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Legal news from Friday, January 13, 2006




Saddam trial chief judge to resign
Bernard Hibbitts on January 13, 2006 8:27 PM ET

[JURIST] A source close to Rizgar Amin [Wikipedia profile], the chief judge of the Iraqi High Criminal Court presiding at the Saddam Hussein trial [JURIST news archive], said Friday that Amin would "withdraw" from his position, announcing his reasons at the end of the next trial sitting scheduled for January 24. Amin is said to have found the proceeding "too difficult." The 48 year-old Kurdish judge had developed a reputation for being courteous and even-handed to a fault, with critics accusing him of letting Hussein and his co-defendants run amok, railing at the court and otherwise disrupting proceedings. In late December, visiting US Senate Judiciary Committee Arlen Specter had publicly criticized Amin in his own courtroom [JURIST report], saying he was "disappointed" that the trial court under Amin's leadership had let Hussein be a "blusterbun and control the proceedings." Concerns have arisen about Amin's safety since the killings of two defense lawyers and an assassination attempt on an investigative judge [JURIST report] in December; Amin had accepted two bodyguards at the urging of friends [JURIST report] but had otherwise played down his security problems. Although Amin's resignation would be a major setback in the trial process it is not likely to torpedo the trial in and of itself; another judge resigned late last year and was immediately replaced by a backup. Reuters has more.






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Federal appeals court rejects police immunity claim in protest lawsuit
Jaime Jansen on January 13, 2006 4:30 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] refused to grant immunity Friday to two police officials named in a lawsuit filed on behalf of 386 people who were roped off at Pershing Park and arrested during protests [DC Watch report] at the World Bank-International Monetary Fund annual meeting in 2002. Metropolitan Police [official website] Assistant Chief Peter Newsham [official profile] ordered police officers to cordon off the park two blocks away from the White House when he observed some protesters committing acts of vandalism, but failed to give two mandatory warnings to the crowd before erecting the cordon and making arrests. In the opinion [PDF text], the appeals court said that it could not determine whether Police Chief Charles Ramsey [official website] deserved immunity as a public official because it is not clear whether he knew what happened in the park before he arrived, but affirmed a trial judge's ruling [PDF text] that Newsham can be sued for violating the constitutional rights of the people that were arrested and charged with failing to obey a police officer. AP has more.






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Supreme Court to weigh evidentiary standard in domestic abuse case
Jaime Jansen on January 13, 2006 4:08 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] on Friday granted certiorari [order, PDF] in the case of Dixon v. United States, where the Court will clarify how criminal defendants can use evidence of domestic battery at their trials. Cherie Ashford Dixon contends that her constitutional right to a fair trial on weapons charges was violated because the judge would not allow the jury to consider expert testimony on domestic battery and its effects. After oral arguments expected to be held in April, the Supreme Court will likely determine a standard of proof for defendants in claiming abuse-related duress. Dixon was convicted of lying to get a gun and receiving a firearm while under indictment, but has said that her boyfriend coerced her into buying weapons under a death threat to her two teenage daughters. The Court's decision to hear the case comes as a surprise because the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] said last year in refusing to overturn the conviction [PDF opinion] that Dixon's claim was "unremarkable," despite claims of battered women's syndrome. AP has more.






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Specter announces support for Alito while Democrats seek to delay vote
Jaime Jansen on January 13, 2006 3:28 PM ET

[JURIST] US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) [official website] announced Friday that he will vote to confirm [Reuters report] US Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel Alito [official profile], while most, if not all, of the eight Democrats on the Judiciary Committee are expected to vote against Alito. Alito appears on his way to confirmation, but Democrats are seeking to slow his confirmation [JURIST report] by demanding that Specter delay the panel's vote for one week. The confirmation hearings concluded Friday [JURIST report] with testimony from outside witnesses, and the Judiciary Committee will meet on January 17 to see when it can vote on its recommendation to the full Senate. Both Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) [official website] and Edward Kennedy (D-MA)[official website] have made it clear that they will not vote to confirm the nomination, while other Democratic committee members have not indicated how they will vote, including ranking Democrat Patrick Leahy (VT) [official website] and Wisconsin senators Herb Kohl [official website] and Russ Feingold [official website]. Though there is some talk of a Democratic filibuster against Alito, the Democrats will likely find it difficult to find enough votes for a filibuster; Democrats need 41 votes to sustain a filibuster and there are only 44 Democrats in the Senate. At least two moderate Republicans in the centrist "Gang of 14" have said they will not support a filibuster against Alito, making a filibuster unlikely. AP has more.
ALSO ON JURIST

