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A federal appeals court has dismissed a judge’s ruling that threw out Gov. Tom Wolf’s sweeping COVID-19 restrictions, saying the issue is now moot because statewide mitigation measures have expired and Pennsylvania voters have since constrained a governor’s emergency powers.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that since Wolf’s stay-at-home order, limits on crowd size and business closures are no longer in effect, there is “consequently no relief that this court can grant.”

The Philadelphia-based appeals court also noted that Pennsylvania voters in May approved amendments to the state constitution that give lawmakers much more power over disaster declarations.

The appeals court’s order instructed U.S. District Judge William Stickman IV to vacate his nearly year-old ruling that Wolf’s pandemic restrictions were overreaching and arbitrary and violated citizens’ constitutional rights. The appeals court had previously put the ruling on hold while the Wolf administration appealed.

Stickman, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, had sided with plaintiffs that included hair salons, drive-in movie theaters, a farmer’s market vendor, a horse trainer and several Republican officeholders in their lawsuit against Wolf, a Democrat, and his health secretary.

Writing separately, 3rd Circuit Judge Kent Jordan said that while he agreed with the majority that the case is legally moot, he noted the Wolf administration has said the constitutional amendments do not affect a state health secretary’s disease-prevention authority to issue mask-wearing and stay-at-home orders or shut down schools and nonessential businesses.

At the same time, Wolf administration officials have said they have no intention of restoring such statewide mitigation measures, even as the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus has led to sharply rising infections and hospitalizations.


Mississippi judges have the power to delay trials, limit the number of spectators in courtrooms or take other steps to try to slow the spread of COVID-19, the leader of the state Supreme Court says in an emergency order.

Chief Justice Michael Randolph issued the order Thursday in response to the rapid spread of illness caused by highly contagious delta variant of the virus.

Mississippi has one of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the nation, and the state health officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, said Friday that 97% of new cases of COVID-19 in Mississippi are among people who are unvaccinated.

Randolph’s order said judges may postpone jury trials that are scheduled through Sept. 10. In addition to limiting the number of spectators in courtrooms, judges may require people to wear masks and maintain distance between each other. The order encouraged courts to use teleconferencing and videoconferencing, when possible.

Plea hearings in felony cases must still take place in person, but defendants and others in the courtrooms should wear masks and maintain social distancing.

“Any in-person proceedings shall be limited to attorneys, parties, witnesses, security officers, members of the press and other necessary persons, as determined by the trial judge,” Randolph wrote.


The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court are set to decide whether to hear a case filed by Maine families who want to use a state tuition program to send their children to religious schools.

The case concerns a Maine Department of Education rule that allows families who live in towns that don’t have public schools to receive public tuition dollars to send their children to the public or private school of their choosing. The program excludes religious schools, and families who want to send their children to Christian schools in Bangor and Waterville sued to try to change that.

The justices were slated to meet Thursday to consider whether to hear the case. It was unclear when they would issue a decision about whether the case can go forward.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit rejected the lawsuit last year, and the families appealed to the high court. They face the possibility of taking their case to a Supreme Court that has shifted in a conservative direction since they first filed in federal court three years ago.

Conflicting rules about the subject of public tuition assistance have led to confusion in lower courts, so the Supreme Court should take up the case, said Michael Bindas, the lead attorney for the families and a lawyer with the libertarian public interest firm Institute for Justice.

“Only the Supreme Court can provide that clarity, and make sure students aren’t being treated differently based on where they reside,” Bindas said. “The government shouldn’t be able to deny those parents the ability to send their children to the best available education for them.”

The lawsuit was first filed after the Supreme Court ruled that a Missouri program was wrong to deny a grant to a religious school for playground resurfacing. The issue of public funding for religious schools has also come up in other states.

The Supreme Court ruled in a Montana case last year that states have to give religious schools the same access to public money that other private schools benefit from. Vermont has also faced lawsuits over a voucher program for students who live in locales that don’t have their own schools. The issue has also been raised in New Hampshire.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine has filed court papers in support of Maine’s law that excludes religious schools from the tuition program. States aren’t obligated to fund religious schools, ACLU of Maine legal director Zachary Heiden said.

“Religious views infuse everything, as part of their curriculum and how they are dedicated to training future religious leaders,” Heiden said. “Which is absolutely something they can do, but it’s not something the government should be required to fund.”



The Washington state Supreme Court this month unanimously rejected the notion that a man who skipped his court date could be presented as evidence that he felt guilty about the original crime.

State Supreme Court justices agreed that criminalizing a single missed court date could disproportionately harm people of color, poor people or people without reliable transportation or scheduling conflicts due to child care or work, The Daily Herald reported.

The ruling came less than a year after the state Legislature revised the bail jumping law, which gives people more time to respond to a warrant. Samuel Slater, 27, had one unexcused absence in his case, which predated the new law.

Records show Slater was convicted of violating no-contact orders five times in five years, multiple driving offenses and domestic violence charges. He pleaded guilty in 2016 to assault in Washington state.

A judge ordered him not to have contact with the woman, who was not identified, but he showed up within a day of being let out of jail. He was charged in 2017 with alleged felony violation of a no-contact order and felony bail jumping after missing a court date later in the year.

Slater’s attorney, Frederic Moll, asked for separate trials on the counts. Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Anita Farris, a former public defender, found that the charges could be tried together for “judicial economy reasons” and that they were cross-admissible, meaning one could be used to prove the other.

Judge Ellen Fair presided over the trial and agreed with Farris. State Court of Appeals judges also agreed.

During the trial, deputy prosecutor Adam Sturdivant repeatedly noted how the defendant missed his court date, asking: “If he didn’t do it, why didn’t he show up for trial call a year ago?”

Slater was found guilty on both counts and sentenced to more than two years in prison and a year of probation

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