Some Michigan counties pause jury trials amid COVID surge

Headline Legal News 2022/01/17 13:04   Bookmark and Share
Jury trials have been paused in some western Michigan counties due to a surge in coronavirus cases, court officials said Monday.

Chief Judge Mark Trusock said all jury trials in Kent County 17th Circuit Court, based in Grand Rapids, were on hold until March 7. Ottawa County Probate Court and the 20th Judicial Circuit Court, based in Grand Haven, will not summon the public to courthouses to serve as jurors until at least Feb. 1, according to a statement released by the court.

Michigan health officials said last week that the state’s record-high COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations could peak in late January or early February, and they urged the public to take steps to help control the spread.

Ottawa County court officials said their decision was made in consultation with the Ottawa County Department of Public Health. Circuit Court Administrator Susan Franklin said judges don’t want to bring large numbers of people into the courthouses given the current rates of COVID transmission.

Courts across the U.S. have paused jury trials at various points during the pandemic. The highly contagious omicron variant has prompted additional pauses in recent days, including in Indiana’s largest county and in the state’s second most-populous county.
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Appeals court upholds mask requirement for Knox schools

Headline Legal News 2021/12/21 11:09   Bookmark and Share
A federal appeals court has upheld the mask requirement for Knox County Schools.

A U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit panel on Monday denied the school board’s request to pause the mask requirement while the issue is debated in court, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported.

U.S. District Judge J. Ronnie Greer ruled in September the school system must adopt a mask mandate to help protect children with health problems more susceptible to the coronavirus pandemic.

Knox County Schools argued virtual classes are a reasonable accommodation, but children attend at home and must be supervised.

“Like the district court, we are not persuaded that virtual schooling is a reasonable alternative to universal masking,” the appeals court wrote. The full appeal of the Knox County case will be heard at a later date, the newspaper reported.

Knox County adopted a mask mandate during the 2020-21 school year but chose not to this year despite COVID-19 numbers that remained high. Public health agencies say indoor mask-wearing is a key coronavirus-prevention tool.
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Washington seeks over $38 billion from opioid distributors

Headline Legal News 2021/11/16 11:12   Bookmark and Share
After rejecting a half-billion-dollar settlement, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson on Monday took the state’s case against the nation’s three biggest drug distributors to trial, saying they must be held accountable for their role in the nation’s opioid epidemic.

The Democrat delivered part of the opening statement in King County Superior Court himself, calling the case possibly the most significant public health lawsuit his agency had ever filed.

“These companies knew what would happen if they failed to meet their duties,” Ferguson told Judge Michael Ramsey Scott. “We know they were aware of the harms flowing from their conduct because in private correspondence, company executives mocked individuals suffering the painful effects of opioid dependence. ... They displayed a callous disregard for the communities and people who bear the impact of their greed.”

But Ferguson’s legal strategy isn’t without risk, as a loss by three California counties in a similar case this month — and an Oklahoma Supreme Court decision overturning a $465 million judgment against drug manufacturer Johnson & Johnson — demonstrates.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Peter Wilson issued a tentative ruling on Nov. 1 that the counties, plus the city of Oakland, had not proven the pharmaceutical companies used deceptive marketing to increase unnecessary opioid prescriptions and create a public nuisance. The Oklahoma ruling said a lower court wrongly interpreted the state’s public nuisance law.

In an email, Ferguson stressed that the relevant Washington laws differ and called the cases “apples and oranges.”

Public nuisance claims are at the heart of some 3,000 lawsuits brought by state and local governments against drugmakers, distribution companies, and pharmacies. Washington is the first by a state against drug distribution companies to go to trial. Ferguson is claiming public nuisance and violations of state consumer protection law.
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Cambodia amends charter to bar dual citizens from top office

Headline Legal News 2021/10/26 16:44   Bookmark and Share
Lawmakers in Cambodia on Monday approved an amendment to the constitution barring Cambodians with dual citizenship from holding high government office, a move initiated by Prime Minister Hun Sen and directed at prominent opposition politicians.

