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Legal news from Thursday, August 17, 2006




Federal appeals court rules against energy company in air pollution case
Tom Henry on August 17, 2006 7:14 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website] on Thursday sided with several states and the federal government [opinion, PDF] when it found that energy company Cinergy Corp. [corporate website] should have gone through a federal permit process prior to increasing their pollutant output after modernizing their facilities. The case was originally filed under the Clinton administration in 1999 when the government argued that numerous outdated coal-burning power plants had been illegally spewing hazardous emissions. After reaching a settlement, Cinergy backed out when the Bush Administration indicated it may be more lenient regarding emissions.

The government's victory in this case may impact an upcoming US Supreme Court case [Duke case law backgrounder] against Duke Energy [corporate website], which acquired Cinergy earlier this year. That case involves a similar air pollution issue. AP has more.






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US judge rules Rwanda murder confessions coerced by torture
Tom Henry on August 17, 2006 6:55 PM ET

[JURIST] US Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle [official profile] of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled [PDF text] Thursday that the confessions of three Rwandan rebels charged with killing two American tourists in Uganda were achieved through torture and coercion and ruled that the confessions are inadmissible in court. The rebels, who according to experts displayed scars consistent with torture, claim Rwandan officials assaulted them by binding them in difficult positions and beating them with rocks and sticks, inducing their confessions to US investigators.

Americans Rob Haubner and his wife Susan Miller were murdered in 1999 [AP report] when rebels allegedly sought out and attacked English-speaking tourists in an effort to disrupt US and British relations with Rwanda's ruling government. Six other tourists were also allegedly killed by the rebels. The rebels face the death penalty if convicted. AP has more.






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BREAKING NEWS ~ Judge rules tobacco industry liable in racketeering lawsuit
Joshua Pantesco on August 17, 2006 4:37 PM ET

[JURIST] A federal judge ruled Thursday that the tobacco industry [JURIST news archive] is liable for civil racketeering charges filed against the industry by the DOJ in 1999. Federal prosecutors filed suit [DOJ materials] under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) [text], claiming that tobacco companies conspired to mislead the public about the dangers of smoking. During the case, a federal appeals court ruled that the government could not seek a $280 billion penalty [JURIST report] against the companies for past profits, instead limiting relief to prevention of future violations. The US Supreme Court denied certiorari [JURIST report; cert petition, PDF] to review the issue.

Judge Gladys Kessler had urged the parties to settle the lawsuit [JURIST report] after federal prosecutors reduced the proposed penalty [JURIST report] against major tobacco companies from $130 billion to $10 billion, over the objection of their expert witness. The settlement offer reduction prompted a nonprofit legal group to file a civil lawsuit [JURIST report; case materials] against then Associate Attorney General Robert McCallum [official profile], now US Ambassador to Australia, to determine why the settlement offer was reduced.

Read Kessler's 1,742-page final opinion [PDF] and final judgment and remedial order [PDF].

5:50 PM ET - Kessler did not order the tobacco companies involved in the litigation to pay for a program to help people quit smoking as the DOJ had asked, citing the appeals court allowing only forward-looking remedies. Instead, the companies were ordered to publish

separate corrective statements concerning each of the following: (a) the adverse health effects of smoking; (b) the addictiveness of smoking and nicotine; (c) the lack of any significant health benefit from smoking "low tar," "light," "ultra light," "mild," and "natural," cigarettes; (d) Defendants' manipulation of cigarette design and composition to ensure optimum nicotine delivery; and (e) the adverse health effects of exposure to secondhand smoke (also known as environmental tobacco smoke, or ETS).
The "corrective statements" are to be published on the defendants' websites, affixed to cigarette packaging, put on display at retail establishments, included in full-page advertisements in several newspapers, and advertised on at least one major television network. In addition, defendants are required to maintain online document websites containing case documents and other relevant material. Kessler also ordered the defendants to pay the government's costs [JURIST report], which the DOJ has estimated will be over $140 million. AP has more.

6:33 PM ET - In a statement, the US Justice Department welcomed Kessler's finding of liability but expressed disappointment "that the Court did not impose all of the remedies sought by the government."





