Challenge to $225M Exxon settlement to be heard in court
Areas of Focus | 2017/09/10 22:36
Environmental groups arguing New Jersey's $225 million settlement with Exxon Mobil short-changed taxpayers are getting their day in appeals court.

The Appellate Court is set to hear arguments on Monday in Trenton.

New Jersey sued Exxon Mobil for natural resources damages at sites across the state in 2004.

A New Jersey judge approved the deal between Republican Gov. Chris Christie's administration and the petroleum company in 2015.

The idea was to hold the company responsible for cleaning up polluted areas, including two oil refineries in Bayonne and Linden and other sites and retail gas stations and to compensate the public for the alleged harm to groundwater and other resources.

Environmental groups say the state settled for pennies on the dollar after earlier estimating the cost at $8.9 billion.



Supreme Court Backs Dayton Veto of Legislature Budget
Areas of Focus | 2017/09/07 22:37
The Minnesota Supreme Court says Gov. Mark Dayton’s veto of the Legislature’s budget was constitutional.

The ruling Friday is counter to a lower-court ruling this summer that Dayton had acted unconstitutionally, but is not the last word in the case. The high court ordered the two sides to hire a mediator, by Tuesday, to resolve the dispute outside the courts.

The months-long legal battle arose this spring when Dayton line-item vetoed lawmakers’ $130 million operating budget. Dayton says he wanted to force lawmakers to rework costly tax breaks and other measures he signed into law, but the Legislature instead sued.

The state’s highest court was tilted firmly in Dayton’s favor. He had appointed four of the six justices presiding in the case.




NC appeals court restores man's lawsuit against wife's lover
Areas of Focus | 2017/09/05 22:46
A jilted husband's lawsuit against a doctor accused of stealing his wife's love can proceed after a North Carolina appeals court ruled Tuesday that the husband can continue suing the spouse's lover, seeking damages.

The state Court of Appeals decision resurrects a lawsuit that a trial judge had thrown out in Forsyth County, whose seat is Winston-Salem. The judge ruled that state law violates a person's constitutional free speech and free expression rights to engage in intimate sexual activity and expression with other consenting adults.

North Carolina is one of only about a half-dozen states that still allow lawsuits accusing a cheating spouse's lover of alienation of affection and criminal conversation.

"These laws were born out of misogyny and in modern times are often used as tools for enterprising divorce lawyers seeking leverage over the other side," Judge Richard Dietz wrote in the unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel. Nevertheless, such lawsuits "are designed to prevent and remedy personal injury, and to protect the promise of monogamy that accompanies most marriage commitments."

The court said Marc Malecek filed the lawsuit after his wife, a nurse, had an affair in 2015 with Dr. Derek Williams, a physician at the hospital where the woman works. Williams challenged the laws as unconstitutional, citing a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision voiding a Texas law outlawing homosexual acts because liberty meant allowing adults to make their own decisions about conduct.

Williams argued that the state laws "target extra-marital intimacy or sex because the State disapproves of expressing that intimacy while married to someone else," Dietz wrote.

The largest alienation award in state history was in 2011, when a Wake County judge awarded $30 million to the former wife of a Raleigh business owner. The ex-wife had sued the businessman's current spouse.

About 200 lawsuits alleging alienation are filed each year in North Carolina, but the potential liability is raised in virtually every divorce case that involves infidelity, Raleigh divorce attorney Lisa Angel said in an interview.

"People who are suffering a divorce as a result of an affair, there's a lot of economic damage. It's not that hard to make the case, as the court is making it clear here, that there's injury to a person when this happens," Angel said.


Myanmar court grants bail for editor in defamation case
Areas of Focus | 2017/08/11 01:55
A court in Myanmar granted bail Friday to a newspaper editor who is being tried under a controversial defamation statute in a telecommunications law.

Kyaw Min Swe, chief editor of The Voice Daily, was arrested in June for publishing online a satirical article that allegedly mocked the efforts of the military to reach a peace agreement with ethnic minority groups.

His previous requests for bail had been rejected, but during his ninth appearance in court, the judge granted his release on bail of 10 million kyats ($7,000).

He was charged under Article 66(D) of the Telecommunications Law, which broadly defines defamation and carries a penalty of up to three years' imprisonment.

Rights groups decry the article as a restriction on freedom of expression, but the country's parliament this week turned down a bid to drop the article and decriminalize the offense.

One of the newspaper's columnists, Kyaw Zwa Naing, was also arrested on June 2 under Article 66(D), but the charge against him was dropped last month.


