Buzz Over NY ‘Silver Case’ Political Scandal

The asbestos litigation industry is buzzing over how the arrest of a major New York politician might – or might not – create a storyline for other high-volume “magnet” communities, says Courts Monitor Publisher Sara Warner in a new Huffington Post column. Her report includes observations from a recent Beverly Hills industry conference on “cutting edge” issues.

Justice Reform Create Odd Political Bedfellows

It seems that fixing the American justice system continues to be one place where America’s most high-profile political enemies can find common ground. The New York Times is reporting that the “usually bitter adversaries” of Koch Industries and the Center for American Progress have agreed to work together on a new group, the Coalition for Public Safety. Other participating groups, left and right, include the ACLU, Americans for Tax Reform and Tea-Party leaning FreedomWorks. They’ll start with $5 million.
According to the NYT, “organizers of the advocacy campaign… consider it to be the largest national effort focused on the strained prison and justice system. They also view the coalition as a way to show lawmakers in gridlocked Washington that factions with widely divergent views can find ways to work together and arrive at consensus policy solutions.” 
This follows a Koch effort with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, which Reuters recently noted “… announced a major new grant to fund training for lawyers who represent indigent defendants. That’s no surprise. Providing good lawyers for defendants who can’t afford counsel is a core mission for NACDL. But the source of the funding caused a bit of a stir: Koch Industries, the Kansas-based, privately held manufacturing conglomerate that is the source of the boundless wealth of Charles and David Koch.”
Reuters noted that the “senate’s Democratic majority leader, Harry Reid, has tagged them [the Kochs] (via Talking Points Memo) “‘un-American’ plutocrats who ‘have no conscience and are willing to lie’ in order to ‘rig the system’ against the middle class.” That report said NACDL’s president told the reporter that  the group only cares that Koch Industries shares its view of the sanctity of the Sixth Amendment and defendants’ right to council.
So far, the odd-bedfellow efforts have been all about criminal, not civil, courts. But any improvements are bound to help both sides of that ledger.

High Court Backs Homeowners In Mortgage-Recession Row

The U.S. Supreme Court came down on the side of homeowners Tuesday, ruling in favor of mortgage-takers trying to back out of their deals as they accuse banks of failing to follow federal “truth in lending laws.” Reuters explains that “… on a 9-0 vote, the court handed a win to an Eagan, Minnesota couple, Larry and Cheryle Jesinoski, over the $611,000 loan they obtained in 2007 from Countrywide Home Loans Inc, now part of Bank of America Corp.”
More broadly, the ruling underscores that federal law “… allows consumers to rescind a mortgage for up to three years after it was made if the lender does not notify them of various details about the loan including finance charges and interest rates.”
The move could have significant implications for mortgage industry process and for homeowners who feel they were not notified of specific mortgage terms. Read the story here: UPDATE 1-U.S. Supreme Court rules for homeowners over mortgage dispute

Senator Seeks Cameras In Fed. Courts

U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, poised to become Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, is already making increased court transparency a priority. The Des Moines Register reports that the senator “… is again encouraging the U.S. Supreme Court to add cameras in the courtroom.” His encouragement comes in the wake of U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts dedicating his year-end “state of the courts” report on technology, but without even mentioning cameras in the courtroom.
“In his year-end report, Chief Justice Roberts rightly promotes how the courts have embraced new technology,” Grassley is quoted as saying in the report from the Associated Press. “Unfortunately, though, the courts have yet to embrace the one technology that the founders would likely have advocated for — cameras in the courtroom. The founders intended for trials to be held in front of all people who wished to attend.”
The senator has introduced legislation to force the courts to allow cameras and says he will do so again. See the story here: Grassley: Put cameras in the Supreme Court


Roberts Promises Supreme Court E-filing

U.S. Chief Justice Robert’s annual “state of the judiciary” report has brought the usual level of yawn, but his comments on court tech did catch some media. A good example is from The Washington Post, which noted that “… there is, in fact, a nugget of newsy news in Roberts’s“2014 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary”: The Supreme Court will bypass the federal judiciary’s somewhat troubled electronic case-filing system in favor of its own, expected to come in 2016. But the chief justice’s accounting is perhaps most useful for what, with a bit of between-the-lines reading, it reveals about why, he admits, ‘the courts will often choose to be late to the harvest of American ingenuity.'”
It’s not all that encouraging for anyone hoping the nation’s highest court would become more transparent, especially since issues like cameras in the courtroom seem far, far away.

