Former NY Prosecutor Outlines ‘The Real Crisis’ For Immigration

Quotas for depriving people of their liberty (KATE BRUMBACK/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Quotas for depriving people of their liberty (KATE BRUMBACK/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Over the last five years, the budget for immigration courts grew by 74% — but the budget for immigration enforcement agencies grew by over 400%. The result is gridlock that makes those old criminal court dockets look like models of efficiency.

Former Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, writing in the New York Daily News, outlines just how bad the U.S. immigration court crisis has become, blaming political pressures and adding that “… the result is a backlog that staggers the imagination. Today, when immigrants ask when they need to return to court, many are told in 2023.”

 Morgenthau outlines the oft-cited, but still hard to believe, stats: “According to the most recent data from a think tank at Syracuse University, there are currently pending before our immigration courts over half a million removal cases. That averages about 2,000 cases per judge.”

The writer offers some solutions and begins with judges: “What is to be done? Regardless of how one feels about immigration reform generally, everyone can agree that we need to restore sanity to immigration court. First, immigration judges should be real judges. Right now, they are employees of the Justice Department, and not genuinely independent.”

He also makes a call for a sort of Civil Gideon, the idea that some civil cases (as opposed to criminal cases) should require representation (immigration cases are considered civil actions): “Congress must also ensure that immigrants get proper legal representation when their basic rights are at stake… a study published this month disclosed that in 70% of cases involving adults with children, there was no legal representation for the family.”

And, obviously, increase capacity. It’s a well-considered piece from somebody who knows of what they speak. Read it, and find the writer’s other missives on immigration and other issues, here:

 Robert Morgenthau: America’s real immigration crisis

Lubbock, Texas Leads Nation to Higher LC1027 CSST Gas Tubing Standard

News Analysis
 
In a landmark vote that likely sets a national precedent, the Lubbock, Texas, city council recently elevated its performance requirements for the flexible gas piping which distributes fuel gas in millions of homes across the United States. It is believed this was the first U.S. community to adopt the higher standard.
 
In moving to raise the bar for safety and better protect against lightning initiated house fires, Lubbock adopted what engineers call the “ICC-ES LC1027″ performance standard, which requires more stringent testing for lightning performance of flexible gas piping systems called CSST, or “corrugated stainless steel tubing.” In effect, the council banned the sale and installation of conventional yellow CSST in new construction while requiring existing systems to be properly bonded and grounded if any permitted upgrades are done.
 
For years now, the earlier-generation “yellow” CSST has come under significant scrutiny across the country.  That’s certainly true in Lubbock, where officials became concerned after they learned of the tragic death of Brennen Teel in 2012.  Teel died after a lightning strike to a home, and subsequent fire, where yellow CSST was allegedly compromised.
 
This tragic event sparked a two-year comprehensive review of the testing standards for CSST and lightning risks by a special Lubbock Special Fuel Gas Committee, which unanimously recommended the city adopt the higher CSST performance standard due to its findings.
 
It is anticipated that the Lubbock adoption of the LC 1027 standard will embolden building code officials around the country who want to adopt stronger safety standards for flexible gas piping as well. And the higher safety standard has also been endorsed by the National Association of State Fire Marshals and the American Public Gas Association. With national safety organizations in support of the standard, momentum should build with other states’ fire and building codes officials.
 
Lubbock’s move did not come without its fair share of opposition and debate from some CSST manufacturers, but many officials close to the issue obviously believe this was a necessary step to improve public safety. The National Courts Monitor expects the higher standard for flexible gas piping safety will be adopted across the U.S., continuing the reform movement being initiated by the Teel family and a number of attorneys.
 

Happy Holidays!

The Courts Monitor staff and contributors wish you and yours the best of holidays and will return to providing your curated dose of civil justice rationing on Monday, Dec. 28.

‘Outlier': Garlock Case Gives Traction to Asbestos Fraud Claims

Originally featured in the Huffington Post. 

Even if all you know (or ever want to know) about the world of asbestos litigation business comes from those unavoidable “if you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma” commercials, you still ought to know that big changes are coming to what is called the longest-running personal injury litigation in the United States; some estimates (okay, mine) say it does about $10 billion a year, making it as big as the “industry” of pro football, the NFL.

Multiple defense lawyers have been alleging institutional and operational fraud for years, but lately those charges are gaining some credence. From North Carolina to New York, cases that were initially discredited by victims’ attorneys as mere “outliers” are gaining traction as federal courts allow lawsuits to advance.

