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Legal news from Friday, March 4, 2005




Florida agency probing Schiavo abuse allegations
Phillip Hong-Barco on March 4, 2005 4:19 PM ET

[JURIST] After a Thursday ruling thwarted an effort to keep court petitions private [AP report], documents filed by Florida's Department of Children and Families (DCF) [official website] related to the case of 41-year-old Terri Schiavo were made public Friday. The DCF is seeking a further 60-day stay of the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube so it may investigate nearly 30 allegations of "abuse, neglect or exploitation" by her husband, Michael Schiavo. The allegations in the DCF documents included failure to investigate experimental medical procedures; denial of legal counsel; lack of communication and visitation; and lack of manipulation of Terri Schiavo's arms, "causing severe contractures." Michael Schiavo's attorney, George Felos [profile] has said that DCF's effort to intervene in the tube removal "reeks of political arm-twisting." Judge George Greer, who last Friday extended the stay against the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube until March 18 [JURIST report], is expected to hear oral arguments on the DCF's claims next week. AP has more.






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UK music industry claims victory in file-sharing settlements
Phillip Hong-Barco on March 4, 2005 3:48 PM ET

[JURIST] The British Phonographic Industry (BPI) [trade website] said Friday that their first legal battle against Internet file-sharers has been a success. BPI issued their statement after 23 people paid a cumulative sum of £50,000 in an out-of-court settlement. Of those, 17 were men and six women, ranging from 22 and 58 years old. Each signed High Court documents admitting to illegal file sharing [JURIST Hot Topic news archive] and promised not to do it again. The payments, averaging £2,200 each, will be distributed among the music copyright holders. BPI general counsel Geoff Taylor noted that such lawsuits serve primarily as a deterrent and remarked, "We are determined to find people who illegally distribute music, whichever peer-to-peer network they use, and to make them compensate the artists and labels they are stealing from." As such, the BPI also announced a second wave of cases, pursuing 31 more file-sharers. Since the peak of file-sharing in April 2003, the US music industry, headed by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) [trade website] has filed thousands of lawsuits against so-called "music pirates." BPI says that the combined global effort has led to a 45% decline in the used on file-sharing networks such as Kazaa [corporate website], the most heavily trafficked peer-to-peer network. BBC News has more.






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BREAKING NEWS ~ Freed Italian hostage mistakenly shot by US forces
Phillip Hong-Barco on March 4, 2005 3:32 PM ET

[JURIST US forces mistakenly opened fire late Friday on a convoy carrying Italian Il Manifesto [newspaper website] journalist Giuliana Sgrena to safety after she had been released from her Iraqi captors. The attack wounded Sgrena and killed an Italian secret service agent. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [BBC profile] announced that he immediately summoned the US ambassador to take responsibility for the accident. He later stated to Sky Italia television [official website in Italian], "An Italian agent has been killed by an American bullet. A tragic demonstration which we never wanted that everything that's happening in Iraq completely senseless and mad...." The US military has yet to comment. Reuters has more. Il Manifesto has additional background and materials on the Sgrena kidnapping [in English].

5 PM ET - US Central Command has now issued this press release on the checkpoint shooting.






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Swiss police crack down on Islamic websites
Phillip Hong-Barco on March 4, 2005 3:19 PM ET

[JURIST] The Swiss Federal Prosecutor's office [official website in German] announced Friday that searches conducted in Switzerland on February 22 resulted in the arrests of three individuals accused of running Islamic websites that allowed Internet users to view images of hostage killings and access instructions for bomb-making and kidnapping. The websites also allegedly provided a means of communication between extremist terrorist groups. While the investigations resulted in the apprehension of five total detainees, three from Belgium and Tunisia are still held under arrest on suspicion of "public incitement to crime or violence.” The Swiss investigation began last year, when a Swiss-based website, islamic-minbar.com, published letters claiming responsibility for a bombing that occurred in Pakistan during July 2004. The site also carried information on the Iraqi kidnappings of French journalists Georges Malbrunot and Christian Chesno [JURIST report]. The raids additionally resulted in the seizure of computer equipment, video and sound recordings, and documents in Arabic. Read the official press release [in German]. AP has more.






