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Veteran Alabama law enforcement officer Mark Pettway grew up in a black neighborhood called “Dynamite Hill” because the Ku Klux Klan bombed so many houses there in the 1950s and ’60s.

Now, after becoming the first black person elected sheriff in Birmingham - on the same day voters elected the community’s first black district attorney - Pettway sees himself as part of a new wave of officers and court officials tasked with enforcing laws and rebuilding community trust fractured by police shootings, mass incarceration, and uneven enforcement that critics call racist.

In a state where conservative politicians typically preach about getting tough on crime, Jefferson County’s new sheriff ran and won on an alternative message. He favors decriminalizing marijuana, opposes arming school employees, supports additional jailhouse education programs to reduce recidivism and plans for deputies to go out and talk to people more often, rather than just patrolling.

“Going forward we need to think about being smarter and not being harder,” said the Democrat Pettway, 54.

While the nation’s law enforcement officers are still mostly white men, and groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and Black Lives Matter call for sweeping changes in the criminal justice system, minorities appear to be making gains nationwide.

In Pettway’s case, strong turnout by African-American voters, combined with national concern over police shootings of unarmed people of color, helped him defeat longtime Sheriff Mike Hale, a white Republican, said professor Angela K. Lewis, interim chair of political science at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Winners in other cities attributed their success to similar factors.

Houston voters elected 17 black women as judges in the midterms. Even before the election, nearly the entire criminal justice system in the Georgia city of South Fulton, near Atlanta was run by black women, including the chief judge, prosecutor, chief clerk and public defender. They’re offering more chances for criminal defendants to avoid convictions through pre-trial programs and increased use of taxpayer-funded lawyers to protect the rights of the accused.

Chief Judge Tiffany C. Sellers of South Fulton’s municipal court said officials also explain court procedures in detail to defendants, many of whom haven’t been in court before and are scared.


WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will not willingly travel to the United States to face charges filed under seal against him, one of his lawyers said, foreshadowing a possible fight over extradition for a central figure in the U.S. special counsel’s Russia-Trump investigation.

Assange, who has taken cover in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he has been granted asylum, has speculated publicly for years that the Justice Department had brought secret criminal charges against him for revealing highly sensitive government information on his website.

That hypothesis appeared closer to reality after prosecutors, in an errant court filing in an unrelated case, inadvertently revealed the existence of sealed charges. The filing, discovered Thursday night, said the charges and arrest warrant “would need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter.”

A person familiar with the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity because the case had not been made public, confirmed that charges had been filed under seal. The exact charges Assange faces and when they might be unsealed remained uncertain Friday.

Any charges against him could help illuminate whether Russia coordinated with the Trump campaign to sway the 2016 presidential election. They also would suggest that, after years of internal Justice Department wrangling, prosecutors have decided to take a more aggressive tack against WikiLeaks.

A criminal case also holds the potential to expose the practices of a radical transparency activist who has been under U.S. government scrutiny for years and at the center of some of the most explosive disclosures of stolen information in the last decade.

Those include thousands of military and State Department cables from Army Pvt. Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning, secret CIA hacking tools, and most recently and notoriously, Democratic emails that were published in the weeks before the 2016 presidential election and that U.S. intelligence officials say had been hacked by Russia.

Federal special counsel Robert Mueller, who has already charged 12 Russian military intelligence officers with hacking, has been investigating whether any Trump associates had advance knowledge of the stolen emails.


The Nebraska Supreme Court has rejected the latest appeal by a man convicted of killing a University of Nebraska at Omaha student whose body has never been found.

The high court Friday upheld a lower court's denial of Christopher Edwards' second motion for post-conviction relief. The court found that Edwards' appeal saying the lower court should have held an evidentiary hearing on his claim that his attorney was ineffective was filed too late.

Edwards was convicted of second-degree murder in the 2006 disappearance of 19-year-old Jessica O'Grady, whose body was never found. Edwards was sentenced to 100 years to life.