For example, politically savvy New Yorkers are likely aware that Manhattan’s Sheldon Silver resigned his longtime post as State Assembly Speaker earlier this year after he was indicted on fraud and extortion charges in a $4 million influence-peddling scheme. However, they may not have made the connection that his fraud charges stemmed from how victims of mesothelioma, the “asbestos cancer,” found legal help. Prosecutors allege Speaker Silver steered taxpayer money to a clinic in exchange for the clinic steering victims to his law firm, in turn receiving millions of dollars in referral payments from a prominent asbestos litigation firm. Such referral fees are common, but the taxpayer implications are not.

Meanwhile, on a key civil litigation front, a North Carolina bankruptcy case initially branded as an “outlier” is gaining credibility. An NPR report noted that “Garlock” offered a look inside the “murky world” of asbestos litigation and a key issues was telling one story in civil cases and another story to any of some 60 to 100 “trust funds,” which were set up when companies declared bankruptcy over asbestos liability.

Judge George Hodges, in the Garlock case, identified significant issues in 15 of 15 cases. In his decision, Judge Hodges said that more research would no doubt have found more problems, although he stopped well short of what the lawyers call “the F bomb,” which to them is “fraud.” But Garlock has brought a civil RICO suit against several asbestos victim’s firms, alleging a pattern of misrepresentation over many years.

At first, the whole Garlock case, and its ancillary issues, were more or less dismissed by the plaintiff’s bar. The talking point was that the judge was new to the litigation and the allegations against the firms would dissolve upon contact with appeals courts. But the opposite has happened so far: Garlock has been upheld through multiple appeals, getting victories even from Democratic-appointed judges – it’s worth noting that asbestos litigation is so political that which party appointed your judge can be a big deal.

Just this month, U.S. District Judge Graham Mullen (a President George H. W. Bush appointee) upheld a lower court ruling that Trust Fund records being sought by Garlock Sealing Technologies should be produced. He also agreed with the complaint that the “requests are broad” but added: “Yet, so is the fraud in which plaintiffs are alleged to have engaged.”

The firm in that case — New York’s Belluck & Fox — made an argument that no doubt illustrates the strategy for those making cases of the Garlock discoveries, stating:

It is now clear that, while the complaint includes allegations about just 11 cases, plaintiffs are seeking to expand discovery to include all the trust claims of virtually every Belluck & Fox client that ever brought a claim against Garlock – whether the case was litigated in the tort system or not.

Belluck & Fox is not alone. Big national firms, like Dallas-based Simon Greenstone and Waters & Kraus and Philadelphia’s Shein Law Center, are also targets and no doubt will face similar discovery efforts.

Those court victories are likely to play a huge role as the U.S. House of Representatives takes up debate on what’s called the “FACT Act,” for “Fairness in in Asbestos Claims Trust,” later this month. That legislation has little chance that President Obama will ever sign it into law, but it does offer a platform and rallying point for those who would change how victims sue over asbestos. The FACT movement may be for “show” in Washington, but six states – Oklahoma, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Texas and Ohio – have passed some form of the legislation.

In what might be a “first use” in Texas, a judge in Harris County has granted a “stay” motion based on that state’s FACT Act legislation. The case involves a Navy veteran with mesothelioma and the judge has agreed that claims against bankruptcy trusts must be considered, even if those concerns are NOT part of the current trial.

Whatever asbestos “scandal” there is may be a slow-motion crisis, but I’ve made the argument that it’s about to exit the litigation world to involve hundreds or even thousands of innocent victims’ families. Some lawyers have turned their clients intoperjury pawns. Others may discover they might owe Uncle Sam some of their hard-won settlement and judgment money. And I truly believe that Democrats, who benefit from the plaintiff bar’s donations, are being slow to realize the gravity of the situation.

The common theme is that focus needs to shift to what it all means to victims.

I’m not the only one who thinks so. The journalist Paul Johnson, best known as a Washington correspondent for Canada’s Global TV and his documentary reporting from Afghanistan, is making asbestos litigation the topic of his next U.S.-based film. He says the project so far has been eye-opening.

“Our story begins with a small car dealership in central California getting sued for what seems to be no good reason,” says Johnson. “We follow that 7-year battle involving all kinds of twists and some serious allegations against a major firm; I will say that it shows that sometimes you might need a lawyer to keep an eye on your lawyer.”

Johnson said the movie, slated for 2016, is “… most unsettling when you find yourself sitting in a New York conference room at one of the more liberal universities on earth, and a professor is assuring you that this [asbestos litigation] scandal will one day be seen as bigger than Teapot Dome or Enron, but it’s what you want as a reporter to find a huge scandal that almost nobody outside the trade press is covering.”

We are anxiously awaiting the release of this film for the topic that “nobody is covering” could very well be the one “everyone is watching” in 2016.

(Sara Warner is publisher of the National Courts Monitor and California Courts Monitor. Disclosure: Although Ms. Warner has not participated in the Paul Johnson film mentioned, some Courts Monitor contract researchers and contributing editors have contributed to the documentary and the National Courts Monitor is in discussions to host the Washington, D.C. premier of the movie.)