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British MPs say anti-terror bill violates human rights law
Jeannie Shawl on March 4, 2005 2:06 PM ET

[JURIST] Britain's Joint Committee on Human Rights [official website] warned Friday that the proposed Prevention of Terrorism Bill [PDF text, JURIST report], even with an amendment allowing only judges to impose house arrest [JURIST report] on terror suspects, does not comply with human rights laws. The committee, which is made up of MPs and peers, has said that the procedures outlined in the proposed bill do not allow for a lawyer to make a defense case at any early stage and uses too low a threshold of evidence. The committee also expressed concern over whether the extent of judicial involvement, or lack thereof, in the issuance of "control orders" satisfies the European Convention on Human Rights' [PDF] requirement that "deprivations of liberty must be lawful." Read the committee report on the anti-terror bill [PDF text]. The UK Home Office has said that the government remains satisfied that the bill complies with human rights law. Also Friday, in an interview with BBC Radio 4's The World at One Program, former law lord Lord Ackner said that the judiciary has profound misgivings about measures in the bill which keep a defendant from being told about the case against him. Lord Ackner said "It sounds so much better to say 'we'll leave it to the judge', but if you leave it to the judge without his being able to exercise the obligations of due process, you are not leaving it to the judge at all." Listen to recorded audio of the BBC Radio interview. BBC News has more.






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Russia arrests Beslan siege planners
Jeannie Shawl on March 4, 2005 1:46 PM ET

[JURIST] Russian prosecutors said Friday that they have arrested four people suspected of planning the Beslan school siege [JURIST report] last year, in which over 300 people died. Five other suspects were killed while resisting arrest. A Russian commission investigating the attack has said that senior Kremlin officials were at fault for the lack of organization during the crisis and that high-ranking military officials aided the gunmen [JURIST report]. BBC News has more. MosNews has local coverage.






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SEC chairman scolds corporate lawyers for helping clients evade law
Jeannie Shawl on March 4, 2005 1:22 PM ET

[JURIST] US Securities and Exchange Commission [official website] Chairman William Donaldson [official profile] said Friday that corporate lawyers should devote more time to helping clients obey the law, rather than evading it. Speaking to a gathering of securities lawyers [PLI conference information], Donaldson called on lawyers to deliver common-sense advice to their clients rather than engage "in rhetorical somersaults to justify the activities the client want[s] to pursue." Donaldson also indicated that the SEC is continuing to work to make auditors more independent of their clients and said "We will also continue to see enforcement action in this area where it is appropriate to preserve these important independence principles and protect investors." Read Donaldson's speech [SEC text]. Reuters has more.






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International brief ~ France sets date for EU constitution vote
D. Wes Rist on March 4, 2005 11:57 AM ET

[JURIST] In Friday's international brief, France [government website] has announced that it will hold a national referendum on the European constitution [official website] on May 29. France just recently approved an amendment to its constitution [JURIST report] to allow such a referendum. French President Jacques Chirac [official profile] is hoping to capitalize on the recent 'yes' vote on a similar referendum in Spain. Opposition to the EU Constitution includes liberals who feel it is not broad enough, and moderates who are concerned about granting the EU too much control over France's internal affairs. Current polls indicate that 63% of the French population favor the EU Constitution. Le Monde has local coverage [in French].

In other international legal news ...

