Court upholds Iowa man’s civil judgment in mother’s death

Court News 2021/03/19 14:56   Bookmark and Share
There was enough evidence for a jury to conclude in a wrongful death lawsuit that an Iowa man shot and killed his mother, the state Supreme Court ruled Friday, leaving in place the jury’s $10 million award even though the man was eventually acquitted on criminal charges in her death.

The court denied Jason Carter’s appeal of the civil judgment, in which a jury found him responsible for the June 2015 shooting of his mother, Shirley Carter, at her home near Knoxville.

Jason Carter, of Knoxville, and his father, Bill Carter, have been locked in legal disputes since Shirley Carter’s death.

Bill Carter filed the lawsuit on behalf of his late wife’s estate and another son, Billy Dean Carter, in 2016. A jury found Jason Carter liable and awarded a $10 million judgment to be paid to his father and mother’s estate.

Jason Carter was charged with first-degree murder in his mother’s death, but a jury acquitted him in March 2019.

In his appeal of the civil judgment, Jason Carter claimed the judge had wrongly denied his motions to delay the civil trial, saying it should have been postponed because authorities were still investigating his mother’s death and hadn’t charged him yet. But the high court concluded in a decision written by Chief Justice Susan Christensen that “there is no rule requiring trial courts to stay civil proceedings until criminal proceedings conclude.”

Carter also disputed the civil trial judge’s decisions on subpoenas and motions to set aside the jury verdict. His motions were based in part on evidence that had surfaced in which witnesses claimed the shooting was a botched attempt by other people to steal prescription medication from Shirley and Bill Carters’ home. Jason Carter claimed such evidence may have helped him cast doubt on his liability in the civil case.

“We conclude that when viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, a reasonable mind could conclude by a preponderance of the evidence that Jason intentionally shot his mother,” Christensen wrote.

Jason Carter’s lawyer, Alison Kanne, said she and her client disagree with the court’s decision and “we remain satisfied with the fact that Jason Carter was conclusively deemed not guilty by a jury of his peers who had all of the information in front of them, which is something the civil jury did not have.”

Bill Carter’s lawyer, Mark Weinhardt, said they were reviewing the decision and would comment later. In his closing argument before the high court, Weinhardt said Bill Carter was seeking at least some measure of justice for his wife.
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Colorado court: Speed-reading bills violates constitution

Legal Business 2021/03/15 13:05   Bookmark and Share
The Colorado Supreme Court has ruled that state Senate Democrats violated the constitution in 2019 when they responded to Republicans’ request that bills be read at length by having computers speed-read the bills in an intelligible garble.

The Colorado Sun reports that in a 4-3 ruling released Monday, the court ruled the speed-reading tactic violated the constitution’s mandate that legislation be read at length upon request.

“There are unquestionably different ways by which the legislature may comply with the reading requirement,” Justice Carlos Samour Jr. wrote in the majority opinion. “But the cacophony generated by the computers here isn’t one of them.”

Minority Senate Republicans were trying to delay Democrats’ attempts to overhaul oil and gas regulations by asking that bills be read aloud ? including a 2,000-page measure. When Democrats resorted to computers, Republicans sued. A lower court found for the minority party.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Monica M. Marquez wrote that the court should give direction on how legislation ought to be read in the future.

In 2019, Democrats began negotiating with Republicans to avoid further stalling tactics ? and the GOP has since slowed down work on other occasions to force Democrats to make deals.
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Drug trafficker says he bribed Honduras president

Legal Business 2021/03/11 13:06   Bookmark and Share
A convicted Honduran drug trafficker and former leader of a cartel testified in United States federal court Thursday that he paid now-President Juan Orlando Hernandez $250,000 for protection from arrest in 2012.

Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, former leader of the Cachiros cartel, testified that he made the payment in cash through one of Hernandez’s sisters, Hilda Hernandez, in exchange “for protection so that the military police and preventive police didn’t capture us in Honduras.”

He said he also paid so that he wouldn’t be extradited to the U.S. and so companies used by the Cachiros to launder money would be favored by the government. Rivera Maradiaga has admitted to being involved in 78 murders.

At the time of the alleged bribe, Juan Orlando Hernandez was leader of Honduras’ Congress, but had begun angling for the presidency, which he won in 2013. He took office the following January. Hilda Hernandez, who later served in his administration, died in a helicopter crash in 2017.

The accusation came in the third day of testimony in the trial of alleged drug trafficker Geovanny Fuentes Ramirez. U.S. prosecutors have made it clear that allegations against President Hernandez would arise during the trial, though he has not been charged.

Fuentes Ramirez was arrested in March 2020 in Florida. He is charged with drug trafficking and arms possession.

Hernandez has vehemently denied any connection to drug traffickers. One of his brothers, Juan Antonio Hernandez, was convicted of drug trafficking in the same court in 2019.

During that trial, the president was accused of accepting more than $1 million from Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

U.S. prosecutors have alleged that much of Hernandez’s political rise was funded by drug traffickers who paid to be allowed to move drugs through Honduras without interference.

In January, U.S. federal prosecutors filed motions in the Fuentes Ramirez case saying that Hernandez took bribes from drug traffickers and had the country’s armed forces protect a cocaine laboratory and shipments to the United States.

