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Lawyer: Over 150 Minneapolis officers seeking disability
Court Center | 2020/07/10 02:05
More than 150 Minneapolis police officers are filing work-related disability claims after the death of George Floyd and ensuing unrest, with about three-quarters citing post-traumatic stress disorder as the reason for their planned departures, according to an attorney representing the officers.

Their duty disability claims, which will take months to process, come as the city is seeing an increase in violent crime and while city leaders push a proposal to replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new agency that they say would have a more holistic approach.

While Floyd’s death in May and the unrest that followed are not the direct cause of many of the disability requests, attorney Ron Meuser said, those events and what Meuser called a lack of support from city leadership were a breaking point for many who had been struggling with PTSD from years on the job. Duty disability means the officer was disabled while engaged in inherently dangerous acts specific to the job.

“Following the George Floyd incident, unfortunately it became too much and as a result they were unable to, and are unable to, continue on and move forward,” Meuser said. “They feel totally and utterly abandoned.”

He said many officers he represents were at a precinct that police abandoned  as people were breaking in during the unrest. Some officers feared they wouldn’t make it home, he said, and wrote final notes to loved ones. People in the crowd ultimately set fire to the building.

Mayor Jacob Frey issued a statement saying that COVID-19 and unrest following Floyd’s death tested the community and officers in profound ways. He said cities need resources to reflect the realities on the ground.

“In the meantime, I am committed to supporting those officers committed to carrying out their oath to serve and protect the people of Minneapolis during a challenging time for our city,” he said.

Meuser said in recent weeks, 150 officers have retained his office for help in filing for duty disability benefits through the state’s Public Employment Retirement Association, or PERA. So far, 75 of them have already left the job, he said.

Police spokesman John Elder questioned Meuser’s figure of 150, though he does expect an increase in departures. The department currently has about 850 officers and will adjust staffing to ensure it can do its job, he said.

The city said it has received 17 PTSD workers compensation claims in the last month, but when it comes to PERA duty disability, officers are not obligated to notify the Police Department that an application was submitted. Meuser said the city isn’t being transparent about departures, and the numbers it sees will lag as PERA benefits take months to process.



Court: Some employers can refuse to offer free birth control
Legal Watch | 2020/07/08 02:06
The Supreme Court ruled broadly Wednesday in favor of the religious rights of employers in two cases that could leave more than 70,000 women without free contraception and tens of thousands of people with no way to sue for job discrimination.

In both cases the court ruled 7-2, with two liberal justices joining conservatives in favor of the Trump administration and religious employers.

In the more prominent of the two cases, involving President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, the justices greenlighted changes the Trump administration had sought. The administration announced in 2017 that it would allow more employers to opt out of providing the no-cost birth control coverage required under the law,  but lower courts had blocked the changes.

The ruling is a significant election-year win for President Donald Trump, who counts on heavy support from evangelicals and other Christian groups for votes and policy backing. It was also good news for the administration, which in recent weeks has seen headline-making Supreme Court decisions go against its positions.

In one of those earlier cases, the court  rejected Trump’s effort to end legal protections for 650,000 young immigrants. In another, the justices said a landmark civil rights law protects gay, lesbian and transgender people from discrimination in employment.

Another particularly important decision for Trump is ahead. The justices are expected to announce Thursday whether Congress and the Manhattan district attorney can see the president’s taxes and other financial records he has fought to keep private.

In its second big ruling on Wednesday, the court sided with two Catholic schools in California in a decision underscoring that certain employees of religious schools can’t sue for employment discrimination.


High court won't hear abortion clinic 'buffer zone' cases
Top Legal News | 2020/07/03 04:50
The Supreme Court on Thursday turned away pleas from anti-abortion activists to make it easier for them to protest outside clinics, declining to wade back into the abortion debate just days after striking down a Louisiana law regulating abortion clinics.

The justices said in a written order that they would not hear cases from Chicago and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where anti-abortion activists had challenged ordinances that restrict their behavior outside clinics.

As is usual, the justices did not comment in turning away the cases. The order from the court noted Justice Clarence Thomas would have heard the Chicago case.

The Supreme Court has since the late 1990s heard several cases involving demonstration-free zones, called buffer zones, outside abortion clinics. Most recently, in 2014, the justices unanimously struck down a law that created a 35-foot protest-free zone outside Massachusetts abortion clinics. The court said Massachusetts’ law, which made it a crime to stand in the protest-free zone for most people not entering or exiting the clinic or passing by, was an unconstitutional restraint on the free-speech rights of protesters.

On Thursday, one of the two cases the court declined to take up involved an ordinance passed by the city counsel in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania's capital, in 2012 that made it illegal to “congregate, patrol, picket or demonstrate” in a zone 20 feet from a health care facility. Anti-abortion activists sued, arguing that the ordinance violates their free speech rights. Lower courts have upheld the ordinance, however, ruling it doesn't apply to “sidewalk counseling,” where individuals who oppose abortion offer assistance and information about alternatives to abortion to those entering a clinic.


