High Court ruling may hurt claims of talc link to cancer
Legal Business | 2017/06/21 22:54
A Supreme Court ruling this week could have a "chilling effect" on the many lawsuits filed in St. Louis claiming talcum powder causes a deadly form of cancer in women, including cases under appeal in which stricken women and their survivors have been awarded more than $300 million, experts said Tuesday.

Justices ruled 8-1 Monday that hundreds of out-state-residents can't sue Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. in California state court over adverse reactions to the blood thinner Plavix. It followed a similar ruling in May related to out-of-state injury claims against BNSF Railway Co. Both were seen as wins for companies opposed to "venue shopping," in which those filing suit seek out favorable state courts.

Almost immediately after the Supreme Court ruling, St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison declared a mistrial in a Missouri state court case in which three plaintiffs, two from out-of-state, sued Johnson & Johnson, claiming its talcum powder caused ovarian cancer.

More than 1,000 others have filed similar lawsuits in St. Louis against Johnson & Johnson, but most don't live in Missouri. Five trials have already taken place over the past 16 months. In four of those cases, jurors awarded more than $300 million combined.

Johnson & Johnson believes that the Supreme Court ruling "requires reversal of the talc cases that are currently under appeal in St. Louis," spokeswoman Carol Goodrich said in an email. She said the ruling "makes it clear that Johnson & Johnson was wrongfully forced to defend itself in multiple trials in Missouri, a state with no connection to the plaintiffs."

Jim Onder, whose suburban St. Louis-based law firm is representing many women and survivors who filed suit, said Missouri is a proper venue because Johnson & Johnson, though based in New Jersey, uses a factory in Union, Missouri, to package and label talcum products.



Top court to hear case that could reshape US political map
Court Watch | 2017/06/20 16:43
The Supreme Court will take up a momentous fight over parties manipulating electoral districts to gain partisan advantage in a case that could affect the balance of power between Democrats and Republicans across the United States.

At issue is whether Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin drew legislative districts that favored their party and were so out of whack with the state's political breakdown that they violated the constitutional rights of Democratic voters.

It will be the high court's first case in more than a decade on what's known as partisan gerrymandering. A lower court struck down the districts as unconstitutional last year.

The justices won't hear the arguments until the fall, but the case has already taken on a distinctly ideological, if not partisan, tone. Just 90 minutes after justices announced Monday that they would hear the case, the five more conservative justices voted to halt a lower court's order to redraw the state's legislative districts by November, in time for next year's elections.

The four more liberal justices, named to the court by Democrats, would have let the new line-drawing proceed even as the court considers the issue.

That divide could be significant. One factor the court weighs in making such decisions is which side seems to have a better chance of winning.

Republicans who control the state legislature assured the court that they could draw new maps in time for the 2018 elections, if the court strikes down the districts. If the state wins, there'll be no need for new districts.

Democrats hope a favorable decision will help them cut into Republican electoral majorities. Election law experts say the case is the best chance yet for the high court to put limits on what lawmakers may do to gain a partisan advantage in creating political district maps.

Both parties have tried to get the largest partisan edge when they control redistricting. Yet Democrats are more supportive of having courts rein in extreme districting plans, mainly because Republicans control more legislatures and drew districts after the 2010 census that enhanced their advantage in those states and in the House of Representatives.


Ronaldo summoned to court, Mourinho accused of tax fraud
Legal Topics | 2017/06/20 16:43
Cristiano Ronaldo has been summoned to appear before a Spanish judge, and Jose Mourinho could be next.

Ronaldo and Mourinho are the latest members of the soccer elite to be accused of tax fraud in Spain. Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano, among others, have already been convicted.

On Tuesday, Ronaldo was told to appear in court on July 31, while Mourinho was accused by a state prosecutor of defrauding Spain's Tax Office of 3.3 million euros ($3.7 million).