Santa Monica Rep. Named To Key Budget Group

Former Santa Monica Mayor and current state Assembly member Richard Bloom has been named to a committee that will reconcile difference between spending plans of the two California legislative branches. The four-member Assembly group, along with four members from the state Senate, will try to develop a final plan for the governor’s consideration in time for the June 15 constitutional deadline for a new California budget.
 
Sacramento-based Capitol Alert reports that “…. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, named Sens.Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, and Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley to the conference committee. Leno leads the Senate budget committee and Nielsen is vice-chairman. Hancock leads the panel’s public safety subcommittee.
 
Assembly Speaker Toni G. Atkins, D-San Diego, named Asembly members Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, Jeff Gorrell, R-Camarillo, Shirley N. Weber, D-San Diego, and Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, to the conference committee. Skinner leads the Assembly budget committee and Gorrell is its top Republican. Bloom leads the panel’s resources and transportation subcommittee and Weber chairs its health and human services subcommittee.”
 

State Chamber President Backs Court Funding

Allan Zaremberg is president and CEO of the California Chamber of Commerce. Photo from Sacramento Bee report of 5/22/14.

Allan Zaremberg is president and CEO of the California Chamber of Commerce. Photo from Sacramento Bee report of 5/22/14.

The president and CEO of the California Chamber of Commerce has added a business voice to the call for a fully funded court system, calling courts “vital” to the state’s economy and a key part of innovation and job creation. In an opinion piece published in The Sacramento Bee, Allan Zaremberg first notes the funding needs in education and health care then adds “… not so obvious, however, is an appropriate level of funding for California’s courts, a cornerstone of our constitution and democracy.”

The support is, of course, part of gathering pro-court voices in advance of the June 15 California budget deadline. Along with setting out key talking points, it also reminds lawmakers that business interests have a stake in how courts function. Read the comments here.

Pandora’s Box: Dems Should Pay Close Attention to Victims Facing Asbestos Perjury Claims

Sara Warner, publisher of the California Courts Monitor, has a national Huffington Post column outlining how a North Carolina bankruptcy case might uncover enough scandal to become a Democratic political liability. In particular, she says the legal system is thinking in terms of “claimants” instead of thinking in terms of “victims.” She even calls for a Senate investigation. <a href=”http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sara-warner/pandoras-box-asbestos-perjury-claims_b_5213477.html” target=”_blank”>See the story here.</a>

MetNews Continues Judicial Election Profiles

One candidate refused to discuss a “not qualified” finding and the other came under fire for her performance in a spousal abuse case where a husband was released from custody and killed his wife. Both of those candidates are profiled as The Metropolitan News Enterprise continues its coverage of the June 3 primary election that will pick several new Los Angeles Superior Court judges.
 
MetNews.com reports Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Emma Castro is running become a Los Angeles Superior court Judge in a primary scheduled for June 3, 2014.

MetNews.com reports Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Emma Castro is running become a Los Angeles Superior court Judge in a primary scheduled for June 3, 2014.

In one race, Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Emma Castro is running against Deputy District Attorney Joan M. Chrostek, and the MetNews reports that “… Castro was found ‘not qualified’ for a judgeship by the State Bar Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation—something she refuses to discuss. A Los Angeles County Bar Association Judicial Elections Evaluation Committee subcommittee this month adjudged her “qualified” and she has opted not to appeal.”
 

 The report also reports of her opponent “… Chrostek, who was taken to task in a 2008 report by her office for deficient performance in a spousal abuse case—which culminated in a husband with dangerous propensties being released from custody and proceeding to slay his wife—is presently appealing a JEEC rating of ‘not qualified.’” Read the story and follow the profiles here.

L.A. Judge Eyed For District Appeals Court

 
The MetNews is reporting today that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lee S. Edmon is among those being considered for appointment to this district’s Court of Appeal. The report notes that she has been a Superior Court judge since 2000, when she was appointed by then-Gov. Gray Davis.
 
The MetNews has been on top of the Appeals Court judicial appointments and has previous reported “… that U.S. District Judge Audrey B. Collins, Los Angeles Superior Court Judges Sanjay T. Kumar and Brian Hoffstadt, and Southwestern Law School professor Christopher Cameron are under consideration for appointment to the Court of Appeal. There are currently four vacancies in this district, with two more scheduled to occur by the end of February.”
 
Judge Edmond has served in several capacities, including Presiding Judge, and was appointed to the Judicial Council of California in June 2008. The MetNews said she did not respond to a request for comment. Read the story here

Happy New Year!

The California Courts Monitor will resume regular posts on Monday, January 6th.

Cheers, 

CCM staff