Court Roundup

Mississippi

Campaign law issue of federal hearing

ABERDEEN, Miss. (AP) -- A federal judge will hear arguments Nov. 1 on a challenge to a Mississippi campaign finance law under which groups are to register if they raise or spend more than $200 a year toward their cause.

A week ago, five Lafayette County residents sued the state of Mississippi to challenge the law. The group said the law limits their fundamental free-speech and association rights.

They want the law declared unconstitutional and unenforceable.

They sought to campaign for passage of a constitutional amendment that would prohibit the government from taking private property by eminent domain and transferring it to other persons.

The issue is on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

One of the plaintiffs, Sharon Bynum, said the law keeps her and others from doing more in being able to campaign in favor of the amendment.

"If we spent $200 on signs or other materials, we would have to fill out campaign finance forms that ask private information.

"Many don't feel comfortable giving out their private information just to speak up for something. It will cause less people to want to speak out and take a stand on issues on ballots," said Bynum, who is an instructor and a doctoral student in the history department at the University of Mississippi.

Bynum and the others contend that people do not need to obtain the government's permission to work with their friends and neighbors to speak out about politics, the lawsuit states.

"These provisions violate the First Amendment by placing significant burdens on the rights to speech and association and by requiring the disclosure of sensitive personal information as a condition of speaking out about political issues," the complaint states.

New York

Court: Town shares liability in 2005 NY dam break

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- A midlevel New York court says the township that owns and operates a dam shares liability with its contractors for its 2005 collapse.

A Washington County jury last year found a construction company and design firm mostly at fault for the failure of a dam shortly after it was rebuilt, causing millions of dollars in damage to properties in Fort Ann.

About 200 homes were evacuated after the dam crumbled at the end of mile-long Hadlock Pond, about 55 miles north of Albany. More than 100 owners sued.

In Thursday's ruling, the Appellate Division concludes 1999 amendments to state conservation law give dam owners "a nondelegable duty" to maintain and operate them safely.

However, the five justices say that does not relieve other defendants of liability for their negligence.

New Jersey

Judge seeks high court review of pension dispute

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- A battle between New Jersey judges and Gov. Chris Christie over how much they contribute to their health insurance and pensions could be fast-tracked to the state Supreme Court.

An attorney representing state Superior Court Judge Paul DePascale filed Thursday to have the high court review the case even though it hasn't yet been heard at the appellate level. Most cases are ruled on by a three-judge appeals panel before a plaintiff or defendant applies to have the Supreme Court hear the case.

Attorney Justin Walder said in his filing that it is a "significant issue of public concern."

"It is respectfully submitted that there is no bona fide need or reason for this Court to await a further review and determination of this matter by the Superior Court, Appellate Division," he wrote.

DePascale sued in July over a new law that requires judges to increase their share of the cost of their pension benefit. He claimed that violates a state law that set judges' salaries and says they cannot be reduced.

Last week a judge in Mercer County rejected Christie's attempt to throw out the lawsuit and on Wednesday denied the state's bid to increase judges' health and pension contributions while the case continues.

The higher health and pension contributions apply to all state and local government employees.

The dispute has revived animosities between Christie and the judiciary.

Last year, the Republican became the first governor in recent memory not to renominate a sitting justice for tenure when he declined to reappoint Justice John Wallace, the court's only African American, leading to a standoff with Democratic legislators. He has been critical of judges for, in his view, trying to make laws rather than merely interpret them.

A spokesman for the governor's office called Wednesday's ruling "self-serving" and characterized the judges as "elitist."

Most judges are paid $165,000 per year and, under Christie's pension changes, will see their contributions rise gradually from 3 percent of their pay to 12 percent by 2017. A 4.28 percent contribution went into effect Oct. 1 and has only been taken out of one paycheck so far, costing most judges about $80.

Published: Mon, Oct 31, 2011

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