  • The Togolese National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) has set the date for the national presidential elections as April 24. The elections were constitutionally mandated to occur within 60 days of the death last month of President Gnassingbe Eyadema, but the Togo military's imposition of Gnassingbe's son, Faure Gnassingbe [BBC profile], led to the precipitous passage of a constitutional amendment that allowed Faure to remain in office for the remainder of his father's term. Intense regional and international pressure eventually led to Faure stepping down and resulted in the re-adoption of the original constitutional format. Although opposition groups have expressed willingness to participate in the election, they are now protesting that the timeframe proposed by the CENI is unrealistic and cannot possibly result in a fair and transparent vote. Faure Gnassingbe is running as the candidate for Rally for the Togolese People [party website in French], the party his father founded. Regional organization ECOWAS [official website] has stated that it will be fielding election monitors to ensure 'a just and transparent vote'. JURIST's Paper Chase has continuing coverage of Togo [JURIST Country news archive]. Read the official Togolese government news agency announcement of the election date [report in French].

  • Reports are circulating among officials responsible for the organization of elections in Afghanistan [government website] that September 17 will be the new date for a national poll. The parliamentary elections, required by the Bonn Agreement {text]governing the transition of Afghanistan, have continually slipped past previous scheduled dates in light of concerns about fairness and security in holding the elections. September 17 is viewed as the earliest possible date by which to have all the necessary requirments met. Officials are still working on determining the number of districts and the electoral boundaries that should exist in the new democratic scheme. BBC News has more.

  • The Duma [government website in Russian], the lower house of the Russian parliament, passed legislation Friday tightening security on airline flights into and out of Russia. The Law on Amendments and Addenda to the Russian Legislation in Connection with Measures for Security of Flights creates an organization cooperation between national police forces and airport and airline security forces. The legislation, most immediately prompted by apparent bombings of two Russian airliners last August [CNN report] also allows for independent inspection of airplanes and passengers by local law enforcement agencies. Itar-Tass has local coverage.





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Bush sets new EPA chief to work on 'Clear Skies' bill
Alexandria Samuel on March 4, 2005 11:50 AM ET

[JURIST] President Bush Friday nominated acting Environmental Protection Agency [official website] administrator Stephen Johnson [EPA profile] to fill the job permanently. In White House remarks, the President said:

... his immediate task is to work with Congress to pass my Clear Skies Initiative. This innovative legislation will reduce power plant pollution by 70 percent, without disrupting the economy or raising electricity prices. The bill will give governors the flexibility they need to meet strict new air quality standards, improve public health, and protect vulnerable ecosystems from acid rain. Clear Skies is a common-sense, pro-environment, pro-jobs piece of legislation, and Congress needs to get it to my desk this year.
The EPA has background information on the Clear Skies Initiative, originally proposed [White House speech] by President Bush in 2002, but since harshly criticized by environmental groups such as the Sierra Club [fact sheet] and the National Resources Defense Council [backgrounder]. The US Senate's Committee on Environment and Public Works held hearings [witness statements] earlier this week on the relevant implementing legislation, S. 131, the Clear Skies Act of 2005 [THOMAS bill summary]. AP has more.





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US citizen indicted for attempting to sell spy list to Iraq
Alexandria Samuel on March 4, 2005 11:14 AM ET

[JURIST] A federal grand jury in Indianapolis Indiana has indicted Shaaban Hafiz Ahmad Ali Shaaban on charges he tried to sell the names of US intelligence operatives in Iraq to Saddam Hussein's government. Charges outlined in the indictment include conspiracy, acting as a foreign agent without notification and violating the Iraqi sanctions in place before Saddam was deposed by the US-led military invasion two years ago. US Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana Susan Brooks [official profile] alleged that Shaaban attempted to rebroadcast pro-Iraqi propaganda in the US, and offered to pay Iraqis to act as human shields against coalition forces. Brooks claims Shaaban traveled to Iraq in 2002 and agreed to sell the names of US intelligence agents to the Iraqi government for $3 million. It is believed that Shaaban arrived in the US from Jordan and became a legal US citizen in 2000. Shaaban's trial is set for April 25. AP has more.






