California court upholds verdict in Monsanto cancer case
Court Watch | 2020/07/21 16:23
A California appeals court on Monday upheld a groundbreaking verdict that Monsanto’s widely used weed killer caused cancer in a school groundskeeper but the panel also slashed the damage award from $78.5 million to $21.5 million.

The 1st District Court of Appeal said there was evidence to support a California jury’s 2018 decision that “Monsanto acted with a conscious disregard for public safety,” but it reduced the damages to Dewayne Johnson of Vallejo because state law doesn’t allow damages for reduced life expectancy, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The original San Francisco Superior Court jury found that St. Louis-based Monsanto had purposely ignored warnings and evidence that glyphosate, the active ingredient in its popular Roundup and Ranger Pro products, causes cancer.

Johnson, then 46, alleged that his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma was caused by his years of spraying Ranger Pro on school grounds in Benicia.

Jurors awarded Johnson $289.2 million but a judge later reduced the punitive damages, knocking down the total to $78.5 million.

In further reducing the total award, the appellate court ruled 3-0 that state law entitled Johnson only to compensation for future harm he was “reasonably certain” to suffer. He had been given only two to three years to live.

R. Brent Wisner, a lawyer for Johnson, said the ruling was an overall victory but the court shouldn’t have reduced the damage award.

“This effectively rewards a defendant for killing a plaintiff, as opposed to just injuring him,” Wisner told the Chronicle.

Bayer AG, the German corporation that owns Monsanto, called the reduction “a step in the right direction” but said the appellate panel should have thrown out the verdict and said it may appeal to the California Supreme Court.


UConn student fugitive in court on murder charge, police say
Court Watch | 2020/06/11 00:17
A University of Connecticut student, who police say used a machete to kill a man, fatally shot a high school acquaintance, and then spent six days as a fugitive,  will be arraigned Friday on murder and other charges, authorities said.

Peter Manfredonia, 23, will be arraigned in Rockville Superior Court in the May 22 death of Ted DeMers in nearby Willington, Connecticut, Trooper Josue Dorelus said at a news briefing.

It was not clear whether Manfredonia has an attorney who could comment on his behalf about the charges. Manfredonia is accused of killing DeMers, 62, and seriously wounding another man in the machete attack.

Two days later, police say, Manfredonia stole a truck and guns and fatally shot high school acquaintance Nicholas Eisele, 23, in Derby, Connecticut. He is being held on a $5 million bond. He is charged with murder, criminal attempt to commit murder, assault, home invasion, kidnapping with a firearm, robbery, larceny, stealing a firearm and assault on an elderly person.

State police said further charges will be filed in Eisele's death and the kidnapping of Eisele's girlfriend, who was later found unharmed in New Jersey.


Big Oil loses appeal, climate suits go to California courts
Court Watch | 2020/05/26 01:31
Big Oil lost a pair of court battles Tuesday that could lead to trials in lawsuits by California cities and counties seeking damages for the impact of climate change.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected arguments by energy companies and ruled state courts are the proper forum for lawsuits alleging producers promoted petroleum as environmentally responsible when they knew it was contributing to drought, wildfires, and sea level rise associated with global warming.

The lawsuits claim Chevron, Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, BP, Royal Dutch Shell and other companies created a public nuisance and should pay for damage from climate change and help build sea walls and other infrastructure to protect against future impact ? construction that could cost tens of billions of dollars.

The ruling overturned a decision by one federal judge, who had tossed out lawsuits brought by the cities of San Francisco and Oakland.

“It is time for these companies to pay their fair share,” San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement applauding the ruling. “They should not be able to stick taxpayers with the bill for the damage they knew they were causing. We will continue to hold these companies accountable for their decades-long campaign of public deception about climate change and its consequences.”

While the rulings were victories for the coastal counties and cities ? all in the San Francisco Bay Area except for the tiny city of Imperial Beach in San Diego County ? and cheered by environmental groups, it could take years before they ever get to a jury, if they make it that far.



Supreme Court blocks House from Mueller grand jury material
Court Watch | 2020/05/22 02:12
The Supreme Court on Wednesday temporarily prevented the House of Representatives from obtaining secret grand jury testimony from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

The court’s unsigned order granted the Trump administration’s request to keep previously undisclosed details from the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election out of the hands of Democratic lawmakers, at least until early summer.

