Connecticut court takes up doctor-patient confidentiality

Attorney News 2017/05/01 08:38   Bookmark and Share
The Connecticut Supreme Court will be deciding an issue that most people may think is already settled — whether medical providers have a duty to keep patients' medical records confidential.

A trial court judge in Bridgeport, Richard Arnold, ruled in 2015 that Connecticut law, unlike laws in many other states, has yet to recognize a duty of confidentiality between doctors and their patients, or that communications between patients and health care providers are privileged under common law.

The decision came in a paternity case where a doctors' office in Westport sent the medical file of a child's mother without her permission to a probate court under a subpoena issued by the father's lawyer — not a court — and the father was able to look at the file.

The mother, Emily Byrne, a former New Canaan resident now living in Montpelier, Vermont, sued the Avery Center for Obstetrics & Gynecology in 2007 for negligence in failing to protect her medical file and infliction of emotional distress. She alleges the child's father used her highly personal information to harass, threaten and humiliate her, including filing seven lawsuits and threatening to file criminal complaints.

But Arnold dismissed the claims, saying "no courts in Connecticut, to date, recognized or adopted a common law privilege for communications between a patient and physicians."

The state Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in the case Monday. Byrne, a nurse, referred questions to her lawyer, Bruce Elstein, who said the case will result in an important, precedent-setting decision by the Supreme Court.

"The confidentiality of medical information is at stake," Elstein said. "If the court rules in the Avery Center's favor, the tomorrow for medical offices will be that no patient communications are privileged. Their private health information can be revealed without their knowledge or consent."

A lawyer for the Avery Center didn't return messages seeking comment. The concept of doctor-patient confidentiality dates back roughly 2,500 years to the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates and the famous oath named after him that includes a pledge to respect patients' privacy.
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Idaho Judicial Council accepting applications for high court

Court Watch 2017/05/01 08:38   Bookmark and Share
An opening on the Idaho Supreme Court won't be filled through an election but through an application process.

Supreme Court Justice Daniel Eismann announced earlier this year he will retire in August — 16 months before the end of his current six-year term.

Because Eismann is stepping down early, the Idaho Judicial Council will solicit applications and recommend up to four names to the governor for appointment instead of waiting until the 2018 election, The Spokesman-Review reported. Idaho's Supreme Court positions are nonpartisan.

It's a merit-based process that had been used primarily to replace outgoing justices until this past year when former Idaho Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones announced he would retire at the end of his term.

"I would never have been on the court if the only avenue was to go through the Judicial Council and be appointed by the governor," said Jones, 74, who was twice elected Idaho attorney general. "It just didn't even occur to me as a possibility, because if you've been involved in the political arena, you probably at one time or another have stepped on the toes of whoever ends up being governor."

Eismann joined the state's highest court in 2001 after successfully running against incumbent Justice Cathy Silak. That election was the first time in 68 years that a sitting supreme court justice had been ousted in an election.

He caused a stir when he decided to announce his election campaign at a Republican Party event in eastern Idaho. He has since become one of the most outspoken justices, known for his tough questioning and advocating for specialty courts throughout Idaho.
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4th Arkansas inmate executed in 8 days lurches on gurney

Headline Legal News 2017/05/01 08:38   Bookmark and Share
Arkansas executed its fourth inmate in eight days Thursday night, wrapping up an accelerated schedule with a lethal injection that left the prisoner lurching and convulsing 20 times before he died.

Kenneth Williams, 38, was pronounced dead at 11:05 p.m., 13 minutes after the execution began at the Cummins Unit prison at Varner.

Arkansas had scheduled eight executions over an 11-day period before one of its lethal injection drugs expires on Sunday. That would have been the most in such a compressed period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, but courts issued stays for four of the inmates.

The four lethal injections that were carried out included Monday's first double execution in the United States since 2000.

"I extend my sincerest of apologies to the families I have senselessly wronged and deprived of their loved ones," Williams said in a final statement he read from the death chamber. "... I was more than wrong. The crimes I perpetrated against you all was senseless, extremely hurtful and inexcusable."

Williams also spoke in tongues, the unintelligible but language-like speech used in some religions. But his prayer faded off as the sedative midazolam took effect. His final words were, "The words that I speak will forever be, will forever ..." before he fell silent.

The inmate breathed heavily through his nose until just after three minutes into his execution, when his chest leaped forward in a series of what seemed like involuntary movements. His right hand never clenched and his face remained what one media witness called "serene."

After the jerking, Williams breathed through his mouth and moaned or groaned once — during a consciousness check — until falling still seven minutes into the lethal injection.

Williams was sentenced to death for killing a former deputy warden, Cecil Boren, after he escaped from prison in 1999. At the time of his escape in a 500-gallon barrel of hog slop, Williams was less than three weeks into a life term for the death of a college cheerleader.
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Trump repeats criticism of court that halted 1st travel ban

Lawyer Blog Post 2017/04/28 08:39   Bookmark and Share
President Donald Trump is once again taking aim at a federal appeals court district that covers Western states, saying he is considering breaking up a circuit that is a longtime target of Republicans and is where his first travel ban was halted.

Yet it would take congressional action to break up the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Republicans have introduced bills this year to do just that.

Asked Wednesday during a White House interview by the Washington Examiner if he'd thought about proposals to break up the court, Trump replied, "Absolutely, I have."

