Court Digest

State Supreme Court overturns 2005 child abuse conviction

PORT HURON, Mich. (AP) — The Michigan Supreme Court on Friday overturned a child abuse conviction more than 15 years later, saying a man’s rights were violated when his attorney failed to request tax dollars to hire an expert witness.

Terry Ceasor’s attorney has said he didn’t seek public money because he didn’t believe his client qualified.

The court, 4-2, said that was enough to spoil Ceasor’s conviction.

“This is great news,” said Imran Syed, a lawyer at the Innocence Clinic at University of Michigan law school. “Mr. Ceasor was paroled about 10 years ago. But of course he remains very interested in clearing his name.”

Ceasor was convicted of child abuse in 2005 and sentenced to two to 15 years in prison. He was accused of shaking his girlfriend’s 16-month-old son and causing injuries. Testimony from a prosecution expert was unrebutted.

Ceasor denied shaking or abusing the child. He said he left Brenden on a couch while he was in the bathroom and then heard a thud. The boy recovered from his injuries.

Ken Lord defended Ceasor based on financial help from Ceasor’s mother. Lord said he didn’t ask a judge for money to hire an expert medical witness because he figured Ceasor wouldn’t qualify.

A defense expert would have testified that the child’s injuries were consistent with a fall from the couch, Syed said in a court filing.

Former chief justice Gerald Kogan dies at 87

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Former Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerald Kogan has died, a court spokesman said Friday. He was 87, and known as a champion of opening public access to legal proceedings.

Kogan, who died Thursday, was appointed to the high court in 1987 by then-Republican Gov. Bob Martinez. He was chief justice of the court from 1996 to 1998, after which he went into private practice of law.

Among other things, Kogan was known for an “Access Initiative” intended to use the internet to make courts more open to the public. One of Kogan’s ideas was to make state Supreme Court oral arguments available over the internet.

“These are practices now standard around the nation but novel when he pioneered them,” said court spokesman Craig Waters in an email.

The Florida Court Public Information Officers organization said this after presenting Kogan an award:

“His work became the foundation of Florida’s cutting edge court communications program as we know it today,” the group said. “It was on full display when high profile cases hit the court, most notably the presidential election cases of 2000 known to history as Bush v. Gore.”

That battle was ultimately settled by the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of Republican George W. Bush, who became president, over Democrat Al Gore.

After his Supreme Court service, Kogan joined a Miami law firm that specializes in alternative resolution of legal disputes, rather than fighting it out in court at often great expense and time.

Kogan and his family moved from New York to Miami Beach in 1947 with his family. He attended high school there and then the University of Miami, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business and then his law degree.

After that, Kogan joined the U.S. Army where he served as a special agent in the counterintelligence corps.

In 1960, Kogan was named a prosecutor in the Dade County state attorney’s office — it didn’t become Miami-Dade until later — and became chief of the homicide and capital crimes division.

In 1980 he became a circuit judge in Miami and then, a few years later, named to the Florida Supreme Court.

Sheriff’s criminal trial set for July

ATHENS, Ala. (AP) — A new trial date has been set for an Alabama sheriff who faces 11 theft and ethics charges.

Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely was indicted in August 2019 on charges that included accusations of stealing from the sheriff’s office. He is accused of taking money from election campaign funds, Limestone County funds and using his influence to obtain interest-free loans, authorities said.

Court records show pretrial motions will be heard virtually April 12. The case is set for trial at Limestone County Courthouse on July 12, multiple news outlets reported Thursday.

Blakely, who is currently Alabama’s longest serving sheriff, pleaded not guilty in 2019. He has remained in office pending the outcome of the case.

A new judge was appointed to the case last month. The Alabama Supreme Court appointed retired appellate Judge Pam Baschab of Colbert County to preside. She replaced Judge Pride Tompkins, who recused himself over personal coronavirus concerns.

The case was previously postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.