Groups sue over conditions in S. Carolina’s juvenile lockups

Legal Insight 2022/04/27 17:14   Bookmark and Share
Several civil rights groups are suing South Carolina over conditions at its juvenile lockups, alleging that children in state custody are subject to violence and isolation while deprived of educational or rehabilitative programs.

The lawsuit filed in federal court Tuesday comes less than two weeks after officials at the state Department of Juvenile Justice agreed to make changes at its main detention center following a federal investigation that found the state was violating the civil rights of youths housed there.

But that agreement doesn’t go far enough because it only addresses issues at the Broad River Road Complex in Columbia, the groups said in their complaint, arguing that the Department of Juvenile Justice also needs to fix conditions at four other facilities across the state.

The American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina, the NAACP Office of General Counsel and two law firms filed the lawsuit on behalf of the state’s NAACP conference, the criminal justice reform organization Justice 360, and Disability Rights South Carolina.

Echoing findings by federal and state investigators in recent years, the complaint describes routine youth-on-youth violence and violence by staff against the youths that agency employees often ignore or enable. Children who commit minor infractions are also placed in isolation, spending up to 23 hours a day in small cells without natural light.

One officer told a 16-year-old who was assaulted by three other children earlier this year to stay away from facility cameras so he would not be seen bleeding, the complaint alleges. Another child was beaten and choked by five members of the agency’s police force while handcuffed and shackled over accusations of robbing staff; he was then hogtied and blocked from filing a grievance, according to the complaint.

A lack of staff means children are often detained past the legal limit of 45 days at evaluation centers across the state, the groups said. At the main pre-trial detention center in Columbia, some youths sleep in plastic makeshift “boat beds” because of a lack of bed space. Youths live in unsanitary conditions, with human waste on the floors and cockroaches in the food, the complaint states.

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Abortion restriction bill signed by Florida Gov. DeSantis

Legal Insight 2022/04/12 15:49   Bookmark and Share
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a 15-week abortion ban into law Thursday as the state joined a growing conservative push to restrict access ahead of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that could limit the procedure nationwide.

The new law marks a significant blow to abortion access in the South, where Florida has provided wider access to the procedure than its regional neighbors.

The new law, which takes effect July 1, contains exceptions if the abortion is necessary to save a mother’s life, prevent serious injury or if the fetus has a fatal abnormality. It does not allow for exemptions in cases where pregnancies were caused by rape, incest or human trafficking. Under current law, Florida allows abortions up to 24 weeks.

“This will represent the most significant protections for life that have been enacted in this state in a generation,” DeSantis said as he signed the bill at the “Nación de Fe” (“Nation of Faith”), an evangelical church in the city of Kissimmee that serves members of the Latino population.

DeSantis, a Republican rising star and potential 2024 presidential candidate, signed the measure after several women delivered speeches about how they chose not to have abortions or, in the case of one, regretted having done so.

Some of the people in attendance, including young children, stood behind the speakers holding signs saying “Choose life,” while those who spoke stood at a podium to which was affixed a sign displaying an infant’s feet and a heartbeat reading, “Protect Life.”

Debate over the proposal grew deeply personal and revealing inside the Florida legislature, with lawmakers recalling their own abortions and experiences with sexual assault in often tearful speeches on the House and Senate floors.
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Groups seek to stop gold mine exploratory drilling in Idaho

Legal Insight 2022/04/04 15:00   Bookmark and Share
Environmental groups are renewing efforts to stop exploratory drilling by a Canadian mining company hoping to build a gold mine in Idaho west of Yellowstone National Park.

The Idaho Conservation League and Greater Yellowstone Coalition, in documents filed in federal court last month against the U.S. Forest Service, ask that the case involving Excellon Idaho Gold’s Kilgore Gold Exploration Project in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest in Clark County be reopened.

Excellon Idaho Gold is a subsidiary of Toronto, Ontario-based Excellon Resources Inc.

