Supreme Court refuses to hear Kentucky foster care case

Legal Insight 2017/10/15 19:05   Bookmark and Share
The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear a case involving a growing number of Kentucky relatives providing free foster care for children.

The result is that Kentucky must begin paying those relatives the same as they do licensed foster families, news outlets report.

The nation's high court on Tuesday refused to hear an appeal from the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services. The cabinet was seeking to overturn a ruling earlier this year by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that said the state must pay relatives who take in foster children.

The case revolved around a lawsuit filed by Lexington lawyer Richard Dawahare on behalf of a great-aunt who took in two young boys but was denied foster payments from the state.

"We have won, our clients have won and it's a big deal," Dawahare said. "Right now, the relatives are entitled and they need to make their claim."

A cabinet spokesman didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The news will be celebrated by many relatives across Kentucky caring for children but not eligible for daily payments even as licensed foster parents are paid a base rate of about $25 a day or $750 a month.

Among them is Kimberly Guffy of Russellville, Kentucky, who said she and her husband have been caring for two small grandchildren for more than three years with no foster care help from the cabinet.

"The days of the cabinet's reliance on relatives to balance its budget are over," she told The Courier-Journal.

Guffy said she didn't hesitate to take in the children, one a newborn and the other a 16-month-old, but it has been a struggle, especially for the first year when child care costs reached $10,000.

The cabinet has since agreed to assist with child care costs but refused foster payments. Social workers at one point told her that if the family couldn't afford to care for the children, they would be placed in a foster home.

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Court weighing whether graffiti mecca was protected by law

Legal Business 2017/10/11 19:03   Bookmark and Share
For two decades, Jerry Wolkoff let graffiti artists use his crumbling Queens warehouse complex as a canvas for their vibrant works. Artists gave the spot the name "5Pointz" — a place where all five New York City boroughs come together — but painters traveled from as far as Japan and Brazil to tag, bomb and burn at what became a graffiti mecca and a tourist destination.

But like most graffiti, it didn't last. Wolkoff whitewashed the building in 2013 then tore it down to build luxury apartment towers.

Four years later, some of the artists whose work was destroyed are in court, arguing that even though the building belonged to Wolkoff, the art was protected by federal law.

A trial that started Tuesday at a federal court in Brooklyn will determine whether the artists should be compensated for the lost work.

More than 20 artists sued Wolkoff under the Visual Artists Rights Act, or VARA, a 1990 federal statute that protects artists' rights even if someone else owns the physical artwork.

A trial that started Tuesday at a federal court in Brooklyn will determine whether the artists should be compensated for the lost work.

More than 20 artists sued Wolkoff under the Visual Artists Rights Act, or VARA, a 1990 federal statute that protects artists' rights even if someone else owns the physical artwork.

Barry Werbin, an attorney specializing in intellectual property, said the case is significant because no lawsuit under the statute has been tried by a jury before.
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Court agrees to take on US-Microsoft dispute over emails

Court News 2017/10/09 19:04   Bookmark and Share
The Supreme Court agreed Monday to take on a major dispute over the government's authority to force American technology companies to hand over emails and other digital information sought in criminal probes but stored outside the U.S.

The justices intervened in a case of a federal drug trafficking investigation that sought emails that Microsoft keeps on a server in Ireland. The federal appeals court in New York said that the emails are beyond the reach of a search warrant issued by an American judge.

The Trump administration and 33 states told the court that the decision is impeding investigations into terrorism, drug trafficking, fraud and child pornography because other courts are relying on the ruling in preventing U.S. and state authorities from obtaining information kept abroad.

The case is among several legal clashes that Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft and other technology companies have had with the government over questions of digital privacy and authorities' need for information to combat crime and extremism.

Privacy law experts say the companies have been more willing to push back against the government since the leak of classified information detailing America's surveillance programs.

The case also highlights the difficulty that judges face in trying to square decades-old laws with new technological developments. In urging the high court to stay out of the case, Microsoft said Congress needs to bring the law into the age of cloud computing.

In 2013, federal investigators obtained a warrant under a 1986 law for emails from an account they believe was being used in illegal drug transactions as well as identifying information about the user of the email account.
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Businesses ask Supreme Court to take gay rights case

Court News 2017/10/08 19:05   Bookmark and Share
Some of America's most well-known companies are urging the Supreme Court to rule that a federal employment discrimination law prohibits discrimination based on a person's sexual orientation, a position opposite of the one taken by the Trump administration.

