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Court: State, governor can't be sued over public defenders
Law Firm News | 2019/01/12 23:18
Missouri and its governor cannot be sued over the state’s underfunded and understaffed public defender system, a federal appeals court has ruled.

A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday said the legal doctrine of sovereign immunity means the state can’t commit a legal wrong and cannot be sued unless the legislature makes exceptions in state law, KCUR reported.

American Civil Liberties Union-Missouri filed the class action lawsuit in 2017. The organization argued the governor and state have ignored their constitutional obligation to provide meaningful legal representation to indigent clients by not providing enough funds to address chronic underfunding and understaffing in the public defender system. ACLU-Missouri argues in the lawsuit that Mississippi is the only state to allocate less than the $355 per case that Missouri spends for its indigent defense budget.

The lawsuit will continue against the head of the public defender system, Michael Barrett, and the public defender commission.

The decision, written by Judge Duane Benton, does not address the merits of the lawsuit. But the ruling means the legislature can’t be forced to appropriate more money to the system.

“It would be easier if the state itself were a defendant,” said Tony Rothert, legal director of ACLU-Missouri.

Rothert said if the ACLU prevails against the other defendants, the court could order the state to reduce public defenders’ caseloads, or prosecutors could use their discretion to not bring charges for certain crimes. Or defendants who aren’t considered dangerous could be released on bail and put on a waiting list for public defenders rather than staying in jail while awaiting trial.


New justice to be sworn in on North Carolina Supreme Court
Law Firm News | 2019/01/01 19:36
A civil rights attorney elected to North Carolina's highest court is taking office.

Anita Earls is being sworn into office as a state Supreme Court associate justice on Thursday. The Democrat defeated Republican incumbent Justice Barbara Jackson in November.

Earls founded and led the Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice. She was a deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights at the U.S. Justice Department during the Clinton administration.

Earls also served the state elections board and taught at Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Maryland. She earned her law degree from Yale.



Mississippi chief justice: Time for another to lead court
Law Firm News | 2018/12/26 20:17
After 21 years on the Mississippi Supreme Court and 10 years as chief justice, Bill Waller Jr. says it's time for someone else to take the helm.

Waller's court has at times questioned problems with forensic evidence, but passed when asked to rule on the legality of Mississippi's cap on punitive damages. He said his biggest regret is not getting a statewide system of county courts.

Gov. Phil Bryant has announced that he will replace Waller with Court of Appeals Chief Judge Kenny Griffis, while Presiding Justice Michael Randolph will become the next leader of the nine-member Supreme Court, based on seniority. The outgoing chief justice, son of the late Gov. Bill Waller Sr., a Democrat who served from 1972 to 1976, said he still might run for governor himself.

Waller came on to the court in a different time, before the new judicial building was started, when most record-keeping was on paper and when a hot political battle was waging over limiting damages on civil lawsuits. Another change has been improvements in how inmates are represented in appeals, with the creation of the Office of Capital Post-Conviction Counsel and then the Office of Indigent Appeals.



Uber loses UK case on worker rights, expected to appeal
Law Firm News | 2018/12/19 02:48
Lawyers say the taxi hailing app Uber has lost its appeal against a ruling that its drivers should be classed as workers in a case with broad implications for the gig economy.

Law firm Leigh Day says Britain's Court of Appeal upheld an earlier ruling that found the company's drivers are workers, not independent contractors and therefore should receive the minimum wage and paid holidays. Uber is expected to appeal.

Though the company argued that the case applies to only two drivers, Uber has tens of thousands of drivers in the U.K. who could argue they deserve the same status as the former drivers covered by decision. The court says some 40,000 drivers use the platform in the U.K., though the company said the number had grown since the submission to 50,000.

San Francisco-based Uber has expanded rapidly around the world by offering an alternative to traditional taxis through a smartphone app that links people in need of rides with drivers of private cars. That has drawn protests from taxi drivers who say Uber and similar services are able to undercut them.



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