Courts straining to balance public health with public access
Headline News | 2020/06/28 19:41
After her son was arrested for allegedly throwing rocks at police during a protest over racial injustice, Tanisha Brown headed to the courthouse in her California hometown to watch her son's arraignment.

She was turned away, told the courthouse was closed to the public because of coronavirus precautions. A day later, the Kern County Superior Court in Bakersfield posted a notice on its website explaining how the public could request special permission from judicial officers to attend court proceedings.

But problems with public access have persisted, according to a federal lawsuit filed Friday on behalf of Brown and several others who have been unable to watch court sessions.

The situation in Kern County highlights the challenges courts across the U.S. are facing as they try to balance public health protections with public access to their proceedings amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to a public trial, but some courts have held arraignments and other pretrial hearings without the public watching or listening. In some cases, the public had no means of participating. In other cases, the defendant's family members, friends or other interested residents weren't aware how to gain access to special video feeds.

"The courtrooms are supposed to be fully public, anybody who’s interested is supposed to be able to watch, and they have not been doing that,” said Sergio De La Pava, legal director of New York County Defender Services, a nonprofit public defenders office in Manhattan.


Supreme Court doesn’t wade into Texas mail-in voting battle
Court Center | 2020/06/27 02:41
The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday rejected a request by Texas Democrats to allow all of the state’s 16 million registered voters to vote by mail during the coronavirus pandemic.

The denial is not the end of the ongoing battle over mail-in voting in Texas, but it remains a loss for Democrats who made the emergency ruling request while the original case is tied up at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor urged the lower court to consider the case “well in advance of the November election.” Voting by mail in Texas is generally limited to those 65 or older or those with a “sickness or physical condition” that prevents voting in person.

For months, Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has fought expanding mail-in balloting during the pandemic, saying fear of contracting the virus is an insufficient reason. A federal judge in Texas sided with Democrats in May, but that decision is on hold pending appeal.

Early voting in Texas begins Monday for primary runoff elections that had been postponed to July over coronavirus fears, but Texas is now one of the nation’s coronavirus hotspots as confirmed cases reach record levels and Gov. Greg Abbott reimposes restrictions.


Top Manhattan prosecutor leaves job after standoff with Barr
Court Center | 2020/06/24 02:36
An extraordinary standoff between the Justice Department and Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman ended Saturday when the prosecutor agreed to leave his job with an assurance that his investigations into allies of President Donald Trump would not be disturbed.

The announcement capped two days of conflicting statements, allegations of political interference in prosecutions, and defiance from Berman. On Saturday, Attorney General William Barr said Berman’s refusal to resign under pressure prompted Trump to fire him. Trump tried to distance himself from the dispute, telling reporters the decision “was all up to the attorney general.”

This episode deepened tensions between the Justice Department and congressional Democrats, who have accused Barr of politicizing the agency and acting more like Trump’s personal lawyer than the country’s chief law enforcement officer. It also raised questions about ongoing investigations in the Southern District of New York, most notably a probe into Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney.

Barr set off the whirlwind chain of events on Friday night with a surprise announcement that Berman was resigning, without explanation. But Berman insisted he had not resigned, was not stepping down and his investigations would continue.

On Saturday morning, he showed up to work, telling reporters, “I’m just here to do my job.” Hours later, Barr announced Berman’s firing.  “Unfortunately, with your statement of last night, you have chosen public spectacle over public service,” Barr wrote in a letter released by the Justice Department. He said the idea that Berman had to continue on the job to safeguard investigations was “false.”

Although Barr said Trump had removed Berman, the president told reporters: “That’s all up to the attorney general. Attorney General Barr is working on that. That’s his department, not my department.” Trump added: “I wasn’t involved.”

The administration’s push to cast aside Berman amounted to a political and constitutional clash between the Justice Department and one of the nation’s top districts, which has tried major mob, financial crimes and terrorism cases over the years.



Court to weigh state’s request to close Carlisle auto show
Court Center | 2020/06/23 02:39
The state Health Department’s effort to shut down a large auto show in central Pennsylvania over claims it represents a risk to the public will be the subject of an emergency hearing, a state court said late Wednesday.

The order from Commonwealth Court scheduled a Thursday morning hearing at the judicial center in Harrisburg, with social distancing rules because of the pandemic.

The unsigned order also declined to immediately shut down Spring Carlisle over the state’s claim the event runs afoul of a 250-person limit for gatherings in Cumberland County.

Attendees streamed into the fairgrounds Wednesday, the first day of the event put on by defendant Carlisle Productions Inc., also known as Carlisle Events. It is scheduled to run through Saturday.

Business closures and social distancing have saved lives, lawyers for the Health Department said.

“When individuals choose to ignore those safeguards ? such as by holding an event anticipating 100,000 attendees ? they put the lives of Pennsylvanians at risk and threaten to reverse the significant progress that has been made to resolve this crisis. That dangerous conduct must be stopped before it can occur,” they told the court.

Carlisle Events has held the spring auto show at the Carlisle Fairgrounds since 1976. It typically draws about 100,000 people, although organizers say they expect a smaller crowd for this year’s event.


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