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Legal news from Tuesday, January 3, 2006




Syrian president to refuse meeting with UN Hariri probe, official says
Joshua Pantesco on January 3, 2006 3:49 PM ET

[JURIST] An advisor to the Syrian Ministry of Information said Tuesday that President Bashar al-Assad [BBC profile] will refuse a request [JURIST report] for an interview made Monday by the UN commission [UN materials] investigating the death of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri [JURIST news archive]. A member of parliament said that such requests violate the Syrian constitution, which provides sovereign immunity to the President in connection with all investigations. Arabic News has local coverage.

Also on Tuesday, Syrian Brigadier General and former head of military intelligence Rustom Ghazaleh, who has been implicated in Hariri's death, said in an interview that he was willing to resign from his position if necessary. Ghazaleh maintained his innocence to accusations made last week by former Vice President Abdel Halim Khaddam [Wikipedia profile], including allegations that Ghazaleh stole over $35 million [Aljazeera report] from Lebanon's now-defunct Al-Madina Bank. Ghazaleh acknowledged, however, that the current political situation, fueled by Khaddam's incendiary interview [JURIST report] last Friday, may require him to step down. AFP has more.






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Rights group sues to prevent Massachusetts marriage ballot initiative
Joshua Pantesco on January 3, 2006 2:34 PM ET

[JURIST] Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) [advocacy website] filed a complaint [PDF text; GLAD press release] Tuesday against Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly [official website], seeking to overturn Reilly's September decision [DOC text] to allow a ballot initiative banning same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] to proceed. GLAD argues that according to the state constitution, ballot initiatives cannot overturn a previous court decision, a power delegated exclusively to the state legislature. The complaint cites the landmark ruling in Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health [opinion text], which ended state discrimination against gay couples, as decided law, which therefore cannot be the subject of a ballot initiative. After Reilly upheld the legality of the ballot initiative [JURIST report] last September, proponents collected [JURIST report] over 124,000 certified signatures, far more than the 64,000 required for the issue to appear on the 2008 ballot. The proposed constitutional amendment [DOC text] reads: "When recognizing marriages entered into after the adoption of this amendment by the people, the Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall define marriage only as the union of one man and one woman." AP has more.






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Sudanese refugees to be deported from Egypt
Joshua Pantesco on January 3, 2006 1:30 PM ET

[JURIST] Egypt plans to deport 654 Sudanese refugees who were recently removed from a protest refugee camp, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Tuesday. The announcement follows reports that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) [official website] received assurances [Reuters report] from the Egyptian government that the refugees would be allowed to remain in the country. The deportation orders follow an outbreak of violence [UNHCR press release] between Egyptian police and over 2,500 Sudanese refugees who had been demonstrating in Cairo outside a refugee camp, in an effort to call attention to poor camp conditions. The protesters also requested that the UNHCR remove them to a third country. Egypt's Interior Minister has formally acknowledged the deaths of 12 refugees during the conflict, but other sources say around 25 protesters were killed [BBC report]. AP has more.






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BREAKING NEWS ~ Abramoff pleads guilty to conspiracy, fraud charges
Jeannie Shawl on January 3, 2006 12:50 PM ET

[JURIST] AP is reporting that, as anticipated [JURIST report], Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff [JURIST news archive] has pleaded guilty to conspiracy, tax evasion and mail fraud charges. The US Department filed a criminal information [PDF text; press release] Tuesday morning in federal court in Washington, DC and a hearing in front of Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle followed.

1:22 PM ET - In addition to the guilty plea on the new charges [AP summary], Abramoff will also plead guilty to two charges pending in Florida stemming from the 2000 purchase of SunCruz Casinos [corporate website] by Abramoff and partners. Abramoff initially pleaded not guilty to those charges in August, and a change of plea hearing is scheduled for Wednesday. AP has more.

2:36 PM ET - The plea agreement [PDF] is now available online, via FindLaw.






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Sweden opens investigation into alleged oil-for-food kickbacks
Joshua Pantesco on January 3, 2006 11:51 AM ET

[JURIST] Swedish prosecutor Christer Van der Kwast will investigate several well-known Swedish companies, including the bus and truck manufacturer Volvo [corporate website] and tool manufacturer Atlas Copco [corporate website], for allegedly making payments to the Iraqi government in exchange for favorable oil-for-food bargains, according to a report Tuesday from Radio Sweden. Van der Kwast plans on investigating every company named in the UN report [JURIST report] issued last October by the independent commission investigating the oil-for-food scandal [JURIST news archive] that has "a Swedish link that makes it possible to prosecute in Sweden." Volvo acknowledged in October that it had made payments to the Iraqi government in connection with the now-defunct UN Oil-for-Food program [official website], but said that it did not consider its actions bribery. Van der Kwast plans to charge the companies with bribery and violation of international sanctions. Xinhua has more. The International Herald-Tribune has extended coverage of the oil-for-food scandal.

Previously in JURIST's Paper Chase...

