Court rebukes President Trump for blocking followers on Twitter

Photo Credit: Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times as reported in The New York Times on 7/9/19.

Photo Credit: Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times as reported in The New York Times on 7/9/19.

How the First Amendment functions in the social media age gained further clarity this week when a federal appeals court ruled that President Trump violated the Constitution by blocking people from following his Twitter account.

“Because Mr. Trump uses Twitter to conduct government business, he cannot exclude some Americans from reading his posts — and engaging in conversations in the replies to them — because he does not like their views, a three-judge panel on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, ruled unanimously,” The New York Times reports.

Tuesday’s ruling may be appealed.

“Mr. Trump’s legal team argued, among other things, that he operated the account merely in a personal capacity, and so had the right to block whomever he wanted for any reason — including because users annoyed him by criticizing or mocking him,” The New York Times reports.

“Courts have increasingly been grappling with how to apply the First Amendment, written in the 18th century, to the social-media era,” The Times continues. “In 2017, for example, the Supreme Court unanimously struck down a North Carolina law that had made it a crime for registered sex offenders to use websites like Facebook.”

Alabama case stirs debate about the rights of fetuses over those of mothers

Marshae Jones was charged with manslaughter when she was shot and her fetus died. Photo Credit: Jefferson County Jail as reported by The New York Times.

Marshae Jones was charged with manslaughter when she was shot and her fetus died. Photo Credit: Jefferson County Jail as reported by The New York Times.

According to the New York Times, “Marshae Jones was five months pregnant when she was shot in the stomach. Her fetus did not survive the shooting… But on Wednesday, it was Ms. Jones who was charged in the death.”

“The police have said she was culpable because she started the fight that led to the shooting and failed to remove herself from harm’s way,” explains the report.

Since Jones was arrested and charged with manslaughter in Alabama last month, there has been “heated debate over the rights of pregnant women and fetuses nationwide, and Alabama is ground zero for the issue.”  

From another New York Times report: “Activists have also cited it as a demonstration of the dangers of the “personhood” movement, which pushes for the rights of fetuses to be recognized as equal to — or even more important than — the rights of the mothers who carry them. And many are now watching as the movement gains momentum in Alabama, which already has some of the most restrictive reproductive rights laws in the country.”

The Times explains that last November, Alabama voters approved a ballot measure that amended the state’s constitution to recognize the “sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children.” This has resulted in a number of court cases aimed to protect the rights of unborn children, including a wrongful-death lawsuit by a 19-year-old man against a clinic and a pharmaceutical company that provided an abortion pill to his girlfriend.

“Under Alabama law, life begins at conception,” said Bryan Fair, professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Alabama School of Law as reported in The New York Times. “The question is whether that is consistent with federal constitutional law.”

Testing the 1st Amendment: Journalism Becomes a Proving Ground for Anti-SLAPP Laws

by Sara Corcoran, Courts Monitor Publisher
(Originally published in CityWatch LA on 3/14/19)
 

Photo originally published in CityWatch LA, 3/14/19.

Photo originally published in CityWatch LA, 3/14/19.

On February 11, L. Lin Wood, an Atlanta based lawyer, filed a complaint in conjunction with Kentucky based lawyer, Todd McMurtry, in the Eastern District of Kentucky against the Washington Post (Wapo).

Kentucky does not have Anti-Slapp Laws — laws designed to allow for early dismissal of lawsuits related to Freedom of Speech. Mr. Wood is an experienced defamation litigator who has represented multiple high-profile clients, including accused Atlanta bomber Richard Jewell, former Congressman Gary Condit, and Burke Ramsey the brother of Jon Benet. 

The complaint was filed on behalf is Mr. and Mrs. Sandmann, as guardians of. The Plaintiff seeks $50 million in compensatory damages and $200 million in punitive damages for the harm Nicholas allegedly suffered as a result of the negligent, reckless, and malicious attacks both digital and in print. Sandmann asserts that these events have caused permanent damage to his life and reputation and were directed by malice. It is the events of January 18, 2019, that occurred on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. that serve as the basis for the civil complaint.  Read the full story …

Global warming, fossil fuels focus of new wave of lawsuits

 Photo Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images, as reported by Vox, 2/22/19.


