Magazine Explains Why All Those Educations Cases Happen

See you in court. (Monica Almeida, Pool/AP Photo)

See you in court. (Monica Almeida, Pool/AP Photo)

U.S. News and World Report has a new opinion piece from Andrew Rotherham, a cofounder and partner at the non-profit Bellwether Education Partners, about why so much of education reform ends up in the courtroom. After outlining several high-profile cases, he explains that “… on the courthouse steps you can say pretty much whatever you want. Inside the courtroom, there are rules and process. Clever and fiery sound bites from a press conference will get you in trouble in front of a judge. If the evidence is on your side, the courtroom is often more fertile ground than the political arena.”

He also notes that “… it’s remarkable how many issues that are generally settled in terms of the research evidence remain incredibly live political debates. Courtrooms mitigate the problem.”

It’s a really solid good “think piece” and you can find it here.

Florida Court District Says Divorce Hearing Can Take A Year

Courts nationwide are facing serious rationing, but a Tampa-area regional justice system is offering some details of its crisis. The info came as county commissioners are debating new facilities. But the area’s chief judge says that won’t help much because “… we can build additional courtrooms but nothing’s going to happen unless we have more judges to oversee them… we haven’t had a new judge in 10 years. Get the (state) Legislature to give us more judges.”

At issue is Florida’s 6th Judicial Circuit, which serves fast-goring Pasco and Pinellas counties The Tampa Bay Tribune explained that the district is “Florida’s third-largest court system. It has 69 judges to oversee all criminal, civil, appellate, family, traffic and small claims court cases. There are seven county court judges and 13 circuit judges assigned to handle cases at the New Port Richey and Dade City courthouses. In 2013 — the most recent figures available — those 20 Pasco County judges handled 24,069 circuit court cases and 41,733 county court cases. And the caseload keeps growing.”

One judge told county officials that it takes a year just to get a hearing on a divorce case

See more at the Tampa Tribune. 

Justice Scalia Was Leader In Civil Justice Decisions

Photo Credit: The U.S. Supreme Court is seen on Saturday in Washington, DC, following the announcement of the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. NPR report, 2/15/16

Photo Credit: The U.S. Supreme Court is seen on Saturday in Washington, DC, following the announcement of the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
NPR report, 2/15/16

The political and criminal-law fallout from the sudden death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is, of course, being widely discussed as President Obama prepares to nominate a successor. But NPR has done a good job at detailing a half-dozen cases that really illustrate how much Justice Scalia sculpted the modern civil litigation landscape.

For example, remember the huge Wal-Mart lawsuit over treatment of female workers? NPR backgrounded the case: “The issue before the Supreme Court was whether female employees as a group could be certified as a single class, suing Wal-Mart at a single trial. Lawyers for the women introduced evidence showing that female employees held two-thirds of the lowest-level hourly jobs at Wal-Mart, but only one-third of the management jobs, and that women overall were paid on average $1.16 per hour less than men in the same jobs, though the women had more seniority and higher performance ratings.”

Scalia was widely noted as a reason Wal-Mart prevailed in its appeal to the high court. Other cases of illustration, like Hobby Lobby and Citizen’s United, can be found here: 6 Major Supreme Court Cases That Would Have Been Different Without Scalia

Alabama Joins California In Civil Court Cuts, Delays

In a situation similar to what California faced in 2012 and 2013, Alabama is the latest state to face dramatic court system budget cuts. The now-familiar refrain is that criminal courts, with their constitutional guarantees, will remain a priority while civil cases will really feel most of the impact.  The Birmingham Business Journal has a good report and notes that “.. one overlooked aspect of cutting the court budget is how it will affect businesses. Already, short-staffed civil cases with businesses can take up to two years to resolve, but with the proposed budget cuts [a court source] said he sees these cases taking up to five years.
That would, in turn, change the local business landscape, the report argues.

Legal Weed Still Brings Plenty Of Court Action

As criminal actions against marijuana users and growers diminish in “legal” states like Colorado and Washington and in more than 30 “medical marijuana” states like California, there has been a new crop of civil litigation. For example, in Riverside County, California the county is facing litigation over a new law that authorities said is a “crackdown the proliferation of large-scale, for-profit marijuana farms” in their communities.
Those operations are usually cooperatives, where many people will combine their rights to create a larger operation. More than a dozen lawsuits are underway to sort out regulatory questions. But medical pot providers say the civil actions amount to another way to shut them down. Read about that in The Riverside Enterprise newspaper.
Up in Washington state, a prosecutor in King County named Dan Satterberg argues that medical pot shops have been selling marijuana illegally for years and that will end soon after he serves lawsuits to 15 collectives in unincorporated parts of the county in the coming days. For years, the NW Cannabis Collective catered to its clients seeking medicine for pain and other conditions.
NW Cannabis CEO Michael Keysor said, “Most of these patients have been given up on by doctors. They have no answers for them.” This month, he received a letter from authorities telling him to shut down or be sued. He says a forced closure will kill his business for good. Again, the authorities are using civil leverage to advance their goals, and you can find Channel 13 TV coverage of that situation here.

