Texas advances new abortion limits despite court defeats

Attorney News 2017/05/20 00:15   Bookmark and Share
Texas' Republican-controlled Legislature late Friday advanced tough new limits on abortion— hitting back at a U.S. Supreme Court decision last summer striking down most of the sweeping restrictions on the procedure that America's second-largest state approved four years ago.

The Texas House voted 96-47 on legislation that bans a commonly used second-trimester abortion procedure, known as dilation and evacuation, similar to laws that courts have blocked in Alabama, Oklahoma, Kansas and Louisiana. It further directed doctors performing the procedure in Texas to face felony charges.

Those contentious provisions were tacked onto a broader bill requiring the burial or cremation of fetal remains from abortions, even though a federal judge has already blocked an existing state rule mandating the same thing.

The measure also bars sale or donation of fetal tissue, something GOP-majority legislatures around the country have sought since the release of heavily edited, secretly recorded videos shot inside Planned Parenthood clinics by an anti-abortion group in 2015. Federal law already prohibits sale of fetal tissue.

Final approval should come Saturday. The proposal previously cleared the state Senate, but will have to return there because the House so expanded its scope. That chamber is even more conservative, though, and passage should be easy.

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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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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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Pakistan court to decide on accusations against PM's family

Attorney News 2017/04/20 11:12   Bookmark and Share
Under tight security, Pakistan's top court is to deliver a much-awaited decision on Thursday on corruption allegations against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's family which could determine his political future.

If the Supreme Court announces punitive measures against Sharif or his family members as part of the decision, it may lead to a crisis in government. In 2012, the same court convicted then-Premier Yusuf Raza Gilani in a contempt case, forcing him to step down.

Thursday's decision will be the outcome of petitions from opposition lawmakers dating back to documents leaked in 2016 from a Panama-based law firm that indicated Sharif's sons owned several offshore companies.

Sharif's family has acknowledged owning offshore businesses.

The opposition wants Sharif, in power since 2013, to resign over tax evasion and concealing foreign investment. Sharif has defended his financial record.

Information Minister Maryam Aurangzeb told reporters the government will "accept the court decision."

Naeemul Haq, a spokesman for cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, whose party is leading the petition, said the decision will be an "historic one."

Lawyer A.K. Dogar, who is not involved in the probe by the Supreme Court or the petition, said the decision could determine the political fate of Sharif.

Senior opposition politician Mehnaz Rafi, from Khan's party, told The Associated Press she hopes the decision will help recover tax money from Sharif's family and others who set up offshore companies to evade taxes. If the court finds Sharif's family evaded paying taxes, she said he should resign as he will no longer have "moral authority to remain in power."

The prime minister has insisted his father built up the family business before Sharif entered politics in the 1980s. Sharif says he established a steel mill abroad while he was exiled to Saudi Arabia by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a coup in 1999.

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Court: Civil Rights Law Prohibits Discrimination of LGBT

Attorney News 2017/04/03 22:51   Bookmark and Share
A federal appeals court ruled for the first time Tuesday that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects LGBT employees from workplace discrimination, setting up a likely battle before the Supreme Court as gay rights advocates push to broaden the scope of the 53-year-old law.

The 8-to-3 decision by the full 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago comes just three weeks after a three-judge panel in Atlanta ruled the opposite, saying employers aren't prohibited from discriminating against employees based on sexual orientation.

The 7th Circuit is considered relatively conservative and five of the eight judges in the majority were appointed by Republican presidents, making the finding all the more notable.

The case stems from a lawsuit by Indiana teacher Kimberly Hively alleging that the Ivy Tech Community College in South Bend didn't hire her full time because she is a lesbian.

In an opinion concurring with the majority, Judge Richard Posner wrote that changing norms call for a change in interpretation of the Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin or sex.

"I don't see why firing a lesbian because she is in the subset of women who are lesbian should be thought any less a form of sex discrimination than firing a woman because she's a woman," wrote the judge, who was appointed by Republican Ronald Reagan.

The decision comes as President Donald Trump's administration has begun setting its own policies on LGBT rights. Late in January, the White House declared Trump would enforce an Obama administration order barring companies that do federal work from workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual identity. But in February, it revoked guidance on transgender students' use of public school bathrooms, deferring to states.

Hively said after Tuesday's ruling that she agreed to bring the case because she felt she was being "bullied." She told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that the time has come "to stop punishing people for being gay, being lesbian, being transgender."

"This decision is game changer for lesbian and gay employees facing discrimination in the workplace and sends a clear message to employers: it is against the law to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation," said Greg Nevins, of Lambda Legal, which brought the case on behalf of Hively.

Ivy Tech said in a statement that its policies specifically bar discrimination based on sexual orientation and that it denies discriminating against Hively, a factual question separate from the 7th Circuit's finding regarding the law.
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