Colorado City Settles ‘Debtors Prison’ Case

Nicole Beemsterboer/NPR

Nicole Beemsterboer/NPR

You can add Colorado Springs, Colo., to the list of American cities learning that turning “civil” cases like traffic tickets into jail-time cases might be illegal. National Public Radio did a deep-dive into the situation this week, offering the context that “… debtors’ prisons have long been illegal in the United States. But many courts across the country still send people to jail when they can’t pay their court fines. Last year, the Justice Department stepped in to stop the practice in Ferguson, Mo. And now, in a first, a U.S. city will pay out thousands of dollars to people who were wrongly sent to jail.”

The NPR story said that Colorado Springs and the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado announced “… a settlement that will end the practice of jailing people too poor to pay their court fines. The city will even give payouts to people who were incorrectly sent to jail. Last year, the ACLU of Colorado discovered nearly 800 cases where people had gone to jail in Colorado Springs when they couldn’t pay their tickets for minor violations. Most of the people were homeless — and they were ticketed for things such as panhandling or sleeping in a park overnight. The settlement calls for people to receive $125 for each day they were in jail. One man featured in the story, illegally jailed after being fined for holding up a sign at roadside, will receive some $11,000.

NPR quoted ACLU attorney Mark Silverstein explaining that “… putting people in jail when they can’t pay their fines — without giving them alternative options such as community service — has been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court” and also cited their previous work on the issue: An NPR investigative series in 2014 found the practice is widespread across the country. “The law is supposed to treat us equally,” Silverstein says. “So when people with means can simply pay a fine and move on and then the poor get sentenced to jail, because they’re poor, that’s a two-tiered system of justice that violates the principle of equal protection of the laws.”

That previous NPR investigation, which is truly alarming, noted that “… one of the first instances NPR found of fees charged to criminal defendants was in 1965 when California required payments to reimburse crime victims. By the 1980s, states started billing criminal defendants to reimburse taxpayers. Michigan, in 1984, passed the first law to charge inmates for some of the costs of their incarceration. By 1990, Texas reported that fees from offenders made up more than half the budget of the state’s probation agencies.” California now can charge people for their jail stays, public defender costs and other fees, as can 48 other states.

Read the Colorado Springs story here:

Colorado Springs Will Stop Jailing People Too Poor To Pay Court Fines

Conn. Takes Steps Toward ‘Civil Gideon’ Momentum

GavelFor some time, Connecticut Bar Association President William Clendenen Jr. has focused on the “justice gap” facing low and moderate income residents facing serious legal issues. So it’s no surprise that the state’s bar association, via its regular publication, is endorsing an effort by Democratic state Sen. Martin Looney to create a “Civil Gideon” task force, an important step if the state is ever going to address the issue.

Looney, who is the Senate president, has introduced a bill that would create a wide-ranging group to “… recommend the best ways to address the legal needs of the increasing number of people compelled to represent themselves when facing serious civil legal problems,” explains a piece in the Connecticut Law Tribune.

The CLT backgrounds that: “… [aid groups] are able to accept only a fraction of requests for assistance from eligible applicants. Those with modest incomes who do not qualify for free legal services are finding it increasingly difficult to afford market-rate legal fees. As a consequence, thousands of individuals and families face eviction and foreclosure notices, child custody proceedings, domestic violence hearings and other legal challenges involving basic human rights and interests without the support of legal advocates. Last year, nearly a quarter of all civil cases in Connecticut had one or more self-represented litigants. In family cases, the number rose to 85 percent.”

Eight of ten in family court. Wow! Read more here:

‘Civil Gideon’ Task Force Would Be an Important First Step

Court Budgets Ravaged in CT

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is also seeking to eliminate $50 million in a new sales-tax, revenue-sharing plan with cities and towns, while Democrats are battling to keep enough funding to ensure that property taxes on cars are cut in high-tax cities like Hartford and New Britain. (Michael Dwyer / AP)

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is also seeking to eliminate $50 million in a new sales-tax, revenue-sharing plan with cities and towns, while Democrats are battling to keep enough funding to ensure that property taxes on cars are cut in high-tax cities like Hartford and New Britain. (Michael Dwyer / AP)

We reported earlier this week that Arizona’s courts are in a political fight right now, but across the country in Connecticut, the judicial system is bracing for impact.

The Hartford Courant reports, “…more than 600 workers could be laid off in the judicial branch if Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s latest budget proposal is approved, officials said. Of those, 110 workers will receive layoff notices Thursday as the courts prepare for a worst-case scenario of “widespread courthouse closings and consolidations,” officials said.”

We have seen in a variety of other locations that courthouse closings often disproportionately impact access of justice for low income people. The Chief Court Administrator wrote a letter to the Governor this week decrying the cuts, saying “This reduction is both unprecedented and catastrophic in its consequences.”

