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Missouri and its governor cannot be sued over the state’s underfunded and understaffed public defender system, a federal appeals court has ruled.

A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday said the legal doctrine of sovereign immunity means the state can’t commit a legal wrong and cannot be sued unless the legislature makes exceptions in state law, KCUR reported.

American Civil Liberties Union-Missouri filed the class action lawsuit in 2017. The organization argued the governor and state have ignored their constitutional obligation to provide meaningful legal representation to indigent clients by not providing enough funds to address chronic underfunding and understaffing in the public defender system. ACLU-Missouri argues in the lawsuit that Mississippi is the only state to allocate less than the $355 per case that Missouri spends for its indigent defense budget.

The lawsuit will continue against the head of the public defender system, Michael Barrett, and the public defender commission.

The decision, written by Judge Duane Benton, does not address the merits of the lawsuit. But the ruling means the legislature can’t be forced to appropriate more money to the system.

“It would be easier if the state itself were a defendant,” said Tony Rothert, legal director of ACLU-Missouri.

Rothert said if the ACLU prevails against the other defendants, the court could order the state to reduce public defenders’ caseloads, or prosecutors could use their discretion to not bring charges for certain crimes. Or defendants who aren’t considered dangerous could be released on bail and put on a waiting list for public defenders rather than staying in jail while awaiting trial.





The Supreme Court began its term with the tumultuous confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, followed by a studied avoidance of drama on the high court bench — especially anything that would divide the five conservatives and four liberals.

The justices have been unusually solicitous of each other in the courtroom since Kavanaugh's confirmation, and several have voiced concern that the public perceives the court as merely a political institution. Chief Justice John Roberts seems determined to lead the one Washington institution that stays above the political fray. Even Roberts' rebuke of President Donald Trump, after the president criticized a federal judge, was in defense of an independent, apolitical judiciary.

The next few weeks will test whether the calm can last. When they gather in private on Jan. 4 to consider new cases for arguments in April and into next term, the justices will confront a raft of high-profile appeals.

Abortion restrictions, workplace discrimination against LGBT people and partisan gerrymandering are on the agenda. Close behind are appeals from the Trump administration seeking to have the court allow it to end an Obama-era program that shields young immigrants from deportation and to put in place restrictive rules for transgender troops.



Lawyers say the taxi hailing app Uber has lost its appeal against a ruling that its drivers should be classed as workers in a case with broad implications for the gig economy.

Law firm Leigh Day says Britain's Court of Appeal upheld an earlier ruling that found the company's drivers are workers, not independent contractors and therefore should receive the minimum wage and paid holidays. Uber is expected to appeal.

Though the company argued that the case applies to only two drivers, Uber has tens of thousands of drivers in the U.K. who could argue they deserve the same status as the former drivers covered by decision. The court says some 40,000 drivers use the platform in the U.K., though the company said the number had grown since the submission to 50,000.

San Francisco-based Uber has expanded rapidly around the world by offering an alternative to traditional taxis through a smartphone app that links people in need of rides with drivers of private cars. That has drawn protests from taxi drivers who say Uber and similar services are able to undercut them.



The Dutch Supreme Court has upheld the war crimes conviction of a timber dealer who was found guilty last year of selling arms to former Liberian leader Charles Taylor and of complicity in war crimes committed by Taylor's forces in Liberia and Guinea from 2000 to 2003.

Guus Kouwenhoven was first convicted of arms smuggling in 2006 but later cleared on appeal. He was convicted in April last year based on new evidence and sentenced to 19 years in prison.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected an argument by Kouwenhoven's lawyer that Dutch courts couldn't prosecute him because of an amnesty Taylor proclaimed in 2003 shortly before stepping down as Liberia's president.

Kouwenhoven was detained last year in South Africa and is awaiting extradition to the Netherlands.



Robert Mueller is set to reveal more details about his Russia investigation on Friday as he faces court deadlines in the cases of two men who worked closely with President Donald Trump.

The special counsel and federal prosecutors in New York are filing court memos detailing the cooperation of longtime Trump legal fixer Michael Cohen, who has admitted lying to Congress and orchestrating hush-money payments to protect the president. And Mueller's team will also be disclosing what they say former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort lied about when his plea deal fell apart last month.

Cohen and Manafort are among five former Trump associates whom prosecutors have accused of lying either to federal investigators or to Congress.

The court filings will close out a week in which Mueller's team for the first time provided some details of the help they've received from former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn. Prosecutors, who said Flynn's assistance was "substantial" and merited no prison time, disclosed that he had cooperated not only with the Russia investigation but also with at least one other undisclosed criminal probe.

The new details about Mueller's investigation are set to become public as Trump continues to lash out at the Russia investigation and those who help prosecutors. Trump singled out Cohen, accusing him of lying to get a reduced prison sentence. The president also praised another associate, Roger Stone, for saying he wouldn't testify against him, and Trump said a pardon for Manafort isn't off the table.


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