U.S. judge will reject industry effort to block California net neutrality law – lawyer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. judge said on Tuesday he will not block California’s state net neutrality law aimed at protecting the open internet, according to a lawyer who listened to the hearing.

Several trade groups had filed suit to block California’s net neutrality law of 2018 that has never taken effect.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Justice Department withdrew its Trump-era legal challenge to the California law.

Andrew Jay Schwartzman, a senior counselor for the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society that filed in support of California, said the judge’s decision was a “huge victory for net neutrality.”

Donald Trump ordered to hand over tax returns to prosecutors

Donald Trump has been ordered by the US Supreme Court to hand over his tax returns and other financial records to prosecutors in New York. 

The former US president has been refusing to release the documents for several years, despite a precedent that presidential candidates should do so.

A lower court had earlier ruled that the records were pertinent to a criminal investigation.

The ruling does not necessarily mean the files will be made public.

The financial documents should be provided as evidence to a grand jury to be scrutinised in secret, and might only later become public as part of an indictment. 

A grand jury is set up by a prosecutor to determine whether there is enough evidence to pursue a prosecution. The jury is given investigative powers and can issue subpoenas to compel people to testify.

The US Supreme Court’s decision is a blow to Mr Trump, who has been in a legal battle to protect his records from a grand jury for months.

Last July, the Supreme Court ruled that Mr Trump’s financial records could be examined by prosecutors in New York.

But lawyers representing Mr Trump challenged that ruling, suggesting that the court filing was “wildly overbroad” and issued in bad faith.

On Monday, the court rejected the lawyers’ argument. 

According to US media, this was the last opportunity for the former president, who left the White House last month ahead of President Joe Biden’s inauguration, to keep the records private. 

Mr Trump has continuously denied wrongdoing and has called the investigation into his tax affairs a “witch hunt”.

In a statement on Monday, Mr Trump accused New York prosecutors of unfairly targeting him and said that the Supreme Court “never should have let this ‘fishing expedition’ happen”. 

What’s the background to this?

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, a Democrat, has been trying for months to obtain eight years’ worth of Mr Trump’s personal and corporate tax returns. 

Mr Vance has been investigating allegations surrounding the payment of hush money before the 2016 presidential election to two women who said they had had sexual relationships with Mr Trump. 

The district attorney has said that the tax returns and financial records are pertinent to the case.

It is alleged that the payments were made by Mr Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen to adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal.

Mr Trump denies the affairs took place and described the Supreme Court’s ruling last July as “purely political”.

Lawyers for Mr Vance later said the inquiry would extend beyond purported hush money payments. 

They citied newspaper articles about supposed bank and insurance fraud at the Trump Organization and congressional testimony by Cohen, who said the former president would devalue his assets when trying to reduce his taxes.

Mr Trump, who inherited money from his father and went on to become a property developer, is the first president since Richard Nixon in the 1970s not to have made his tax returns public.

UK Supreme Court rules Uber drivers are workers

Uber drivers must be treated as workers rather than self-employed, the UK’s Supreme Court has ruled.

The decision means tens of thousands of Uber drivers are set to be entitled to minimum wage and holiday pay.

The ruling could leave the ride-hailing app facing a hefty compensation bill, and have wider consequences for the gig economy. 

In a long-running legal battle, Uber had appealed to the Supreme Court after losing three earlier rounds.

‘Massive achievement’

Former Uber drivers James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam, who originally won an employment tribunal against the ride hailing app giant in October 2016, told the BBC they were “thrilled and relieved” by the ruling.

“I think it’s a massive achievement in a way that we were able to stand up against a giant,” said Mr Aslam, president of the App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU).

“We didn’t give up and we were consistent – no matter what we went through emotionally or physically or financially, we stood our ground.”

Lord Leggatt said that the Supreme Court unanimously dismissed Uber's appeal
image captionLord Leggatt said that the Supreme Court unanimously dismissed Uber’s appeal

Uber appealed against the employment tribunal decision but the Employment Appeal Tribunal upheld the ruling in November 2017. 

The company then took the case to the High Court, which upheld the ruling again in December 2018.

The ruling on Friday was Uber’s last appeal, as the Supreme Court is Britain’s highest court, and it has the final say on legal matters. 

