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  Court Watch - Legal News


The highest court in Massachusetts has formally approved the dismissal of more than 21,000 drug convictions that were tainted by the misconduct of a former state drug lab chemist.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts says the final order from the Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday marks the single largest dismissal of convictions in U.S. history.

The action by the court was expected after seven district attorneys in eastern Massachusetts submitted lists on Tuesday totaling 21,587 cases they would be unwilling or unable to prosecute if new trials were ordered.

The cases were called into question when chemist Annie Dookhan was charged with tampering with evidence and falsifying drug tests. Dookhan pleaded guilty to perjury and other charges in 2013 and served a three-year prison sentence.



A white former South Carolina police officer charged in the death of an unarmed black motorist is expected in court as his federal trial approaches.

A motions hearing is scheduled Friday in the case against 35-year-old Michael Slager.

Slager's federal civil rights trial in the death of 50-year-old Walter Scott starts next month. Another hearing is scheduled for Monday, when attorneys will discuss the admission of certain experts to testify.

Last month, a federal judge ruled prosecutors may show jurors video of the former North Charleston officer shooting Scott. The bystander's cellphone video was viewed millions of times around the world.

Slager also faces murder charges in state court, where his first trial ended in a hung jury. His retrial is scheduled for August.


Arkansas' attempt to carry out its first execution in nearly 12 years wasn't thwarted by the type of liberal activist judge Republicans regularly bemoan here, but instead by a state Supreme Court that's been the focus of expensive campaigns by conservative groups to reshape the judiciary.

The court voted Wednesday to halt the execution of an inmate facing lethal injection Thursday night, two days after justices stayed the executions of two other inmates. The series of 4-3 decisions blocking the start of what had been an unprecedented plan to execute eight men in 11 days were only the latest in recent years preventing this deeply Republican state from resuming capital punishment.

The possibility that justices could continue sparing the lives of the remaining killers scheduled to die this month has left death penalty supporters including Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson frustrated and critical of the high court.

"I know the families of the victims are anxious for a clear-cut explanation from the majority as to how they came to this conclusion and how there appears to be no end to the court's review," Hutchinson said in a statement after the Wednesday ruling.

Since the last execution in 2005, the state Supreme Court has at least twice forced Arkansas to rewrite its death penalty law. One of those cases spared Don Davis, who again received a stay Monday night. The legal setbacks at one point prompted the state's previous attorney general, Dustin McDaniel, to declare Arkansas' death penalty system "broken."

But unlike the earlier decisions, this stay came from a court that had shifted to the right in recent elections. Outside groups and the candidates spent more than $1.6 million last year on a pair of high court races that were among the most fiercely fought judicial campaigns in the state's history. Arkansas was among a number of states where conservative groups spent millions on such efforts.


A judge in the city where two unarmed blacks died in a 137-shot barrage of Cleveland police gunfire can hear dereliction of duty charges against five police supervisors accused of failing to control a high-speed chase involving more than 100 officers, the state's highest court ruled Thursday.

The ruling addresses only where the case can be heard and not the substance of the misdemeanor charges against the supervisors.

The supervisors' attorneys filed an appeal in July 2015 that said the case should be tried in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, where charges were originally filed. The 8th District Court of Appeals agreed and issued an order prohibiting East Cleveland Municipal Judge William Dawson from hearing the case after county prosecutors filed identical charges in that city.

Susan Gragel, the attorney who wrote the appeal on behalf of the supervisors, said that while she respects the Supreme Court's ruling, the Eighth District's prohibition order correctly addressed the fact that charges were filed in East Cleveland while the same charges were pending in county court.

The chase began near Cleveland police headquarters after an officer standing outside the building reported that a shot had been fired from a beat-up Chevy Malibu passing by. Experts later said it was likely the sound of the car backfiring.

The supervisors' trial originally was scheduled to begin in July 2015 in front of Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge John P. O'Donnell, who weeks earlier acquitted Brelo during a bench trial, sparking protests. Then-County Prosecutor Tim McGinty told the supervisors and their attorneys at a hearing before trial that identical charges had been filed in East Cleveland and asked O'Donnell to dismiss the county case, which he did.

The city of Cleveland paid the families of Russell and Williams a total of $3 million to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit.



The first two inmates facing lethal injection under Arkansas' unprecedented multiple execution plan are seeking a stay from the state Supreme Court.

Attorneys for Don Davis and Bruce Ward asked justices Wednesday to block their executions, scheduled for Monday, while the U.S. Supreme Court takes up a case concerning access to independent mental health experts by defendants. The U.S. high court is set to hold oral arguments in that case April 24, a week after the two are set to be put to death.

The inmates' attorneys say they were denied access to independent mental health experts in their cases.

The two men are among seven inmates Arkansas plans to put to death over a 10-day period. The filing is among a flurry of lawsuits aimed at halting the executions.



Authorities say a jailed North Carolina man facing accused of an arson attack on an immigrant-owned store didn't appear in court as planned because he's being disciplined.

An appearance scheduled Tuesday for 32-year-old Curtis Flournoy has been reset for April 21, when the suspect will have a bond hearing.

Mecklenburg County Assistant District Attorney Alana Byrnes said he didn't know what led to Flournoy's being placed on disciplinary detention.

Flournoy remains jailed on a $35,000 bond on charges, including ethnic intimidation and burning a commercial building. It's not clear if he has an attorney.

Authorities say a fire was set Thursday but burned itself out at a market selling goods from the Indian subcontinent. No one was hurt, and authorities said a threatening note was left on the scene.


Somewhere between the Republican caricature of the next justice of the Supreme Court as a folksy family guy and the Democrats' demonization of him as a cold-hearted automaton, stands Neil Gorsuch.

Largely unknown six months ago, Gorsuch has seen his life story, personality and professional career explored in excruciating detail since he was nominated by President Donald Trump 10 weeks ago.

The portrait that emerges is more nuanced than the extremes drawn by his supporters and critics.

Gorsuch is widely regarded as a warm and collegial family man, boss and jurist, loyal to his employees and kind to those of differing viewpoints. He also has been shown to be a judge who takes such a "rigidly neutral" approach to the law that it can lead to dispassionate rulings with sometimes brutal results.

Four times during his confirmation hearings, Gorsuch invoked a "breakfast table" analogy, telling senators that good judges set aside what they have to eat — and their personal views — before they leave the house in the morning to apply the law and nothing else to the facts of the cases at hand. It was all part of Gorsuch's artful effort to reveal as little as possible of his own opinions.

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