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A former office worker for financier Jeffrey Epstein testified at the sex abuse trial of Ghislaine Maxwell on Thursday that she worked on a daily basis with Maxwell for six years and had only admiration for her.

Cimberly Espinosa, the first defense witness, told a jury she was Maxwell’s assistant at Epstein’s New York City office on Madison Avenue from 1996 to 2002. Maxwell was managing Epstein’s multiple high-end properties at the time, she said, calling it a “huge job.”

“I highly respected her,” Espinosa said in federal court in Manhattan. “I looked up to her very much.”

The defense case began after the jury heard four women detail accusations that they were teens when they became victims of a sex-abuse scheme devised by Maxwell and Epstein. The British socialite’s attorneys are expected to make their case that Maxwell isn’t the one to blame.

The government’s case lasted only two weeks and the defense case could last just two days. Both sides streamlined their witness lists without revealing why, making the trial end well short of an original six-week estimate.

The start of the defense case has already sparked the usual speculation about whether the high-profile defendant will take the witness stand in her own defense — a gamble that is almost never taken. Either way, U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan will have to receive direct confirmation from Maxwell about her decision before the defense can rest.

Maxwell was once Epstein’s girlfriend before becoming a trusted employee. Witnesses testified the pair exploited them between 1994 to 2004 at Epstein’s homes, including an estate in Palm Beach, Florida; his posh Manhattan townhouse; and a Santa Fe, New Mexico, ranch.

The defense has insisted that Maxwell is being made a scapegoat for alleged sex crimes by Epstein, who killed himself in jail in 2019. Her lawyers have sought to show that the accusers exaggerated her involvement at the behest of lawyers seeking payouts for the women from civil claims against the Epstein estate.

The Michigan Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday in a challenge to whether a new state commission creating maps for the Legislature and Congress can keep certain business a secret.

News organizations are suing to get access to a recording of a closed meeting and some memos at the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission. The commission has refused, citing attorney-client privilege.

Voters in 2018 created the commission through an amendment to the state constitution, taking the job of mapmaking out of the hands of politicians. More than 130 hearings have been open to the public.

On Oct. 27, the commission met privately for 75 minutes after receiving public feedback about draft maps. The memos at issue involved federal voting law and the impact of discrimination on elections.

“Trying to figure out how to draw the lines around” attorney-client privilege “feels very tricky and a job I wish the constitution had given to someone besides us,” Chief Justice Bridget McCormack said.

Attorney Kurtis Wilder, arguing on behalf of news organizations, said the task of making maps was radically changed by voters.

“What used to be done in secret the public wanted done in the open,” he said.

An attorney for the commission, David Fink, said data and materials used in creating maps must be made public. He argued that the memos withheld from the public don’t fit.

“For this court to micromanage what the commission does on a day-to-day basis seems to be outside the realm of practical experience and constitutional intent,” Fink told the Supreme Court.

Commissioners will meet Dec. 28 to vote on final maps. There are four U.S. House options, three state House options and three state Senate options that were collaboratively drawn.

The Georgia Supreme Court upheld a lower court decision Tuesday dismissing a challenge to the governor’s appointment of a former state senator as a superior court judge.

The ruling allows Jesse Stone to remain a judge in the Augusta Judicial Circuit. His appointment by Gov. Brian Kemp had been challenged by lawyer Maureen Floyd, who argued Kemp had waited too long to appoint him to fill a vacancy on the court.

The vacancy was created when former judge Michael Annis sent a letter to the governor in December 2019 saying he intended to resign Feb. 1, 2020. The state’s Judicial Nominating Commission on Feb. 17, 2020, submitted a list of four potential candidates to fill the seat, including Stone. Kemp appointed Stone to the seat on Feb. 22, 2021, for a term to end Dec. 31, 2022.

Floyd argued Kemp had waited too long because Annis’ term expired at the end of 2020. Senior Judge Michael Karpf ruled Kemp had not violated the state constitution’s requirement that Kemp fill the vacancy “promptly” and wrote that it did not matter that Annis’ term had run out because previous case law stated that judicial terms of office are eliminated when judges resign.

The judge also rejected Floyd’s claims that Kemp manipulated the appointment process to give Stone a longer period in office before he had to face voters.

Karpf noted Stone will face voters in a nonpartisan election next year, the same time he would have gone before voters even if Kemp had appointed him in February 2020, because state law requires at least a six-month delay before an appointed judge faces voters. Judicial elections generally take place in May, not on the November ballot that includes partisan elected officials.

The high court upheld Karpf’s ruling and noted that removing Stone would prolong the vacancy of that office.

The Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from a conservative think tank over Gov. Tony Evers’ decision to exclude the group’s writers from press briefings.

The justices acted without comment Monday, leaving in place lower court rulings that said the decision is legal.

The John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy filed the lawsuit in 2019 alleging that Evers, a Democrat, violated its staffers’ constitutional rights to free speech, freedom of the press and equal access.

Former Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, had joined in the institute’s bid for high-court review. Evers defeated Walker in 2018.