Delivering his judgement, Lord Leggatt said that the Supreme Court unanimously dismissed Uber’s appeal that it was an intermediary party and stated that drivers should be considered to be working not only when driving a passenger, but whenever logged in to the app.

The court considered several elements in its judgement:

  • Uber set the fare which meant that they dictated how much drivers could earn
  • Uber set the contract terms and drivers had no say in them
  • Request for rides is constrained by Uber who can penalise drivers if they reject too many rides
  • Uber monitors a driver’s service through the star rating and has the capacity to terminate the relationship if after repeated warnings this does not improve

Looking at these and other factors, the court determined that drivers were in a position of subordination to Uber where the only way they could increase their earnings would be to work longer hours.

Jamie Heywood, Uber’s Regional General Manager for Northern and Eastern Europe, said: “We respect the Court’s decision which focussed on a small number of drivers who used the Uber app in 2016. 

“Since then we have made some significant changes to our business, guided by drivers every step of the way. These include giving even more control over how they earn and providing new protections like free insurance in case of sickness or injury. 

“We are committed to doing more and will now consult with every active driver across the UK to understand the changes they want to see.”

‘Drivers are struggling’

The Supreme Court’s ruling that Uber has to consider its drivers “workers” from the time they log on to the app, until they log off is seen as a key point.

Uber drivers typically spend time waiting for people to book rides on the app. Previously, the firm had said that if drivers were found to be workers, then it would only count the time during journeys when a passenger is in the car.

“This is a win-win-win for drivers, passengers and cities. It means Uber now has the correct economic incentives not to oversupply the market with too many vehicles and too many drivers,” said James Farrar, ADCU’s general secretary.

“The upshot of that oversupply has been poverty, pollution and congestion.”

Uber app on phone

However, questions still remain about how the new classification will work, and how it affects gig economy workers who work not only for Uber, but also for other competing apps. 

Mr Aslam, who claims Uber’s practices forced him to leave the trade as he couldn’t make ends meet, is considering becoming a driver for the app again. But he is upset that it took so long.

“It took us six years to establish what we should have got in 2015. Someone somewhere, in the government or the regulator, massively let down these workers, many of whom are in a precarious position,” he said.

Mr Farrar points out that with fares down 80% due to the pandemic, many drivers have been struggling financially and feel trapped in Uber’s system.

“We’re seeing many of our members earning £30 gross a day right now,” he said, explaining that the self-employment grants issued by the government only cover 80% of a driver’s profits, which isn’t even enough to pay for their costs.

“If we had these rights today, those drivers could at least earn a minimum wage to live on.”

Impact on Uber

When Uber listed its shares in the US in 2019, its filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) included a section on risks to its business.

The company said in this section that if it had to classify drivers as workers, it would “incur significant additional expenses” in compensating the drivers for things such as the minimum wage and overtime.

“Further, any such reclassification would require us to fundamentally change our business model, and consequently have an adverse effect on our business and financial condition,” it added.

Uber also wrote in the filing that if Mr Farrar and Mr Aslam were to win their case, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) would then classify the firm as a transport provider, and Uber would need to pay VAT on fares.

The company has long argued that it is a booking agent, which hires self-employed contractors that provide transport.

By Mary-Ann Russon
Business reporter, BBC News

Britain’s Cairn files case in U.S. to push India to pay $1.2 billion award

(Reuters) – Cairn Energy has filed a case in a U.S. district court to enforce a $1.2 billion arbitration award it won in a tax dispute against India, a court document showed, ratcheting up pressure on the government to pay its dues.

In December, an arbitration body awarded the British firm damages of more than $1.2 billion plus interest and costs. The tribunal ruled India breached an investment treaty with Britain and said New Delhi was liable to pay.

Cairn asked the U.S. court to recognise and confirm the award, including payments due since 2014 and interest compounded semi-annually, according to the Feb. 12 filing seen by Reuters.

The case marked a first step in Cairn’s efforts towards recovering its dues, potentially by seizing Indian assets, if the government did not pay, a source with knowledge of the arbitration case told Reuters.

“If Cairn wins the case, it will be a step towards attaching and seizing Indian assets overseas, especially in the U.S.,” the source said.

Reuters reported last month that Cairn was identifying India’s overseas assets, including bank accounts and even Air India planes or Indian ships, that could be seized in the absence of a settlement.

