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Man denies kidnapping charge in alleged murder-for-hire plot
Legal Network | 2022/06/03 16:27
A Colorado man pleaded not guilty Thursday in federal court in Vermont to kidnapping a man who was later found shot to death in a snowbank in 2018 in what prosecutors allege is a murder-for-hire case stemming from a financial dispute.

Federal prosecutors say they believe Jerry Banks, 34, of Fort Garland, Colorado, killed Gregory Davis, 49, of Danville, Vermont, but he has not been charged in the killing. U.S. District Judge Geoffrey Crawford ordered Banks to remain detained until trial, noting the prosecutors’ concerns about his risk of flight and safety risk to potential witnesses.

“Someone who would kill for money would likely kill or improperly influence a witness or otherwise seek to influence the course of a trial that would result in his life in prison,” Paul Van de Graaf and Jonathan Ophardt, assistant U.S. attorneys for Vermont, wrote in their detention request. They said Banks has a history of living “off the grid” and no strong connection to Vermont or anywhere else in the country.

Banks’ federal public defender, Mary Nerino, did not contest detention and would not comment on the charges after the arraignment.

Davis was abducted from his Danville, Vermont, home on Jan. 6, 2018, and found shot to death the next day in a snowbank on a back road in Barnet.

Prosecutors detailed the alleged conspiracy in a filing Monday in federal court in Las Vegas. They wrote that Davis had been threatening to go to the FBI with information that Serhat Gumrukcu, 39, an inventor and the co-founder of a Los Angeles-based biotechnology company, was defrauding Davis in a multimillion-dollar oil deal Gumrukcu and Gumrukcu’s brother had entered into with Davis in 2015.

Gurumkcu was facing felony fraud charges in California in 2017 and was working on a deal that came together soon after Davis’ death that gave him significant ownership stake in Enochian Bioscience.


German federal court mulls bid to remove antisemitic relic
Court Issues | 2022/05/30 16:33
A German federal court on Monday mulled a Jewish man’s bid to force the removal of a 700-year-old antisemitic statue from a church where Martin Luther once preached, and said it will deliver its verdict in the long-running dispute next month.

The “Judensau,” or “Jew pig,” sculpture on the Town Church in Wittenberg is one of more than 20 such relics from the Middle Ages that still adorn churches across Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

The case went to the Federal Court of Justice after lower courts ruled in 2019 and 2020 against plaintiff Michael Duellmann. He had argued that the sculpture was “a defamation of and insult to the Jewish people” that has “a terrible effect up to this day,” and has suggested moving it the nearby Luther House museum.

Placed on the church about four meters (13 feet) above ground level, the sculpture depicts people identifiable as Jews suckling the teats of a sow while a rabbi lifts the animal’s tail. In 1570, after the Protestant Reformation, an inscription referring to an anti-Jewish tract by Luther was added.

In 1988, a memorial was set into the ground below, referring to the persecution of Jews and the 6 million people who died during the Holocaust. In addition, a sign gives information about the sculpture in German and English.

In 2020, an appeals court in Naumburg ruled that “in its current context” the sculpture is not of “slanderous character” and didn’t violate the plaintiff’s rights. It said that, with the addition of the memorial and information sign, the statue was now “part of an ensemble which speaks for another objective” on the part of the parish.


Pakistani court orders probe into ex-minister’s arrest
Court Issues | 2022/05/23 16:35
A court in Pakistan’s capital has ordered an investigation into the controversial arrest of a former human rights minister over a decades old land dispute.

Chief Justice Ather Minallah of the Islamabad High Court late Saturday ordered the probe in response to a petition from the daughter of former minister Shireen Mazari.

Minallah questioned the decision by officials in Islamabad to allow police from a Punjab provincial district to make the arrest in the capital.

Mazari, who served in the Cabinet-level position under former Prime Minister Imran Khan, had been detained by police near her Islamabad home earlier in the day.

Fawad Chaudhry, former information minister in Khan’s administration, alleged that Mazari — the senior leader in Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party — had been politically targeted by the new administration of Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif under the guise of a land dispute dating back to 1972.

Hours after Mazari’s arrest, Chief Minister of Punjab province Hamza Shahbaz ordered her release and late Saturday she was brought to the Islamabad court for an urgent hearing. She was then released.

Mazari has been critical of Sharif’s government on Twitter since Khan’s government was toppled in a no-confidence vote in Parliament last month. Khan’s party lawmakers resigned from the body’s lower house in protest and Khan is mobilizing supporters through public rallies across the country to pressure the government into an early election.


Kansas Supreme Court upholds Republican congressional map
Court Issues | 2022/05/18 19:36
Kansas’ highest court on Wednesday upheld a Republican redistricting law that makes it harder for the only Democrat in the state’s congressional delegation to win reelection in a big victory for the GOP.

The state Supreme Court declined for now to declare that overly partisan gerrymandering violates the Kansas Constitution. The ruling sets district boundaries less than a month before the state’s June 10 filing deadline for congressional candidates.

The court’s opinion was two paragraphs long, saying only that the voters and voting rights group challenging the map “have not prevailed on their claims” that the map violated the state constitution and that a full opinion would come later.

The brief decision was written by Justice Caleb Stegall, who is seen as the most conservative of the court’s seven justices, five of whom were appointed by Democratic governors. During arguments from attorneys on Monday, he questioned whether anyone could clearly define improper partisan gerrymandering.

Lawsuits over new congressional district lines have proliferated across the U.S., with Republicans looking to recapture a U.S. House majority in this year’s midterm elections. Congressional maps in at least 17 states have inspired lawsuits, according to the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice.

In the past, congressional district lines have been reviewed by federal judges and not the state Supreme Court. The conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision in 2019 that complaints about partisan gerrymandering are political issues and not for the federal courts to resolve.

The state’s Republican-appointed solicitor general argued in defending the GOP-drawn map that because the state constitution doesn’t specifically mention gerrymandering or congressional redistricting, the Kansas Supreme Court should reject the legal challenges. He and other state officials said that the justices had no guidance on how to define improper political gerrymandering.


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