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The Supreme Court strips the SEC of a critical enforcement tool in fraud cases
Law Firm News | 2024/07/02 17:42
The Supreme Court on Thursday stripped the Securities and Exchange Commission of a major tool in fighting securities fraud in a decision that also could have far-reaching effects on other regulatory agencies.

The justices ruled in a 6-3 vote that people accused of fraud by the SEC, which regulates securities markets, have the right to a jury trial in federal court. The in-house proceedings the SEC has used in some civil fraud complaints, including against Houston hedge fund manager George Jarkesy, violate the Constitution, the court said.

“A defendant facing a fraud suit has the right to be tried by a jury of his peers before a neutral adjudicator,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court’s conservative majority.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who read from her dissent in the courtroom, said that “litigants who seek to dismantle the administrative state” would rejoice in the decision.

Federal agencies that oversee safety in mines and other workplaces are among many that can only impose civil penalties in in-house, administrative proceedings, Sotomayor wrote, joined by Justices Ketanji Brown Jackson and Elena Kagan.

“For those and countless other agencies, all the majority can say is tough luck; get a new statute from Congress,” she wrote.

The case is among several this term in which conservative and business interests are urging the nine-member court to constrict federal regulators. The court’s six conservatives already have done so, including in a decision last year that sharply limited environmental regulators’ ability to police water pollution in wetlands.

Still awaiting decision are cases calling on the court to overturn the 40-year-old ruling colloquially known as Chevron, which has made it easier to sustain regulation of the environment, public, health, worker safety and consumer protection. Some of the same parties that supported Jarkesy at the Supreme Court are calling for Chevron to be overturned.

The SEC was awarded more than $5 billion in civil penalties in the 2023 government spending year that ended Sept. 30, the agency said in a news release. It was unclear how much of that money came through in-house proceedings or lawsuits in federal court.

The agency had already reduced the number of cases it brings in administrative proceedings pending the Supreme Court’s resolution of the case.

The high court rejected arguments advanced by President Joe Biden’s Democratic administration that relied on a 50-year-old decision in which the court ruled that in-house proceedings did not violate the Constitution’s right to a jury trial in civil lawsuits.

The justices ruled in favor of Jarkesy after the SEC appealed a decision in which the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out stiff financial penalties against Jarkesy and his Patriot28 investment adviser.

The appeals court found that the SEC’s case against Jarkesy, resulting in a $300,000 civil fine and the repayment of $680,000 in allegedly ill-gotten gains, should have been heard in a federal court instead of before one of the SEC’s administrative law judges.


Unanimous Supreme Court preserves access to widely used abortion medication
Law Firm News | 2024/06/13 16:57
The Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously preserved access to a medication that was used in nearly two-thirds of all abortions in the U.S. last year, in the court’s first abortion decision since conservative justices overturned Roe v. Wade two years ago.

The nine justices ruled that abortion opponents lacked the legal right to sue over the federal Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the medication, mifepristone, and the FDA’s subsequent actions to ease access to it. The case had threatened to restrict access to mifepristone across the country, including in states where abortion remains legal.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was part of the majority to overturn Roe, wrote for the court on Thursday that “federal courts are the wrong forum for addressing the plaintiffs’ concerns about FDA’s actions.”

The decision could lessen the intensity of the abortion issue in the November elections, with Democrats already energized and voting against restrictions on reproductive rights. But the high court is separately considering another abortion case, about whether a federal law on emergency treatment at hospitals overrides state abortion bans in rare emergency cases in which a pregnant patient’s health is at serious risk.

More than 6 million people have used mifepristone since 2000. Mifepristone blocks the hormone progesterone and primes the uterus to respond to the contraction-causing effect of a second drug, misoprostol. The two-drug regimen has been used to end a pregnancy through 10 weeks gestation.

Health care providers have said that if mifepristone is no longer available or is too hard to obtain, they would switch to using only misoprostol, which is somewhat less effective in ending pregnancies.

President Joe Biden’s administration and drug manufacturers had warned that siding with abortion opponents in this case could undermine the FDA’s drug approval process beyond the abortion context by inviting judges to second-guess the agency’s scientific judgments. The Democratic administration and New York-based Danco Laboratories, which makes mifepristone, argued that the drug is among the safest the FDA has ever approved.

The decision “safeguards access to a drug that has decades of safe and effective use,” Danco spokeswoman Abigail Long said in a statement.

The plaintiffs in the mifepristone case, anti-abortion doctors and their organizations, argued in court papers that the FDA’s decisions in 2016 and 2021 to relax restrictions on getting the drug were unreasonable and “jeopardize women’s health across the nation.”

Kavanaugh acknowledged what he described as the opponents’ “sincere legal, moral, ideological, and policy objections to elective abortion and to FDA’s relaxed regulation of mifepristone.”

Federal laws already protect doctors from having to perform abortions, or give any other treatment that goes against their beliefs, Kavanaugh wrote. “The plaintiffs have not identified any instances where a doctor was required, notwithstanding conscience objections, to perform an abortion or to provide other abortion-related treatment that violated the doctor’s conscience since mifepristone’s 2000 approval,” he wrote.

In the end, Kavanaugh wrote, the anti-abortion doctors went to the wrong forum and should instead direct their energies to persuading lawmakers and regulators to make changes.

