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Jailed Catalan separatists pledge to eschew unilateral moves
Court News | 2018/01/10 18:07
Three backers of Catalonia's independence sought Thursday to get released from jail for their role in the region's push to break from Spain, which triggered the country's worst political crisis in decades.

Former Catalan interior minister, Joaquim Forn, Jordi Sanchez, a member of pro-independence civic group National Catalan Assembly, and Catalan activist Jordi Cuixart made their cases to a Spain Supreme Court judge. A ruling from Judge Pablo LLarena is not expected Thursday.

Forn was one of several regional ministers jailed on provisional charges of rebellion after the regional parliament unilaterally — and unsuccessfully — declared Catalonia an independent republic Oct. 27.

The action prompted the Spanish government in Madrid to remove the region's government from office, dissolve the parliament and call a fresh election that was held last month.

Sanchez and Forn were elected on separatist party tickets, but the Spanish government still is running Catalonia.

Sanchez and Cuixart had been jailed earlier on provisional sedition charges related to preparations for an Oct. 1 independence referendum, which Spain's Constitutional Court had suspended.

All three supporters of Catalan independence told the judge they would oppose further unilateral moves to secede and act in accordance with Spanish law, according to lawyers familiar with the proceedings.

The lawyers requested anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss what was said during the closed-door hearings.

The lawyers said Sanchez acknowledged that the Oct. 1 referendum was not legally valid. Forn, who as interior minister oversaw Catalonia's security and its regional police, said he would not accept the post again, if he were asked to.

Developments surrounding Catalonia have gripped Spain for months, and the tumult is showing no sign of letting up before the new parliament's first session on Wednesday.



Greece to limit Sharia law after European Court challenge
Court News | 2018/01/10 18:07
Lawmakers in Greece are set to limit the powers of Islamic courts operating in a border region that is home to a 100,000-strong Muslim minority.

Backed by parliament's largest political parties, the draft law is set to be voted on later Tuesday. The proposal aims to scrap rules dating back more than 90 years ago and which refer many civil cases involving members of the Muslim community to Sharia law courts. The new legislation will give Greek courts priority in all cases.

The changes — considered long overdue by many Greek legal experts — follow a complaint to the Council of Europe's Court of Human Rights over an inheritance dispute by a Muslim woman who lives in the northeastern Greek city of Komotini.

Legislation concerning minority rights was based on international treaties following wars in the aftermath of the Ottoman empire's collapse. The Muslim minority in Greece is largely Turkish speaking. Minority areas were visited last month by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Greek governments in the past have been reluctant to amend minority rights, as many disputes between Greece and Turkey remain unresolved.

Currently, Islamic court hearings are presided over by a single official, a state-appointed Muslim cleric.

In parliament Tuesday, Constantine Gavroglou, minister of education and religious affairs, praised opposition party support for the bill.


Florida and Georgia taking water fight to Supreme Court
Topics in Legal News | 2018/01/09 18:07
Reminders of the oyster's pre-eminence in this slice of northwestern Florida are everywhere, from the shells that line the edges of downtown buildings to the paintings of oysters that dot the walls of Apalachicola's art and history museum.

It's the oysters themselves that are harder to find these days, and Florida is hoping the Supreme Court can help fix that. The high court hears arguments Monday in the long-running dispute between Florida and neighboring Georgia over the flow of water in the Apalachicola River, which runs from the state line to Apalachicola Bay and the nearby Gulf of Mexico.

Florida sued Georgia in the Supreme Court in 2013, blaming farmers and booming metro Atlanta for low river flows that harmed the environment and fisheries dependent on fresh water entering the area. Florida portrays the case as its last chance to "stem Georgia's inequitable consumption" of water from the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers in Georgia, leaving too little by the time the rivers come together and pass into Florida.

"It is effectively strangling the Apalachicola Region and killing or threatening its animal and plant life," Florida said in its Supreme Court brief. Although the justices usually hear appeals, lawsuits between states start in the Supreme Court.

Georgia said Florida has failed to show that it would benefit from any cuts imposed on Georgia, pointing to the conclusion of a court-appointed special master who recommended that the justices side with Georgia. Georgia also said Florida is asking for unreasonable reductions that would "threaten the water supply of 5 million people in metropolitan Atlanta and risk crippling a multibillion-dollar agricultural sector in southwest Georgia."

Complicating the issue is the absence from the lawsuit of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages dams on the Chattahoochee River.


North Carolina's altered legislative districts back in court
Headline Legal News | 2018/01/06 21:33
North Carolina legislative districts are back in court again as federal judges must decide whether to accept proposed alterations by their appointed third-party expert.

A three-judge panel scheduled a hearing Friday in Greensboro to listen to why a Stanford University law professor they hired redrew boundaries the way he did. House and Senate districts drawn by Republican legislators have been in courts since 2011.

The same judicial panel previously struck down 28 districts as illegal racial gerrymanders, ultimately leading GOP legislators last summer to retool their maps. But the judges said there seemed to be lingering problems with race and constitutional violations and brought in a special master.

GOP lawyers already have said they expect to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court if the judicial panel approves the professor's proposal.



Judge Rejects Request for New Vote in Virginia House Race
Court News | 2018/01/06 18:08
A federal judge on Friday rejected a request for a new election that might have forced a 50-50 split in Virginia's House of Delegates, calling ballot mistakes cited by Democrats a "garden-variety" problem that doesn't merit federal intervention.

Democrats had hoped a new election in the 28th District would provide an opportunity for an even split in the chamber, which is now on track to be controlled by a 51-49 GOP majority.

Democrats cited state election officials who said 147 voters received the wrong ballot before Republican Bob Thomas beat Democrat Joshua Cole by only 73 votes.

It is the second defeat in as many days for Democrats. On Thursday, election officials broke a tie vote in another House district by drawing names from a bowl, and picking the Republican.

It is the second time Ellis has rejected a request to intervene in the race. Last month he rejected a request to issue a temporary restraining order that would have barred state elections officials from certifying Thomas as the winner. In both rulings, Ellis said he was leery of interjecting federal courts into a state elections process.



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