 Topic: Samuel Alito | Op-ed: Alito Day 4: A Steadfast Nominee and his Supporting Cast






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Pope John Paul II gunman may return to prison
Jaime Jansen on January 13, 2006 2:59 PM ET

[JURIST] Turkey's Minister of Justice Cemil Cicek said Friday that Mehmet Ali Agca [Wikipedia profile], the Turkish gunman who shot Pope John Paul II [official website] in 1981, may have mistakenly been released from prison eleven months early for the murder of Turkish journalist Abdi Ipekci [profile]. Agca shot the Pope after escaping from a Turkish military prison in 1979, where he was serving a 36-year sentence Ipekci's murder. Agca spent 19 years and one month of a 20-year sentence in prison in Italy for shooting the Pope before his extradition to Turkey in 2000 to finish the 36-year sentence [BBC report], and was released on parole [JURIST report] Thursday for good behavior. Agca will remain free until an appeals court reviews the case to see if the prison erred in freeing him. If an error occurred, Agca will have to return to jail to finish the remaining eleven months of his sentence. Pope John Paul pardoned Agca for his actions five days after his shooting and again when he met with Agca in prison two-and-a-half years after the attack. Agca may still face charges [JURIST report] for evading military service or be forced to enlist in the military, which accepts conscripts under the age of 41. AP has more.






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Bush defends Guantanamo prison camp, courts
James M Yoch Jr on January 13, 2006 2:16 PM ET

[JURIST] US President George Bush on Friday defended the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive], calling it "a necessary part of protecting the American people". Bush's comments came during a White House press conference [transcript] with German Chancellor Angela Merkel [BBC profile], who urged Bush to shut down the facility. Bush said that there were "misperceptions" about Guantanamo Bay and that:

Like the Chancellor, I'd like to see a way forward there. The way forward, of course, is ultimately through a court system. I think the best way for the court system to proceed is through our military tribunals, which is now being adjudicated in our courts of law to determine whether or not this is appropriate path for a country that bases itself on rule of law, to adjudicate those held at Guantanamo.

The answer to your question is that Guantanamo is a necessary part of protecting the American people, and so long as the war on terror goes on, and so long as there's a threat, we will, inevitably need to hold people that would do ourselves harm in a system that -- in which people will be treated humanely, and in which, ultimately, there is going to be a end, which is a legal system. We're waiting for our own courts to determine how that's best to proceed.
AP has more. Bush's comments come the same day that several defense lawyers assigned to represent Guantanamo detainees decried the prison camp's court system and alleged human rights violations. Army Major Tom Fleener said that prisoners do not have the right to confront their accusers, access evidence or select their own counsel. The US Supreme Court [official website] in November agreed to hear [JURIST report] a challenge to Bush's authority to establish the military tribunals but the Justice Department on Thursday asked the Court to dismiss the case [JURIST report]. Reuters has more.





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Gonzales will testify at NSA domestic spying hearings, DOJ confirms
James M Yoch Jr on January 13, 2006 2:10 PM ET

[JURIST] A US Department of Justice spokesperson on Friday confirmed that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales [official profile] will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] on the NSA domestic surveillance program [JURIST news archive] at the request [JURIST report] of committee chairman Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) [official website]. Gonzales, who served as White House counsel when Bush authorized the spying program, will discuss the administration's legal basis [JURIST document] for allowing the NSA to spy on United States residents without warrants; however, Gonzales will not discuss operational aspects of the surveillance program. AP has more.






