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Supreme Court rules magistrates may preside
Court Center | 2008/05/15 14:36

The US Supreme Court ruled Monday in Gonzalez v. United States that allowing a magistrate judge to oversee jury selection does not deprive a criminal defendant of the right to a jury trial and complies with the Federal Magistrates Act. The holding affirmed a judgment of the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit that defendant's counsel may waive the right to have an Article III judge preside over voir dire, and that it was not error to proceed without first getting the defendant's personal consent. Justice Kennedy announced the judgment of the Court; his opinion was joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Alito. Justice Scalia filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, and Justice Thomas wrote a dissent.

In affirming the Fifth Circuit ruling, Justice Kennedy wrote:

Numerous choices affecting conduct of the trial, including the objections to make, the witnesses to call, and the arguments to advance, depend not only upon what is permissible under the rules of evidence and procedure but also upon tactical considerations of the moment and the larger strategic plan for the trial. These matters can be difficult to explain to a layperson; and to require in all instances that they be approved by the client could risk compromising the efficiencies and fairness that the trial process is designed to promote.

In a separate concurrence, Justice Scalia agreed with the conclusion but not with the reasoning upon which it was based. He wrote:

I would not adopt the tactical-vs.-fundamental approach, which is vague and derives from nothing more substantial than this Court’s say-so.

In his dissent, Justice Thomas advocated overruling the precedents for the decision and wrote:

Where, as here, a mistaken interpretation of a statute leaves the Court with no principled way to answer subsequent questions that arise under the statute, it seems to me that the better course is simply to acknowledge and correct the error.



Makers of Paxil, Zoloft Win
Court Center | 2008/04/25 14:48

In a significant victory for drug manufacturers, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the makers of Paxil and Zoloft cannot be sued for failing to warn of a risk of suicide because the Food & Drug Administration has explicitly refused to order such warnings.

Voting 2-1 in a pair of cases where the lower courts issued conflicting rulings, the 3rd Circuit found that such lawsuits must be pre-empted because they directly conflict with action already taken by the FDA.

Writing for the majority, 3rd Circuit Judge Dolores K. Sloviter said the FDA has "actively monitored" the possible risk of suicide from taking the class of antidepressant drugs known as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, for two decades, and concluded that the suicide warnings demanded by plaintiffs "are without scientific basis and would therefore be false and misleading."

But Sloviter, who was joined by visiting Judge Jane A. Restani of the U.S. Court of International Trade, emphasized that the ruling was a narrow one.

"Our holding is limited to circumstances in which the FDA has publicly rejected the need for a warning that plaintiffs argue state law requires," Sloviter wrote in Colacicco v. Apotex Inc.

In dissent, 3rd Circuit Judge Thomas L. Ambro said he would have allowed both cases to go forward.



Paper Wins Dismissal Of Libel Suit
Court Center | 2008/04/21 14:35
     A circuit judge has dismissed with prejudice a defamation lawsuit against the Madison County Record. Amiel Cueto, whose brother, Lloyd Cueto, was running for judge in St. Clair County, claimed the Record defamed Amiel by reporting that Amiel was a power broker who controlled judges in the county.

    G. Michael Prall, of the 11th Circuit in Bloomington, was assigned the case after the Illinois Supreme Court granted the Record's request that the case be removed from the 20th circuit, where it was filed.

    Amiel Cueto, who served six years in prison for obstruction of justice, claimed the Record defamed him by calling him a power broker and stating that he owned 15 of 17 St. Clair County judges in the mid-1990s.

    The Record sought dismissal, based on the alleged truth of the statements.
    Judge Prall stated in his 5-page decision that while the article did not use the words power broker as a flattering term, it did not suggest criminal activity.

    As to Cueto's controlling St. Clair judges in the 1990s, Prall wrote, "There is no question that witnesses made statements in official court proceedings to the effect that the plaintiff controlled judges in the mid 1990s. Plaintiff's contention that these statements were untrue would not affect the right of the defendant to report these statements."


Court Won't Hear Young Killer's Appeal
Court Center | 2008/04/16 15:07
The Supreme Court has refused to review a 30-year prison sentence for a teen who was 12 when he killed his grandparents in South Carolina.

Lawyers for Christopher Pittman wanted the justices to examine whether the long prison term for a child violates the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. With no possibility of parole, he will be 42 before he is released, they said.

