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Spain: Venezuelan spymaster loses court extradition dispute
Court News | 2021/09/20 11:27
Spain’s Supreme Court refused Monday to suspend a government decision allowing a former Venezuelan spymaster to be extradited to the United States.

Lawyers for Gen. Hugo Carvajal, who for over a decade was late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez’s eyes and ears in the Venezuelan military, asked the court to put the Spanish government decision — taken 18 months ago — on hold.

But the Supreme Court said in its written decision that Carvajal had presented no new arguments against the government decision, which he had already opposed at the court in May last year.

Carvajal’s extradition procedure is currently on hold at the National Court, after he filed a request for asylum in Spain.

Nicknamed “El Pollo,′ or “The Chicken”, Carvajal was arrested Sept. 9 in a small apartment in Madrid, where he had been holed up for months. His arrest came nearly two years after Carvajal defied a Spanish extradition order and disappeared.

In the United States, he faces federal charges for allegedly working with guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia to “flood” the U.S. with cocaine.


Minnesota Supreme Court defers ruling on Minneapolis police
Court News | 2021/09/16 10:33
The Minnesota Supreme Court issued a narrow ruling Thursday in the fight over a ballot question about the future of policing in Minneapolis, but it didn’t settle the bigger question of whether the public will get to vote on the issue.

Chief Justice Lorie Gildea’s ruling lifted a small part of a lower court’s order that rejected the ballot language approved by the City Council, saying that elections officials don’t have to include notes with ballots instructing people not to vote on the question and that any votes won’t be counted.

The order didn’t address the main issue in dispute — whether voters will get to decide on a proposed charter amendment that would replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new Department of Public Safety that “could include” police officers “if necessary.”

The proposal has its roots in the “defund the police” movement that gained steam after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody last summer, but it leaves critical details about the new agency to be determined later.

The Supreme Court was under pressure to rule quickly because early and absentee voting opens Friday in the Minneapolis municipal elections, and ballots have already been printed.

Terrance Moore, an attorney for the Yes 4 Minneapolis campaign, which spearheaded the proposal, said he expects a ruling on the bigger question to come at some point later. The city attorney’s office agreed that the high court has yet to rule on the main issues.

Joe Anthony, an attorney for former City Council member Don Samuels and two other people who challenged the ballot language as misleading, called the order “a little mysterious.” He noted the lower court injunction barring counting and reporting votes was left in place, at least for the moment. There are a few possibilities for what could happen next, he said, including the Supreme Court taking time for fuller arguments, then deciding by Nov. 2 whether the votes cast would count.


1st female LGBT federal appeals court nominee to get hearing
Court News | 2021/09/14 10:44
The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is considering President Joe Biden’s nomination of a Vermont judge who played a role in the state’s passage of the first-in-the-nation civil unions law, a forerunner of same-sex marriage, to become the first openly LGBT woman to serve on any federal circuit court.

At the start of the Tuesday hearing, Democratic U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, of Vermont, called the nomination of Beth Robinson, an associate justice on the Vermont Supreme Court, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit “truly historic.” The court’s territory includes Connecticut, New York and Vermont.

“She’s been hailed as a tireless champion for equal rights and equal justice in the mode of the late justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” Leahy said as he introduced Robinson. “It’s no exaggeration to say that Beth helped Vermont and America more fully realizing the meaning of equality under the law.”

Robinson helped argue the case that led to Vermont’s 2000 civil unions law. She has served on the Vermont Supreme Court since 2011.

She “has built a reputation for her impartiality, and fair application of the law,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, in his introduction. “She treats people with respect and compassion and she understands the duty of the court to provide equitable justice.”

Robinson told the committee that she would be honored to continue her work promoting the rule of law as a judge on the 2nd circuit.


Australia’s High Court intervenes in police shooting trial
Court News | 2021/09/12 15:51
Australia’s highest court on Friday agreed to hear a challenge to a police officer using his law enforcement job as a defense against a charge of murdering an Indigenous man.

Constable Zachary Rolfe could become the first police officer to be convicted in Australia of unlawfully killing an Indigenous person.

Rolfe shot Kumanjayi Walker three times in a bedroom of his family home in the central Australian Indigenous township of Yuendumu during an attempted arrest on Nov. 9, 2019.

Walker had stabbed Rolfe with a pair of scissors during a struggle. The murder charge relates to the second and third shots that killed the 19-year-old and that prosecutors allege were unnecessary.

Three High Court judges on Friday agreed to hear a challenge by prosecutors to the Northern Territory Supreme Court’s interpretation of defenses available to Rolfe.

Five Supreme Court judges found that Rolfe could claim immunity from criminal liability under a law that protects police officers acting “in good faith in the performance or purported performance” of law enforcement duties.

The judges ruled that a jury should decide whether Rolfe’s actions fitted the criteria of the immunity clause.

But prosecutors had argued that that defense should not be available to Rolfe.

Body-cam footage allegedly recorded Rolfe explain that he fired the fatal shots to prevent his partner Constable Adam Eberl from being stabbed.

Prosecutors argued that because Rolfe was protecting Eberl, he was no longer trying to arrest Walker and was therefore not indemnified by the Northern Territory Police Administration Act.

Prosecutor Philip Strickland told the three High Court judges on Friday that if their court did not decide the indemnity question, Rolfe could be acquitted on an incorrect interpretation of the law.


Court rules Catholic school wrongfully fired gay substitute
Court News | 2021/09/06 14:35
A gay substitute teacher was wrongfully fired by a Roman Catholic school in North Carolina after he announced in 2014 on social media that he was going to marry his longtime partner, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn ruled Friday that Charlotte Catholic High School and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Charlotte violated Lonnie Billard’s federal protections against sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Cogburn granted summary judgment to Billard and said a trial must still be held to determine appropriate relief for him.

“After all this time, I have a sense of relief and a sense of vindication. I wish I could have remained to teach all this time,” Billard said in a statement released Friday by the ACLU, which represented him in court. “Today’s decision validates that I did nothing wrong by being a gay man.”

Billard taught English and drama full-time at the school for more than a decade, earning its Teacher of the Year award in 2012. He then transitioned to a role as a regular substitute teacher, typically working more than a dozen weeks per year, according to his 2017 lawsuit.

He posted about his upcoming wedding in October 2014 and was informed by an assistant principal several weeks later that he no longer had a job with the school, according to the ruling.

The defendants said that they fired Billard not because he was gay, but rather because “he engaged in ‘advocacy’ that went against the Catholic Church’s beliefs” when he publicly announced he was marrying another man, the ruling said.

But Cogburn ruled that the school’s action didn’t fit into exemptions to labor law that give religious institutions leeway to require certain employees to adhere to religious teachings, nor was the school’s action protected by constitutional rights to religious freedom.


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