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New Jersey judge vacates Merck Vioxx trial win
Joshua Pantesco on August 17, 2006 2:50 PM ET

[JURIST] A New Jersey state court on Thursday vacated a November verdict finding Merck not liable [JURIST report] for the heart attack of Frederick Humeston, who suffered a heart attack in September 2001 after taking Merck's painkiller Vioxx [Merck Vioxx Information Center website; JURIST news archive] for less than 18 months. The New Jersey Superior Court judge who presided over the trial vacated the verdict after lawyers for the plaintiff presented new evidence showing that Merck [corporate website] withheld evidence during the trial that demonstrated that the pharmaceutical company knew that Vioxx posed an increased risk of heart attacks even when taken for less than 18 months. Superior Court Judge Carol Higbee ordered a new trial in the case.

Also on Thursday, a federal jury awarded $50 million [JURIST report] to a plaintiff in a Vioxx negligence case who suffered a heart attack in 2002 after taking Vioxx for three years. Merck pulled the drug from the market in September 2004 after a study showed that it could double the risk of heart attack or stroke if taken for more than 18 months. AP has more.






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New Hampshire high court rules ballot order law unconstitutional
Joshua Pantesco on August 17, 2006 2:24 PM ET

[JURIST] The New Hampshire Supreme Court [official website] on Thursday struck down as unconstitutional [opinion text, PDF] a state voting law that lists the election candidate of the winning party in the preceding state general election first on the ballot. The New Hampshire voting statute [RSA656:5 text] provides: "[t]he first column [of the ballot] shall contain the names of the candidates of the party which received the largest number of votes at the last preceding state general election." During oral arguments, the New Hampshire Secretary of State testified that Democratic candidates had not been first on the ballot since 1964, when the Democratic slate led by Lyndon Johnson gained the majority of state votes.

In the opinion, Justice Galway applied strict scrutiny to the statute, because the right to vote and the corresponding right to be elected, which is expressly provided by Article 1, Section II of the New Hampshire state constitution [text], are fundamental rights under New Hampshire state law. Galway concluded that the statute is unconstitutional, because the requirement that the party receiving the most votes in the prior election "enjoy" first place on the ballot "is [not] necessary to achieve a manageable ballot." AP has more.






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Bush signs pension reform bill into law
Joshua Pantesco on August 17, 2006 1:39 PM ET

[JURIST] President Bush on Thursday signed into law the Pension Protection Act of 2006 [HR 4 materials; AP summary], which he called the "most sweeping reform" of US pension law since the enactment of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) [text] in 1974. The bill, passed by the Senate in August and by the House of Representatives [JURIST reports] in July, is intended to encourage employers to adequately fund pensions so that promised pensions will still be available when workers retire. Its supporters say it will preserve the workability of traditional employer-employee pension benefits packages while at the same time opening new savings options and reducing the likelihood of government bailouts. Opponents say the measure gives companies too much authority to terminate pension plans and that it unfairly eases the obligations of the airline industry. The new law allows bankrupt airlines with frozen pension plans to claim the pensions are financially sound despite large liabilities, giving the airlines an additional ten years beyond the seven years allotted to most companies to fully fund their pensions.

After signing the bill [press release], Bush said:

The Pension Protection Act of 2006 will help shore up our pension insurance system in several key ways. It requires companies who underfund their pension plans to pay additional premiums. It extends the requirement that companies that terminate their pensions must provide extra funding for the system. This legislation insists that companies measure their obligations of their pension plans more accurately. It closes loopholes that allow underfunded plans to skip pension payments. It raises caps on the amount that employers can put into their pension plans so they can add more money during good times and build up a cushion that can keep pensions solvent in lean times.

Finally, this legislation prevents companies with underfunded pension plans from digging the hole deeper by promising extra benefits to their workers without paying for those promises up front. The problem of underfunded pensions will not be eliminated overnight. This bill establishes sound standards for pension funding, yet, in the end, the primary responsibility rests with employers to fund the pension promises as soon as they can.
AP has more.





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UPDATE ~ CIA contractor found guilty of detainee abuse
Jaime Jansen on August 17, 2006 1:29 PM ET

[JURIST] A federal jury sitting in Raleigh, North Carolina on Thursday found David Passaro [Raleigh News and Observer materials] guilty of abusing a detainee in Afghanistan [JURIST report]. The jury convicted Passaro on three misdemeanor counts of simple assault and one felony count of assault resulting in bodily injury, after prosecutors charged [indictment] him with two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon and two counts of assault resulting in a serious injury under the USA Patriot Act [JURIST news archive]. The jury reached a partial verdict [JURIST report] Wednesday, but the verdict was sealed until the jury came to a full consensus on all the charges.

