Justices Stay Execution with Two Hours Left
Areas of Focus | 2008/09/24 15:54
The U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay of execution on Tuesday for a Georgia inmate convicted of killing a police officer in 1989, two hours before the scheduled execution.

Troy A. Davis, 39, was convicted of murdering Mark MacPhail, a Savannah police officer.

The justices issued the stay without explanation. The case made national headlines, according to The New York Times, after seven of the nine witnesses at Davis' trial later recanted their testimony, with two saying they testified against the defendant under police pressure.


Facebook Case Has Echoes Of MySpace Suicide Case
Areas of Focus | 2008/09/23 15:40
A dad says someone used a Facebook account to torment his mentally disturbed teen-age daughter, and he wants the social-networking site to release that person's account information so he or she can be held liable.

Fred Beuckman III says his 16-year-old daughter befriended a Jane Doe on Facebook, and that Doe found out that his daughter had a psychiatric condition that included an obsession with a boy. Doe then created a persona called Jennifer Litzinger, who purportedly was a rival for the boy's affections, according to the suit in St. Louis County Court.

Beuckman claims Doe used a photo of an attractive, well-endowed model as her profile picture and told the daughter that she "looked like a troll," that she had a "worthless life" and that Doe and the boy "almost had sex."

His daughter had a severe psychological reaction to these statements, Beuckman says. He says she was admitted to a hospital for four days to get stabilized and was admitted as an in-patient to the Menninger Residential Clinic in Houston, a psychiatric facility.

Beuckman wants Facebook ordered to release Doe's identity and damages for his daughter's care, including transportation to and from Houston.

The case has echoes of another local case involving MySpace, a similar social-networking Internet site. That case made national headlines after Megan Meier, a teen-ager with a history of depression, killed herself after receiving negative messages from a person she thought was a boy on MySpace. The boy turned out to be a neighborhood mom, Lori Drew, who was trying to find out what Meier was saying about her daughter. Drew is on trial for related charges in Los Angeles, where MySpace is based.

Facebook was not named as a defendant in this case; Doe is. Beuckman is represented by Joe Jacobson.




New class action filed over US warrantless surveillance program
Legal Topics | 2008/09/22 15:44
The Electronic Frontier Foundation on Thursday filed a class action lawsuit seeking injunctive, declaratory and equitable relief from the National Security Agency warrantless surveillance program, which gave government agencies access to over 300 terabytes of data concerning communication sent and received by AT&T customers. Filed on behalf of those customers, the suit names as defendants the US government, the NSA, President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and several other officials. EFF alleges violations of the First and Fourth Amendments, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and federal electronic surveillance law. The complaint also argues that the surveillance program violated the Federal Administrative Procedure Act because it exceeded Congressionally-mandated limitations established by FISA, and alleges that it violates the Constitutional separation of powers principle
  because it was authorized by the Executive in excess of the Executive’s authority under Article II of the United States Constitution ... and exceeds the statutory limits imposed on the Executive by Congress.
The lawsuit filed Thursday follows an earlier class-action lawsuit filed by EFF against AT&T in January 2006 over the company's participation in the warrantless surveillance program. The most recent lawsuit is aimed at the US government, reflecting the July amendment to FISA which granted retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies participating in the surveillance program. The amendment was signed into law by President Bush on July 10, after the US Senate voted 69-28 to approve the amendment. Earlier that day, the Senate rejected three proposed amendments to the bill that would have limited the immunity. In June, the US House of Representatives passed HR 6304, amending FISA and including the granting of retroactive immunity. The bill also grants the FISA court authority to review a wider range of wiretapping orders, would prohibit the executive branch from overriding the court's authority, and orders the Department of Justice and other agencies to issue a report on the country's use of wiretapping orders.


Bush to sign disabilities bill passed by US House
Legal Topics | 2008/09/19 15:54
A bill overwriting judicial interpretations which have narrowed protections under the Americans With Disabilities Act awaits President Bush's signature following passage by the US House of Representatives on Wednesday. The ADA Amendments Act of 2008, which was approved by a voice vote, purports to "restore the intent and protections" of the landmark civil rights legislation. The bill expressly overrules holdings by the US Supreme Court  in two major ADA cases: Sutton v. United Air Lines, Inc., which directs courts to consider "mitigating measures" such as medication when determining whether an individual is disabled, and Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc. v. Williams, which requires strict interpretation of the ADA's definition of a disability. US Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr, a prime sponsor of the bill, said in remarks on the House floor:
   The bill we pass today will restore the full meaning of equal protection under the law and all the promises that our Nation has to offer. As Members are well-aware by now, the Supreme Court has slowly chipped away at the broad protections of the ADA and has created a new set of barriers for disabled Americans. The Court's rulings currently exclude millions of disabled Americans from the ADA's protections—the very citizens that Congress expressly sought to include within the scope of the Act in 1990.
The US Chamber of Commerce also praised the bill, calling it a "a sound compromise between the Senate, the House, the business community, and the disability community." In a statement, White House press secretary Dana Perino said the president "looks forward" to signing the bill and "is encouraged by the improvements made to the bill during the legislative process."

