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Court: Local Wisconsin heath departments can’t close schools
Court News | 2021/06/11 10:05
The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Friday that local health departments do not have the authority to close schools due to emergencies like the coronavirus pandemic, delivering a win to private and religious schools that challenged a Dane County order.

The conservative majority of the court, in a 4-3 decision, also ruled that a school closure order issued last year by Public Health Madison & Dane County infringed on constitutional religious rights.

The ruling is another victory for conservatives who challenged state and local orders issued during the pandemic to close businesses and schools, limit capacity in bars, restaurants and other buildings and require masks to be worn. All of those restrictions have either expired or been rescinded by courts.

Friday’s ruling will have no immediate impact because the 2020-21 school year has ended, but it will limit the powers of health departments in the future by preventing them from ordering school closures.

“Even as the COVID-19 pandemic recedes, the court’s decision provides a critical correction that ought to prevent future abuses of power in an emergency,” said Rick Esenberg, president of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. That group brought the lawsuit on behalf of five private schools and eight families in Dane County, School Choice Wisconsin Action and the Wisconsin Council of Religious and Independent Schools.

Dane County Health Director Janel Heinrich said the ruling “hinders the ability of local health officers in Wisconsin to prevent and contain public health threats for decades to come.”

The lawsuit targeted an order issued in August by the county health department prohibiting in-person instruction for grades 3-12 at any public or private school. The Supreme Court in early September put that order on hold while it considered the case.

While many private and public schools in the county resumed in-person classes, Madison’s school district remained entirely virtual until March. Its school year ended this week.

The law in question allows local health departments to do what is “reasonable and necessary” to suppress a disease outbreak. It does not specifically grant authority to close schools. There is a law giving that power to the state Department of Health Services secretary.


Appeals court upholds guilty verdicts in NCAA bribes case
Court News | 2021/06/04 10:48
The convictions of a sports business manager and an amateur basketball coach in a conspiracy to bribe top college coaches to get them to steer NBA-bound athletes to favored handlers were upheld Friday by an appeals court.

The ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan affirmed the 2019 convictions of Christian Dawkins and youth basketball coach Merl Code on a single conspiracy count. Dawkins was also convicted of bribery. They were acquitted of some other charges.

The prosecution resulted from a criminal probe that exposed how financial advisers and business managers paid tens of thousands of dollars to college coaches and athletes’ families to steer highly regarded high school players to big-program colleges, sometimes with the help of apparel makers who signed sponsorship deals with schools.

During the trial, universities were portrayed by prosecutors as victims of greedy financial advisers and coaches while defense lawyers asserted that schools were complicit in any corruption that occurred in 2016 and 2017.

Circuit Judge William J. Nardini, writing for a three-judge panel, said the judges rejected arguments that the law used to convict the men was unconstitutionally applied and that various rulings about evidence and other matters by the trial judge were erroneous.

“We are unpersuaded by these arguments,” Nardini wrote, saying the judges did not agree with arguments that the federal law used to convict the men should be limited as it pertains to the universe of “agents” to be influenced or the business of the federally funded organizations involved.


Supreme Court ruling gives immigrant facing deportation hope
Court News | 2021/06/01 11:55
A Guatemalan man who lived in a Massachusetts church for more than three years to avoid deportation said Tuesday he’s hopeful a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision boosts his efforts to remain in the country.

Lucio Perez’s lawyer, Glenn Formica, also said in a virtual news conference with his client that the April decision in Niz-Chavez vs. Garland also potentially affects the cases of millions more immigrants living in the country illegally.

The high court ruled in the Niz-Chavez case that federal policy has long deprived immigrants facing deportation of proper notification.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement typically issues a notice of a person’s deportation proceedings and then provides the hearing date and other key details in subsequent communications. The court ruled all relevant information should be included in a single notice.

U.S. Rep. James McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat who joined Perez for the news conference, said the ruling is an opportunity to renew legislative efforts to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws.

Perez left the First Congregational Church in Amherst in March after receiving a temporary stay of his deportation. He was among more than 70 immigrants nationwide who took sanctuary in churches during former President Donald Trump’s administration.



Ruling: Missed court date in Washington does not imply guilt
Court News | 2021/05/29 12:23
The Washington state Supreme Court this month unanimously rejected the notion that a man who skipped his court date could be presented as evidence that he felt guilty about the original crime.

State Supreme Court justices agreed that criminalizing a single missed court date could disproportionately harm people of color, poor people or people without reliable transportation or scheduling conflicts due to child care or work, The Daily Herald reported.

The ruling came less than a year after the state Legislature revised the bail jumping law, which gives people more time to respond to a warrant. Samuel Slater, 27, had one unexcused absence in his case, which predated the new law.

Records show Slater was convicted of violating no-contact orders five times in five years, multiple driving offenses and domestic violence charges. He pleaded guilty in 2016 to assault in Washington state.

A judge ordered him not to have contact with the woman, who was not identified, but he showed up within a day of being let out of jail. He was charged in 2017 with alleged felony violation of a no-contact order and felony bail jumping after missing a court date later in the year.

Slater’s attorney, Frederic Moll, asked for separate trials on the counts. Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Anita Farris, a former public defender, found that the charges could be tried together for “judicial economy reasons” and that they were cross-admissible, meaning one could be used to prove the other.

Judge Ellen Fair presided over the trial and agreed with Farris. State Court of Appeals judges also agreed.

During the trial, deputy prosecutor Adam Sturdivant repeatedly noted how the defendant missed his court date, asking: “If he didn’t do it, why didn’t he show up for trial call a year ago?”

Slater was found guilty on both counts and sentenced to more than two years in prison and a year of probation


Justices signal they could limit Indian Country ruling
Court News | 2021/05/26 11:15
The Supreme Court on Wednesday granted Oklahoma’s request to retain custody of a man who has been on death row for killing three Native Americans, a sign the court may be willing to limit the fallout from last year’s ruling that much of eastern Oklahoma remains a tribal reservation.

The action came in the case of Shaun Bosse, whose conviction and death sentence for the murders of Katrina Griffin and her two young children were overturned by a state appeals court.

The order makes it likely that the high court will weigh in soon on the extent of its 5-4 ruling last year in McGirt v. Oklahoma.

The state court had held that state prosecutors had no authority to try Bosse for the killings, which took place on the Chicksaw Nation’s reservation, based on the McGirt decision.

Hundreds of criminal convictions, including several death sentences for first-degree murder, have been set aside, and tribal and federal officials have been scrambling to refile those cases in tribal or U.S. district court.

Oklahoma argued to the Supreme Court that it can prosecute crimes committed by non-Native Americans like Bosse, even if the scene of the crime is on tribal land. The state also said there might be technical legal reasons for rejecting Bosse’s claims.

The three liberal justices dissented from the order but did not explain their disagreement. They were in last year’s majority, along with Justice Neil Gorsuch, the author of the opinion. Gorsuch did not publicly dissent from Wednesday’s order.

The fifth member of the McGirt majority was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died in September. She has been replaced by Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

Bosse already has been charged with the killings in federal court, and he had been scheduled to be transferred to federal custody. But he could not be sentenced to death under the federal charges


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