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The Alaska Supreme Court on Friday rejected as unconstitutional former Gov. Bill Walker’s proposal to use bonding to pay Alaska’s oil and gas tax credit obligations. The court, in a written ruling, said the plan, which was approved by the Legislature in 2018, is “unconstitutional in its entirety.”

The bill passed by lawmakers approved the creation of a state corporation that would be empowered to sell up to $1 billion in bonds to pay off remaining tax credit obligations. The Legislature previously voted to end the tax credit program geared toward small producers and developers, saying that the program had become unaffordable.

The state constitution limits the power to incur state debt. But a 2018 legal opinion by then-Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth said the proposed bonds would not be considered state debt subject to the constitutional restraints because they would be “subject-to-appropriation” bonds and contingent upon annual legislative appropriation decisions.

Superior Court Judge Jude Pate dismissed the lawsuit brought by resident Eric Forrer, who had challenged the bonding plan. Forrer appealed.

The Alaska Supreme Court, in its decision, said subject-to-appropriation bonds are “contrary to the plain text of the Alaska Constitution and the framers' intent.”

“If the State intends to utilize financing schemes similar to HB 331 in the future, it must first seek approval from the people ? if not through a bond referendum then through a constitutional amendment,” the opinion states. HB 331 refers to the bonding bill.

Joe Geldhof, an attorney for Forrer, said “the real winner here" is Alaska's constitution and the citizens of the state who won't incur “needless debt based on a scheme.”

Gov. Mike Dunleavy's office, in a statement, said the departments of Revenue and Law are reviewing the decision to understand its impacts.





New Orleans City Council President Jason Williams and an attorney in his law firm pleaded not guilty to federal tax fraud charges on Friday.

Williams, 47, and Nicole Burdett, 39, appeared remotely before a federal magistrate judge and entered their pleas to charges of conspiracy, preparing false or fraudulent tax returns and failing to file tax forms related to cash received, news outlets reported.

The two were charged in an 11-count indictment  last month following a yearslong investigation led by the Internal Revenue Service and the FBI.

Williams, a criminal defense lawyer, was accused of inflating his business expenses from 2013 to 2017 in order to reduce his tax liability by more than $200,000, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Louisiana. The indictment also alleged Williams and Burdett, an attorney in Williams’ law office who also handled administrative duties, failed to file the proper reports on cash payments from clients totaling $66,516.

Williams’ attorney, Billy Gibbens, has contended his client was just following the advice of his tax preparer, saying the accountant made the errors on his own, according to The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate. Michael Magner, an attorney for Burdett, also said his client was innocent and did not have any role in the tax decisions.

Williams and Gibbens raised questions about the timing of the indictment as Williams prepares to challenge Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro for the top prosecuting role. The campaign qualifying period for the Nov. 3 election is set to end July 24. Williams has said he still plans to run for the seat, according to The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate.  A preliminary trial date for the case was set for Sept. 14.



Big Oil lost a pair of court battles Tuesday that could lead to trials in lawsuits by California cities and counties seeking damages for the impact of climate change.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected arguments by energy companies and ruled state courts are the proper forum for lawsuits alleging producers promoted petroleum as environmentally responsible when they knew it was contributing to drought, wildfires, and sea level rise associated with global warming.

The lawsuits claim Chevron, Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, BP, Royal Dutch Shell and other companies created a public nuisance and should pay for damage from climate change and help build sea walls and other infrastructure to protect against future impact ? construction that could cost tens of billions of dollars.

The ruling overturned a decision by one federal judge, who had tossed out lawsuits brought by the cities of San Francisco and Oakland.

“It is time for these companies to pay their fair share,” San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement applauding the ruling. “They should not be able to stick taxpayers with the bill for the damage they knew they were causing. We will continue to hold these companies accountable for their decades-long campaign of public deception about climate change and its consequences.”

While the rulings were victories for the coastal counties and cities ? all in the San Francisco Bay Area except for the tiny city of Imperial Beach in San Diego County ? and cheered by environmental groups, it could take years before they ever get to a jury, if they make it that far.




The Wisconsin Supreme Court announced Friday that it will hear oral arguments early next week in a lawsuit seeking to block Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ stay-at-home order.

The justices ruled 6-1 to accept the case and scheduled oral arguments for Tuesday morning via video conference. The arguments are expected to last at least 90 minutes.

The ruling said the court will consider whether the order was really an administrative rule and whether Palm was within her rights to issue it unilaterally. Even if the order doesn’t qualify as a rule, the court said it will still weigh whether Palm exceeded her authority by “closing all ‘nonessential’ businesses, ordering all Wisconsin persons to stay home, and forbidding all “nonessential’ travel.’”

Conservatives hold a 5-2 majority on the court. Liberal Justice Rebecca Dallet cast the lone dissenting vote. The ruling didn’t include any explanation from her.

Evers initially issued the stay-at-home order in March. It was supposed to expire on April 24 but state Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm extended it until May 26 at Evers’ direction.

The order closed schools, shuttered nonessential businesses, limited the size of social gatherings and prohibits nonessential travel. The governor has said the order is designed to slow the virus’ spread, but Republicans have grown impatient with the prohibitions, saying they’re crushing the economy.

Republican legislators filed a lawsuit directly with the conservative-controlled Supreme Court last month challenging the extension. They have argued that the order is really an administrative rule, and Palm should have submitted it to the Legislature for approval before issuing it.



Polish President Andrzej Duda on Thursday appointed an acting head of the beleaguered Supreme Court following the retirement of its president, who had vehemently defended its independence.

The court under Malgorzata Gersdorf has been critical of the steps that the right-wing government is taking to put Poland’s judiciary under political control.

Gersdorf is retiring Thursday and a crowd is gathering before the Supreme Court to thank her for her role in defending the independence of Poland's judiciary and bid her farewell.

A court general assembly that should have chosen her successor has been put off until social distancing rules against the coronavirus spread are lifted.

President Andrzej Duda, who has the authority to appoint the new head of the court, appointed Judge Kamil Zaradkiewicz on Thursday to be the acting head.


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