Last year, US District Judge Terrence Boyle [official profile] ruled that prosecutors could charge Passaro under the Patriot Act, saying that the US can charge nationals with crimes committed at facilities used by the US government. Passaro was charged [JURIST report] with abusing Afghan detainee Abdul Wali [Wikipedia profile] in 2004, and is the first and only civilian to be tried in connection with detainee abuse in Iraq or Afghanistan. Passarro faces a maximum of 11.5 years in prison. AP has more. The Raleigh News & Observer has local coverage.






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Federal appeals court rules Delaware public records statute unconstitutional
Joshua Pantesco on August 17, 2006 1:08 PM ET

[JURIST] Delaware must make their public documents available to residents of other states, according to a ruling [PDF text] handed down Wednesday by the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Delaware's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [text] as written prevents non-residents from accessing Delaware public records, but the federal appeals court ruled that the statute violates the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the US Constitution.

Circuit Judge D. Brooks Smith wrote for the 2-1 court that

[S]ome events which take place in an individual state may be relevant to and have an impact upon policies of not only the national government but also of the states. Accordingly, political advocacy regarding matters of national interest or interests common between the states plays an important role in furthering a vital national economy" and "vindicat[ing] individual and societal rights. Effective advocacy and participation in the political process, however, require access to information...[a]ccess to records is the hallmark of effective participation in democracy. The very purpose of a freedom of information law is to ensure an informed citizenry, vital to the functioning of a democratic society.
Eight other states have FOIA regimes similar to the to one struck down as unconstitutional in Wednesday's ruling. The News Journal of Delaware has local coverage.





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Former Yukos security chief sentenced to 24 years for contract killings
Jaime Jansen on August 17, 2006 12:43 PM ET

[JURIST] A Moscow court on Thursday sentenced former Yukos [corporate website; JURIST news archive] security chief Alexei Pichugin [Wikipedia profile] to 24 years in prison for organizing a series of contract killings, including the 1998 murder of Vladimir Petukhov, the mayor of Nefteyugansk. Prosecutors filed the murder charges [JURIST report] against Pichugin and others in April 2005. Puchugin's defense team had argued that the charges were politically motivated and made in an effort to connect Leonid Nevzlin [Forbes profile], a former Yukos executive, to the deaths. Nevzlin lives in exile in Israel, and Russia requested his extradition last year.

Pichugin was also convicted of a double murder and two assassination attempts last year, receiving a 20 year jail sentence [JURIST report; BBC report]. MosNews has more. The Moscow Times has additional coverage.






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BREAKING NEWS ~ Federal judge rules domestic spying program unconstitutional
Jeannie Shawl on August 17, 2006 12:14 PM ET

[JURIST] AP is reporting that US District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor has ruled that the Bush administration's domestic surveillance program [JURIST news archive; US DOJ Q/A, PDF] is unconstitutional and has ordered the National Security Agency [official website] to immediately cease using warrantless wiretaps to intercept communications of suspected terrorists when one party to the communication is outside the US. Taylor ruled that the NSA wiretaps violate free speech and privacy rights.

12:21 PM ET - Read the opinion [PDF] and judgment and permanent injunction order [PDF].

12:29 PM ET - Taylor's ruling comes in a lawsuit [complaint, PDF; ACLU materials] filed by the ACLU on behalf of journalists, scholars, attorneys and national nonprofit organizations having "a well-founded belief that their communications are being intercepted by the NSA." The US Justice Department argued that the case should be dismissed [JURIST report] because defending it in court would jeopardize national security. In June Taylor denied a government motion [JURIST report] to stay consideration of an ACLU motion for partial summary judgment on state secrecy grounds.

