Sara Corcoran interviews Alan Lowenthal, United States Congressman for California’s 47th District.

Courts Monitor publisher Sara Corcoran with Alan Lowenthal, United States Congressman for California’s 47thDistrict.

Courts Monitor publisher Sara Corcoran with Alan Lowenthal, United States Congressman for California’s 47thDistrict.

Just published is Courts Monitor publisher Sara Corcoran’s interview with Alan Lowenthal, United States Congressman for California’s 47thDistrict.

“I have the largest Cambodian community in the country, one of the largest Vietnamese American communities, and a large LGBTQ community. I am going to continue to fight for human rights. I’ve had legislation passed with Ed Markey in the Senate to ensure that the State Department deals with LGBTQ issues internationally. Right now, there are some 70 nations where it’s a crime of some sort to be gay and in some of those countries you can be put to death. Together we need to make sure U.S. policymakers are working with those countries to change those policies. We can provide assistance to them and urge that they be required to have human rights protections for all,” states Rep. Lowenthal in the interview.

Rep. Lowenthal also provides insights on the upcoming elections in this riveting interview. Read it here: http://www.randomlengthsnews.com/2018/05/22/19938/

EPA set to overturn Obama-era vehicle efficiency rules, California sues

Scott Pruitt, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Scott Pruitt, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Photo Credit:
Wikipedia

According to the Washington Post, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt will revisit Obama-era vehicle efficiency rules. Obama’s policy to address climate change would raise efficiency requirements on the nation’s automobile fleet to more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025. The Trump-era proposal would freeze the emissions standards at 2021 levels. The new plan would also challenge California’s ability to set its own fuel-efficiency rules.

A lawsuit — filed by California with support from other states and environmental groups – aims to try to block the overturn of Obama’s policy.

New protocol dismisses civil rights cases before Education Department

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Photo Credit:
Wikipedia

Under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, hundreds of civil rights complaints before her department are being dismissed, based on a new protocol that seeks to unclog the system, the New York Times reports.

“The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights has begun dismissing hundreds of civil rights complaints under a new protocol that allows investigators to disregard cases that are part of serial filings or that they consider burdensome to the office,” the New York Times reports.

“The changes worry civil rights groups, which point out that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has already rescinded guidances meant to protect students against sexual assaults on campuses and black and transgender students against bias.”

The department’s Office for Civil Rights responds that it wants to be more efficient and effective than it was under the Obama administration, “which was known for its aggressive enforcement and broad investigations but was also accused of being overzealous and leaving cases languishing for years,” the newspaper reports.

An interview with Congressman Ted Lieu

Image of Congressman Ted Lieu as reported in City Watch LA, 4/19/18.

Image of Congressman Ted Lieu as reported in City Watch LA, 4/19/18.

Congressman Ted Lieu offers perspective on the Mueller investigation and multiple scandals that seem to engulf this current presidency in this interview with Courts Monitor publisher Sara Corcoran. In his short 3 years in office, Lieu stands to supersede the legacy of Henry Waxman in CA-33’s congressional seat. Read the full interview with Ted Lieu, originally published in City Watch LA earlier this month: http://www.citywatchla.com/index.php/los-angeles/15301-us-congressman-ted-lieu-powerful-voice-for-the-southland.

 

With separate process, ICE arrests generate more scrutiny

Photograph by John Moore / Getty as reported by The New Yorker, 11/8/17.

Photograph by John Moore / Getty as reported by
The New Yorker,
11/8/17.

It’s increasingly likely that the U.S. Supreme Court will end up reviewing the procedures used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for immigration arrests, according to experts who see this area of law growing more contentious.

The process for ICE arrests is “one of the most complicated areas of immigration law,” Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, told Public Radio International.

In an April 12 report, PRI noted, “Broadly, the only evidence that an ICE officer needs to arrest a person is their identification and proof that they are not a citizen.”

One reason for the disparity is that ICE procedures often take place in civil courts.

The New Yorker chronicled the case of Sergio Perez, a native of Guadalajara, Mexico, who was in the United States as an undocumented immigrant before his arrest by ICE.

“Because immigration-removal proceedings are generally carried out under civil laws, they are exempt from many procedures mandated in criminal cases,” the New Yorker explained. “For example, the warrants that ICE uses to arrest unauthorized immigrants like Perez aren’t reviewed by a judge; they’re just written up by ICE office supervisors. Immigrant detainees don’t have a constitutional right to a lawyer. Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure don’t always apply when ICE agents investigate a target for arrest, because the cases typically don’t involve a criminal prosecution.”

Public Radio International cited an upswing in ICE activity under President Trump as one reason for the growing attention.

“From the day Donald Trump took office through Sept. 30, 2017, ICE arrests increased by 42 percent compared to the same time period the year before, according to an analysis of government data by Pew Research,” PRI reported. “Officers have been more aggressive in their tactics, too. They have shown up in courtrooms, conducted worksite sweeps and confronted people in their homes without warrants. Immigration lawyers say there is an increased need for immigrants’ legal protections to be reconsidered. ‘This is a brewing question that is becoming more intense,’ says University of Las Vegas law professor Michael Kagan.”

The legal status of undocumented immigrants took center stage earlier this year.

In February, National Public Radio reported on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found immigrants, even those with permanent legal status and asylum seekers, do not have the right to bond hearings.

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.”