The US is one of only 45 countries in the world with disability legislation, having enacted the ADA in 1990. The UN General Assembly in 2006 adopted an international treaty on the rights of persons with disabilities, which took effect in May of this year after it was ratified by 20 nations. The US said that it would not sign the international accord, insisting that US domestic measures on the federal, state and local levels are already adequate for the purpose.


TSA Wins Ruling over Air Marshal's Text Leak
Legal Topics | 2008/09/18 16:43
The Transportation Safety Agency did not violate an air marshal's due process rights when it disciplined him for leaking a text message to the media, the 9th Circuit ruled.

Robert McLean received a text message in late July 2003 stating that there would be no air marshals on overnight flights through Aug. 9.

McLean's concern over safety issues led him to spread the news to the media. The Federal Air Marshal Service later determined that the text message did not reflect a final decision, and no overnight missions were cancelled.

McLean was fired for the incident more than two years later. The TSA issued an order ruling that McLean had divulged "sensitive security information."

In a per curiam decision, the circuit judges ruled that the TSA had every right to make such an order. McLean's rights under the Whistleblower Protection Act were not violated because the TSA's order was not a personnel decision.

"The fact that the order has some impact on McLean's proceedings does not convert it to a 'personnel action,'" the judges wrote.  


Potash Price-Fixing Conspiracy Alleged
Areas of Focus | 2008/09/15 15:58
The world's leading potash suppliers conspired to fix U.S. prices on the fertilizer, Gage's Fertilizer & Grain claims in a federal antitrust class action. It claims they did this after potash prices tanked in the 1990s because "potash producers, particularly those located in the former Soviet Union, increased the supply of potash in world markets".

A similar antitrust class action was filed in Minneapolis Federal Court by Minn-Chem Inc.

Gage's claim in Chicago states, "As part of, and in furtherance of, this conspiracy, defendants exchanged sensitive, non-public information about prices, capacity, sales volumes, and demand; allocated market shares, customers, and volumes to be sold; and coordinated on output, including the limitation of production."

During the class period, July 1, 2003 until today, "defendants sold millions of tons of potash in the United States."

Potash is, or are, mineral and chemical salts that contain potassium, a necessary nutrient for plants. "There is no cost-effective substitute for potash," the complaint states.

"Potash is mined from naturally occurring ore deposits that were formed when seas and oceans evaporated, many of which are now covered with several thousand feet of earth. ...

"Belarus, Canada, Germany, Israel, Jordan and Russia have about 90% of the global potash supply within their borders," the complaint states. "Over half of the world's global capacity is located in just two regions - Canada and the former Soviet Union, specifically Russia and Belarus."

Here are the defendants: Agrium Inc., Agrium US Inc., Mosaic Co., Mosaic Crop Nutrition LLC, Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc., PCS Sales (USA) Inc., JSC Uralkali, RUE PA Belaruskali, RU PA Belarussian Potash Co., BPC Chicago LLC, JSC Silvinit, and JSC International Potash Co.

Plaintiffs are represented by Steven Hart with Segal McCambridge Singer & Mahoney.


Nevada Sex Laws Tossed
Areas of Focus | 2008/09/12 15:58
Nevada's new sex-offender laws are unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled Wednesday. U.S. District Judge James Mahan made permanent the temporary injunction he issued in July that stopped the state from applying the new laws retroactively.


The new laws, which were to take effect July 1, faced numerous lawsuits from sex offenders who said they are unconstitutional.

"Sex offenders who committed even misdemeanors with any sexual element since July 1, 1956 would have fallen within the purview of registration and some notification provisions," said the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, which represented about a dozen sex offenders in a lawsuit challenging the new laws.

"Many, many rehabilitated, low-risk offenders whom the state of Nevada determined to be unlikely to reoffend would have retroactively become Tier 3 - high risk - offenders based solely on the crime committed," the ACLU said.
In his decision, however, Judge Mahan stopped short of ruling on whether the new laws could be applied to convicted sex offenders in the future.


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