Court Round-Up

Washington: Group must disclose money for election ads

WASHINGTON (AP) — A conservative group that plans to raise unlimited sums to run ads in congressional contests must disclose its donors, a federal appeals court ruled Friday

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington said the group, SpeechNow.org, can collect unlimited donations from individuals for the ads it plans to run independently of candidates, in line with a recent Supreme Court ruling. But the group will have to file reports with the Federal Election Commission spelling out its fundraising and spending, the appeals court said.

SpeechNow.org wanted to operate free of any fundraising or disclosure requirements. Had the appeals court backed that, it would have made it virtually impossible for voters to know who was behind election-time ads attacking or promoting congressional and presidential candidates.

The ruling is the first major campaign finance decision since the Supreme Court said earlier this year that corporations, unions and groups of individuals can spend unlimited sums supporting or opposing candidates — as long as they do it independently of candidates. The high court so far has upheld campaign finance disclosure rules.

SpeechNow.org is considering whether to appeal the disclosure requirement ruling to the Supreme Court, said Brad Smith, one of its attorneys and a former FEC commissioner.

“I can assure you that issue isn’t going to go away whether it’s appealed in SpeechNow or not,” Smith said.

Neither the Supreme Court ruling nor Friday’s appeals court decision changed the donation and spending restrictions placed on political action committees, which can contribute directly to congressional and presidential candidates and national party committees. Spending that PACs coordinate with candidates or parties also is not affected.

PACs can still accept only limited donations from individuals and other PACs and give or spend limited amounts in concert with campaigns and party committees.
 

Ohio: Online opinions came from judge’s e-mail account

CLEVELAND (AP) — A Cleveland newspaper says opinionated online comments about a suspected serial killer’s case were posted from the personal e-mail account of the trial judge.

The Plain Dealer reported Friday that the comments were posted from the America Online account of Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Shirley Strickland Safford. Safford denies posting the items; the judge’s daughter has identified herself as the writer.

The paper checked the online account after a post that challenged the mental health of a person related to a reporter whose work has been criticized by the judge.

Safford is handling the murder trial of 50-year-old Anthony Sowell in the killings of 11 women.

 

Wisconsin: Ex-insurance exec sentenced for kickback scheme

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A judge has sentenced a former insurance executive to prison time for bilking his company out of more than $1 million in phony claims.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb told Douglas Nickerson she was glad he took responsibility for the crime, but chastised him for failing to own up to his gambling addiction. She sentenced Nickerson to three years and 10 months in prison and ordered him to repay General Casualty Insurance and its insurer more than $1 million.

Nickerson was the former property program manager for the regional insurer.

Nickerson carried out a scheme from 2003 to 2008 in which he issued checks for what appeared to be legitimate claims and then received kickbacks from companies.
 

Pennsylvania: Judge refuses to grant woman same-sex divorce

READING, Pa. (AP) — A Pennsylvania judge has refused to grant a divorce to a same-sex couple married last year in Massachusetts.

Berks County Judge Scott Lash says a divorce petition filed by a woman seeking a divorce from her partner can’t be granted because Pennsylvania does not recognize same-sex marriages.

Carole Kern had filed a petition for divorce from Robin Taney, claiming their marriage was irretrievably broken.

Lash found that Kern can’t seek relief under the divorce code because state law says same-sex marriages are void in Pennsylvania.

Kern and Taney married in Massachusetts last year. Massachusetts requires a year of residency to seek a divorce.
 

North Carolina: Public defender challenges court watch group

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina neighborhood advocacy group is upset with a public defender, whom they say is taking steps to limit the group’s work in court.

The Charlotte Observer reported Friday that volunteers with CharMeck Court Watch push for tougher penalties for some defendants with histories of arrests or convictions for felonies. They give letters to prosecutors that provide details of those criminal records.

Assistant Public Defender Dean Loven says he plans to object whenever that happens. He’s also concerned the volunteers could prejudice a case by wearing Court Watch T-shirts in court to lobby for tougher penalties.

Court Watch Chairman Marcus Philemon said Loven’s plans won’t change the group’s mission.

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