"There are many people that want to break up the 9th Circuit. It's outrageous," he told the Examiner. He accused critics of appealing to the 9th district "because they know that's like, semi-automatic."

The comments echoed his Twitter criticism of the court Wednesday morning.

Trump called U.S. District Judge William Orrick's preliminary injunction against his order stripping money from so-called sanctuary cities "ridiculous" on Twitter. He said he planned to take that case to the Supreme Court. However, an administration appeal of the district court's decision must go first to the 9th Circuit.

Republicans have talked for years about splitting the circuit into two appellate courts, but earlier legislative proposals have failed, most recently in 2005. Those battles have often pitted lawmakers from California against members from smaller, more conservative states.

Critics say the court has a liberal slant, a high caseload and distances that are too far for judges to travel. The circuit is the largest of the federal appellate courts, representing 20 percent of the U.S. population. It includes California, Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.

The circuit has 29 judges, many more than the 5th, which is the next largest circuit with 17 judges. It was created in 1891 when the American West was much less populated.

Democrats have opposed the split. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., was a leading opponent in the 2005 push, which she said was politically motivated. She has suggested adding judges to the court instead.

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Judge W. Brent Powell Appointed to Missouri Supreme Court

Attorney News 2017/04/24 08:39   Bookmark and Share
Jackson County Circuit Judge W. Brent Powell was appointed Tuesday to the Missouri Supreme Court, marking the first high-profile judicial selection by new Republican Gov. Eric Greitens.

Powell will replace former Judge Richard Teitelman, who died in November at his home in St. Louis.

Powell, a 46-year-old Kansas City resident, was appointed by former Republican Gov. Matt Blunt as a Jackson County judge in 2008. He previously spent seven years as an assistant U.S. attorney in Kansas City and also worked as an assistant Platte County prosecutor.

Greitens said Powell has established himself as "an outstanding jurist."

"He has received high marks for being humble, fair-minded and of the highest integrity," Greitens said in a written statement accompanying his announcement. "I am confident Judge Powell will be committed to strengthening and improving our court system and guarding the rule of law as a judge on our state's highest court."

Powell's wife, Beth Phillips, was appointed as a U.S. district judge in 2011 by Democratic President Barack Obama after serving as U.S. attorney in Kansas City. His sister-in-law, Jennifer Phillips, was appointed to the Jackson County Circuit Court in 2014 by former Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon after serving as an assistant county prosecutor. Powell's father, his father-in-law, an uncle and several cousins also have been attorneys.

"Coming from a clan of lawyers, this is a very special day for me and my family," Phillips said Tuesday in a written statement. "As I step into this new role, I hope to model the humility and judicial temperament exhibited by the late Judge Richard Teitelman who was known for his kindness and congeniality."

Unlike at the federal level, Missouri Supreme Court appointees are not subject to Senate confirmation. Instead, Powell will face a retention vote for a 12-year term during the 2018 general election.

Powell's appointment could shift the court a little to the right. Though Missouri appeals judges don't run as Democrats or Republicans, Teitelman had been appointed by former Democratic Gov. Bob Holden and typically aligned along liberal lines.

Powell's addition will mean three of the state's seven Supreme Court judges were appointed by Republican governors.
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Judge W. Brent Powell Appointed to Missouri Supreme Court

Attorney News 2017/04/24 08:39   Bookmark and Share
Jackson County Circuit Judge W. Brent Powell was appointed Tuesday to the Missouri Supreme Court, marking the first high-profile judicial selection by new Republican Gov. Eric Greitens.

Powell will replace former Judge Richard Teitelman, who died in November at his home in St. Louis.

Powell, a 46-year-old Kansas City resident, was appointed by former Republican Gov. Matt Blunt as a Jackson County judge in 2008. He previously spent seven years as an assistant U.S. attorney in Kansas City and also worked as an assistant Platte County prosecutor.

Greitens said Powell has established himself as "an outstanding jurist."

"He has received high marks for being humble, fair-minded and of the highest integrity," Greitens said in a written statement accompanying his announcement. "I am confident Judge Powell will be committed to strengthening and improving our court system and guarding the rule of law as a judge on our state's highest court."

Powell's wife, Beth Phillips, was appointed as a U.S. district judge in 2011 by Democratic President Barack Obama after serving as U.S. attorney in Kansas City. His sister-in-law, Jennifer Phillips, was appointed to the Jackson County Circuit Court in 2014 by former Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon after serving as an assistant county prosecutor. Powell's father, his father-in-law, an uncle and several cousins also have been attorneys.

"Coming from a clan of lawyers, this is a very special day for me and my family," Phillips said Tuesday in a written statement. "As I step into this new role, I hope to model the humility and judicial temperament exhibited by the late Judge Richard Teitelman who was known for his kindness and congeniality."

Unlike at the federal level, Missouri Supreme Court appointees are not subject to Senate confirmation. Instead, Powell will face a retention vote for a 12-year term during the 2018 general election.

Powell's appointment could shift the court a little to the right. Though Missouri appeals judges don't run as Democrats or Republicans, Teitelman had been appointed by former Democratic Gov. Bob Holden and typically aligned along liberal lines.

Powell's addition will mean three of the state's seven Supreme Court judges were appointed by Republican governors.
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