California ICE detention center faces class-action lawsuit

Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego County is at the center of a class-action lawsuit for its treatment of detainees. Photo Credit: Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune as reported in the LA Times on 12/30/17.

Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego County is at the center of a class-action lawsuit for its treatment of detainees. Photo Credit: Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune as reported in the
LA Times
on 12/30/17.

An immigrant detention center in San Diego that’s the focus of a class-action lawsuit over detainee treatment could be poised to expand.

“Otay Mesa Detention Center holds detainees in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency responsible for those with pending cases in immigration court,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

Now, a class-action lawsuit alleges that immigrants at the center are forced to labor despite the civil status of their adjudications.

“Although work programs that pay little are common in prisons, the complaint argues that there is a legal difference for those in the immigration system,” the LA Times article notes.

Immigration court is a civil court system, not a criminal one, so people going through the immigration court system cannot be detained as punishment. And that is the crux of the legal complaint.

The class-action lawsuit, filed in late December, comes as the center seeks to expand.

On Jan. 12, Voice of San Diego reported, “The private detention center in San Diego County is looking to grow its population of detainees, despite recent California laws that halt the expansion of for-profit detention centers in the state. The Otay Mesa Detention Center, owned by the private company CoreCivic, is able to do that thanks to a deal it struck years ago.

Sara Corcoran, Founding Publisher of the California Courts Monitor

Sara Corcoran, Founding Publisher of the California Courts Monitor

Courts Monitor Publisher and national correspondent, Sara Corcoran, provides insight on what we can expect in 2018 around the controversial asbestos litigation arena. Here’s an excerpt from her recent Huffington Post article, 2018: Trump-era Justice Asked to Turn The Tables in Asbestos Litigation:

“As 2018 gains full speed, it’s time for my annual look at trends in the nation’s longest-running personal injury litigation – asbestos. You may have peripheral awareness of it due to those “if you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma” ads, but its reach is beyond those sound bites playing on loop.
Actually, asbestos lawsuits are the nation’s longest-running personal injury litigation and have driven nearly 100 companies into a special form of banktruptcy, where trust funds are set up to pay future liabilities. Those funds have become controversial and, in 2017, more than a dozen state attorneys general launched an investigation into whether asbestos trusts were skipping required payments to Medicaid or other agencies providing health care to asbestos victims. (When victims receive compensation for asbestos injuries, some of the money may be owed to repay agencies that provided health care, like Medicaid and veteran’s hospitals.)

Likely even more ominous for the plaintiff’s bar in 2018, the state AGs are asking President Trump’s Justice Department to join their investigations of the repayment issue. The letter making that ask was even noted during a U.S. Senate committee hearing.”

Read more: https://www. huffingtonpost.com/entry/2018- trump-era-justice-asked-to- turn-the-tables-in_us_ 5a4f819be4b0cd114bdb323b]

Apple iPhone slowdown spurs lawsuits

Photo image credit www.apple.com

Photo credit www.apple.com

Apple rejected claims that the company slowed down older iPhones to drive sales of newer models, even as a flurry of lawsuits hit the courts.

“Apple Inc (AAPL.O) defrauded iPhone users by slowing devices without warning to compensate for poor battery performance, according to eight lawsuits filed in various federal courts in the week since the company opened up about the year-old software change,” Reuters reported on Dec. 26.

According to the Reuters report, “All the lawsuits – filed in U.S. District Courts in California, New York and Illinois – seek class-action to represent potentially millions of iPhone owners nationwide.”

Apple wrote in a letter on its website, “First and foremost, we have never — and would never — do anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product, or degrade the user experience to drive customer upgrades. Our goal has always been to create products that our customers love, and making iPhones last as long as possible is an important part of that.”

But Apple began offering a discount on battery replacements to customers with an iPhone 6 or later. “A battery replacement will cost $29 instead of $79 starting in late January,” the Washington Post reported on Dec. 28.

According to the Post, “Critics’ arguments largely have rested on two claims — that Apple hurt the performance of the phones in secret and that doing so made it more likely that someone would buy a new iPhone rather than fix their old one.”

