Alameda County court provides links — with redactions — to settlements

Justice Marsha Slough, Associate Justice of the California Fourth District Court of Appeal, led the workgroup tasked with amending the rules of court to clarify that any settlement agreements involving judicial officers are publicly disclosable. Photo credit: California Courts website

Justice Marsha Slough, Associate Justice of the California Fourth District Court of Appeal, led the workgroup tasked with amending the rules of court to clarify that any settlement agreements involving judicial officers are publicly disclosable. Photo credit: California Courts website

The Alameda County Superior Court in California agreed to pay an employee $175,000 in a 2017 settlement. In another instance, in 2016, the court settled for $26,600 to resolve a charge of harassment.

These and other public records are available at a page on the Alameda County Superior Court website. This is the product of a rule change in the California judiciary on May 24, when the California Judicial Council revised the rules of court “to clarify that any settlement agreements involving judicial officers for which public funds were spent in payment of the settlement must be disclosed if requested, including agreements related to complaints of sexual harassment and discrimination,” the state’s judicial website reported.

The Recorder at law.com reported on June 8, “Two weeks after California’s judiciary leaders ordered more transparency in disclosing taxpayer-funded settlements of judicial wrongdoing, most courts have offered the same response: We don’t have anything to report.”

Two appellate courts — the Second and the Sixth — and more than half of the trial courts told the publication that they had no responsive records to release.

“One court, however, took a different tack,” the Recorder reported. “Alameda County Superior Court unveiled a page on its website Friday that contains links to what court officials said are all ‘documents reflecting the resolution of claims or litigation — from Jan. 1, 2010, to the present, involving the court, its employees, and/or its judicial officers.’”

The Recorder acknowledged that the blacked-out portions of the documents often left questions. “The redactions and limited information in the documents makes it unclear if the court ever paid an employee to settle claims of sexual harassment or other misconduct by a judicial officer,” the publication reported.

Judge seeks funding information in opioid-manufacturer lawsuits

Photo Credit: By richiec from Chicago, USA [CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Photo Credit: By richiec from Chicago, USA [CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

A U.S. District judge wants information about the funders behind hundreds of lawsuits against manufacturers and distributors of opioids.

The judge overseeing more than 600 lawsuits targeting opioid makers is demanding local governments’ lawyers turn over information about any litigation-funding agreements and provide assurance that lenders won’t gain control over legal strategy or settlements,” Bloomberg reported.

U.S. District Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland issued the order on May 7, “saying he wants to ensure the agreements don’t create conflicts of interest by affecting plaintiffs lawyers’ judgments in pursuing cases against opioid makers, such as Purdue Pharma LLP and Johnson & Johnson, and distributors such as McKesson Corp. and Cardinal Health Inc.”

Bloomberg explained, “He wants to know details of any lending arrangements, and he requested sworn statements from the lawyers and lenders that there won’t be any conflicts of interest and that the lenders won’t have control over strategy, advocacy or settlement decisions.”

On April 11, Reuters reported that Polster was pushing for a settlement and pursuing an aggressive schedule “that would have the first trial take place in March 2019.”

Reuters noted, “The lawsuits accuse the drugmakers of deceptively marketing opioids and allege that drug distributors ignored red flags indicating the painkillers were being diverted for improper uses. In 2016, 42,000 people died from opioid overdoses, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Fusion GPS faces RICO lawsuit from human rights activist

Photo from the Human Rights Foundation as reported in The Daily Caller on 5/22/18.

Photo from the Human Rights Foundation as reported in The Daily Caller on 5/22/18.

A self-described whistleblower is using a racketeering law, usually affiliated with prosecution of the Mafia, to sue two founders of Fusion GPS in a civil suit claiming a conspiracy of retaliation.

“A prominent human rights activist is suing two of the founders of Fusion GPS and several Venezuelan businessmen under a statute usually associated with the Mafia,” reports The Daily Caller, a conservative American news and opinion website. “Thor Halvorssen, the president of the Human Rights Foundation, claims that Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, two former Wall Street Journal reporters who founded Fusion, engaged in a conspiracy to retaliate against him for blowing the whistle on one of Fusion’s clients, a Venezuelan power plant company called Derwick Associates.”

Halvorssen filed his lawsuit under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) statute.

The Daily Caller reports, “Mostly linked to organized crime cases, RICO can also be used in civil cases against legitimate businesses. Halvorssen’s case rests on the theory that Derwick and Fusion GPS engaged in a conspiracy to intimidate a whistleblower, which Halvorssen considers himself to be because he has provided information about an alleged Derwick bribery scheme to federal authorities. …”  

Politico reported on a separate Fusion GPS controversy in January, in which Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson urged lawmakers “to look into what he said were ties between President Donald Trump and Russian money laundering.”

Fusion GPS leapt into headlines because of the firm’s dossier, compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele.

According to The Daily Caller, “Halvorssen’s suit does not mention Fusion GPS’s most infamous project: the Steele dossier.”