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New Jersey governor signs law imposing death penalty moratorium
James M Yoch Jr on January 13, 2006 1:45 PM ET

[JURIST] New Jersey Gov. Richard J. Codey [official website] on Thursday signed several bills, including one which creates a special commission on the death penalty [JURIST news archive] and places a moratorium on capital punishment until at least 60 days after the task force releases its findings. The New Jersey Legislature [official website] passed the bill [JURIST report], which makes New Jersey the first state to suspend executions via legislation, on Monday with the expectation that Codey, who leaves office on January 17, would sign the bill. The New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission [statement, PDF], a 13-member panel charged with studying the fairness and costs of the death penalty, has until November to report its findings. The task force also plans to evaluate alternatives to the death penalty, accounting for both public safety and the needs of the victims' families. Also on Thursday, Codey signed a bill extending spousal rights [JURIST report] for funerals and disposition of remains to domestic partners. AP has more.






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Canada deports 'millennium bomb' co-conspirator
Krista-Ann Staley on January 13, 2006 1:10 PM ET

[JURIST] Canada has deported Samir Ait Mohamed, an Algerian terror suspect accused of plotting to blow up the largely Jewish Montreal neighborhood of Outremont, to an undisclosed location Wednesday. Canadian authorities detained Mohamed when he attempted to enter the US in 2001, three weeks after "Millennium bomber" Ahmed Ressam [PBS backgrounder] testified that they conspired in a plot to detonate a bomb in the Los Angeles International Airport on New Year's Eve 1999 and in the Outremont plot. Ressam was sentenced to 22 years in a US jail [CBS report]. The US attempted to extradite Mohamed based on a grand jury indictment for two counts of conspiring to commit international terrorism, but dropped the proceedings in August after Ressam failed to honor his promise to testify against his alleged partner. Despite Mohamed's claims that he would be killed upon his return to his home country of Algeria, officials from the Canada Border Services Agency denied his attempt to gain refugee status. CTV has more.






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Alito hearings end with testimony from legal experts
Krista-Ann Staley on January 13, 2006 12:02 PM ET

[JURIST] Witness testimony at the confirmation hearings for Judge Samuel Alito [official profile; JURIST news archive] before the US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] concluded Friday with experts both supporting and opposing the Supreme Court nominee. Duke Law School professor Erwin Chemerinsky [faculty profile] and former NARAL Pro-Choice America [official website] president Kate Michelman both took strong positions against the nomination. According to Chemerinsky, Alito's opinions from his 15 years on the bench and memos produced while he worked for Republican administrations indicate a "very troubling deference toward executive authority" and Michelman predicted Alito's confirmation would "move the court in a very different and dangerous direction for women's legal rights." On the other side, Yale law professor and former dean Anthony Kronman [faculty profile] cited his personal knowledge of Alito in asserting that the nominee does not have "a strong inclination to favor executive power over individuals' rights." Hofstra law professor Nora Demleitner, Alito's clerk from 1992-93, testified that the jurist "does not have a political agenda." Three panels of witnesses, a total of 17 law professors, private practitioners and judges [witness list] were called following Thursday's testimony from federal appeals court judges [JURIST report]. Fox News has more.
ALSO ON JURIST

 Op-ed: Alito Day 4: Polarized Politics and Judicial Confirmations | Op-ed: Alito Day 4: A Political Process






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Records show Iraq detainee abuse probe left incomplete
Krystal MacIntyre on January 13, 2006 11:38 AM ET

[JURIST] Pentagon records [PDF] made public Thursday by the ACLU [press release] through ongoing FOIA requests [ACLU materials] show that the US Army closed a criminal investigation of abuse allegations by an Iraqi detainee [JURIST news archive] last year without questioning any Americans involved in the case, ultimately finding no reason to believe the detainee's allegations. The unnamed detainee, a relative of a former Saddam Hussein bodyguard, claimed that he had been kicked and punched by interrogators and suffered other abusive treatment. The investigation was closed because records to refute or substantiate the claims could not be located but was later reopened after a review concluded that the investigation was flawed. A review of the investigation determined that the absence of documentation was "unacceptable." AP has more.