ALSO ON JURIST

 Text: UN Oil-for-Food manipulation report | Text: UN Oil-for-Food management report





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Wyoming high court allows random searches under probation orders
Joshua Pantesco on January 3, 2006 11:27 AM ET

[JURIST] The Wyoming Supreme Court [official website] has ruled in State v. McAuliffe [PDF opinion], where the court upheld by a 4-1 vote the constitutionality of probation orders allowing police to randomly search the subject of the order. The decision relied heavily on the Supreme Court's 2001 unanimous decision in United States v. Knights [opinion text], where the Court held that a warrantless search of Knights, which was supported by reasonable suspicion and allowed as a stipulation of his probation, was reasonable within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. In the Wyoming case, police lacked reasonable suspicion to support the search, but the majority found the search constitutional because the court that authorized McAuliffe's probation had the option of confining him, which would have eliminated any expectation of privacy held by McAuliffe. The lone dissent argued that "[t]he Supreme Court's [citations in United States v. Knights] ... lead me to conclude that although probable cause is not required, some quantum of individualized suspicion is nevertheless still necessary" to support a random search. Tuesday's Star-Tribune has local coverage.






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Peru asks Chile to extradite Fujimori on rights, corruption charges
Krista-Ann Staley on January 3, 2006 11:23 AM ET

[JURIST] Peru formally requested the extradition of former president Alberto Fujimori [personal website; JURIST news archive] from Chile Tuesday so that he can face 12 charges [JURIST report] including authorizing an illegal death squad, abuse of power and corruption. The extradition request follows a failed attempt [JURIST report] by Peruvian prosecutors to request extradition. Peru's Supreme Court refused to authorize the first request because prosecutors failed to satisfy the requirements of the bilateral extradition treaty between Peru and Chile. The former leader had been living in exile in Japan until he arrived and was arrested in Chile [JURIST report] two months ago. He returned to South America intending to return to Peru and enter the 2006 presidential race, despite having been banned from holding public office [JURIST report] until 2010. AP has more.

Previously in JURIST's Paper Chase...






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Turkey charges journalists, rights workers with aiding Kurd separatists
Krista-Ann Staley on January 3, 2006 10:47 AM ET

[JURIST] Turkish state prosecutors charged nine journalists and human rights activists with promoting the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) [advocacy website; FAS profile] Monday. According to the indictment, the defendants used a Reuters reporter's observation of a PKK handover of an abducted soldier to representatives of a human rights group to create propaganda in support of the Kurdish separatists. The reporter, who argues he was simply doing his job, was detained following the incident and was among the nine named in the indictment. PKK has launched attacks on Turkish security forces in the southeast of the country since 1984, resulting in over 30,000 deaths, and has been classified by the US as a terrorist organization. While coverage of the violence is often a source of conflict between Turkish authorities and journalists, officials have increased media access throughout the country as part of its bid for EU membership [JURIST report]. Reuters has more.






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California prisoner suicide rate on the rise, challenge pending over staff training
Joshua Pantesco on January 3, 2006 10:47 AM ET

[JURIST] According to records released by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation [official website], 44 convicts out of a total California prison population of 164,000 committed suicide during 2005, an increase from 26 in 2004 and 36 in 2003, the previous record. Attorneys have confirmed only 41 of the suicides reported; using this number, California's inmate suicide rate is 27 per 100,000 inmates, almost double the national average of 14 per 100,000 inmates, according to federal Bureau of Justice Statistics [official website; PDF report]. Class action lawyers have filed a suit against the state on behalf of over 26,000 mentally ill inmates, alleging that the state has failed to effectively train guards in providing emergency resuscitation, though officials claim that the vast majority of suicides are prevented before they occur. Lawyers for the class action plaintiffs are scheduled to appear in front of a Sacramento federal judge on Thursday. Seventy percent of California's prisoner suicides occur in disciplinary isolation units, which reported a rate of 248 suicides per 100,000 inmates during 2004. Read the Sacramento Bee special report on the issue. AP has more.






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Abramoff to plead guilty to fraud charges
Joshua Pantesco on January 3, 2006 10:21 AM ET

[JURIST] Indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff [JURIST news archive] has agreed to plead guilty to two of six fraud charges and to assist federal prosecutors with any ongoing investigations in exchange for a more favorable sentence, Abramoff's lawyers said Tuesday. Abramoff was indicted [JURIST report; DOJ press release] in August for allegedly faking a wire transfer that defrauded two lenders of $60 million during the 2000 purchase of SunCruz Casinos [corporate website] by Abramoff and partners. Though he initially pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to all charges, his value to federal prosecutors as a potential witness may have increased as the Department of Justice has uncovered more connections between Abramoff and prominent public officials [JURIST report] than expected. Former Abramoff partner Jack Scanlon pleaded guilty [JURIST report] last November to one count of bribing US Representative Rob Ney (R-OH) [official website], and was expected to testify against Abramoff. AP has more.