Photo Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images, as reported by Vox, 2/22/19.

Fossil fuel producers could follow in the footsteps of tobacco companies, based on a new string of lawsuits targeting global warming, according to a Vox Media story.

“In 1998, 46 states and the District of Columbia signed on to the largest civil litigation settlement in US history, the tobacco Master Settlement Agreement,” Vox notes, referring to the litigation that forced tobacco companies to pay out more than $206 billion over 25 years.

“Now another wave of lawsuits is trying to hold powerful institutions accountable for an even bigger crisis, by making them pay and change their ways,” Vox reports. “At least eight US cities, five counties, and one state are suing some of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies for selling products that contribute to global warming while misleading the public about their harms. In parallel, 21 young people are trying to suspend fossil fuel development as part of their high-profile climate rights case, Juliana v. United States, against the government. (The case is currently awaiting a hearing at the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals.)”

Fossil fuel litigation could gain traction based on early precedents, Vox notes.

“The Environmental Protection Agency was forced to regulate carbon dioxide to fight climate change as the result of a 2007 Supreme Court decision in a lawsuit, Massachusetts v. EPA,” the site explains.

Yet, these broad lawsuits can backfire as well.

“Climate change lawsuits could lead to multibillion-dollar payouts, and force an unwilling government to make cutting greenhouse gases a central priority. Both types of cases could set precedents that would last for decades,” Vox notes. “But litigation takes years of effort and can cost millions. If a court or a jury rules against the plaintiffs, they could end up worse off than when they started.”

Anonymous Alfalfa

by Sara Corcoran, Courts Monitor Publisher
(Originally published in CityWatch LA on 2/14/19)

 You can use the attached image with the caption: Senator John Kerry steps down as Alfalfa president (Photo originally published in CityWatch LA)


Senator John Kerry steps down as Alfalfa president (Photo originally published in CityWatch LA)

Every 3rd week in January, the “.02%” take over Washington DC to host their annual dinner at the Capital Hilton. Established in 1913, the Alfalfa Club cultivates its membership of elite powerbrokers from all over the United States. 

With a membership of 200– including Fortune 500 executives, politicians, and Presidents.— members invite guests to attend the DC dinner. This is a seldom refused invitation. However, breaking with long-standing tradition, the ever-insecure Trump declined the invite for 2018 and 2019. 

So, if you weren’t one of the lucky few invited to attend the passing of the gavel from former Senator John Kerry to newly elected Alfalfa President, Senator Mitt Romney, you can still be a spectator from the basement of the Hay Adams Hotel. If there is an optimal time to catch a glimpse of the accomplished and well-heeled crowd, it’s the weekend of January 25th. 

Read more here.

Court rejects Department of Defense policy banning transgenders in military

In this March 27, 2018, file photo, plaintiffs Cathrine Schmid, second left, and Conner Callahan, second right, listen with supporters during a news conference in front of a federal courthouse following a hearing in Seattle.  Photo credit: Elaine Thompson/AP as reported in the Military Times on 8/24/18.

In this March 27, 2018, file photo, plaintiffs Cathrine Schmid, second left, and Conner Callahan, second right, listen with supporters during a news conference in front of a federal courthouse following a hearing in Seattle. Photo credit: Elaine Thompson/AP as reported in the Military Times on 8/24/18.

In Doe v. Trump, a federal court has ruled that the government “failed to show what deliberative process it undertook to decide some transgender personnel should not be allowed to serve,” according to Military Times.

“In the lawsuit, Doe v. Trump, transgender service members and recruits are challenging the Pentagon’s new policy on transgender service members, which forbids any recruit or service member experiencing ‘gender dysphoria’ from serving, and implements additional restrictions on those transgender personnel already serving,” the publication reported.