Cairn declined to comment but pointed to a Feb. 9 Twitter post where it said Chief Executive Simon Thomson was looking forward to meeting India’s Finance Minister in Delhi next week.

“We would request, along with others, that the Indian government move swiftly to adhere to the award that has been given,” Thomson said in the video posted on Twitter by Cairn.

“It is important for our shareholders who are global financial institutions and who want to see a positive investment climate in India. I am sure that in working together with the government we can swiftly draw this to conclusion and reassure those investors,” he said.

India’s finance and external affairs ministries did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Cairn aims to enforce the award under international arbitration rules, commonly called the New York Convention, and recover losses caused by India’s “unfair and inequitable treatment of their investments”, the court filing showed.

The company has registered its claim against India in the Netherlands and France, telling regulators in the two countries that they may receive court orders to seize of some Indian assets, and the firm was preparing to do the same in Canada and United States, Reuters reported last month.

India lost another major international arbitration case last year against Vodafone over a $2 billion retrospective tax dispute.

The government has challenged the arbitration verdict in the Vodafone case. It has yet to say how it will proceed in Cairn’s case where it has to make a significant payment.

U.S. court clears way for extradition to Japan of Ghosn’s accused escape plotters

(Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court on Thursday declined to further delay the extradition to Japan of two men charged with helping former Nissan Motor Co Ltd Chairman Carlos Ghosn flee the country.

The order by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston clears the way for U.S. Army Special Forces veteran Michael Taylor and his son, Peter Taylor, to be handed over to Japan, after the U.S. State Department approved their extradition.

Their lawyers had said that absent a stay of a prior ruling that they were seeking to appeal that allowed for their extradition, the U.S. government could turn over the Taylors to Japan as early as Friday.

Paul Kelly, a lawyer for the Taylors, said their defense team is “currently exploring the Taylors’ legal options.” The U.S. Justice Department did not immediately comment.

The Taylors were arrested in May at Japan’s request.

Prosecutors say the Taylors helped Ghosn flee Japan on Dec. 29, 2019, hidden in a box and on a private jet before reaching his childhood home, Lebanon, which has no extradition treaty with Japan.

Ghosn was awaiting trial on charges that he engaged in financial wrongdoing, including by understating his compensation in Nissan’s financial statements. Ghosn has denied wrongdoing.

Prosecutors said the elder Taylor, a private security specialist, and his son received $1.3 million for their services.

India’s Future to challenge court order blocking its retail deal in dispute with Amazon: Source

India’s Future Group will challenge a New Delhi court order that has blocked its $3.4 billion retail assets sale on objections of business partner Amazon.com Inc, a source told Reuters on Wednesday.

An Indian court blocked Future Group’s sale of a swathe of assets to rival Reliance Industries on Tuesday after Amazon raised objections to the deal, in a battle of the retail titans that could reshape the shopping sector.

The appeal against that order is set to be filed later on Wednesday in the court, the source said, declining to be identified.

Moscow court hears case for jailing Putin critic Navalny

A Moscow court is to decide shortly whether to turn Russian dissident Alexei Navalny’s suspended sentence into an actual prison term, as police detain more pro-Navalny protesters.

Many riot police – including some on horses – have been deployed outside the court. There have been some arrests.

The anti-Putin campaigner could face up to two and a half years, in a case that has sparked nationwide protests.

Mr Navalny, 44, calls the embezzlement charge fabricated.

The Russian OVD-Info monitoring group reported that 24 people had been detained near the court early on Tuesday.

Arrest near Moscow court, 2 Feb 21
image captionOne of Tuesday’s arrests: Police have cracked down hard on Navalny supporters

Mr Navalny’s return to Russia on 17 January triggered mass protests in support of him, many of them young Russians who have only ever experienced President Vladimir Putin’s rule.

He accuses Mr Putin of running an administration riddled with corruption, and recently released a YouTube video featuring an opulent Black Sea palace which, he alleged, was a Russian billionaires’ gift to the president. More than 100m people have watched it.

On Saturday Arkady Rotenberg, a billionaire businessman close to Mr Putin, said he owned the palace and had bought it two years ago.

The OVD-Info group said police detained more than 5,000 people at pro-Navalny protests in 86 cities across the country on Sunday. For a second weekend, crowds defied bitter cold and a massive deployment of riot police.