Court: Violence law unfair to gay South Carolina couples
Areas of Focus | 2017/07/27 03:44
People in same-sex relationships in South Carolina should get the same legal protections against domestic violence as heterosexual couples, the state's highest court ruled Wednesday, deeming a portion of the state's domestic violence law unconstitutional.

The court was asked to weigh in after a woman tried to get a protective order against her former fiancée, also a woman, and was denied.

Current law defines "household members" as a spouse, former spouse, people with a child in common, or men and women who are or have lived together. It does not include unmarried same-sex couples.

Acting Justice Costa Pleicones, who wrote the majority opinion, said during oral arguments in March 2016 that he felt the law was "pretty clearly unconstitutional in its discriminatory impact upon same-sex couples."

In his opinion, Pleicones pointed out lawmakers have over the years addressed the definition of "household members" as covered under domestic violence protections in 1994, amending the language from "persons" living together to "male and female." In 2015, during a massive overhaul of South Carolina's criminal domestic violence law, legislators made changes including increasing penalties for offenders but left the gender-based definition intact.

The U.S. Constitution's Equal Protection Clause, the court wrote, states, "No state shall ... deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws," such as a benefit offered to one class of person but not others.

"In this case, we cannot find a reasonable basis for providing protection to one set of domestic violence victims - unmarried, cohabiting or formerly cohabiting, opposite-sex couples - while denying it to others," the court wrote.

Other states have addressed this issue since the U.S. Supreme Court's 2015 decision legalizing gay marriage nationwide. The Ohio Supreme Court in 2016 adopted the use of gender-neutral references in family court cases. California and Massachusetts proactively changed language in their laws.


Ohio sheriff's deputy pleads not guilty to rape, kidnapping
Areas of Focus | 2017/07/22 22:55
An Ohio sheriff's deputy has pleaded not guilty to charges for allegedly raping a 26-year-old woman inside his county-issued cruiser.

Summit County deputy Antonio Williamson entered pleas Friday during an arraignment in the county court in Akron. He was indicted Thursday on rape, kidnapping, sexual battery and gross sexual imposition charges.

His attorney declined to comment after the hearing. A judge set a $100,000 bond.

The 46-year-old Williamson supervised the sheriff's office crime scene unit. He surrendered to authorities Thursday.

Prosecutors say the sexual assault occurred outside an Akron gentlemen's club in March. A county prosecutor's spokesman has said Williamson was in uniform and was leaving an off-duty security job prior to the assault. The spokesman says Williamson didn't know the woman previously.


First Opioid Court in the U.S. Focuses on Keeping Users Alive
Areas of Focus | 2017/07/10 07:49
After three defendants fatally overdosed in a single week last year, it became clear that Buffalo's ordinary drug treatment court was no match for the heroin and painkiller crisis.

Now the city is experimenting with the nation's first opioid crisis intervention court, which can get users into treatment within hours of their arrest instead of days, requires them to check in with a judge every day for a month instead of once a week, and puts them on strict curfews. Administering justice takes a back seat to the overarching goal of simply keeping defendants alive.

"The idea behind it," said court project director Jeffrey Smith, "is only about how many people are still breathing each day when we're finished."

Funded with a three-year $300,000 U.S. Justice Department grant, the program began May 1 with the intent of treating 200 people in a year and providing a model that other heroin-wracked cities can replicate.

Two months in, organizers are optimistic. As of late last week, none of the 80 people who agreed to the program had overdosed, though about 10 warrants had been issued for missed appearances.

Buffalo-area health officials blamed 300 deaths on opioid overdoses in 2016, up from 127 two years earlier. That includes a young couple who did not make it to their second drug court appearance last spring. The woman's father arrived instead to tell the judge his daughter and her boyfriend had died the night before.

"We have an epidemic on our hands. ... We've got to start thinking outside the box here," said Erie County District Attorney John Flynn. "And if that means coddling an individual who has a minor offense, who is not a career criminal, who's got a serious drug problem, then I'm guilty of coddling."

Regular drug treatment courts that emerged in response to crack cocaine in the 1980s take people in after they've been arraigned and in some cases released. The toll of opioids and profile of their users, some of them hooked by legitimate prescriptions, called for more drastic measures.

Acceptance into opioid crisis court means detox, inpatient or outpatient care, 8 p.m. curfews, and at least 30 consecutive days of in-person meetings with the judge. A typical drug treatment court might require such appearances once a week or even once a month.


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