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Walker signs bill inspired by cabin-owners' court fight
Law & Politics | 2017/11/27 05:48
Just five months after an adverse ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court had her in tears, Donna Murr was celebrating Monday after Gov. Scott Walker signed into law a bill that gives Wisconsin property owners more rights.

The Murr family fought for more than a dozen years, and all the way to the Supreme Court, for the ability to sell undeveloped land next to their cottage along scenic Lake St. Croix in western Wisconsin.

One of two property rights bills Walker signed Monday will give the family the right to sell or build on substandard lots if the lots were legal when they were created.

The Supreme Court ruled against the Murrs in June, but hours later state Rep. Adam Jarchow was on the phone with Donna Murr promising her he would take the fight to the Legislature.

"It's been a long road," Murr said after she and six other family members came to Walker's Capitol office for his signing of the bill Jarchow and Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, introduced. "It just felt like a culmination of everything we've worked for, coming to a head today after so many years of struggling and battling."

Donna Murr's parents bought two adjacent lots in the early 1960s and built a cottage on one but left the other vacant as an investment. In 2004, Donna Murr and her siblings wanted to sell the undeveloped lot to help pay for renovations to the cottage, but county officials barred the sale because conservation rules from the 1970s treat the two lots as a single property that can't be divided.

The regulations were intended to prevent overcrowding, soil erosion and water pollution. The county argued before the Supreme Court that not enforcing the rules would undermine its ability to minimize flood damage and maintain property values in the area.

But the family claimed those rules essentially stripped the land of its value and amounted to an uncompensated seizure of the property. They sought compensation for the vacant property they were forbidden to sell. The government argued, and the Supreme Court agreed in June, that it's fair to view the property as a whole and said the family is owed nothing.

Now with the law changed in Wisconsin, the Murr family can sell the vacant section. Donna Murr said she and her siblings will take some time to decide what to do next.



Human rights group accuses Guatemalan courts of delays
Law & Politics | 2017/11/10 09:50
An international human rights group says Guatemalan courts are foot- dragging on high-profile cases and threatening the work of the country's prosecutors and a U.N. anti-corruption commission.

Human Rights Watch analyzed eight major cases that have bogged down and concluded the courts are undermining the anticorruption work by taking too long to process appeals and pretrial motions. In a report released Sunday, the group accuses the courts of trying to run out the clock on prosecutions by keeping defendants from ever making it to trial.

Among the cases is a customs fraud scandal that allegedly sent kickbacks to then President Otto Perez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti. They resigned and were jailed to await trial, but more than 100 defense filings have delayed the trial.

Perez Molina and Baldetti, who resigned in 2015, both deny the charges against them.

Daniel Wilkinson, managing director of the Americas division at Human Rights Watch, said Guatemala has made progress on holding officials accountable for abuses of power, but still needs to "move forward and close those circles with trials." "The strategic defense (of those accused) was always to delay the cases," Wilkinson said.

The report notes a pattern in which pretrial proceedings drag on as defense lawyers appeal court decisions and file petitions seeking the recusal of judges.

"The repeated filing of such petitions has brought many key prosecutions to a standstill, and lawyers are not effectively sanctioned even when filing petitions that are manifestly frivolous," Wilkinson said.


Oregon Supreme Court denies request for information release
Law & Politics | 2017/10/21 01:23
The Oregon Supreme Court has denied a request by The Oregonian Publishing Co. for Oregon Health and Science University to release the names of patients who intend to sue.

The Oregonian/OregonLive reports the court ruled on Thursday that the information is protected from public disclosure under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

The company that publishes the Portland newspaper in 2011 sought a list of names of those who planned to sue the university, which is a public institution that receives taxpayer money. The list would have included patients, students, employees, contractors and visitors.

Lower courts ordered the university to release the information, but it appealed to the state Supreme Court. State attorneys filed a brief in support of the newspaper’s position.



Court, for now, blocks immigrant teen's access to abortion
Law & Politics | 2017/10/21 01:22
An appeals court is blocking, for now, an abortion sought by a pregnant 17-year-old immigrant being held in a Texas facility, ruling that the government should have time to try to release her so she can obtain the abortion outside of federal custody.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued its ruling Friday hours after arguments from lawyers for the Trump administration and the teenager. The court ruled 2-1 that the government should have until Oct. 31 to release the girl into the custody of a sponsor, such as an adult relative in the United States. If that happens, she could obtain an abortion if she chooses. If she isn't released, the case can go back to court.

The judge who dissented wrote that the court's ruling means the teen will be forced to continue an unwanted pregnancy for "multiple more weeks."

The teen, whose name and country of origin have been withheld because she's a minor, is 15 weeks pregnant. She entered the U.S. in September and learned she was pregnant while in custody in Texas.

She obtained a court order Sept. 25 permitting her to have an abortion. But federal officials have refused to transport her or temporarily release her so that others may take her to have an abortion. A lower federal court ruled that she should be able to obtain an abortion Friday or Saturday, but the government appealed.

Federal health officials said in a statement that for "however much time" they are given they "will protect the well-being of this minor and all children and their babies" in their facilities.


Toys R Us files for Chapter 11 reorganization
Law & Politics | 2017/09/20 18:16
Toys R Us, the pioneering big box toy retailer, has announced it has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection while continuing with normal business operations.

A statement by the Wayne, New Jersey-based company late Monday says it voluntarily is seeking relief in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Richmond - and that its Canadian subsidiary is seeking similar protection through a Canadian court.

Toys R Us says court-supervised proceedings will help restructure its outstanding debt and reorganize for long-term growth.

The company says separate operations outside the U.S. and Canada, including more than 250 licensed stores and a joint venture partnership in Asia, are not part of the filings.

It emphasizes that its approximately 1,600 locations will remain open, that it will continue to work with suppliers and sell merchandise.


Court: State, Not Counties Accountable for Poor School Funds
Law & Politics | 2017/09/19 01:16
A North Carolina appeals court says students and parents still fighting for sufficient school funding decades after they were guaranteed the right to a sound, basic education should make demands of the governor and legislators, not county officials.

A divided state Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that schoolchildren can't sue Halifax County commissioners over funding for the county's segregated public school districts.

Lawyers say though substandard Halifax County Schools' buildings sometimes force students to walk through sewage to reach their lockers, they get less local tax dollars than the majority white Roanoke Rapids schools.

Judges split 2-1 in ruling that local families should take their problems to Raleigh. The dissenting judge said counties can be sued since the legislature assigned them responsibility for funding buildings and supplies.


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