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  Court Watch - Legal News


On a glide path toward confirmation, Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch declared Wednesday that "when you put on the robe, you open your mind" as he faced a final day of questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Frustrated Democrats, unable to get much out of the Denver-based appeals court judge over 11 hours of questioning a day earlier, suggested they might not vote to confirm him later this month. Regardless, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made clear this week that he will see that Gorsuch is confirmed on way or another in the GOP-controlled Senate.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, gave voice to widespread Democratic complaints Wednesday about Gorsuch, President Donald Trump's pick for the high court.

Gorsuch has said repeatedly that he would adhere to the rule of law and respect the independence of the judiciary, but he has refused to address specifics on any number of issues, from abortion and guns, to allowing cameras in the courtroom, to the treatment of the federal judge nominated last year to the Supreme Court vacancy but denied a hearing by Republicans.

"What worries me is you have been very much able to avoid any specificity like no one I have ever seen before," Feinstein told Gorsuch. "And maybe that's a virtue, I don't know. But for us on this side, knowing where you stand on major questions of the day is really important to a vote 'aye,' and so that's why we pressed and pressed and pressed."



A convicted sex offender challenging restrictions on internet use will get a new hearing before New Jersey's parole board.

The state Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in the case of a man identified only by the initials J.I. who had claimed the restrictions were unconstitutional and violated his due process rights.

The man was convicted in 2003 of sexual assault in the molestation of his two daughters.

While on community supervision after his release, he was allowed to use a computer only to access social networking sites for employment and work purposes. After violating those rules, his parole supervisor prohibited him from using any device with internet capabilities.

Tuesday's unanimous ruling held that J.I. deserved a hearing to challenge the restrictions, reversing a 2015 appeals court decision.



The state Supreme Court has dealt a blow to South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, ruling the agency can't allow people access to floodwaters or ice that covers private property without legislative approval.

The agency had argued that all water was legally accessible to the public if it could be reached without trespassing on private land. And hunters and anglers had argued that all waters in the state should be accessible to the public.

The Argus Leader reports the decision stems from a lawsuit by Day County landowners and a class action against people who had been accessing two sloughs. The sloughs grew in the 1990s after heavy rains and snows, and in 2001, the public began using them for recreation, even though they were on private property.



North Carolina is one of just two states where 16- and 17-year-olds are automatically prosecuted as adults, but opponents of the practice hope new momentum could finally change that.

Legislation filed Wednesday in the state House would shift the cases for those teens accused of misdemeanors and non-violent felonies to the juvenile court system, and would make other juvenile justice changes.

Supporters of the measure say it ultimately would save money through lower recidivism rates and less demand for prison space, though it would initially cost substantial state funds over the next several years.

The change would prevent thousands of young people annually being branded for life with adult convictions for misdeeds that stem from youthful immaturity, according to bill supporters.

"Aside from it being the right thing to do, it's fiscally the right thing to do," said Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, one of the bill's chief sponsors. "Over a long period of time, this bill will save us money."

The other state that automatically prosecutes teens as adults is New York. A similar effort to ease that requirement is underway there.

Several "raise the age" proposals have been filed in North Carolina in previous years, including one that passed the House in 2014, but didn't become law. Previously lawmakers who worried about being labeled "soft on crime" have stayed clear of the proposal, and law enforcement has been suspicious of it.

The latest measure appears to have better chances for passage. The idea has bipartisan support in the House and Senate and in a coalition of groups ranging from sheriff and police chief associations and local governments to an arm of the North Carolina Chamber. Meanwhile, a courts and justice commission created by Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin has examined the issue closely and recommended the change.



A federal appeals court is wading into the battle over control of the nation's oldest synagogue and ownership of a set of ceremonial bells worth millions.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston will hear arguments Wednesday.

The fight pits the nation's oldest Jewish congregation, Shearith Israel in New York, against the congregation that worships at the 250-year-old Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island.

A federal judge last year ruled that the Rhode Island congregation may now control its own destiny and decide what to do with the bells, valued at $7.4 million. He rejected the New York congregation's arguments that it was the rightful owner of the bells and the synagogue.

In 1790, George Washington sent a letter to the Touro congregation pledging America's commitment to religious liberty.




Lawyers for North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and the state's legislative leaders face off in court Tuesday over whether a series of new laws diminishing the governor's powers are constitutional.

A state panel of three trial judges will determine the outcome, though its decision can be appealed in a process that could last months.

The challenged laws require Cooper's picks to run 10 state agencies be approved by the GOP-led Senate, strip the governor's control over running elections, slash his hiring options and give civil service protections to hundreds of political appointees of former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.

GOP lawmakers adopted the provisions reducing Cooper's powers during a surprise special legislative session two weeks before the Democrat took office Jan. 1.

The key argument raised by attorneys for state House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger is that North Carolina's legislature is — and should be — dominant in a state government where the three branches of government were designed to be separate, but not equal.

Cooper's attorneys contend that even if North Carolina's governor was established in the state constitution to be weak compared with most state executives across the country, the new laws encroach on the governor's powers and upset the balance of powers that have developed.

The determination of Republican lawmakers to shift Cooper's authority to legislative leaders continued last week in party-line votes. The House bills would eliminate Cooper's ability to choose board members at more than a dozen community colleges, and to fill vacancies on the state District Court, where most criminal and civil cases get heard.


A court security officer in Maine has been placed on leave while under investigation for sending a cellphone photo of a defense attorney's notes to a prosecutor.

The Kennebec Journal reports that court officials are calling the incident a serious ethical breach and violation of courtroom protocol.

Sgt. Joel Eldridge took the photo Tuesday as a judge and attorneys discussed a case involving robbery, aggravated assault and criminal mischief. Assistant District Attorney Francis Griffin told the judge he saw the photo on his phone and reported the incident to the district attorney.

Defense attorney Sherry Tash said she was told the photo showed her notes of a person's name and number. Eldridge declined comment. He's on administrative leave with pay pending an internal investigation by the Kennebec County Sheriff's Department.

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