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Wisconsin Supreme Court primary will leave just two
Legal News Digest | 2018/02/11 19:05
The latest battle over the ideological balance of the Wisconsin Supreme Court plays out in the Feb. 20 primary, where one of three candidates will be eliminated a head of a spring election.

Partisan politics have weighed heavy over weeks of campaigning. Madison attorney Tim Burns has most embraced his liberal beliefs, while Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Rebecca Dallet sought to appear as a moderate. Sauk County Circuit Judge Michael Screnock, an appointee of Republican Gov. Scott Walker, has the backing of conservatives.

The primary is the first statewide race this year, and while officially nonpartisan, it could be a bellwether for how Republicans and Democrats stand heading into the fall. Turnout is expected to be low, likely less than 10 percent.

The top two vote-getters advance to the April 3 general election, with the winner replacing outgoing conservative Justice Michael Gableman. He decided against seeking another 10-year term.

The court is currently controlled 5-2 by conservatives, so no matter who wins the ideological control will not change. Burns, who represents clients nationwide in lawsuits against insurance companies, is the only non-judge in the race. He also has little experience litigating in Wisconsin courtrooms, having argued only one case in state court and six in federal court in Wisconsin.

Burns argues his experience outside of Wisconsin is a strength that will help him fix what he views as a broken system. And, he argues a victory for him will energize liberals across the state headed into the fall.

Dallet argues that Burns has gotten too political. But she's walking a fine line trying to win over many of the same liberal voters Burns is appealing to. She ran a commercial attacking Trump and has criticized the current Supreme Court for voting in 2015 to end an investigation into Walker and conservatives.



Court: Ex-West Virginia judge ineligible for benefits
Law Firm News | 2018/02/10 19:05
The West Virginia Supreme Court has ruled a former judge serving a corruption sentence and his ex-wife are not eligible for public retirement benefits.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports the court Friday affirmed a 2017 ruling from Kanawha County circuit court to terminate ex-Mingo County Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury's membership in retirement systems for public employees and judges.

The justices also denied access by Thornsbury's ex-wife to the benefits she previously were awarded as part of the couple's divorce settlement.

Thornsbury was sentenced in 2014 to four years and two months in federal prison for conspiring to deprive a campaign sign maker of his constitutional rights..

Thornsbury is being held in a federal residential re-entry facility in Nashville, Tennessee, pending his scheduled release on March 15.



Kushner firm seeks court change to keep partners secret
Law Firm News | 2018/02/08 19:05
The family real estate company once run by presidential adviser Jared Kushner is shifting a federal court case to a new venue so it won't have to reveal the identities of foreign partners behind some of its real estate projects.

With a deadline approaching within hours, the Kushner Cos. filed papers in federal court Friday to move the case involving Maryland apartment complexes it owns with foreign investors back to state court. A federal district court judge ruled last month that the Kushners had to identify its partners by Friday, rejecting arguments from the family company that such disclosures would violate privacy rights.

The Kushner Cos. had also argued that media coverage of the case was "politically motivated" and marked by "unfair sensationalism" given that the company was once run by Jared Kushner, now a senior adviser to his father-in-law, President Donald Trump.

The case has attracted media attention because it promised a rare glimpse into how New York-based Kushner Cos. raises money for its real estate projects, revealing ties to lenders and investors who could possibly raise conflict-of-interest issues.

The fight over disclosure in federal court stems from a lawsuit that started out in Maryland state court last year on an entirely different matter. That lawsuit was brought by tenants alleging a Kushner Cos. affiliate called Westminster Management charges excessive and illegal rent for apartments. It sought class-action status for tenants in 17 apartment complexes. Westminster has said it has broken no laws and denies the charges.



Supreme Court blocks some redrawn North Carolina districts
Court Press News | 2018/02/07 23:43
The U.S. Supreme Court told North Carolina officials late Tuesday they must use some but not all of the state's legislative districts that other federal judges redrew for this year's elections.

The justices partially granted the request of Republican lawmakers who contend the House and Senate maps they voted for last summer were legal and didn't need to be altered.

A three-judge panel determined those GOP-approved boundaries contained racial bias left over from maps originally approved in 2011 and violated the state constitution. So the lower-court judges hired a special master who changed about two dozen districts in all. The judges approved them last month.

The Supreme Court's order means more than half of those districts redrawn by Stanford University law professor Nathaniel Persily will revert to their shapes from last summer. The order said House district changes made in the counties that include Charlotte and Raleigh because of state constitutional concerns are blocked while the full case is appealed, but changes made elsewhere to alleviate racial bias must be used.

The maps containing the partial changes will be used when candidate filing for all 170 General Assembly seats begins next Monday.

Boundaries approved by the General Assembly last August kept Republicans in a position to retain veto-proof majorities in the chambers, which has helped them advance their conservative-leaning agenda this decade. But Democrats are bolstered after successful elections in other states last year. Tuesday's ruling means Democrats could find it harder to win more House districts than they hoped.

Dozens of North Carolina voters originally were successful in overturning the 2011 districts as racial gerrymanders. They subsequently asked Chief Justice John Roberts, who receives appeals from the state, to allow the lower court's directive and require the changes approved by the three judges be used.

The Republicans' request was considered by the entire court and the order reflected division among the justices. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito would have agreed to block all of the changes to the maps approved by the lower-court panel. Yet Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor would have denied the GOP's request entirely, according to the order.


Court allows Pennsylvania to redraw GOP-favored district map
Legal News Digest | 2018/02/06 23:43
Justice Samuel Alito, who handles emergency appeals from Pennsylvania, rejected the request from GOP legislative leaders and voters to put on hold an order from the state Supreme Court intended to produce new congressional districts in the coming two weeks.

The Pennsylvania high court ruled last month that the current map of 18 districts violates the state constitution because it unfairly benefits Republicans.

The decision comes just four days before the Republican-controlled Legislature's deadline for submitting a replacement map for Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf to consider. So far, there has been a notable lack of bipartisan movement on getting such a deal.

Pennsylvania's congressional delegation has been 13-5 in favor of Republicans during the three election cycles since the GOP-drawn 2011 map took effect, and experts have said those 13 seats are several more than would have been produced by a nonpartisan map.

Democrats have about 800,000 more registered voters than Republicans and hold all three elected statewide row offices, but Republicans enjoy solid majorities in both chambers of the Legislature.

Under the process laid out two weeks ago by four of the seven Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices, all Democrats, the Legislature has until Friday to approve a new map, after which Wolf will have until Feb. 15 to decide whether to endorse it and submit it to the justices.

Senate Republican Leader Jake Corman said Monday he's had "zero" discussions with Wolf and legislative leaders about new district boundaries and could not guarantee he will meet the deadline.

The state Supreme Court said it expects new districts to be in place by Feb. 19, and the new map is expected to be in play for the May 15 congressional primaries.


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