RI gov, union back in court over health insurance
Headline Legal News | 2008/08/25 15:25

Lawyers for Rhode Island Gov. Don Carcieri and the state's largest employees union are heading back to court in a health insurance dispute.

During a court hearing Monday, Council 94 will ask Superior Court Judge Patricia Hurst to delay a ruling that could force thousands of union members to pay more for their health insurance. The union has said it plans to appeal Hurst's decision.

Last week, Hurst ruled that Carcieri could implement an executive order raising health insurance costs for state employees in the executive branch. But the judge said constitutional checks prevent Carcieri from raising insurance costs for employees in other branches of state government.

Carcieri said the health care changes will save the state $10 million as it grapples with a budget deficit.



Court upholds sentence for I-65 sniper
Areas of Focus | 2008/08/24 15:25

An attorney for 19-year-old Zachariah Blanton had appealed the sentence as inappropriate, arguing that the shooting “was a more or less routine act of manslaughter, if such a thing is said to exist.”

But in an eight-page ruling, the court disagreed, noting that the shooting terrorized drivers who had done nothing to make Blanton angry, and the trial court was free to consider that as an aggravating factor in his sentence.

“The harm to the motoring public is inherent to this offense — randomly and intentionally shooting at cars with a rifle from a highway overpass creates a public fear beyond that of the ’ordinary’ manslaughter in which the victim is at least associated with creating the sudden heat that results in the death,” the court wrote in its ruling Thursday.

Blanton pleaded guilty in December to charges of voluntary manslaughter and criminal recklessness. Blanton fired his hunting rifle into Interstate 65 traffic on July 23, 2006, from an overpass near Seymour, about 60 miles south of Indianapolis, killing 40-year-old Jerry L. Ross of New Albany. An Iowa man traveling in another pickup also was injured.

The defense said that Blanton had fired at Ross’ pickup in a sudden heat of anger after an emotional clash with relatives during a deer hunt.

Blanton’s attorney, Alan Wilson, also argued among other things that the judge improperly considered Blanton’s lack of remorse because the court record did not support such a finding. But the Court of Appeals found that the record did not mention remorse because Blanton never expressed any, and noted that he bragged about his crime while he was in jail.



Indictments to stand against DeLay associates
Headline Legal News | 2008/08/23 15:23
An appeals court has declined to throw out money-laundering indictments against two of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's political operatives, who had claimed that state elections law used to charge them was too confusing to proceed.

Attorneys for Jim Ellis and John Colyandro, who operated Texans for a Republican Majority during the 2002 campaign, argued that the 3rd Court of Appeals should toss out their indictments because the laws used against them were vague and too broad.

In arguments made to the appeals court two years ago, Travis County prosecutors disagreed, urging the court to let the prosecution continue.

In a lengthy opinion issued Friday, the court affirmed the finding of a lower court and declined to dismiss the indictments.

"The challenged statutes give constitutionally adequate notice of the conduct prohibited and sufficiently determinate guidelines for law enforcement," 3rd Court of Appeals Justice Alan Waldrop writes in the opinion.

In 2002, Texans for a Republican Majority sent $190,000 in corporate checks to the Republican National Committee. The RNC, in turn, sent $190,000 of money collected from individuals to seven Texas candidates.

A Travis County grand jury indicted Ellis, Colyandro and DeLay on money-laundering charges in 2005.

Prosecutors argue that the transaction was an attempt to turn corporate money that is illegal in Texas elections into legal donations to GOP candidates. The defense argues that it was separate, legal transactions.



Prosecutors trying to get obese defendant to court
Legal Topics | 2008/08/22 15:24
Prosecutors are trying to decide how to jail and bring to court a nearly half-ton, bedridden woman accused of killing her 2-year-old nephew.

A grand jury on Thursday indicted Mayra Lizbeth Rosales, 27, on one count of first-degree murder and on one count of injury to a child in the death of Eliseo Gonzalez Jr. She previously had been charged with capital murder.

Rosales weighs nearly 1,000 pounds and cannot fit through a door to leave her home, leaving prosecutors wondering how to bring her to court. As of Thursday evening, she was not in custody.

Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Trevino said holding her at the county jail for her trial would be impossible because she needs extensive medical care.

"She would die," said Trevino in Thursday's online edition of The Monitor in McAllen.

The grand jury indicted Rosales after an autopsy confirmed investigators' suspicions that the child died March 18 because he had been struck. Investigators believe the toddler was struck at least twice, crushing his head.

Authorities recommended Rosales' bond be set at $150,000.

The boy's mother Jaime Rosales, was charged earlier with injury to a child because she allegedly left her son alone with his aunt. Her bond has been set at $100.000.



