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The European Union is coming closer to imposing sanctions on Poland for the government's attempt to take control over the judiciary, a senior official warned Wednesday, but he said the bloc was still open to dialogue.

European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans spoke Wednesday in Brussels, shortly after Poland's lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to send a contentious draft law that would reorganize the nation's top Supreme Court for more work by a special parliamentary commission.

Timmermans said that the EU was closer to triggering Article 7 against Poland because its recent steps toward the judiciary "greatly amplify the threat to the rule of law" and threaten putting the judiciary "under full political control of the government." But he said that dialogue between the EU and Poland should continue while the legislation is being worked on.

The EU's Article 7 allows the bloc to strip a nation of its voting rights. Article 7 was envisioned to ensure democratic standards in EU members. It requires unanimity among all other member states.

The vote in Poland's parliament, which is dominated by the ruling Law and Justice party, was preceded by a heated debate and street protests. It was the latest in a string of conflicts over the policies of the conservative party, which won power in a 2015 election. The government is also under strong criticism from other EU leaders.

Lawmakers voted 434-6 with one abstention for the commission for justice and human rights to review and issue its opinion on the draft law, which gives politicians, not lawyers, the power over appointments to the Supreme Court and reorganizes its structure.

The head of the commission, Stanislaw Piotrowicz, said it wasn't clear when the commission would convene and when its opinion would be known. He said the number of amendments proposed by the opposition was aimed at obstructing its work.

In a heated debate Tuesday, the opposition proposed more than 1,000 amendments to the draft, which, it says, kills judicial independence and destroys the democratic principle of the separation of the judiciary from the executive power.


A North Carolina appeals court judge said Wednesday he won't run again when his seat comes up for re-election next year.

Judge Rick Elmore has served since 2003. The former private practice lawyer from Greensboro was re-elected to a second eight-year term in 2010.

In an interview, Elmore said he'll be satisfied serving two full terms on the state's intermediate-level appeals court when comparing it to the uncertainty of any outcome if he was to run another statewide campaign in 2018. Elmore, 66, also would have been unable to serve another full term due to the state's mandatory retirement age for judges at 72.

Leaving after this term expires "seemed to be a good fit," Elmore said, adding that he wanted to "leave on my own terms."

Elmore said he wanted to make the announcement before state political parties gather this year. Elmore is a registered Republican. A law approved last December makes Court of Appeals races officially partisan elections again, with party primaries.

Elmore said his decision had nothing to do with legislation approved in March by the General Assembly to reduce the number of Court of Appeals judges from 15 to 12 by eliminating positions vacated by resignation or death. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the measure, but the veto was overridden.

The appeals court usually meets in panels of three judges. The court is the final arbiter in state court matters except for cases heard by the state Supreme Court.



The U.S. imposed a new round of sanctions on high-level Venezuelan officials, this time targeting eight Supreme Court judges that Washington accused of damaging their nation's democracy by steadily stripping the opposition-controlled congress of any authority.

The executive order issued Thursday marked the second time the U.S. has sanctioned leaders of Venezuela's socialist government since Donald Trump became president this year. In February, the U.S. announced it was freezing the assets of Vice President Tareck El Aissami, accusing him of playing a major role in international drug trafficking.

Those blacklisted under the latest decree include Maikel Moreno, the president of the government-packed Supreme Court, as well as all seven justices who signed a ruling in late March nullifying congress. The ruling was later partially reversed amid a surge of international criticism, but it sparked a protest movement that has seen almost daily street demonstrations for nearly two months — sometimes violent unrest that recorded its 45th death Thursday.

"By imposing these targeted sanctions, the United States is supporting the Venezuelan people in their efforts to protect and advance democratic governance in their country," U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez decried the U.S. sanctions on Twitter as "outrageous and unacceptable." She said the order was one more example of U.S. attempts to destabilize Venezuela's government, adding that Maduro strongly backs the Supreme Court magistrates who are "victims of U.S. imperial power."

Trump's administration has repeatedly raised concerns that Maduro is moving toward one-party, authoritarian rule. Earlier Thursday, the U.S. leader expressed dismay about Venezuela's troubles, asking aloud how a nation holding the world's largest oil reserves could be stricken by so much poverty and turmoil.



Supreme Court decisions in a half-dozen cases dealing with immigration over the next two months could reveal how the justices might evaluate Trump administration actions on immigration, especially stepped-up deportations.

Some of those cases could be decided as early as Monday, when the court is meeting to issue opinions in cases that were argued over the past six months.

The outcomes could indicate whether the justices are retreating from long-standing decisions that give the president and Congress great discretion in dealing with immigration, and what role administration policies, including the proposed ban on visits to the United States by residents of six majority Muslim countries, may play.

President Trump has pledged to increase deportations, particularly of people who have been convicted of crimes. But Supreme Court rulings in favor of the immigrants in the pending cases “could make his plans more difficult to realize,” said Christopher Hajec, director of litigation for the Immigration Reform Litigation Institute. The group generally supports the new administration’s immigration actions, including the travel ban.

For about a century, the court has held that, when dealing with immigration, the White House and Congress “can get away with things they ordinarily couldn’t,” said Temple University law professor Peter Spiro, an immigration law expert. “The court has explicitly said the Constitution applies differently in immigration than in other contexts.”

Two of the immigration cases at the court offer the justices the possibility of cutting into the deference that courts have given the other branches of government in this area. One case is a class-action lawsuit brought by immigrants who’ve spent long periods in custody, including many who are legal residents of the United States or are seeking asylum. The court is weighing whether the detainees have a right to court hearings.


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