Previously in JURIST's Paper Chase...






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Canadian study recommends legalizing polygamy
Nishat Hasan on January 13, 2006 11:36 AM ET

[JURIST] A study commissioned by the Canadian Justice Department [official website] and obtained by Canadian Press has urged the Canadian federal government to legalize polygamy to help protect women and children in those relationships. Section 293 of the Canadian Criminal Code [text] currently bans polygamy, although a few Canadian provinces give limited recognition to foreign polygamous marriages for spousal support. The study, authored by three law professors at Ontario's Queen's University Faculty of Law, was prompted in part by concerns by British Columbia authorities about whether they should charge members of the Bountiful [CBC backgrounder] religious community in Creston, BC, which practices polygamy openly. The Canadian parliament legalized same-sex marriage [JURIST report] across Canada in 2005. Canadian Press has more.






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Murder charge dropped against US soldier accused in death of Iraqi general
Nishat Hasan on January 13, 2006 11:20 AM ET

[JURIST] US military prosecutors have dropped murder charges against Chief Warrant Officer Jefferson Williams in connection with the 2003 suffocation [JURIST report] of Iraqi Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush. In a plea deal with prosecutors Williams, one of three soldiers originally charged [JURIST report], agreed to testify against fellow accused Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer Jr. in exchange for not being expelled from the military. The Iraqi major general died while being interrogated by US forces. [Washington Post report; Article 32 military hearing transcript, PDF], supposedly with an electric cord; his death came two days after he was allegedly beaten by members of an Iraqi paramilitary group supported by the CIA. AP has more.






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Lawyer says former Iraq deputy PM Aziz seriously ill
Krystal MacIntyre on January 13, 2006 11:05 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz [BBC profile] is ailing and may have only weeks to live, lawyer Badia Aref said Thursday, claiming his client is suffering from high blood pressure, cannot walk properly, and is being given 13 pills a day for heart problems, diabetes and other illnesses. Aziz was once the spokesman for the Saddam Hussein [JURIST news archive] government abroad in the 1980s and early 1990s and was jailed after the 2003 invasion of Iraq; he is still held in seclusion although no formal charges have been brought against him. A spokesman for the US military, which has physical custody over detained former senior members of Saddam's regime, said there had been no significant deterioration in Aziz's health, and that he was suffering from "existing ailments" at the time he was taken into custody. Reuters has more.

Previously in JURIST's Paper Chase...






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Singapore lawyers' guild to review death penalty
Nishat Hasan on January 13, 2006 10:57 AM ET

[JURIST] Singapore's national association of lawyers, the Law Society [website], is to conduct a review of the nation's death penalty laws and make recommendations to the national government in nine months. Singapore has one of the world's highest per capita execution rates - possibly the highest [Amnesty International backgrounder] - as a result of automatic death sentences for drug trafficking and murder. The recent hanging of Australian national Van Tuong Nguyen [JURIST report] for possession of 400 grams (14 ounces) of heroin sparked international outrage late in 2005. Nguyen had claimed that he was carrying the drugs to cover legal bills [BBC report] incurred by his brother, a former heroin addict. AFP has more.






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Iran threatens to block nuclear inspections if referred to Security Council
Krystal MacIntyre on January 13, 2006 10:44 AM ET

[JURIST] Iran on Friday threatened to block inspections [IRNA report] of its nuclear facilities if the UN Security Council [official website] confronts it over its nuclear activities. Iran has been voluntarily allowing short-notice International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) [official website] inspections since 2003 but last year adopted a law requiring the government to block intrusive inspections of Iran's facilities if the IAEA refers the Iranian program to the UN Security Council. The law also requires the Iranian government to resume all nuclear activities that it had stopped voluntarily, especially enriching uranium, a process that can produce fuel for nuclear reactors to generate electricity or material for nuclear weapons. Earlier this week, Iran announced its intentions to resume nuclear research [JURIST report] and Thursday, European leaders joined with US officials in recommending a referral to the Security Council [JURIST report]. Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki [Wikipedia profile] said Iran was prepared for talks over uranium enrichment, but insisted that Iran won't give up its right under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty [PDF text] to possess the whole nuclear fuel cycle, from extracting uranium ore to enriching it. The IAEA will hold an emergency meeting next month over Iran's nuclear activities [IAEA materials]. AP has more.






