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District judge given probation in gun incident
Court Issues | 2008/03/05 22:19

A former district judge pleaded no contest yesterday to carrying a concealed firearm without a license following an altercation with his father-in-law.

Senior District Judge Donald H. Presutti, 60, of Kilbuck, was given nine months' probation for the misdemeanor violation. Allegheny County Judge Randal B. Todd ordered him to complete 120 hours of community service and anger management classes. The judge also prohibited him from contact with his father-in-law.

Raymond Billotte, district court administrator for Common Pleas Court, said Mr. Presutti is not currently on call for arraignment judges' roster. He said President Judge Joseph James would be seeking counsel from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts as to how to proceed with Mr. Presutti's status since his plea.

The former judge admitted to police he had a 9 mm pistol tucked in his suit pocket when he was arrested Nov. 29, 2006, at West View Auto Body on Perry Highway.

He told officials he had the gun loaded, cocked and concealed because he was afraid of his father-in-law, Earl Quillen, whom he said had swung at him and grabbed him by the neck earlier at the auto body shop.



Supreme Court to Release Same-Day Tapes
Court Issues | 2008/03/05 20:29

The Supreme Court announced yesterday that it will take the special step of releasing audiotapes of oral arguments on the same day that it hears a case challenging the District's gun law.

Every argument before the justices is recorded, but the tapes normally are not available until well after the court's term has ended. But beginning in 2000, with the arguments in Bush v. Gore, the court has released same-day audiotapes in high-profile cases when there is substantial media interest.

Because the court is not open to cameras, the audiotapes are the only recordings of the proceedings.

The case of District of Columbia v. Heller, to be heard March 18, will be the court's first consideration of the meaning of the Second Amendment in nearly 70 years. Last year, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled 2 to 1 that the District's ban on private handgun possession violated the amendment.

The Supreme Court is being asked to decide whether the amendment protects an individual's right to own a firearm, and if so, what restrictions government may place on that right. It is one of the most prominent cases of the court's term. More than 60 organizations and individuals have filed amicus briefs to support the city or those challenging what is acknowledged as the nation's strictest gun control law.

This term, the court released same-day audiotapes in two other important cases, one involving the rights of detainees at the Guantanamo Bay military prison and the other involving the constitutionality of lethal injections.

The arguments in the gun control case are scheduled for 10 a.m. March 18. Each side will receive 30 minutes to present its case, and U.S. Solicitor General Paul D. Clement has been granted 15 minutes for the federal government's views. The tapes will be released soon after the proceedings.

Clement's brief agrees with the law's challengers that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to bear arms, but it argues that the appeals court too broadly decided the case against the District. It recommends that the case be returned to lower courts.



Ex-Westar execs want charges dismissed
Court Issues | 2008/03/05 19:27

A federal appeals court has dealt a "fatal" blow to the prosecution's case against two former Westar Energy Inc. executives, and long-standing criminal charges against the two men should be dismissed, attorneys argued in motions filed Wednesday.

"The Tenth Circuit's January 2007 decision dramatically changed the landscape of the government's case," defense attorneys for former Westar Executive Vice President Douglas Lake said in their motion to dismiss. Patrick McInerney of Husch Blackwell Sanders LLP represents Lake.

David Wittig, former chairman of Topeka-based Westar (NYSE: WR), signed on with Lake's motion in U.S. District Court in Kansas, which argues that none of the 40 counts against the executives can stand after the appeals court's rejection of guilty verdicts on 24 of the counts.

The first trial of Wittig and Lake ended in a mistrial in December 2004 after the jury couldn't agree on a verdict in the complex, 40-count trial.



Judge won't dismiss charges against Haditha commander
Court Issues | 2008/03/04 22:19
A military judge has refused to dismiss charges against the highest ranking officer accused of wrongdoing following the killing of two dozen Iraqi civilians in the city of Haditha two years ago.

The judge, Col. Stephen Folsom, rejected attempts by attorneys for Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani to throw out the case or order that a new pretrial investigative hearing take place to determine if the charges against him should stand.

Chessani was the battalion commander at Haditha when a squad of Camp Pendleton Marines killed the civilians following a roadside bombing and small arms attack on Nov. 19, 2005.

The civilian deaths occurred as troops searched for their attackers. Those killings and the actions of commanders in the aftermath have led to the largest criminal case against Marines since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

One of Chessani's attorneys, Brian Rooney, said Wednesday that Folsom has refused to allow a deposition be taken from U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., as part of the defense's motion to have the case dismissed on the basis the charges resulted from "undue command influence."

The judge refused the defense access to computer hard drives of commanders above Chessani containing e-mail messages about the incident. Chessani's attorneys contend those messages show that their client had fully reported what he knew and that commanders far above him, including at least two generals, had concluded no formal investigation into the civilian deaths was required.

"That was the most stunning part of the ruling," Rooney said. "We intend to file a motion asking the judge to reconsider that because the essence of the case is all about the reporting."

Chessani, who commanded Camp Pendleton's 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment at Haditha in November 2005, is charged with dereliction of duty and failing to accurately report and thoroughly investigate a possible war crime. His scheduled to go on trial by military court-martial on April 28.

Two Marines under his command, Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich and Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum, face court-martials this spring on manslaughter charges in the civilian deaths.

Richard Thompson, chief counsel of the Christian-based Thomas More Law Center of Ann Arbor, Mich., that is representing Chessani, said the pretrial rulings against Chessani and the prosecution itself "stink to high heaven."

"Denying us the right to take Murtha's deposition so that we could show undue command influence, as well as denial of our request for production of documents in the possession of Lt. Col. Chessani's superiors, makes it impossible for us to render this loyal Marine officer the effective assistance of counsel he deserves," Thompson said in a written statement. "They are attempting to throw him under the bus."

A second officer also accused of wrongdoing at Haditha, 1st Lt. Andrew Grayson, has been in a Camp Pendleton courtroom this week for a motion hearing in advance of his trial.


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