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Court tosses challenge to Virginia's 'habitual drunkard' law
Opinions | 2018/08/08 13:35
A federal appeals court has thrown out a lawsuit challenging a Virginia law that allows police to arrest and jail people designated by courts as "habitual drunkards" if they are caught with alcohol.

The unanimous ruling Thursday by a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholds a lower court judge who dismissed the lawsuit last year. But one of the judges criticized the law, saying it "criminalizes the otherwise legal behavior of individuals suffering from a serious illness."

The Legal Aid Justice Center argued in its lawsuit that the law is used to punish homeless alcoholics who have nowhere else to drink but in public.

Virginia's attorney general argued that the state has a legitimate interest in discouraging alcohol and drug abuse.



New Jersey court proposes tossing out old open-warrant cases
Opinions | 2018/07/21 13:55
The highest court in New Jersey is taking steps to do away with hundreds of thousands of open warrants for minor offenses such as parking tickets as part of an overhaul of the state's municipal court system.

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner on Thursday assigned three Superior Court judges to hold hearings on the proposal to dismiss at least 787,764 open warrants for offenses more than 15 years old that were never prosecuted.

"Those old outstanding complaints and open warrants in minor matters raise questions of fairness, the appropriate use of limited public resources by law enforcement and the courts, the ability of the state to prosecute cases successfully in light of how long matters have been pending and the availability of witnesses, and administrative efficiency," Rabner wrote in his order.

NJ.com reported that the order covers open warrants issued before 2003 for failure to appear in low-level cases, including 355,619 parking ticket cases, 348,631 moving violations and some cases related to town ordinance violations.

The open warrant and the underlying unpaid ticket would be dismissed. The order indicates that more serious charges such as speeding and drunken driving would not be included.

Throwing out old low-level cases was among 49 recommendations following a Supreme Court committee's review of the municipal court system. The committee cited a growing "public perception" that municipal courts "operate with a goal to fill the town's coffers," which the panel called contrary to the purpose of the courts.



Lawyers: 2014 arrest at Vegas hotel precursor to killings
Opinions | 2018/07/06 06:41
Attorneys in a negligence lawsuit stemming from the Las Vegas Strip shooting say the massacre could have been avoided if hotel management tightened security after a man was found with multiple weapons at the Mandalay Bay resort in 2014.

Lawyer Robert Eglet said Friday the arrest of Kye Aaron Dunbar in a 24th-floor Mandalay Bay room with guns including an assault-style rifle, a tripod and a telescopic sight bears similarities to the Oct. 1 shooting.

Last year, gunman Stephen Paddock killed 58 people shooting modified assault-style weapons from a 32nd-floor room at the Mandalay Bay into a concert crowd below.

Dunbar is 32 and serving federal prison time after pleading guilty to unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon.

Hotel officials aren't commenting about a court filing Thursday that brought the Dunbar case to light.


Wolf held fundraiser at law firm his administration is suing
Opinions | 2018/06/19 17:55
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's campaign held a $1,000-a-head fundraiser at the offices of a law firm that his administration and the city of Harrisburg are suing over its role in a municipal trash incinerator that helped drive the city into state receivership.

Pennlive.com reported Monday that Wolf's campaign held the June 12 fundraiser at Buchanan Ingersoll and Rooney's offices in Harrisburg.

Last month's lawsuit named four law firms, two financial entities and an engineering company in what it called it "the worst municipal financial disaster" in Pennsylvania history.

Wolf's campaign spokeswoman says the fundraiser "changes nothing" in Wolf's efforts to hold parties involved in the incinerator accountable.

A spokesman for Wolf's Republican challenger, Scott Wagner, says Wolf should refuse the law firm's contributions if he thinks it was so negligent.








Drug companies want Supreme Court to take eye drop dispute
Opinions | 2018/04/02 18:35
Eye drop users everywhere have had it happen. Tilt your head back, drip a drop in your eye and part of that drop always seems to dribble down your cheek.

But what most people see as an annoyance, some prescription drop users say is grounds for a lawsuit. Drug companies' bottles dispense drops that are too large, leaving wasted medication running down their faces, they say.

Don't roll your eyes. Major players in Americans' medicine cabinets — including Allergan, Bausch & Lomb, Merck and Pfizer — are asking the Supreme Court to get involved in the case.

On the other side are patients using the companies' drops to treat glaucoma and other eye conditions. Wasted medication affects their wallets, they say. They argue they would pay less for their treatment if their bottles of medication were designed to drip smaller drops. That would mean they could squeeze more doses out of every bottle. And they say companies could redesign the droppers on their bottles but have chosen not to.

