Lawyers Fight Bail Inequality By Filing More, Smaller Cases

The New York Times has a story about how some lawyers are battling bail inequality by filing small-town lawsuits, forcing policy changes one town at a time – but hoping to spark wider reforms. The NYT reports that there are many cases that illustrate the problem among the nation’s 15,000 trial courts, and both local and national groups are “… waging a guerrilla campaign to reverse what they consider unconstitutional but widespread practices that penalize the poor. These include jail time for failure to pay fines, cash and property seizure in the absence of criminal charges, and the failure to provide competent lawyers.”
This story is part of a significant trend toward reforming that limbo where “civil” cases, like fines and potential property seizure, evolve into situations where people can be arrested. Read it here: Court by Court, Lawyers Fight Policies That Fall Heavily on the Poor.

Bi-Partisan Trials Allege Corruption In New York

You have to admit that two looming corruption trials in New York are at least bi-partsan. One will be of a Democrat, New York’s former Assembly Speaker, Sheldon Silver (slated to begin Nov. 2) and another is of a Republican, former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, two weeks later. The Wall Street Journal says the trials are “.. set to expose the inner workings of a cast of characters that stretches from the state capital to Nassau County to Columbia University, and to some of the country’s biggest law and real-estate firms.”
Both men, charged in totally separate cases, are both charged with schemes in which they are alleged to have used their public offices for personal gain. Silver is accused of raking in millions in civil court-related referrals as part of a process where he pushed state money to a clinic in return for that clinic sending asbestos-cancer victims to his law firm, which has not been accused of doing anything wrong.
It will be the stuff of New York litigation legend. See the WSJ coverage here: Albany Braces for Corruption Trials

New Delays Loom As Court Interpreters Seek New Deal

Less than 15 percent of U.S. Immigration Court proceedings are conducted entirely in English, meaning that interpreters are vital to getting things done. Now, already facing more than 450,000 cases backlogged for years, the immigration justice system may lose many of those language assets. BuzzFeed News is reporting that “… interpreters across the country are refusing to sign on to a new contract to service U.S. immigration courts, citing what they call unacceptably low pay and poor working conditions.
The background in the report: “Immigration courts are part of the executive branch and administered by the Department of Justice. DoJ uses a combination of 67 staff and 1,650 freelance interpreters to ensure that immigrants facing deportation understand the proceedings against them. In July, the Justice Department switched contractors, awarding a new contract for more than $12 million annually to SOSi, according to a database of federal contracts. The contract can be extended five years for a total of about $58 million.
“The contract was initially slated to kick in on September 21, according to DOJ. However, emails to the interpreters from from Lionbridge, the company that currently holds the contract, state that the switch had been deferred to November. Interpreters around the country refused to agree to SOSi’s terms under the new contract because of low pay and ungenerous travel reimbursement and cancellation policies, according to several interpreters interviewed by BuzzFeed News. Because the interpreters are organizing informally, the precise number refusing to sign on is unclear. However, two interpreters in different regions told BuzzFeed News they were each in direct contact with more than 100 interpreters who had refused. On any given day, there are about 300 contract interpreters working for the immigration courts, according to a spokesperson for the courts. That means that about a third of interpreters could be unavailable once the new contract kicks in.”

CNN Notes FBI Director Blaming ‘Ferguson Effect’ For Crime Increase

Has a “chilling effect” on police activity, sparked by increased scrutiny by cellphone cameras and media attention in the wake of Ferguson, Mo. controversy, caused an uptick in crime? That’s a theory apparently getting traction with FBI Director James Comey, who CNN reports “… has thrown his weight behind the idea that restraint by cops in the wake of criticism is at least partly to blame for a surge in violent crime in some cities.”
The important CNN report outlines that violent crime is actually at historic lows but certainly has increased when compared year-to-year in some cities. The report also notes that the increase comes just as various political factions seem to agree that reduced criminalization and incarceration rates should be a civic goal.

Big Asbestos-Related Trial Set For Nov. 2

The federal corruption trial of a former New York State Assembly Speaker is set to begin Nov. 2 with authorities saying that the eventual jury might see up to 1,500 exhibits. The case has asbestos litigation ties because the defendant, Sheldon Silver, is accused of funneling state government money to a particular mesothelioma clinic that then sent cancer victims to his law firm.
Prosecutors say Silver made millions off the scheme. 
The Wall Street Journal reported that, “… during the [pre-trial] conference in Manhattan federal court, prosecutors from the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office also said they planned to call as a witness Robert Taub, who headed a Columbia University center for mesothelioma research.” 
Read an overview of the case here: Sheldon Silver Trial Set to Begin Nov. 2

First Product Liability Lawsuit May Challenge Marijuana Industry Growth

The LA Times Reports, "The list of ingredients on a LivWell container includes pesticides. The company says they are safe. (AAron Ontiveroz / Denver Post)" in its 10/8/15 "A first for the marijuana industry: A product liability lawsuit" article.