Halvorssen’s suit claims the two Fusion founders were hired to produce a dossier and a media campaign “to depict Halvorrsen as a pedophile, heroin addict, and embezzler of the Foundation’s money.”

Bolivian ex-heads of state convicted in U.S. civil trial

Photo Credit: AP Photo / Dado Galdieri as reported by The Nation 4/27/18.

Photo Credit: AP Photo / Dado Galdieri as reported by The Nation 4/27/18.

An April 3 guilty verdict in a civil trial in Florida marked something unique in case law: “The case marks the first time that an ex-head of state was forced to face his accusers in a US court for human-rights abuses,” reports The Nation.

“The events in the case took place 15 years ago and thousands of miles away from the US district federal courtroom in downtown Fort Lauderdale where the trial played out,” The Nation recounts. “For three weeks in March, the families of people killed by the Bolivian military during a 2003 country-wide uprising testified against former president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and his minister of defense Carlos Sánchez Berzaín.”

The landmark human-rights case stemmed from the U.S. Torture Victims Protection Act, “one of the broadest human-rights laws in the world,” The Nation explains. “The TVPA created the ability to bring cases of extrajudicial killings and torture against foreign officials when the potential remedies are exhausted in a plaintiff’s home country.”

In 2011, Bolivia’s Supreme Court found five former military officials and two former cabinet ministers guilty for their role in the 2003 killings. “After a two-and-a-half-year trial, the generals received 10- to 15-year prison sentences, and the ministers three years a piece,” the article explains.

“Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín were indicted in that case as well, but because at the time Bolivian law prohibited trials in absentia and both were residents in the US, neither was tried. US support for the two men was made explicit in 2007, when Sánchez Berzaín was granted political asylum.”

The 2003 killings happened in the midst of political protests against a natural gas pipeline project. “The coalition government of Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, popularly known as Goni, who had won his second term with the help of US Democratic Party election consultants, declared a state of siege and militarized El Alto and surrounding areas,” the article recounts. “Once the dust settled, around 60 people had been killed and over 400 wounded. …”

Internet freedom in peril from new anti-sex trafficking law

Photo credit: Vox online article, April 18, 2018, Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Photo credit: Vox online article, April 18, 2018, Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images

A new law that combats sex trafficking could indanger Internet freedom, according to the online news site, Vox.

A flurry of litigation could ensue if the warnings are true.

“The next big battle over internet freedom is here,” warns Vox in its April 23 article. “This month, Washington lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a narrow bill that seeks to crack down on sex trafficking online. To most, it seemed like a no-brainer: Sex trafficking is obviously bad. The law, however, changed Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, a 20-year-old communications law that is the basis of the free internet as we know it.”

The new legislation, signed into law on April 11 by President Trump, “opens more avenues for victims of online sex trafficking to legally pursue websites that facilitate trafficking by amending Section 230, making it easier for federal and state prosecutors and private citizens to go after platforms whose sites have been used by traffickers. …” reports Vox.

“The law creates an exception to Section 230 that means platforms would be responsible for third-party content related to sex trafficking or conduct that ‘promotes or facilitates prostitution.’”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, “the leading nonprofit organization defending civil liberties in the digital world,” described Section 230 as crucial to Internet freedom.

“Section 230 says that ‘no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider’ (47 U.S.C. § 230). In other words, online intermediaries that host or republish speech are protected against a range of laws that might otherwise be used to hold them legally responsible for what others say and do. The protected intermediaries include not only regular Internet Service Providers (ISPs), but also a range of ‘interactive computer service providers,’ including basically any online service that publishes third-party content.”

The foundation continues, “This legal and policy framework has allowed for YouTube and Vimeo users to upload their own videos, Amazon and Yelp to offer countless user reviews, craigslist to host classified ads, and Facebook and Twitter to offer social networking to hundreds of millions of Internet users.

Section 230, according to Vox, faces more threats than the new anti-sex trafficking law, “but also in light of increased scrutiny on Facebook and the advent of platforms such as Airbnb and Yelp, where third-party content is the business model.”

 

Gynecological mesh is making legal headlines

Caption should be: Photo from CBS 60 Minutes story, 5/13/18.

Photo from CBS 60 Minutes story, 5/13/18.

A strip of plastic called gynecological mesh is making legal headlines. According to CBS’ 60 Minutes, “The manufacturers and several medical societies say the implant is safe. But more than 100,000 women are suing. And together, they make up the largest multi-district litigation since asbestos. “

One of the largest manufacturers of the gynecological mesh is Boston Scientific, which has attracted 48,000 lawsuits, which claim that its mesh “can inflict life-altering pain and injury.” Read more…

California city uses GoFundMe.com for legal costs

The Go Fund Me page for the City of Los Alamitos legal defense.

The Go Fund Me page for the City of Los Alamitos legal defense.

Help with paying a dog’s veterinary bills. Funds to stage a benefit for a peanut vendor. Aid to a family recovering from a house fire. GoFundMe.com, the popular crowd-funding site, typically channels donations to individuals with specific fundraising needs.

