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US Supreme Court allows lawsuit against troopers to proceed
Court Watch | 2021/10/08 15:44
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by two state police officers accused of failing to protect a woman from a man who went on a deadly rampage, allowing a civil lawsuit to proceed.

Troopers were accused of failing to do enough when Brittany Irish reported that her boyfriend kidnapped and sexually assaulted her and later set fire to a barn owned by her parents in July 2015.

Her request for police protection was denied.

Hours later, the boyfriend killed Irish’s boyfriend, 22-year-old Kyle Hewitt, and wounded her mother before proceeding to kill another man and wound two others across several towns in northern Maine.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case on Monday but didn’t say why, the Portland Press Herald reported. The court’s decision means the troopers will not be protected by the legal concept of qualified immunity.

The attorney general’s office, which is defending the troopers, declined comment Tuesday on the lawsuit. Irish’s attorney didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.

The man charged in the crime spree, Anthony Lord, pleaded guilty in 2017 to two counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder, aggravated assault and other charges. He’s serving two life sentences.

The lawsuit contends state police triggered the rampage when they called Lord’s cellphone, tipping him off that Brittany Irish had gone to police, instead of attempting to find or detain him. She said she’d warned police that Lord had threatened her if she spoke to authorities.

Later, police declined to post an officer outside her parents’ farmhouse in Benedicta, citing a lack of manpower.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said jurors could conclude that police created the danger, removing the qualified immunity concept that normally protects officers from actions in the line of duty.

“The defendants’ apparent utter disregard for police procedure could contribute to a jury’s conclusion that the defendants conducted themselves in a manner that was deliberately indifferent to the danger they knowingly created,” the court said.


Federal judge delays vaccine mandate for NYC teachers
Court Watch | 2021/09/27 10:48
New York City schools have been temporarily blocked from enforcing a vaccine mandate for its teachers and other workers by a federal appeals judge just days before it was to take effect.

Workers in the nation’s largest school system were to be required to show vaccination proof starting Monday. But late Friday, a judge for the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted a temporary injunction sought by a group of teachers pending review by a three-judge panel, which will take up the motion Wednesday.

Department of Education spokesperson Danielle Filson said officials were seeking a speedy resolution in court.

“We’re confident our vaccine mandate will continue to be upheld once all the facts have been presented, because that is the level of protection our students and staff deserve,” Filson said in an email.

The New York Post reported that the department sent an email to principals Saturday morning saying they “should continue to prepare for the possibility that the vaccine mandate will go into effect later in the week.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in August that about 148,000 school employees would have to get at least a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccination by Sept. 27. The policy covers teachers, along with other staffers, such as custodians and cafeteria workers.

It’s the first no-test-option vaccination mandate for a broad group of city workers in the nation’s most populous city. And it mirrors a similar statewide mandate for hospital and nursing home workers set to go into effect Monday.

As of Friday, 82% of department employees have been vaccinated, including 88% of teachers.

Even though most school workers have been vaccinated, unions representing New York City principals and teachers warned that could still leave the 1 million-student school system short of as many as 10,000 teachers, along with other staffers.

De Blasio has resisted calls to delay the mandate, insisting the city was ready.

“We’ve been planning all along. We have a lot of substitutes ready,” the Democrat said in a radio interview on Friday. “A lot is going to happen between now and Monday but beyond that, we are ready, even to the tune of, if we need thousands, we have thousands.”


Supreme Court hanging up phone, back to in-person arguments
Court Watch | 2021/09/08 12:21
The justices are putting the “court” back in Supreme Court. The high court announced Wednesday that the justices plan to return to their majestic, marble courtroom for arguments beginning in October, more than a year and a half after the in-person sessions were halted because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The justices had been hearing cases by phone during the pandemic but are currently on their summer break. The court said that oral arguments scheduled for October, November and December will be in the courtroom but that: “Out of concern for the health and safety of the public and Supreme Court employees, the Courtroom sessions will not be open to the public.”

“The Court will continue to closely monitor public health guidance in determining plans,” the announcement said.

The court said that while lawyers will no longer argue by telephone, the public will continue to be able to hear the arguments live. Only the justices, essential court personnel, lawyers in the cases being argued and journalists who cover the court full-time will be allowed in the courtroom. The court that returns to the bench is significantly different from the one that left it.

When the justices last sat together on the bench at their neoclassical building across the street from the U.S. Capitol on March 9, 2020, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the court’s most senior liberal and conservatives held a narrow 5-4 majority. But Ginsburg died in September 2020, and her replacement by conservative Amy Coney Barrett in the final days of the Trump administration has given conservatives a significant 6-3 majority.

Because of the pandemic, Barrett has yet to be part of a traditional courtroom argument, with the justices asking questions of lawyers in rapid succession, jockeying for an opening to ask what’s on their minds. The arguments the court heard by telephone were more predictable and polite, with the justices taking turns asking questions, one by one, in order of seniority. That often meant the arguments went longer than their scheduled hour.

It also meant that lawyers and the public heard from the previously reticent Justice Clarence Thomas in every telephone argument. Before the pandemic Thomas routinely went years without speaking during arguments and had said he doesn’t like his colleagues’ practice of rapid-fire questioning that cuts off attorneys. “I don’t see where that advances anything,” he said in 2012.

One change from the remote arguments will stay for now. The justices said they will continue their practice during the pandemic of allowing audio of oral arguments to be broadcast live by the news media. Before the pandemic, the court would only very occasionally allow live audio of arguments in particularly high profile cases.