In her opinion Thursday, Taylor wrote:

Defendants assert that they cannot defend this case without the exposure of state secrets. This court disagrees. The Bush Administration has repeatedly told the general public that there is a valid basis in law for the TSP [Terrorist Surveillance Program]. Further, Defendants have contended that the President has the authority under the AUMF and the Constitution to authorize the continued use of the TSP. Defendants have supported these arguments without revealing or relying on any classified information. Indeed, the court has reviewed the classified information and is of the opinion that this information is not necessary to any viable defense to the TSP. Defendants have presented support for the argument that "it . . is well-established that the President may exercise his statutory and constitutional authority to gather intelligence information about foreign enemies." Defendants cite to various sources to support this position. Consequently, the court finds Defendants' argument that they cannot defend this case without the use of classified information to be disingenuous and without merit.
Taylor went on to hold that the domestic spying program violates the First and Fourth Amendments of the US Constitution, separation of powers principles, the Administrative Procedures Act and statutory law. AP has more.

4:29 PM ET - The White House said Thursday that the administration will appeal Taylor's ruling. According to a statement from the White House Press Secretary:
We couldn't disagree more with this ruling, and the Justice Department will seek an immediate stay of the opinion and appeal. Until the Court has the opportunity to rule on a stay of the Court's ruling in a hearing now set for September 7, 2006, the parties have agreed that enforcement of the ruling will be stayed.

United States intelligence officials have confirmed that the program has helped stop terrorist attacks and saved American lives. The program is carefully administered, and only targets international phone calls coming into or out of the United States where one of the parties on the call is a suspected Al Qaeda or affiliated terrorist. The whole point is to detect and prevent terrorist attacks before they can be carried out. That's what the American people expect from their government, and it is the President's most solemn duty to ensure their protection.

The Terrorist Surveillance Program is firmly grounded in law and regularly reviewed to make sure steps are taken to protect civil liberties. The Terrorist Surveillance Program has proven to be one of our most critical and effective tools in the war against terrorism, and we look forward to demonstrating on appeal the validity of this vital program.
Read the full statement.

4:59 PM ET - In a separate statement [text], the US Justice Department called the program "an essential tool for the intelligence community in the War on Terror" and said that the DOJ believes that "the program is lawful and protects civil liberties." The DOJ also reiterated that it has appealed the decision and that the parties have agreed to a delay in implementing the injunction until the district court can hear the DOJ's motion for a stay pending appeal.

6:40 PM ET - US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales also defended the domestic surveillance program Thursday, saying:
It is a very narrow program, again, focused on communications with al Qaeda where one end of the phone call -- communication is foreign, outside of the United States.

It has been very effective. We've had numerous statements by leaders of the intelligence community about the effectiveness of this program in protecting America.

We also believe very strongly that the program is lawful. It has been reviewed by a number of lawyers within the administration, including lawyers out at the NSA, including lawyers at the Department of Justice.

It is a program that is reviewed periodically for its continued effectiveness. It is reviewed periodically to ensure that it remains lawful.

It has been very important for the security of our country.
Read the transcript of Gonzales' press conference.






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Federal jury awards $50 million in Vioxx negligence lawsuit
Jaime Jansen on August 17, 2006 12:08 PM ET

[JURIST] A federal jury in New Orleans on Thursday found Merck [corporate website] negligent for failing to warn doctors about the risks associated with taking the painkiller Vioxx [Merck Vioxx Information Center website; JURIST news archive] and found that Merck knowingly misrepresented the risks involved. The verdict comes in the case of retired FBI agent Gerald Barnett who blamed Vioxx for his 2002 heart attack after taking Vioxx for nearly 3 years. The jury awarded $50 million in compensatory damages, but is still deliberating on a possible figure for punitive damages. The Barnett verdict becomes the ninth Vioxx trial to reach a verdict out of more than 16,000 pending lawsuits.

Merck has now won five cases and lost four cases, after a California state jury cleared Merck [JURIST report] of any liability in the heart attack of a 71-year old woman earlier this month. In July, a New Jersey jury found Merck not liable [JURIST report] for a woman's heart attack and that the company did not fail to warn the woman of the heart risks involved with the painkiller. In April, a New Jersey state court jury awarded $9 million [JURIST report] in punitive damages and $4.5 million in compensatory damages to the family of a 77-year-old heart attack victim. Another Texas jury found Merck liable last year for the death of a 59 year-old marathon runner who had taken the drug for eight months, awarding $253 million [JURIST report]; that award was reduced to $26 million under Texas punitive damages caps. A different Texas jury also awarded the family of a 71-year old man who died from a heart attack $32 million [JURIST report] - $7 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages - in April. Merck pulled the drug from the market in September 2004 after a study showed that it could double the risk of heart attack or stroke if taken for more than 18 months. Merck has set aside $1 billion to fight every Vioxx court challenge. Reuters has more. AP has additional coverage.