But in California, where clashes over immigration policy continue to rage, one community has resorted to using GoFundMe.com to bankroll a legal battle involving the state and its immigration policy.

“Please help the City of Los Alamitos in our fight against Sanctuary Law and our support of the U.S. Constitution,” reads the page titled, “Mayor Edgar’s – Stop Sanctuary Law.” “Please contribute to our GoFund Me Page for the City’s legal defense. The funds will go directly to the City to pay for our legal costs.”  

The Go Fund Me page indicated that in roughly a month, $21,544 had been raised toward the city’s $100,000 goal.

A FindLaw blog reported on the larger legal dispute, noting, “The city of Los Alamitos, located in Orange County, is facing a lawsuit over a recently enacted ordinance permitting the city residents and officials to disregard the state of California’s recently passed sanctuary state law. … But, in response to the Los Alamitos law, concerned residents, through the ACLU and other groups, filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the city’s law from taking effect.”

The state law faces its own legal challenges, but city officials weren’t content to wait for that litigation to play out.

“Curiously, Los Alamitos has actually set up a GoFundMe page seeking donations to fund the litigation,” FindLaw reported. “And if you thought this curious idea was the result of some social media intern on the cutting edge, it was the town’s mayor, Troy Edgar, that launched the page.”

The L.A. Times reported in April, “Los Alamitos Mayor Troy Edgar said he could not comment on the pending lawsuit but stated that it will prompt him to focus on promoting a GoFundMe page that he launched last month to help pay for legal costs.”

Courts Monitor publisher Sara Corcoran tells the tale of legal enigma in her recent Buzzfeed article

All Roads Lead to Baron & Budd-2 copyDebating the “nature of existence” is more the stuff of college dorms (and at least one recent documentary) than state appeals courts, so the legal team for a Texas journalist seeking to open a 20-year-old deposition transcript might have been taken aback when the debate arose not from the other side, but from the bench.

At issue is a deposition by a Texas attorney named Russell Budd, part of the politically connected Dallas-based firm Barron & Budd that rose to prominence, in large part, due to successfully representing asbestos victims. The Russell Budd deposition from 20 years ago reportedly addresses a “witness coaching memo” that was as controversial then as it is now.

Courts Monitor publisher Sara Corcoran tells the tale of this legal enigma in her recent Buzzfeed article, Texas Attorney General Paxton On Point To Open Mystery Testimony.

If Supreme Court upholds President Trump’s travel ban, will it rein in district judges who have opposed it?

Photo Credit: Evan Vucci / Associated Press as reported in Los Angeles Times, 4/25/18

Photo Credit: Evan Vucci / Associated Press as reported in Los Angeles Times, 4/25/18

A travel ban that limits immigration may secure a key legal victory at the U.S. Supreme Court, based on comments from justices on April 25, a major newspaper predicts.

The L.A. Times reports, “The Supreme Court’s conservative justices sounded ready Wednesday to uphold President Trump’s travel ban, potentially giving the embattled White House a big legal victory after a series of defeats in the lower courts.”

The third version of a travel ban “bars the entry of most immigrants and travelers from Iran, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and North Korea as well as officials from Venezuela,” the L.A. Times reports.

“The justices issued a ruling in June that allowed the second version of the travel ban to take partial effect. Then, in December, with only two dissents, they set aside lower-court rulings to allow the administration to put the third version into practice, a strong indicator of where the majority was headed,” the newspaper reports.

This brings up the question about whether this ruling will override the “increasingly common practice of district judges handing down nationwide orders based on a suit brought by a handful of plaintiffs,” such as the district judge’s order in Hawaii that blocked the travel ban nationwide.

Suit spurs $6.4 million ‘revenge porn’ judgment

Elisa D’Amico, a lawyer with the Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project, as reported in the New York Times, 4/11/18. Photo credit: Jake Naughton for The New York Times.

Elisa D’Amico, a lawyer with the Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project, as reported in the New York Times, 4/11/18. Photo credit: Jake Naughton for The New York Times.

In a relatively new area of law, a major court verdict has been handed down against a perpetrator of “revenge porn.”

This phenomenon involves the distribution of sexually explicit images or video of someone without their consent. A flurry of legislation across the United States now has culminated in a $6.4 million judgment, considered one of the largest ever.

On April 11, the New York Times reported on the case, which involved a California woman and her boyfriend. They ended their relationship in 2013, but “he began to post sexual photographs and videos of her on pornography websites and to impersonate her in online dating forums, according to court documents,” the New York Times reported. “He threatened to make her life ‘so miserable she would want to kill herself.’ … In 2014, the woman, who was listed as Jane Doe in court documents to protect her identity, sued her former boyfriend, David K. Elam II, in United States District Court in California to get him to stop. Four years passed, until the court awarded her $6.4 million on April 4, in one of the biggest judgments ever in a so-called revenge porn case.”

According to the article, “The California case was one of the first lawsuits filed by the Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project, an initiative started in 2014 by K&L Gates, a Pittsburgh law firm, to litigate against online harassment and the non-consensual posting of explicit material…”