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President Donald Trump’s and Democratic rival Joe Biden’s campaigns are assembling armies of powerful lawyers for the possibility that the race for the White House is decided not at the ballot box but in court.

They have been engaging in a lawyer’s version of tabletop war games, churning out draft pleadings, briefs and memos to cover scenarios that read like the stuff of a law school hypothetical more than a real-life case in a democracy.

Attorneys for the Republicans and the Democrats are already clashing in courts across the U.S. over mailed-in ballot deadlines and other issues brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. And as Trump tries to sow doubt in the legitimacy of the Nov. 3 election, both sides have built massive legal operations readying for a bitterly disputed race that lands at the Supreme Court.

“We’ve been preparing for this for well over a year,” Republican National Committee Chief Counsel Justin Riemer told The Associated Press. “We’ve been working with the campaign on our strategy for recount preparation, for Election Day operations and our litigation strategy.”

On the Democratic side, the Biden campaign’s election protection program includes a special national litigation team involving hundreds of lawyers led by Walter Dellinger, acting solicitor general in the Clinton administration, and Donald Verrilli, a solicitor general under President Barack Obama, among others. Bob Bauer, a former White House counsel to Obama, and Biden campaign general counsel Dana Remus are focused on protecting the rights of voters, who have been enduring long lines at polling places around the country on the belief that the presidential election will be decided by their ballots.

Both sides are informed by the experience of the 2000 election, which was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore. But this year, because Trump has pushed unsubstantiated claims about the potential for voter fraud with increased voting by mail, sowing doubt about the integrity of the result, lawyers are preparing for a return trip before the high court.



A German arrest order for two Panamanian lawyers whose firm was at the center of an international tax evasion scandal faces a substantial obstacle: Panama’s constitution prohibits the extradition of its citizens.

Juergen Mossack and Ramón Fonseca are sought by Cologne prosecutors on charges of being an accessory to tax evasion and forming a criminal organization.  “They have constitutional protection,” Alvin Weeden, a lawyer in Panama, said Wednesday. “Technically, there’s no possibility.”

Mossack and Fonseca already face prosecution in Panama and are prohibited from leaving the country while out on bond after spending two months in jail. That case stems from allegations they helped create a corporation to hide money used for bribes by the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht as well as fallout from the so-called Panama Papers scandal.

The Panama Papers include a collection of 11 million secret financial documents leaked in 2016 that illustrated how some of the world’s richest people hide their money. It brought scrutiny to a number of world leaders and was a hit to Panama’s reputation.

Interpol’s office in Panama did not immediately respond to a request for comment about whether it had received an alert from German authorities about the case in Germany against Mossack and Fonseca.

In a statement, Mossack and Fonseca said their firm had sold corporations to a German bank that later resold them to clients. They said they had nothing to do with subsequent transactions.

“If one these ultimate beneficiaries evaded taxes in their country or committed some other crime using a corporation created by us, that is totally out of our control and knowledge,” said the statement issued by their lawyer in Panama, Guillermina McDonald. “We follow all of the processes required by regulators of our industry in their moment.”

Mossack and Fonseca announced the closure of their offices in Panama and elsewhere in the world in March 2018.

In the statement Tuesday night, they said they were willing to continue collaborating with investigations in any part of the world. McDonald said she did not know if they would be willing to appear before German authorities. Mossack and Fonseca maintain the German case is part of continuing efforts by the European Union to discredit them. In February, the European Union again included Panama on a list of countries that are tax havens.



Republican claims that Democrats would expand the U.S. Supreme Court to undercut the conservative majority if they win the presidency and control of Congress has a familiar ring. It's a tactic the GOP already has employed in recent years with state supreme courts when they have controlled all levers of state political power.

Republican governors in Arizona and Georgia have signed bills passed by GOP-dominated legislatures to expand the number of seats on their states’ respective high courts. In Iowa, the Republican governor gained greater leverage over the commission that names judicial nominees.

“The arguments being advanced now by Republican leaders — that this is an affront to separation of powers, that this is a way of delegitimizing courts — those don’t seem to be holding at the state level,” said Marin Levy, a law professor at Duke University who has written about efforts to expand state high courts.

President Donald Trump and the GOP have seized on the issue in the final weeks of the presidential race, arguing that Democratic nominee Joe Biden would push a Democratic Congress to increase the number of seats on the Supreme Court and fill those with liberal justices.