The company says the area contains at least 825,000 ounces (23.4 million grams) of gold near the surface, and potentially more deeper. The company said it is looking at possibly building an open-pit mine if exploration finds that the gold is mostly near the surface, or an underground mine if the gold is deeper.

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Retired judges will hear divorce cases to clear backlog

Legal Insight 2022/03/25 16:22   Bookmark and Share
The Maine court system will assign retired judges to divorce proceedings to clear a growing backlog of more than 6,000 cases that have been delayed since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

The program began last week and will assign the former judges as referees to divorce cases where both sides involved have lawyers. The referees would work to resolve the cases without a trial, The Bangor Daily News reported Tuesday.

“The goal is to add capacity in the short term to allow us to address the backlog without adding work to existing personnel,” Chief Justice Valerie Stanfill said.

Judges who volunteer as referees will be paid the same full-day $350 stipend amount as other active retired judges who work in the court system.

According to Alyson Cummings, an employee for the administrative office of the courts, the cost of the program and the number of cases the judges will handle have not been determined yet.
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Kansas AG asking judge to dismiss redistricting lawsuits

Legal Insight 2022/03/09 10:19   Bookmark and Share
Attorney General Derek Schmidt is asking a Wyandotte County judge to dismiss two lawsuits filed over new Kansas congressional district lines enacted by Republican lawmakers.

Schmidt’s request Monday came three days after the Kansas Supreme Court refused to dismiss the lawsuits and another in Douglas County at the Republican attorney general’s request.

Democrats and the voting-rights group Loud Light argue that the congressional redistricting law enacted over Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto represents partisan and racial gerrymandering. They say it violates the Kansas Constitution. They’re suing Secretary of State Scott Schwab and county election officials because they would administer the new law.

The map makes it harder for the only Kansas Democrat in Congress, Rep. Sharice Davids, to get reelected in her Kansas City-area district.

Schmidt and fellow Republicans argue that the new map isn’t gerrymandering and even if it were, state courts have no power under the Kansas Constitution to rule on congressional districts.
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Supreme Court rejects appeal over press access in Wisconsin

Legal Insight 2021/12/13 13:54   Bookmark and Share
The Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from a conservative think tank over Gov. Tony Evers’ decision to exclude the group’s writers from press briefings.

The justices acted without comment Monday, leaving in place lower court rulings that said the decision is legal.

The John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy filed the lawsuit in 2019 alleging that Evers, a Democrat, violated its staffers’ constitutional rights to free speech, freedom of the press and equal access.

Former Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, had joined in the institute’s bid for high-court review. Evers defeated Walker in 2018.

Last year, a federal judge rejected the group’s arguments, saying MacIver can still report on Evers without being invited to his press briefings or being on his email distribution list. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld that ruling in April.

Former Republican Gov. Scott Walker had urged the Supreme Court to take the case, arguing that the ruling in favor of Evers allows censorship because it permits picking and choosing which reporters attend press events that have long been open to reporters but closed to the general public.

The appeals court ruled that Evers’ media-access criteria was reasonable and he was under no obligation to grant access for every news outlet to every news conference.

MacIver had argued that Evers was excluding its staffers and violating their free speech rights because they are conservatives. Evers said they were excluded because they are not principally a news gathering operation and they are not neutral.

Evers’ spokeswoman Britt Cudaback did not immediately return a message Monday seeking comment on the Supreme Court’s decision. MacIver’s attorney Dan Suhr also did not immediately return a message.

MacIver covers legislative meetings and other events at the Capitol as well as some Evers news conferences. But the institute sued after being excluded from a media briefing Evers gave for reporters on his state budget proposal in 2019. Evers wasn’t present, but members of his administration provided information to reporters on embargo ahead of his budget speech to the Legislature that evening.

The appeals court noted that a limited number of reporters were allowed into the event. Reporters from The Associated Press, along with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Wisconsin State Journal, were among those present for that briefing.

Former governors, including Walker, also limited the number of reporters and news outlets that could attend budget briefings and other events.
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