Supreme Court limits power of states and localities to impose fines, seize property

 Photo by Mr. Kjetil Ree. [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Photo by Mr. Kjetil Ree. [CC BY-SA 3.0]

According to a recent Washington Post report, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday, 2/20/19, that “the Constitution’s prohibition on excessive fines applies to state and local governments, limiting their abilities to impose financial penalties and seize property.” 

The unanimous vote was prompted by a case at the court which involved Tyson Timbs of Marion, Ind. In 2015, Timbs’ Land Rover SUV, worth $42,000, was seized after his arrest for selling heroin valued at a few hundred dollars. According to the Washington Post, “Timbs has sued to get it back, and while Wednesday’s decision did not dictate that outcome, it gave him a new day in court.”

 

Lawsuit Asserts Immigration Hearings by Videoconference is Unconstitutional

Federal District Court in Manhattan, where a new lawsuit was filed stating challenging the constitutionality of immigrants appearing before judges by videoconference. Photo credit:Hiroko Masuike, as reported in The New York Times, 2/12/18.

Federal District Court in Manhattan, where a new lawsuit was filed stating challenging the constitutionality of immigrants appearing before judges by videoconference. Photo credit: Hiroko Masuike, as reported in The New York Times, 2/12/18.

According to a report by the New York Times, a lawsuit was filed on Tuesday in the Federal District Court in Manhattan, asserting that “detained immigrants could not fully communicate with their lawyers and participate in proceedings when their only interaction with immigration court was through video.”

In response to the overcrowding in immigration courts, last year, federal authorities in New York started keeping immigrants in detention centers for their legal proceedings, utilizing videoconferencing technology to appear before judges.

According to the NYT report, the lawsuit claims that “the policy infringes upon immigrants’ constitutional rights in a deliberate attempt to speed up and increase deportations.”

“As a result, the lawsuit said, immigrants who might otherwise be granted the ability to stay in the United States instead could be deported. The suit cited several instances when videoconferencing had harmful effects on immigrants and their hearings,” reports the NYT.

Amid forest fire claims, PG&E files for bankruptcy

The Camp Fire in California as seen from the Landsat 8 satellite on November 8, 2018.

The Camp Fire in California as seen from the Landsat 8 satellite on November 8, 2018.

Pacific Gas and Electric Corp has filed for bankruptcy, a legal proceeding that could deny forest fire victims compensation.

“California’s largest utility, facing up to $30 billion in potential liability for recent California wildfires, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection,” CBS News reports.

“Filing for bankruptcy essentially ensures the company can continue to operate and its customers will get power, but doesn’t assure any of the fire victims will get compensation — or that ratepayers won’t get hit with part of the bill, CBS San Francisco and CBS Los Angeles say,” the report notes.

“The filing enables PG&E to freeze its debts and continue operations while developing a financial reorganization plan,” CBS News reports.

PG&E aims to secure $5.5 billion in loans during the bankruptcy.

California federal judge blocks Trump birth control coverage rules in 13 states

Photo credit: AP File Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, as reported by AP on 1/13/19.

Photo credit: AP File Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, as reported by AP on 1/13/19.

According to the AP, on Sunday, 1/13/19, Judge Haywood Gilliam of California granted a request for a preliminary injunction by California, 12 other states and Washington, D.C.,  to block Trump administration rules, which would allow more employers to opt out of providing women with no-cost birth control. According to the report, “The plaintiffs sought to prevent the rules from taking effect as scheduled today while a lawsuit against them moved forward… But Gilliam limited the scope of the ruling to the plaintiffs, rejecting their request that he block the rules nationwide.”

Calif. Gov. Brown makes final judicial appointments

Gov. Brown of California announces final judicial appointments during his last few weeks in office. Photo credit: https://www.gov.ca.gov

Gov. Brown of California announces final judicial appointments during his last few weeks in office. Photo credit: https://www.gov.ca.gov

Less than a week before leaving office, California Gov. Jerry Brown made his final judicial appointments, filling 12 open trial court seats.

“Like many of the approximately 600 judicial appointments Brown has made over the last eight years, the latest batch of soon-to-be bench officers is ethnically diverse and includes many women (nine) and Democrats (10),” The Recorder at law.com reports.

The appointees include Clifford Blakely Jr. and Karin Schwartz in Alameda County; John Devine in Contra Costa County; Vedica Puri to the San Francisco Superior Court; Nicole Isger in Santa Clara County; Terrye Davis in Solano County; Heather Mardel Jones in Fresno County; and Maria Cavalluzzi, Gail Killefer, Pamela M. Villanueva, David Yaroslavsky and Jennifer H. Cops in  Los Angeles County.

Brown’s full announcement is posted online.

