Michigan insurance rate court fight continues
Legal Topics | 2009/04/11 17:25
A Barry County judge has ruled that Michigan regulators must stop their practice of denying auto and home insurance rate filings that are based in part on credit scoring.

Friday's ruling by Circuit Judge James Fisher is a victory for the insurance industry in an ongoing dispute with the Michigan Office of Financial and Insurance Regulation. But it may just be temporary because the overall case likely is headed to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm's administration implemented rules to ban the use of credit scores in rate setting in 2005. Insurance companies sued to keep those rules from taking effect.

Insurers and regulators have been fighting in court since.


Differing Views in GOP Voting
Headline Legal News | 2009/04/11 17:25
The GOP's struggle over its future and the party's fitful steps to attract minorities are on full display in the differing responses of Republican governors to a major Supreme Court case on voting rights.


The court will hear arguments April 29 about whether federal oversight of election procedures should continue in 16 states, mainly in the South, with a history of preventing blacks, Hispanics and other minorities from voting.

In 2006, as Republicans sought to improve their standing with minorities in advance of congressional elections, the GOP-controlled Congress extended for 25 years the Voting Rights Act provision that says the Justice Department must approve any changes in how elections are conducted. Republican President George W. Bush signed the extension into law.

But some Republicans said the extension was not merited and that some states were being punished for their racist past. A legal challenge has made its way to the high court.

GOP Govs. Sonny Perdue of Georgia and Bob Riley of Alabama have asserted in court filings that the continued obligation of their states to get advance approval for all changes involving elections is unnecessary and expensive in view of significant progress they have made to overcome blatant and often brutal discrimination against blacks.

Perdue pointed out that President Barack Obama did better in Georgia than did Democratic nominees John Kerry in 2004 and Al Gore in 2000.


Texas Court Upheld Civil Verdict
Headline Legal News | 2009/04/09 17:24
A Texas appeals court has upheld a multimillion dollar civil verdictagainst a Florida private prison company in the beating death of aninmate.

The 13th Court of Appeals ruled last week that Wackenhut CorrectionsCorp., now known as The GEO Group, and Warden David Forrest have to pay$42.5 million to the family of Gregorio de la Rosa Jr.

Thecompany was accused of allowing two inmates to beat de la Rosa withpadlocks stuffed in socks. He died in 2001, four days before hisexpected release from a facility in Raymondville.

A WillacyCounty jury had ordered the company to pay de la Rosa's family $47.5million in a 2006 civil judgment. The Brownsville Herald reports thatthe appeals court reduced the judgment because a family member had died.



Christian Filmmaker Fights for Fair Use
Legal Topics | 2009/03/23 16:34
An independent Christian filmmaker says Rock Solid Productions tried to prevent him from releasing a documentary on the record company's evangelical Christian founder, singer-songwriter Larry Norman, by threatening to sue him for copyright infringement. The company wants to silence "aspects of Norman's life and career that Norman's family apparently finds unpalatable," filmmaker David Di Sabatino claims in Federal Court.
The plaintiff says he is also an evangelical Christian and "possibly the leading expert on Norman's life and creative work," outside Norman's immediate family. Di Sabatino's 2007 documentary "Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher" was nominated for an Emmy.
Di Sabatino claims he first interviewed Norman in his quest to document the "Jesus freak" movement of the 1960s and 1970s. At the time, Norman was the movement's Bob Dylan, according to the lawsuit.
The plaintiff says Norman was "a bona fide rock star presenting an evangelistic message to his listeners to live their spiritual lives in a radical manner and spurn 'worldly' success."
Di Sabatino made and funded a 1.5-hour documentary film about Norman, using music, video clips and photographs owned by Rock Solid Productions.
The plaintiff says his use of the material constitutes fair use, and that Rock Solid threatened litigation in order to protect Norman's image as a Christian musical prophet, rather than "an 'outlaw' who conned the faithful," as some Christians purportedly believe.
Di Sabatino says the company is now mainly controlled by Norman's brother, Charles Norman, who "expressed an implacable hostility toward the documentary."
The plaintiff seeks a court declaration that he neither violated the defendant's copyrights nor Norman's privacy rights.
He is represented by Lincoln Bandlow of Lathrop & Gage LLP.


More Corruption Charges in NY
Legal Topics | 2009/03/19 18:06
The State of New York's former Deputy Comptroller and Chief Investment Officer David Loglisci and Henry Morris, top political adviser and chief fund raiser for Comptroller Alan Hevesi, demanded millions of dollars in kickbacks from investment managers that sought to manager assets held by the New York State Common Retirement Fund, the SEC claims in Federal Court.
The SEC also sued Nosemote LLC, Pantigo Emerging LLC, and Purpose LLC.
Loglisci was deputy comptroller from 2003 through 2006, during which time Morris was adviser to Comptroller Hevesi, the SEC says.
"Loglisci caused the Retirement Fund to invest billions of dollars with private equity firms and hedge fund managers that together paid millions of dollars to Morris and others in the form of sham 'finder' or 'placement agent' fees in order to obtain those investments from the Retirement Fund," the complaint states. These payments to Morris and others were, in fact, little more than kickbacks that were made pursuant to undisclosed quid pro quo arrangement or were otherwise fraudulently induced by the defendants."


CA Court to Rule Over Gay Marriage Ban
Headline Legal News | 2009/03/04 17:38
The California Supreme Court may reveal Thursday whether it intends to uphold Proposition 8, and if so, whether an estimated 18,000 same-sex marriages will remain valid, during a high-stakes televised session that has sparked plans for demonstrations throughout the state.