Whether these cuts will take root – or whether low income people will be impacted – remains to be seen. We’ll be following the story along, and you can do so here at the Hartford Courant.

California Mourns the Loss of A Judicial Giant, Richard Mosk

The California Courts lost another great judge this week. Richard M. Mosk served on the California Court of Appeal, but was renowned for a career that spanned three decades of public service working on a host of high profile commissions.

While serving on the Warren Commission, Mosk had the rather unique task of directly investigating the background of Lee Harvey Oswald.

The LA Times reports: “He firmly believed that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman,” said Matthew Mosk, his son and an ABC News producer. “He did not want to see history distorted by conspiracy theories.”

Mosk also served on Iran-US Claims Tribunal at The Hague. The Tribunal was created following the hostage crisis to resolve issues between the two countries.

The Times reports, “Richard Mosk also served on the Christopher Commission — which investigated the LAPD in the wake of the Rodney King beating — the Los Angeles Board of Inquiry on Brush Fires, the Los Angeles Commission on Judicial Procedures, the L.A. County Law Library board and the Stanford Athletic Board. He also was on the boards of the California Museum of Science and Industry and Town Hall California.”

At CCM, we send our deepest condolences to his family and friends who are mourning his passing, and we salute a long-standing public servant of the California Courts

Deep-Dive Story Outlines Lawsuits, Pesticide Issues For Marijuana

Why don’t we have much data on how much pesticide weed smokers are being exposed to and what effects that exposure might be having on them? Photo Credit, Slate report, 4/20/16

Why don’t we have much data on how much pesticide weed smokers are being exposed to and what effects that exposure might be having on them? Photo Credit, Slate report, 4/20/16

It turns out that marijuana consumer seek the same “organic” and pesticide-free products that consumers seek in other agricultural products. The Slate magazine website has published a deep-dive into some of the legal and consumer issues facing the fast-growing legal marijuana business, including how the gap between federal and state laws can create an odd lack of health studies and other efforts. In particular, the piece looks at how pesticides impact pot products.

Says the Slate story of pesticides: “… this is an issue that consumers are becoming increasingly aware of, thanks to a series of recalls, lawsuits, and front-page exposes that have highlighted the gravity of a growing pesticide problem in the pot world. In the past year, Colorado has made 19 recalls of pot products after quarantining more than 100,000 plants that regulators feared had been treated with unapproved pesticides. In June, the Oregonian found abnormally high levels of pesticides on nearly half of the pot products sold in state dispensaries. Those pesticides included a common roach killer, half a dozen human carcinogens, and a fungicide that allegedly turned into hydrogen cyanide when heated. This March, the Emerald Cup (an outdoor cannabis competition) announced that it would tighten its contamination rules after a large percentage of entrants failed pesticide tests.”

Read the piece here: http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2016/04/there_s_a_clean_natural_weed_movement_but_it_can_t_call_itself_organic_here.html

Public School Must Pay $3 Million For Denying Space To Charter

Los Angeles Unified School District students Alexandria Marek, 8, right, and Kerala Seth, 4, left, protested the district’s cuts to the high-profile Mandarin Immersion Program at Venice’s Broadway Elementary school in March. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles Unified School District students Alexandria Marek, 8, right, and Kerala Seth, 4, left, protested the district’s cuts to the high-profile Mandarin Immersion Program at Venice’s Broadway Elementary school in March. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles public schools have been ordered to pay $7.1 million to a San Fernando Valley charter school because the system failed to provide free classroom space, a violation of California law. As part of what amounts to one of the nation’s biggest charter school experiments, the Golden State requires public schools to help with charters, which are paid for with public funds but are managed independently. Litigation has been a byproduct.

The Los Angles Times reported that “… arbitrator John Zebrowski said that the district’s failure to comply with the law harmed children attending the charter during those [three] years because it forced the school to use some money intended for educational programs to lease a building. Zebrowski said students were further harmed because the building leased by the charter was inferior to what it would have received from L.A. Unified.”

Ivy Academia, with about 1,100 students, reportedly spent $3 million on rent and other costs from 2007-10, but the arbitrator said L.A. Unified should be on the hook for more money because he believed the property denied to the charter had a higher value. The LAT also noted that “the district must also pay the charter $650,000 in attorneys’ fees.”

Read the Times’ story here: Charter school awarded $7.1 million in case against LAUSD

Magazine Explains Why All Those Educations Cases Happen

See you in court. (Monica Almeida, Pool/AP Photo)

See you in court. (Monica Almeida, Pool/AP Photo)

U.S. News and World Report has a new opinion piece from Andrew Rotherham, a cofounder and partner at the non-profit Bellwether Education Partners, about why so much of education reform ends up in the courtroom. After outlining several high-profile cases, he explains that “… on the courthouse steps you can say pretty much whatever you want. Inside the courtroom, there are rules and process. Clever and fiery sound bites from a press conference will get you in trouble in front of a judge. If the evidence is on your side, the courtroom is often more fertile ground than the political arena.”

