Alaska denied oil check benefits to gay couples, dependents

Headline Legal News 2021/04/17 18:57   Bookmark and Share
Alaska discriminated against some same-sex spouses for years in wrongfully denying them benefits by claiming their unions were not recognized even after courts struck down same-sex marriage bans, court documents obtained by The Associated Press show.

The agency that determines eligibility for the yearly oil wealth check paid to nearly all Alaska residents denied a dividend for same-sex spouses or dependents of military members stationed in other states for five years after a federal court invalidated Alaska’s ban on same-sex marriage in 2014, and the Supreme Court legalized the unions nationwide in June 2015, the documents show.

In one email from July 2019, a same-sex spouse living out-of-state with his military husband was denied a check because “unfortunately the state of Alaska doesn’t recognize same sex marriage yet,” employee Marissa Requa wrote to a colleague, ending the sentence with a frown face emoji.

This Permanent Fund Dividend Division practice continued until Denali Smith, who was denied benefits appealed and asked the state to start including her lawyer in its correspondence.

Smith later sued the state, seeking an order declaring that state officials violated the federal court decision and Smith’s constitutional rights to equal protection and due process

Smith and the state on Wednesday settled the lawsuit. Alaska admitted denying benefits to same-sex military spouses and dependents for five years in violation of the permanent injunction put in place by the 2014 U.S. District Court decision. The state also vowed to no longer use the outdated state law, to deny military spouses and dependents oil checks going forward, and updated enforcement regulations.

There were no financial terms to the settlement. In fact, Smith had to pay $400 out of pocket to file the federal lawsuit to get her oil check, and her attorney worked pro bono.

In Alaska, the oil wealth check is seen as an entitlement that people use to buy things like new TVs or snowmobiles, fund college savings accounts or, in rural Alaska, weather high heating and food costs. The nest-egg fund, seeded with oil money, has grown into billions of dollars. A portion traditionally goes toward the checks, but the amount varies. Last year, nearly every single resident received $992. The year before, the amount was $1,606.

About 800 pages of emails provided by the state for the lawsuit show a clear misunderstanding or outright disregard of the 2014 precedent and reluctance to reach out to the attorney general’s office for guidance.
top

Mississippi marijuana program hinges on initiative arguments

Lawyer Blog Post 2021/04/13 13:55   Bookmark and Share
The Mississippi Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday in a lawsuit that’s trying to block a voter-approved medical marijuana program by arguing that the the issue should not have been on the ballot.

Arguments were not about marijuana. Instead, they were about Mississippi’s initiative process.

Voters in November approved Initiative 65, which requires the state Health Department to establish a medical marijuana program by the middle of this year. The department is working to create a program, even as the legal fight continues.

To get Initiative 65 on the statewide ballot, organizers gathered signatures from the five congressional districts that Mississippi used during the 1990s. They did that based on legal advice issued years ago by the state attorney general’s office.

Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler filed a lawsuit days before the election, contending that the state’s initiative process is outdated.

The Mississippi Constitution says petitioners must gather an equal number of signatures from five congressional districts. The state dropped from five congressional districts to four after the 2000 Census, but the constitution’s language about initiatives was not updated. Butler’s lawsuit argues that this creates a mathematical impossibility with four districts because the constitution still specifies that no more than one-fifth of the signatures may come from any single district.

In papers filed Dec. 28 and in the Supreme Court on Wednesday, state attorneys argued that Mississippi has two sets of congressional districts ? one set used for congressional elections and one set used for other purposes.

Attorneys for Butler argued that the only purpose of a congressional district is to have geographical boundaries for electing U.S. House members.

Butler opposed Initiative 65 because it limits a city’s ability to regulate the location of medical marijuana businesses.

The Health Department, the Mississippi Municipal League and some others filed briefs supporting Butler’s lawsuit. The Health Department argued that Initiative 65 seeks to transform the department “into something it is not,” even as the department is stretched because of the coronavirus pandemic.

During the legislative session that recently ended, the Senate tried to create rules for a state medical marijuana program, but the House defeated the effort. Republican Sen. Kevin Blackwell of DeSoto County said the proposal was a backstop to have a program in place in case the Supreme Court agrees with Butler and invalidates Initiative 65. But supporters of Initiative 65 balked at the Senate’s proposal, saying they saw it as an attempt to usurp the will of the voters.
top

Husband of high court candidate begins prison sentence

Lawyer Blog Post 2021/04/08 14:47   Bookmark and Share
The husband of a Pennsylvania appellate court judge who is running for the state’s highest court began serving a prison sentence Tuesday in a long-running case, authorities said.

Charles McCullough’s incarceration comes as voters decide whether to back his wife in her bid for an open seat on Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court.

Commonwealth Court Judge Patricia McCullough is seeking the Republican nomination in May 18′s primary election against two fellow Republican judges.

On Monday, the state Supreme Court denied Charles McCullough’s latest appeals. He is currently representing himself.

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala’s office said McCullough reported as ordered Tuesday morning and was taken into custody to begin serving a state sentence of 2-1/2 to 5 years in prison.

The 66-year-old McCullough, a former Allegheny County councilman, was convicted of theft and misappropriation of funds in 2015 for using his power of attorney to take $50,000 from the trust fund of an elderly woman.

