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Supreme Court hears arguments in Philippines assets, right to counsel cases

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [transcript, PDF] Monday in Philippines v. Pimentel [LII case backgrounder; ABA merit briefs], 06-1204 [docket], where the Court considered whether some 9,000 plaintiffs seeking to recover assets held by former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos [official profile] can be awarded assets claimed by the government of the Philippines. The Republic of the Philippines and the Philippine Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) [official website] claim ownership of funds improperly moved out of the Philippines by Marcos and invested with US investment bank Merrill Lynch, as does Mariano Pimentel, the representative of a class of 9,539 people holding an unsatisfied human rights judgment [opinion] against Marcos' estate. In 2000, the Philippines asked Merrill Lynch to transfer the funds in question to the Philippine National Bank. Merrill Lynch initiated the interpleader action to settle ownership of the funds, listing the Philippines, PCGG, and Pimentel, among others, as claimants. The Philippines and PCGG asserted their sovereign immunity from the suit and moved to dismiss the entire action, arguing that they are indispensable parties under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19(b) [text]. The Supreme Court is considering "Whether a foreign government that is a 'necessary' party to a lawsuit under Rule 19(a) and has successfully asserted sovereign immunity is, under Rule 19(b), an 'indispensable' party to an action brought in the courts of the United States to settle ownership of assets claimed by that government." Several justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts, seemed sympathetic to the group trying to enforce the judgment against Marcos' estate, but other justices, including Justice Antonin Scalia, suggested that arguments that the situation is "unfair" to Marcos' victims were ineffective as the sovereign immunity doctrine "always has unfairness." AP has more.

The Court also heard arguments [transcript, PDF] Monday in Rothgery v. Gillespie County [LII case backgrounder; merit briefs], 07-440, [docket], a Sixth Amendment case in which the Court is considering whether the right to counsel of a person arrested without a warrant is triggered by his initial appearance before a magistrate and prior to the filing of a criminal indictment against him.

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