SUPREME COURT NOTEBOOK

Gamblers can't sue officer in another state

By Sam Hananel

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a Georgia police officer could not be sued in Nevada over the seizure of two travelers' money at an Atlanta airport.

In a unanimous decision, the justices said a lawsuit against officer Anthony Walden could not go forward in a Nevada court because none of his conduct connected him to the state.

The case was closely watched by business groups concerned about the prospect of facing lawsuits anywhere in the country and the added expense and inconvenience that might create.

Walden, working as a deputized Drug Enforcement Administration agent, seized $97,000 from a Nevada couple while they were traveling at the Atlanta airport in 2006. Walden suspected the money was tied to illegal drug trafficking, but the couple said they won the money gambling in Puerto Rico. Walden said they could get their money back if they produced proper documentation.

They returned home to Nevada and eventually got their money back. But they later filed a lawsuit in Nevada claiming Walden gave a false affidavit to prosecutors showing he had probable cause for seizing the money. A federal judge threw the case out saying the incident happened in Georgia. A federal appeals court reinstated the case in Nevada.

Writing for the court, Justice Clarence Thomas said Walden did not have enough ties to the state of Nevada to justify suing him there. The money was seized in Georgia while the couple was there and Walden formed no relevant contact with Nevada, Thomas wrote.

The Nevada couple argued that in the age of the Internet, it is possible to harm someone without actually setting foot in the state where they reside and there should be broader expectations for where a lawsuit can be filed. They argued that they felt the effects of the seizure in Nevada, where they lived and worked.

But the court held that Walden did not create enough contacts with Nevada simply because he knew the couple was from there. The fact that the cash originated in Nevada and was returned to Nevada was not enough, the court said. The decision means the couple likely has to refile the lawsuit in Georgia.

Disputed home search allowed

By Mark Sherman

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that police may search a home without a warrant when two occupants disagree about allowing officers to enter, and the resident who refuses access is then arrested.

The justices declined to extend an earlier ruling denying entry to police when the occupants disagree and both are present.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote the court's 6-3 decision holding that an occupant may not object to a search when he is not at home.

"We therefore hold that an occupant who is absent due to a lawful detention or arrest stands in the same shoes as an occupant who is absent for any other reason," Alito said.

Police found a shotgun, ammunition and a knife when they searched the Los Angeles apartment that Walter Fernandez shared with his girlfriend, Roxanne Rojas.

Fernandez told police they could not enter. But shortly after his arrest, officers returned to the apartment and persuaded Rojas to let them in.

Fernandez is serving a 14-year prison term on robbery and guns charges.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in dissent that "Fernandez's objection to the search did not become null upon his arrest and removal from the scene."

The court ruled 5-3 in 2006 that when two occupants who disagree about letting the police in are present, the objecting occupant prevails.

Ginsburg, joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, also took issue with the notion that ruling for Fernandez would harm women who are victims of domestic violence.

Ginsburg said that police are justified in the immediate removal of the abuser from the premises. That, she said, is what happened in this case. But that shouldn't trump the need for a warrant to overcome Fernandez's objection to the search of his home.

When Rojas first answered the door for police, she was crying and holding her 2-month-old baby. She had a fresh bump on her nose, and blood on her hands and shirt. She said she had been in a fight.

At that point Fernandez appeared and ordered the police to get out, telling them he knew his constitutional rights. The police believed the couple had just been in a fight and removed Fernandez from the apartment in handcuffs. An officer noticed a tattoo on Fernandez' shaved head that matched the description of a robbery suspect. Fernandez soon was arrested.

California maintained in its argument at the court that police had enough evidence at that point to get a warrant. But they said one was unnecessary because Rojas had the authority to let them in, despite Fernandez's earlier objection.

The court agreed with that proposition Tuesday.

The case is Fernandez v. California, 12-7822.

