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•  Ethics - Legal News


The Supreme Court is telling California that it can’t bar indoor church services because of the coronavirus pandemic, but it can keep for now a ban on singing and chanting indoors.

The high court issued orders late Friday in two cases where churches had sued over coronavirus-related restrictions in the state. The high court said that for now, California can’t ban indoor worship as it had in almost all of the state because virus cases are high.

The justices said the state can cap indoor services at 25% of a building’s capacity. The justices also declined to stop California from enforcing a ban put in place last summer on indoor singing and chanting. California had put the restrictions in place because the virus is more easily transmitted indoors and singing releases tiny droplets that can carry the disease.

The justices were acting on emergency requests to halt the restrictions from South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista and Pasadena-based Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry, which has more than 160 churches across the state.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that “federal courts owe significant deference to politically accountable officials” when it comes to public health restrictions, but he said deference “has its limits.”

Roberts wrote that California’s determination “that the maximum number of adherents who can safely worship in the most cavernous cathedral is zero?appears to reflect not expertise or discretion, but instead insufficient appreciation or consideration of the interests at stake.”

In addition to Roberts, Justice Neil Gorsuch and Justice Amy Coney Barrett also wrote to explain their views. Gorsuch and Justice Clarence Thomas would have kept California from enforcing its singing ban. Barrett, the court’s newest justice, disagreed. Writing for herself and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, she said it wasn’t clear at this point whether the singing ban was being applied “across the board.”

She wrote that “if a chorister can sing in a Hollywood studio but not in her church, California’s regulations cannot be viewed as neutral,” triggering a stricter review by courts. The justices said the churches who sued can submit new evidence to a lower court that the singing ban is not being applied generally.


Black Democrat urges governor to drop Black court nominee

•  Ethics     updated  2020/09/12 09:12


A Black Democratic state lawmaker who is challenging the appointment of a Black woman to the Florida Supreme Court contended Thursday that Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is engaging in “racial tokenism” by choosing someone the court itself has already ruled is not eligible for the position.

State Rep. Geraldine Thompson said in an online news conference that DeSantis only chose Renatha Francis for the high court because she shares his conservative ideology, not because he is trying to achieve racial diversity.

Thompson says Francis doesn’t meet the constitutional requirement of being a Florida Bar member for at least 10 years, a point the Supreme Court noted two weeks ago when it ruled DeSantis had exceeded his authority by appointing an ineligible candidate. The court did not undo the appointment, however.

“He wants to throw the rulebook out the window and do whatever he wants to do,” Thompson said. “That’s not what our country is supposed to be about.”

Thompson wants the governor to rescind the appointment. She spoke a day after DeSantis defended his choice at an event Wednesday alongside several Black elected officials who support Francis' appointment. The governor appointed Francis in May with the understanding that she would not actually sit on the court until she is eligible. She will complete 10 years in the bar in two weeks.

DeSantis accused Thompson of blocking the appointment for political reasons. He noted that no other Blacks currently serve on the court. But Thompson argued that DeSantis only wanted the “right" Black person on the court. “It was clearly about ideology and sharing the same perspective he had," she said. “This is one of the worst and most egregious examples of racial tokenism that I have seen in my life.”

Francis, currently a circuit judge in Palm Beach County, would not be the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court but would be the first Caribbean-American to do so. She operated a bar and trucking company in Jamaica before moving to the United States as an adult and working her way through law school.

Thompson represents portions of the Orlando suburbs, including Disney World and Universal Studios.

At the event Wednesday, DeSantis accused Thompson of hypocrisy, saying that she had been among those pushing for a Black justice and now that he has appointed one, she doesn't like her. He said her opposition would force him to choose from a list that includes no Black candidates. Thompson countered that a governor can't simply ignore the Florida Constitution.


New justice formally joins Virginia Supreme Court

•  Ethics     updated  2019/09/10 09:47


The Virginia Supreme Court has a new justice.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports Teresa Chafin, previously a judge on the Virginia Court of Appeals, formally joined the court Friday in a special session in Abingdon.

The General Assembly elected her in February. Chafin is the sister of state Sen. Ben Chafin, who lobbied on her behalf but didn't vote when the Senate confirmed her 36-0.

Chafin will serve a 12-year term. She's filling a vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Elizabeth McClanahan.




A decades-old court order that oversees water quality in the Florida Everglades would end if water managers get their way.

A hearing is set Monday before Miami U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno on a motion by the South Florida Water Management District to end a decree signed in 1992. Among other things, the order sets thresholds for the amount of phosphorous in the Everglades, an ingredient in fertilizer from the vast sugar-growing regions to the north.

The water district and sugar growers say the decree is no longer needed and thwarts projects that would benefit the Everglades. The U.S. government, environmental groups and an Indian tribe disagree, saying the decree is key to pursuing potential violations. State officials seek a 120-day delay in any decision.



Barbara Lagoa, for the past 12 years a judge on the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Miami, was introduced by DeSantis at an event at Miami's Freedom Tower. The site is highly symbolic for Cuban-Americans because so many immigrants who fled the communist reign of Cuban leader Fidel Castro were processed into the U.S. through that building.

"In the country my parents fled, the whim of a single individual could mean the difference between food and hunger, liberty or prison, life or death," Lagoa said. "Unlike the country my parents fled, we are a nation of laws."

DeSantis, who just took office on Tuesday, said Lagoa, 51, has an impeccable judicial background and that her Cuban-American upbringing gives her extra appreciation for the rule of law. He noted that she has considered more than 11,000 cases and written 470 legal opinions.

"She has been the essence of what a judge should be" the governor said. "She understands the rule of law, how important that is to a society."

Lagoa, who grew up in the heavily Cuban-American suburb of Hialeah, attended Florida International University and Columbia University law school where she was associate editor of the Columbia Law Review. She also is a former federal prosecutor in Miami. Her father-in-law is Miami senior U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck and her husband, Paul C. Huck Jr., is a prominent Miami attorney.




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