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Uganda opposition leader calls for president to face treason charges
Krista-Ann Staley on January 3, 2006 10:18 AM ET

[JURIST] Ugandan opposition leader and presidential challenger Dr. Kizza Besigye [BBC profile], released on bail [JURIST report] by the Ugandan High Court Monday, has declared that President Yoweri Museveni [BBC profile] should face charges for treason committed during the 1998-2003 war [BBC backgrounder] between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In a ruling [JURIST report] issued last month, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official website] held that Uganda violated the sovereignty of the DR Congo and ordered Uganda to pay reparations for looting committed during the war. Besigye claims that, in addition to the ICJ's findings, the current government also committed treason by ordering troops into DR Congo without the authority of parliament, as required by the country's constitution. The countries will enter into negotiations [JURIST report] to determine the level of compensation for plundered natural resources in late 2006. Besigye currently faces treason charges [JURIST report] himself for attempting to overthrow the government, and also faces terrorism charges [JURIST report] in military court. BBC News has more.






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France ends state of emergency imposed after riots
Joshua Pantesco on January 3, 2006 10:03 AM ET

[JURIST] As expected [JURIST report], the French Government on Tuesday officially declared [statement, in French] an end to the state of emergency [JURIST document] implemented in November to quell riots [JURIST report] that tore through the country late last year. Few French towns actually utilized the increased police powers authorized by the state of emergency, including the ability to set and enforce curfews and conduct searches of citizens and property without a warrant. The decision to lift the state of emergency was made after New Years Eve celebrations were more peaceful than expected. AP has more; Le Figaro has local coverage, in French.
ALSO ON JURIST

 Topic: France | Op-ed: French Riots: A Failure of the Elite, Not the Republic






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Saddam wants firing squad if sentenced to death
Joshua Pantesco on January 3, 2006 9:34 AM ET

[JURIST] Issam Ghazzawi, a defense lawyer for Saddam Hussein [JURIST news archive], said Tuesday that Hussein, on trial [JURIST news archive] for his involvement in the 1982 Dujail massacre [JURIST report], would prefer to die by firing squad rather than hanging if he is sentenced to death, which is possible under the rules of the Iraqi High Criminal Court (formerly the Iraqi Special Tribunal [official website]). Ghazzawi, in an interview with the Washington Times, said that Hussein made the statement during a five hour meeting with Ghazzawi and another defense lawyer, former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark [JURIST news archive] in a courthouse basement on December 7, during which he also praised the insurgency for hindering US attempts to "formulate a new world." Hussein's trial is scheduled to resume [JURIST report] on January 24. The Independent has more.






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War crimes fugitive Mladic drew Serb pension until Nov. 2005, probe reveals
Joshua Pantesco on January 3, 2006 9:15 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Bosnian Serb general and indicted war criminal Radko Mladic [ICTY case backgrounder; JURIST news archive], who is wanted by the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] on genocide charges, had access to his army general's pension until mid-November 2005, according to Serbian ministers speaking to the press Tuesday. Mladic's wife and son, as well as two other Serbian generals, had been authorized to draw Mladic's army pension in 2002 when he went into hiding from the ICTY and other authorities. The oversight was brought to light during an official investigation into the army pension system. The discovery will hinder Serbia in its bid to gain European Union membership, as the president of the ICTY demanded [JURIST report] that Serbia find and turn over Mladic by the start of 2006 or risk "excommunicat[ion] from Euro-Atlantic integration." AP has more.






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Alito nomination to be opposed in new liberal advocacy ad campaign
Joshua Pantesco on January 3, 2006 8:47 AM ET

[JURIST] A coalition of liberal interest groups has announced a new series of television commercials aimed at derailing the nomination of Samuel Alito [official profile; JURIST news archive] to the Supreme Court. The ads, to be officially unveiled Wednesday, will question Alito's integrity and credibility, rather than his voting record as a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. The Senate Judiciary Committee will begin confirmation hearings [JURIST report] next Monday and Alito can expect to be questioned on a variety of issues, including abortion [AP report] and other issues raised after the US National Archives released several controversial documents last month. Those documents included a memo [PDF text] arguing that the Attorney General should be immune to suits over illegal wiretaps [JURIST report], and a statement [PDF text; JURIST report] suggesting that Roe v. Wade be overturned. The alliance includes the AFL-CIO [press release; Alito review], the NAACP [PDF press release], the People for the American Way [advocacy website], the Alliance for Justice [affiliated Supreme Court Watch website], and the Sierra Club [press release], among others. Tuesday's New York Times has more.
ALSO ON JURIST

 Op-ed: Why Feminists and Liberals Have Nothing to Fear from Judge Alito






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IECI set to release results of Iraq vote fraud investigation
Joshua Pantesco on January 3, 2006 7:59 AM ET

[JURIST] The Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq (IECI) [official website] announced Tuesday that results from its investigation into allegations of voting fraud during the December 15 parliamentary elections [JURIST news archive] will be announced Wednesday, but that voting results will not be released for two weeks, until the International Mission for Iraqi Elections [official website], an independent group who agreed [JURIST report] last week to review the results, is finished with their own fraud investigation. Shortly after the vote took place, a group of Sunni Iraqis alleged the results were fraudulent [JURIST report] and over 10,000 protesters in Baghdad claimed [JURIST report] the vote was rigged by Shiite religious groups to gain power. The UN refused [JURIST report] to conduct their own fraud investigation after a coalition of Shiite and Sunni groups threatened to boycott future national assembly meetings, and demanded the dissolution of the IECI. AP has more.






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