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Legal news from Tuesday, March 8, 2011




Texas House approves bill requiring ultrasounds before abortions
Daniel Makosky on March 8, 2011 5:27 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Texas House of Representatives [official website] on Monday voted 107-42 [roll call] to approve legislation that requires women seeking an abortion [JURIST news archive] to undergo an ultrasound before the procedure is performed. The bill [HB 15 text; materials] requires doctors to conduct a vaginal ultrasound and display the images at least 24 hours prior to an abortion, and would strip them of their medical licenses should they fail to do so. It is now expected to proceed to a conference committee [Houston Chronicle report] to reconcile with the Senate [official website] version [SB 16 text; materials], passed [roll call vote] last month. Key differences in the Senate bill include a waiting period of only two hours and exceptions from the requirements under certain circumstances, including rape, incest or fetal abnormalities. Once through committee, the legislation will go to Governor Rick Perry [official website] for his signature.

Last month, the Kansas House of Representatives [official website] approved several new abortion restrictions, including one similar to a recent Nebraska act [JURIST reports] that prohibits the procedure after the 20-week mark, when some studies suggest a fetus can begin feeling pain. In December, the Alaska Superior Court upheld a parental consent notification law, whereas in November, Colorado voters rejected an amendment [JURIST reports] that would have granted fetuses a "personhood" status, effectively banning abortion. In June, then-Florida governor Charlie Crist vetoed a bill [JURIST report] that would have required women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound or listen to a detailed description of the fetus before the procedure would be performed. Oklahoma lawmakers approved a bill [JURIST report] in May requiring women seeking an abortion to complete an extensive questionnaire a month after passing laws [JURIST report] prohibiting abortions performed because of a fetus' gender, protecting medical employees who refuse to participate in procedures such as abortion based on religious beliefs, and regulating the use of RU-486, or mifepristone, a chemical used in abortion procedures.




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Federal judge blocks damages in Chevron Ecuador pollution case
Daniel Makosky on March 8, 2011 4:05 PM ET

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[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] on Monday issued a preliminary injunction barring the enforcement of a recent Ecuadorian court judgment against US oil company Chevron [corporate website; JURIST news archive]. The injunction blocks [Reuters report] plaintiffs from attempting to secure $8.6 billion in damages from the company, which were awarded [JURIST report] last month by the Provincial Court of Sucumbios after finding that Texaco, which was acquired by Chevron in 2001, polluted large areas of Ecuador's rain forest. As Chevron does not hold assets in Ecuador, the ruling eliminates the possibility that the plaintiffs will seek enforcement in other countries where the company operates and reserves the final decision on enforcement for the US judicial system. The ruling effectively extends a temporary restraining order [text, PDF] issued last month.

Following last month's verdict, Chevron vowed to appeal [press release] and called the ruling "illegitimate and unenforceable" and "the product of fraud," while the plaintiffs' lawyer also announced his intention to appeal [NYT report] after the court awarded far less than the $113 billion originally sought. Also in February, Chevron filed a lawsuit [press release] against plaintiffs' lawyers and consultants in the case, claiming that professionals for the plaintiffs were attempting to extort Chevron. In July, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld [LAT report] a May ruling [NYT report] by the Southern District of New York ordering filmmaker Joe Berlinger to turn over to Chevron certain outtakes from his 2009 documentary Crude [film website]. Chevron claims the outtakes show plaintiffs' lawyers discussing illegal and unethical tactics, including ghost-writing a court appointed expert's report, intimidating a judge and colluding with government officials. The suit was re-filed in Ecuador [AP report] in 2003 after being dismissed by the Southern District of New York in 1996. Chevron claims that a 1995 cleanup agreement between Ecuador and Texaco, completed in 1998 at a cost of $40 million, absolves Chevron of all liability. Plaintiffs originally filed suit against Texaco, which operated the oil fields from the 1960's until the early 1990's.




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ICC summons 6 Kenya post-election violence suspects
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 8, 2011 3:44 PM ET

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[JURIST] The International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] on Tuesday issued summons [text, PDF; text, PDF] for six Kenyans suspected of inciting the 2007-2008 post-election violence [JURIST news archive]. In December, ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] identified the six suspects, including current Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta and several Ministry heads. All six are believed to have fomented violence, rape and destruction of property during the 30 days of violence. The suspects were summoned to appear before the ICC on April 7 for an initial appearance. This would be followed by a confirmation of charges hearing, after which the court would then need to decide whether the suspects should stand trial.

