Supreme Weekly: Cases across the country
by Katy Farrell
This week, state Supreme Courts are collectively been more active than they've been in months. Each day new cases are being accepted, heard or ruled upon. This Supreme Weekly jumps across the nation to give a sample of interesting cases keeping the courts busy.
Yesterday, the Nevada Supreme Court became involved in the state's redistricting challenge. Since June, District Court Judge James Todd Russell has directed the process, calling for a special panel to be created to redraw the maps that had already been vetoed twice by Governor Brian Sandoval. Russell previously decided on a deadline of November 16. 
This week, Secretary of State Ross Miller asked the high court to rule on questions related to the redistricting before the appointed panel meets to create new maps. His concern is that new districts will not be created before the filing deadline for next year's election. 
In response, the high court ordered attorneys for the major political parties to submit briefs answering two questions: does a special panel have constitutional authority to create new district maps or does that power lie solely with the legislature; and whether the state courts should be involved in the matter. 
Nevada is one of twenty-six states where redistricting has been a subject of legal challenges. All fifty states participate in redistricting following the results of the ten-year census.
The Supreme Court will study the briefs submitted and hold a hearing on matter on November 14. 
The Iowa Supreme Court is taking to the road next week, to hear two cases in Cerro Gordo County. One of those cases challenges an ordinance in Mitchell County that bans vehicles with steel wheels from paved roads. The appeal involves a citation received by a Mennonite teenager last year. He contends that the ordinance restricts him from freely practicing his religion, in addition to placing an economic burden since his people are unable to use county roads. 
For its part, the county enacted the ordinance to preserve the surface of the roads. District Court Judge Bryan H. McKinley sided with the county in the lower court ruling, finding that the ordinance was neutral. 
In an interesting case of property ownership, the Maryland Court of Appeals has will soon determine who has the right to use the private beach on Dobbins Island. For almost 150 years, the island was under the private ownership, though the public could use its beach. In 2004, a new family bought the island with the intention to keep it private. After building a fence, they were sued by the Magothy River Association and citizens who wanted the beach to be kept public. 
After losing a lower court ruling, the owners have appealed to the high court and today the case will be heard. The ramifications of the ruling are far-reaching; essentially the court could rule that the public has the right to privately owned land without any benefit for the landowners. 
For a similar recent Supreme Court ruling, check out: Ohio Supreme Court rules on lakefront property rights
In a different take on amicus curiae briefs, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held a public hearing on Tuesday to gather opinions regarding an issue before the court. Legal experts and government officials provided feedback on a potential rule that would permit circuit court judges to appoint taxpayer-funded attorneys for indigent parties in civil cases. Attorneys would be appointed in cases involving basic needs, such as "food, shelter, safety, health and child custody." 
One major cause of concern for the program is the cost and from where that money would come. Though one proponent of the rule change estimated that it would cost about $56 million each year, another speaker insisted that the cost is virtually unknown. 
The Georgia Supreme Court has been in the news recently for high profile death penalty cases, but this week heard a case involving former Governor Sonny Perdue. Three members of the school board in Warren County are challenging their removal in 2010. They say their right to free speech was violated when they were fired for statements made about job applicants. The state is arguing that the actions of the board compromised the accreditation of the district and that the three members refused to sign the ethics policy in place. 
At the time of the removal, Perdue was required to go through an administrative court, which he did.
In the last year, a law has been passed that permits the governor to oust school board members when their actions jeopardize the accreditation of a district. 
On Tuesday, the Utah Supreme Court heard a case dealing with a defendant's right to not admit evidence to avoid the death penalty. Floyd Maestas was sentenced to die for a murder he committed in 2004. During the trial, Maestas decided that he did not want any information presented that might embarrass his family, such as a low IQ or personal history. Now, his defense attorney contends that decision did not provide jurors with all the facts when they considered the sentence. 
This case is important because it will set a precedent for how much control a defendant has over his or her case. During the hearing, Chief Justice Christine Durham questioned, "What is the court's right to override the defendant's right to assist in his own defense?"  That is basically the argument set forth by the assistant attorney general, who reasoned that Maestras understood the implications of his decision.
As the final appellate courts in the states, the Supreme Courts can reaffirm the decisions by the lower courts simply by refusing to hear an appeal. This week, the high courts in Georgia and Hawaii did just that.
On Monday, the Georgia Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by Effingham County that had been decided by the Georgia Court of Appeals. In 2010, the county was sued by a development company over yearly fees in an agreement. In that ruling, Superior Court Judge William E. Woodrum, Jr. declared the agreement "void and unenforceable." 
The intermediate appellate court reaffirmed the Superior Court ruling this March. By unanimously refusing to take the case, the Supreme Court will allow that ruling to stand, removing any other avenue for the county to appeal in the state courts. 
Similarly, the Hawaii Supreme Court also allowed an intermediate appellate ruling to stand this week, in the instance of a murder conviction. Kirk Lankford was sentenced by Circuit Judge Karl K. Sakamoto after being convicted of the murder of a twenty-one year old woman in 2007. The Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals did not allow for a retrial, though the defendant insisted that evidence did not support his sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole. 
- ↑ Redistricting in Nevada
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 Las Vegas Review-Journal, "Supreme Court schedules redistricting hearing," October 5, 2011
- ↑ Sioux City Journal, "Iowa Supreme Court to hear steel wheel case," October 4, 2011
- ↑ Globegazette.com, "Mennonite boy wants Iowa Supreme Court review," December 3, 2010
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 The Baltimore Sun, "Dobbins Island dispute goes to Md. high court," October 5, 2011
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 The Badger Herald, "Court considering providing tax-funded attorneys for civil cases," October 5, 2011
- ↑ 7.0 7.1 Ledger-Enquirer, "School board members petition ouster to Ga. court," October 4, 2011
- ↑ 8.0 8.1 Deseret News, "Utah Supreme Court debates right of defendant to decide evidence," October 5, 2011
- ↑ 9.0 9.1 Savannah Morning News, "County appeal refused by Georgia Supreme Court," October 5, 2011
- ↑ The Honolulu Star Advertiser, "State's top court refuses to hear appeal by convicted murderer of Japanese woman," October 4, 2011
|This article was written by Katy Farrell, the Editor of Judgepedia. She can be reached at email@example.com.|