AG Sessions, Immigration Advocates Agree On Judges

AP, Politico online report, April 2017

AP, Politico online report, April 2017

Politico is among the media outlets noting that, “… for all their opposition to the Trump administration’s immigration agenda,” immigration advocates are welcoming at least one part of the agenda: hiring more immigration judges. In a well-reported story, Politico’s Danny Vinik added that U.S. Attorney General Sessions “… announced that DOJ will seek to add 75 immigration judges to the courts over the next year and will implement reforms to speed up the hiring process. These changes address a real problem with the immigration system—a nearly 600,000-case backlog at the immigration courts—and the move was a rare occasion in which advocates applauded the administration, though they were concerned how Sessions would implement the changes.”

Later, Vinik even deep-dives enough to background that “…immigration judges are technically employees of the Department of Justice, a structure that inherently creates a conflict of interest,since their job is to rule on immigration cases that are pushed by DOJ prosecutors, whereas most of the judiciary is independent. Advocates and the immigration judges union have long pushed to remove the immigration courts from the DOJ. And during the Bush administration, a DOJ investigation found that several immigration judges received their jobs due to their political connections, a scandal that serves as a warning today.”

During comments at the U.S.-Mexican border, Sessions also announced a “streamlined” hiring process for those DOJ judges.

Read the story here: http://www.politico.com/agenda/story/2017/04/the-one-area-jeff-sessions-and-immigration-advocates-agree-000411

Obama’s ‘Rocket Docket’ Policy Comes Under Scrutiny

The so-called “rocket docket” policy of the Obama administration is coming under fire for lack of judicial training and for allowing non-judges to determine which cases get priority, according to four attorneys’ groups.

The Courthouse News is reporting that “… the groups — including the American Immigration Lawyers Association — claimed the Department of Justice, which oversees EOIR, refused to turn over records on policies and procedures for expedited immigration dockets, or “rocket dockets,” in violation of the Freedom of Information Act.

The CN also noted that the groups “… say the lack of clear policies and guidelines made it harder for unaccompanied minors, one-parent families and their attorneys to navigate the system and avoid deportation.

See the story here: https://www.courthousenews.com/foia-reveals-spotty-procedures-immigration-courts/

Legal Battle Resumes Over Nevada Nuke Waste Facility

The portal of a five-mile-long tunnel into Yucca Mountain in Nevada, where the Energy Department wants to bury 70,000 metric tons of radioactive waste. Photo credit: Los Angeles Times report, 3/29/17

The portal of a five-mile-long tunnel into Yucca Mountain in Nevada, where the Energy Department wants to bury 70,000 metric tons of radioactive waste. Photo credit: Los Angeles Times report, 3/29/17

The decades-old legal battle over Yucca Mountain, the proposed nuclear waste facility in Nevada, has resumed, the Los Angeles Times reports. The paper says that “… Nevada has filed some 300 legal ‘contentions’ against the Energy Department’s license, each of which must be examined by a special board. The state is swinging into action to file even more contentions if the license action is resumed, said Robert Halstead, chief of the state’s nuclear office.”

“They think because Reid is gone, this will be a cakewalk. Wrong,” Halstead told the LAT. “I see them going through a licensing procedure that will cost $1.5 billion and take five years, with a 50% chance of success.” The delays have resulted in staggering costs. The government promised nuclear utilities decades ago that it would take the spent fuel by 1998. Customers have paid a fraction of a penny on every kilowatt-hour of electricity into a fund for waste storage, which now contains about $36 billion.

The facility has long been considered for storing the nation’s nuclear waste and gathered political traction during the George W. Bush administration. Then Harry Reid became Senate leader and more or less nixed the proposal. But with President Trump in charge, the new energy secretary, former Texas governor Rick Perry, has already visited the site.

Read the Times’ story here: Decades-old war over Yucca Mountain nuclear dump resumes under Trump budget plan

Health Care Funds Enough To Warrant Trust-Fund Lawsuit?

Photo credit: Legal News Line online report, 3/29/17

Photo credit: Legal News Line online report, 3/29/17

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce-backed Newsline website has published a deep-dive (well, “deeper” anyway) into the mushrooming state attorney generals investigation into asbestos trust funds, including speculation that U.S. Justice Department attention would be a “whole new ballgame.” The story broker recently when Forbes’ Daniel Fisher wrote about the probe.

(Sara Warner, publisher of this website, echoed some of his reporting in a Huffington Post piece.)