Earlier in December, Moreno-Ocampo rejected the notion [JURIST report] that threats of violence would delay the prosecution. In November, the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights, which implicated former Cabinet minster William Ruto of interfering with the ICC investigation, denied accusations that it had bribed witnesses [JURIST report]. Moreno-Campo had also said that the court will not use testimony [JURIST report] from three Kenyan witnesses who claim they were bribed to provide false evidence against a high-ranking government official. In September, Kenyan businessman Joseph Gathungu filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality [JURIST report] of the ICC investigation into the post-election violence. Violence following the election left more than 1,100 people dead, 3,500 injured and up to 600,000 forcibly displaced. In addition, there were hundreds of rapes and more than 100,000 different properties were destroyed in Kenya.




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ICC orders Darfur rebels to stand trial over peacekeeper killings
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 8, 2011 2:19 PM ET

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[JURIST] The International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] on Tuesday ordered two Darfur [JURIST news archive] rebel leaders to stand trial [press release] for war crimes. Abdallah Banda Abakaer Nourain (Banda) and Saleh Mohammed Jerbo Jamus (Jerbo) are suspected in connection with the September 2007 attack on African Union (AU) [official website] peacekeeping troops at Haskanita [BBC backgrounder], which resulted in the death of 12 peacekeepers. They are charged with three war crimes: violence to life and attempted violence to life; intentionally directing attacks against personnel, installations, material, units and vehicles involved in a peacekeeping mission; and pillaging. The men surrendered to the ICC in June and agreed not to contest the charges [JURIST reports] at a confirmation of charges hearing.

This will be the ICC's first trial for crimes committed in the Sudan's Darfur region. A third rebel leader, Bahar Idriss Abu Garda, was charged by the ICC earlier this year [case materials] in connection with the attack, but the charges were dropped [JURIST report] due to lack of evidence. Two other suspects, Ahmad Harun and Ali Kushayb, and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir [JURIST news archive], remain at large. Bashir was charged with genocide [JURIST report] in July.




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ICJ orders Costa Rica, Nicaragua personnel from disputed border area
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 8, 2011 1:19 PM ET

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[JURIST] The International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official website] on Tuesday ordered [text, PDF; order summary, PDF] both Costa Rica and Nicaragua to remove all personnel from the disputed border region. Costa Rica filed a complaint with the ICJ [JURIST report] in November accusing Nicaragua of violating its territorial integrity and damaging protected wetlands. Tuesday's order is a preliminary measure while the case is pending before the court. The ICJ unanimously ordered all civilian, police and military personnel out of the area and voted 13-4 to allow Costa Rica to send environmental personnel to the area:
Each Party shall refrain from sending to, or maintaining in the disputed territory, including the cano, any personnel, whether civilian, police or security. ... Costa Rica may dispatch civilian personnel charged with the protection of the environment to the disputed territory, including the cano, but only in so far as it is necessary to avoid irreparable prejudice being caused to the part of the wetland where that territory is situated; Costa Rica shall consult with the Secretariat of the Ramsar Convention in regard to these actions, give Nicaragua prior notice of them and use its best endeavours to find common solutions with Nicaragua in this respect.
Officials from both countries praised the ruling [CP report].

The case centers around Calero Island, a small area of land at the mouth of the San Jose river that has been disputed territory for over a century. The dispute arose last month when Eden Pastora, director of the dredging project, relied on a Google Maps error [Google Maps statement] based on flawed US State Department [official website] information to send troops to the area. In 2009, the ICJ adjudicated another dispute [JURIST report] between Costa Rica and Nicaragua surrounding use of the San Jose river, which separates the two Central American nations. The court ruled [judgment, PDF] in July 2009 that Nicaragua had interfered with Costa Rica's right of free navigation on the San Juan river four years after Costa Rica filed the complaint [case materials] in 2005.




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Federal judge refuses to order additional Exxon Valdez payment
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 8, 2011 12:07 PM ET

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[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the District of Alaska [official website] refused Monday to order Exxon Mobil [corporate website] to pay an additional $92 million in damages from the Exxon Valdez oil spill [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Under a 1991 settlement agreement, Exxon paid $900 million in civil damages. The US and Alaskan government sought in 2006 to reopen the settlement agreement [JURIST report], saying more money was needed to clean up the crude oil that was still tainting Prince William Sound. Environmental activist Rick Steiner had filed a motion seeking court intervention to bring the reopener process to a close. Judge H Russel Holland, who has presided over much of the litigation stemming from 1989 spill, found that the US and Alaskan governments appeared to be close to reaching an agreement [Reuters report] with Exxon Mobil, refusing to order the payment.

In 2009, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ruled that Exxon Mobil owes interest [JURIST report] on the more than $500 million in punitive damages awarded against it following the spill. The US Supreme Court [official website] declined to rule [JURIST report] on the issue the previous year, thus remanding it to the Ninth Circuit. In June 2008, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 to reduce a punitive damages award [JURIST report] to be paid by Exxon from $2.5 billion to $500 million, but did not rule on the issue of interest. In December 2006, the Ninth Circuit reduced [JURIST report] Exxon's original $5 billion punitive damage award by more than $2 billion, ruling that the award was excessive in light of a 2003 Supreme Court ruling that punitive damages must be reasonable and proportionate to the harm incurred, and also considering Exxon's cleanup and compensation efforts. The Valdez dumped 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound and contaminated about 1,300 miles of coastline.




