ADVWG applauds investigation into asbestos bankruptcy trusts

The Asbestos Double-Victims Workgroup (ADVWG) is calling on additional state officials and federal authorities to join 13 states investigating whether several large national asbestos bankruptcy trusts are mismanaging funds, including if they failed to reimburse Medicaid and other medical providers as required in federal secondary payer laws.
 
In March, attorneys general from the states of AlabamaArkansasKansasLouisianaMichiganMontanaNebraskaNevadaSouth CarolinaSouth DakotaUtahWest Virginia, and Wisconsin joined forces in issuing a Civil Investigation Demand (CID) to four of the nation’s largest bankruptcy trusts. The trusts did not comply with the CID which led to the Utah-based lawsuit asking the court to require compliance.
 
Those trusts are formed under a law allowing companies with asbestos liability to emerge from a bankruptcy process solvent while creating trusts to pay currents and estimated victims. The AGs are concerned that negligent management of the trusts is cutting the amounts available to help victims, a disproportionate number of whom are veterans, and may not be repaying health care costs. Those victims may be unaware of possible claw-back actions coming down the pike.
 
The multi-state investigation comes on the heels of the “Garlock” case in North Carolina when a federal judge disclosed that evidence had been suppressed in all 15 cases where he had allowed specific discovery. Both the CID and the Utah lawsuit make clear links to the Garlock case and represent the first law enforcement action on the judge’s findings.
 
Sara Warner, Courts Monitor publisher, is a founding member and spokesperson for the ADVWG.
 

CM Publisher Updates AG Probe Into Asbestos Trusts

Sara Cocoran Warner, Founding Publisher of the California Courts Monitor

Sara Cocoran Warner, Founding Publisher of the California Courts Monitor

Posting at The Huffington Post, Courts Monitor Publisher Sara Warner updates an investigation by 13 state attorneys general into what they are calling potential abuse and mismanagement in four of the nation’s largest asbestos bankruptcy trusts. Billions of dollars are held by dozens of trusts and a key issue is is required re-payments to Medicare and Medicaid programs may have been missed.

See the HuffPo blog here:

Link to post: Asbestos Trusts Strike Back, Calling AGs Medicaid Fraud Probe ‘Overreach’

Law Prof Offers Insight Into Trump Budget, Immigration Courts

A man has his fingerprints scanned by a U.S. Border Patrol agent while others wait their turn. Photo Credit: Reuters/Jeff Topping

A man has his fingerprints scanned by a U.S. Border Patrol agent while others wait their turn.
Photo Credit: Reuters/Jeff Topping

Lindsay M. Harris, an assistant professor of law at the University of the District of Columbia, has posted a deep-dive analysis into how President Trump’s budgeting might impact immigration courts, but also offering some historic insight along the way. In a post at The Conversation website (link below) that was picked up by the UPI, she notes that “… [Trump’s] budget requests would add to the more than $40 billion that the Department of Homeland Security will receive this year. It would include $4.1 billion to start building a border wall and $2.65 billion to increase the number of immigration detention beds. In comparison, the fiscal 2018 budget requests $80 million to add 75 new immigration judges.”

Harris also backgrounds that “… since 2002, funding for immigration enforcement has more than quadrupled, from US $4.5 billion to $20.1 billion in 2016. During the same time period, resources for immigration courts have increased by much less – 74 percent.”

Read the excellent analysis here:
Is the US immigration court system broken?

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/

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

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 Immigration Crackdown Hits Backlogged Courts

Charles Reed/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement / AP

Charles Reed/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement / AP

BuzzFeed is deep-diving into the problems of a backlogged immigration courts system as President Trump gears up his enforcement and deportation plans. The report notes that “… judges and lawyers interviewed by BuzzFeed News described hearings scheduled four, five, or even six years out. Already facing a crushing caseload, immigration judges are bracing for more strain as the Trump administration pushes ahead with an aggressive ramp-up of immigration enforcement with no public commitment so far to aid backlogged courts.”
And as background the websites notes that “… immigration courts, despite their name, are actually an arm of the US Department of Justice… [the][ lawyers from the US Department of Homeland Security prosecute cases. Rulings can be appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals, which is also part of the Justice Department, and then to a federal appeals court.”
The report also notes that more than a half-million cases are pending immigration court attention. Read the report here: https://www.buzzfeed.com/zoetillman/backlogged-immigration-courts-pose-problems-for-trumps-plans?utm_term=.qeqnQJxo3#.wxBYOm5nr

Amid ICE Raids, Courts Are Even More Backed Up

Reporting on immigration raids and related issues often overlook the ongoing backlog at the nation’s immigration courts, where more than a half-million cases are already awaiting hearings and wait times can reach into years. But do not count the CBS Austin TV affiliate among those missing the story.

CBS Austin reports that U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, has introduced legislation to freeze funding to ICE and Border Protection until immigration court funding is increased. The “courts” are not actual federal courts. They are civil hearings conducted by the U.S. Justice Department; judges are employees of the Justice Department and have no authority to hold federal agents in contempt.

Read the story here:
As ICE enforcement grows, immigration courts can’t keep up

Trump Ponders Next Steps After Court Nixes Immigration Order

Several prominent legal experts are encouraging President Donald Trump to withdraw his current order and redraft it. | AP Photo

Several prominent legal experts are encouraging President Donald Trump to withdraw his current order and redraft it. | AP Photo

The D.C.-based Politico newspaper is outlining what options President Trump’s team has after the California-based 9th Circuit appeals court nixed his travel order this week. Politico said the Trump group was “… licking their wounds following a stinging appeals court defeat, President Donald Trump’s aides went into triage mode Friday as they consider options for salvaging his contested travel ban executive order.”

The story notes that “… Trump rarely backs down from a fight, but there were initial signs that the White House might not proceed as originally expected with an emergency application to the Supreme Court. Legal experts said it was doubtful Trump could muster what he’d need to get immediate relief there: the votes of five justices on the high court, which remains shorthanded with only eight justices. A 4-4 deadlock would leave the ruling suspending enforcement of Trump’s ban in place.”

See the story here: Trump team mulls next steps on travel ban order