OVD-Info says it is an independent Russian media project documenting police action against various groups. It gets crowdfunding in Russia and its donors include the Memorial human rights group and the European Commission.

Mr Navalny has been accused of breaking probation rules which required him to report regularly to Russian police over the embezzlement charge. His lawyers say it is absurd he is accused of breaching probation, as the authorities knew he was recovering in Berlin after a nerve agent attack that nearly killed him.

He is already serving a 30-day sentence in connection with that case, which he denounces as politically motivated.

He spent months recovering from the Novichok poisoning – an attack he blamed directly on President Putin. The Kremlin has denied any involvement, and disputes the expert conclusion that Novichok was used.

Just before the court hearing began, Mr Navalny praised his wife Yulia, who is attending in court. She was fined 20,000 roubles (£190; $260) on Monday for having joined the pro-Navalny protesters at an “unauthorised” rally.

“They said that you had seriously violated public order and were a bad girl. I’m proud of you,” Mr Navalny said, quoted by Reuters news agency.

In recent days police have arrested many of Mr Navalny’s top aides, who assist him in his Anti-Corruption Network (FBK).

Lisa Montgomery: Court gives death penalty date go-ahead

A US appeals court has lifted a stay of execution on the only woman awaiting a federal death penalty.

Lisa Montgomery strangled a pregnant woman in Missouri before cutting out and kidnapping the baby in 2004. 

If the execution goes ahead, she will be the first female federal inmate to be put to death in almost 70 years. 

Montgomery’s execution date was originally set for last month but a stay was put in place after her attorneys contracted Covid-19.

It was then rescheduled for 12 January by the Justice Department. But Montgomery’s lawyers argued that the date could not be set while a stay was in place.

A court sided with her attorneys, stopping an order from the director of the Bureau of Prisons scheduling her death.

But on Friday, a panel of judges concluded that the director had acted under the law, allowing the execution to take place.

Montgomery’s legal team said they will file a petition for the judges to reconsider their ruling.

The last woman to be executed by the US government was Bonnie Heady, who died in a gas chamber in Missouri in 1953, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Federal executions had been on pause for 17 years before Preisdent Donald Trump ordered them to resume earlier last year.

If the remaining executions go ahead, Mr Trump will have overseen the most executions by a US president in more than a century.

Montgomery’s execution date is just days before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

Mr Biden, who for decades was a fierce supporter of the death penalty as a Delaware senator, has now said he will seek to end federal executions once he takes office.

Who is Lisa Montgomery? 

In December 2004, Montgomery drove from Kansas to the home of Bobbie Jo Stinnett, in Missouri, purportedly to purchase a puppy, according to a Department of Justice press release.

“Once inside the residence, Montgomery attacked and strangled Stinnett – who was eight months pregnant – until the victim lost consciousness,” it says.

“Using a kitchen knife, Montgomery then cut into Stinnett’s abdomen, causing her to regain consciousness. A struggle ensued, and Montgomery strangled Stinnett to death. Montgomery then removed the baby from Stinnett’s body, took the baby with her, and attempted to pass it off as her own.”

In 2007, a jury found Montgomery guilty of federal kidnapping resulting in death, and unanimously recommended a death sentence.

But Montgomery’s lawyers say she experienced brain damage from beatings as a child and is mentally unwell, so should not face the death penalty.

Federal and state executions – what’s the difference?

Under the US justice system, crimes can be tried either in federal courts, at a national level, or in state courts, at a regional level.

Certain crimes, such as counterfeiting currency or mail theft, are automatically tried at a federal level, as are cases in which the US is a party or those which involve constitutional violations.

The death penalty was outlawed at state and federal level by a 1972 Supreme Court decision that cancelled all existing death penalty statutes.

A 1976 Supreme Court decision allowed states to reinstate the death penalty and in 1988 the government passed legislation that made it available again at federal level.

According to data collected by the Death Penalty Information Center, 78 people were sentenced to death in federal cases between 1988 and 2018 but only three were executed.

“GO TO COURT!” Will I Get Justice?-Awuni Writes On 2020 Elections

In the wake of the disputed elections that have been made murkier by the error-ridden results from the Electoral Commission, the chorus that is being sung to the opposition NDC is, “Go to court if you think you have a case.”