Apple has rejected these accusations, however, the company subsequently stated it will be a bit more transparent with future upgrades: “Early in 2018, we will issue an iOS software update with new features that give users more visibility into the health of their iPhone’s battery, so they can see for themselves if its condition is affecting performance.”

RICO law used to target marijuana businesses

herb-2915337_640An anti-mobster law, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, has emerged as a tool to fight marijuana-related businesses, including a case in Massachusetts citing “pungent odors” caused by consumption of the substance, among other negative effects.

Bloomberg reports, “While pot remains illegal under federal law, Massachusetts voters approved medical marijuana consumption in 2012 and recreational use in 2016; the latter will kick in next year. The drug is legal for at least one of the two purposes in 29 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam. But that doesn’t mean everybody wants a weed business next door. That’s why the burgeoning $6 billion marijuana business in the U.S. should view the RICO suits as serious threats, says Sean O’Connor, faculty director of the Cannabis Law and Policy Project at the University of Washington School of Law. Even if all the litigation fails, he says, ‘it could have its intended impact.’

“A lawsuit against Healthy Pharms in Cambridge, Mass., argues the company “would operate in flagrant disregard of the federal law that categorizes cannabis as a controlled substance every bit as illegal as heroin or cocaine.”

A similar lawsuit, a nearly 3-year-old suit in Colorado, is scheduled to go to trial in July, reports Marijuana Business Daily.

“This is an existential threat to the industry,” said Brian Barnes, an attorney with Cooper & Kirk law firm, according to the MBD.

Valerio Romano, an attorney for one of the Massachusetts defendants, said “the real impact of RICO suits could be to simply scare entrepreneurs into quitting the marijuana business.”

From our Publisher: Call it the “Mystery of the Missing Memo”

Sara Corcoran, Founding Publisher of the California Courts Monitor

Sara Corcoran, Founding Publisher of the California Courts Monitor

Sara Corcoran, correspondent and contributing editor, as well as founding publisher of the National Courts Monitor, is sleuthing to find a missing article about the so-called “Baron & Budd witness coaching memo,” which has gone missing from Wikipedia, where it resided for years.

Writes Sara in Huffington Post:

“The ‘Terrell memo,’ as it is also known in honor of the paralegal who is said to have written it, has been a standard and controversial document in asbestos litigation circles for at least a decade. Most recently, it was cited by a federal judge in North Carolina who found evidence of evidence suppression in a landmark bankruptcy case known as Garlock. Critics of the memo say it leads witnesses to lie; defenders say its just good legal work… The memo is also part of a current Texas civil lawsuit by Dallas journalist Christine Biederman. Earlier this year, when a Texas judge refused to unseal the testimony given by a prominent victims’ attorney named Russell Budd some 20 years ago, the journalist called it a ‘travesty.'”

Read more: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/call-it-the-mystery-of-the-missing-memo_us_5a312d74e4b04bd8793e95fd

 

No resolution expected for ‘Dreamers’ by end of year

Photo by John Gastaldo/Reuters as included in the PBS report on Dec 5, 2017.

Photo by John Gastaldo/Reuters as included in the PBS report on Dec 5, 2017.

The status of recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — commonly known as Dreamers — likely will remain in limbo until 2018, as members of Congress spar over Immigration reform and a potential government shutdown.

“Top Democratic lawmakers dismissed Tuesday a compromise bill offered by Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley that would give protections to younger illegal immigrants in exchange for long-term immigration reform,” reported the right-leaning Daily Caller in a Dec. 5 update.

“Grassley’s so-called SECURE Act would implement several policies long favored by conservative immigration reformers, most importantly the mandatory use of e-Verify and limits on family-based migration.

In return, the law would grant recipients of the now-cancelled Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program relief from deportation and work authorization for three years.” Democrats call the bill’s conservative provisions non-starters.

Grassley, in a Senate Floor statement about the SECURE Act on Dec. 5, referred to “the inherent unfairness in our nation’s immigration court and asylum adjudication systems, and how hundreds of thousands of aliens wait in backlogs for years at a time.”

