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Justices consider hearing a case on ‘most offensive word’
Court Watch | 2021/05/14 03:17
Robert Collier says that during the seven years he worked as an operating room aide at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, white nurses called him and other Black employees “boy.” Management ignored two large swastikas painted on a storage room wall. And for six months, he regularly rode an elevator with the N-word carved into a wall.

Collier ultimately sued the hospital, but lower courts dismissed his case. Now, however, beginning with a private conference that was scheduled for Thursday, the Supreme Court is considering for the first time whether to hear the case. (Although the court did not comment, the case remained on its calendar, which likely means it was discussed Thursday.)

Focusing on the elevator graffiti, Collier is asking the justices to decide whether a single use of the N-word in the workplace can create a hostile work environment, giving an employee the ability to pursue a case under Title VII of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Already, the court’s two newest members, both appointed by President Donald Trump, are on record with seemingly different views. The case is also a test of whether the justices are willing to wade into the ongoing, complex conversations about race happening nationwide. The public could learn as soon as Monday whether the court will take Collier’s case.

Jennifer A. Holmes, a lawyer with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which has urged the court to take the case, says she hopes the conversations taking place nationally will push the justices in that direction.

Doing so gives the court an “opportunity to show that they’re not insensitive to issues of race,” Holmes said. And courts are “all the time” confronting workplace discrimination claims involving use of the N-word, she said. The question for the justices, she said, is just whether someone who experiences an isolated instance of the N-word can “advance their case beyond the beginning stage.” Two of the court’s nine justices have experience with similar cases.


UK lawyer fined for defying Heathrow court ruling embargo
Court Issues | 2021/05/11 00:30
A British lawyer and climate campaigner was fined 5,000 pounds ($7,070) on Monday after being convicted of contempt of court for a tweet which broke an embargo on a U.K. Supreme Court judgment over Heathrow Airport’s expansion.

Tim Crosland, a director of an environmental campaign group, revealed on social media the court ruling on Heathrow Airport’s proposed third runway a day before it was made public in December. He was among involved parties to receive a draft of the appeal judgment, and has said that he broke the embargo deliberately as “an act of civil disobedience” to protest the “deep immorality of the court’s ruling.”

The court had ruled that a planned third runway at Heathrow was legal. The case was at the center of a long-running controversy and environmentalists had argued for years that the climate impact far outweighed the economic benefits of expanding the airport.

Crosland said the proposed 14 billion-pound ($19.8 billion) expansion of Heathrow, one of the world’s busiest, would breach Britain’s commitments to the Paris climate agreement.

He argued that the government “deliberately suppressed” information about the effect that the airport’s expansion would have on the climate crisis, and said the publicity gained over breaking the embargo would act as an “antidote” to that.

Addressing the court, Crosland said: “If complicity in the mass loss of life that makes the planet uninhabitable is not a crime, then nothing is a crime.”

Three Supreme Court justices found Crosland in contempt of court for his “deliberate and calculated breaches of the embargo” and fined him 5,000 pounds.

The judges said he “wanted to demonstrate his deliberate defiance of the prohibition and to bring this to the attention of as large an audience as possible.”

Crosland had brought a small suitcase to Monday’s hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in case he was given immediate jail time. The maximum sentence had been up to two years in prison and an unlimited fine.


Albanian officials want ex-minister tried over deadly blast
Court Issues | 2021/05/06 00:32
Albanian prosecutors on Thursday asked Supreme Court judges to allow the trial of a former defense minister over a massive munitions disposal factory blast that killed 26 people in 2008, more than a decade after the case against him was dropped.

The Special Prosecution Against Corruption, or SPAK, formally asked the Supreme Court to revoke its 2009 dismissal of the criminal case against Fatmir Mediu. At the time, Mediu had been spared trial because he had been re-elected to parliament and then lawmakers had immunity.

He is still a member of parliament with an opposition party, but that form of immunity in criminal cases has since been abolished.

Mediu denied wrongdoing and said Thursday that the SPAK move was politically motivated.

The March 15, 2008 explosions at Gerdec, outside the capital, Tirana, killed 26 people, injured 264 and damaged about 5,500 houses. Mediu had been subsequently charged with abuse of power.

In 2012 a court convicted and jailed 19 people over the accident, but angry relatives of the victims complained that top government officials had evaded justice.

The request to resume the case against Mediu followed an appeal to SPAK by Zamira Durda and her husband Feruzan Durda, whose six-year-old son was killed while playing in the back yard of their home near the blast site.

“That is the motive of my life, gaining justice for my son,” said Zamira Durda. “Everything in the Gerdec case should resume from scratch, not only the former minister.”

SPAK was formed under a judicial reform in 2016, prepared with help from European Union and United States experts and intended to ensure political independence for judges and prosecutors and to root out bribery.


Top Kansas court upholds law barring ‘wrongful birth’ suits
Court Watch | 2021/05/01 22:51
Kansas’ highest court on Friday upheld a law barring so-called wrongful birth lawsuits against doctors, in a case in which a couple sued because they weren’t told of serious fetal defects until after an abortion could have been obtained.

The state Supreme Court ruled against the parents of a girl born with a severe brain abnormality who said they would have opted for an abortion had they known of their daughter’s medical problems months before her May 2014 birth.

The Republican-controlled Legislature and then-GOP Gov. Sam Brownback passed the law  against wrongful birth lawsuits in 2013 at the urging of abortion opponents. It overturned a 1990 state Supreme Court ruling saying Kansas law allowed such lawsuits, and current Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, then a state senator, voted against it.

The parents’ attorneys argued that the law violated provisions of the state’s bill of rights declaring the right to a jury trial “inviolate” and providing a right to “remedy by due course of law” for injuries. But four of the seven state Supreme Court justices concluded that the state’s 1850s founders didn’t recognize wrongful birth as a legal concept, making it an “innovation” that isn’t covered by those constitutional provisions.

“It is a new species of malpractice action first recognized in 1990,” Justice Dan Biles wrote in their opinion.

The decision upholds a policy favored by anti-abortion groups, who’ve long criticized the court as too liberal. The state Supreme Court declared in 2019 that access to abortion is a “fundamental” right under the state constitution, meaning it would be protected in Kansas if the U.S. Supreme Court overturned its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. But Friday’s ruling did not cite the 2019 decision or frame the issues in terms of abortion rights.

“The birth of a child should be cause for celebration, not for the law to award damages because the child was ‘wrongfully’ born,” said Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican, who defended the law and is running for governor in 2022.

The four justices were joined in upholding the law by Justice Caleb Stegall, Brownback’s only appointee on the court. He was the lone dissenter in the 2019 ruling protecting abortion rights.

Stegall argued that the majority should have simply overturned the 1990 ruling, calling it “one of the worst decisions in our court’s history” and a “black mark” on par with a U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the right to inter Japanese Americans during World War II.


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