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California judge says journalist shield laws don't apply to bloggers
Matthew Shames on March 4, 2005 11:00 AM ET

[JURIST] Judge James Kleinberg of the Superior Court of California, Santa Clara County [official website] issued a preliminary ruling Thursday holding that three computer industry blogs - PowerPage, Apple Insider, and Think Secret - could not claim the same First Amendment {Cornell LII backgrounder] and California Shield Law [First Amendment Project overview] protections that allow journalists to refuse to reveal their sources. The weblogs had published alleged trade secrets about upcoming product releases from Apple Computer [corporate website]. Apple has demanded that the bloggers reveal the sources of their information [PDF complaint; additional case documentation]. A further hearing in the case is set for Friday. The outcome of the case is expected to have a direct impact on whether bloggers and other "online journalists" have the same privileges and protections as those writing for established newspapers and magazines. The Electronic Frontier Foundation and other activist groups oppose the Apple action [EFF statement]. CNET has more.






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Israel's Sharon rejects call for Gaza referendum
Matthew Shames on March 4, 2005 10:18 AM ET

[JURIST] Although heckled by members of his own Likud Party [political party website in Hebrew], Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon [Israel MFA profile] Thursday announced his final rejection of demands for a national referendum on his Gaza disengagement plan [JURIST report], which calls for the evacuation of more than 8,000 Jewish settlers this summer. Sharon said he "will not let the extreme fringes dictate our path." Although the Central Committee of the Likud Party overwhelmingly approved a non-binding resolution to propose a national referendum, there is little chance that the Knesset [English homepage] would itself approve such a measure. The International Herald Tribune has the more information [NYT report].






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FCC chair questions extension of indecency rules
Matthew Shames on March 4, 2005 9:43 AM ET

[JURIST] Michael Powell [FCC profile, background info], outgoing Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission [official website], said Thursday that he did not support extending broadcast indecency rules to cable television or satellite televsion or radio. Powell has supported efforts to increase penalties and enforcement for over-the-air broadcasts of indecent material, but he pointed out that most subscribers to cable and satellite services already have tools to block unwanted content. Additionally, Powell questioned whether attempts to regulate cable and satellite services would pass constitutional muster. Powell's remarks come just days after Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) [official website] and Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) [official website] indicated in separate remarks that they would support legislation that regulates indecency on cable and satellite broadcasts. AP has more on the story.






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Martha Stewart leaves prison for 5 months 'house arrest'
Matthew Shames on March 4, 2005 9:17 AM ET

[JURIST] Domestic guru and corporate high-flyer Martha Stewart left the women's prison in Alderson, West Virginia early Friday morning after being discharged at the end of her five month prison sentence for lying to investigators about stock trading. A few hours later, after a flight on a private jet, she arrived at her 153-acre estate north of Manhattan, where she will serve the next 5 months under loose "house arrest" pursuant to the terms of her trial sentence. Required to wear an electronic bracelet for tracking and allowed to leave home only for 48 hours a week, Stewart will be permitted to perform some work activities, including running Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. [official website], writing a column for her magazine, preparing for a revival of her daily television show, and developing a reality based show based on NBC's "The Apprentice." Stewart will also be allowed to receive her $900,000 salary. Stewart's sentence is still under appeal [PDF brief]. The US Bureau of Prisons issued a statement [AP version] prior to Stewart's release, and Stewart herself issued a statement on her corporate website [not, notably, her defense website, perhaps suggesting a forward-looking personal and media strategy]. AP has more.






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US loses WTO appeal on cotton subsidies
Russell Adkins on March 4, 2005 8:52 AM ET

[JURIST] Responding to a Brazilian complaint that US subsidies to cotton farmers are driving down world prices and hurting the cotton market, the appeals court of the World Trade Organization Thursday upheld the previous findings of trade judges that the US subsidies broke trade rules. The ruling [findings and conclusions in PDF] by the WTO Appellate Body means that the US must bring its subsidies in line with international standards within the next 15 months, though it's possible that Brazil and the US could reach an agreement before the deadline. Reuters has more. The WTO provides additional resources [some files PDF] on the cotton dispute.






