Inspector Suspended For Not Shutting Black-Owned Business
Areas of Focus | 2008/09/08 17:15
A 20-year veteran building inspector says Genesee County harassed, suspended and constructively fired him because he refused to shut down a black-owned business on a pretext. Michael O'Leary says his boss told him, "Shut them down, go into that business and find some reason to shut them down. We don't want gang bangers and north end problems coming into our Township."

O'Leary claims his boss, defendant Supervisor Douglas Carlton, gave him those racist instructions. He claims that when he and the fire chief could not find any code violations in the black-owned business, the Beach House, and allowed it to stay open, Carlton told him, "You did a real poor job on that assignment," and proceeded to harass, suspend and constructively fire him.

O'Leary says he "considered keeping businesses in Flint Township open for business to be part of his job duties."

He demands more than $75,000 in damages. He is represented by Tom Pabst.


Canadian mining company settles with Alaska Eskimos
Areas of Focus | 2008/09/05 15:39
Canadian-based Teck Cominco Ltd. asked US District Court Judge John Sedwick Wednesday to approve a $120M settlement agreement with six Eskimo plaintiffs from the Alaskan village of Kivalino. The agreement stems from a 2002 lawsuit filed in the US District Court for the District of Alaska by residents living near the company's Red Dog Mine, claiming the company - the world's second largest zinc producer - dumped more than the Clean Water Act's legal limit of toxic discharge into Red Dog Creek. Kivalino residents fish and draw their drinking water from the creek. The parties had initially given notice of a settlement agreement in May, but the plaintiffs allegedly changed their minds before filing a proposed settlement with the court.

Other mining companies elsewhere around the world have in recent years faced legal challenges, complaints and protests from indigenous and aboriginal groups claiming that mining activity has infringed their rights or their enjoyment of property. In July, the Philippines Commission on Human Rights announced it would investigate Australian mining company Oceana Gold for possible human rights violations at the site of a planned gold and copper mine in Didipio, Philippines. Also in July, the Court of Appeal for Ontario in Canada ruled that sentences imposed on seven aboriginal protesters in March for opposing mining company operations on community land were too severe.


Wextrust Is A $225 Million Ponzi Scheme The SEC Says
Areas of Focus | 2008/09/04 16:03
Joseph Shereshevsky, a felon, and his partner Steven Byers fraudulently raised $225 million from nearly 1,200 investors, the SEC claims in Federal Court. The SEC says the men are running a Ponzi scheme through Wextrust Capital, other Wextrust entities, and Axela Hospitality.

Also sued are Wextrust Equity Partners, Wextrust Development Group, and Wextrust Securities. The defendants created 150 LLCs and conducted at least 60 private placement offerings "without disclosing that funds raised were actually being used to pay prior investors n unrelated offerings and to make unauthorized payments to fund the operations of the Wextrust Entities, which were operating at a deficit," the SEC says.

Wextrust has "borrowed" at least $74 million from the LLCs and "loaned" at least $54 million to them, the SEC says. It wants funds frozen, books and paperwork, disgorgement, injunctions and penalties.

Byers, 46, of Oak Park, owns 60% of Wextrust, the SEC says.

Shereshevsky, 52, aka Joseph Heller or "Yossi," lives in Norfolk, Va. He pleaded guilty to bank fraud in 2003 and was sentenced to time served and ordered to pay $38,800 in restitution.


Harass A Republican, Lose Your Phone
Areas of Focus | 2008/09/02 15:54
Ramsey County has obtained an emergency order allowing it to order telephone companies to turn over the names and numbers of anyone who makes harassing phone calls during the Republican National Convention, and to cut off those people's phone service, for the purpose of "public safety." The order will expire when the Republican convention ends.

The order ostensibly is aimed at anyone who might make "ongoing hang-up calls to the Ramsey County Emergency Communications Center" During the Republican Convention.


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.  


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