courts

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Opening statements in a drug money laundering trial get underway in an Austin courtroom today. 

Among the men charged: Jose Trevino Morales. Federal prosecutors call Morales the brother of two top leaders of the Zeta drug cartel, and say he’s involved in a money-laundering scheme for the cartel: hiding millions of dollars in drug money in the horse racing business in Texas and other states.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

A new United States Courthouse for the Western District of Texas opened in downtown Austin this week.

The decidedly modern space, designed by Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects, is a departure from the stodgy, unimaginative architecture associated with government buildings. The 230,000 square foot building is stark, clean and geometric on the outside. Inside, wood tones warm the courtrooms, natural light works its way into common areas, and a stunning piece of artwork inside the entryway provides more color.

Abilene Christian University

Jeffrey Boyd will become the newest Texas Supreme Court justice, an appointment that scrunches the foreheads of Rick Perry critics who think it odd that the governor would name his chief of staff to the state’s highest civil court.

It’s the latest brick in a wall Perry has been building for a dozen years — a period that has seen him appoint 224 Texans to state district and appeals court judgeships.

His hold on the executive branch is well documented and regularly noted; Perry has been in office long enough to twice go through the entire cycle of six-year executive appointments.

Update at 9 a.m. ET, Nov. 14: "It's A Learning Lesson ... I'll Move Forward."

Shena Hardin, the Cleveland woman ordered to stand on a street corner with a sign saying she was in idiot for driving on a sidewalk to get past a stopped school bus, finished that two-day punishment this morning and issued a statement saying she's learned a lesson.

As Cleveland's 19ActionNews reports, Hardin:

Mark Norwood, the Bastrop dishwasher who was arrested one year ago for the 1986 murder of Christine Morton, was indicted by a Travis County grand jury on Friday for the January 1988 murder of Debra Masters Baker in Austin.

“It has been excruciating for all of us who loved Debra to wait for this day. Now, we finally have a face to put with her tragic murder,” Baker’s family said in a statement released by attorney Sam Bassett.

Norwood's attorney, Russell Hunt Jr., said his client maintains his innocence in both cases. Hunt said Norwood's mother had been subpoenaed to testify before a Travis County grand jury on Friday morning. 

"There's only one reason why" that would happen, he said. "That's if they intend to indict him."

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Voters in Colorado and Washington state elected this week to legalize marijuana for recreational use. In Texas, the drug remains very much illegal. But a state law passed five years ago has resulted in thousands of people in Travis County avoiding arrest when they’re busted with small amounts of pot.

Back in 2007, State Representative Jerry Madden (R-Plano) authored a bill to give police officers the option to cite and release someone caught with less than four ounces of marijuana. 

“The reason for that was to save costs for some of our [police] departments, so that they had more people that would be available on the streets, instead of taking the time to bring very low-level offenders in and book them,” Madden said. “They were going to be released very shortly anyway.”

There was outrage across the nation last November when video of a 2004 beating that a local judge in Texas gave to his 16-year-old daughter went viral.

Within days, Aransas County Court-at-Law Judge William Adams was suspended by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.

Todd Wiseman / Jeff Wilcox for Texas Tribune

In an opinion released Monday that reinforces a 2011 law, Attorney General Greg Abbott's office said that employers cannot prohibit an employee with a concealed handgun license from keeping a handgun in a locked, private vehicle in an employee parking lot.

State Sen. Robert Deuell, R-Greenville, wrote a request for opinion from the office on May 7 on the matter. During the 2011 session, the Legislature passed a law allowing employees to store concealed handguns in their vehicles on employer property except in cases where prohibited by federal or state law.

According to the attorney general’s opinion, Section 30.06 of the Texas penal code — which allows employers to post notices restricting handguns or other firearms on the premises — does not supersede the state law that protects concealed handgun license holders.

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Opening arguments begin today in a school finance lawsuit pitting about 600 school districts, including the Austin Independent School District, against the State of Texas. The legal battle could reshape how money is distributed to classrooms.

The way schools are currently funded in Texas is an intensely complicated set of mathematical formulas that even experts sometimes struggle with. Without wading too deeply into the Texas Education Code, here’s what you need to know about the school finance lawsuit getting started today:

The Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional because it discriminates against same-sex couples, a second federal appeals court has ruled.

NPR's Joel Rose reports that it took the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York less than a month to come to its decision. As he tells our Newscast Desk:

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The first day of autumn is still a few days away but Central Texas is already enjoying more fall-like temperatures thanks to a weak cold front. Here's a look at today's morning headlines:

Appeals Court to Review Immigration Housing Law

The 5th Circuit US Court of appeals is set to review a proposed law that would ban illegal immigrants from renting homes in Farmer’s Branch, a suburb of Dallas.

The law requires that all renters in Farmer’s Branch fill out paperwork proving their immigration status.  Illegal immigrants could be denied housing or be evicted from their current home. Under the law, landlords who knowingly continue rent to illegal immigrants would be subject to fines and revocation of their renter’s license.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund sued the city to prevent the law from being enforced. A district court ruled that the law was unconstitutional on the grounds that regulating immigration law is a federal prerogative.  A three-judge panel from the US 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s decision in March. The full membership of the court will review the earlier decision today.

Huston-Tillotson Gets Nearly $2 Million Grant

Huston-Tillotson University in Austin is getting more than $1.9 million in federal funding.

There's been lots of talk about how the Supreme Court's landmark decision to uphold the health care law could affect the federal Medicaid program and President Obama's political standing. But days after the historic ruling, lawyers say they're still teasing out the consequences for other key areas of the law — including civil rights.

At first blush, it might seem odd that a case about the Affordable Care Act would send civil rights experts scrambling back to their law books.

mirsasha via flickr

A former psychiatrist at the Austin State Hospital has been indicted on multiple felony charges, including child sexual assault, according to reports.

The Austin American-Statesman writes that Charles Fisher, who was fired from the facility last year amid charges he sexually abused two teen patients in 2003 and 2006, has been accused of abusing a total of five patients over a similar time period, from 2001 to 2005.

United States Marshals Service

Texas financier Allen Stanford was sentenced to 110 years in prison today, reports Agence France Presse.

Stanford was recently convicted on several charges, including fraud, after prosecutors proved he was running a Ponzi scheme with his Stanford International Bank:

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

Michael Morton has experienced a harrowing, remarkable journey .

Morton served 25 years in a Texas prison, convicted of the murder of his wife in 1987. It wasn’t until 2011 that DNA testing, unavailable at the time of his conviction, proved the innocence he had long maintained.

Morton came to the KUT studios yesterday for an extended interview covering his time in prison, the justice system and wrongful convictions. (An Austin resident before his incarceration, Morton was at UT to discuss the latter topic that day.)

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