The documents quote Hernandez ? identified as co-conspirator 4 ? as saying he wanted to “‘shove the drugs right up the noses of the gringos’ by flooding the United States with cocaine.”

This week, Hernandez has said in a series of Twitter messages that the witnesses in New York are seeking to lighten their sentences by making up lies against him.
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High court revives ex-student’s suit against Georgia college

Lawyer Blog Post 2021/03/08 14:29   Bookmark and Share
The Supreme Court is reviving a lawsuit brought by a Georgia college student who sued school officials after being prevented from distributing Christian literature on campus.

The high court sided 8-1 with the student, Chike Uzuegbunam, and against Georgia Gwinnett College. Uzuegbunam has since graduated, and the public school in Lawrenceville, Georgia, has changed its policies. Lower courts said the case was moot, but the Supreme Court disagreed.

Groups across the political spectrum including the American Civil Liberties Union had said that the case is important to ensuring that people whose constitutional rights were violated can continue their cases even when governments reverse the policies they were challenging.

At issue was whether Uzuegbunam’s case could continue because he was only seeking so-called nominal damages of $1.

“This case asks whether an award of nominal damages by itself can redress a past injury. We hold that it can,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for a majority of the court.

Writing only for himself, Chief Justice John Roberts disagreed. Roberts argued that the case brought by Uzuegbunam and another student, Joseph Bradford, is moot since the two are no longer students at the college, the restrictions no longer exist and they “have not alleged actual damages.”

Writing about the symbolic dollar they are seeking, Roberts said that: “If nominal damages can preserve a live controversy, then federal courts will be required to give advisory opinions whenever a plaintiff tacks on a request for a dollar.” He accused his colleagues of “turning judges into advice columnists.”

It appears to be the first time in his more than 15 years on the court that the chief justice has filed a solo dissent in an argued case. That’s according to Adam Feldman, the creator of the Empirical SCOTUS blog, which tracks a variety of data about the court.

Uzuegbunam’s lawyer, Kristen Waggoner of the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom, a group that focuses on faith-based cases, cheered the ruling. “We are pleased that the Supreme Court weighed in on the side of justice for those victims,” she said in a statement.

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State ordered to submit plan for mental health services

Legal Business 2021/03/04 11:37   Bookmark and Share
A federal judge has ordered Mississippi to file a plan to upgrade its mental health services as part of resolving litigation that’s been ongoing for at least half a decade.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves last month ordered attorneys representing the state to file a systematic plan by April 30 to improve the state’s mental health services.

The state can either file an agreed-upon plan with the federal government or file a separate one if the state and federal government disagree on a remedial plan.

If Mississippi submits a jointly agreed plan with the federal government, that plan would mostly likely be the order the court agrees to, The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported.

The state was forced to enter into a remedial process after Judge Reeves ruled in September 2019 that Mississippi was in violation of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act because there were inadequate resources in Mississippi communities to treat people with mental illnesses effectively.

“Despite the state’s episodic improvement, it operates a system that unlawfully discriminates against persons with serious mental illness,” Reeves said in the opinion.

The opinion concluded that Mississippians with mental illness were essentially being segregated to state-run hospitals instead of being treated within community centers.

The federal government first filed suit against the state over the services in 2016.

If the state’s attorneys cannot reach common ground, the Justice Department will file a separate proposed solution no later than 21 days after the state submits its own proposal.

Michael Hogan, the appointed special master who is ensuring the court’s wishes are carried out during the litigation, will have a chance to weigh in on any potential disagreements by June 4.

If the parties disagree on a plan to improve the state’s mental health services, Reeves will then issue a new order on which party’s plan he agrees with more.

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Anchorage companies, man fined for clean air violations

Court News 2021/03/01 11:23   Bookmark and Share
A man and two companies in Alaska have been sentenced to three years probation and a $35,000 fine for violating the Clean Air Act involving asbestos work at a shopping center more than five years ago, a judge said.

The work was performed at the Northern Lights Center in Anchorage, the former location of an REI store. Reports of potential asbestos exposure at the time closed the store for a day back in 2015, authorities said.

U.S. District Court Judge Joshua Kindred sentenced Tae Ryung Yoon, 64, on Friday to probation, fined him $35,000 and said he owes $30,000 in restitution for medical monitoring of the four workers who claimed they were exposed to asbestos, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

The owners of Yoo Jin Management Company Ltd. and Mush Inn Corp. were also sentenced after agreeing to plead guilty to a charge of violating the Clean Air Act’s Asbestos Work Practice Standards. Both companies are owned by Chun Yoo, who is in his 80s and has “serious medical conditions,” and his wife, attorney Kevin Fitzgerald said. The couple still owns the center.

The case centers on workers who said they were exposed to asbestos during improperly conducted renovations involving an old boiler room. The work was stopped when two of the workers raised concerns.

High levels of asbestos exposure can cause lung disease or cancer.

Prosecutors said in a statement that the building owners and manager relied on a contractor who was not a certified asbestos abatement contractor and “failed to inform the contractor of the possibility of asbestos in the old boiler room.”

Fitzgerald argued that an assessment indicated no evidence of asbestos when his clients bought the center in 2006. Yoon was the building’s property manager at the time.

Documents show the boilers were replaced by another company in 2012 and the old ones were removed in 2014 to make more room. Some of the workers took photos of what they thought was asbestos and emailed them to the property management company that employed Yoon.
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