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News attorneys: Opioid distribution data should be public
Court Issues | 2019/05/06 00:13
Attorneys for news organizations argued Thursday that the U.S. public should be allowed to see federal data about how prescription opioids were distributed as the nation’s overdose crisis was worsening.

They urged a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati to overturn a lower court judge’s denial of access to the information. The judges will rule later.

“The value of transparency here is great,” said Karen C. Lefton, an Akron, Ohio, attorney representing The Washington Post. The data concerns “a public health crisis” that affects many more people than a typical case, she said.

The data is a key piece of evidence in hundreds of lawsuits filed by state and local governments against companies that make and distribute the drugs. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration database details the flow of prescription painkillers to pharmacies, showing the number and doses of pills.

A Justice Department attorney told the judges releasing the data would compromise investigations.

“This is an issue of really critical importance to the United States and DEA,” said government attorney Sarah Carroll. Making the information public, she said, “would tip defendants off to the scope of DEA investigations.”

Cleveland-based U.S. District Judge Dan Polster, who is overseeing more than 1,500 of the lawsuits, had ruled in July 2018 that the information cannot be made public. He said that doing so would reveal trade secrets. The Post and the HD Media newspaper chain, which had asked the court for the data, then appealed to the federal circuit.

The appellate judges raised a number of questions about Polster’s orders keeping the data secret and hundreds of filings in the case that are under seal.

Judge Eric Clay said it seemed that the secrecy in the case had “just gone overboard.” He told Carroll, of the Justice Department, that “just saying” cases would be compromised seems inadequate.


Trump, GOP states ask appeals court to kill ‘Obamacare’
Court Issues | 2019/05/04 00:12
Taking a harder line on health care, the Trump administration joined a coalition of Republican-led states Wednesday in asking a federal appeals court to entirely overturn former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law — a decision that could leave millions uninsured.

Congress rendered the Affordable Care Act completely unconstitutional in 2017 by eliminating an unpopular tax penalty for not having insurance, the administration and GOP states told the court.

The “Obamacare” opponents hope to persuade the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans to uphold U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor’s ruling late last year striking down the law.

If the ruling is allowed to stand, more than 20 million Americans would be at risk of losing their health insurance, re-igniting a winning political issue for Democrats heading into the 2020 elections. President Donald Trump, who never produced a health insurance plan to replace “Obamacare,” is now promising one after the elections.

The Trump administration acknowledged it had changed positions in the case. Early on, the administration argued that only certain key parts of the ACA, such as protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions, should be invalidated. But it said other important provisions such as Medicaid expansion, subsidies for premiums and health insurance markets could continue to stand.

Wednesday, the administration said it had reconsidered in light of O’Connor’s ruling. “The remaining provisions of the ACA should not be allowed to remain in effect — again, even if the government might support some individual positions as a policy matter,” the administration wrote in its court filing.

The Justice Department’s legal brief also seemed to be trying to carve out some exceptions. For example, the administration said the ACA’s anti-fraud provisions should remain in effect.


EPA reaffirms glyphosate safe for users as court cases grow
Court Issues | 2019/05/01 21:53
The Environmental Protection Agency reaffirmed Tuesday that a popular weed killer is safe for people, as legal claims mount from Americans who blame the herbicide for their cancer.

The EPA’s draft conclusion Tuesday came in a periodic review of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. The agency found that it posed “no risks of concern” for people exposed to it by any means — on farms, in yards and along roadsides, or as residue left on food crops.

The EPA’s draft findings reaffirmed that glyphosate “is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”

Two recent U.S. court verdicts have awarded multimillion-dollar claims to men who blame glyphosate for their lymphoma. Bayer, which acquired Roundup-maker Monsanto last year, advised investors in mid-April that it faced U.S. lawsuits from 13,400 people over alleged exposure to the weed killer.

Bayer spokesmen did not immediately respond Tuesday to an email seeking comment.

Nathan Donley, a scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity environmental group, said the agency is relying on industry-backed studies and ignoring research that points to higher risks of cancer.

In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, classified glyphosate as ”probably carcinogenic to humans.” The agency said it relied on “limited” evidence of cancer in people and “sufficient” evidence of cancer in study animals.

The EPA draft review says the agency found potential risk to mammals and birds that feed on leaves treated with glyphosate, and risk to plants. The agency is proposing adding restrictions to cut down on unintended drift of the weed killer, including not authorizing spraying it by air when winds are above 15 mph.


Texas man accused in fatal I-70 pileup appears in court
Court Issues | 2019/04/27 04:56
Court documents say that a speeding semitruck passed a runaway truck ramp before plowing into other vehicles on a crowded highway near Denver, killing four people and injuring at least six others.

The truck driver, 23-year-old Rogel Lazaro Aguilera-Mederos, of Houston, made his first court appearance Saturday after being arrested on suspicion of vehicular homicide.

State District Judge Chris Zenisek set $400,000 bond. Aguilera-Mederos, who suffered minor injuries in the crash, didn't speak during the hearing. He was represented by Denver attorney Robert Corry, who couldn't be reached for comment afterward.

His next court hearing is set for May 3 when prosecutors are expected to file charges against Aguilera-Mederos, who remains in the Jefferson County jail.

The crash happened Thursday on Interstate 70 where the highway descends from the Rocky Mountains.



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