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LaRoque trial postponed again

Former state Rep. Stephen LaRoque's trial on federal fraud charges has been postponed from Feb. 12 to May 14. The postponement -- the second time the trial has been delayed -- is because new charges were filed against the Kinston Republican last month.

Federal Judge Malcolm Howard granted the request from the prosecution and defense, citing the complex nature of the case.

LaRoque, who resigned from the General Assembly after he was indicted in July, faces 10 counts, including fraud and tax offense allegations.

He is accused of enriching himself with business-stimulus money from a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan program, through non-profit entities he set up to make the loans.

Federal judge temporarily blocks Choose Life license plate

A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction Monday preventing the state from issuing "Choose Life" anti-abortion license plates while the new state law faces a legal challenge.

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina filed the lawsuit on behalf of four "pro-choice automobile owners" who contend that the license plate constitutes state-sponsored discrimination. The organization is seeking an injunction to block the plate's issuance as it nears the required 300 applications. (More on the plates here.)

U.S. District Judge James C. Foxx issued the injunction from the bench this morning, according to the ACLU.

“We are extremely pleased that the court sided with fairness today,” said Katy Parker, the group's legal director. “This case is ultimately about free speech and equal treatment for all North Carolinians, regardless of their point of view on abortion. The state should not be allowed to use its authority to promote one side of a debate while denying the same opportunity to the other side.”

The law offers no alternative to express the opposite viewpoint. Six attempts to amend the legislation to include "Respect Choice" plates or "Trust Women. Respect Choice" plates failed.

A 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in 2004 struck a similar law in South Carolina. The court's jurisdiction includes North Carolina.

But state Rep. Mitch Gillespie, the bill's sponsor, was unfazed when the legal challenge was filed. He points to rulings in other states that endorse "Choose Life" plates.

John Edwards trial set for Jan. 30

From the AP: A federal judge has set the trial of former presidential candidate John Edwards to begin Jan. 30, a week earlier than the date prosecutors and defense lawyers had sought.

U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Eagles signed an order Tuesday setting the schedule for Edwards' trial on charges of campaign finance violations at the federal courthouse in Greensboro.

Edwards is accused of asking two wealthy campaign donors to provide nearly $1 million in secret payments used to hide his pregnant mistress as he sought the Democratic Party's nomination for the White House in 2007 and 2008.

Hagan says she's recommending African-Americans for judgeships

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan's office said she has recommended African-American candidates for appointment to federal judgeships.

The state NAACP wrote an open letter to Hagan and U.S. Sen. Richard Burr a few days ago, decrying the lack of African-Americans serving as District Court judges in the state.

"With only one African American federal District Court judge presently seated, North Carolina has the least diverse bench of all states in the South," wrote the Rev. William Barber, state NAACP president.

Hagan's communications director sent this response:

"Senator Hagan recommended, and the President then nominated and appointed, two outstanding individuals - one African-American and one Hispanic-American - to the two vacancies on the critically important U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

"Senator Hagan also has recommended three highly-qualified potential nominees, two of whom are African-American, for the pending vacancy on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

"The Eastern District seat has now gone unfilled since 2005. The Senator appreciates the urgency of making an appointment and looks forward to President Obama's nomination."

Federal judge refuses to dismiss case against former Sen. John Edwards

UPDATED: A federal court judge this morning rejected efforts by former U.S.
Sen. John Edwards to dismiss charges that he violated elections laws
as a presidential candidate.

Edwards spoke briefly with the media outside the federal courthouse in Greensboro. A trial has been set for January. 

"What's important now is that I now get my day in court, after all these years I finally get my day in court," Edwards said. "What I know with complete and absolute certainty is I did not violate any campaign laws."

Read more.

---

A federal court judge in Greensboro told John Edwards, his defense team and prosecutors accusing the former presidential candidate of violating elections laws that she would have questions for them this morning as she weighs whether to throw out all or part of the case before trial.

The judge's comments capped a day of legal arguments in the case where Edwards, 58, is accused of violating campaign finance laws by secretly obtaining and using contributions from two wealthy supporters to hide his mistress and her pregnancy from the public during his unsuccessful bid for president in 2008.

Defense attorneys argued on several fronts for dismissal of the case, saying: The charges were unconstitutionally vague; no crime occurred; even if a crime had occurred, the government did not give the former senator "fair warning" that his conduct would violate campaign finance laws.

They also described the case as one driven by a politically motivated prosecutor who pursued a criminal theory that could turn campaign-finance law on its head. "Criminal laws are supposed to be written on the desks of members of Congress," defense attorney Abbe Lowell argued. "They're not supposed to be written on the desks of prosecutors."

David Harbach, a federal prosecutor, argued that the case should move to trial and that the prosecution's theory is not as complex and convoluted as the defense team argued.

Read the full report from Wednesday's hearing and see a photo gallery here.

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