At $3-per-day, immigrants detained by U.S. keep detention centers going

The Los Angeles Times has another story raising questions about how the government goes about detaining would-be immigrants at for-profit detention centers. The report notes that immigrants are allowed to “volunteer” to work, doing chores like landscaping, cleaning and cooking. The reporter talks with a mother who fled Honduras in September with her 11-year-old son and ended up at a family detention center in rural Texas.

“I worked immediately,” the 36-year-old mother said. “In order to have something to eat, to buy treats for my son.” The LAT says the woman “… cleaned bathrooms, hallways and other areas of the government-contracted detention center for $3 a day. At the commissary, a bag of potato chips cost $4, bottled water $2. The facility in Karnes City is run by Geo Group, the country’s second-largest prison company.

“It’s ironic — it’s illegal for them to work, but they’re working for the immigration service in a sense,” says Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a conservative think tank in Washington. An ACLU source in the report uses another word for the practice: slavery.

Read the LAT story here.

CM Publisher Has HuffPo Piece On GOP Civil Tort Priorities

Courts Monitor Publisher Sara Warner has published a Huffington Post story with her take on recent developments involving the New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. She notes that “… the new Republican-controlled congress rolled up its sleeves and rolled out its agenda over the last week, and along with immigration and budget issues it turns out “asbestos litigation reform” is an apparent priority. The powerful House Judiciary Committee held a formal hearing in Washington in what amounts to a national campaign targeted at bankruptcy transparency – but fueled largely by both a landmark federal case out of North Carolina and the ongoing New York scandal involving the arrest of state assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.”

Bicyclist Hit By Truck Wins $34.5 Million In Jury Trial

A Los Angeles bicyclist, who suffered injuries including a lower leg amputation when he was hit by a big-rig truck making a right-hand turn, was awarded $34,555,220 after a personal injury trial.
His attorneys said that Alan Casillas, was 19 years old on the morning of Dec. 7, 2012 and was riding his bicycle to a friends’  house. They say that’s when a big rig drove over part of the sidewalk while making a right turn from Tweedy Boulevard to Alameda Street. They said the truck struck Casillas, knocking him from the bike and crushing his left leg, among other injuries.  [Read more…]

Denver Case Foreshadows Immigration Showdowns

A new twist in civil immigration is emerging in Denver, as an immigrant is taking sanctuary in a church basement while protestors make his case an example of people trapped in the on-again, off-again immigration policy crated by President Obama’s executive actions and the resulting Republican opposition.
The Denver Post reports that Arturo Hernandez Garcia, who is in the United States without legal permission, has been living under sanctuary protection in the First Unitarian Society of Denver church. Jennifer Piper, who is with the Denver office of American Friends Service Committee, said he plans to remain in sanctuary until he can secure some relief. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, an immigration court refused to reopen Garcia’s case. His next steps are to apply for a legal stay to stop deportation and to apply for status under Obama’s orders.
About 40 of his supporters rallied outside the immigration court building in downtown Denver to protest the latest legal action in his case.On the same day, the House passed a Department of Homeland Security funding bill that contains amendments that would gut President Obama’s immigration reform measures. One amendment also would end the 3-year-old program that gives law-abiding immigrants brought to the country as children the right to work and to be free from the threat of deportation.
You can expect that immigrants, especially those with families including United States citizens, are going to repeat the Denver example. So stay tuned and check out the Post story here: Immigration vote sends chilling message to those facing deportation

Newsweek Notes ‘Civil Gideon’ In Eviction Issue

If 2015 is going to be the “Tipping Point” year for civil Gideon in the United States, then stories like a recent Newsweek report are going to play an important role. Writer Victoria Bekiempis calls the right to council in eviction proceedings “another civil rights movement… quietly gaining momentum.”
Some key points in her report: In New York City, some 90 percent of tenants in housing court don’t have attorneys while about 90 percent of landlords do; about one-third of persons in NYC homeless shelters arrive immediately after an eviction; some 30,000 families were evicted last year; each bed in a New York City homeless shelter costs $36,000 annually, experts say, while it would cost $1,600 to $3,200 to represent a client in housing court.
Bekiempis’ story is the sort of year-starter that gets picked up (like, say, we’re doing now) and includes important resources for anyone interested in how justice gets rationed. For civil Gideon fans, it’s already required reading, and you can find it here: Housing: The Other Civil Rights Movement.