Court Roundup . . .

Judge upholds conviction of police chief 

SIDNEY, Neb. (AP) — A judge upheld the conviction and sentencing of a western Nebraska police chief who said he didn’t pursue a criminal case against a city official because not doing so was “in the best interests” of the city.

Judge Travis O’Gorman of Cheyenne County District Court on Tuesday rejected an appeal by Sidney Police Chief B.J. Wilkinson, according to online court records. In his ruling, O’Gorman said Wilkinson abused his power by failing to uphold and enforce the law and instead attempted to help a co-worker.

“This is not only wrong, it is unlawful,” the judge said.

It’s unclear whether Wilkinson will appeal further or begin serving his 30-day sentence. The Associated Press left messages for Wilkinson and his attorney seeking comment Wednesday.

State prosecutors said Wilkinson failed to pursue criminal charges against John Hehnke, who then was Sidney’s public works director, after Hehnke’s
ex-girlfriend filed a complaint against him in January 2014. She told officers that she believed he had peered into her home and had seen her partially clothed.

Hehnke was cited by an officer, but Wilkinson acknowledged to a Nebraska State Patrol investigator later that he’d removed the citation from others being referred to the county attorney’s office for prosecution.

The case eventually was brought to the attention of state prosecutors, who charged Hehnke. He was fired this past August.

Wilkinson’s attorney, Thomas Sonntag, said during the appeal hearing Monday that Wilkinson’s 30-day sentence was disproportionately tough when compared to Hehnke’s $300 fine for disturbing the peace.

Judge O’Gorman said in his ruling that the sentence of 30 days was well below the misdemeanor maximum of a year in jail and was not an abuse of discretion by the county judge.

New York
Jury mulls fate of student charged with killing dad

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) — Jurors are again deliberating in the trial of a former Ivy League student from the Rochester area who’s charged with killing his father earlier this year.

The Monroe County Court jury deciding Charles Tan’s second-degree murder trial deliberated for 90 minutes Tuesday after a prosecutor and Tan’s defense attorney finished their closing statements. Deliberations resumed Wednesday morning.

Authorities say the 19-year-old former Cornell University student used a shotgun to kill his father, 49-year-old Liang “Jim” Tan, in early February in the family’s home in an upscale suburban Pittsford neighborhood.

The prosecution said Tan killed his father because the older man was abusive to his wife, Qing Tan. The defendant’s attorney put the blame on Tan’s mother, saying she had the motive to kill her husband.

West Virginia
Trial set for ex-athlete accused of hitting gay couple

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — A former Marshall University running back will face trial on Jan. 26 on charges of hitting a gay couple.

The Herald-Dispatch reports a Cabell County circuit judge set the tentative trial date during a status conference Tuesday for 24-year-old Steward Butler of Lakeland, Florida.

Indictments unsealed in late May charge Butler with two felony civil rights violations and two misdemeanor battery counts.

Butler is accused of striking two men who were kissing on a Huntington street on April 5. He was dismissed from the team and no longer attends Marshall.

The civil rights violation relates to the men’s gender. Butler attorney Raymond Nolan and Cabell County assistant prosecutor Lauren Plymale agreed to submit questions to the state Supreme Court concerning whether hate crime statutes include protection for sexual orientation.

High Court taking input on lawyers for dispensaries

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii (AP) — The Hawaii Supreme Court is seeking public input on whether lawyers should be allowed to represent medical marijuana dispensaries that are legal under state law but not federal statutes.

A proposed change to the court’s rules of professional conduct would allow attorneys to counsel clients on actions “expressly permitted” by Hawaii law, but that they must also warn their clients about legal consequences under other applicable laws, West Hawaii Today reported.

“It’s about time. Especially since they’re supposed to start accepting applications in January,” Rep. Joy San Buenaventura said Monday.

The Puna Democrat was on the House-Senate conference committee that finalized the dispensary bill.

“Everybody needs time to get their ducks in a row,” she said.

Two high-profile attorneys recently complained that the court’s Disciplinary Board interprets the law in a way that makes lawyers working for would-be dispensaries complicit in breaking federal law.

They said the current rules are unfair to businesses looking to compete for the eight available dispensary licenses in the state.

“It is not surprising that many interested parties have consulted with lawyers for advice and assistance,” said former state Attorney General David Louie in a Sept. 21 letter to the Supreme Court. “The involvement of lawyers in a high-profile, heavily regulated area of first impression is both necessary and desirable.
It is clearly in the public interest that prospective licensees comply with all the laws.”