SUPREME COURT NOTEBOOK

Nevada ethics

law upheld

By Mark Sherman

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court on Monday unanimously upheld a Nevada ethics law that governs when lawmakers should refrain from voting on official business because they might have a conflict of interest.

The court reversed a Nevada Supreme Court decision that said elected officials have a constitutional right to vote on official business that the state law violated.

The decision came in the case of Michael Carrigan, a Sparks, Nev., council member who voted on a casino project even though his campaign manager served as a project consultant.

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the court, said an elected official's vote "is not his own speech but a mechanical function of government -- the commitment of his apportioned share of the legislature's power to the passage or defeat of a particular proposal."

Scalia said conflict-of-interest rules similar to Nevada's "have been commonplace for over 200 years."

The Nevada Commission on Ethics found that Carrigan's vote violated a provision of the ethics law that lays out various relationships that should disqualify an official from voting, including the official's relatives and business associates.

The ethics panel said Carrigan should have abstained from voting because his friend and campaign manager, Carlos Vasquez, also worked as a consultant for the Red Hawk Land Co., which was backing the Lazy 8 casino project.

Carrigan challenged that ruling, leading to the state court decision striking down part of the law.

Nevada and 14 other states argued that ethics laws around the nation would be threatened if the high court were to endorse the Nevada court ruling.

The Associated Press joined 15 other news organizations and press freedom groups in a brief supporting the Nevada ethics commission.

Scalia said Carrigan may be able to make additional arguments against the law in state court.

The case is Nevada Commission on Ethics v. Carrigan, 10-568.

Court blocks

investors' claims against Janus

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court has cut off a lawsuit by investors against Janus Capital Group seeking to hold the company liable for allegedly false statements in some Janus mutual fund documents.

The court's 5-4 ruling Monday reversed an appeals court decision that allowed the lawsuit to go forward.

At issue is whether the adviser to a mutual fund can be held financially responsible for false statements in the fund's prospectus.

Justice Clarence Thomas said that securities law does not permit that kind of lawsuit. The court was ideologically divided, with the four liberal-leaning justices saying the suit should be allowed.

Sex bias claim

on citizenship

rule rejected

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court on Monday dismissed a challenge by a Mexican-born man to a citizenship law that treats men and women differently.

The court split 4-4 in the case of Ruben Flores-Villar, an outcome that upholds his criminal conviction on immigration charges. The tie vote resolves Flores-Villar's case, but sets no national precedent. Justice Elena Kagan did not take part because she worked on the case when she was Solicitor General.

Flores-Villar, 36, was born in Tijuana to an American father and Mexican mother. If his parents' nationalities were reversed, Flores-Villar would be a citizen. American mothers need only to have lived in the United States continuously for a year before the birth of a child. It's longer for a citizen father.

When the court heard the case in November, the justices expressed some sympathy for Flores-Villar's plight, but noted that the court has never taken the step of granting citizenship -- the only outcome that would have allowed him to prevail on his appeal of the immigration charges.

Court won't hear restitution claim in Ponzi case

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from investment funds seeking repayment of their losses in a $3.7 billion Ponzi scheme operated by Minnesota businessman Thomas Petters.

The funds together lost $165 million and challenged a federal judge's order denying restitution to any of Petters' victims. Among other things, the court said the victims would have other ways of recouping some of their money.

The justices on Monday refused to disturb the ruling.

A federal law generally requires a court to order restitution as part of a defendant's sentence, but allows for some exceptions. The judge in this case said that restitution would be too complex, take too long and result in the payment of less than a penny for each dollar victims lost.

Reconsideration of parole judgment ordered

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court has ordered a lower court to reconsider its decision to release a criminal on parole.

The high court threw out a lower court decision ordering John Pirtle and other prisoners released from prison on parole.

Pirtle was convicted of killing his wife, and the parole board started denying him parole in 2002. Pirtle sued in federal court, saying his parole was denied without any proof that he posed a danger if he got out.

The lower courts agreed with him and ordered him and other prisoners in similar situations released on parole.

The high court threw out that decision in a summary judgment and ordered the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to reconsider it.

The case is Cate v. Pirtle, 210-868.

Justices turn

away appeal over

Steinbeck copyrights

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by a son of author John Steinbeck over the publishing rights to "The Grapes of Wrath" and other early works.

The appeal by Thomas Steinbeck is similar to the one the high court rejected in 2009. They both stem from a dispute over who controls the rights to publish Steinbeck's works.

The court on Monday left in place an appeals court ruling dismissing Thomas Steinbeck's claims. He is the author's sole surviving son. He and Steinbeck granddaughter Blake Smyle already receive a portion of the proceeds from the sales of Steinbeck's books.

Published: Wed, Jun 15, 2011