The 76 businesses and organizations — including American Airlines, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, Starbucks and Microsoft — filed a brief Wednesday encouraging the high court to take up the issue. They want the court to take a case out of Georgia in which a gay woman who worked as a hospital security officer says she was harassed and punished for dressing in a male uniform and wearing her hair short. Jameka Evans, who worked at Georgia Regional Hospital at Savannah from 2012 to 2013, ultimately left her job and sued.

The question in her case is whether a federal law barring workplace discrimination "because of...sex" covers discrimination against someone because of their sexual orientation. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under President Barack Obama took the view that it does. But President Donald Trump's administration has argued that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars discrimination based on gender but doesn't cover sexual orientation.

The businesses' court filing says they and their employees would benefit if the court agreed to take the case and rule that Title VII covers sexual orientation discrimination.

"Businesses' first-hand experiences — supported by extensive social-science research — confirm the significant costs for employers and employees when sexual orientation discrimination is not forbidden by a uniform law, even where other policies exist against such discrimination," the businesses wrote in their brief. The organizations that joined the brief also include two sports teams, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Miami Heat.

The case out of Georgia is not unique. Most federal appeals courts in the past have ruled that "sex" means biological gender, not sexual orientation. But a federal appeals court in Chicago, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, ruled earlier this year that the law covers sexual orientation. In that case, a gay part-time community college instructor sued after she was repeatedly turned down for a full-time job and her part-time contract was not renewed.

The New York-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit is also weighing the issue. Last month, the full court heard arguments in a case in which a skydiving instructor, Donald Zarda, claimed he was fired from his job after telling a client he was gay. He sued under the Civil Rights Act, but previous rulings have gone against Zarda, who died in an accident in Switzerland three years ago. A ruling in his case isn't expected for some time.

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Lawyers want Supreme Court to block Texas from executing man

Legal Insight 2017/10/03 19:05   Bookmark and Share
Attorneys for an inmate convicted in a prison guard's death are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to halt his Thursday evening execution.

Robert Pruett's lawyers want justices to review whether lower courts properly denied a federal civil rights lawsuit that sought additional DNA testing in the case. They are also questioning whether a prisoner who claims actual innocence, as Pruett does, can be put to death.

If the execution is carried out Thursday, Pruett would be the sixth prisoner executed this year in Texas, which carries out the death penalty more than any other state. Texas put seven inmates to death last year. His execution would be the 20th nationally, matching the U.S. total for all of 2016.

Pruett avoided execution in April 2015, when a state judge halted his punishment just hours before he could have been taken to the death chamber. His lawyers had convinced the judge that new DNA tests needed to be conducted on the steel rod used to stab the 37-year-old Nagle.

The new tests showed no DNA on the tape but uncovered DNA on the rod from an unknown female who authorities said likely handled the shank during the appeals process after the original tests in 2002.

In June, Pruett's execution was rescheduled for October. Pruett's attorneys then unsuccessfully sought more DNA testing and filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in August, arguing Pruett had been denied due process. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the lawsuit last week, and Pruett's attorneys appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday.
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Supreme Court to consider American Express fee dispute

Legal Business 2017/10/03 19:04   Bookmark and Share
The Supreme Court is taking up an appeal by 11 states that argue American Express violated antitrust laws by barring merchants from asking customers to use other credit cards that charge lower fees.

The justices said Monday they would review a ruling by the federal appeals court in New York that sided with American Express.

The case stems from a lawsuit filed by states and the Obama administration in 2010 against American Express, Mastercard and Visa. The lawsuit said that letting merchants steer customers to cards with lower fees for merchants or to other preferred cards would benefit consumers and increase incentives for networks to reduce card fees.

Visa and MasterCard entered into consent judgments in 2011 and stopped their anti-steering rules for merchants while American Express proceeded to trial.

A trial judge ruled against American Express in 2015, but the appeals court reversed that ruling last year.

The Trump administration said it agreed with the states, but still urged the Supreme Court to reject the case. The administration said the justices should let the issue percolate in the lower courts.

The 11 states that joined the appeal are Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Ohio, Rhode Island, Utah and Vermont.

Other states that were part of the original lawsuit are Arizona, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Tennessee and Texas.

The court will hear argument in Ohio v. American Express, 16-1454, during the winter.
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