Ronaldo, who is in Russia at the Confederations Cup with Portugal's national soccer team, has played in Spain for Real Madrid since 2009. The 54-year-old Mourinho was Real Madrid coach from 2010-13. He now is the coach of English club Manchester United.

The cases are about the profits made from image rights, not salaries from their clubs. Real Madrid and Man United are not directly involved.

Both Ronaldo and Mourinho are represented by Portuguese agent Jorge Mendes. Atletico Madrid striker Radamel Falcao and Real Madrid defender Fabio Coentrao, who have also been accused of tax fraud in Spain, are also clients of Mendes.

A request for comment from Mendes' agency, Gestifute, was not immediately answered.

Last week, Ronaldo was accused by a state prosecutor of four counts of tax fraud totaling 14.7 million euros ($16.5 million). The Portugal forward is now under official investigation and will have to appear in the Pozuelo de Alarcon court No. 1 on July 31. A judge will then decide if they are grounds to charge him with a crime.

The prosecutor said last Tuesday that there was evidence that Ronaldo used a shell company in the Virgin Islands to hide the money he had made from image rights. Ronaldo has denied any wrongdoing.

The accusations against Ronaldo have caused speculation in Portugal and Spain that he is now considering leaving the country to play elsewhere.

The summoning of Ronaldo coincided with the same Madrid-based prosecutor's office accusing Mourinho of two counts of tax fraud.


Court: 'JudgeCutie' nickname doesn't ruffle judicial dignity
Court Watch | 2017/06/19 23:43
A Mississippi jurist can call herself "JudgeCutie" without ruffling the dignity of the legal profession.

That's what the Mississippi Supreme Court says in one of its speediest decisions in years.

Only two days after hearing arguments, the court — which often takes months for decisions — dismissed a complaint filed against Gay Polk-Payton. The justice court judge has gone by "JudgeCutie" on social media.

The state Commission on Judicial Performance sought to reprimand her, saying she had used her job on the bench and the online persona to promote herself as a motivational speaker and musical entertainer.

During arguments to the Supreme Court, her attorney Oliver Diaz pointed out that other Mississippi judges have used names that some might consider less than dignified. One was Noah "Soggy" Sweat, a circuit judge from 1966 to 1974.

Court papers say "Judge Cutie" is a play on the name of TV's "Judge Judy."


Justices could take up high-stakes fight over electoral maps
Attorney News | 2017/06/18 23:43
In an era of deep partisan division, the Supreme Court could soon decide whether the drawing of electoral districts can be too political.

A dispute over Wisconsin’s Republican-drawn boundaries for the state legislature offers Democrats some hope of cutting into GOP electoral majorities across the United States. Election law experts say the case is the best chance yet for the high court to put limits on what lawmakers may do to gain a partisan advantage in creating political district maps. The justices could say as early as Monday whether they will intervene.

The Constitution requires states to redo their political maps to reflect population changes identified in the once-a-decade census. The issue of gerrymandering — creating districts that often are oddly shaped and with the aim of benefiting one party — is centuries old. The term comes from a Massachusetts state Senate district that resembled a salamander and was approved in 1812 by Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry.

Both parties have sought the largest partisan edge when they control redistricting. Yet Democrats are more supportive of having courts rein in extreme districting plans, mainly because Republicans control more legislatures and drew districts after the 2010 census that enhanced their advantage in those states and in the U.S. House of Representatives.

In the Wisconsin case, a federal court struck down the districts as unconstitutional in November, finding they were drawn to unfairly minimize the influence of Democratic voters.

The challengers to the Wisconsin districts say it is an extreme example of redistricting that has led to ever-increasing polarization in American politics because so few districts are genuinely competitive between the parties. In these safe seats, incumbents tend to be more concerned about primary challengers, so they try to appeal mostly to their party’s base.


After jury deadlocks, Bill Cosby faces 2nd sex assault trial
Legal Topics | 2017/06/17 23:44
Bill Cosby, the comedian and actor once known as "America's Dad" for his TV role as paternal Dr. Cliff Huxtable, avoided a conviction on Father's Day weekend as a jury declared itself hopelessly deadlocked on charges he drugged and molested a woman more than a decade ago.

