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Court orders some fixes in Texas foster care
Legal Interview | 2018/10/20 18:41
A federal appeals court says Texas must make improvements to abuse investigations within its foster care system and make sure workers have manageable caseloads, but the court also struck down dozens of other measures ordered by a judge.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued the ruling Thursday in a years-long case focused on children in the state’s long-term care. U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack had ordered sweeping changes earlier this year. Jack’s order followed a December 2015 opinion in which she ruled the system unconstitutionally broken and said children labeled permanent wards of the state “almost uniformly leave state custody more damaged than when they entered.”

The appeals court judges said they understood Jack’s frustration with the state failing to fix problems and agreed that “remedial action is appropriate.”

But the judges said her order went “well beyond” what’s necessary for constitutional compliance.

So while the appeals court said Texas was “deliberately indifferent” to the risk of harm posed by high caseloads and ordered the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to come up with guidelines for manageable caseloads, the judges nixed Jack’s instruction for all sexualized children — either aggressor or victim — to be placed in a single-child home.



EU court orders Poland to reinstate Supreme Court judges
Legal Interview | 2018/10/18 04:40
The European Union's top court ordered Poland on Friday to immediately stop applying a law that lowered the retirement age for Supreme Court judges, forcing some 20 off the bench.

The interim injunction from the European Court of Justice also obliges EU member Poland to reinstate the judges who had to retire early after the law took effect in July. It lowered the age limit for Supreme Court service from 70 to 65.

The powerful leader of Poland's conservative ruling party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, said Poland would observe EU law, but not whether the government would comply with the order. He also said the government would do all it could to "defend our state interest."

The European Commission, the EU's executive branch, asked for the injunction while the Court of Justice considers its challenge to the age cap as a violation of EU laws on judicial independence and the right to a fair trial. A ruling in the main proceedings is expected later.

Supreme Court judges, arguing the forced retirements are an infringement of Poland's Constitution, also have sought the European court's opinion.

Kaczynski's Law and Justice party has made overhauling the judicial system a key focus since it came to power in 2015. The government maintains that removing justices who were active during Poland's communist era will make the courts more efficient and fairer.

Among the evidence Court of Justice Vice President Rosario Silva de Lapuerta cited in the order was "a profound and immediate change in the composition of the Supreme Court" since the disputed law went into force. Along with the retirements, an increase in court seats from 93 to 120 created more than 44 vacancies, and President Andrzej Duda has filled at least 27 of them, Lapuerta said.



Georgia high court won't stop vote on creation of new city
Legal Interview | 2018/10/17 04:41
Georgia's highest court on Monday declined to stop voting in a referendum on whether a new city of Eagle's Landing should be created from part of the existing city of Stockbridge.

The General Assembly passed two acts that were signed by the governor earlier this year to create Eagle's Landing from land that is currently part of Stockbridge combined with unincorporated parts of Henry County. The proposed city's creation must be approved by local voters, but Stockbridge residents who live outside the boundaries of the proposed city won't get a say.

Opponents, including the Stockbridge mayor, say creation of a new city would take a significant amount of city's land and tax revenue and harm the Stockbridge's ability to pay municipal bond obligations.

Proponents of a new city say they want to secure better city services, increase property values and attract high-end businesses. But opponents say race is a factor. About 20 miles (30 kilometers) southeast of Atlanta, Stockbridge is predominantly black, while the city of Eagle's Landing would have a higher proportion of white residents.

Stockbridge sued the Henry County elections director and members of the county commission and asked a judge to declare that the acts setting up the referendum violated the state Constitution. The judge declined, and the city appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court, which heard arguments in the case last week.



Colorado Supreme Court hears high-stakes oil and gas lawsuit
Legal Interview | 2018/10/14 04:41
An attorney for six young people who want the state to impose tougher safeguards on the energy industry told the Colorado Supreme Court on Tuesday that the law requires regulators to protect public health from the hazards of drilling.

A lawyer for the state countered that regulators acted properly when they rejected a request for stronger health protections on the grounds that they did not have the authority to impose them.

The justices heard oral arguments in the high-stakes case but did not say when they would rule.