The LA Times Reports, “The list of ingredients on a LivWell container includes pesticides. The company says they are safe. (Aaron Ontiveroz / Denver Post)” in its 10/8/15 “A first for the marijuana industry: A product liability lawsuit” article.

You knew this was just a matter of time. A legal-marijuana user has filed a product liability lawsuit against a cannabis company alleging use of harmful substances in their production process.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the attorney representing the 24-year-old medical  marijuana user is seeking “class action” status for the litigation and expects more clients to join the lawsuit.

NY Times Opinion Piece Makes ‘Civil Gideon’ Argument

Image published as part of a New York Times OpEd, "How to Fight Homelessness" published 10/19.

Image published as part of a New York Times OpEd, “How to Fight Homelessness” published 10/19.

A New York Times op-ed piece by a NY City Council member and a homeless advocate is making the case for legal representation for some civil cases. It is an argument about reducing the homeless population. They note that something like 80 percent of people facing eviction remain in their home if they have an attorney. They say that the advantage of legal representation is such that some landlords just don’t bother following through if the tenant has an attorney.
Council Member Mark D. Levine, representing the city’s Seventh District and Mary Brosnahan, who is  president and chief executive of the Coalition for the Homeless, continue making a financial argument: “It costs about $2,500 to provide a tenant with an attorney for an eviction proceeding, while we spend on average over $45,000 to shelter a homeless family.”
Read their argument here: How to Fight Homelessness

Google Wins Appeal Decision On Scanning Copyrighted Books

Google has won an appeals decision on its controversial book-scanning practice. New York based U.S. Circuit Court Judge Denny Chin ruled that the practice is “transformative” and does not violate copyright. The Google case hinges on not making the books totally available online. Rather, it allows the material to be searched and provides “snippets.” Thus, the argument goes, the practice is protected by the same “fair use” provisions that allow a book reviewer to use snippets in their reports.
NPR’s report on the decision notes that “… Google began scanning books back in 2004. Many of the works were by living authors. The Authors Guild took legal action against Google, demanding $750 for each book it scanned. Google estimated that it would have cost the company $3 billion.” Google also predicts the service could make older and out-of-print books more relevant.
An appeal to the U.S. Supreme court is promised by the authors and others seeking to protect their work. They argue that, because Google sells ads next to those “snippets” of books, it profits from their work without compensating the copyright holders. See the NPR report here: Judge: Google’s Book Copying Doesn’t Violate Copyright Law

Texas To Rule On Civil Fees Issue

The Texas Supreme Court is expected to hear a case this week that might clarify when local courts can force poor plaintiffs to pay fees. The Texas Tribune news website explains that”… in 2012, six plaintiffs from Tarrant County sued the local district court clerk for charging them court fees even after they filed affidavits of their indigent status — also known as ‘pauper petitions’ — when they filed for divorce. But the clerk says final divorce decrees require that each party pay its share of the court costs.” 
The Tribune report also placed the issue in some context: “… court costs and fines surfaced as one of the more pressing criminal justice issues in the aftermath of the police shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. While a grand jury cleared the officer, Darren Wilson, of criminal wrongdoing, a subsequent U.S. Department of Justice report revealed how the police department in Ferguson wrote more tickets for mostly poor African Americans than any other ethnic group. Following the shooting of Brown, federal investigators found that Ferguson relied on municipal ticketing and fines as a revenue generator for the city’s budget.”

NY Mayor Predicts Legal Right To Civil Lawyers

The Wall Street Journal reported (9/29/15) that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio sees "a day not too far away when indigent defendants have a legal right to a lawyer in civil cases."

The Wall Street Journal reported (9/29/15) that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio sees “a day not too far away when indigent defendants have a legal right to a lawyer in civil cases.”

He admits that local jurisdictions will need federal help to make it happen, but New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is predicting that he can “see the day” when indigent defendants have a legal right to a lawyer in civil cases. The mayor was speaking at one of  a series of hearings led by New York’s chief appeals judge on the topic of civil legal services. His comments illustrate that New York continues to lead the nation in providing civil attorneys for life-changing cases like eviction and child custody disputes.
The Wall Street Journal is among those reporting on the civil Gideon effort, backgrounding that “… in the landmark 1963 case Gideon v. Wainwright, the Supreme Court recognized an indigent defendant’s right to an attorney in a criminal trial. But the high court has never extended the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of counsel to civil cases. The story quotes New York State Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who has led the conversation: “We are talking about the necessities, or essentials, of life… we mean the roof over someone’s head, we mean their physical safety, their livelihoods, the well-being of their families, entitlement issues.”