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Carnival will pay $20m over pollution from its cruise ships
Court Issues | 2019/06/05 16:47

Carnival Corp. reached a settlement Monday with federal prosecutors in which the world’s largest cruise line agreed to pay a $20 million penalty because its ships continued to pollute the oceans despite a previous criminal conviction aimed at curbing similar conduct.

Senior U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz approved the agreement after Carnival CEO Arnold Donald stood up in open court and admitted the company’s responsibility for probation violations stemming from the previous environmental case.

“The company pleads guilty,” Arnold said six times in a packed courtroom that include other senior Carnival executives, including company chairman and Miami Heat owner Micky Arison.

“We acknowledge the shortcomings. I am here today to formulate a plan to fix them,” Arnold added

“The proof will be in the pudding, won’t it?” the judge replied. “If you all did not have the environment, you would have nothing to sell.”

Carnival admitted violating terms of probation from a 2016 criminal conviction for discharging oily waste from its Princess Cruise Lines ships and covering it up. Carnival paid a $40 million fine and was put on five years’ probation in that case, which affected all nine of its cruise brands that boast more than 100 ships.

Now Carnival has acknowledged that in the years since its ships have committed environmental crimes such as dumping “gray water” in prohibited places such Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park and knowingly allowing plastic to be discharged along with food waste in the Bahamas, which poses a severe threat to marine life.

The company also admitted falsifying compliance documents and other administrative violations such as having cleanup teams visit its ships just before scheduled inspections.

Seitz at an earlier hearing threatened to bar Carnival from docking at U.S. ports because of the violations and said she might hold executives individually liable for the probation violations.

“The concern I have is that senior management has no skin in the game,” Seitz said, adding that future violations might be met with prison time and criminal fines for individuals. “My goal is to have the defendant change its behavior.”

Under the settlement, Carnival promised there will be additional audits to check for violations, a restructuring of the company’s compliance and training programs, a better system for reporting environmental violations to state and federal agencies and improved waste management practices.


A loophole could keep young terror suspects out of US courts
Court Issues | 2019/05/07 17:15
The Justice Department's ability to charge minors for supporting terrorist groups has been hampered by a 2018 Supreme Court decision, forcing prosecutors to hand off at least one such case to local authorities in a state without anti-terrorism laws.

The court's decision in a case unrelated to terrorism opened a loophole that could allow young supporters of groups like the Islamic State to skate on charges from the federal government.

The legal gap was highlighted by the case of Matin Azizi-Yarand , who was sentenced in a Texas state court last month after plotting to shoot police officers and civilians at a suburban shopping mall in an Islamic State-inspired rampage planned to coincide with the Muslim holiday of Ramadan.

In most cases like this, federal prosecutors would have brought terrorism charges. But U.S. prosecutors in Texas didn't charge Azizi-Yarand because he was 17 at the time and considered a minor under federal law.

Federal law allows prosecutors to charge anyone supporting or working with a State Department-designated terror group, even if the person was not in contact with the group. But to charge a juvenile with providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization, the attorney general would have to determine that the suspect committed what's known as a "crime of violence" under federal law.

The Supreme Court struck down part of that law last year, finding it too vague to be enforced in the case of a Philippine man who was facing deportation over burglary convictions. Justice Neil Gorsuch joined the court's more liberal judges, finding that the law crossed constitutional boundaries and that the law was not specific enough because it failed to adequately define what would be a violent crime.


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.


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