for the proposition that EU citizens are free to move within EU territory. The group also raised concerns about allegations of the country fingerprinting deportees, stating that such actions violate the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms [text, PDF] in addition to other laws. Group leader Martin Schulz addressed the group's concerns, stating:
As a founding principle, the EU bans discrimination based on ethnic origin or nationality. This ban is part of the EU's DNA and its identity as a community of values, as defined by the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Now, with the Lisbon Treaty in force, it has the status of binding primary law. ... The recent treatment of Roma people in France was appalling and cannot go unchallenged. Their rights have been abused for populist, electoral reasons by a government that is fast losing support. ... Scenes like those we have recently witnessed in France must never be repeated.
Schulz additionally condemned the European Commission and European Council for failing to act in light of the EU Parliament's recent backing of a strategy for the Roma. Schulz called on the two institutions to account for their inaction.

Last month, French President Nicolas Sarkozy [official website, in French] ordered measures against illegal Roma communities in France and announced legislation [JURIST report] that would make deportation easier. At the time, the French government aimed to dismantle half of illegal Roma camps within three months and to immediately deport all those found to have broken the law. In February, following the alleged rape of a 14-year-old girl by East European immigrants, Italian authorities began dismantling illegal immigrant camps [JURIST report] around Rome that were heavily populated by members of the Roma minority.




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Germany constitutional court rules EU court precedents must be followed
Hillary Stemple on August 26, 2010 11:55 AM ET

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[JURIST] The German Federal Constitutional Court [official website, in German] ruled [judgment, in German; press release, in German] Thursday that German courts must follow precedent established by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) [official website] unless it is clearly a violation of the court's power. The court noted that minor violations of the ECJ's authority would not be enough to disqualify a ruling and that a ruling can be disregarded only if European institutions clearly violate the authority granted to them at the expense of the authority of the member states. The court's ruling came in a case involving a German law that made it easier to limit the employment contracts of workers over the age of 52, which ultimately led younger workers to be better protected by their employment contracts. The ECJ ruled that the law was in violation of an EU general principal [Bloomberg report] against age discrimination. A dissenting opinion in the ruling rejected the majority's finding that there was no violation of ECJ authority in this case and stated that allowing ECJ opinions to set precedent for the member states significantly shifted the structure of power. The ECJ ruling has been controversial in Germany and has been criticized by legal scholars in the country.

Other EU member states have also struggled with the enforcement of ECJ rulings. Earlier this month, the UK High Court suspended the enforcement of an airline regulation [JURIST report] requiring airlines to compensate passengers for flights that are delayed for more than three hours, until the ECJ releases a new ruling on the issue. The ECJ issued its original ruling on the matter [JURIST report] in November, but UK airlines indicated that they believe the ECJ's 2009 ruling was incorrect [trade group report, PDF] and that they would not compensate passengers for delayed flights. The ECJ is not expected to review the case [Travel Weekly report] until 2012.




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UN considers new international tribunal for piracy trials
Andrea Bottorff on August 26, 2010 11:16 AM ET

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[JURIST] The UN Security Council [official website] on Wednesday began considering several options [report text] to help counter ongoing piracy off the coast of Somalia [JURIST news archive], including the creation of a new international tribunal. In a report released last week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] suggested that the UN must establish, or continue to help countries establish, the means to prosecute individuals accused of committing acts of piracy [UN News Centre report], particularly in the high-traffic Indian Ocean and surrounding waters. Ban also explained the challenges facing the UN in pursuing a new international court:
The Security Council request emphasizes the important goal of achieving and sustaining substantive results. A key consideration in this respect would be the need for sufficient political and financial commitment among States, in difficult economic times, not only to establish a new judicial mechanism, but also to sustain it. A new judicial mechanism to address piracy and armed robbery at sea off the coast of Somalia would be addressing a different situation to that addressed by the existing United Nations and United Nations-assisted tribunals. Such a mechanism would face ongoing criminal activity and potentially a large caseload, with no predictable completion date.
Ban's suggestions have met with approval from countries in the Security Council. US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice [official profile] on Wednesday emphasized the need for adequate imprisonment locations [statement], as well as the importance of establishing stability in Somalia [CFR Backgrounder]. China also announced its support of the report [Xinhua report] on Wednesday, highlighting the need for international cooperation on the issue.