Those comments pointed to the stakes of the 2024 election and the possibility that an FDA commissioner appointed by Republican Donald Trump, if he wins the White House, could consider tightening access to mifepristone.

The mifepristone case began five months after the Supreme Court overturned Roe. Abortion opponents initially won a sweeping ruling nearly a year ago from U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, a Trump nominee in Texas, which would have revoked the drug’s approval entirely. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals left intact the FDA’s initial approval of mifepristone. But it would reverse changes regulators made in 2016 and 2021 that eased some conditions for administering the drug.

The Supreme Court put the appeals court’s modified ruling on hold, then agreed to hear the case, though Justices Samuel Alito, the author of the decision overturning Roe, and Clarence Thomas would have allowed some restrictions to take effect while the case proceeded. But they, too, joined the court’s opinion Thursday.


Trump hush money trial: Prosecution, defense look to score final points
Law Firm News | 2024/05/28 18:30
Donald Trump’s landmark hush money trial turns on the testimony of a prosecution witness who told lies on the stand and cannot be trusted, a defense lawyer said Tuesday during closing arguments as he pressed jurors for an acquittal in the first criminal case against a former American president.

The arguments, expected to last the entire day, give attorneys one last chance to address the Manhattan jury and to score final points with the panel before it starts deliberating Trump’s fate.

“President Trump is innocent. He did not commit any crimes, and the district attorney has not met their burden of proof, period,” said defense attorney Todd Blanche, who said the evidence in the case should “leave you wanting.”

In an hourslong address to the jury, Blanche attacked the foundational premises of the case, which charges Trump with conspiring to conceal hush money payments prosecutors say were made on his behalf during the 2016 presidential election to stifle a porn actor’s claim that she had a sexual encounter with Trump a decade earlier.

Blanche countered the prosecution’s portrayal of Trump as a detail-oriented manager who paid dutiful attention to the checks he was signing and rejected the idea that the alleged hush money scheme amounted to illegal interference in the election.

“Every campaign in this country is a conspiracy to promote a candidate, a group of people who are working together to help somebody win,” Blanche said.

After more than four weeks of testimony, the summations tee up a momentous and historically unprecedented task for the jury as it decides whether to convict the presumptive Republican presidential nominee in connection with the payments.

Because prosecutors have the burden of proof, they will deliver their arguments last.

Prosecutors will tell jurors that they have heard enough testimony to convict Trump of all charges while defense attorneys aim to create doubts about the strength of the evidence by targeting the credibility of Michael Cohen. Trump’s former lawyer and personal fixer pleaded guilty to federal charges for his role in the hush money payments and served as the star prosecution witness in the trial.

“You cannot convict President Trump of any crime beyond a reasonable doubt on the word of Michael Cohen,” Blanche said, adding that Cohen “told you a number of things that were lies, pure and simple.”

After closing arguments, the judge will instruct the jury on the law governing the case and the factors the panel can take into account during deliberations. Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, charges punishable by up to four years in prison. He has pleaded not guilty and denied any wrongdoing. It’s unclear whether prosecutors would seek imprisonment in the event of a conviction, or if the judge would impose that punishment if asked.

The case centers on a $130,000 payment Cohen made to porn actor Stormy Daniels in the final days of the 2016 election to prevent her from going public with her story of a sexual encounter she says she had with Trump 10 years earlier in a Lake Tahoe hotel suite. Trump has denied Daniels’ account, and his attorney, during hours of questioning in the trial, accused her of making it up.


Alabama woman who faked kidnapping pleads guilty to false reporting
Law Firm News | 2024/03/22 17:47
An Alabama woman who claimed she was abducted after stopping her car to check on a wandering toddler pleaded guilty on Thursday to charges of giving false information to law enforcement.

News outlets reported that Carlee Russell pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of false reporting to law enforcement and falsely reporting an incident. She was given a suspended six-month sentence which will allow her to avoid jail. She was ordered to pay more than $17,000 restitution.

Her two-day disappearance, and her story of being abducted alongside an interstate highway, captivated the nation before police called her story a hoax.

Russell, accompanied to court by her family and defense lawyers, apologized for her actions.

“I want to genuinely apologize for my actions. I made a grave mistake while trying to fight through various emotional issues and stress. I’m extremely remorseful for the panic, fear and various range of negative emotions that were experienced across the nation,” Russell said according to WBRC.

Russell disappeared July 13 after calling 911 to report a toddler beside a stretch of Interstate 459 in the Birmingham suburb of Hoover. She returned home two days later and told police she had been abducted and forced into a vehicle.

Police quickly cast doubt on Russell’s story. Her attorney issued a statement through police acknowledging there was no kidnapping and that she never saw a toddler. In the statement, Russell apologized to law enforcement and the volunteers who searched for her.

The Alabama attorney general’s office had argued that Russell should spend time in jail because of the time and energy that law enforcement spent in looking for her.

Jefferson County Circuit Judge David Carpenter told Russell that while her actions caused panic and disruption in the community that it would be a “waste of resources” to put her in jail for misdemeanors, news outlets reported.

Katherine Robertson, Chief Counsel in the Alabama attorney general’s office, said Thursday that they “are disappointed, but not surprised” that Russell did not get the requested jail time.


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