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In a pair of mixed rulings for Kentucky Republicans, the state Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a law requiring a panel of doctors to review medical malpractice cases before they go to court while upholding the state's law banning mandatory union dues for most employees.

Republicans celebrated when Gov. Matt Bevin signed both laws, made possible only after the GOP won control of the state House of Representatives in 2016 for the first time in nearly 100 years. Bevin has credited the union dues law, known as right-to-work, with boosting record levels of business investment in Kentucky. But the medical review panel law has been criticized for clogging the state's court system.

The medical review law gives a panel of doctors nine months to review medical malpractice lawsuits and issue an opinion about whether they are frivolous. A review of court records in August of this year by the Courier Journal found that in the first year the law was in effect, 11 percent of the 531 malpractice lawsuits filed had been assigned to a panel. Of those, findings had been issued in 3 percent.

The state legislature passed the law in 2017. Tonya Claycomb sued on behalf of her child, Ezra, who was born with severe brain damage and cerebral palsy she says was caused by medical malpractice. She argued the bill delayed her access to the courts, citing section 14 of the Kentucky Constitution. It says all courts shall be open and every person will have access "without ... delay."

Lawyers for Gov. Bevin argued the law is helpful because it gets the two sides talking before a lawsuit is filed, which could lead to an agreement to settle the case outside of court. They also pointed out the state has other laws that limit access to the courts, including requiring heirs to wait at least six months before suing the executor of an estate.



The Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to hear an appeal by Virginia Republicans who are trying to preserve state legislative districts that have been struck down by a lower court as racially discriminatory.

The case involves 11 districts in the Virginia House of Delegates. Democratic voters accuse Republicans, who hold the majority, of packing black voters into certain districts to make surrounding districts whiter and more Republican.

A three-judge federal court in Virginia ruled 2-1 in June in favor of the Democratic voters and has appointed a redistricting expert to draw a new legislative map with a Dec. 7 deadline. Kirk Cox, the Republican speaker of the Virginia House, said he is weighing whether to ask the lower court to delay the issuance of a new map until after the Supreme Court rules.

Arguments probably will take place in late February, with a ruling likely by late June. The next round of elections for the state House is 2019, and candidates would normally have to register in the spring and run in primaries in the summer.

Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam's office and House Democratic leader David Toscano did not immediately return requests for comment. Marc Elias, a lawyer representing the voters, predicted on Twitter that the justices would rule in his clients' favor.


The state director for Marsy's Law for Kentucky said Thursday that advocates were pleased voters supported placing crime victims' rights in the state constitution.

But Ashlea Christiansen, director of the state's "Marsy's Law" initiative, said supporters are now waiting to see whether the state Supreme Court will allow the constitutional amendment to go into effect.

Voters on Tuesday approved placing "Marsy's Law" in the constitution by a large margin. According to the Secretary of State's Office, 868,932 people voted in favor of "Marsy's Law," while 514,440 were opposed.

"I'm very pleased the majority of Kentuckians believe and understand these ... rights are necessary, but I'm not celebrating yet," Christiansen said. "I won't celebrate until a decision is made by the Supreme Court."

Legislators approved "Marsy's Law" during this year's General Assembly. The bill calls for a constitutional amendment to enshrine certain crime victim's rights in the state constitution, such as the right of a victim to be informed of hearings in their case, to be notified if the defendant in their case is released on bond or escapes, and the right to heard at hearings. Voters have to approve proposed constitutional amendments.

Crime victims have some rights in court that are already part of state law, but "Marsy's Law" would make a crime victim's rights enforceable.


The Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear a case about whether a nearly 100-year-old, cross-shaped war memorial located on a Maryland highway median violates the Constitution's required separation of church and state, a case that could impact hundreds of similar monuments nationwide.

A federal appeals court in Virginia had previously ruled against the approximately four-story-tall cross. The judges said that it "has the primary effect of endorsing religion and excessively entangles the government in religion."