“Since last fall, attorneys have filed four federal cases challenging the ban: Doe v. Trump in Washington, D.C.; Karnoski v. Trump in Washington State; Stockman v. Trump in California and Stone V. Trump in Maryland,” Military Times reported.

According to the New York Times, the Obama administration announced in 2016 its plan for the armed services to begin accepting transgender recruits at the start of this year. President Trump “abruptly reversed course, announcing on Twitter in July 2017 that the military would ‘no longer accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity. …”

Many Catholic leaders object to revised sex-abuse statute of limitations laws

Cardinal Timothy Dolan. Photo credit: Mark Mulville as reported in The Buffalo News on 3/20/18.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan. Photo credit: Mark Mulville as reported in The Buffalo News on 3/20/18.

A push in some jurisdictions for a longer statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases has raised concerns among Catholic leaders.

On March 29, America Magazine, the Jesuit Review, wrote about statutes of limitations laws and unease among Catholic leaders about proposed changes.

“Nearly two decades after revelations of sexual abuse by priests were widely reported, legislators in states around the country are considering changes to laws that would give victims of child sex abuse more time to file criminal and civil complaints,” the magazine reported. “Catholic leaders in those places support many of those changes — but some claim provisions in the proposed laws unfairly target private organizations and that they could open them up to lawsuits over abuse that occurred decades ago.”

In New York, lawmakers recently considered a provision that sought to alter the criminal and civil statutes of limitation for sex abuse cases, including a one-year window to allow civil suits to proceed for abuse that occurred decades ago.

“Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, said enacting the one-year window would be ‘toxic’ to the church, The Buffalo News reported on March 20.

 

More civil lawsuits in wake of deadly fires in Oakland, Calif.

Surviving tenants and families of victims sue Oakland, Calif. for inspection flaws at a San Pablo Avenue halfway house. Photo Credit: Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group as reported by The Mercury News, 2/9/18

Surviving tenants and families of victims sue Oakland, Calif. for inspection flaws at a San Pablo Avenue halfway house. Photo Credit: Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group as reported by The Mercury News, 2/9/18

Oakland is facing a lawsuit stemming from a fatal fire that killed four people in a halfway house at 2551 San Pablo Avenue in March 2017, The Mercury News reported.

“Surviving tenants and families of victims who lived at 2551 San Pablo Ave. originally filed suit in April 2017 against building owner Keith Kim and a nonprofit agency that provided services there,” explained The Mercury News. “The city was added to the list of defendants in a master complaint filed last month in Alameda County Superior Court.”

Oakland is already facing a suit for a Dec. 2, 2016 fire in which 36 people perished at an electronic dance party at the “Ghost Ship” warehouse. The Ghost Ship lawsuit helped open the door for the San Pablo fire suit: “In November, an Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled Oakland had a ‘mandatory duty’ to ensure safety at the Ghost Ship warehouse. The tentative ruling pierced through broad immunities protecting California cities from civil lawsuits to protect workers who either botched inspections of a building or failed to perform the inspection at all,” the report stated.

Both the San Pablo and Ghost Ship fires exposed deep flaws in Oakland’s fire inspection system. According to the San Pablo lawsuit, “These people were plunged into darkness and thick, black smoke and tried to exit the unsafe structure. The interior of the three-story, 43-unit building was a known fire hazard which was cluttered with storage, debris, discarded furniture and open piles of garbage.”

Law Firms Eager to Solicit Victims of California Fires

Photo Credit: Jim Wilson/The New York Times as reported by the New York Times on 10/20/17.

Photo Credit: Jim Wilson/The New York Times as reported by the New York Times on 10/20/17.

Where there’s smoke, there are lawyers. From the Press Democratin Santa Rosa, Calif., comes a wry acknowledgement that the record-setting wildfires that devastated California’s wine country set the table for a legal feeding frenzy.

“After the limitless demonstrations of valor, selflessness and generosity, we now witness a flood of offers from lawyers from down the block and across the nation to advocate for victims of our greatest disaster — and for an ample share of any judgments or settlements. …” notes the article, titled “Chris Smith: First came the heroes, then the helpers, now the lawyers.”

