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•  National News - Legal News
Asbestos Court to resolve hundreds of claims

•  National News     updated  2017/12/01 14:21


The Montana Supreme Court on Tuesday issued an order creating an asbestos claims court to resolve hundreds of Libby asbestos-related cases pending in the state’s trial courts.

The cases have languished for years because W.R. Grace & Co. — the owner of the defunct vermiculite mine near Libby that is blamed for widespread asbestos disease and death in that community — filed for bankruptcy protection shortly after the Montana Legislature passed the Asbestos Claims Court Act in 2001. Now those cases can proceed in the state court system.

The high court’s order places all pending asbestos cases into a specialty court. Flathead District Judge Amy Eddy, who has an extensive background in complex civil litigation, will preside over the court initially, handling pre-trial proceedings.

“It’s an enormous responsibility, but resolution needs to be brought to these cases,” Eddy said. “It would be devastating to the judicial resources, which are severely underfunded, if they were to be litigated on an individual basis.”

Eddy said her work with the District Court is and will remain a priority, and stressed that no local resources will be used for the asbestos claims court. The venue will be in the Montana Supreme Court, “as a specialty court, using their resources,” she said.



Germany’s highest court has decided that people must be allowed to be entered in official records as neither male nor female, saying in a ruling published Wednesday that authorities should create a third identity or scrap gender entries altogether.

The Federal Constitutional Court ruled on a case in which a plaintiff, identified by advocacy group Dritte Option only as Vanja, born in 1989, sought to have their entry in the birth register changed from “female” to “inter/diverse” or “diverse.”

Officials rejected the application on the grounds that the law only allows for children to be registered as male or female, or for the gender to be left blank.

The plaintiff argued that that was a violation of their personal rights. In a three-year legal battle, Vanja provided courts with a genetic analysis showing the plaintiff has one X chromosome but no second sex chromosome. Women have two X chromosomes, while men have one X and one Y chromosome.

The supreme court found that the law protects sexual identity, which has a “key position” in how individuals perceive themselves and are perceived by others. It said that “the sexual identity of those people who can be assigned neither to the male nor the female sex is also protected,” and said the constitution also protects them against discrimination because of their gender. The government has until the end of 2018 to draw up new rules.




A federal judge on Monday barred President Donald Trump's administration from proceeding with plans to exclude transgender people from military service.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled that the transgender service members who had sued over Trump's policy were likely to win their lawsuit. She directed a return to the situation that existed before Trump announced his new policy this summer, saying the administration had provided no solid evidence for why a ban should be implemented.

Trump had ordered a reinstatement of the longstanding policy that barred transgender individuals from joining the military; service members who were revealed to be transgender were subject to discharge. Under President Barack Obama, that policy was changed last year to allow transgender people to serve openly.

The Trump administration may appeal Kollar-Kotelly's decision, but for now, the proposed ban remains unenforceable under Kollar-Kotelly's preliminary injunction.

"We disagree with the court's ruling and are currently evaluating the next steps," said Justice Department spokesman Lauren Ehrsam.

She reiterated the department's view that the lawsuit was premature because the Pentagon was still in the process of reviewing how the transgender policy might evolve.

One of the attorneys handling the lawsuit, Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said the ruling was an enormous relief to his clients.




A federal appeals court is being asked to decide whether government agents can search cell phones and laptops at airports without a search warrant.

The American Civil Liberties Union argues that warrantless searches of personal information on electronic devices are unconstitutional, and that significant privacy interests are at stake.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond hears arguments Thursday in the case of a Turkish national convicted of trying to illegally smuggle weapons parts to Turkey.

Hamza Kolsuz was arrested at Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia after agents found weapons parts in his luggage, and a judge denied his motion to suppress evidence found during a forensic search of his phone.



A federal appeals court handed the U.S. government a victory Tuesday in its fight against lawsuits opposing a decision to end a program protecting some young immigrants from deportation.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan directed Brooklyn judges to expeditiously decide if a court can properly review the decision to end in March the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. The government insists it cannot.

Activists are suing the government in New York, California, the District of Columbia and Maryland. DACA has protected about 800,000 people, many of them currently in college, who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children or came with families that overstayed visas.

A three-judge 2nd Circuit panel issued a brief order after hearing oral arguments. It said the government will not have to continue to produce documents or submit to depositions before the lower court decides whether the cases can proceed. It also said it will only decide the issue of whether to order the lower court to limit document production once those issues are addressed.

Attorney Michael Wishnie, who argued for plaintiffs suing the government, praised the appeals court for having "moved swiftly to address the government filings in this case."

And he noted that a Brooklyn judge gave the government until Friday to submit written arguments on the legal issues the appeals court said must be resolved before the case proceeds. The plaintiffs must submit their arguments by Nov. 1.

Earlier Tuesday, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Hashim M. Mooppan told the appeals court panel the government planned to ask the Brooklyn federal court by early next week to dismiss the lawsuits.

He said lawyers fighting the government were engaging in a "massive fishing expedition" for documents and testimony that would reveal the deliberative processes at the highest levels of the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department. He called it "wholly improper."

Mooppan seemed to get a sympathetic ear from appeals judges, with one of them saying the government's opponents seemed to be pursuing "a disguised application under the Freedom of Information Act."

"There are a lot of different ways this is very wrong, your honor. That might be one of them," Mooppan said.



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