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Canada shaken by most Mountie murders since 1800s
Bernard Hibbitts on March 4, 2005 8:50 AM ET

[JURIST] Canada's elite Royal Canadian Mounted Police suffered their most casualties since the late 1800s Thursday when four officers were killed in a raid on a suspected marijuana growing operation in Alberta. A fifth man, believed to the the suspect in the slayings, was also killed. A high-powered rifle was recovered at the scene. Contact with the officers was lost early Thursday morning. RCMP Assistant Commissioner Bill Sweeney. commander of the RCMP in Alberta [K Division website; see the latest K Division press releases on the incident], told reporters that the police killings were unprecedented in modern Canadian history, and that the the last time so many RCMP officers were killed in an operation was probably during the Northwest Rebellion in 1885, when Western Metis and indigenous groups fought for autonomy against Canadian government troops and police.

Police killings are relatively rare in Canada; only 59 RCMP officers have been murdered in the line of duty [CBC backgrounder] in the entire history of the force. According to Officer Down [memorial website], a total of 738 Canadian police officers from all jurisdictions and forces have died in the line of duty, as compared to 17,427 US police officers.

CBC News has more. Watch Assistant Commissioner Sweeney's briefing to reporters [CBC video]. RCMP Commissioner Giuliano (Zack) Zaccardelli has made a formal statement [RCMP press release] on the killings, as has Anne McLellan [CBC video], former Canadian Justice Minister and now Canada's Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.






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House passes 'doomsday' bill to allow for filling of mass legislative vacancies
Russell Adkins on March 4, 2005 7:37 AM ET

[JURIST] More than three years after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, the US House of Representatives Thursday passed a bill creating a blueprint for filling legislative vacancies should a situation like a terror strike against the Capitol arise which leaves more than 100 seats open at one time. Under the Continuity in Representation Act of 2005 [PDF], states would have 49 days to hold special elections to fill the legislative void, adding four days to the limits proposed by similar legislation passed by the House last year but failed in the Senate. Last year, the House rejected a constitutional amendment allowing emergency vacancies to be replaced by appointment in order to keep Congress running smoothly during such a crisis, but it did so grounds that the House must retain its character as a directly-elected body reflecting the popular will. The chief opponent of the amendment, Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) [official profile] sponsored the so-called "doomsday bill." AP has more.






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Legal agenda and live webcasts ~ Friday, March 4
Chris Buell on March 4, 2005 12:01 AM ET

[JURIST] Here's a run-down of law-related events, expected developments and live webcasts on JURIST's docket for Friday, March 4.

The US Senate [official website] convenes at 9:30 AM ET today, and it will consider S. 256 [bill summary], the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005. Watch a live webcast of proceedings.

The US House [official website] is not in session today.

At the UN, the Commission on the Status of Women [official website] will observe International Women's Day during its morning session from 10 AM ET to 1 PM ET. View a list of speakers. During the afternoon session from 3 to 6 PM ET, a panel discussion will be held on the review and appraisal processes at regional level. View the agenda [text, PDF]. Watch a live webcast of both events. The Security Council [official website] will hear a briefing by Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, the current Chairman-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe [official website] at 10 AM ET today. Watch a live webcast of the briefing.

At the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the trial of Fatmir Limaj and others [ICTY case backgrounder] continues today, with a webcast beginning at 9:30 AM local time [3:30 AM ET]. A hearing will be held in the case of Zeljko Mejakic and others [ICTY case backgrounder], with a webcast beginning at 2:45 PM local time [8:45 AM ET].

JURIST's docket of legal events and live webcasts will not be published next week during the University of Pittsburgh School of Law spring break. Regular posts will resume on Monday, March 16.






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