The bill, he said, would “take meaningful steps to reduce immigration court and asylum adjudication backlogs by hiring more judges and personnel, limiting the number of continuances an immigrant can receive, and imposing new safeguards to combat well-documented fraud and abuse.”

Based on the tenor of talks in Congress, however, no quick solutions are expected for the court backlog.

Negotiations over immigration reform are being tied to funding of the federal government, prompting some to predict a delay in dealing with DACA.

Discussing immigration-reform negotiations, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn told reporters, “I hope our colleagues on the other side of the aisle will take our word for it as demonstrated by our good faith in making an offer to them that we do want to resolve this, but it’s not going to be before the end of this year,” according to CNN.

Others want quicker action on DACA. A group of 34 House Republicans on Tuesday asked Speaker Paul Ryan to act this month on legislation “dealing with the 800,000 young immigrants brought to the United States as children and living here illegally,” noted a PBS report. “Ryan has said he does not see a need to act before March, the deadline President Donald Trump gave Congress to find a permanent solution after he suspended the temporary protections against deportation granted by the Obama administration.”

But CNN reported, “There is a growing recognition on Capitol Hill that including immigration provisions to protect DACA recipients in the year-end spending bill could be a deal breaker for Republicans even as some Democrats in the House have threatened to vote against a spending package that doesn’t include it.”

To avert a government shutdown, the House and the Senate voted Thursday for a short-term spending bill “to keep the federal government running for another two weeks,” CNN reported.

Law Firms Eager to Solicit Victims of California Fires

Photo Credit: Jim Wilson/The New York Times as reported by the New York Times on 10/20/17.

Photo Credit: Jim Wilson/The New York Times as reported by the New York Times on 10/20/17.

Where there’s smoke, there are lawyers. From the Press Democratin Santa Rosa, Calif., comes a wry acknowledgement that the record-setting wildfires that devastated California’s wine country set the table for a legal feeding frenzy.

“After the limitless demonstrations of valor, selflessness and generosity, we now witness a flood of offers from lawyers from down the block and across the nation to advocate for victims of our greatest disaster — and for an ample share of any judgments or settlements. …” notes the article, titled “Chris Smith: First came the heroes, then the helpers, now the lawyers.”

“There are law-firm solicitations on the radio, on billboards, in newspapers, on Facebook, everywhere you look.” The article quotes Baron and Budd, a multi-state law firm, which chronicles the fire damage at its website. Baron and Budd reports, “The human costs of the recent Northern California wildfires were staggering, with 43 people losing their lives. Approximately 6,000 acres were burned and more than 8,400 structures destroyed. As a result, the dollar amount of damages could be in the billions.” The firm cites “reports that equipment owned and maintained by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) may have played a role in causing the disaster.”

The Press Democrat notes, “The eagerness of the lawyers trolling for clients is pretty clearly related to the blood in the water: the possibility that PG&E may not have adequately maintained and protected its power lines.”

In the aftermath of the fires, The New York Times on Oct. 20 noted, “Determining the causes ofthe fires could have huge financial implications in deciding who ultimately pays for the extensive damage, including almost 8,000 structures destroyed. Insurance companies will be looking to recover some of the more than $1 billion that the California insurance commissioner estimates they could end up paying out.”

Delaware Report Recommends More Funding for ‘Civil Gideon’

A Sacramento Police officer makes a traffic stop in November 2012. Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill in June to end the practice of Californians losing their driver’s license because of unpaid traffic fines. Photo Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / AP as reported by Los Angeles Times, 6/29/17.

A Sacramento Police officer makes a traffic stop in November 2012. Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill in June to end the practice of Californians losing their driver’s license because of unpaid traffic fines. Photo Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / AP as reported by Los Angeles Times, 6/29/17.

Another year brings another report about the need to improve access to civil courts for low-income residents.

A court-mandated legal commission in Delaware capped a two-year investigation this fall and issued its recommendations, agreeing the system is unfair to those in poverty.