He spent the money in 2006 and 2007, using $40,000 for campaign contributions and sending the other $10,000 to a charity, according to court records.

McCullough was charged in 2009. He had argued at his trial that he had the widow’s approval to use the money and had remained free on appeal since his sentencing.

top

Hawaii high court hears argument about wind farm, bats

Legal Business 2021/04/04 13:22   Bookmark and Share
The Hawaii Supreme Court has heard arguments regarding a dispute regarding how many endangered Hawaiian hoary bats a wind farm is allowed to kill.

The Na Pua Makani wind farm has sparked controversy after 200 people were arrested trying to stop its massive turbines from being hauled from the port at Kalaeloa to Kahuku, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Friday.

Now the 24-megawatt project is at the center of a legal dispute with the nonprofit Keep the North Shore Country over the developer’s habitat conservation plan and incidental take license, which allows the turbines to kill 51 bats over 21 years.

Lance Collins, the nonprofit’s attorney, told the justices that the agency did not follow the standard set by the Legislature in protecting endangered species.

John Manaut, attorney for Na Pua Makani, told justices at the hearing that the conservation plan is based on the best available science and was compiled by the members of the Endangered Species Recovery Committee and two experts who testified at the case hearing, the newspaper reported.

Scientists estimate there are between a few hundred and a few thousand Hawaiian hoary bats in the main Hawaiian Islands. The species is the state’s only land mammal and is susceptible to extinction due to its low reproductive rates.

Na Pua Makani is an eight-turbine project that will help Oahu reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, Manaut said.
top

Judge rules Mormon church didn’t meddle in death row case

Court Watch 2021/03/31 15:58   Bookmark and Share
A Utah judge has ruled that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did not interfere in a death row inmate’s 2015 trial when it laid out ground rules for what local church leaders could say before they testified as character witnesses for the man.

Death row inmate Doug Lovell, 62, claimed the witnesses were effectively silenced by the church, or never contacted at all by his court-appointed attorney, Sean Young, The Salt Lake Tribune reported  Tuesday.

The lawyers argued the witnesses were family members, inmates and former church leaders who could have told jurors Lovell positively affected their lives. Those testimonies, which were not all given, could have swayed the jurors, they said.

Instead, Lovell was sentenced in 2015 to die by lethal injection for killing Joyce Yost three decades ago in an effort to silence her after she had alleged Lovell had raped her. Lovell appealed the verdict, claiming the church interfered in his trial and he didn’t receive adequate legal representation.

In a recent court ruling, Second District Judge Michael DiReda said Young wasn’t deficient in his representation and didn’t contact several witnesses because they would have said damaging things about his client.

DiReda also said the church didn’t interfere with Lovell’s case and told former bishops to tell the truth, but did not emphasize what they should say.

Lovell pleaded guilty to the murder in 1993 under a plea agreement that would have removed the death penalty if Lovell could show authorities the location of Yost’s body. The body was never found and the agreement was voided, but Lovell still pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and was sentenced to death.

In 2011, the Utah Supreme Court allowed Lovell to withdraw his guilty plea. He was then convicted at trial and again sentenced to death. The state Supreme Court in 2017 heard the case again and sent it back to a district court to determine if Lovell’s attorneys did their jobs properly and if the church asked ecclesiastical leaders to not testify.

The case will now get kicked back to the Utah Supreme Court, which will have the ultimate say in whether Lovell should receive another trial.

Lovell is one of seven men currently on death row in Utah. An execution date is unclear.
top

Governor swears in newest Rhode Island state court judge

Court News 2021/03/27 19:28   Bookmark and Share
The newest judge to the Rhode Island Superior Court was sworn in Saturday.

Democratic Gov. Dan McKee presided over the swearing in of R. David Cruise, a longtime political operative and state senator, at the Boys & Girls Club location in Cumberland.

McKee, a former Cumberland mayor who has known Cruise for years, said in a statement that he’s an “honest, fair and thoughtful leader who brings decades of legal and government experience to the bench.”

Cruise is a former state senator and Cumberland town councilor. In recent years, he’s served as former Gov. Gina Raimondo’s director of legislative affairs, former administrative magistrate with the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal and chief of staff to the Rhode Island Senate, among other posts, according to McKee’s office.

In the 1990s, Cruise worked in the commerce department under President Bill Clinton and chief of staff to former Governor Bruce Sundlun. In the 1980s, he was a state senator and before that served on the Cumberland Town Council.

Cruise, who graduated from Providence College and the Suffolk University School of Law, replaces former Superior Court Judge Bennett Gallo, who retired in February.

The Rhode Island Superior Court has 22 judges and five magistrates. It handles both civil and criminal matters.
top

◀ PREV : [1] : .. [8] : [9] : [10] : [11] : [12] : [13] : [14] : [15] : [16] : .. [418] : NEXT ▶








Disclaimer: Nothing posted on this blog is intended, nor should be construed, as legal advice. Blog postings and hosted comments are available for general educational purposes only and should not be used to assess a specific legal situation. Nothing submitted as a comment is confidential. Nor does any comment on a blog post create an attorney-client relationship. The presence of hyperlinks to other third-party websites does not imply that the firm endorses those websites.

Affordable Law Firm Website Design