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•  Recent Cases - Legal News


The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez’s appeal of his corruption indictment, setting the stage for a federal trial in the fall.

The justices let stand a lower court ruling that refused to dismiss charges including conspiracy, bribery and fraud against the Democratic lawmaker.

Menendez was indicted in 2015 after prosecutors said he took official action on behalf of a longtime friend who had given him gifts and campaign donations including flights aboard a luxury jet and a Paris vacation.

The friend, Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen, currently is on trial in Florida on multiple counts of Medicare fraud that are separate from the counts he faces in the Menendez indictment.

The indictment alleges Menendez used his official influence to set up meetings with government officials aimed at helping Melgen in a Medicare dispute and with a business interest involving port security in the Dominican Republic.

Menendez has contended he was seeking to influence future policy instead of advocating on behalf of his friend, and that the government is attempting to use the timing of campaign donations to create a quid pro quo between him and Melgen that he claims never existed.




Court: Student prayers OK at school board meetings

•  Recent Cases     updated  2017/03/21 01:28


A Texas school board can open its meetings with student-led public prayers without running afoul of the Constitution's prohibition against government-established religion, a federal appeals court ruled Monday.

The ruling by a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans upheld a lower court ruling dismissing a lawsuit against the Birdville Independent School District. The suit was filed by the American Humanist Association and a graduate of Birdville High School.

The panel said student-led prayers for legislative bodies differ from unconstitutional prayers in public schools.

The panel noted a 2014 Supreme Court ruling allowing prayers at a town council meeting in Greece, New York, and said the prayers at the Birdville school board fall under that "legislative prayer exception."

"It would be nonsensical to permit legislative prayers but bar the legislative officers for whom they are being primarily recited from participating in the prayers in any way," Judge Jerry E. Smith wrote for the panel. "Indeed, the Supreme Court did not take issue with the fact that Town of Greece board members bowed their heads during invocations."

The opinion noted that the Birdville school board meetings are held in an administration building — not in a school. People attending can enter and leave at any time, including during the prayer. It said the board meetings open with a student-led Pledge of Allegiance and a statement that can include a prayer, although the statements are sometimes secular.




North Carolina's new Democratic governor and majority Republican legislature are charging at each other in a constitutional game of chicken over their powers, a confrontation that could shape the recent conservative direction of state policies and spending.

The confrontation continues Tuesday, when the two branches of state government appear for a court hearing before the third. A panel of three trial judges will gather in Raleigh to hear lawyers for Gov. Roy Cooper dispute attorneys for the state House and Senate leaders over whether new laws are constitutional.

"This is a fight that involves really the three branches of government. It's one of a series of possible contests that we can see as the governor serves his term in office about who is going to make what decisions," High Point University political scientist Martin Kifer said. "It also has to do with the pace of policymaking. This isn't speeding things up."

GOP lawmakers passed several provisions that reduced the incoming governor's powers during a surprise special legislative session two weeks before Cooper took office Jan. 1. The laws:

— require Cooper's choices to run 10 state agencies to be approved by the GOP-led Senate.

— strip Cooper's control over administering elections and gives Republicans control over state and local elections boards during even-numbered years when elections for major statewide and national office are held.

— slash Cooper's patronage hiring discretion and gives civil service protections to hundreds of political appointees hired by former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who narrowly lost to Cooper last fall.

Cooper might not like the increasing number of limits Republicans impose, but he'd better get used to it, attorneys for legislative leaders said in a court filing. The state's constitution and legal precedents have created one of the country's weakest governors, and makes the General Assembly the dominant branch, attorneys for state House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger wrote.



A court security officer in Maine has been placed on leave while under investigation for sending a cellphone photo of a defense attorney's notes to a prosecutor.

The Kennebec Journal reports that court officials are calling the incident a serious ethical breach and violation of courtroom protocol.

Sgt. Joel Eldridge took the photo Tuesday as a judge and attorneys discussed a case involving robbery, aggravated assault and criminal mischief. Assistant District Attorney Francis Griffin told the judge he saw the photo on his phone and reported the incident to the district attorney.

Defense attorney Sherry Tash said she was told the photo showed her notes of a person's name and number. Eldridge declined comment. He's on administrative leave with pay pending an internal investigation by the Kennebec County Sheriff's Department.




A federal appeals court has cleared the way for Florida doctors to talk with patients about whether they own guns.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that key provisions of a 2011 law that restricted such speech violate the First Amendment.

Three-judge panels of the same court had issued conflicting rulings in a long-running challenge to the law brought by 11,000 medical providers and others. The case has become known as Docs vs. Glocks.

Backed by Gov. Rick Scott, the law prohibited doctors from asking patients about gun ownership unless it was medically necessary. Doctors say asking about guns is a safety issue and could save lives.

While ruling that much of the law violates free-speech rights, the court said some parts could remain in place.




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