Magazine Notes High-Stakes Court Cases

Mother Jones magazine is offering a rundown on five states where electing state supreme court justices has become a high-stakes political battle, complete with spending millions of dollars on attack and counter-attack ads. The piece offers some familiar names for anyone who follows the judicial policy wars, like Texas and North Carolina, and some places where you might not have noticed conflict, like Tennessee.
In particular, the magazine notes that Florida, also home to significant fights over the governor’s office and of course a vital presidential swing state, has seen dramatic increases. Florida, says reporter A.J. Vicens,  “… ranked near the bottom of the list between 2000-09 in terms of judicial candidate contributions, with nominees raising just $7,500 during that entire period. But that changed in the 2011-12 cycle, when three Supreme Court judges were up for retention votes, with candidate fundraising coming in at more than $1.5 million and independent spending topping $3.1 million.”
For court watchers, it may be interesting that the increased spending is happening in some states with “retention” models, which are believed to decrease political efforts in the judiciary. In those states, voters can only decide whether or not to keep or dismiss a judge – as opposed to choosing between candidates. California, for example, uses a retention system for its high court, although a huge majority of lower court judges run unopposed.

Budget Advisory Group Holding Thursday Call

The public can listen into the next meeting of California’s Trial Budget Advisory Committee meeting via a conference call, officials announced. The meeting will discuss “ongoing budget issues plaguing the state’s courts,” according to published accounts, and will focus on court interpreter funding and proposed revisions to some tech project allocations. 
The meeting is open to the public via conference call. The meeting will also be audiocast live. More information is available here: Trial Court Budget Advisory Committee – judicial_council.

CCM Publisher Warns Of ‘Perjury Pawns’

Writing in the Huffington Post, CCM Publisher Sara Warner notes that a recent bankruptcy case is rocking the world of civil asbestos litigation, one of the leading case-issues in California and nationwide. A federal judge’s order lists problems with the specific case, including “disappearing” of evidence and testimony that seems to contradict other sworn statements involving dozens of bankruptcy trusts. But, she notes, what about the victims?
Read the HuffPo piece here

New Divorce Documentary Is ‘Takedown’ Of System



Reviews are pouring in for the new “Divorce Corp.” documentary by Joseph Sorge, which opens this month and paints a very dark picture of family law courts. While the film is national in scope, it focuses on California and its most interesting character is a private investigator in the Golden State. Accounts are of a “system” with little oversight, complete with conflicts of interest and judges beyond belief. It should be noted that the longtime television producer got the idea for the film from his own divorce. 
You can find plenty of online info, but one of the better reviews is from Paste Magazine” “Narrated by Dr. Drew Pinsky, Divorce Corp.unfolds as a methodological case study, and a shrewd takedown of a legal system in which more money passes through family law court than all others combined. Using their increasingly dexterous talents to manipulate a system of at least partially manufactured dissent, lawyers have driven up the national average in divorce fees to a bewildering $50,000, which is more money than a lot of folks make in a year. Litigants, we’re told and shown, are little more than grist for the mill.”
The movie’s website is here.
The Paste review is here.

Routine Juvenile Court Press Access Seems Doomed

A state appeals court has issued a tentative ruling that it will overturn an open-court decision by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Nash, the presiding judge of the county’s juvenile court who had decreed that dependency hearings were “presumptively open” to the press. The issue has been highlighted by open-court advocates who argue that state oversight of child custody is of immense public interest.
On the other hand, social worker unions and others have argued that protecting the privacy of children is more important than open courts. For example, they argue, the presumption of an open court means families and attorneys would have to monitor courtrooms to see if media was present. The Los Angeles Times and the Children’s Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law have filed briefs asking the appeals court to keep the hearings open.
In an L.A. Times report on the pending decision, which is open for more arguments later this month, the children’s institute director, Robert Fellmeth, said, “We fully agree that there are many instances where it’s appropriate to have confidentiality and protect vulnerable children from exposure. Nash’s order allowed that, liberally… what we oppose is the draconian cloak of secrecy that conceals this profound exercise in state parenting.”