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EU Court of Justice rules against proposed European patent court
John Paul Putney on March 8, 2011 11:26 AM ET

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[JURIST] The European Court of Justice (ECJ) [official website] issued a non-binding advisory opinion [materials] Tuesday that the planned European and Community Patent Court (ECPC) is incompatible with EU law. The ruling is a significant setback for EU governments that have been negotiating for a unified EU patent system for over 30 years. The drive to unify the patent process is fueled in part by the complex process of securing a patent for each individual country in the EU, which requires numerous applications and costly translations. In addition, if litigation arises, litigants must take the dispute to every country where an infraction in occurring making enforcement an onerous task [AP report]. Efforts to establish a unified patent system have been opposed by Italy and Spain in part because the current plan allows for patents to be filed only in English, German or French [European Voice report]. The ECJ summed up its major objection to the proposed ECPC:
[T]he envisaged agreement, by conferring on an international court which is outside the institutional and judicial framework of the European Union an exclusive jurisdiction to hear a significant number of actions brought by individuals in the field of the Community patent and to interpret and apply European Union law in that field, would deprive courts of Member States of their powers in relation to the interpretation and application of European Union law and the Court of its powers to reply, by preliminary ruling, to questions referred by those courts and, consequently, would alter the essential character of the powers which the Treaties confer on the institutions of the European Union and on the Member States and which are indispensable to the preservation of the very nature of European Union law.
EU officials have been quick to note that the ruling is not fatal to a unitary patent regime, but rather to the ECPC which would have adjudicated disputes arising in connection with patents [AP report] in 38 countries including some countries not part of the EU.

In February, the European Parliament [official website] agreed [JURIST report] to the establishment of a common patent system [press release] despite lack of accord from Spain and Italy. The Lisbon Treaty [text] generally requires a unanimous vote from EU member states, but the "enhanced co-operation" [EU backgrounder] provision allows groups of member states to adopt new common rules when unanimity is difficult to achieve. Lawmakers argue that a uniform patent system is necessary [Bloomberg report] to keep European nations competitive with global rivals like China by lowering patent costs for small businesses in particular. The EU has applied the "enhanced co-operation" provision in only one other resolution. In January 2010, the EU employed the provision to enable some EU countries to work together to create uniform marriage laws [JURIST report] for mixed-nationality couples on the grounds that cross-border divorces are often problematic.




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UN rights chief urges Tunisia, Egypt to protect women's rights
John Paul Putney on March 8, 2011 10:24 AM ET

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[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] pressed [statement] Tunisia and Egypt on Tuesday to ensure that women's rights receive constitutional protection and to include women in the dialogue to shape the future of their countries. Pillay's statement came in conjunction with International Women's Day. The High Commissioner expressed concern that constitutional reforms in Egypt were being "undertaken without [women's] full participation" and that some proposed reforms were discriminatory. Pillay urged action:
In Egypt and Tunisia, women were on Twitter, on Facebook, and on the streets. Women from all walks of life were marching alongside men, pushing boundaries and breaking gender stereotypes, just as eager for change, for human rights and for democracy. ... In these moments of historic transition in Egypt and Tunisia, it is important to ensure that women's rights are not set aside as something to be dealt with after the "crucial" reforms are won. Women's rights should be at the top of the list of new priorities. ... Women ... expect their state ... to uphold their dignity and worth, and to adopt laws, policies, and strategies that translate these words into tangible results. ... Only when women participate fully in policy-making and institution-building will their perspective be truly integrated. The concept of democracy is only truly realised when political decision-making is shared by women and men, and women's full participation in institutional re-building is guaranteed. Societies in which women are excluded, formally or informally, from public life, cannot be described as truly democratic.
Pillay addressed the persistent inequality between men and women around the world and urged vigilance against retrogression, and full participation in reform. Egypt's military council has been running the country since Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was forced out [JURIST report] and has indicated a referendum will be held March 19 on constitutional reforms [Reuters report] proposed by a committee of legal experts.

Pillay has vociferously decried the use of violence against protesters in recent months as protests have spread across the Middle East and North Africa [BBC Backgrounder]. Last week, Pillay condemned the response by Middle Eastern governments [JURIST report] to peaceful protests during her opening remarks at the UN Human Rights Council [official website], urging the international community to take a strong stance against violence in Libya. In February, Pillay called on the Libyan government and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi [BBC profile] directly to stop the violence directed at protesters [JURIST report] within that nation. Also in February, Pillay said that the Libyan government's response to recent protests may amount to crimes against humanity [JURIST report].




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