7:05 PM ET - In a second defeat Thursday, a New Jersey judge vacated the verdict [JURIST report] in one of Merck's victories at trial. Superior Court Judge Carol Higbee vacated the verdict finding Merck not liable for Frederick Humeston's heart attack after taking Vioxx for less than 18 months. The plaintiff's lawyers presented new evidence showing that Merck withheld evidence during the trial that demonstrated that the pharmaceutical company knew that Vioxx posed an increased risk of heart attacks even when taken for less than 18 months and Higbee ordered a new trial in the case.






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Missouri to appeal federal inmate abortion ruling
Joshua Pantesco on August 17, 2006 11:35 AM ET

[JURIST] Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon [official profile] on Wednesday filed a notice of appeal with the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit [official website], and told reporters that he intends to appeal a federal court ruling [PDF text; JURIST report] granting summary judgment to a class action lawsuit against Missouri that requires the state to provide inmates with transportation to a medical facility for a nontherapeutic abortion. In the trial court ruling, US District Judge Dean Whipple found that because a nontherapeutic abortion has been found by the Third Circuit to constitute a "serious medical need," the state may not intentionally deny to inmates the right to have elective abortions. In 2005, Whipple came to a similar conclusion in the initial case of Roe v. Crawford, which preceded July's class-action decision.

On appeal, Missouri plans to argue that the issue is controlled by a 1986 state law that prohibits the use of public funds, facilities and employees to provide an abortion where the woman's life is not in immediate danger. Whipple rejected the argument in the July ruling, writing that Eighth Circuit precedent
holds that the "Missouri law prohibiting the use of Missouri State funds to assist with an abortion does not encompass transport to the location where the procedure is to take place." AP has more.






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UN peacekeepers accused of aiding prostitution ring in Congo
Jaime Jansen on August 17, 2006 11:17 AM ET

[JURIST] The United Nations has opened an investigation into a suspected child prostitution ring in the Democratic Republic of Congo [JURIST news archive] facilitated by UN peacekeepers and Congo soldiers, the UN Mission in DR Congo (MONUC) [official website] said Thursday. There have been claims that UN peacekeepers have aided the alleged prostitution ring by luring young girls to work as prostitutes, and have even patronized the young girls in some instances. In keeping with the UN's "zero tolerance" [JURIST report] policy of sexual abuses by its peacekeeping troops, MONUC immediately launched the investigation.

The UN has faced several allegations that UN peacekeepers working on various missions have engaged in sexual abuse of the native women of those countries. Last year, the UN received 20 reports of sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers [JURIST report] in Liberia. UN peacekeepers in Burundi and the Congo [JURIST reports] were also convicted of committing sexual abuse last year. In February, Jordan's UN ambassador and advisor to the secretary-general on the sexual exploitation and abuse in United Nations peacekeeping operations told the UN Security Council [JURIST report] that it could be three or four more years before the "unacceptably high" number of sexual abuse charges against UN peacekeepers in the Congo can be adequately addressed through UN reforms [JURIST news archive]. An independent review report [JURIST report], released last October, concluded that the UN is not taking proper measures to end sexual abuse during peacekeeping missions. Reuters has more.






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Peru prosecutors file human rights charges against opposition leader
Joshua Pantesco on August 17, 2006 10:55 AM ET

[JURIST] Peruvian prosecutors have filed informal charges against Ollanta Humala [COHA profile; BBC report], the opposition leader who narrowly lost the recent presidential election [BBC report] to Alan Garcia, for murder, torture and kidnapping stemming from his position as an army captain in Peru's San Martin province during the 1990s. A judge must decide whether to formally indict Humala on the charges, which are based on testimony from two family members of Humala's alleged victims.

Humala, who is popular among poor Peruvians, was dismissed from army service in 2000 after spearheading a nonviolent military uprising against then-President Alberto Fujimori [personal website; JURIST news archive]. BBC News has more.