In a 102-page report, the Delaware Access to Justice Commission urged equal justice under the law, “calling on the state Legislature, courts and law firms to divert more resources to provide poor people with legal aid, including additional hours of pro bono (without payment) representation,” according to a news report.

“The Delaware Supreme Court ordered the creation of the commission in 2014 to identify where access to justice fell short and to provide recommendations for cost-effective solutions,” reported The News Journal.

“The cost for a lawyer, which can add up to tens of thousands of dollars for civil cases, is prohibitive for most of the 123,000 people who live in poverty in the state,” commission members said. “The phenomenon also is a problem nationally where more than 40 million people live in poverty, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.”

Some states are trying to address this problem. This summer, California passed a bill ending driver’s license suspensions for unpaid court debt. Instead, courts can arrange a payment plan, a reduced payment, or community service for those who cannot afford to pay but can no longer suspend driver’s licenses for failure to pay. In Michigan, a package of bills has been introduced by the legislature that would help those with unpaid traffic debt to get their licenses back.

According to The Marshall Project, “Most of the movement on this issue began in the last two years, sparked by a Department of Justice investigation into the predatory practices of the Ferguson, Mo., municipal court. The report, issued in 2015, found that the local police and court system were run with an eye toward maximizing revenue, often on the backs of those who could least afford it.”

Proposed Immigration Court Reform Could Be ‘Death Knell’

Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at the Executive Office for Immigration Review in Falls Church, Va. Photo credit: Sait Serkan Gurbuz/AP as reported by The Washington Post, 10/12/17.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at the Executive Office for Immigration Review in Falls Church, Va. Photo credit: Sait Serkan Gurbuz/AP as reported by The Washington Post,
10/12/17.

Judicial independence would suffer under a plan by the Trump administration to streamline immigration hearings, according to the editorial staff at The Washington Post.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, speaking on Nov. 17 to the Federalist Society national lawyers convention, said the Justice Department was focused on “restoring the rule of law,” particularly in the arena of immigration law enforcement.

But in an Oct. 22 editorial, “Sessions’ plan for immigration courts would undermine their integrity,” The Post warned that a proposed quota system for immigration judges could undermine judicial independence and actually slow down adjudications.

According to reporting by The Post, government documents show that the Justice Department “intends to implement numeric performance standards to evaluate Judge performance.” Such a metric would probably involve assessing judges based on how many cases they complete or how quickly they decide them — a plan that the National Association of Immigration Judges has called a “death knell for judicial independence.…”

The Post editorialized, “As part of Mr. Sessions’s push for an overhaul of the immigration system, the department also plans to begin evaluating immigration judges on the basis of how many cases they resolve. This proposal would do little to fix the United States’ backlogged immigration courts and much to undermine their integrity.”

Congress, Trump block class-action lawsuits against banks

Richard Cordray will step down as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as reported in the New York Times, 11/15/17. Photo Credit: Andrew Mangum for The New York Times.

Richard Cordray will step down as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as reported in the New York Times, 11/15/17. Photo Credit: Andrew Mangum for The New York Times.

This month, President Trump signed a bill that blocked class-action lawsuits against banks, dismantling a rule issued by an Obama-era agency in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

Two weeks later, on Nov. 15, Richard Cordray, the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the rule’s originator, announced that he would be leaving the federal agency by the end of this month thereby “removing a major opponent to the Trump administration’s efforts to dismantle business regulations and unfetter Wall Street,” reports the New York Times.

With President Trump’s Nov. 1 bill signing, House Joint Resolution 111 became law, and lawsuits against banks faced a key legislative hurdle. The Senate voted Oct. 24 to kill the rule that, the L.A. Times reported, “would have allowed Americans to file class-action suits against banks instead of being forced in many cases into private arbitration.”

The L.A. Times noted that George Slover, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union, said that the 51-50 Senate vote “means that big financial companies can lock the courthouse doors and prevent consumers who’ve been mistreated from joining together to seek the relief they deserve under the law.”

During congressional passage in October, the White House reported that “the rule would harm our community banks and credit unions by opening the door to frivolous lawsuits by special interest trial lawyers.”