“There are law-firm solicitations on the radio, on billboards, in newspapers, on Facebook, everywhere you look.” The article quotes Baron and Budd, a multi-state law firm, which chronicles the fire damage at its website. Baron and Budd reports, “The human costs of the recent Northern California wildfires were staggering, with 43 people losing their lives. Approximately 6,000 acres were burned and more than 8,400 structures destroyed. As a result, the dollar amount of damages could be in the billions.” The firm cites “reports that equipment owned and maintained by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) may have played a role in causing the disaster.”

The Press Democrat notes, “The eagerness of the lawyers trolling for clients is pretty clearly related to the blood in the water: the possibility that PG&E may not have adequately maintained and protected its power lines.”

In the aftermath of the fires, The New York Times on Oct. 20 noted, “Determining the causes ofthe fires could have huge financial implications in deciding who ultimately pays for the extensive damage, including almost 8,000 structures destroyed. Insurance companies will be looking to recover some of the more than $1 billion that the California insurance commissioner estimates they could end up paying out.”

With Trump’s DACA Decision, A Look At Context

Tomas Martinez, with GLAHR, a grass roots organization from Atlanta, chants to excite the crowd in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Monday, April 18, 2016. Hundreds gathered in front of the U.S. Supreme Court to show their support for President Obama’s immigration executive action as the Court hears oral arguments on the deferred action initiatives, DAPA and expanded DACA.  Photo credit: Lexey Swall

Tomas Martinez, with GLAHR, a grass roots organization from Atlanta, chants to excite the crowd in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Monday, April 18, 2016. Hundreds gathered in front of the U.S. Supreme Court to show their support for President Obama’s immigration executive action as the Court hears oral arguments on the deferred action initiatives, DAPA and expanded DACA. Photo credit: Lexey Swall

The Texas Tribune continues excellent coverage of President Trump’s milestone decision on DACA, the Obama-era program that allows undocumented immigrants to stay in the county with some status if they came into the country before they were 16 years old and were 30 or younger in June of 2012. The “dreamer” act is a big deal everywhere, but none more bigly a deal than in Texas.

The Tribune reminded its readers that Texas has a leadership role in opposing the plan, both with civil lawsuits and threats of legal action. They also note the relevance for the Lone Star State: “… as of August 2016, more than 220,000 undocumented immigrants in Texas had applied for a permit or a renewal of one under the program, and nearly 200,000 of those have been approved, according to government statistics. It’s the second-highest total behind California’s estimated 387,000 applications and 359,000 approvals during the same time frame.”

Texas, we are reminded, led 10 states in legal challenges to the Obama policy.

More context:

“The DACA initiative preceded a broader but ill-fated 2014 program, known as DAPA, which would have expanded the eligible population of the program and lengthened the work permits to three years. That program was never implemented after the state of Texas sued the Obama administration and successfully convinced a district judge and an appellate court that Obama overstepped his executive authority. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court split on the matter and upheld the appellate court’s decision.
“The Trump administration officially rescinded that policy earlier this month but said that DACA and some expanded DACA permits would remain in effect. Paxton argued in Thursday’s letter that that’s not good enough and warned that if the 2012 program isn’t rescinded, he and the other plaintiffs from the 2014 lawsuit would go back to court to settle the issue.
“If, by September 5, 2017, the Executive Branch agrees to rescind the June 15, 2012 DACA memorandum and not to renew or issue any new DACA or Expanded DACA permits in the future, then the plaintiffs that successfully challenged DAPA and Expanded DACA will voluntarily dismiss their lawsuit currently pending in the Southern District of Texas,” they write. ‘Otherwise, the complaint in that case will be amended to challenge both the DACA program and the remaining Expanded DACA permits.'”

Follow the debate from what amounts to Ground Zero in Texas here:

Texas leads 10 states in urging Trump to end Obama-era immigration program