He also notes that “… it’s remarkable how many issues that are generally settled in terms of the research evidence remain incredibly live political debates. Courtrooms mitigate the problem.”

It’s a really solid good “think piece” and you can find it here.

Florida Court District Says Divorce Hearing Can Take A Year

Courts nationwide are facing serious rationing, but a Tampa-area regional justice system is offering some details of its crisis. The info came as county commissioners are debating new facilities. But the area’s chief judge says that won’t help much because “… we can build additional courtrooms but nothing’s going to happen unless we have more judges to oversee them… we haven’t had a new judge in 10 years. Get the (state) Legislature to give us more judges.”

At issue is Florida’s 6th Judicial Circuit, which serves fast-goring Pasco and Pinellas counties The Tampa Bay Tribune explained that the district is “Florida’s third-largest court system. It has 69 judges to oversee all criminal, civil, appellate, family, traffic and small claims court cases. There are seven county court judges and 13 circuit judges assigned to handle cases at the New Port Richey and Dade City courthouses. In 2013 — the most recent figures available — those 20 Pasco County judges handled 24,069 circuit court cases and 41,733 county court cases. And the caseload keeps growing.”

One judge told county officials that it takes a year just to get a hearing on a divorce case

See more at the Tampa Tribune. 

Supreme Court’s Immigration Case Sparking Nationwide Protests

 Protesters opposed to President Obama's executive actions on DACA and DAPA rally in front of San Bernardino City Hall.  (Herald News photo by Alejandro Cano)


Protesters opposed to President Obama’s executive actions on DACA and DAPA rally in front of San Bernardino City Hall. (Herald News photo by Alejandro Cano)

It’s a long way from Washington, D.C., to the Inland Empire section of California near Los Angeles. But immigration activists there are taking to streets, along with other demonstrations across the United States, to encourage the U.S. Supreme Court to side with President Obama over his sweeping immigration reforms.

The Fontana Herald-News backgrounded that “… the Supreme Court on April 18 began hearing oral arguments on President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration that would shield more than 4 million undocumented residents from deportation. Five out of eight votes are needed for the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) to go forward; however, the Court seemed divided 4-4 along conservative and liberal lines.”

Five out of eight votes are needed for the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) to go forward; however, the Court seemed divided 4-4 along conservative and liberal lines. Transcripts from oral arguments indicated that while Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito worried about the language of Obama’s decrees, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted the humanitarian side of the actions.

The Herald-News says that “… the division could be seen in the streets of the nation, including the Inland Empire, where two opposing groups rallied in Riverside and San Bernardino that day.”
Read the solidly reported story here: http://www.fontanaheraldnews.com/news/supreme-court-hears-oral-arguments-on-immigration-case-protesters-rally/article_e51d93c6-073b-11e6-8f1d-377d69ce8da9.html

VICE: Pot History Made, Patent Granted For Plants, Litigation Sure To Follow

A marijuana grow operation in Colorado. (Photo via Pixabay)

A marijuana grow operation in Colorado. (Photo via Pixabay)

VICE has a deep-dive story about a history-making patent, granted last fall, for a very specific marijuana plant and its resulting THC content. It’s the first of its kind, but experts predict it represents a first step toward litigation. Says VICE: “… Patent No. 9095554 may be the opening salvo in a new series of legal battles over innovations in marijuana breeding [and] the prize could be nothing less than the commanding heights of an industry that’s projected to soon top $40 billion, with the exclusive rights to produce, sell, or license designer varieties of pot. Over the next few years, the contest could take the form of a gold rush for patents.

The excellent report includes comments from Reggie Gaudino, a Ph.D. in molecular genetics who works as director of intellectual property for Steep Hill Labs, a US firm that analyzes medical and recreational marijuana for compliance with public safety standards, who explains that “… a well-written patent is like a declaration of war — you write a patent in a way that covers those who can sue you, and those you can sue.”

And there’s this: Many small pot farmers are more scared of corporate competition than they are of criminal prosecution, according to Hilary Bricken, a Seattle lawyer who chairs the Canna Law Group of the firm Harris Moure, which supports marijuana businesses. “These people aren’t worried about the Department of Justice anymore,” said Bricken, who has represented cannabis enterprises in commercial litigation and has consulted on intellectual property issues. “Now they’re worried about Monsanto.”

As usual, VICE is a step ahead of most everyone else. Read the report here: A Patent for Cannabis Plants Is Already a Reality — and More Are Expected to Follow | VICE News