The Newsline report quotes Mark A. Behrens, who co-chairs Shook, Hardy & Bacon’s Washington, DC-based public policy group: “If these cases get the attention of the Department of Justice, then it’s a whole new ball game.” That report background that “… In one case, Utah’s Attorney General recently sued four of the largest asbestos bankruptcy trusts to make them comply with civil investigative demands from 13 states on whether they are failing to reimburse states for Medicare and Medicaid. Federal law requires those who oversee settlements to pay outstanding bills for Medicare coverage” and added that “… the federal government and the states may have similar interests with regard to reimbursement of health care costs, business interests believe. It is estimated that some 30 percent of asbestos cases involve veterans. Many of these individuals would receive treatment at VA hospitals at the government’s expense. Given the age of many asbestos plaintiffs, many also would receive Medicare benefits, a federal health care coverage program.”

The Newsline piece is here:

http://legalnewsline.com/stories/511099428-business-lawyers-expect-spillover-from-actions-against-asbestos-trusts-plaintiffs-lawyers

Traffic ‘Amnesty’ Ending. Will It Be A Return To ‘The F-Barrel’?

Photo Credit: KCRA3 online report, 3/28/17.

Photo Credit: KCRA3 online report, 3/28/17.

A California amnesty program created after an outcry over municipal traffic fines and fees is going away. The amnesty scheme was put into place in 2015 after a general outcry that included a national HBO report on John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” program. That report made use of a a KCRA 3 (Sacramento) investigative story about the ballooning cost of court fees. It also introduced Oliver’s campaign to stop the “f-barrel,” although the cable host did not abbreviate his hopes.

David Manoucheri of KCRA is reporting that the amnesty program “… provides relief for drivers whose licenses were suspended because they failed to appear in court or had outstanding court debts, the DMV said in a news release. The fines would be reduced by 50 to 80 percent depending on the driver’s income.” Before, the station report, “… basic fines such as a $35 stop sign violation could balloon to over $300.”

Such fees and fines are not considered “criminal” by the courts, so violators do not hold the right to legal counsel. But they can still land people in jail for non-payment. Manoucheri notes that it’s been good for the municipal collections: “Since the program went into effect, 205,686 delinquent accounts have been reduced, 192,452 driver licenses have been reinstated and $35,530,680 in fines has been collected. That money would never have been collected by officials if the program wasn’t in place.”

Oliver connected the dots to illustrate that such municipal fees have been linked to the unrest in Ferguson,. Mo. and other problems. And his report remains one of the more anger-inducing indictments of municipal policy. You can see that vial YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0UjpmT5noto

And the find KCRA report here: http://www.kcra.com/article/californias-traffic-ticket-amnesty-program-is-about-to-end/9198864

Sacramento Paper Blasts Trump Immigration Policy

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement operation targets immigration fugitives in Los Angeles in February. Photo Credit:  Michael Johnson U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement / The Sacramento Bee Report, 3/25/17

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement operation targets immigration fugitives in Los Angeles in February. Photo Credit: Michael Johnson U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement / The Sacramento Bee Report, 3/25/17

In a scathing editorial signed by the “editorial board,” The Sacramento Bee has very much taken issue with President Trump’s recent moves on immigration policy, especially use of federal agencies to put pressure on local law enforcement. The paper also outlined what’s at stake for the Golden State: “About 10 percent of California’s workers are undocumented, and 12.3 percent of public school children have a parent who is here illegally. It’s no wonder, then, that many California leaders are resisting Trump as best they can.
No Californian should have any interest in preventing the deportation of undocumented immigrants with felony convictions. But due process must be observed. There is the matter of the 4th Amendment, and the threat of costly lawsuits, as became apparent a few years ago.”
The editorial outlines the lawsuit: “In 2014, the Obama administration’s Department of Homeland Security ended the Secure Communities program. The Homeland Security secretary at the time, Jeh Johnson, said the program discouraged victims and witnesses from coming forward. Courts also found that aspects of it violated the Constitution.”
And it listed some penalties: “Los Angeles County, for example, paid a $255,000 settlement in a suit by a man who, as a result of the program, was held in jail for 89 days beyond his release date, and Sonoma County paid $8,000 in an unlawful detainer suit.”
Read the Bee opinion here:
Pandering is no substitute for immigration overhaul

Former Immigration Judge Calls For L.A. To Provide Lawyers

Some of about 100 people demonstrate outside a federal immigration court in Los Angeles on Monday, March 6, 2017. (Michael Balsamo / AP)

Some of about 100 people demonstrate outside a federal immigration court in Los Angeles on Monday, March 6, 2017. (Michael Balsamo / AP)

A former immigration court judge is calling on Los Angeles to move quickly and provide attorneys for undocumented residents facing deportation. Bruce J. Einhorn, who was an immigration judge for 17 years, says in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece that he “… watched sons trying to grasp complicated legal concepts not written in their native language and mothers desperately advocating for daughters who were in detention. I saw families torn apart by a system they were unable to understand.”