In June, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) [official website] announced the opening of a new high-security courtroom in Kenya [JURIST report] established to hear maritime piracy cases as well as cases involving other serious criminal offenses. The courtroom opened after the Kenyan government announced in April that it would no longer accept [JURIST report] Somali pirate cases due to its overburdened legal system and the lack of support that had been promised by the international community. The international community has been supporting actions taken against maritime piracy. The UNODC announced in May that Seychelles would create [JURIST report] a UN-supported center to prosecute suspected pirates. In April, the UN Security Council approved a resolution [JURIST report] calling on member states to criminalize piracy under their domestic laws and urging the Secretary-General to consider an international tribunal for prosecuting piracy.




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Croatia extradites convicted Djindjic assassin to Serbia
Erin Bock on August 26, 2010 8:19 AM ET

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[JURIST] Croatian authorities on Wednesday extradited a man to Serbia for his connection with the 2003 assassination [JURIST report] of former Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic [BBC obituary; memorial website, in Serbian]. Sretko Kalinic was discovered by authorities in Zagreb in June [Xinhua report] after he was shot by a member of the Zemun gang, a Serbian organized crime ring. Kalinic, a dual citizen of Croatia and Serbia, was also a member of the gang [Reuters report], which has been linked to political killings in the early 2000s, including the Djindjic assassination. Kalinic was convicted in absentia in 2007 of plotting the assassination and sentenced to 30 years in jail. He was flown from Zagreb to Belgrade on Wednesday morning in accordance with a recent agreement signed in June between the two countries permitting extradition of organized crime suspects. Kalinic was immediately taken into custody and placed in Belgrade's central prison, where he now has the right to ask for a retrial [BBC report].

A total of 12 men were convicted and sentenced [JURIST report] for their roles in Djindjic's assassination by the Belgrade Special Court in 2007. Milorad Ulemek, a paramilitary commander under Slobodan Milosevic [JURIST news archive] was sentenced to the maximum sentence of 40 years for his role in organizing the assassination. Zvezdan Jovanovic was also sentenced to 40 years for firing the shot that killed Djindjic, though Jovanovic claimed he was illegally forced to sign a confession in 2006 [JURIST report]. The other defendants received sentences ranging from eight to 35 years in prison.




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Wal-Mart appeals class action certification to Supreme Court
Daniel Richey on August 26, 2010 7:30 AM ET

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[JURIST] Wal-Mart [corporate website; JURIST news archive] petitioned [text, PDF] the US Supreme Court [official website] Wednesday to reconsider a decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] affirming class action certification [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] in a gender discrimination case. The company has asked the court to examine whether the appeals court's April ruling was proper under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Due Process Clause, the Seventh Amendment and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 (FRCP) [texts]. Wal-Mart's position is that the class is overbroad and that the Ninth Circuit's decision is inconsistent with certification standards in multiple circuits:
The district court certified a sprawling nationwide class consisting of all current and former female employees of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., estimated at the time to comprise at least 1.5 million women. The Ninth Circuit's 6-5 en banc decision ... adopts standards that violate the rights of both defendants and absent class members and contradicts decisions of this Court and other circuits The Ninth Circuit created an acknowledged three-way circuit split on the standard for determining when claims for monetary relief can be certified as a class action. ... The majority expressly rejected both of the standards previously articulated in the circuits (one of which had been applied by the district court) and announced a new standard, thus exacerbating the long-standing conflict and confusion on this issue in the lower courts.
Wal-Mart also contends that claims for monetary relief cannot be certified under FRCP 23, which it says only applies to claims to injunctive relief.

The case was filed in 2001 by female Wal-Mart employees [class website] who contend that Wal-Mart's nationwide policies result in lower pay for women than men in comparable positions and longer waits for management promotions than men. The Ninth Circuit granted an en banc rehearing [JURIST report] to Wal-Mart last year. According to the order, a majority of the Ninth Circuit judges, excluding the three judges who heard an earlier appeal [JURIST report] in which class certification was upheld, voted in favor of an en banc hearing. A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit originally ruled against Wal-Mart's appeal of the class certification in February 2007, then issued a new opinion [text, PDF] in conjunction with its decision in December 2007. Wal-Mart appealed [JURIST report] to the Ninth Circuit in 2005, arguing that the six lead plaintiffs were not typical or common of the class. Wal-Mart also objected to the size of the class certified, which it said violates its due process rights. Wal-Mart argued that its stores operate independently and should be sued individually, while plaintiffs' lawyers countered that individual lawsuits would be impractical. The district court also rejected Wal-Mart's claim that the class size was "impractical on its face" and approved a statistical formula for paying damages if discrimination is proven.




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