Some on the left have floated the idea in the wake of Republicans' rush to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to fill the seat of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal icon who died last month.  Biden, for his part, has said he's not a fan of so-called “court packing,” and it's far from certain that Democrats can win back the majority in the U.S. Senate.

Arizona's governor, Republican Doug Ducey, said he opposes adding seats to the U.S. Supreme Court. "We shouldn’t be changing our institutions,” he told reporters recently. Yet Ducey signed a bill that did just that at the state level in 2016, expanding the Arizona Supreme Court from five seats to seven. As a result, Ducey has appointed more judges than any other governor in the state's history.

Ducey said the situations are not the same because Arizona’s system for selecting judges allows him to appoint them only from a list sent to him by a commission that interviews and vets candidates.




Absentee ballots must arrive by Election Day to be counted, the Michigan Court of Appeals said Friday, blocking a 14-day extension that had been ordered by a lower court and embraced by key Democratic officials in a battleground state. Any changes must rest with the Legislature, not the judiciary, the Republican-appointed appeals court judges said in a 3-0 opinion.

Absentee ballot extensions in Wisconsin and Indiana have also been overturned by higher courts. Michigan’s ability to handle a flood of ballots will be closely watched in a state that was narrowly won by President Donald Trump in 2016. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson last week said 2.7 million people had requested absentee ballots, a result of a change in law that makes them available to any voter.

Michigan law says absentee ballots must be turned in by 8 p.m. on Election Day to be valid. But Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens had ordered that any ballots postmarked by Nov. 2 could be counted if they arrived within two weeks after the Nov. 3 election.

Stephens said there was “unrefuted evidence” about mail delivery problems because of the coronavirus pandemic. She said more than 6,400 ballots arrived too late to be counted in the August primary. The appeals court, however, said the pandemic and any delivery woes “are not attributable to the state.”

“Although those factors may complicate plaintiffs’ voting process, they do not automatically amount to a loss of the right to vote absentee,” the court said, noting that hundreds of special boxes have been set up across Michigan.  The court also reversed another portion of Stephens’ decision, which would have allowed a non-family member to deliver a completed ballot in the final days before the election if a voter consented.

“The constitution is not suspended or transformed even in times of a pandemic, and judges do not somehow become authorized in a pandemic to rewrite statutes or to displace the decisions made by the policymaking branches of government,” Judge Mark Boonstra said in a separate, 10-page concurring opinion.

Benson and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, both Democrats, had declined to appeal Stephens’ rulings, leaving it to the Republican-controlled Legislature to intervene.



Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett batted away Democrats’ skeptical questions Tuesday on abortion, health care and a possible disputed-election fight over transferring presidential power, insisting in a long and lively confirmation hearing she would bring no personal agenda to the court but decide cases “as they come.”

The 48-year-old appellate court judge declared her conservative views with often colloquial language, but refused many specifics. She declined to say whether she would recuse herself from any election-related cases involving President Donald Trump, who nominated her to fill the seat of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and is pressing to have her confirmed before the the Nov. 3 election.

“Judges can’t just wake up one day and say I have an agenda ? I like guns, I hate guns, I like abortion, I hate abortion ? and walk in like a royal queen and impose their will on the world,” Barrett told the Senate Judiciary Committee during its second day of hearings.

“It’s not the law of Amy,” she said. “It’s the law of the American people.”

Barrett returned to a Capitol Hill mostly shut down by COVID-19 protocols, the mood quickly shifting to a more confrontational tone  from opening day. She was grilled by Democrats strongly opposed to Trump’s nominee yet unable to stop her. Excited by the prospect of a judge aligned with the late Antonin Scalia, Trump’s Republican allies are rushing ahead to install a 6-3 conservative court majority for years to come.

The president seemed pleased with her performance. “I think Amy’s doing incredibly well,” he said at the White House departing for a campaign rally.

Trump has said he wants a justice seated for any disputes arising from his heated election with Democrat Joe Biden, but Barrett testified she has not spoken to Trump or his team about election cases. Pressed by panel Democrats, she skipped past questions about ensuring the date of the election or preventing voter intimidation, both set in federal law, and the peaceful transfer of presidential power. She declined to commit to recusing herself from any post-election cases without first consulting the other justices.

“I can’t offer an opinion on recusal without short-circuiting that entire process,” she said.

A frustrated Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the panel, all but implored the nominee to be more specific about how she would handle landmark abortion cases, including Roe v. Wade and the follow-up Pennsylvania case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which confirmed it in large part.



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