The former judge makes both legal and financial points in arguing his case and notes that Trump administration policies are likely to increase court volume and backlog. Already, he explains, San Francisco hearings might take two years before there’s room on a court docket. He also argues that the L.A. program might be modeled on the New York City project.

Judge Einhorn writes that “… New York City’s program, which began in 2013, has been tremendously successful. After securing representation for its first 1,000 clients, the program reported that it completed more than a third of the city’s deportation cases in the first or second hearing, and that immigrants were nearly 10 times more likely to win their cases. The program has since been expanded to New York State.”

Read his opinion here: L.A. needs to provide attorneys to immigrants facing deportation

L.A. Schools Join Challenge To Trump ‘Sanctuary’ Threats

David Cortese, president of Santa Clara County’s Board of Supervisors, discusses litigation to block President Trump’s executive order affecting “sanctuary cities.” (Santa Clara County) Photo Credit: Los Angeles Times report, 3/15/17

David Cortese, president of Santa Clara County’s Board of Supervisors, discusses litigation to block President Trump’s executive order affecting “sanctuary cities.” (Santa Clara County) Photo Credit: Los Angeles Times report, 3/15/17

The Los Angeles Times reports the the LA Board of Education has told its legal staff to participate in a lawsuit challenging President Trump’s power to withhold federal funds from “sanctuary cities” that follow their own policies for immigrants. The LAT explains that the LA schools will join a lawsuit already filed by Santa Clara County that called President Trump’s executive order “unprecedented” and unconstitutional attempt to expand executive power.”

The report also notes that “… if the Trump administration carried out its threat — and interpreted it broadly — L.A. Unified could be at risk. The nation’s second largest school system received more than $585 million from the federal government last year, a substantial portion of its $7.15-billion general fund revenues.

Read the story here:
L.A. Unified to step out in support of federal funds for sanctuary cities

Texas Lawsuit-Reform Group Issues Comprehensive Asbestos White Paper

The “Texans for Lawsuit Reform Foundation” has released a deep-dive into the ongoing role of the Lone Star state in asbestos litigation. The document notes that Texas has played a leading role, first on the side of victims’ attorneys and then on the side of tort reform and now in the ongoing litigation. While written from a decidedly pro-business tort-reform point of view, the paper still notes that some victims became “pawns” in the system and gives a good timeline on the litigation’s evolution.

(The National Courts Monitor has recent agreed to facilitate a victim’s group “investigative” effort to determine the extent that asbestos victims might have become litigation victims. Check out the website at http://www.asbestosdoublevictims.org/)

In its press release on the paper, TLR Foundation President Hugh Rice Kelly is quoted saying that a “handful” of “… lawyers’ activities were carried out at the expense of the judicial system, thousands of plaintiffs who were pawns in the litigation game, and hundreds of defendants who paid settlements to uninjured plaintiffs.”

The white paper is also a sort of greatest hits of asbestos litigation issues, noting recent trust-claim controversies and the infamous “witness coaching memo.” To view the full paper:
http://www.tlrfoundation.com/sites/default/files/pdf/TLR_Asbestos_Foundation_Paper_02.2017 _Web.pdf.

Trump Policies Play Out In Courtrooms Like This One

The Courthouse News has an excellent report about a San Francisco courtroom it calls a “microcosm” of how the nation’s immigration deportation system is reacting to President Trump’s new policies. The CN explains that the courtroom is “… where immigrants held in detention centers miles away speak to judges through interpreters and flat-screen TVs.” The report details cases from “… about 1,500 immigrants detained in four facilities within 300 miles of San Francisco, where deportation cases are tried and decided by 19 immigration judges at two courthouses.”

The report also backgrounds the effect of having legal representation: “A recent study by the University of Pennsylvania Law Review found detained immigrants with an attorney were four times more likely to be released on bond, 11 times more likely to seek asylum or other relief from deportation, and twice as likely to successfully obtain the relief they sought. According to that same study, 37 percent of immigrants have no legal representation in removal cases, a proportion that shrinks to 14 percent for those held in detention.”

Officials are trying to provide legal representation for immigrants facing deportation, but given the years-long backlog and budgets, it seems an uphill struggle. Immigration courts are considered civil courts, so they do not carry the same “right to an attorney” that criminal courts have.

Read the story here: https://www.courthousenews.com/advocates-push-lawyers-immigrant-detainees/