Prosecutors found themselves back to square one Saturday after the judge declared a mistrial following more than 52 hours of deliberations over six days.

Excoriated by the defense for charging Cosby in the first place, District Attorney Kevin Steele vowed to put him on trial a second time, saying accuser Andrea Constand supported the decision.

"She has shown such courage through this, and we are in awe of what she has done," Steele said. "She's entitled to a verdict in this case." Cosby's team declared victory, however temporary.

By sowing doubt among one or more jurors, Cosby's lawyers managed to overcome two years of unrelenting bad publicity for their client after the public release of his damaging testimony about drugs and sex, as well as a barrage of accusations from 60 women who came forward to accuse him of sexual assault.

Constand told jurors Cosby gave her pills that made her woozy and then penetrated her with his fingers as she lay paralyzed on a couch, unable to tell him to stop. The 2004 encounter at Cosby's suburban Philadelphia estate was the only one to result in criminal charges.

Constand is ready to go to trial again, said her lawyer, Dolores Troiani. "She's a very spiritual woman, she believes things happen for a purpose, and I think the purpose is ... it should encourage other women to come forward and have their day in court."

Troiani acknowledged the difficulty of the case, given the passage of time and the impact of the alleged drugging on Constand's ability to recall details. The jury failed to reach a unanimous decision on any of the three counts against the comedian, ending the trial without a verdict. Cosby's team immediately went on the attack.

The entertainer's wife of 53 years, Camille, slammed prosecutors for bringing the case to court, calling Steele "heinously and exploitively ambitious" in a statement released after the trial. She also criticized the judge, the accuser's lawyers and the media.

"How do I describe the judge? Overtly arrogant, collaborating with the district attorney," said her statement, which was tweeted by her husband and read by an associate of the public relations firm representing Cosby.

Cosby himself didn't comment, remaining stoic as the judge declared a mistrial, but Wyatt declared the star's "power is back. It has been restored." That seemed debatable.

Cosby's career and good-guy image were already in tatters by the time his chief accuser took the witness stand, and the prosecution's decision to pursue a second trial keeps him in legal limbo.


Michelle Carter text suicide trial verdict: Guilty
Headline Legal News | 2017/06/16 23:44
A young Massachusetts woman accused of sending her boyfriend dozens of text messages urging him to kill himself when they were teenagers was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter Friday.

Michelle Carter was charged in the death of Conrad Roy III. Carter, then 17, cajoled Roy to kill himself in July 2014 with a series of texts and phone calls, prosecutors alleged. Roy died when his pickup truck filled with carbon monoxide in a store parking lot in Fairhaven. After he exited the truck, Carter told him to "get back in," prosecutors said.

Prosecutors allege Carter pushed Roy to commit suicide because she was desperate for attention and sympathy from classmates, reports CBS Boston, and wanted to play the role of a grieving girlfriend. Carter's lawyer, Joseph Cataldo, said Roy was intent on killing himself and took Carter along on his "sad journey."

Carter waived her right to a jury trial, so Juvenile Court Judge Lawrence Moniz decided the case. He began deliberating late Tuesday after closing arguments concluded and read his verdict Friday morning.

While Roy took "significant actions of his own" to take his own life, Carter's instruction to get back in the truck constituted wanton and reckless conduct, the judge said. Even though she knew he was in the truck, she didn't take action to help him by calling the police or his family, Moniz said.

"She called no one and finally she did not issue a simple additional instruction -- get out of the truck," Moniz said.

Carter cried as the judge read his verdict and sobs broke out in the courtroom.

The judge set sentencing for Aug. 3. He ruled that Carter, now 20, can remain free on bail but ordered her not to make any contact with Roy's family and not to leave the state. She faces a sentence of probation to 20 years in prison.


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