That meant that the only people who heard the arguments live were the small number of people in the courtroom. The court releases a transcript of the arguments on the same day but, before the pandemic, only posted the audio on its website days after.


Federal judge leaves CDC evictions moratorium in place
Court Watch | 2021/08/13 10:16
A federal judge is refusing landlords’ request to put the Biden administration’s new eviction moratorium on hold, though she made clear she thinks it’s illegal.

U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich on Friday said her “hands are tied” by an appellate ruling the last time courts considered the evictions moratorium in the spring.

Alabama landlords who are challenging the moratorium are likely to appeal.

Friedrich wrote that the new temporary ban on evictions the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention imposed last week is substantially similar to the version she ruled was illegal in May. At the time, Freidrich put her ruling on hold to allow the administration to appeal.

This time, she said, she is bound to follow a ruling from the appeals court that sits above her, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

If the D.C. Circuit doesn’t give the landlords what they want, they are expected to seek Supreme Court involvement.

In late June, the high court refused by a 5-4 vote to allow evictions to resume. Justice Brett Kavanaugh, part of the slim majority, said he agreed with Friedrich, but was voting to keep the moratorium in place because it was set to expire at the end of July.

Kavanaugh said then that he would reject any additional extension without clear authorization from Congress, which has not been able to take action.

In discussing the new moratorium last week, President Joe Biden acknowledged there were questions about its legality, but said a court fight over the new CDC order would buy time for the distribution of some of the $45 billion in rental assistance that has been approved but not yet used.


Michigan court won’t extend voting redistricting deadline
Court Watch | 2021/07/09 10:43
The Michigan Supreme Court on Friday denied a request to extend the deadline for drawing new legislative and congressional maps despite a delay in census redistricting data.

The Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, whose members have been meeting since September 2020, asked the court in April to allow for more time to draw the maps.

The current deadline for an initial proposal is Sept. 17, but the U.S. Census Bureau does not expect to have tabulated data ready for the public until Sept. 30. The commission asserts that the census data is necessary to draw fair and lawful maps.

With its decision, the Supreme Court declined to protect the commission from lawsuits due to any delays. In a statement, justices acknowledged that the commission’s lawyers have already said the commission will operate on a delayed schedule, with or without permission.

The commission was established by voters in 2018 to limit gerrymandering by having randomly selected Michigan residents, representing balanced political alignments, draw voting district boundaries every 10 years instead of the Legislature. The release of census data was delayed from a March 31 deadline because of the pandemic.

The court acknowledged that it believes the commission has been working diligently and through no fault of its own has been put in a difficult position to present fair voting maps, but said there isn’t a sufficient legal reason to preemptively extend the deadline.

Lawyers for the commission and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson have said they will try to propose new maps by Dec. 11 and have them finalized by Jan. 25, three months after the original Nov. 1 deadline set by the state’s constitution.


Judge asked to dismiss lawsuit over WVa transgender ban
Court Watch | 2021/07/07 11:01
Education officials are asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit challenging West Virginia’s new law that bans transgender athletes from competing in female sports in middle schools, high schools and colleges.

Education and athletic officials said in court documents filed last week that they can’t be held liable for the law, which they didn’t request and largely won’t be responsible for enforcing, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported.

The American Civil Liberties Union and its West Virginia chapter filed the lawsuit in May on behalf of an 11-year-old transgender girl who had hoped to compete in cross country in middle school in Harrison County. The girl is seeking an injunction to prevent the law from being enforced.

The ban is set to take effect Thursday and will require the state Board of Education to establish rules to determine the means by which local athletic officials can enforce the law.

Attorneys for the West Virginia Board of Education and the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission argued that they can’t be held responsible for the law because they aren’t responsible for enforcing it.

Attorneys for Harrison County Schools said the district “was not responsible for and did not pass” the transgender athlete ban and has not caused harm to the girl.

“(The law) was not created by the County Board, and it is not under the County Board’s control,” the response said.

The U.S. Justice Department intervened in the case last month, saying the ban was a violation of federal law.


Court refuses appeal of ex-Cleveland cop who shot Tamir Rice
Court Watch | 2021/07/06 10:42
The Ohio Supreme Court announced on Tuesday it would not consider an appeal over the firing of a white police officer who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice outside a Cleveland recreation center in 2014.

The appeal was filed in April by the Cleveland Police Patrolment’s Association on behalf former officer Timothy Loehmann. Cleveland fired Loehmann in 2017 not for killing Tamir, who was Black, but for providing false information on his job application. An arbitrator and a county judge upheld his firing.

A state appellate court earlier this year dismissed Loehmann’s appeal, citing the union’s failure to serve notice on outside attorneys hired by the city.

Loehmann, a rookie, shot Tamir within seconds of a cruiser skidding to a stop near a gazebo where the child had been sitting. Officers responded to a call from a man who said someone was waving a gun around. The man also told a dispatcher the gun could be a fake and the person might be a juvenile.

A state grand jury declined to indict Loehmann in Tamir’s shooting and, in December, federal authorities announced they would not bring federal criminal charges.

“I am glad that Loehmann will never have a badge and gun in Cleveland again,” Tamir’s mother, Samaria Rice, said in a statement issued Tuesday.

A message seeking comment was left with the Loehmann’s union attorney, Henry Hilow.


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