City of New York reaches settlement in unlawful arrest suit
Areas of Focus | 2008/08/21 15:47
The City of New York agreed to pay approximately $2 million to settle a lawsuit brought by protesters who had claimed they had been illegally arrested, according to Tuesday statements made by the city's Law Department. In April 2003, city police arrested anti-war protesters while they were holding a demonstration outside the offices of military investment firm Carlyle Group, asserting that they were obstructing a sidewalk and engaging in disorderly conduct, but the protesters were later either released or acquitted of the charges. The group argued that the city violated their rights to free speech and assembly, maliciously prosecuted and falsely imprisoned them, and failed to reprimand officers who had assaulted and battered them. In agreeing to the settlement, the city admitted no wrongdoing, but in a statement from the Center for Constitutional Rights, which helped to file the claims, one protester was quoted as having said that she hoped the settlement would change city and national policy:

   We hope our victory helps convince the City to stop violating people's rights as a matter of policy and stop wasting taxpayers' money doing so... It should also serve as a reminder that Washington's illegal war in Afghanistan and Iraq is also being fought at home – against its own citizens and in the name of war profiteers like Carlyle and Halliburton. We intend to continue our resistance until this stops.

The city has come under a great deal of criticism for its handling of protesters, and in April the New York Civil Liberties Union settled its lawsuit against the New York Police Department in which the NYCLU had challenged the department's protocol for dealing with large protests. In August 2007, The US District Court for the Southern District of New York ordered the NYPD to redact and turn over hundreds of field intelligence reports containing information it had gathered through covert surveillance of organizations planning demonstrations at the 2004 Republican National Convention.  The NYCLU has also forced the NYPD to destroy hundreds of fingerprint records obtained as a result of other mass arrests of peaceful protesters.


Ninth Circuit upholds school policy on special education children
Legal Topics | 2008/08/20 15:37
The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Tuesday upheld a California public school district's policy that parents may only observe their disabled children in the classroom for twenty minutes in order to evaluate the school's proposed education plan. The parents of a student with autism filed suit after the psychologist they hired to evaluate the proposed plan was allowed only twenty minutes in the classroom, even though the district's own experts viewed L.M. in his home for three hours. The court rejected the parents' allegations that the district's policy violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act by denying their child access to a free and appropriate public education. The court also ruled against the parents' argument that the policy infringed upon their right to due process by interfering with their ability to participate in a placement hearing. The court explained:
The District’s policy...was harmless because Parents nevertheless had a full opportunity to participate in the process to fashion an appropriate educational plan for L.M. with help from an informed and knowledgeable expert. There is no evidence to support a finding that Parents’ right to participate was significantly affected.
The court also denied the parents' request for a "stay put" order which would allow their child to remain in his current private educational program until litigation of the matter concluded, because the program did not constitute "current educational placement" under IDEA.

Earlier this month, the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit found that a district court erred when it refused to grant qualified immunity to school officials who placed a child in a special education program designed to control his repeated outbursts. The child's mother had originally sought relief under IDEA because her child suffered from severe mental and emotional health problems, but this claim was dismissed by a lower court. In 2007, the US Supreme Court held that parents of special needs children have independent, enforceable rights under IDEA, overturning a Sixth Circuit decision holding that rights under IDEA are held only by the child. When US President George W. Bush signed IDEA into law in 2004, he stated that it had been designed to ensure that students with disabilities would have special education teachers with the necessary skills and training. Bush was subsequently criticized for underfunding the related programs.


Businessman Says Joe Arpaio Ruined Him
Legal Topics | 2008/08/18 17:03
 Joe Arpaio, the publicity-hungry sheriff of Maricopa County, staged a media event by bursting into a man's home and accusing him of running an illegal chop shop, though Arpaio was simply serving a warrant for an unpaid traffic ticket, a man claims in Maricopa County Court.

Terry Jorgensen claims Arpaio also seized more than $100,000 in tools and jet skis and refused to return them, driving Jorgensen out of business and making him homeless.

In his pro se, but cogent, complaint, Jorgensen says Arpaio staged the raid on Feb. 6, 2003, then on April 6, 2006, charged him with six felonies, including running a chop shop. Jorgensen claims that in August 2007, "Superior Court Judge Roza Mroz ruled that the search warrant violated the plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable search, dismissed the case, and ordered the return of plaintiff's property. Although plaintiff has a court order for its return, the MCSO (Maricopa County Sheriff's Office) refuses to return a single item."

Jorgensen says he was earning $100,000 a year when Arpaio staged his raid and ruined his business. He claims Arpaio's stunt cost him more than $500,000 and made him homeless.

Arpaio, the self-proclaimed "Toughest Sheriff in America," has made national news for years by, among other things, putting prisoners to work on chain gangs and housing them in tents.


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