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Pole Dance Teacher Sues City To Combat 'Pall Of Orthodoxy'
Legal Topics | 2008/08/29 16:53
Adams Township unconstitutionally refused a permit to a woman who wants to open a "dance and fitness studio ... to teach women how to pole dance, power lap dance, and strip tease - all while fully clothed," Stephanie Babines claims in Federal Court. She says her class contains "absolutely no nudity, spectators, or sexual activity," but is part of a "growing national exercise movement" which has spread even to China, but is unreasonably feared, and illegally proscribed, by "small-town municipal officials."

Represented by the ACLU, Babines says she is being deprived of her livelihood because "the small-town municipal officials do not approve of the type of dance she teaches. They believe it is 'provocative,' full of sexual 'innuendo,' and too dangerous for their township."

Au contraire, Babine says. "The instruction contains absolutely no nudity, spectators, or sexual activity. The studio is not a men's entertainment club or strip joint, nor is it a mere front for such activity. Rather, the dance Ms. Babines hopes to teach is part of a growing national exercise movement. Chronicled in U.S. News and World Report, The New York Times, Pittsburgh Magazine, and Oprah Winfrey's talk show, pole dancing provides 'a workout that combines aerobics, dance, yoga, (and) strength training.' Ms. Babines has seen her dance classes help women get in shape, build self-confidence, and express their sexuality. A recent report documented how the craze has even spread to China. But while a repressive country like China allows dance studios to teach pole dancing, the defendants in this small Butler County town have misapplied their zoning code to deny Ms. Babines her right to teach this new combination of art and sport to interested adult women.

"Ms. Babines brings this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief to challenge the pall of orthodoxy imposed by defendants on the people in their town who wish to communicate unconventional ideas and to vindicate her free-expression rights under the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions to teach others about lawful and constitutionally protected activity."


Racism Alleged In Bizarre Punishment
Areas of Focus | 2008/08/28 15:58
Top administrators at a Camden middle school forced an entire bilingual class of Hispanic children to eat on the cafeteria floor for a week because one student accidentally spilled some water, and when the teacher complained, the principal and vice principal fired him immediately on trumped-up charges, the teacher claims in Federal Court.

Jose Rivera sued the Camden Board of Education for discrimination and wrongful firing. He claims that in February this year, on a day he was absent, a student in his bilingual class accidentally spilled some water while trying to change the jug in a water cooler. Rivera says the vice principal Theresa Brown, who is black, "decided that the Hispanic children would have to eat lunch on the floor of the cafeteria without trays, while the African-American and mixed classes sat at lunch tables with trays. This went on for more than a week before the Plaintiff learned of the punishment."

Rivera adds, "Also unbeknownst to the Plaintiff, Brown had threatened the children with further punishment if the children told anyone about her outrageously demeaning and discriminating punishment."

He claims that one of the children's parents went to the school at the end of February to complain to the principal, Alex DeFlavis, who is white. Rivera says DeFlavis refused to speak to the parent, but the principal's secretary took the complaint, and related it to the plaintiff.

Rivera said he spoke to his children, who told him of their punishment, and the threat of more punishment, and he told them to tell their parents to contact the Board of Education.

"After receiving the parents' complaints, the Board of Education immediately retaliated against the Plaintiff, reprimanding and suspending the Plaintiff for failing to notify the Principal, even though the Principal already knew and had taken no action. The Plaintiff never worked another day for the Defendants," the complaint states. He was fired on March 18 for "conduct unbecoming of a board employee." Rivera says vice principal Brown was not fired, but was transferred to another school.

"After a public uproar, nationwide press coverage, newspaper editorials, and parent demonstrations related to the Plaintiff's termination, the Defendants changed the reason for terminating the Plaintiff to 'insufficient certification.' This was a transparent pretext, since numerous bilingual teachers were given a class by the Board in May 2008 to complete their certification, and if the Plaintiff had not been terminated, he would have taken the class in May with the other teachers and completed his certification," the complaint states.
He demands preservation of evidence and damages for wrongful firing, discrimination and civil rights violations. He is represented by Alan Schorr of Cherry Hill.


EPA Can Inspect Ship for Chemicals, Court Rules
Areas of Focus | 2008/08/27 20:01
The Environmental Protection Agency can inspect a former U.S. Navy hospital ship for toxic chemicals, the 4th circuit ruled.

The EPA was issued a warrant under the Toxic Substances Control Act to board the M/V Sanctuary, built in 1944, to test for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which may lead to reproductive and developmental problems.

Potomac Navigation Inc. bought the ship for $50,000 at a court-ordered auction in 2007, with plans to use it for storage or as a hotel platform, but ship recycling consultant Polly Parks warned that ship buyers often sell PCB laden ships to third-world countries for a "huge profit on the scrap metal market," the ruling states.

Environmental group Basel Action Network intervened before Potomac had a chance to move the ship offshore, saying the possible presence of PCBs on the vessel demanded that it remain at the Baltimore pier under the Act's export clause. As a result, the district court ordered the ship to stay docked.

Potomac argued that the ship was exempt from the Act's regulations because it was not intended for commerce, but could not prove that PCBs "were not distributed in commerce before the ship was built," Judge Michael wrote.

The appeals court said that the export concern was "immaterial" to finding probable cause, because sampling and research data showed that there were likely PCBs on the ship, prompting an EPA inspection. A ship recycling firm that considered bidding on the Sanctuary had already confirmed the presence of PCBs, the ruling states, finding four out of five paint samples contained PCBs in concentrations greater than 50 parts per million.

The three-judge panel found that public health interests outweighed the possible economic loss of the ship, and encouraged the EPA to either determine if possible PCBs were "totally enclosed," as required by the Act, or call for proper disposal.  


San Francisco Mayor's Wife Says She Was Swindled
Legal Topics | 2008/08/26 16:53
Moviemakers swindled the mayor of San Francisco's wife out of $75,000 by promising she would act in and produce a film in China, then making another movie, without hiring her for anything and without repaying her "one cent," Jennifer Siebel claims in Superior Court. Siebel demands punitive damages from Jay Rothstein and China Venture Films.

"This is a simple case of dishonesty," the complaint states. "Plaintiff Jennifer Siebel was swindled out of $75,000 by defendants Jay Rothstein and his company, China Venture Films, LLC based on false promises that they were producing and financing an independent film in China in which plaintiff would act and produce. Based on those false promises, plaintiff entered into an agreement with the defendants in which she invested $75,000. When soliciting her investment, defendants never had any intention of fulfilling the agreement, including repaying plaintiff the $75,000 that she invested and that defendant Rothstein, pursuant to the contract, agreed to be personally liable for."

Siebel claims Rothstein's flick, "Milk and Fashion," shot in China, "is essentially the same film as the film in which plaintiff invested. Plaintiff was not invited to appear in this film, was not offered the chance to take part in the production of the film, and has not been offered any rights to this film."

And, she says, Rothstein has blown off her requests to be repaid the $75,000. Siebel says he also owes her 6.5 percent of U.S. net income from the film.

Siebel, a Stanford graduate and actress, married Mayor Gavin Newsom on July 26.

She demands damages and punitive damages for fraud, conversion, breach of contract, unjust enrichment and negligent misrepresentation. She is represented by Steven Williams with Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy.


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.



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