Pittman is the only inmate serving such a lengthy sentence for a crime committed at such a young age, his lawyers said. The judge who sentenced him was prohibited by law from taking his age into account.

South Carolina contended the punishment is proportionate to the crime and said there is a national trend of increased punishment for young violent criminals.


9th Circuit Declines Serial ADA Plaintiff's Appeal
Court Center | 2008/04/08 14:29
The 9th Circuit refused to reconsider wheelchair-bound activist Jarek Molski's challenge to an order requiring Molski and his attorneys at the Frankovich Group to obtain special permission before filing any new lawsuits in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

    U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie labeled Molski a vexatious litigant after he crusaded across the state, filing discrimination claims against businesses that failed to properly accommodate disabled patrons. His lawsuits sought large damages and usually settled quickly.

    A three-judge panel affirmed the orders against Molski and his preferred law firm in a decision the full 9th Circuit declined to reconsider. But eight judges signed Judge Berzon's dissenting opinion, in which he called for less Draconian sanctions that do not "infringe the fundamental right to access the courts."


Ohio Settles Lawsuit Over Youth Prisons
Court Center | 2008/04/04 15:07

The state of Ohio plans to pour money and resources into its juvenile detention system after settling a lawsuit alleging serious violations.

The state is promising $30 million in additional annual spending and the hiring of more than 100 extra guards. It also will hire additional psychologists, nurses, social workers and teachers, improve its off-hours programs for children and revamp its program for sex offenders.


A report released late last year found Ohio's youth prisons are overcrowded and understaffed and fail to educate children behind bars or keep them safe. It also found cases of excessive use of force.

The settlement ends legal challenges that began in 2004 with allegations of excessive force being used against girls at the Scioto Juvenile Correctional Facility.

A judge must still approve the settlement filed Thursday in federal court in Columbus.

The state is satisfied the agreement will bring much-needed change to the system, said Tom Stickrath, director of the Youth Services Department. He said the extra funding is a strain during tight budget times but eventually could lead to lower costs as the system improves.

The annual budget for the system, which serves about 1,700 children, is about $260 million.

"It's certainly a long-term investment in doing the right thing for the youth in our system, for the juvenile courts across the state and ultimately for the citizens," Stickrath said in an interview.

"It's a difficult time to be looking at any extra resources but I think it's a needed investment in our future," he said.

A veteran civil rights attorney who helped coordinate the lawsuit commended the state for settling.

"The plan safeguards public safety while working toward more youth being served in smaller, more appropriate, community-based facilities," said Cincinnati attorney Alphonse Gerhardstein.

In 2004, lawyers with the Children's Law Center of Kentucky sued the state over allegations of excessive force being used against girls at the Scioto Juvenile Correctional Facility. Around the same time, the Department of Justice launched an investigation over the same allegations.

Twelve employees at the Scioto facility were eventually charged with abusing and endangering inmates and in early 2005 the agency's director was forced to resign.

A year ago, the Children's Law Center and other groups updated the 2004 suit to include the entire agency, saying the state had made inadequate progress on its promises to address their concerns.

In addition to overcrowding and excessive force, a report found that guards regularly place children in solitary confinement for inappropriately long periods of time, a practice that "is unconstitutional on its face" and should cease immediately.



9th Circuit: County Can't Use RICO
Court Center | 2008/03/25 16:14

An anti-illegal immigration lawsuit turned out to be much better as a metaphor than as a lawsuit.

When a former leader of Canyon County, Idaho, invoked civil RICO lawsto sue four corporations for hiring illegal immigrants, the move madeheadlines all the way up to The New York Times: The newspaper viewed it as a prism to understand how the immigration issue split the Republican Party.

But an ideologically balanced panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disposed of the complaint last week.Canyon County didn't have standing to argue that the companies' allegedhiring of illegal immigrants unfairly upped the cost of providingpublic services, Senior Judge A. Wallace Tashima ruled.

"We find it particularly inappropriate to label a governmental entity'injured in its property' when it spends money on the provision ofadditional public services," Tashima wrote, "given that those servicesare based on legislative mandates and are intended to further thepublic interest."

Senior Judge William Canby Jr. and Judge Consuelo Callahan joined Tashima.



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