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Audit: West Virginia Supreme Court skirted pay law
Court Watch | 2018/09/08 04:57
A new legislative audit report says West Virginia's Supreme Court skirted state law concerning pay for senior status judges.

News outlets report the audit released last week found 10 senior-status judges were authorized overpayments. State law prohibits them from making more than active circuit judges. The audit said that to circumvent the law, Supreme Court officials began converting senior status judges from employees to independent contractors.

The audit by the Legislative Auditor's Office Post Audit Division also pegged renovations for Supreme Court offices between 2012 and 2016 at $3.4 million, including $1.9 million for the five justices' chambers. Auditors say invoices for renovations to the court's law library and administrative offices were not made available.

Four justices who were impeached by the House of Delegates are due to go before the state Senate on Tuesday.



Pipeline company found guilty in 2015 California oil spill
Legal Opinions | 2018/09/07 08:58
A pipeline company was convicted of nine criminal charges Friday for causing the worst California coastal spill in 25 years, a disaster that blackened popular beaches for miles, killed wildlife and hurt tourism and fishing.

A Santa Barbara County jury found Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline guilty of a felony count of failing to properly maintain its pipeline and eight misdemeanor charges, including killing marine mammals and protected sea birds.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement that Plains’ actions were not only reckless and irresponsible but also criminal.

“Today’s verdict should send a message: if you endanger our environment and wildlife, we will hold you accountable,” he said.

Plains said in a statement that the jury didn’t find any knowing misconduct by the company and “accepts full responsibility for the impact of the accident.”

“We are committed to doing the right thing,” the company said.

The company said its operation of the pipeline met or exceeded legal and industry standards, and believes the jury erred in its verdict on one count where California law allowed a conviction under a standard of negligence.

“We intend to fully evaluate and consider all of our legal options with respect to the trial and resulting jury decision,” Plains said.

The company is set to be sentenced on Dec. 13. Because it’s a company, and not a person, Plains only faces fines, though it’s unclear how steep the penalties could be.

Plains had faced a total of 15 charges for the rupture of a corroded pipeline that sent at least 123,000 gallons (465,000 liters) of crude oil gushing onto Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County, northwest of Los Angeles.


Court: Cities can't prosecute people for sleeping on streets
Legal Network | 2018/09/06 06:08
Cities can't prosecute people for sleeping on the streets if they have nowhere else to go because it amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, which is unconstitutional, a federal appeals court said Tuesday.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with six homeless people from Boise, Idaho, who sued the city in 2009 over a local ordinance that banned sleeping in public spaces. The ruling could affect several other cities across the U.S. West that have similar laws.

It comes as many places across the West Coast are struggling with homelessness brought on by rising housing costs and income inequality.

When the Boise lawsuit was filed, attorneys for the homeless residents said as many as 4,500 people didn't have a place to sleep in Idaho's capital city and homeless shelters only had about 700 available beds or mats. The case bounced back and forth in the courts for years, and Boise modified its rules in 2014 to say homeless people couldn't be prosecuted for sleeping outside when shelters were full.

But that didn't solve the problem, the attorneys said, because Boise's shelters limit the number of days that homeless residents can stay. Two of the city's three shelters also require some form of religious participation for some programs, making those shelters unsuitable for people with different beliefs, the homeless residents said.

The three-judge panel for the 9th Circuit found that the shelter rules meant homeless people would still be at risk of prosecution even on days when beds were open. The judges also said the religious programming woven into some shelter programs was a problem.



Louisiana Supreme Court upholds life sentence in beating
Legal Interview | 2018/09/05 13:08
The Louisiana Supreme Court has upheld a life prison term for a man convicted of severely beating another man at a convenience store five years ago after telling the victim he was in the “wrong neighborhood.”

Donald Ray Dickerson, of Baton Rouge, was found guilty in 2015 of second-degree battery in the attack on David Ray III, of St. Francisville. Ray was hospitalized with a broken eye socket, broken nose and other injuries.

Dickerson was sentenced to life behind bars, deemed a habitual offender. The Advocate reports he has prior convictions for armed robbery, simple robbery and purse snatching.

Dickerson claims his conduct did not amount to second-degree battery and his sentence is unconstitutionally excessive. An appeals court disagreed, and the Louisiana Supreme Court on Friday let that ruling stand.


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