The government says the measure is meant to show officials’ loyalty to their homeland and avoid foreign interference. Several opposition leaders hold dual citizenship, while none of the top members of Hun Sen’s party is known to hold dual nationality.

The move is the latest volley in a long struggle for power between Hun Sen, who has led the country for 36 years, and his political rivals from the Cambodia National Rescue Party, which had been the sole credible opposition force until it was disbanded by the Supreme Court.

Unsupported assertions by Sam Rainsy, the self-exiled founder of the opposition party, that Hun Sen sought to purchase citizenship from the European nation of Cyprus triggered the prime minister’s anger. Cypriot nationality has been available through large investments in the island nation.

Sam Rainsy has feuded bitterly with Hun Sen for years. He holds French citizenship and has been living near Paris to avoid imprisonment in Cambodia on charges he says are politically motivated.

“This law would be custom-tailored to target me, as Hun Sen made it clear that as a reprisal against me, he wants to definitely block me from the premiership,” Sam Rainsy said on his Facebook page earlier this month.

Most top leaders of the opposition party fled Cambodia in late 2017, when Hun Sen launched a sweeping crackdown on critics and the high court disbanded the party and removed its lawmakers from Parliament. It is widely believed the court acted to ensure victory for Hun Sen’s party in the 2018 general election, which it ended up sweeping.
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Judge agrees to delay in sentencing for Gaetz friend

Headline Legal News 2021/10/18 15:35   Bookmark and Share
A federal judge on Monday agreed to push back until next year the sentencing for U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz’s friend who pleaded guilty earlier this year to sex trafficking and other charges.

U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell said sentencing for Joel Greenberg could be postponed from next month to next March during a hearing in federal court in Orlando. Greenberg’s attorney had asked for the delay so the former local tax collector can continue cooperating with federal authorities. Prosecutors agreed to the postponement.

Greenberg wasn’t present during the 20-minute hearing. The judge said he would set a new sentencing date in the future.

Greenberg is facing up to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty last May to six federal crimes, including sex trafficking of a child, identity theft, stalking, wire fraud, and conspiracy to bribe a public official.

Greenberg’s plea agreement with prosecutors requires continued cooperation with an ongoing probe into sex trafficking.

Gaetz, a Republican who represents much of the Florida Panhandle, was not mentioned in Greenberg’s plea agreement. But Greenberg’s cooperation could play a role in an ongoing investigation into Gaetz, who was accused of paying a 17-year-old girl for sex. Gaetz has denied the allegations and previously said they were part of an extortion plot.
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US Supreme Court allows lawsuit against troopers to proceed

Headline Legal News 2021/10/08 15:47   Bookmark and Share
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by two state police officers accused of failing to protect a woman from a man who went on a deadly rampage, allowing a civil lawsuit to proceed.

Troopers were accused of failing to do enough when Brittany Irish reported that her boyfriend kidnapped and sexually assaulted her and later set fire to a barn owned by her parents in July 2015.

Her request for police protection was denied.

Hours later, the boyfriend killed Irish’s boyfriend, 22-year-old Kyle Hewitt, and wounded her mother before proceeding to kill another man and wound two others across several towns in northern Maine.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case on Monday but didn’t say why, the Portland Press Herald reported. The court’s decision means the troopers will not be protected by the legal concept of qualified immunity.

The attorney general’s office, which is defending the troopers, declined comment Tuesday on the lawsuit. Irish’s attorney didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.

The man charged in the crime spree, Anthony Lord, pleaded guilty in 2017 to two counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder, aggravated assault and other charges. He’s serving two life sentences.

The lawsuit contends state police triggered the rampage when they called Lord’s cellphone, tipping him off that Brittany Irish had gone to police, instead of attempting to find or detain him. She said she’d warned police that Lord had threatened her if she spoke to authorities.

Later, police declined to post an officer outside her parents’ farmhouse in Benedicta, citing a lack of manpower.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said jurors could conclude that police created the danger, removing the qualified immunity concept that normally protects officers from actions in the line of duty.

“The defendants’ apparent utter disregard for police procedure could contribute to a jury’s conclusion that the defendants conducted themselves in a manner that was deliberately indifferent to the danger they knowingly created,” the court said.
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