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UK police release suspect in transatlantic bomb investigation
Jaime Jansen on August 17, 2006 10:55 AM ET

[JURIST] British authorities investigating a foiled terror plot [JURIST report; Met press release] to bomb airplanes crossing the Atlantic Ocean last week released a suspect without charge on Thursday. The suspect was arrested [JURIST report] Tuesday. London's Metropolitan Police Service (Met) [official website] did not explain details of the suspect's release. Authorities also released another suspect [JURIST report] last Friday, just one day after making the initial arrests in the investigation.

On Wednesday, a British judge extended the detention of 23 other suspects [JURIST report], granting an additional seven days to 21 of the suspects and an additional five days to two of the suspects. New UK anti-terrorism laws [Home Office materials] allow authorities to detain terror suspects for up to 28 days without charge, though investigators had to ask the judge to extend the detentions. Reuters has more.






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US Marine charged with assault in second Hamdania incident
Joshua Pantesco on August 17, 2006 10:30 AM ET

[JURIST] A US Marine has been charged with three counts of assault and one count of making a false statement in connection with an incident occurring on April 10 near the village of Hamdania in Iraq, according to a Marine spokesman speaking Wednesday. Lt. Nathan Phan allegedly beat and choked three Iraqi civilians, putting his unloaded pistol in the mouth of one of the men. Six other Marines have also been charged [JURIST report] for the April 10 incident. According to Phan's lawyer, the April 10 incident was uncovered during a military investigation of seven Marines and one Navy corpsman [JURIST report] charged in June with the murder and kidnapping of an Iraqi civilian in the same village on April 26. Phan was the platoon leader for the squad accused of the April 26 incident, though he was not charged in that investigation.

No date has been set yet for Phan's Article 32 hearing [JAG backgrounder]. Reuters has more.






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Indonesia cuts sentences of 10 involved in 2002 Bali bombing, releases one
Jaime Jansen on August 17, 2006 9:56 AM ET

[JURIST] Indonesian authorities on Thursday shortened prison sentences for 10 people convicted in connection with the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings [BBC report] that killed over 200 people. Nine prisoners with sentences between five and 16 years had their sentences cut by four months for good behavior. A tenth had his sentence shortened by 3 months, allowing him to leave the prison gates Thursday. The ten prisoners were convicted on minor charges relating to the bombings, including helping fund the attack and giving refuge to the terrorists that carried out the bombings.

Indonesia conducts a prisoner remission program annually on August 17, marking the country's independence from Dutch colonial rule. Prisoners in good standing typically receive a remission, unless they are death row inmates or serving life sentences. Four prisoners convicted in the 2002 bombing are serving life sentences, while three are on death row, and await their execution [JURIST report] by firing squad sometime this month. Though Indonesia cut the sentences of 54,000 prisoners Thursday, the remissions granted to the ten men involved in the Bali blast sparked public outcries [AFP report], particularly in Australia. Nearly half of the victims of the 2002 nightclub bombings hailed from Australia. In June, Australian Prime Minister John Howard [official website] denounced the release [JURIST report] of an Indonesian Muslim cleric convicted on conspiracy charges [JURIST report] in relation to the bombings. His sentence was reduced [JURIST report] during last year's remission program. Reuters has more.






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Australia PM allows parliamentary free vote on stem cell cloning ban
Joshua Pantesco on August 17, 2006 9:44 AM ET

[JURIST] Australian Prime Minister John Howard [official website] agreed Wednesday to hold a conscience vote on a stem cell research bill allowing therapeutic cloning if a private bill is offered to parliament. A conscience vote [SAVES backgrounder] is a free parliamentary vote in which members are not bound by party policy. In 2002, following the results of an initial conscience vote on the issue, Australia banned therapeutic cloning of stem cells, though the bill permits stem cell research to be performed on leftover embryos from IVF programs. In 2005, a committee [official website] headed by former judge John Lockhart concluded [reports] that therapeutic cloning should be permitted by Australian law, a recommendation that was rejected in June by Howard's conservative cabinet. Earlier this month Howard said he was disinclined [Australian report] to allow a conscience vote on the issue, but left open the possibility of changing his mind after consultations with other members of his governing Liberal party. Reuters has more. The Australian has local coverage.

In the US, President Bush last month vetoed a bill [JURIST report] to increase federal funding for embryonic stem cell research [JURIST news archive] after the Senate passed [JURIST report] the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act [PDF text; HR 810 summary].






