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Spain is bracing for the nation's most sensitive trial in four decades of democracy this week, with a dozen Catalan separatists facing charges including rebellion over a failed secession bid in 2017.

The proceedings, which begin Tuesday, will be broadcast live on television and all eyes will be focused on the impartiality of the Spanish Supreme Court.

Catalonia's separatists have attacked the court's credibility in the run-up to the trial, saying it is a puppet of the Spanish government and any ruling will be a political one that has been decided in advance.

"In reality, it's democracy itself that will go on trial," Oriol Junqueras, one of the accused, wrote from jail in reply to questions sent by The Associated Press. "We are before a trial which, through a partial investigation full of falsities and irregularities, criminalizes a political option and an ideology."

But Supreme Court president Carlos Lesmes dismisses that notion, saying the trial is the most important since Spain's transition to democracy in 1977 after the death of dictator Gen. Francisco Franco.

"This is a trial following the highest standards set by the European Union," Lesmes recently told a group of journalists.



North Carolina's highest court will weigh in on whether money paid by the world's largest pork producer for environmental restoration projects should go to public schools instead.

The state Supreme Court announced Friday it would hear appeals in a lawsuit involving a 2000 agreement between Smithfield Foods and then-Attorney General Mike Easley. Smithfield has paid $2 million annually for 25 years. Easley's successors enforce the agreement and distribute funds.

A conservative activist and later the New Hanover County school board sued, contending Smithfield's payments are civil penalties for past environmental violations, so the state constitution requires they go to schools.

A trial judge dismissed the lawsuit, but the Court of Appeals resurrected it last September. Current Attorney General Josh Stein and other parties asked the justices to step in.


Kevin Spacey pleaded not guilty Monday to groping an 18-year-old busboy in 2016 in the first criminal case brought against the disgraced actor following a string of sexual misconduct allegations that crippled his career.

Spacey’s court appearance came more than a year after former Boston TV anchor Heather Unruh accused the former “House of Cards” star of sexually assaulting her son in a bar on the Massachusetts resort island of Nantucket.

Nantucket District Court Judge Thomas Barrett ordered Spacey to stay away from his accuser and the man’s family. Spacey will not have to appear at his next hearing on March 4, but he must be available by phone, Barrett said.

The judge also ordered Spacey’s accuser and the man’s then-girlfriend to preserve text messages and other data on their cellphones from the day of the alleged assault and six months after. Spacey’s attorney Alan Jackson told the judge they believe the cellphones contain information that is “likely exculpatory” for Spacey.

The actor and his lawyers declined to comment as they left the courthouse amid a crush of reporters. Spacey, wearing a gray suit, navy vest and polka dot tie, didn’t speak during the hearing and his lawyers entered the not-guilty plea on his behalf.


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.



German authorities say a man who was supposed to appear as a witness at a trial in Germany failed to show up and was found dead in a court toilet three days later.

The news agency dpa reported Tuesday the 70-year-old was supposed to testify on Oct. 29 at Kiel district court. According to the Kieler Nachrichten newspaper, the session was called off and officials tried in vain to reach him by phone.

The man, who is suspected of having a heart attack, was found in a locked court toilet cubicle on Nov. 1. Court vice president Beate Flatow said court guards will from now on check all publicly accessible areas daily.

Flatow said cleaners apparently assumed that a pipe had burst and the cubicle had been locked as a precaution.


Quarreling and confusion marked the start of the Senate's confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Tuesday, with Democrats trying to block the proceedings because of documents being withheld by the White House. Protesters also disrupted the proceedings.

In his opening remarks released ahead of delivery, Kavanaugh sought to tamp down the controversy over his nomination, which would likely shift the closely divided court to the right. He promised to be a "team player" if confirmed, declaring that he would be a "pro-law judge" who would not decide cases based on his personal views.

But Democrats raised objections from the moment Chairman Chuck Grassley gaveled the committee to order. They want to review 100,000 documents about Kavanaugh's record being withheld by the White House as well as some 42,000 documents released to the committee on a confidential basis on the eve of the hearing, along with others not sought by Republicans on the committee.

"We have not been given an opportunity to have a meaningful hearing on this nominee," said Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., made a motion to adjourn.

Grassley denied his request, but the arguments persisted.

More than a dozen protesters, shouting one by one, disrupted the hearing at several points and were removed by police. "This is a mockery and a travesty of justice," shouted one woman. "Cancel Brett Kavanaugh!"

Grassley defended the document production as the most open in history, saying there was "no reason to delay the hearing. He asked Kavanaugh, who sat before the committee with White House officials behind him, to introduce his parents, wife and children.

"I'm very honored to be here," Kavanaugh said.

With majority Republicans appearing united, it's doubtful the hearings will affect the eventual confirmation of President Donald Trump's nominee. But they will likely become a rallying cry for both parties just two months before the midterm elections.

Kavanaugh declared he would be even-handed in his approach to the law.

"A good judge must be an umpire, a neutral and impartial arbiter who favors no litigant or policy," Kavanaugh said in prepared opening remarks. "I am not a pro-plaintiff or pro-defendant judge. I am not a pro-prosecution or pro-defense judge."

"I would always strive to be a team player on the Team of Nine," he added.

The Supreme Court is more often thought of as nine separate judges, rather than a team. And on the most contentious cases, the court tends to split into two sides, conservative and liberal. But the justices often say they seek consensus when they can, and they like to focus on how frequently they reach unanimous decisions.


Zimbabwe's president says people are free to approach the courts if they have issues with the results of Monday's election, which he carried with just over 50 percent of the vote.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa spoke to journalists shortly after opposition leader Nelson Chamisa called the election results manipulated and said they would be challenged in court. Chamisa received 44 percent of the vote but says his supporters' own count gave him 56 percent.

Mnangagwa is praising the vote as free and fair despite the opposition concerns and those of international election observers who noted the "extreme bias" of state media and the "excessive" use of force when the military cracked down on opposition protesters in the capital on Wednesday.

The president also is looking forward to his inauguration, saying that under the constitution it should happen nine days after election results are declared.

Zimbabwe's president is praising "a free, fair and credible election, as we have always promised" and "unprecedented flowering of freedom and democracy in our beloved homeland" even as the opposition loudly rejects the results.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa spoke shortly after opposition leader Nelson Chamisa said Monday's peaceful election had been manipulated and said the results would be challenged in court.

Mnangagwa, a former enforcer of longtime leader Robert Mugabe, has tried to recast himself as a voice of change. He is calling the deadly violence against opposition supporters in the capital on Wednesday "unfortunate" and says Chamisa has a crucial role to play in Zimbabwe's future.


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