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Jackson County Circuit Judge W. Brent Powell was appointed Tuesday to the Missouri Supreme Court, marking the first high-profile judicial selection by new Republican Gov. Eric Greitens.

Powell will replace former Judge Richard Teitelman, who died in November at his home in St. Louis.

Powell, a 46-year-old Kansas City resident, was appointed by former Republican Gov. Matt Blunt as a Jackson County judge in 2008. He previously spent seven years as an assistant U.S. attorney in Kansas City and also worked as an assistant Platte County prosecutor.

Greitens said Powell has established himself as "an outstanding jurist."

"He has received high marks for being humble, fair-minded and of the highest integrity," Greitens said in a written statement accompanying his announcement. "I am confident Judge Powell will be committed to strengthening and improving our court system and guarding the rule of law as a judge on our state's highest court."

Powell's wife, Beth Phillips, was appointed as a U.S. district judge in 2011 by Democratic President Barack Obama after serving as U.S. attorney in Kansas City. His sister-in-law, Jennifer Phillips, was appointed to the Jackson County Circuit Court in 2014 by former Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon after serving as an assistant county prosecutor. Powell's father, his father-in-law, an uncle and several cousins also have been attorneys.

"Coming from a clan of lawyers, this is a very special day for me and my family," Phillips said Tuesday in a written statement. "As I step into this new role, I hope to model the humility and judicial temperament exhibited by the late Judge Richard Teitelman who was known for his kindness and congeniality."

Unlike at the federal level, Missouri Supreme Court appointees are not subject to Senate confirmation. Instead, Powell will face a retention vote for a 12-year term during the 2018 general election.

Powell's appointment could shift the court a little to the right. Though Missouri appeals judges don't run as Democrats or Republicans, Teitelman had been appointed by former Democratic Gov. Bob Holden and typically aligned along liberal lines.

Powell's addition will mean three of the state's seven Supreme Court judges were appointed by Republican governors.





The trial of two Canadian men from a fundamentalist sect that allows men to have multiple wives opened Tuesday with not guilty pleas being entered on charges of practicing polygamy.

Winston Blackmore and James Oler each face one count of polygamy. Both men have served as bishops for the religious settlement of Bountiful, British Columbia which follows the teachings of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-Day Saints, often referred to as the FLDS.

Oler is accused of having four wives. He pleaded not guilty. Blackmore remained mute and Justice Sheri Ann Donegan said a not guilty plea would be entered on his behalf. Blackmore is accused of marrying 24 women over 25 years.

Blackmore's lawyer, Blair Suffredine, said outside court his client chose to say nothing for religious reasons.

"He doesn't want to deny his faith. He doesn't feel guilty," Suffredine said. "The technical way around that is don't say anything and they'll enter the plea not guilty."

Special prosecutor Peter Wilson told the court his case includes marriage records seized from the church's Yearning for Zion Ranch in Texas, which were used in 2010 to sentence leader Warren Jeffs to life in a U.S. prison for sexually assaulting two young girls.



Arkansas' attempt to carry out its first execution in nearly 12 years wasn't thwarted by the type of liberal activist judge Republicans regularly bemoan here, but instead by a state Supreme Court that's been the focus of expensive campaigns by conservative groups to reshape the judiciary.

The court voted Wednesday to halt the execution of an inmate facing lethal injection Thursday night, two days after justices stayed the executions of two other inmates. The series of 4-3 decisions blocking the start of what had been an unprecedented plan to execute eight men in 11 days were only the latest in recent years preventing this deeply Republican state from resuming capital punishment.

The possibility that justices could continue sparing the lives of the remaining killers scheduled to die this month has left death penalty supporters including Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson frustrated and critical of the high court.

"I know the families of the victims are anxious for a clear-cut explanation from the majority as to how they came to this conclusion and how there appears to be no end to the court's review," Hutchinson said in a statement after the Wednesday ruling.

Since the last execution in 2005, the state Supreme Court has at least twice forced Arkansas to rewrite its death penalty law. One of those cases spared Don Davis, who again received a stay Monday night. The legal setbacks at one point prompted the state's previous attorney general, Dustin McDaniel, to declare Arkansas' death penalty system "broken."

But unlike the earlier decisions, this stay came from a court that had shifted to the right in recent elections. Outside groups and the candidates spent more than $1.6 million last year on a pair of high court races that were among the most fiercely fought judicial campaigns in the state's history. Arkansas was among a number of states where conservative groups spent millions on such efforts.






President Donald Trump is once again taking aim at a federal appeals court district that covers Western states, saying he is considering breaking up a circuit that is a longtime target of Republicans and is where his first travel ban was halted.

Yet it would take congressional action to break up the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Republicans have introduced bills this year to do just that.

Asked Wednesday during a White House interview by the Washington Examiner if he'd thought about proposals to break up the court, Trump replied, "Absolutely, I have."

"There are many people that want to break up the 9th Circuit. It's outrageous," he told the Examiner. He accused critics of appealing to the 9th district "because they know that's like, semi-automatic."

The comments echoed his Twitter criticism of the court Wednesday morning.

Trump called U.S. District Judge William Orrick's preliminary injunction against his order stripping money from so-called sanctuary cities "ridiculous" on Twitter. He said he planned to take that case to the Supreme Court. However, an administration appeal of the district court's decision must go first to the 9th Circuit.

Republicans have talked for years about splitting the circuit into two appellate courts, but earlier legislative proposals have failed, most recently in 2005. Those battles have often pitted lawmakers from California against members from smaller, more conservative states.

Critics say the court has a liberal slant, a high caseload and distances that are too far for judges to travel. The circuit is the largest of the federal appellate courts, representing 20 percent of the U.S. population. It includes California, Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.

The circuit has 29 judges, many more than the 5th, which is the next largest circuit with 17 judges. It was created in 1891 when the American West was much less populated.

Democrats have opposed the split. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., was a leading opponent in the 2005 push, which she said was politically motivated. She has suggested adding judges to the court instead.



A Hawaii man accused of killing his mother months ago stuffed her dismembered body parts in seven plastic bags in the kitchen freezer of the Waikiki apartment they shared, according to court documents made public Monday.

Yu Wei Gong has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of Liu Yun Gong.

He called 911 on April 11 and said: “’I killed my Mom,’” according to a detective’s affidavit supporting an arrest warrant. When officers arrived and could not find the woman, Gong told them she was “in the fridge,” the complaint said.  

An officer found what appeared to be body parts.

“Another covered object in the freezer felt to a different officer like a human leg and foot,” the complaint said.

Yu Wei Gong didn’t speak or enter a plea during a brief court appearance Monday. Deputy Public Defender Diamond Grace requested a Mandarin interpreter for his preliminary hearing, scheduled for Wednesday. He remained in custody with bail set at $2 million.

Grace didn’t immediately return a phone message seeking comment after the hearing.

Authorities say Yu Wei Gong told officers that he accidentally killed his mother in September after she became angry when the 26-year-old said he wanted to work instead of going to school.

Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Rachel Lange determined Liu Yun Gong had suffered blunt force injuries to the head, the complaint said. Her identity was confirmed by comparing fingerprints to those on file under her Hawaii driver’s license.

The manager of the apartment building where they lived told police he had not seen the man’s mother since before Christmas, the complaint said.

It said Liu Yun Gong did not show up for work on Aug. 21, 2016. When a supervisor called her phone, it went unanswered. Yu Wei Gong called the supervisor the next day, saying his mother was on another Hawaiian island and had left her phone at home.

Three women watched the hearing and said outside court they wanted to support Gong spiritually because he had attended their church.




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