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•  Headline Legal News - Legal News


The Mississippi Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday in a lawsuit that’s trying to block a voter-approved medical marijuana program by arguing that the the issue should not have been on the ballot.

Arguments were not about marijuana. Instead, they were about Mississippi’s initiative process.

Voters in November approved Initiative 65, which requires the state Health Department to establish a medical marijuana program by the middle of this year. The department is working to create a program, even as the legal fight continues.

To get Initiative 65 on the statewide ballot, organizers gathered signatures from the five congressional districts that Mississippi used during the 1990s. They did that based on legal advice issued years ago by the state attorney general’s office.

Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler filed a lawsuit days before the election, contending that the state’s initiative process is outdated.

The Mississippi Constitution says petitioners must gather an equal number of signatures from five congressional districts. The state dropped from five congressional districts to four after the 2000 Census, but the constitution’s language about initiatives was not updated. Butler’s lawsuit argues that this creates a mathematical impossibility with four districts because the constitution still specifies that no more than one-fifth of the signatures may come from any single district.

In papers filed Dec. 28 and in the Supreme Court on Wednesday, state attorneys argued that Mississippi has two sets of congressional districts ? one set used for congressional elections and one set used for other purposes.

Attorneys for Butler argued that the only purpose of a congressional district is to have geographical boundaries for electing U.S. House members.

Butler opposed Initiative 65 because it limits a city’s ability to regulate the location of medical marijuana businesses.

The Health Department, the Mississippi Municipal League and some others filed briefs supporting Butler’s lawsuit. The Health Department argued that Initiative 65 seeks to transform the department “into something it is not,” even as the department is stretched because of the coronavirus pandemic.

During the legislative session that recently ended, the Senate tried to create rules for a state medical marijuana program, but the House defeated the effort. Republican Sen. Kevin Blackwell of DeSoto County said the proposal was a backstop to have a program in place in case the Supreme Court agrees with Butler and invalidates Initiative 65. But supporters of Initiative 65 balked at the Senate’s proposal, saying they saw it as an attempt to usurp the will of the voters.



The Texas Supreme Court sidestepped a ruling Friday on whether the state’s embattled power grid operator that remains under fire following February’s deadly blackouts can be sued.

The 5-4 decision comes a month after one of the worst power outages in U.S. history, which left millions of people without electricity for days in subfreezing weather. More than 50 people died, a toll that authorities say will likely climb as autopsies are completed.

The ruling was criticized by Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, who called it wasting “everyone’s time” at a moment when interest is high following the storm. The question of whether the Electric Reliability Council of Texas is immune to lawsuits was raised not by the recent blackouts but by an unrelated case that has dragged on for years.

The majority ruled that they had no jurisdiction in that case, making any determination moot.

Wrongful death lawsuits have piled up since the storm, and ERCOT faces an overhaul from state lawmakers. Outgoing CEO Bill Magness has claimed the outages were necessary to avert an event more catastrophic blackout that could have lasted for months.

Magness was fired, and several ERCOT board members have also resigned.



Once annually, sometimes less, the full federal appeals court in New York meets to confront a perplexing legal question. Most recently, it was to decide whether shooting somebody point-blank in the face and stabbing somebody to death are violent acts.

The 14 judges of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan who heard arguments in U.S. v. Gerald Scott were left to decide how to label the 1998 killings that they agreed were “undoubtedly brutal.”

Ultimately, the full court voted 9-to-5 this week to conclude that Scott’s crimes were indeed violent. But their votes came with a robust debate over a legal puzzle that has vexed multiple federal courts ? even if, they agreed, the answer might seem like common sense.

A lower-court judge had decided that Scott’s convictions' on manslaughter charges ? meant he had not been convicted of a violent crime. He was freed after serving just over 11 years of a 22-year sentence.

The decision did not shock judges who considered the appeal in November in a unique gathering known as an “en banc” meeting of the full 2nd Circuit.

That’s because two laws at stake ? the Armed Career Criminal Act and the Career Offender Sentencing Guideline ? do not define a violent crime by what the defendant actually did. Instead, the crime is defined by the minimum acts someone might have committed and still been convicted of the offense.

In Scott’s case, the lower court judge concluded that manslaughter can be a crime of omission in which no force is used ? if somebody fails to feed someone who dies of starvation or fails to tell someone that their food is poisoned, for example.

A three-judge 2nd Circuit panel later agreed, prompting federal prosecutors to seek the rare full-court proceeding to try to overturn the appeals finding.

The issue had been confronted before in at least two other “en banc” proceedings nationwide and by numerous judges in other court hearings. Still, in various opinions issued Tuesday, the judges in Scott’s case allowed that the question might sound odd to a layperson.



Moscow braced for more protests seeking the release of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who faces a court hearing Tuesday after two weekends of nationwide rallies and thousands of arrests in the largest outpouring of discontent in Russia in years.

Tens of thousands filled the streets across the vast country Sunday, chanting slogans against President Vladimir Putin and demanding freedom for Navalny, who was jailed last month and faces years in prison. Over 5,400 protesters were detained by authorities, according to a human rights group.

One of those taken into custody for several hours was Navalny’s wife, Yulia, who was ordered Monday to pay a fine of about $265 for participating in an unauthorized rally.

While state-run media dismissed the demonstrations as small and claimed that they showed the failure of the opposition, Navalny’s team said the turnout demonstrated “overwhelming nationwide support” for the Kremlin’s fiercest critic. His allies called for protesters to come to the Moscow courthouse on Tuesday.

“Without your help, we won’t be able to resist the lawlessness of the authorities,” his politician’s team said in a social media post.

Mass protests engulfed dozens of Russian cities for the second weekend in a row despite efforts by authorities to stifle the unrest triggered by the jailing of 44-year-old Navalny.

He was arrested Jan. 17 upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin. Russian authorities reject the accusation. He faces a prison term for alleged probation violations from a 2014 money-laundering conviction that is widely seen as politically motivated.

Last month, Russia’s prison service filed a motion to replace his 3 1/2-year suspended sentence from the conviction with one he must serve. The Prosecutor General’s office backed the motion Monday, alleging Navalny engaged in “unlawful conduct” during the probation period.



GameStop’s stock is back to the races Friday, and the overall U.S. market is down again, as the saga that’s captivated and confused Wall Street ramps up the drama.

GameStop shot up more than 70% in midday trading, clawing back most of its steep loss from the day before, after Robinhood said it will allow customers to start buying some of the stock again. GameStop has been on a stupefying 1,900% run over the last three weeks and has become the battleground where swarms of smaller investors see themselves making an epic stand against the 1%.

The assault is directed squarely at hedge funds and other Wall Street titans that had bet the struggling video game retailer’s stock would fall. A couple have already essentially admitted defeat, with one saying Friday it would stop publishing reports on stocks it expects to fall. The army of smaller and novice investors, meanwhile, is pledging to keep up the momentum for GameStop’s stock in hopes of inflicting more pain on the financial elite.

The moves are reverberating across Wall Street, as concerns rise about how much damage the frenzy could do as its effects spill out into the broader market. The big professional investors who had been banking on a drop for GameStop’s stock are taking sharp losses. Investors say that’s pushing them to sell other stocks they own to raise cash, and that is helping to pull down parts of the market completely unrelated to the revolt by Main Street investors.



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