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TransCanada doesn't have to pay landowner attorneys
Headline Legal News | 2018/03/12 21:27
The developer of the Keystone XL pipeline doesn't have to reimburse attorneys who defended Nebraska landowners against the company's efforts to gain access to their land, the state Supreme Court ruled Friday.

The high court's ruling resolves a dispute that was triggered when TransCanada Inc. filed eminent domain lawsuits against 71 Nebraska landowners in 2015, only to drop them later amid uncertainty over whether the process it used was constitutional.

"We conclude that none of the landowners established that they were entitled to attorney fees," Chief Justice Michael Heavican wrote in the opinion.

Omaha attorney Dave Domina argued that TransCanada owes his clients about $350,000 to cover their attorney fees. Domina said the landowners clearly asked for representation in the eminent domain cases, and TransCanada should pay their attorney fees because the company effectively lost those cases.

A TransCanada attorney, James Powers, argued that the landowners failed to prove that they actually paid or were legally indebted to Domina or his law partner, Brian Jorde.

"We're pleased the Nebraska Supreme Court agreed with our legal position," Powers said Friday. Domina said he respected the decision but was disappointed for his clients.

Delay in Nevada gun buyer law draws protests at court debate
Headline Legal News | 2018/02/25 21:23
A lawyer seeking a court order to enforce a Nevada gun buyer screening law that has not been enacted despite voter approval in November 2016 blamed the state's Republican governor and attorney general on Friday for stalling the law.

"For either personal or political reasons," attorney Mark Ferrario told a state court judge in Las Vegas, Gov. Brian Sandoval and GOP state Attorney General Adam Laxalt "chose to stand back and really do nothing."

Nevada Solicitor General Lawrence Van Dyke countered that the law was fatally flawed as written because it requires Nevada to have the FBI expend federal resources to enforce a state law.

"State officials here have not tried to avoid implementing the law," Van Dyke said. "They have negotiated (and) talked with the FBI, and the FBI said no, four times."

Clark County District Court Judge Joe Hardy Jr. made no immediate ruling after more than 90 minutes of arguments on an issue that drew about 25 sign-toting advocates outside the courthouse calling for enactment of the measure.

"The people have spoken," said protest speaker Peter Guzman, president of the Las Vegas Latin Chamber of Commerce. "To deny that voice is to deny democracy."

Some speakers, including Democratic state Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui, cited the slayings of 58 people by a gunman firing assault-style weapons from a high-rise casino shot into an concert crowd on the Las Vegas Strip last Oct. 1. Jauregui was at the concert.

Others pointed to gun-control measures being debated nationally following a shooting that killed 17 people last week at a school in Parkland, Florida.

In the courtroom, Ferrario referred to what he called a "movement toward increasing gun checks," while the Nevada law has stalled.

"This loophole that the citizens wanted to close remains open because the governor has failed to take appropriate action," the plaintiffs' attorney said.

Sandoval spokeswoman Mari St. Martin dismissed the accusations as "political posturing." She said the initiative specifically prohibits the state Department of Public Safety from handling background checks, leaving "no clear path forward" to enactment.

Courts: Bail reform working, but sustainable funding needed
Headline Legal News | 2018/02/19 22:50
The number of defendants being held before trial since New Jersey overhauled its bail system last year dropped by 20 percent, but the judge overseeing the program says it faces financial difficulties.

A report submitted last week by Judge Glenn Grant, who runs the state's court system, also shows the program faces financial difficulties because it relies on court fees instead of a "stable sustainable funding stream."

Proponents say the reforms championed by former Republican Gov. Chris Christie keep violent offenders detained until trial while providing poor, low-level defendants the opportunity to be freed.

But critics — including some lawmakers, law enforcement officials and the bail bond industry — say it has led to the quick release of some who weren't deemed a threat but were soon re-arrested on new charges.

The data shows 44,319 people were issued complaint warrants in New Jersey last year. Prosecutors sought to have 19,366 defendants detained until trial, but only 8,043 of those people were ordered held.

That means the state's pretrial jail population dropped by 20 percent from January 2017 to January 2018, and by 35 percent from January 2015 to January 2018.

At least two lawsuits have been filed seeking to overturn the changes, including one from a group backed by reality TV star Dog the Bounty Hunter.

Court rules that Kushner firm must disclose partners' names
Headline Legal News | 2018/01/26 10:38
A federal judge ruled Friday that the family company once run by Jared Kushner isn't allowed to keep secret the identity of its business partners in several Maryland properties.

A U.S. district judge in the state rejected the argument that the privacy rights of the Kushner Cos. partners outweigh the public interest in obtaining judicial records in a lawsuit before the court. The decision means the company tied to President Donald Trump's son-in-law might be forced to provide a rare glimpse into how it finances its real estate ventures.

The ruling backed the argument by The Associated Press and other news organizations that the media has a "presumptive right" to see such court documents and the Kushner Cos. had not raised a "compelling government interest" needed by law to block access.

U.S. District Court Judge James K. Bredar ruled that Westminster Management, a Kushner Cos. subsidiary, must file an unsealed document with the identity of its partners by Feb. 9.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by tenants last year alleging Westminster charges excessive and illegal rent for apartments in the state. The lawsuit seeks class-action status for tenants in 17 apartment complexes owned by the company.

Westminster has said it has broken no laws and denies the charges.

In addition to its privacy argument, the Kushner subsidiary had said media reports of the Maryland dispute were "politically motivated" and marked by "unfair sensationalism." Disclosure of its partners' names would trigger even more coverage and hurt its chances of getting an impartial decision in the case, it had said.

In Friday's ruling, the judge said these are not "frivolous concerns," but the public's right to know is more important.

Court halts execution of Alabama inmate with dementia
Headline Legal News | 2018/01/21 10:38
The U.S. Supreme Court has halted the execution of an Alabama inmate whose attorneys argue that dementia has left the 67-year-old unable to remember killing a police officer three decades ago.

Justices issued a stay Thursday night, the same evening that Vernon Madison was scheduled to receive a lethal injection at a southwest Alabama prison. The court delayed the execution to consider whether to further review the case.

Madison was sentenced to death for the 1985 killing of Mobile police Officer Julius Schulte, who had responded to a call about a missing child made by Madison's then-girlfriend. Prosecutors have said that Madison crept up and shot Schulte in the back of the head as he sat in his police car.

Madison's attorneys argued that strokes and dementia have left Madison unable to remember killing Schulte or fully understand his looming execution. The Supreme Court has previously ruled that condemned inmates must have a "rational understanding" that they are about to be executed and why.

"We are thrilled that the court stopped this execution tonight. Killing a fragile man suffering from dementia is unnecessary and cruel," attorney Bryan Stevenson, of the Equal Justice Initiative, said Thursday after the stay was granted.

The Alabama attorney general's office opposed the stay, arguing that a state court has ruled Madison competent and Madison has presented nothing that would reverse the finding.

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