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Kansas faces skeptical state Supreme Court on school funding
Lawyer News | 2017/07/18 23:11
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.

First Opioid Court in the U.S. Focuses on Keeping Users Alive
Lawyer News | 2017/07/09 12:00
After three defendants fatally overdosed in a single week last year, it became clear that Buffalo's ordinary drug treatment court was no match for the heroin and painkiller crisis.

Now the city is experimenting with the nation's first opioid crisis intervention court, which can get users into treatment within hours of their arrest instead of days, requires them to check in with a judge every day for a month instead of once a week, and puts them on strict curfews. Administering justice takes a back seat to the overarching goal of simply keeping defendants alive.

"The idea behind it," said court project director Jeffrey Smith, "is only about how many people are still breathing each day when we're finished."

Funded with a three-year $300,000 U.S. Justice Department grant, the program began May 1 with the intent of treating 200 people in a year and providing a model that other heroin-wracked cities can replicate.

Two months in, organizers are optimistic. As of late last week, none of the 80 people who agreed to the program had overdosed, though about 10 warrants had been issued for missed appearances.

Buffalo-area health officials blamed 300 deaths on opioid overdoses in 2016, up from 127 two years earlier. That includes a young couple who did not make it to their second drug court appearance last spring. The woman's father arrived instead to tell the judge his daughter and her boyfriend had died the night before.

"We have an epidemic on our hands. ... We've got to start thinking outside the box here," said Erie County District Attorney John Flynn. "And if that means coddling an individual who has a minor offense, who is not a career criminal, who's got a serious drug problem, then I'm guilty of coddling."

Regular drug treatment courts that emerged in response to crack cocaine in the 1980s take people in after they've been arraigned and in some cases released. The toll of opioids and profile of their users, some of them hooked by legitimate prescriptions, called for more drastic measures.

Acceptance into opioid crisis court means detox, inpatient or outpatient care, 8 p.m. curfews, and at least 30 consecutive days of in-person meetings with the judge. A typical drug treatment court might require such appearances once a week or even once a month.

Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch: Rule of law 'a blessing'
Lawyer News | 2017/06/03 20:08
Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch acknowledged Friday that there is "a lot of skepticism about the rule of law" in the country but defended the United States judicial system as "a blessing" and "a remarkable gift" during a talk at Harvard University.

The court's newest justice marveled that in America "nine old people in polyester black robes" and other judges can safely decide cases according to their conscience and that the government can lose cases without resorting to the use of armed force to impose its will.

"That is a heritage that is very, very special," he said. "It's a remarkable gift. Travel elsewhere. See how judges live. See whether they feel free to express themselves."

Gorsuch, made the comments during his first public appearance since joining the high court in a conversation with fellow Justice Stephen Breyer at Harvard University.

Gorsuch said that particularly in tumultuous times it's important to convince the next generation "that the project (of justice) is worth it because many of them have grave doubts."

"I think there is a lot of skepticism about the rule of law, but I see it day in and day out in the trenches — the adversarial process of lawyers coming to court and shaking hands before and after, the judges shaking hands as we do, before we ascend to the bench," he said. "That's how we resolve our differences in this society."

Gorsuch, who was nominated to the high court earlier this year by Republican President Donald Trump, said he believes there is still confidence in the judicial system. He said that 95 percent of all cases are decided in the trial court, while only 5 percent are appealed, and the Supreme Court hears about 80 cases in a good year.

Former County Sheriff Joe Arpaio loses another round in court
Lawyer News | 2017/05/21 15:42
An appeals court has rejected former Sheriff Joe Arpaio's bid to have a jury, rather than a judge, decide whether he is guilty of a criminal contempt-of-court charge for disobeying a court order in a racial profiling case.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that Arpaio didn't show that his request warranted its intervention in the case.

The former six-term sheriff of metro Phoenix faces the misdemeanor charge for defying a 2011 court order in a racial profiling case to stop his signature immigration patrols.

Arpaio has acknowledged prolonging the patrols, but insists his disobedience wasn't intentional. If convicted, the 84-year-old could be sentenced up to six months in jail.  His trial is scheduled to begin on June 26.

Connecticut court takes up doctor-patient confidentiality
Lawyer News | 2017/05/02 00:04
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.

Donnelly facing doubts from Indiana liberals over court vote
Lawyer News | 2017/04/03 22:43
A small protest by liberals outside Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly's downtown Indianapolis office this week could signal trouble for his 2018 re-election hopes.

Some of those who protested against Donnelly's decision to break with his party and to support Judge Neil Gorsuch's nomination to the Supreme Court said they were uneasy about voting for him next year. That liberal pushback against the moderate Donnelly comes as he's already being targeted by national Republicans in a state that President Donald Trump carried by 19 percentage points.

Pamela Griffin, a retired Indianapolis elementary school teacher, said she was going to think "long and hard" about supporting Donnelly in next year's election, while acknowledging it was "kind of a fluke" he was elected in the Republican-dominated state in 2012.

"He's rubber-stamped some stuff that he shouldn't have for Trump," Griffin said. "I'm disappointed in him that he's not really doing what his party would want him to do."

Donnelly won his first Senate term in 2012 with just over 50 percent of the vote and is now the sole Indiana Democrat holding statewide office.

The National Rifle Association ran campaign-style ads in the past week questioning Donnelly's pro-gun stance if he wasn't willing to support Gorsuch, which he did on Thursday, joining three other Democrats who voted to end his party's filibuster. Two Republican U.S. House members, Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita, have signaled they may challenge Donnelly for his seat next year.

Donnelly has tried to cultivate an independent image, highlighting his work on veterans issues and trying to stop the loss of Indiana factory jobs. He has supported some of Trump's Cabinet picks but he's also spoken out against the failed Republican health care bill.

Donnelly said Sunday that he would vote to confirm Gorsuch, whom he described as qualified and well respected. He and two of the other Democratic senators who support Gorsuch — Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota — are moderates from states that Trump won by big margins last November. The fourth, Sen. Michael Bennet from Gorsuch's home state of Colorado, said he wouldn't join the filibuster but hasn't said how he would vote on Gorsuch's confirmation.

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