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Hawaii Supreme Court affirms Maui solar telescope permit
Topics in Legal News | 2016/10/10 22:11
Hawaii's Supreme Court on Thursday affirmed a permit to build a solar telescope on a Maui mountain.

The ruling denies a challenge by a group seeking to protect the sacredness of the summit of Haleakala (hah-leh-AH'-ka-lah). The University of Hawaii followed proper procedure for an environmental assessment, the Supreme Court also ruled in a separate ruling.

Last year, eight people were arrested when protesters tried to stop a construction convoy heading to the solar telescope site. Kahele Dukelow, one of the protest leaders, said opponents are disappointed and considering what their next steps will be.

"We only have one alternative now," she said. "We have to continue to protest in other ways."

They hoped the decision would be similar to the court's ruling last year that invalidated a permit to build the Thirty Meter Telescope on the Big Island's Mauna Kea. That project has been the focus of more intense protests. Opposition to both telescopes cite concerns that the projects will desecrate sacred land.

The permit approval process was not "procedurally flawed by prejudgment" nor was it "flawed by impermissible ex parte communication," the court's 3-2 majority opinion said.

State Attorney General Doug Chin said his office will look into whether the rulings have any impact on future matters before the state land board, including the Thirty Meter Telescope.

"We are disappointed with the court's decision," said a statement from the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., which represents the group that challenged the solar telescope project, Kilakila O Haleakala. "This decision impacts all who are concerned about the protection of Hawaii's natural and cultural resources."

Officials with the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope didn't immediately comment.

"We are still reviewing the full decisions, but we look forward to 'first light' when the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope will open a new era of discovery in Hawaii, about the sun and its daily impacts on all life on Earth," university President David Lassner said in a statement.

External construction of the Maui telescope is complete, with only internal work remaining, according to the university. The $340-million project is scheduled to be operational in 2019. Construction of the $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope remains stalled pending a new contested case hearing scheduled to begin later this month.


Supreme Court rejects Whitey Bulger appeal
Topics in Legal News | 2016/10/03 12:14
The Supreme Court has turned away James "Whitey" Bulger's appeal of his racketeering convictions and life sentence.

The justices did not comment Monday in leaving in place Bulger's convictions for playing a role in 11 murders and many other crimes.

The 87-year-old Bulger was a fugitive for 17 years until his arrest in 2011. A jury convicted him in 2013.

Bulger argued that the judge at his trial should have let him tell the jury that a now-dead federal prosecutor had granted him immunity from prosecution. The judge said Bulger hadn't offered hard evidence that such an agreement existed.

Bulger also contended that federal prosecutors failed to disclose "promises, rewards and inducements" made to John Martorano, a hit man who testified against the Boston gangster at his trial.



Nevada high court blocks funding for school choice program
Topics in Legal News | 2016/10/02 12:23
The Nevada Supreme Court has ruled that the state's voucher-style Education Savings Accounts program — seen as the broadest school choice initiative in the country — has an unconstitutional funding mechanism that should remain blocked.

Justices issued a ruling on Thursday against the money source for the program — which has been on hold since the winter and never disbursed funds to families as it intended — but upholding some of the major tenets underlying the school voucher concept.

Parties on both sides of the hotly debated issue claimed victory, emphasizing different parts of the 35-page decision.

"The state was taken to its knees by a group of people that believe in public education," said Rory Reid, son of Democratic Sen. Harry Reid and president of the Rogers Foundation, which supported legal challenges against the program. "This is a tremendous victory."

Proponents framed the ruling as a "landmark win" for themselves, saying it affirmed some of their most fundamental arguments and adding that the program's defects can be fixed by the Legislature.



Suspected people smuggler charged in Australian court
Topics in Legal News | 2016/09/28 12:24
An Iranian citizen extradited from Indonesia was charged in a Sydney court on Thursday with attempting to smuggle 73 asylum seekers by boat to Australia.

Mohammad Naghi Karimi Azar, 56, on Wednesday became the eighth suspected people smuggler to be extradited from Indonesia to Australia since 2008, a government statement said.

Azar was charged in Sydney Central Local Court with 43 counts of people smuggling, an offense that carries a minimum five-year sentence and a maximum of 20 years.

He appeared by video from a Sydney police station.

Court documents allege Azar facilitated the passage of 73 men, women and children between 2011 and 2013. His lawyer, Archie Hallas, told the court that Azar had spent the last two and a half years in an Indonesian jail.

Azar did not apply for bail. Hallas told the court his client needed time to read the 100-page prosecution case against him. Azar is to appear in court next on Oct. 5.

Outside the court, another lawyer for Azar, Sayar Dehsabzi, told reporters his client intended to plead not guilty.

Dehsabzi said Azar told him he was a refugee registered with the United Nations and had fled Iran in fear of persecution because he was a member of an ethnic minority.



Court rules man treated for mental illness can have a gun
Topics in Legal News | 2016/09/15 15:10
A Michigan man who can't buy a gun because he was briefly treated for mental health problems in the 1980s has won a key decision from a federal appeals court, which says the burden is on the government to justify a lifetime ban against him.

The Second Amendment case was significant enough for 16 judges on the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to participate. Cases usually are heard only by three-judge panels.

Clifford Tyler, 74, of Hillsdale said his constitutional right to bear arms is violated by a federal law that prohibits gun ownership if someone has been admitted to a mental hospital.

In 1985, Tyler's wife ran away with another man, depleted his finances and filed for divorce. He was deeply upset, and his daughters feared he was a danger to himself.

Tyler was ordered to a hospital for at least two weeks. He subsequently recovered, continued working for another two decades and remarried in 1999.

"There is no indication of the continued risk presented by people who were involuntarily committed many years ago and who have no history of intervening mental illness, criminal activity or substance abuse," Judge Julia Smith Gibbons wrote in the lead opinion.

The court on Thursday sent the case back to the federal court in Grand Rapids where the government must argue the merits of a lifetime ban or the risks of Tyler having a gun.

Gibbons suggests Tyler should prevail, based on his years of good mental health.


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