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  Court Watch - Legal News


The Supreme Court is avoiding a high-profile case by rejecting appeals from Kansas and Louisiana in their effort to strip Medicaid money from Planned Parenthood over the dissenting votes of three justices.

Lower courts in both states had blocked the states from withholding money that is used for health services for low-income women. The money is not used for abortions. Abortion opponents have said Planned Parenthood should not receive any government money because of heavily edited videos that claimed to show the nation's largest abortion provider profiting from sales of fetal tissue for medical research.

Investigations sparked by the videos in several states didn't result in criminal charges.

Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch said they would have heard the case.

It takes four votes on the nine-justice court to grant review, so neither Chief Justice John Roberts nor new Justice Brett Kavanaugh was willing to join their conservative colleagues to hear the Medicaid funding challenge.

Thomas wrote for the three dissenters that the court seems to be ducking a case it should decide because it involves Planned Parenthood. "But these cases are not about abortion rights," Thomas wrote.

The issue is who has the right to challenge a state's Medicaid funding decisions, private individuals or only the federal government. The states say that the Medicaid program, a joint venture of federal and state governments to provide health care to poorer Americans, makes clear that only the Secretary of Health and Human Services can intervene, by withholding money from a state.


A man accused of killing 22-year-old British tourist Grace Millane made his first appearance in a New Zealand court Monday.

The 26-year-old man stared at the ground while a judge addressed him during the brief appearance at the Auckland District Court. The man has not yet entered a plea on murder charges and the court has temporarily blocked his name from being published.

Millane's father, David Millane, traveled to New Zealand last week after his daughter vanished, and Judge Evangelos Thomas addressed him and other family members.

"I don't know what to say to you at this time, but your grief must be desperate," he said, according to television station Three. "We all hope justice will be fair and swift and ultimately bring you some peace."

The case has riveted people both in Britain and New Zealand.

Described by her father as fun-loving and family-oriented, Millane had been traveling in New Zealand as part of a planned yearlong trip abroad that began in Peru. She went missing Dec. 1 and failed to get in touch with her family on her birthday the next day, or on the days that followed, which alarmed them.

Before she vanished, Millane had been staying at a backpacker hostel in Auckland and left some of her belongings there. Detective Inspector Scott Beard said she met a man for a couple of hours in the evening before surveillance cameras showed them entering the CityLife hotel at about 9:40 p.m.

A week after Millane disappeared, police detained a man for questioning and later charged him with murder.


The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments about an exception to the Constitution's ban on being tried for the same offense. The outcome could have a spillover effect on the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

The justices are taking up an appeal Thursday from federal prison inmate Terance Gamble. He was prosecuted separately by Alabama and the federal government for having a gun after an earlier robbery conviction.

The high court is considering whether to overturn a court-created exception to the Constitution's double-jeopardy bar that allows state and federal prosecutions for the same crime. The court's ruling could be relevant if President Donald Trump were to pardon someone implicated in

Supreme Court lawyer Tom Goldstein joked at a Washington event before the term began in October that the high court case should be called New York v. Manafort, a reference to former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. Trump has refused to rule out an eventual pardon for Manafort, who has been convicted of federal financial fraud and conspiracy crimes. It's by no means certain that the high court ruling will affect future prosecutions.

But Trump's Justice Department is urging the court not to depart from what it says is an unbroken line of cases reaching back nearly 170 years in favor of allowing prosecutions by state and federal authorities. Thirty-six states that include Republican-led Texas and Democratic-led New York are on the administration's side, as are advocates for Native American women who worry that a decision for Gamble would make it harder to prosecute domestic and sexual violence crimes.



Lawyers for President Trump want porn actress Stormy Daniels to pay them $340,000 in legal bills they claim they earned successfully defending Trump against her frivolous defamation claim.

The attorneys are due in a Los Angeles federal courtroom Monday to make their case that they rang up big bills because of gamesmanship and aggressive tactics by attorney Michael Avenatti, who represents Daniels.

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, alleges she had a one-night affair with Trump in 2006. She sued him earlier this year seeking to break a non-disclosure agreement she signed days before the 2016 election about the tryst as part $130,000 hush money settlement. Trump has denied the affair.

Despite the deal to stay quiet, Daniels spoke out publicly and alleged that five years after the affair she was threatened to keep quiet by a man she did not recognize in a Las Vegas parking lot. She also released a composite sketch of the mystery man.

She sued Trump for defamation after he responded to the allegation by tweeting: "A sketch years later about a nonexistent man. A total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools (but they know it)!"

U.S. District Court Judge S. James Otero ruled in October that Trump's statement was "rhetorical hyperbole" against a political adversary and was protected speech under the First Amendment. Trump is entitled to legal fees, Otero said.


The Supreme Court seems very likely to rule that the Constitution's ban on excessive fines applies to the states. The outcome could help an Indiana man recover the $40,000 Land Rover police seized when they arrested him for selling about $400 worth of heroin.

The court has formally held that most of the Bill of Rights applies to states as well as the federal government. But it has not done so on the Eighth Amendment's excessive-fines ban.

Justice Neil Gorsuch (GOR'-suhch) was incredulous that Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher was urging the justices to rule that states should not be held to the same standard. Gorsuch said Wednesday, "Come on, general."

Justice Stephen Breyer said under Fisher's reading police could seize a quarter-million-dollar Bugatti sports car if its driver is caught going 5 miles per hour (8 kilometers per hour) over the speed limit.

The Supreme Court is taking up the case of an Indiana man who says the Constitution should have barred local authorities from seizing his $40,000 Land Rover after his arrest for selling less than $400 in heroin to undercover officers.


The European Court of Human Rights issued a fresh rebuke to the Kremlin on Tuesday, ruling that Russia's continued ban on LGBT rallies is discriminatory and represents a violation of human rights.

Judges at the court based in the eastern French city of Strasbourg called on Moscow to introduce "systemic measures" to remedy the breaches to the European Convention of Human Rights that the Russian Federation became a signatory to in 1996.

It's unlikely Russia will implement the court's recommendation of the need for "a sustained and long-term effort to adopt general measures" to ease the freedom to march and counter LGBT discrimination.

The current case was brought by seven Russian activists over the period 2009-2014 who were concerned by the impact of the ban. Russian authorities have been putting obstacles on LGBT rallies for years, and systematically turning down LGBT permit requests.

The court said Russia's blocking of public LGBT events couldn't be justified by any concern about public disorder and it breached the right to freedom of assembly.

The ban "had clearly been motivated by the authorities' disapproval of the theme of the demonstrations," the court concluded.

Several Russian politicians and lawmakers have recently hit back against the court, calling on the government of President Vladimir Putin to break with the ECHR over a perceived politicization in its rulings.


A northwestern Indiana county is preparing to become just the fourth in the state to operate a court specifically designed to treat the needs of nonviolent mentally ill offenders.

Porter Superior Court Judge David Chidester says the county's Restoration Court will operate much like its existing drug and veterans treatment courts: Participants who successfully complete the program can have underlying criminal cases dismissed. Chidester will oversee the court.

Porter County PACT Director Tammy O'Neill, who helped create the new court, said the justice system contains "a disproportionate number" of people with mental illness.

Chidester tells The (Northwest Indiana) Times the court will be funded with a grant from the Indiana Department of Correction. It's due to start operations early next year. Similar courts operate in Allen, Lake and Madison counties.

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