Justices side with government on frozen assets

By Mark Sherman

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court decided Tuesday that people whose assets have been frozen amid suspicion of illegal activity have no constitutional right to a hearing to plead for access to their money to mount a defense against criminal charges.

The justices voted 6-3 against a New York couple who have been indicted on charges they stole medical devices. The government froze their assets, including the $500,000 they set aside for their legal defense.

The Supreme Court has previously upheld the government's ability to put a hold on property and money that can be tied to illegal activity, but had never ruled whether defendants are entitled to a hearing first. Lower federal courts were divided over whether a hearing is necessary.

The issue is especially salient because the Justice Department is seizing more property than ever. More than $4.2 billion was deposited in the Justice Department's asset forfeiture fund in the government spending year that ended Sept. 30, 2012. That compares with about $1.6 billion in each of the two previous years.

Kerri and Brian Kaley, the couple at the center of the case, maintain they are innocent. They said they are at least entitled to a hearing to determine if they can use their money to fight the charges.

But Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the court that a grand jury already had found enough reason to indict the Kaleys and prosecutors froze money that could be tied to the allegations against the couple.

Allowing a judge to review the grand jury's indictment would undermine the criminal justice system, Kagan said.

"The Kaleys here demand a do-over, except with a different referee," Kagan said.

In dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts said that a defendant "might readily give all he owns to defend himself" so that a government order freezing his assets is serious business.

He said the court should not have allowed a defendant to "be hobbled in this way without an opportunity to challenge the government's decision to freeze those needed assets." Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor joined the dissent.

The Kaleys were ensnared in a federal investigation into the resale of medical devices in 2005. Kerri Kaley was a sales representative for a company that sold surgical devices and supplies. Her lawyers say she was legally allowed to resell items that hospitals wanted to replace with newer and better equipment. The hospitals were happy to get the items off their shelves and Kaley's employer did not want them back.

Still, the husband and wife, who live in Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y., were indicted in 2007 on conspiracy and other charges. Two other sales reps pleaded guilty, but yet another was acquitted by a jury.

The case is Kaley v. U.S., 12-464.

Mont. judicial endorsement

petition denied

By Matthew Brown

Associated Press

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) -- The U.S. Supreme Court has denied a petition from Montana officials who wanted to revive the state's ban on political parties endorsing judicial candidates.

Attorney General Tim Fox and Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl filed the petition last October to restore a prohibition on endorsements dating to 1935. A 2012 ruling from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had said the endorsements are allowed under the free-speech rights of the First Amendment.

In denying the petition, justices let that ruling stand and declined to hear arguments in the case.

Fox's office said in a statement Tuesday that he was concerned about federal courts invalidating state laws without giving states the chance to defend them. He did not comment directly on the outcome of the ruling.

The denial came on the heels of another petition turned down by the court this week in which Fox sought to restrict federal regulations of guns made and kept in Montana.

Fox said that he "will consistently assert that evidentiary hearings are necessary before a federal court should consider the merits of attacks on Montana's laws."

The Supreme Court rarely accepts petitions to review lower-court rulings.

The case originated with a 2012 lawsuit filed against the state ban by the Sanders County Republican Central Committee, which said it wanted to endorse candidates who share its judicial philosophy.

The committee's attorney, Matthew Monforton, said the Supreme Court's action means Montana's treatment of judicial candidates must conform to the 49 states in the U.S. that already allowed political-party endorsements. Monforton had waived the right to respond to Montana's petition because he thought it had no merit.

"The First Amendment is still in effect throughout the country, including Montana. Montana was far afield in asserting otherwise," he said.

U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell originally ruled against the Sanders County GOP, saying the county party's objective was to transform the state's judicial elections into "functionally partisan" contests.

The GOP committee appealed to the 9th Circuit, which said the endorsements the county party wants to make are protected speech under the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens' United ruling.

The 9th Circuit ruling also allows spending by political parties on behalf of judicial candidates but no direct contributions.

Published: Thu, Feb 27, 2014

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