But the Maryland officials who maintain the memorial told the Supreme Court that the monument's context and history show it is intended to convey a secular message of remembrance, not a religious message. They said the appeals court's decision would "compel the removal or dismemberment of a cherished war memorial that has served as a site of solemn commemoration and civic unity for nearly a century." In urging the high court to take the case, officials argued that the lower court's decision puts at risk hundreds of other monuments nationwide.

The approximately 40-foot-tall cross at the center of the case is located in Bladensburg, Maryland, about 5 miles from the Supreme Court. Sometimes called the "Peace Cross," it was completed in 1925, and it honors 49 men from the surrounding county who died in World War I. A plaque on the cross' base lists the names of those soldiers, and both faces of the cross have a circle with the symbol of the American Legion, the veterans organization that helped raise money to build it.

Today, responsibility for the cross falls to a Maryland parks commission that took over ownership and maintenance of it in 1961 because of traffic safety concerns. The massive concrete structure could be dangerous to motorists if it were to fall or crumble.


The Nebraska Supreme Court has accepted the voluntary surrender of an imprisoned ex-bank executive's law license and ordered him disbarred.

The state's high court said in its ruling Friday that 77-year-old Gilbert Lundstrom's license was already inactive and that he voluntarily surrendered his license in September, noting that he had been convicted in federal court of 12 fraud-related felony counts.

Lundstrom was sentenced in 2016 to 11 years in federal prison for his role in the 2010 failure of Lincoln-based TierOne Bank, where he had served as chief executive officer.

Prosecutors said Lundstrom conspired with other bank officers to hide the bank's troubled finances from regulators and shareholders.


South Korea's top court ruled Thursday that South Korean men can legally reject their mandatory military service on conscientious or religious grounds without punishment.

The landmark ruling is expected to affect the cases of more than 930 conscientious objectors on trial. Hundreds of young South Korean men, mostly Jehovah's Witnesses, are imprisoned every year for refusing to serve in the military.

All able-bodied South Korean men must serve about two years in the military under a conscription system aimed at coping with potential aggression from North Korea. The court broke with its own 2004 verdict that rejecting military service because of religious faith was illegal, saying at the time that confrontation with the North made South Korea's draft an indisputable necessity.

The ruling was great news for Jehovah's Witnesses and others who call for improved individual rights and freedom of opinion in South Korea. But many conservatives are likely to criticize it, saying it inadequately considers the North Korean threat.

When South Korea's Constitutional Court ruled in June that the government must provide alternative social service for conscientious objectors by 2019, a heated debate erupted over whether it is the proper time for such a measure because North Korea's nuclear threat remains unchanged. There are also worries that some might exploit alternative service to evade the draft.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court said it quashed a lower court's sentencing of a conscientious objector to 18 months in prison. It said it ordered the lower court to review its earlier verdict. Supreme Court officials said there is little chance the lower court would not abide by the decision.


The man charged in the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre was brought into court in a wheelchair Monday, as some members of the Jewish community and others objected to President Donald Trump’s plans to visit, accusing him of contributing to a toxic political climate in the U.S. that might have led to the bloodshed.

With the first funerals set for Tuesday, the White House announced that Trump and first lady Melania Trump will visit the same day to “express the support of the American people and to grieve with the Pittsburgh community” over the 11 congregants killed Saturday in the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history.

Some Pittsburghers urged Trump to stay away. “His language has encouraged hatred and fear of immigrants, which is part of the reason why these people were killed,” said Marianne Novy, 73, a retired college English professor who lives in the city’s Squirrel Hill section, the historic Jewish neighborhood where the attack at the Tree of Life synagogue took place.

Meanwhile, the alleged gunman, 46-year-old truck driver Robert Gregory Bowers, was released from the hospital where he was treated for wounds suffered in a gun battle with police. Hours later he was wheeled into a downtown federal courtroom in handcuffs to face charges.

A judge ordered him held without bail for a preliminary hearing on Thursday, when prosecutors will outline their case. He did not enter a plea.

During the brief proceeding, Bowers talked with two court-appointed lawyers and said little more than “Yes” in a soft voice a few times in response to routine questions from the judge. Courtroom deputies freed one of his cuffed hands so he could sign paperwork.

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