Judges volunteer to hear cases in jurisdictions burdened by heavy caseloads

 Royce Lamberth, Senior Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, participates in the Judiciary’s intercircuit assignments program and helps the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals with a busy docket. Photo credit: Wikipedia.

Royce Lamberth, Senior Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, participates in the Judiciary’s intercircuit assignments program and helps the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals with a busy docket. Photo credit: Wikipedia.

Judicial vacancies and other factors have prompted a rise in the number of intercircuit judicial assignments, when judges volunteer in other jurisdictions to ease crushing caseloads.

“The demand for intercircuit assignments increased by 27 percent in 2017 from the previous year, as many courts juggling heavy caseloads looked for relief,” reports the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. “The increase was caused primarily by a large number of judicial vacancies. Other factors contributed, such as natural disasters and extended illnesses that temporarily impacted the availability of judges.”

For example, Senior Judge Royce C. Lamberth participates in the Judiciary’s intercircuit assignments program and helps the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals with a busy docket.

“Intercircuit assignment requests typically are made by the chief judge of a court experiencing high caseloads. They must be approved by the circuit chief, and as required by statute, authorized by the Chief Justice,” the article explains.

U.S. Dept. of Justice Monitor Criticizes Juvenile Courts in Tennessee

Screen Shot 2018-12-12 at 10.58.35 AMAccording to a recent AP article published in U.S. News & World Report, “Despite the end to federal oversight of a Tennessee county’s juvenile justice system, a U.S. Department of Justice monitor says ‘blatantly unfair” practices persist.'”

Monitor Sandra Simkins outlined in her report two main areas where the county still doesn’t comply with the agreement reached in 2012: 1) the court exerts “inappropriate influence” over defense appointments; and 2) that children are transferred to adult criminal court without due process.

California official sues maker of Humira, alleging kickbacks

Photo credit: www.abbvie.com

Photo credit: www.abbvie.com

The state of California is suing AbbVie Inc. over its flagship drug, Humira, alleging the pharmaceutical company gave kickbacks to healthcare providers.

Reuters reported in mid-September on the complaint, brought by Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones.

“The regulator alleged that AbbVie engaged in a far-reaching scheme including cash, meals, drinks, gifts, trips, and patient referrals, as well as free and valuable professional goods and services to physicians to induce and reward Humira prescriptions,” Reuters reported.

“The case, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, alleged that private insurers have paid out $1.2 billion in Humira-related pharmacy claims.”

AbbVie defended its actions, saying it complies with state and federal law and that “it provides a number of support services for patients, once they are prescribed Humira, that both educate and assist patients with their therapy, including nursing support.”

Girl Scouts sue Boy Scouts for trademark infringement

Photo credit: From North Charleston, SC, United States [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit: From North Charleston, SC, United States [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Scouts are on the outs.

National Public Radio reports that the Girl Scouts of the USA filed a federal lawsuit “accusing the Boy Scouts of trademark infringement.”

The dispute started last October, “when the Boy Scouts said it would start allowing girls to join its programs,” NPR reports.

The Boy Scouts of America explained its policy in a summary sheet.

“Cub Scouting is organized in packs and dens. In 2018, an existing pack may choose to establish a new girl pack, establish a pack that consists of girl dens and boy dens or remain an all-boy pack. Cub Scout dens will be single-gender — all boys or all girls. Cub Scout packs, meanwhile, can include any combination of all-boy or all-girl dens,” the Boy Scouts explained.

NPR noted that Girl Scouts National President Kathy Hopinkah Hannan accused the Boy Scouts’ national president at the time, Randall Stephenson, “of carrying out a ‘covert campaign’ to recruit girls.”

“We are confused as to why, rather than working to appeal to the 90 percent of boys who are not involved in BSA programs, you would choose to target girls,” Hannan wrote.

Due to customer agreements, scooter companies could steer around lawsuits

Photo Credit: Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune as reported in The San Diego Union-Tribune on 11/5/18.

Photo Credit: Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune as reported in The San Diego Union-Tribune on 11/5/18.

Scooter makers face legal action filed on behalf of injured riders, but contracts with customers could shield the companies, according to reporting out of California.

Attorney Catherine Lerer with McGee, Lerer & Associates filed a class action lawsuit against scooter companies Lime and Bird last month “alleging, among other things, ‘products liability and gross negligence, as well as aiding and abetting assault,” The San Diego Union-Tribune reported on Nov. 5.

“The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, seeks damages on behalf of nine plaintiffs, including pedestrians hit by scooter riders,” the article noted.

Legal action could face difficult odds, the Union-Tribune reported. “So far scooter companies such as Lime and Bird — now valued in the billions — have avoided having to take legal responsibility for such accidents,” the article noted. “That’s largely because scooter companies require riders to agree to a lengthy legal contract through their smart-phone apps before renting a device.”