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  Court Watch - Legal News


The Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether private businesses have the right to decline to provide services for gay weddings due to religious objections to participating in such ceremonies.

The justices announced Monday that they will hear a case presented by a Colorado bakery owner who claims his rights to free exercise of religion and free speech were violated when he was found to have run afoul of a state anti-discrimination law by turning down a gay couple’s order for a wedding cake in 2012.

The appeal by Masterpiece Cakeshop and its owner Jack Phillips, expected to be argued this fall, is the court’s first significant foray into the issue of gay rights since the landmark 2015 ruling that the Constitution requires states to recognize same-sex marriage.


The Supreme Court on Thursday limited the government's ability to strip U.S. citizenship from immigrants for lying during the naturalization process.

The justices ruled unanimously in favor of an ethnic Serb from Bosnia who lied about her husband's military service.

Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the court that false statements can lead to the revocation of citizenship only if they "played some role in her naturalization."

The court rejected the position taken by the Trump administration that even minor lies can lead to loss of citizenship.

The woman, Divna Maslenjak, and her family were granted refugee status in 1999 and settled near Akron, Ohio, in 2000. She became a citizen in 2007.

She initially told immigration officials her husband had not served in the Bosnian Serb military. That was a lie, she later conceded, and lower courts upheld a criminal conviction against her. The conviction automatically revoked her citizenship, and she and her husband were deported in October.


A former Pennsylvania commissioner has been found guilty of indecent assault on a person with a mental disability.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports former Radnor Township Commissioner Bill Spingler had been charged with touching the breast of his 103-year-old mother-in-law during visits to her Wayne nursing home in 2016.

The 75-year-old called it a "stupid, harmless act" during his court hearing Thursday. Spingler declined to comment after the verdict.

Three nursing home employees had reported seeing Spingler touch the woman during three separate visits in December. Spingler had said he touched the woman to get her attention after she stopped being able to recognize him.

A judge has set sentencing for Sept. 28 and ordered Spingler to undergo a psychosexual evaluation.


Several leading community groups filed a class-action lawsuit against the city of Chicago Wednesday in a bid to bypass or even scuttle a draft agreement between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice that seeks to reform the nation's second largest police force without federal court oversight.

The more than 100-page lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago argues that an overhaul of Chicago's 12,000-officer force in the wake of a damning civil rights report in January can't work without the intense scrutiny of a court-appointed monitor answerable to a judge.

"Absent federal court supervision, nothing will improve," the lawsuit says. "It is clear that federal court intervention is essential to end the historical and on-going pattern and practice of excessive force by police officers in Chicago."

While President Donald Trump's attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has expressed skepticism about court involvement, President Barack Obama's administration saw it as vital to successful reforms. Obama's Justice Department typically took a city reform plan to a judge to make it legally binding in the form of a consent decree.

Wednesday's lawsuit — which names Black Lives Matters Chicago among the plaintiffs — asks for a federal court to intervene and order sweeping reforms to end the "abusive policies and practices undergirding the alleged constitutional and state law violations."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration said earlier this month that a draft deal negotiated by the city and the Justice Department — one that foresees a monitor not selected by a court — is being reviewed in Washington. Justice Department spokesman Devin O'Malle cautioned last week that "there is no agreement at this time."

A lead attorney in the new lawsuit, Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor and outspoken advocate for far-reaching police reforms, said in a telephone interview that reports about the draft influenced the decision to sue now.



The Supreme Court won't hear an appeal from former Qwest Communications International Inc. CEO Joseph Nacchio seeking an $18 million tax refund on money he gained from illegal stock sales.

The justices on Monday left in place a lower court ruling that said the money was not tax deductible.

Nacchio was convicted in 2007 of selling $52 million in stock of Denver-based Qwest based on inside information. He was ordered to forfeit $44 million and to pay a $19 million fine. He also was sentenced to five years and 10 months in prison.

Nacchio claimed the $44 million he forfeited was deductible as a business expense or loss and that he should get a refund. A federal judge agreed, but a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., overturned that ruling.



Just because a man previously convicted of methamphetamine-related crimes didn't know it was now illegal for him to buy over-the-counter allergy medicine given his criminal history doesn't mean his rights were violated, a divided North Carolina Supreme Court ruled Friday.

A majority of the seven justices reversed a lower appeals court decision overturning the conviction of Austin Lynn Miller for buying one box of capsules at a Walmart in Boone in early 2014, barely a month after an expanded purchase prohibition law took effect.

Miller was barred from buying anything beyond minuscule amounts of the medicine because it contained pseudoephedrine, which can be used to make meth, due to his 2012 convictions on possession of meth and keeping a car or house to sell controlled substances.

A jury convicted Miller for possessing the allergy medicine. He received a suspended sentence with probation.

State law already required the nonprescription medicine to be kept behind the counter and mandated electronic record keeping to monitor whether a meth lab was buying up the drugs. Often purchasers follow screen prompts saying they understand buying the medicines in large quantities or too frequently is illegal.

Miller's lawyer argued his client's due process rights were violated because he had no knowledge the purchasing law had changed in December 2013 and that he didn't intend to violate the law. There were no signs in pharmacies about the changes, either, the attorney said.

A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals ruled unanimously in March 2016 the law was unconstitutional as it applied to a convicted felon like Miller who failed to receive notice from the state that their "otherwise lawful conduct is criminalized" unless there's other proof the person knew about the law.

State attorneys argued that Miller's ignorance of the law was no excuse and that it was his intentional action of purchasing the medicine that led to the crime.

Writing the majority opinion, Justice Sam Ervin IV sided with the state and rejected Miller's arguments that the retail purchase was an innocuous act that raised no alarms about whether he was breaking the law.



Members of a Penn State fraternity facing charges related to the death earlier this year of a pledge after a night of heavy drinking are due in court Monday for a hearing about whether there's enough evidence to head to trial.

Prosecutors in the case against the now-shuttered Beta Theta Pi chapter and 18 of its members are leaning heavily on video surveillance recordings made the night 19-year-old sophomore engineering student Tim Piazza was injured in a series of falls at the fraternity after a pledge acceptance ceremony that included heavy drinking.

The defendants face a variety of charges, with eight accused of dozens of crimes, including involuntary manslaughter and felony aggravated assault, while five others are accused only of a single count of evidence tampering.

Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller says prosecutors will play video in court, and she expects the hearing to last all or most of the day.

Authorities have said members of the fraternity resisted summoning help until well into the next morning.

A grand jury report described how members of the fraternity carried Piazza's limp body upstairs, poured liquid on him and even slapped him on the face. When one of them argued to call for medical help, he was confronted and shoved into a wall, the grand jury said.

Piazza, of Lebanon, New Jersey, died at a hospital Feb. 4 from traumatic brain injury and had suffered severe abdominal bleeding. His blood-alcohol measured at a dangerous level.

"I believe this is a case where the defendants have been overcharged by the district attorney's office," said defense attorney Michael Engle, whose client Gary DiBileo, 21, faces 56 counts, including involuntary manslaughter. "We hope to develop more information during the preliminary hearing process, and beyond, that will demonstrate that many of the charges in this case are just not applicable to the conduct."

Engle said DiBileo, a junior from Scranton who recently withdrew from Penn State, was said by a witness to have advocated for calling an ambulance at some point.


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