Supreme Court to Review Non-Unanimous Jury Verdicts

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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Trying to pay people wrongly accused of fraud in Michigan ... An ongoing petrochemical fire in Texas ... Books and the mayor in Baltimore.

Months after voters overturned an unusual part of Louisiana’s constitution that allowed non-unanimous juries to convict people of felony crimes, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear a case challenging split verdicts. The case brought by a man convicted of murder by a 10-2 jury decision in New Orleans has the potential to overturn verdicts in both Louisiana and Oregon, the only two states that haven’t required unanimous decisions by jurors. “Thousands of final convictions in these two states could be upset” if the high court threw out split verdicts and made the decision retroactive, Louisiana’s attorney general argued in a brief. AG Jeff Landry and Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro urged the court not to take the case, saying the recent decision by voters last November to mandate that all juries be unanimous—leaving only Oregon without this requirement—made the case “less worthy” of the high court’s attention. But attorneys representing Evangelisto Ramos said the opposite was true, noting that the new jury rule only applies to offenses committed starting this January. That means their client, convicted in 2016 and sentenced to life in prison, doesn’t benefit from the move to unanimous juries. Ramos’ lawyers also highlighted that Louisiana lawmakers first adopted the jury rule in 1898 at a constitutional convention, “where the entire point of the Convention was to limit African-American participation in the democratic process and to ‘perpetuate the supremacy of the Anglo-Saxon race in Louisiana.’” The Advocate newspaper, which ran a series about practice, including looking at its racist roots, noted that the Supreme Court’s decision was a turnabout for the court, as justices had declined to hear around two dozen similar cases over the past 10 years. [Supreme Court; The Advocate]

STATE MISTAKE | Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel said they urge about 500 state residents wrongly accused of unemployment fraud between 2013 and 2015 to come forward to claim money owned by the state. “We are making sure we explore every avenue to return funds to each person owed monies resulting from unemployment insurance fraud determinations between 2013 and 2015. And that means reaching out to our fellow Michiganders to help us in this statewide search for those who have not yet claimed their refund,” Whitmer said in a statement. [MLIVE.com]

LANDSLIDES | Cincinnati council members are urging the city to figure out how to curb landslides on Columbia Parkway, a major thoroughfare in the city that has been regularly closed by this problem. One recent prediction is that any fix, such as a new retaining wall, could cost $10 million, while experts warn that the problem could get worse with warming temperatures due to climate change. [The Enquirer]

PLANT FIRE | Local and state officials say a petrochemical plant fire in Harris County, Texas isn’t creating hazardous air quality conditions. But the fire could continue burning for two more days. Emergency crews have been responding since Sunday. [Houston Chronicle]

STORED BOOKS | Baltimore school officials confirmed to the Baltimore Sun Monday that almost 9,000 books written by Mayor Catherine Pugh and donated to the schools are sitting untouched in a warehouse. Pugh had a $500,000 business relationship with the University of Maryland Medical System for 100,000 self-published children’s books since 2011, during which time she sat on the system’s board—which has been criticized for doing business with board members. The newspaper has reported that Pugh didn’t disclose the payments on disclosure forms when she was a state senator. In a statement, Pugh said it had been “an honor” to be part of the board’s work, but added that she has “many other pressing concerns that require my full attention, energy and efforts.” [Baltimore Sun]

Laura Maggi is Managing Editor of Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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