Blog Archives

Class-Action and Tainted Assets

Umbrellas on the Supreme Court plaza yesterday morning, while inside I sketched two arguments.

The first argument, Tyson Foods v Bouaphakeo, concerned Iowa slaughterhouse workers and whether they could meet the test for a class-action lawsuit.  Lyle Denniston reports on it here.

In the second argument, Luis v. U.S., Sila Luis, who bilked Medicare for tens of millions of dollars and had her assets frozen, wants to be allowed to use the “untainted” portion of her frozen assets to pay for her Sixth Amendment guaranteed lawyer of her choice. SCOTUSblog’s Amy Howe has the story here.

Posted in Arguments, Supreme Court

A Common Theme?

The week before last – time flies, I’ve been busy – I went on the road to cover two hearings a few hundred miles apart though in some ways alike. Both defendants were at one time coaches, and both are suspected of sexual relations with young boys.

In Chicago former House Speaker Dennis Hastert pleaded guilty to a felony charge of concealing large withdrawals of cash. By doing so he avoided a trial and possible testimony from the victim he was paying off.

The next day, in Bellefonte, PA, former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky appeared in court as his lawyer sought to challenge the grand jury investigation that led to the charges of child sexual abuse of which Sandusky was convicted in 2012.

 

 

Posted in Courtroom Tagged with: , , ,

Redistricting and Three-Judge Panels

A dazzling fall morning on the Supreme Court plaza as spectators line up for oral arguments.

One of those arguments, Shapiro v. McManus, was about whether a lawsuit challenging Maryland redistricting should be decided by a three-judge panel. It’s a bit technical and I won’t attempt to explain. The New York Time’s Adam Liptak reports on the argument here.

Be sure to read to the end of Liptak’s article for the exchange between Maryland Assistant Attorney General Steven Sullivan and Justice Scalia on the topic of “little green men and extraterrestrials”.

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A Statuary . . I Mean Statutory Argument

“. . . under the laws of any State relating to aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, or abusive sexual conduct involving a minor or ward . . . “

Today’s argument in Lockhart v. United States turned on what Congress meant in a statute so poorly drafted Justice Alito gives it a “D”.

The petitioner in this case, Avondale Lockhart, was caught in a child pornography sting and pleaded guilty. At sentencing he faced a mandatory minimum ten-year enhancement because of a previous state conviction for attempted rape of his girlfriend. Lockhart argues that the sentencing enhancement only applies if the prior conviction was for an offense “. . . involving a minor or ward”, and that in the language quoted above “aggravated sexual abuse” and “sexual abuse” are qualified in the same as “abusive sexual conduct”. 

The lower courts, of course, found otherwise.

It sounded like a lively and perplexing argument, and I hear form some of the reporters present that Lockhart may win to some degree.

Posted in Arguments, Supreme Court Tagged with: ,

Today’s SCOTUS Sketches

As arguments were about to begin today Chief Justice Roberts reminded lawyers of Chief Justice Rehnquist’s admonition to not look up at the courtroom clock. The reason, not the same as Rehnquist’s, was that the two clocks in the courtroom were showing different times, neither of which was correct, and the minutes hands were moving in stops and starts. It seems that, just like last year, setting the Court’s clocks back an hour at the end of Daylight Saving is no easy matter.

The Court heard two interesting arguments, neither of which I’ll comment on since I’m about as good at explaining as the Court is at setting a clock.

The first argument, Foster v Chatman :

. . . and the second argument, Spokeo v. Robins :

Posted in Arguments, Supreme Court Tagged with: , ,

Ahmed Abu Khatallah

It had been almost a year since the only suspect in the attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi appeared in court a couple weeks ago. Still looking very much like an Old Testament prophet, Khatallah took notes as defense lawyers asked a judge to throw out some of the charges against him.

The judge did not rule on the defense motions. No trial date has been set, nor has the government decided whether to seek the death penalty.

Posted in Courtroom Tagged with: , ,

A Couple Of Sentencing Arguments

Last week seems like a long time ago. I’ve been busy with some personal business – all good – and never got around to posting the sketches from last weeks arguments in Montgomery v. Louisiana and Hurst v. Florida.

The first argument concerned inmates who as juveniles were automatically sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. The Court three years ago, in Miller v. Alabamaruled that although juveniles could receive a life sentence it couldn’t be automatic. The issue here is whether that applies retroactively.

The second argument looked at the role of juries in determining sentence in Florida death penalty cases.

 

Posted in Arguments, Supreme Court Tagged with: , , ,

An Extortion Conspiracy From Baltimore’s Finest

A couple sketches from Tuesday’s Supreme Court argument in Ocasio v. U.S.. The case case involves members of the Baltimore police who received kickbacks for steering business to Majestic Auto Repair. Arriving on the scene of an auto accident the officer would encourage the driver of a damaged vehicle to have it towed to Majestic. In exchange officers would receive a $150. referral fee, later upped to $300.

One of the officers, Samuel Ocasio, who was convicted of conspiracy under the Hobbs Act for obtaining of property “from another, with his consent, . . . under color of official right”, appealed, arguing that the statute requires that the alleged conspirators agree among themselves to obtain property “from another”—that is, from someone outside the conspiracy. Since the bribe came from Majestic, and they were part of the conspiracy, there was no conspiracy, so the argument goes.

Not sure the Justices bought it

 

Posted in Arguments, Supreme Court Tagged with: , , ,

First Monday In October

The Supreme Court began its new term on a beautiful fall morning much appreciated after several grey days of wind and rain.

The argument heard was a case in which a woman, Carol Sachs, who while traveling on a Eurail Pass had suffered a horrible injury while boarding a train in Austria, is seeking to sue the European railway in U.S. courts. Under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act such a lawsuit is barred except  in commercial dealings. Because she bought her ticket in the United States, Sachs argues that her case falls under that exception.

SCOTUSblog’s analysis of the argument is here

Posted in Arguments, Supreme Court Tagged with: ,

Contempt Hearing Over Gay Marriage

There weren’t many people at the federal courthouse in Ashland, KY when I arrived this morning around seven o’clock.This couple had been there since before five.

Those opposed to same-sex marriage stood on the left with their signs, while on the right stood the supporters of marriage equality. In the middle stood a young man in a Jesus t-shirt who appeared to be praying the whole time, sometimes standing, sometimes kneeling on the courthouse steps.

The occasion was a contempt of court hearing for Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis. Defying a judge’s order, Davis has refuse to issue any marriage licenses because of her personal belief that gay marriage violates God’s law.After hearing testimony from Davis and from a witness for the plaintiffs Judge David L. Bunning ordered Davis jailed for contempt. U.S. Marshals ushered her out of the courtroom.The judge then heard from several of Davis’ deputies, asking them if they were willing to issue marriage licenses in her absence. All but one, Kim Davis’ son, said they were. The sketch below shows some of those Rowan County deputy clerks sitting behind Ms Davis as her lawyer, Roger Gannan, addresses the court.Later in the afternoon it looked like there might be a deal in the works to free Kim Davis. The judge ordered her brought back to the courtroom and it was expected he might let Davis go if she agreed to stand aside and allow her deputies to issue the licenses. But her attorney told the judge that she was unwilling to budge from her position and she was not brought into the courtroom after all.

Posted in Courtroom Tagged with: , , ,
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