Last year, a federal judge rejected the group’s arguments, saying MacIver can still report on Evers without being invited to his press briefings or being on his email distribution list. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld that ruling in April.

Former Republican Gov. Scott Walker had urged the Supreme Court to take the case, arguing that the ruling in favor of Evers allows censorship because it permits picking and choosing which reporters attend press events that have long been open to reporters but closed to the general public.

The appeals court ruled that Evers’ media-access criteria was reasonable and he was under no obligation to grant access for every news outlet to every news conference.

MacIver had argued that Evers was excluding its staffers and violating their free speech rights because they are conservatives. Evers said they were excluded because they are not principally a news gathering operation and they are not neutral.

Evers’ spokeswoman Britt Cudaback did not immediately return a message Monday seeking comment on the Supreme Court’s decision. MacIver’s attorney Dan Suhr also did not immediately return a message.

MacIver covers legislative meetings and other events at the Capitol as well as some Evers news conferences. But the institute sued after being excluded from a media briefing Evers gave for reporters on his state budget proposal in 2019. Evers wasn’t present, but members of his administration provided information to reporters on embargo ahead of his budget speech to the Legislature that evening.

The appeals court noted that a limited number of reporters were allowed into the event. Reporters from The Associated Press, along with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Wisconsin State Journal, were among those present for that briefing.

Former governors, including Walker, also limited the number of reporters and news outlets that could attend budget briefings and other events.

Anchorage has won its lawsuit with a federal agency over failed construction at the state’s largest port.

U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge Edward J. Damich on Thursday found the U.S. Maritime Administration breached its 2003 and 2011 agreements with the Municipality of Anchorage over construction at the Port of Anchorage, KTUU-TV reported. The facility has since been renamed the Port of Alaska.

“It’s an enormous vindication of what we’ve been saying all along, and that’s basically that the federal government had control of this project and they didn’t perform — they messed it up,” assistant municipal attorney Robert Owens said.

In 2014, Anchorage filed a lawsuit against the maritime administration for more than $300 million over failed construction in the effort to replace deteriorating facilities and upgrade port infrastructure to meet increasing demands.

A nine-day trial was held last spring, at which the municipality argued the government’s 2003 and 2011 agreements required the agency to provide technical expertise to oversee, design and construct the expansion project “free of defect,” the court documents show.

The government countered that Anchorage was the party responsible for managing and executing the project, and the maritime administration didn’t breach any duties.

The judge sided with Anchorage, saying the federal agency failed to enforce its contractual duties or administer funds properly.

The amount of damages have not been awarded yet. Both sides have 10 days to submit arguments for what they believe the monetary award should be.

Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson called the verdict a victory for Alaska.

“The Port of Alaska is a vital piece of infrastructure for all Alaskans, with roughly 90% of our population touched by goods that come through the Port,” Bronson said in a statement.

The municipality is working with the state and federal government to secure nearly $1.6 billion to repair the port, Bronson said.

An email sent Friday to the U.S. Maritime Administration seeking comment was not immediately returned.

A federal judge on Friday temporarily blocked a Tennessee law that sharply restricts public schools from requiring masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and forbids local officials from making decisions about quarantines.

U.S. District Judge Waverly Crenshaw, noting that the law “offers no protection to students, let alone those that are disabled,” ruled that it cannot be enforced until a lawsuit challenging it is resolved in court.

The lawsuit against the state was filed on behalf of eight students between the ages of seven and 14 who have disabilities and who are deemed by federal health officials as being more vulnerable to serious illness or death if they get COVID-19. The ruling also blocks the law’s provision that says local health and school officials can’t make their own coronavirus quarantining decisions.

“It is also in the public’s interest to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Tennessee’s schools,” Crenshaw wrote in his ruling. “Defendants have proffered absolutely nothing to suggest that any harm would come from allowing individual school districts to determine what is best for their schools, just as they did prior to the enactment of (the law.)”

The Supreme Court on Friday left in place Texas’ ban on most abortions, offering only a glimmer of daylight for clinics in the state to challenge the nation’s most restrictive abortion law.

The decision, little more than a week after the court signaled it would roll back abortion rights and possibly overturn its landmark Roe v. Wade decision, was greeted with dismay by abortion rights supporters but praise by opponents.

Five conservative justices, including three appointed by former President Donald Trump, formed a majority to limit who can be sued by the clinics, a result that both sides said probably will prevent federal courts from effectively blocking the law.

Texas licensing officials may be sued, but not state court judges, court clerks or state Attorney General Ken Paxton, the court ruled. That seems to leave people free, under the unusual structure of the Texas law, to sue abortion clinics and anyone else who “aids or abets” an abortion performed after cardiac activity is detected in an embryo, around six weeks and before some women know they’re pregnant.

“The Supreme Court has essentially greenlit Texas’s cynical scheme and prevented federal courts from blocking an unconstitutional law,” the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents the Texas clinics, said on Twitter.

The court acted more than a month after hearing arguments over the law, which makes no exceptions for rape or incest.

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