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Enron tapes barred from Lay, Skilling trial
Nishat Hasan on January 13, 2006 10:37 AM ET

[JURIST] US District Judge Sim Lake ruled Thursday that prosecutors in the trials of Enron [JURIST news archive] founder Kenneth Lay [Chronicle profile] and former CEO Jeffrey Skilling [Chronicle profile] cannot use recorded audio tapes [JURIST report] of Enron employees discussing strategies to manipulate electricity prices because of their inflammatory nature. Lake, however, said he would allow testimony by Richard Sanders, Enron's in-house counsel, about a meeting where Sanders and Skilling discussed the Enron traders' plans to manipulate California's energy markets. Though neither Lay or Skilling are charged [PDF indictment] with manipulating the California market, prosecutors say that the manipulation was part of the defendants' efforts to hide the company's failing financial condition. The trial is scheduled to begin January 30, but lawyers for Lay and Skilling have asked that Lake move the trial [JURIST report] out of Houston or postpone proceedings so that the defendants have access to an impartial jury pool. AP has more. The Houston Chronicle has local coverage.






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Federal judge dismisses last Sept. 11 property damage claim against NYC
Krystal MacIntyre on January 13, 2006 10:14 AM ET

[JURIST] US District Judge Alvin Hellerstein on Thursday dismissed the final remaining property damage claim against New York City stemming from the Sept. 11 attacks [JURIST news archive]. Associated Electric & Gas Insurance Services Ltd. and five other insurers for the utility Consolidated Edison Company of New York [corporate website] sought repayment for expenses that arose from the collapse of 7 World Trade Center, located near the Twin Towers. Hellerstein ruled [PDF opinion], however, that New York City is immune under state law from liability on the property damage claims, but left intact a negligence claim against the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey [official website], owner of the World Trade Center site. Reuters has more.






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Canadian Gitmo detainee could get new military, civilian lawyers
Jeannie Shawl on January 13, 2006 8:23 AM ET

[JURIST] In the second day of pre-trial hearings [JURIST report] for Canadian teenager Omar Khadr [JURIST news archive] before a Guantanamo Bay military commission Thursday, presiding officer Col. Robert Chester said that Khadr's civilian lawyers could begin "making preliminary inquiries" about the possibility of a Canadian lawyer joining the defense team. Khadr is also waiting for a new military lawyer to be appointed to represent him. His current military lawyer, Capt. John Merriam, has never tried a case before, and Khadr is waiting to enter a plea until he is assigned a more experienced lawyer. Khadr, 19, faces charges [US DOD chargesheet, PDF; DOD press release] of conspiracy, murder and attempted murder stemming from a 2002 firefight in Afghanistan outside an al Qaeda compound, where Khadr is alleged to have thrown a hand grenade that killed US medic Chris Spear. Also at the hearing Thursday, Chester ordered lawyers involved in the case to stop calling the defendant "Omar", saying that he should instead be referred to as "Mr. Khadr" because he is now an adult and facing murder charges. Chester also rejected defense arguments that the chief prosecutor's statements that he believed Khadr to be guilty and a terrorist [JURIST report] were prejudicial and violated Khadr's right to a fair trial. Reuters has more. From Toronto, the Globe and Mail has additional coverage.

In a related development, Col. Dwight Sullivan, the chief defense counsel for Guantanamo Bay detainees [JURIST news archive], said Thursday that more defense lawyers are needed for detainees facing military trials [JURIST news archive]. Sullivan said that there are 17 prosecution lawyers but only four defense lawyers, though a spokesperson for the Office of Military Commissions [DOD materials] questioned the figures and noted that defense has received help from civilian volunteers. AP has more.






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