The companies, for their part, have said the patients shouldn't be able to sue in federal court because their argument they would have paid less for treatment is based on a bottle that doesn't exist and speculation about how it would affect their costs if it did. They point out that the size of their drops was approved by the Food and Drug Administration and redesigned bottles would require FDA approval. The cost of changes could be passed on to patients, possibly resulting in treatment that costs more, they say.

Courts haven't seen eye to eye on whether patients should be able to sue. That's why the drugmakers are asking the Supreme Court to step in. A federal appeals court in Chicago threw out one lawsuit over drop size. But a federal appeals court in Philadelphia let the similar case now before the Supreme Court go forward. That kind of disagreement tends to get the Supreme Court's attention.

And if a drop-size lawsuit can go forward, so too could other packaging design lawsuits, like one by "toothpaste users whose tubes of toothpaste did not allow every bit of toothpaste to be used," wrote Kannon Shanmugam, a frequent advocate before the Supreme Court who is representing the drug companies in asking the high court to take the case.


Businesses ask Supreme Court to take gay rights case
Opinions | 2017/10/18 13:59
Some of America's most well-known companies are urging the Supreme Court to rule that a federal employment discrimination law prohibits discrimination based on a person's sexual orientation, a position opposite of the one taken by the Trump administration.

The 76 businesses and organizations — including American Airlines, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, Starbucks and Microsoft — filed a brief Wednesday encouraging the high court to take up the issue. They want the court to take a case out of Georgia in which a gay woman who worked as a hospital security officer says she was harassed and punished for dressing in a male uniform and wearing her hair short. Jameka Evans, who worked at Georgia Regional Hospital at Savannah from 2012 to 2013, ultimately left her job and sued.

The question in her case is whether a federal law barring workplace discrimination "because of...sex" covers discrimination against someone because of their sexual orientation. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under President Barack Obama took the view that it does. But President Donald Trump's administration has argued that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars discrimination based on gender but doesn't cover sexual orientation.

The businesses' court filing says they and their employees would benefit if the court agreed to take the case and rule that Title VII covers sexual orientation discrimination.

"Businesses' first-hand experiences — supported by extensive social-science research — confirm the significant costs for employers and employees when sexual orientation discrimination is not forbidden by a uniform law, even where other policies exist against such discrimination," the businesses wrote in their brief. The organizations that joined the brief also include two sports teams, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Miami Heat.

The case out of Georgia is not unique. Most federal appeals courts in the past have ruled that "sex" means biological gender, not sexual orientation. But a federal appeals court in Chicago, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, ruled earlier this year that the law covers sexual orientation. In that case, a gay part-time community college instructor sued after she was repeatedly turned down for a full-time job and her part-time contract was not renewed.

The New York-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit is also weighing the issue. Last month, the full court heard arguments in a case in which a skydiving instructor, Donald Zarda, claimed he was fired from his job after telling a client he was gay. He sued under the Civil Rights Act, but previous rulings have gone against Zarda, who died in an accident in Switzerland three years ago. A ruling in his case isn't expected for some time.



Trump nominates White House lawyer to important court seat
Opinions | 2017/09/12 16:07
President Donald Trump has tapped one of his own White House attorneys for a judgeship on one of the most important federal appeals courts, opening the door for confirmation hearing questions about the legal controversies that dominated the first seven months of Trump's presidency.

Gregory Katsas was nominated Thursday to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Katsas, the deputy White House counsel, was a former Justice Department official under President George W. Bush. A biography on the White House's website says he has argued more than 75 appeals, including the constitutional challenge to President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act before the Supreme Court.

He would replace the libertarian-leaning Judge Janice Rogers Brown, who retired this summer. The court is influential, in part because of its role in adjudicating many of the orders and laws put forth by the administration. It is sometimes called America's second highest court because it can be a stepping stone to the Supreme Court just a few blocks away.

Katsas, once a law clerk to Justice Thomas, has served in high-ranking Justice Department roles, including as head of the civil division that has responsibility for defending the administration's policies against court challenges. He is part of the steady stream of Jones Day law firm partners who have flowed into the Trump administration, including White House counsel Don McGahn.

So many Jones Day attorneys work in the White House that the counsel's office issued a blanket ethics waiver for them so that they can maintain contact with their former colleagues without running afoul of ethics provisions. The firm's lawyers continue to represent members of the Trump campaign outside the White House.



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