It is a good call to make, but on social media and in personal conversations, the overwhelming opinion is that the NDC has no chance in getting justice in court no matter the strength of their case.

This is worrying and dangerous for our democracy and for the safety and security of our nation. The main reason someone will heed the advice not to “take the law into their own hands” is when that person knows that they can get justice if they leave the law in the hands of the police, judiciary and other adjudicatory state institutions. But is that case?

If a typical Ghanaian holds a cup to a water dispenser that isn’t empty, he or she is assured of water. But is the average Ghanaian assured that true justice will be dispensed in the courts, especially if they’re up against the rich or politically connected?

A number of reasons account for the falling confidence in the judiciary, but the judiciary itself has not helped its image in the way it has handled some issues in the past.

Despite its shortcomings, the judiciary is the only institution still I treat with the same reverence I give to the only traffic light in Burma Camp.

I was, therefore, scandalized when a sitting member of Parliament sat on TV and insulted a judge with words I cannot repeat here. As usual, the reaction on social media was, “Apuu! Wait and see if the judiciary will treat it the same way they would have treated such an attack on its judges by an ordinary or opposition member of the public.”

In 2016, the court swiftly jailed the Montie 3 who scandalized the court. In the 2013 election petition hearing process, Justice William Atuguba showed those who had scandalized the courts their real sizes before jailing some for contempt.

In this case, the uncompromising judge who was handling the MP’s contempt case and showed signs of “dealing with him” was removed from the case because he was said to be hostile.

And since then, the pace of that case is now slower than that of a badly wounded snail. It was adjourned and we don’t know when trial will resume. And the general public is watching the delay with keen interest.

Our judiciary is our last hope. If a politician or powerful private individual knows that they cannot break the law and have their way in court, they’ll think twice before acting.

A person or group of persons who are aggrieved will hardly take the law into their own hands if they know they’ll get justice in court.

It is in everybody’s interest to have not only an independent judiciary, but also a judiciary that has integrity, one that is consistent with the principles justice irrespective of who is involved. Our judiciary should not only be doing this, but it should be seen by the public to be doing it.

No matter our statuses and current positions, we humans —including judges—are more vulnerable than we may think. If you’re in a position of strength today, you or your relative may be in a position of weakness tomorrow. We should fight for systems that we can trust both in our real or perceived invincibility and in our lowest state of vulnerability.

In the disputed 2012 election, the opposition NPP cried foul after the judgment and the incumbent NDC rejoiced. Why do the NDC think they will not get justice from the same court? Does the change in political positions and judicial composition affect the course of justice?

We should get to a point that if a party loses a case in court, public opinion will not sway towards the theory that they lost because of who they were up against and not on the merit of their case.

God bless our Homeland Ghana.
And make our judiciary great and strong.
Bold to defend forever.
The cause of freedom and of right!

By: Manasseh Azure Awuni, Award-winning Investigative Journalist

Court summons Kennedy Agyapong over assassination claims against Ato Forson

Source: Myjoyonline.com

An Accra High Court has summoned Assin Central MP, Kennedy Agyapong to appear before it to explain his claim that Ato Forson might be connected to an assassination.

This comes on the back of a legal action taken by Ajumako-Enyan-Esiam MP, Dr Cassiel Ato Forson.

NPP firebrand had alleged that the Ranking Member on Parliament’s Finance Committee contracted the suspects to execute the botched assassination attempt on the Gender Minister, Cynthia Morrison.

The two have been arrested by the police.

Speaking on Accra-based Net 2 TV on October 26, the Assin Central MP alleged that the suspects told the police that they were sent by Cassiel Ato Forson to undertake the act.

“The boys mentioned Cassiel Ato Forson’s name to the police. Why is it that the police would not like to speak the truth? Ato Forson gave the boys to the parliamentary candidate Paul Ofori Amoah.

“The parliamentary candidate is very calm but Ato Forson did that. He should come out and challenge me,” Kennedy Agyapong said.

Kencity Media Ghana Ltd, owners of NET2 is the second defendant in the case.

Kennedy Agyapong is expected to appear before the High Court in eight days according to the writ signed on October 27.

“And take note that in default of your doing so, judgment may be given in your absence without further notice to you,” the writ read.

The Assin Central MP is currently facing contempt charges at the Supreme Court after he allegedly went on live television to use unprintable words on a High Court judge.