The court will decide then whether to extend its hold and schedule the case for arguments in the fall. If it does, it’s likely the administration will be able to put off the release of any materials until after Election Day. Arguments themselves might not even take place before Americans decide whether to give President Donald Trump a second term.

For justices eager to avoid a definitive ruling, the delay could mean never having to decide the case, if either Trump loses or Republicans regain control of the House next year. It’s hard to imagine the Biden administration would object to turning over the Mueller documents or House Republicans would continue to press for them.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi objected to the high court’s decision in a statement Wednesday evening. “The House’s long-standing right to obtain grand jury information pursuant to the House’s impeachment power has now been upheld by the lower courts twice,” Pelosi said. “These rulings are supported by decades of precedent and should be permitted to proceed.”

The federal appeals court in Washington ruled in March that the documents should be turned over because the House Judiciary Committee’s need for the material in its investigation of Trump outweighed the Justice Department’s interests in keeping the testimony secret.


Black robes or bathrobes? Virus alters high court traditions
Court Watch | 2020/05/02 06:39
The coronavirus pandemic is forcing big changes at the tradition-bound Supreme Court. The justices will hear arguments this month by telephone for the first time since Alexander Graham Bell patented his invention in 1876.

Audio of the arguments will be broadcast live by the news media, another first. This will be just the second time that the justices will meet outside the court since the Supreme Court building opened in 1935. (The discovery of anthrax in a court mailroom in 2001 forced a temporary relocation to another federal courthouse less than a mile away.)

The first argument is Monday, and the court will hear a total of 10 cases over six days. Among the cases to be argued: President Donald Trump’s bid to keep certain financial records private and whether presidential electors are required to cast their Electoral College ballots for the candidate who won their state.


Washington Supreme Court to hear COVID-19 inmate case online
Court Watch | 2020/04/23 03:14
In an historic setting, the Washington Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Thursday while sitting alone in their separate chambers using Zoom technology in a case that addresses the safety of inmates in the state’s prisons during the coronavirus outbreak.

At the same time, conservative lawmakers, law enforcement officials and some victims plan to hold news conferences on both sides of the state to protest the release of some offenders.

At least 24 corrections employees and 13 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, almost 100 offenders were placed in isolation and more than 1,000 are being quarantined. The majority of the positive cases occurred at the Monroe Correctional Complex where seven staff and 12 inmates have the disease.

After the virus hit the facility, the second largest in Washington, inmates filed a petition with the Supreme Court asking the justices to order Gov. Jay Inslee and Corrections Secretary Stephen Sinclair to release inmates who are older than 60, have underlying conditions and are within 60 days of their release date.

In an unanimous ruling on April 10, the justices ordered the state to devise a plan to protect inmates from the disease. Several days later, Inslee announced plans to release almost 1,000 non-violent offenders who are close to their release date.

As of Wednesday, about 41 inmates received work release furloughs, 293 had their sentences commuted and another 600 were on a list to be considered for a release into the community using electronic monitoring.

The corrections department has also told the court that it has imposed a list of measures designed to keep incarcerated people healthy, including mandatory face masks and hand-sanitizer dispensers.

Lawyers for the inmates say their efforts fall short. They say the prisons are too crowded to allow for social distancing.



Court drops rape, other charges against megachurch leader
Court Watch | 2020/04/10 17:39
A California appeals court ordered the dismissal of a criminal case Tuesday against a Mexican megachurch leader on charges of child rape and human trafficking on procedural grounds.

Naason Joaquin Garcia, the self-proclaimed apostle of La Luz del Mundo, has been in custody since June following his arrest on accusations involving three girls and one woman between 2015 and 2018 in Los Angeles County. Additional allegations of the possession of child pornography in 2019 were later added. He has denied wrongdoing.

While being held without bail in Los Angeles, Garcia has remained the spiritual leader of La Luz del Mundo, which is Spanish for “The Light Of The World.” The Guadalajara, Mexico-based evangelical Christian church was founded by his grandfather and claims 5 million followers worldwide.

It was not clear when he would be released. The attorney general’s office said it was reviewing the court’s ruling and did not answer additional questions.

Garcia’s attorney, Alan Jackson, said he and his client are “thrilled” by the decision.


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