By now, the court already has drafted a decision on the case, with an author and at least three other justices willing to sign it. Oral arguments sometimes result in changes to the draft, but rarely do they change the majority position. The ruling is due in 90 days.

Chief Justice Ronald M. George, who wrote the historic May 15, 2008, decision that gave same-sex couples the right to marry, will be the one to watch during the hearing because he is often in the majority and usually writes the rulings in the most controversial cases.

Most legal analysts expect that the court will garner enough votes to uphold existing marriages but not enough to overturn Proposition 8. The dissenters in May's 4-3 marriage ruling said the decision should be left to the voters.

One conservative constitutional scholar has said that the court could both affirm its historic May 15 ruling giving gays equality and uphold Proposition 8 by requiring the state to use a term other than "marriage" and apply it to all couples, gay and straight.

"The alternatives are for the court to accept Proposition 8 and authorize the people to rewrite the Constitution in a way that undermines a basic principle of equality," said Pepperdine law professor Douglas Kmiec. If the court overturns Proposition 8, "that is the short course toward impeachment."

The court is under intense pressure. Opponents of gay marriage have threatened to mount a campaign to boot justices who vote to overturn the initiative. The last time voters ousted state high court justices was in 1986, when then-Chief Justice Rose Bird and two colleagues lost a retention election.

On the other side, the Legislature has passed two resolutions opposing Proposition 8, and protests are being planned statewide to urge the court to throw out the measure.

Thousands are expected to descend Thursday on the San Francisco Civic Center to watch the hearing live on a giant outdoor screen, just steps from the courtroom where the justices will be prodding lawyers in a jammed courtroom.

"It is one of the most important cases in the history of the California Supreme Court," said Mark Rosenbaum, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California. "The core tenet of our constitutional democracy is that fundamental rights of historically disadvantaged minorities are not dependent on the whim of the majority."

The challenges to the initiative are based on novel legal theories. Gay rights lawyers argue that the measure was an illegal constitutional revision, rather than a more limited amendment. The court has struck down constitutional amendments passed by voters as impermissible revisions only twice in its history, and there are relatively few precedents on the subject.

"While no case forecloses the revision argument, there is no case that really supports it, and most of the cases mildly cut against it," said UC Davis law professor Vikram Amar.

Upholding existing same-sex marriages would be a lower hurdle for the court, Amar and other scholars said.

"There is enough ambiguity in Prop. 8 that the court could easily interpret the measure as not applying to existing marriages," Amar said. "That is a legally plausible interpretation, and it is so clearly the just interpretation that I think getting four votes for that seems easier."

State Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown's office will ask the court to uphold the marriages and strike down the initiative as an illegal repeal of an inalienable right without compelling justification. Brown's argument is even more novel than the revision challenge, which his office said had no merit.

The Proposition 8 case has attracted more friend-of-the-court briefs than the marriage dispute that led to last year's historic ruling -- the previous record-holder. Most of the outside groups that have weighed in have asked the court to overturn the initiative.

Pepperdine's Kmiec said replacing the word "marriage" with another term would both leave intact the court's May 15 ruling and deter a recall campaign that could damage the court as an institution. He said couples could still marry in their religious communities.

That would "restore a religious meaning to a word that is a religious word," he said. Kmiec, a Catholic, said he reluctantly voted for Proposition 8 "because of the instructions of my faith community" but felt "entirely unsatisfied" with the outcome.

"I am not sure Ron George wants to be remembered as the chief justice who denied the principle of fundamental equality," the law professor said. "It is not a legacy we should ask anyone to live with, and it is wholly unnecessary."

George, a moderate Republican, is considered a swing vote on the court and, until the marriage decision, was widely regarded as cautious. Scholars have said the marriage ruling would be pivotal to his legacy on the court.

"It is difficult to imagine, although obviously plausible, that the majority of justices who ruled in the marriage cases would so quickly endorse an undermining of at least a significant portion of their ruling," said Kate Kendell, executive director of the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Pepperdine law school Dean Kenneth Starr, hired by the Proposition 8 campaign, will urge the court to uphold the measure and declare that existing same-sex marriages are no longer valid. Benefits, such as inheritance, acquired by couples during their marriages would not be taken away, but couples would have to register as domestic partners to protect their future rights.

"The people ultimately decided," Starr wrote in his final brief in the case. "Under our system of constitutional government, that is the end of the matter."


Killing of Sea Lions Allowed to Continue
Legal Topics | 2009/02/27 17:45
The 9th Circuit has refused to stop the states of Oregon, Washington and Idaho from trapping and killing California sea lions that prey on endangered salmon at the Columbia River's Bonneville Dam.

In a three-page order, a panel of the San Francisco-based federal appeals court declined to issue a stay sought by the Humane Society of the United States. The society opposed the National Marine Fisheries Service's decision to authorize three states to "lethally remove" up to 85 sea lions per year.
The court found that the Humane Society's arguments are unlikely to prevail.
The states argued that the plan was necessary, because sea lions eat up to about 4.2 percent of the salmon run.
The Humane Society countered that fishermen and dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers kill more fish than sea lions do, and that cutting back on fishing would offset the amount of salmon and steelhead fish killed by sea lions.
The 9th Circuit's decision was limited to whether the lower court's decision to grant summary judgment to the states was arbitrary and capricious.
"Given the narrow and deferential standard of review, and the district court's well-reasoned decision ... we conclude that appellants have not met their burden of demonstrating a likelihood of success on the merits," the appeals court wrote.


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