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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.



Arkansas judge blocks state from issuing birth certificates
Headline Legal News | 2017/12/01 11:07
An Arkansas judge on Friday blocked the state from issuing any birth certificates until officials are able to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the state's birth certificate law illegally favors heterosexual parents.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox on Friday set aside his orders requiring the state and three same-sex couples go into mediation on how to fix the state law to comply with the U.S. high court's order. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge earlier this week asked the state Supreme Court to stay or lift Fox's mediation order.

"This case has been pending for over two years and it has been more than six months since the United States Supreme Court ruled the Arkansas statutory scheme unconstitutional," Fox wrote in his order. "There are citizens and residents of the state of Arkansas whose constitutional rights are being violated on a daily basis."

Fox last month had threatened to halt the issuance of birth certificates if both sides couldn't find language by Jan. 5 to be stricken from the law. Rutledge told the court this week that both sides had agreed on an order on how to comply with the high court ruling, but Fox rejected it. A spokeswoman for Rutledge said the AG's office was reviewing Fox's order and did not have an immediate comment.

In his order, Fox said he was hopeful Gov. Asa Hutchinson would have the authority to fix the birth certificate law through executive action. If the state is unable to fix the law, Fox said, the injunction would be in effect until lawmakers could address the issue. Lawmakers are not scheduled to convene again until February for a session focused on the budget. Hutchinson could call a special session.



Top German court strengthens intersex identity rights
Headline Legal News | 2017/11/09 11:25
Germany’s highest court has decided that people must be allowed to be entered in official records as neither male nor female, saying in a ruling published Wednesday that authorities should create a third identity or scrap gender entries altogether.

The Federal Constitutional Court ruled on a case in which a plaintiff, identified by advocacy group Dritte Option only as Vanja, born in 1989, sought to have their entry in the birth register changed from “female” to “inter/diverse” or “diverse.”

Officials rejected the application on the grounds that the law only allows for children to be registered as male or female, or for the gender to be left blank.

The plaintiff argued that that was a violation of their personal rights. In a three-year legal battle, Vanja provided courts with a genetic analysis showing the plaintiff has one X chromosome but no second sex chromosome. Women have two X chromosomes, while men have one X and one Y chromosome.

The supreme court found that the law protects sexual identity, which has a “key position” in how individuals perceive themselves and are perceived by others. It said that “the sexual identity of those people who can be assigned neither to the male nor the female sex is also protected,” and said the constitution also protects them against discrimination because of their gender. The government has until the end of 2018 to draw up new rules.



'Dirty soda' Utah court battle ends with legal settlement
Headline Legal News | 2017/11/07 11:26
Two Utah chains that sell flavor-shot-spiked "dirty sodas" have settled their court battle over the sugary concept that's grown increasingly profitable in a state where sugar is a common vice, according to court documents filed Tuesday.

Soda shops Sodalicious and Swig will pay their own expenses, court papers said. The documents offer no details of the settlement terms and attorneys for the two sides did not return messages seeking comment.

Swig had accused competitor Sodalicious of copying the trademarked "dirty" idea, down to the frosted sugar cookies sold alongside the sweet drinks spiked with flavor shots, fruit purees and cream.

Both shops are known for their soda mixology. Swig's concoctions include the Tiny Turtle, which is Sprite spiked with green apple and banana flavors.

Swig sued in 2015 for damages and an order blocking Sodalicious from using words and signs similar to theirs. A trial had been set for this week, but it was on hold during settlement negotiations.

Sodalicious fought back, saying dirty is a longtime moniker for martinis and other drinks. They said tongue-in-cheek nicknames for concoctions like "Second Wife" make their business distinctly different.

Other sodas on their menu include the Rocky Mountain High, made with cherry and coconut added to Coke.

The court fight unfolded as the sweet drinks grew increasingly popular and profitable in a majority-Mormon state where sugar is a popular indulgence.

Both shops have more than a dozen locations across Utah, and have also expanded into the suburbs of Phoenix.


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