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Mexico election court rejects challenges to congressional races
Joshua Pantesco on August 17, 2006 9:10 AM ET

[JURIST] Mexico's Federal Electoral Tribunal [official website, in Spanish] on Wednesday rejected a number of complaints concerning congressional races in the July 2 Mexican general election [Wikipedia backgrounder] that paralleled the presidential poll [JURIST news archive] currently subject to a court-ordered partial recount [JURIST report]. Under the newly-approved seat distribution, 52 of the 128 seats in the Senate [official website, in Spanish] go to the National Action Party (PAN) [party website, in Spanish] of conservative presidential candidate Felipe Calderon, 33 go to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) [party website, in Spanish], the party which ruled Mexico before President Vicente Fox of the PAN was elected in 2000, and 28 seats go to the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) [party website, in Spanish] of leftist presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador [campaign website, in Spanish], with the remainder going to minor parties. In the 500-seat Chamber of Deputies [official website, in Spanish], the PAN now hold 206 seats, the PRD 123 seats, and the PRI 105 seats.

Obrador, the leftist candidate challenging the results of Mexico's disputed presidential election vowed again Monday to continue protesting the results [JURIST report] unless the election court orders a full recount of the votes. Reuters has more.






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Federal jury reaches partial verdict in CIA contractor detainee abuse case
Jaime Jansen on August 17, 2006 9:07 AM ET

[JURIST] A federal jury in Raleigh, North Carolina reached a partial verdict Wednesday in the trial [JURIST report] of David Passaro [Raleigh News and Observer materials], a CIA contractor accused of abusing a detainee in Afghanistan [indictment; JURIST report], but US District Judge Terrence Boyle [official profile] sealed the decision and ordered the jury to continue deliberations on other charges Thursday. The jury had sent a note to Boyle telling him that they could not come to a consensus on the remaining charges. US prosecutor Jim Candelmo told the jury during closing arguments that Passaro beat Abdul Wali [Wikipedia profile] with a flashlight. Defense attorney Joe Gilbert, however, told the jury that Passaro merely tapped Wali with the flashlight and that the charges against Passaro would not have arisen if Wali had not died later on. Though Passaro has not been charged in Wali's death, he does face two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon and two counts of assault resulting in a serious injury, and could face up to 40 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

Passaro was charged in 2004, and has maintained that the government is using him as a scapegoat in the wake of the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal [JURIST news archive]. Passaro is the first and only civilian to be charged in connection with detainee abuse in Iraq or Afghanistan. Last year, Boyle allowed prosecutors to bring a case against Passaro under the USA Patriot Act [JURIST news archive], saying that the US can charge nationals with crimes committed at facilities used by the US government. In February, Boyle ruled that Passaro can present evidence to show that he followed government orders [JURIST report] when he allegedly abused the detainee. AP has more.

4:03 PM ET - The jury Thursday convicted [JURIST report] Passaro on three misdemeanor counts of simple assault and one felony count of assault resulting in bodily injury. Passaro faces a maximum of 11.5 years in prison.






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Gonzales calls UK 28-day detention policy useful anti-terror tool
Jaime Jansen on August 17, 2006 8:42 AM ET

[JURIST] US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales [official profile] on Wednesday praised new British anti-terrorism laws [UK Home Office materials] that helped thwart a terror plot [JURIST report] to explode jetliners traveling over the Atlantic Ocean, saying that the provision that allows British authorities to detain terror suspects for up to 28-days without charge [JURIST report] is a useful tool. The UK detention policy differs sharply from US laws, where American authorities must charge or release a suspect within 48 hours under the civilian court system, although detention of "enemy combatants" under the jurisdiction of the Defense Department may be much longer. Gonzales, however, added that such a change to US laws is not on the horizon yet and any amendments to US terror law must comply with requirements in the US constitution. Earlier this week, Gonzales called for a side-by-side comparison of US and UK counterterrorism laws [JURIST report].

Gonzales, responding to questions after a speech [prepared remarks] in Pittsburgh, also denied that the US uses torture as a means of obtaining information from terror suspects in the name of national security, adding that US authorities treat terror detainees humanely under the guidelines of the Geneva Conventions [ICRC materials]. Lastly, Gonzales noted that the widely criticized US detention center at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] is necessary for counterterrorism efforts, saying that the "perception is much worse than the reality." AP has more. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has local coverage.






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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible, ad-free format.

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