Kentucky governor, attorney general clash before high court

Attorney News 2017/08/19 09:37   Bookmark and Share
Kentucky's Democratic attorney general warned the state's highest court on Friday that the accreditation of the state's public colleges and universities would be at risk if they don't take his side against the Republican governor.

But an attorney for Republican Gov. Matt Bevin called Andy Beshear's argument "poppycock." He told the justices they should dismiss Beshear's lawsuit and vacate a lower court's judgment that the governor broke the law when he abolished the University of Louisville's board and replaced its trustees with an executive order last year.

What was supposed to have been a 30-minute hearing stretched more than an hour in a courtroom packed with political aides from both parties as two of Kentucky's top politicians faced off before the Supreme Court for the second time in a year.

Ultimately, Bevin got his wish for a new board at the university after the legislature convened and the Republican majority approved his choices under a new law. That's why a ruling from the Kentucky Supreme Court in this case likely won't affect the new board.

But Beshear is asking the court to declare Bevin's original order illegal and to prevent him from doing it again. If he's successful, it would be his second legal victory against Bevin and would be likely fodder for a potential campaign for governor in 2019.

If Bevin wins, it would bolster the governor's argument that Beshear has wasted time filing frivolous lawsuits against him.

Bevin replaced the board because he said the university needed a "fresh start" after a series of scandals and because the board violated state law by not having proportionate representation of racial minorities and political parties.

In issuing his executive order, Bevin relied on a state law, KRS 12.028 , that lets the governor make temporary changes when the legislature is not in session. The legislature then reviews those changes when they reconvene. If they don't act on them, the changes expire.

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Kansas faces skeptical state Supreme Court on school funding

Attorney News 2017/07/17 22:48   Bookmark and Share
Attorneys for Kansas will try to convince an often skeptical state Supreme Court on Tuesday that the funding increase legislators approved for public schools this year is enough to provide a suitable education for kids statewide.

The high court is hearing arguments about a new law that phases in a $293 million increase in education funding over two years. The justices ruled in March that the $4 billion a year in aid the state then provided to its 286 school districts was inadequate, the latest in a string of decisions favoring four school districts that sued Kansas in 2010.

The state argues that the increase is sizable and that new dollars are targeted toward helping the under-performing students identified as a particular concern in the court's last decision.

But lawyers for the Dodge City, Hutchinson, Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas, school districts argue that lawmakers fell at least $600 million short of adequately funding schools over two years. They also question whether the state can sustain the spending promised by the new law, even with an income tax increase enacted this year.

The court has ruled previously that the state constitution requires legislators to finance a suitable education for every child. In past hearings, justices have aggressively questioned attorneys on both sides but have not been shy about challenging the state's arguments.

The court is expected to rule quickly. Attorneys for the districts want the justices to declare that the new law isn't adequate and order lawmakers to fix it by Sept. 1 — only a few weeks after the start of the new school year.
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EU Court: Vaccines Can Be Blamed for Illnesses Without Proof

Attorney News 2017/06/24 09:46   Bookmark and Share
The highest court of the European Union ruled Wednesday that courts can consider whether a vaccination led to someone developing an illness even when there is no scientific proof.

The decision was issued on Wednesday in relation to the case of a Frenchman known as Mr. J.W., who was immunized against hepatitis B in late 1998-99. About a year later, Mr. J.W. was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. In 2006, he and his family sued vaccine-maker Sanofi Pasteur in an attempt to be compensated for the damage they claim he suffered due to the vaccine. Mr. J.W. died in 2011.

France's Court of Appeal ruled there was no causal link between the hepatitis B vaccine and multiple sclerosis, and dismissed the case. Numerous studies have found no relationship between the hepatitis B shot and multiple sclerosis.

After the case went to France's Court of Cassation, it was brought to the European Union. On Wednesday, the EU's top court said that despite the lack of scientific consensus on the issue, a vaccine could be considered defective if there is "specific and consistent evidence," including the time between a vaccine's administration and the occurrence of a disease, the individual's previous state of health, the lack of any family history of the disease and a significant number of reported cases of the disease occurring following vaccination.

In a statement, the court said that such factors could lead a national court to conclude that "the administering of the vaccine is the most plausible explanation" for the disease and that "the vaccine therefore does not offer the safety that one is entitled to expect." It did not rule on the specific French case.

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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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