The case revolves around how much weight energy regulators should give public health and the environment — a contentious issue in Colorado, where cities often overlap lucrative oil and gas fields and drilling rigs sit within sight of homes and schools.

The six young plaintiffs in the case asked the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission, which regulates the industry, to enact a rule that would require energy companies to show they would not harm human health or the environment before regulators issued a drilling permit.

The commission responded that it did not have that authority. Commission members said Colorado law required them to balance public safety with responsible oil and gas production.

Colorado Solicitor General Frederick R. Yarger, representing the attorney general's office, told the Supreme Court that the commission correctly interpreted state law to mean it must consider other factors in addition to public health.


Trump picks combat over caution in court fight
Legal Interview | 2018/09/23 05:58
White House aides and congressional allies worked all week to keep President Donald Trump from unloading on the woman who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct.

But as Kavanaugh's nomination hung in the balance, Trump couldn't contain his frustration any longer and unleashed a direct Twitter attack on the credibility of Christine Blasey Ford, who says Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her decades ago during a high school party.

Friday's tweet landed with a splat in the noxious brew of gender and politics that has taken over a high-stakes confirmation battle playing out against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement. In keeping with Trump's natural instinct to fight back when under attack, as well as his long pattern of defending powerful men against the claims of women, the president's tweet reflected growing anger over all the focus on Ford's accusation.

Trump initially believed he could support his nominee without wading into the specific allegations against Kavanaugh since they did not involve him. But that began to change as Trump watched ongoing coverage of the accusations, particularly on Air Force One TVs tuned into Fox News on his long flight Thursday from Washington to Las Vegas, according to a White House official and a Republican close to the White House. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss private conversations.


The Latest: Bolton says international court 'dead to us'
Legal Interview | 2018/09/11 19:15
The United States is pledging to use "any means necessary" to protect American citizens and allies from International Criminal Court prosecution.

President Donald Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, says the court is "illegitimate" and "for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us."

Bolton delivered his remarks Monday to the conservative Federalist Society in Washington. He says that the court threatens the "constitutional rights" of Americans and U.S. sovereignty.

The ICC, which is based in the Hague, has a mandate to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

President Bill Clinton signed the Rome Statute that established the court, but his successor, George W. Bush, renounced the signature, citing fears that Americans would be unfairly prosecuted for political reasons.

The State Department is announcing the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington.

The department says that the PLO "has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel."

It accuses the Palestinian leadership of condemning a yet-to-be-released Trump administration plan to forge peace between Israel and the Palestinians. It also contends that the PLO is refusing to engage with the U.S. government on peace efforts.

In its statement Monday, the department says its decision is also consistent with administration and congressional concerns with Palestinian attempts to prompt an investigation of Israel by the International Criminal Court.


Pipeline company found guilty in 2015 California oil spill
Legal Interview | 2018/09/08 02:18
A pipeline company was convicted of nine criminal charges Friday for causing the worst California coastal spill in 25 years, a disaster that blackened popular beaches for miles, killed wildlife and hurt tourism and fishing.

A Santa Barbara County jury found Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline guilty of a felony count of failing to properly maintain its pipeline and eight misdemeanor charges, including killing marine mammals and protected sea birds.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement that Plains’ actions were not only reckless and irresponsible but also criminal.

“Today’s verdict should send a message: if you endanger our environment and wildlife, we will hold you accountable,” he said.

Plains said in a statement that the jury didn’t find any knowing misconduct by the company and “accepts full responsibility for the impact of the accident.”

“We are committed to doing the right thing,” the company said.

The company said its operation of the pipeline met or exceeded legal and industry standards, and believes the jury erred in its verdict on one count where California law allowed a conviction under a standard of negligence.

“We intend to fully evaluate and consider all of our legal options with respect to the trial and resulting jury decision,” Plains said.

The company is set to be sentenced on Dec. 13. Because it’s a company, and not a person, Plains only faces fines, though it’s unclear how steep the penalties could be.

Plains had faced a total of 15 charges for the rupture of a corroded pipeline that sent at least 123,000 gallons (465,000 liters) of crude oil gushing onto Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County, northwest of Los Angeles.


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