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California high court to rule on social media access
Legal Network | 2018/05/02 02:44
The California Supreme Court will decide whether Facebook and other social media companies must turn over user content to criminal defendants.

The justices are expected to rule Thursday in a case that has pitted some of Silicon Valley's biggest companies against public defenders.

At issue are requests by a defendant accused in a San Francisco slaying who wants videos and other content posted to Facebook and Instagram by the victim and a witness. The defendant, Lee Sullivan, and a co-defendant, Derrick Hunter, also sought information from Twitter.

Prosecutors charged the two men with murder in an alleged gang-related drive-by-shooting in 2013. Sullivan said the witness was his former girlfriend, and her social media posts would show she was jealous and angry because Sullivan was involved with other women.

The defendants say their constitutional right to a fair trial entitles them to the social media records to prepare their case. Attorneys for the companies say a federal privacy law prevents the release of user content, and the defendants have other ways to get the material.

They could ask the witness for her social media content and get the victim's information from prosecutors, who obtained a search warrant for his Facebook and Instagram accounts and are required to turn over any exculpatory evidence to the defense, the company's attorneys, Eric Miller and James Snell, wrote in a brief to the California Supreme Court.

Sullivan's attorneys have said they could not locate the witness to serve her with a subpoena. Both defendants also say access only to records that support the prosecution's theory of the case does not allow them to mount a complete defense, according to a 2015 appeals court ruling.

That ruling sided with the social media companies and rejected Sullivan and Hunter's requests for information.

"Criminal defendants are looking for a one-stop-shop, a fast lane to get the materials that social media sites might have," said Eric Goldman, co-director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University School of Law.

A decision by the California Supreme Court that overturns the appeals court ruling and sides with the defendants "could substantially change companies' practices," Goldman said.

Google in a brief filed in the case warned that loosening the rules around releasing information would undermine users' confidence in the privacy of their communications and "greatly increase" its burden from requests to disclose user information.

San Francisco's public defender's office countered in its own brief that prosecutors are increasingly offering social media records as evidence and "defendants have a parallel need for these records to defend against charges."


Trump travel ban is focus of Supreme Court's last arguments
Legal Network | 2018/04/25 17:33
President Donald Trump's ban on travelers from several mostly Muslim countries is the topic of arguments Wednesday at the Supreme Court, with a Trump administration lawyer facing questions during the first half of arguments.

The travel ban case is the last case the justices will hear until October.

A little over 20 minutes into arguments, Justice Anthony Kennedy asked Solicitor General Noel Francisco, who was defending the ban, whether statements Trump made during the presidential campaign should be considered in evaluating the administration's ban. Francisco told the justices that they shouldn't look at Trump's campaign statements, which included a pledge to shut down Muslim entry into the U.S.

But Kennedy, whose vote is pivotal in cases that divide the court along ideological lines and whose vote the administration will almost certainly need to win, pressed Francisco on that point. Speaking of a hypothetical "local candidate," he asked if what was said during the candidate's campaign was irrelevant if on "day two" of his administration the candidate acted on those statements.

The Trump administration is asking the court to reverse lower court rulings striking down the ban. The policy has been fully in effect since December, but this is the first time the justices are considering whether it violates immigration law or the Constitution.

The court will consider whether the president can indefinitely keep people out of the country based on nationality. It will also look at whether the policy is aimed at excluding Muslims from the United States.

People have been waiting in line for a seat for days, and on Wednesday morning opponents of the ban demonstrated outside the court holding signs that read "No Muslim Ban. Ever." and "Refugees Welcome," among other things. In another sign of heightened public interest, the court is taking the rare step of making an audio recording of the proceedings available just hours after the arguments end. The last time the court did that was the gay marriage arguments in 2015.


Court weighs punishment for judge for courthouse affair
Legal Network | 2018/04/23 00:33
A Massachusetts judge who engaged in sexual acts with a social worker in his chambers has damaged the public's faith in the judicial system and can no longer command the respect necessary to remain on the bench, the head of the state's Commission on Judicial Conduct said Tuesday.

Howard V. Neff III, executive director of the commission, told the Supreme Judicial Court that an indefinite suspension that would allow lawmakers to decide whether to remove Judge Thomas Estes from the bench is the only proper punishment for behavior Neff called "egregious."

"Unless this court sets a precedent that makes it absolutely clear that this type of conduct will not be tolerated ... there is little hope that public trust in the administration of public justice in Massachusetts will be restored," Neff said.

Estes admits he had a sexual relationship with Tammy Cagle, who worked in the special drug court where he sat. But Estes denies allegations Cagle made in a federal lawsuit, including that he coerced her into performing oral sex on him and played a role in getting her removed from the drug court when she tried to end the relationship.

Estes, who's married and has two teenage boys, attended Tuesday's hearing but left the courthouse without speaking to reporters. The court did not immediately decide Estes' punishment. He is asking for a four-month suspension.


Clicking 'checkout' could cost more after Supreme Court case
Legal Network | 2018/04/17 12:35
The Supreme Court is hearing a case this week that could affect how much customers pay for online purchases.

At issue is a rule saying that businesses don't have to collect state sales taxes when those businesses ship to a state where they don't have an office, warehouse or other physical presence.

Large retailers with brick-and-mortar stores have to collect sales taxes nationwide, but smaller online sellers can often avoid doing so.

Large retailers say the rule puts them at a competitive disadvantage. States say they're losing out in billions of dollars in tax revenue.

But small businesses that sell online say the complexity and expense of collecting taxes nationwide could drive them out of business.


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