The high court rejected Edwards' first post-conviction relief motion in 2012. In that motion, Edwards argued that a corrupt Douglas County crime scene investigator planted blood evidence to frame him.



Mexico's Supreme Court invalidated a controversial law signed last year that created a legal framework for the military to work in a policing role in much of the country, ruling Thursday that the measure violated the constitution by trying to normalize the use of the armed forces in public safety.

Deep-rooted corruption and ineffectiveness among local and state police forces has led Mexico to rely heavily on the military to combat drug cartels in parts of the country.

But military commanders have long expressed uneasiness about what was essentially an open-ended policing mission. The armed forces have been implicated in a number of human rights abuse cases.

On Wednesday, President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announced a security plan that would also lean on the military. He proposed forming a National Guard initially made up of elements from the navy and army police as well as federal police.

After drawing a raft of criticism, especially from human rights groups, Lopez Obrador sought on Thursday to distinguish between his plan and his predecessors'. He said congress would seek a constitutional reform to allow it.

"Because I don't want to use the army and the navy like they have been doing for public safety work if they are not authorized to carry out those functions," Lopez Obrador said.

But the international human rights group Amnesty International said the Supreme Court's decision should cause Lopez Obrador to rethink his security plan.


The Florida Supreme Court says it's OK for judges to be friends on Facebook with attorneys who have cases before them.

In a 4-3 decision, the justices ruled that a Facebook friend is more casual and not comparable to a "traditional" friendship in terms of a potential conflict of interest. The decision says that many Facebook friends are complete strangers.

The ruling settles a split between two Florida appeals courts on the question. The three dissenters argued that a judge having a Facebook friend as an attorney before him could undermine confidence in the neutrality of the courts.

And Justice Jorge LaBarga, while agreeing with the majority, said all judges should stay off Facebook, delete their account when becoming a judge or at least limit their social media friendships.


Mixed rulings from Kentucky Supreme Court

  Legal Business  -   POSTED: 2018/11/16 18:48

Kentucky’s state Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a law requiring a panel of doctors to review medical malpractice lawsuits and upheld a law banning mandatory union dues for most employees.

The rulings gave Republicans and Democrats each something to celebrate, as the GOP passed both laws in their first year of control over the loud opposition of some Democrats. Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has credited the union dues law, known as right-to-work, with spurring record levels of business investment in Kentucky. But the medical review panel law has been criticized for clogging the state’s court system.

For the past year, whenever someone files a medical malpractice lawsuit in Kentucky it is first reviewed by a panel of doctors before it can go to court. The doctors have nine months to issue a report on whether they think the claim has merit. The report can then be used as evidence at trial.

Republican state Sen. Ralph Alvarado, an emergency room doctor, sponsored the bill with the goal of reducing frivolous lawsuits. Tonya Claycomb sued to overturn the law on behalf of her child, Ezra, who was born with severe brain damage and cerebral palsy she says was caused by medical malpractice. She argued the bill had delayed her access to the courts, citing section 14 of the Kentucky Constitution. It says all courts shall be open and every person will have access “without ... delay.”

Lawyers for Gov. Bevin argued the law is helpful because it gets the two sides talking before a lawsuit is filed, which could lead to an agreement to settle the case outside of court. They also argued section 14 of the Constitution only applies to the courts, not the legislature.

But the court ruled the law is unconstitutional because it delays access to the courts, rejecting the argument that section 14 of the state Constitution only applies to the courts.



A lawyer representing one of two women who have accused Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan of raping them in France says a court has approved Ramadan's release from jail.

Lawyer Francis Szpiner said a French court granted the 56-year-old Oxford University professor's release Thursday on condition he pay 300,000 euros ($340,000) bail, surrender his Swiss passport and remain in France.

Ramadan, a Swiss citizen, was jailed in February and handed preliminary rape charges 9 1/2 months ago over two alleged assaults in France, one in 2009 and another in 2012. A third woman filed a rape complaint against him in March.

The outspoken scholar denies any wrongdoing and filed a lawsuit claiming the allegations are false. The allegations surfaced as the #Metoo movement took hold in France.

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