Court Roundup

New York
A123 sues Apple, says it poached battery engineers

NEW YORK (AP) — Battery maker A123 Systems is suing Apple, claiming it aggressively poached some key staff members in violation of their nondisclosure and noncompete agreements when they left A123.

According to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts, A123 is seeking a restraining order and preliminary injunction to stop former employee Mujeeb Ijaz to hire former A123 employees at Apple, where he now works. A123 makes lithium-ion batteries for electric cars and other products.

The complaint says Apple is starting a battery division nearly identical to A123. Apple did not immediately return a request for comment.
“It appears that Apple, with the assistance of defendant Ijaz, is systematically hiring away A123’s high tech PhD and engineering employees, thereby effectively shutting down various projects/programs at A123,” A123 says in the complaint.

The suit comes amid unconfirmed reports that Apple may be developing an electric car as competition in that sector heats up.

General Motors and Tesla Motors have electric cars in the works, and Nissan is already selling an electric car called the Leaf.

The suit is the latest development in A123’s checkered history. It received a $249 million grant from the Department of Energy in August 2009 to help it build U.S. factories, but it posted repeated losses and had struggled for several years as Americans were slow to embrace electric cars. It filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2012 and sold off some assets and reorganized.

Kansas
District judge sues over state law on courts

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A lawsuit filed on behalf of a district court judge challenges a law passed last year that changed how chief judges in the state’s district courts are appointed.

The Brennan Center for Justice filed the lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of Kingman County District Judge Larry Solomon over a law that stripped the Kansas Supreme Court of its authority to select chief judges. The law gives that power to a vote of judges within the districts.

The lawsuit contends the new law violates a 1972 constitutional amendment passed by Kansas voters giving that authority to the state Supreme Court.

“In a nutshell, the harm is that the people of Kansas ratified an amendment to the Constitution that says the state judiciary would be administered by a unified judicial system,” said Matt Menendez, an attorney with the Brennan Center.

Menendez said some believe the law was retaliation for the state Supreme Court’s rulings that Kansas isn’t spending enough money on its public schools to provide a suitable education for every child.

“There’s been a lot of discussion about that,” Menendez told the Lawrence Journal-World (http://bit.ly/1CMtG6C ). “We’ve seen in the Kansas media, and from folks we’ve talked to in the state, that this was a form of pushing back against the court for the school finance case as well as some controversial death penalty decisions.”

But Republican Sen. Jeff King, from Independence, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, denied that suggestion.

“I can tell you unequivocally there was nothing retaliatory about the judicial bills we passed last year whatsoever,” King said. “That was articulated clearly and consistently throughout the debate, and when you look at the substance of the bills, clearly they were to address substantive reforms in the court system, not for any form of retaliation or reaction whatsoever to a court decision.”

This year, Kansas legislators are considering other proposals affecting the judiciary that even some supporters say are a reaction to Supreme Court decisions.

The House Judiciary Committee passed out two proposed constitutional amendments this week that have Supreme Court justices selected either through direct partisan elections or through appointments by the governor, subject to Senate confirmation.

Gov. Sam Brownback urged lawmakers to pass one of those approaches during his State of the State address in January, saying: “With the Court involving itself in so many public policy issues, it is time the selection process be more democratic.”

House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, has not announced when the full House will consider the resolutions.


Texas
Inmate convicted of trying to have  judge slain

WACO, Texas (AP) — An inmate serving time for not registering as a sex offender has been convicted of trying to hire a hit man to kill the Texas judge who sent him to prison.

William Ray Phillips of Waco could be sentenced to life behind bars in the penalty phase starting Thursday.

A McLennan County jury on Wednesday convicted the 64-year-old inmate of solicitation of capital murder.

Judge Matt Johnson wasn’t hurt in the plot uncovered when Phillips was in prison and met with an undercover agent. Investigators say Phillips offered $30,000 to have the judge killed.

Johnson in 2013 sentenced Phillips to 10 years for failing to register after being convicted as a sex offender. Some prior sexual abuse convictions, in cases also heard by Johnson, were overturned on appeal.

Oregon
Man accused in hiker’s death sought insurance

HOOD RIVER, Ore. (AP) — A man accused of murder in the death of his girlfriend who fell from a Columbia Gorge trail six years ago had tried to collect on her $1 million life insurance policy.

Stephen Wagner Nichols, of Bend, is being held in a Hood River County jail without bail. Authorities said 23-year-old Rhonda Casto fell 100 feet to her death in March 2009.

The Oregonian says federal court records show Nichols and Casto each bought a $1 million life insurance policy in late 2008 from MetLife naming the other as beneficiary. Their daughter was named as contingent beneficiary.

Nichols sued MetLife after it denied the $1 million claim. The company said the insurance policy was void because of omissions on the application. In October 2011, a federal judge ruled the $1 million claim be deposited into an account with the court.

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