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Maryland redistricting case comes before Supreme Court
Law Firm News | 2018/03/17 23:17
The Supreme Court is taking up its second big partisan redistricting case of the term amid signs the justices could place limits on drawing maps for political gain.

The justices are hearing arguments Wednesday in an appeal filed by Republicans in Maryland. They complain that Democrats who controlled the state government in 2011 drew a congressional district for the express purpose of ousting the Republican incumbent and replacing him with a Democrat.

In Wisconsin, Democrats are challenging legislative districts drawn by Republicans statewide. Those districts gave Republicans a huge majority in a state that otherwise is closely divided between the parties.

The Supreme Court has never struck down districts for being too partisan.

A decision in favor of opponents of partisan gerrymandering could cut into the political power of the dominant party in states in which one party controls the state government.

The court is expected to issue decisions in both cases by late June.

Maryland's 6th Congressional District had been centered in rural, Republican-leaning northwestern Maryland and had elected a Republican to Congress for 20 years. Incumbent Rep. Roscoe Bartlett won re-election in 2010 by 28 percentage points.

But in the 2011 redistricting, Democrats altered the district to take in some Democratic suburbs of Washington, D.C. The new district had 62,000 fewer Republicans and 33,000 more Democrats. Bartlett lost the 2012 election by 21 percentage points.

Republican voters who sued over the changes said the state violated their First Amendment rights.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, a Democrat, is defending the district as competitive for both parties. Frosh said the district has elected a moderate Democrat, and in 2014, a friendlier year for Republican candidates, the victory margin of Democratic Rep. John Delaney dropped to less than 2 percentage points, though it rose again in 2016.


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.



UN court lays down Costa Rica, Nicaragua maritime borders
Law Firm News | 2018/02/03 22:33
The International Court of Justice laid down definitive maritime boundaries Friday between Costa Rica and Nicaragua in the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean and a small land boundary in a remote, disputed wetland.

As part of the complex ruling, the United Nations' highest judicial organ ruled that a Nicaraguan military base on part of the disputed coastline close to the mouth of the San Juan River is on Costa Rican territory and must be removed.

Ruling in two cases filed by Costa Rica, the 16-judge U.N. panel took into account the two countries' coastlines and some islands in drawing what it called "equitable" maritime borders that carved up the continental shelf underneath the Caribbean and Pacific.

Such rulings can affect issues including fishing rights and exploration for resources like oil.

Earlier, the court ordered Nicaragua to compensate Costa Rica for damage Nicaragua caused with unlawful construction work near the mouth of the San Juan River, the court's first foray into assessing costs for environmental damage.

The order by the United Nations' principal judicial organ followed a December 2015 ruling that Nicaragua violated Costa Rica's sovereignty by establishing a military camp and digging channels near the river, part of a long-running border dispute in the remote region on the shores of the Caribbean Sea.

In total, Nicaragua was ordered to pay just over $378,890 for environmental damage and other costs incurred by Costa Rica— a small fraction of the $6.7 million sought by San Jose.



Court eyes Massachusetts church-state dispute
Law Firm News | 2017/09/14 02:17
An attorney says a Massachusetts town should not be barred from giving public funds to support the restoration of a historic building just because it happens to be a church.

Nina Pickering-Cook told Massachusetts' highest court on Thursday that communities' ability to protect their historic resources shouldn't change because the structures are owned by a religious entity.

At issue is whether the town of Acton violated Massachusetts' constitution when it approved more than $100,000 in community preservation grants to restore stained-glass windows and identify other needs at a church.

Douglas Mishkin is an attorney for the taxpayers who brought the lawsuit. Mishkin told the court that active houses of worship are clearly prohibited from getting taxpayer dollars.

The Supreme Judicial Court is expected to rule in the coming months.


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