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Tennessee high court refuses to block looming execution
Legal Opinions | 2018/08/10 06:45
The Tennessee Supreme Court has refused to stay Thursday's scheduled execution of a convicted child killer while the state's new lethal injection protocol continues to be challenged on appeal.

The order brings Tennessee within days of killing Billy Ray Irick with a three-drug mixture, barring some last-minute change. Irick, 59, would be the first inmate Tennessee has executed since 2009. He was convicted of the 1985 rape and killing of a 7-year-old Knoxville girl.

Federal public defender Kelley Henry said she will request a stay with the U.S. Supreme Court. She had asked Gov. Bill Haslam to issue a temporary reprieve while the drugs are studied further. But the governor quickly ruled it out, saying he would not intervene.

"My role is not to be the 13th juror or the judge or to impose my personal views, but to carefully review the judicial process to make sure it was full and fair," Haslam said in a statement Monday. "Because of the extremely thorough judicial review of all of the evidence and arguments at every stage in this case, clemency is not appropriate."

The Tennessee Supreme Court's majority wrote that its rules require proving that the lawsuit challenging the lethal injection drugs is likely to succeed on appeal, but Irick's attorney has failed to do so.

In a ruling late last month, Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle wrote that attorneys for 33 death row inmates, including Irick, didn't prove that there is a substantially less painful means to carry out the execution or that the drugs the state plans to use would cause the inmate to be tortured to death.


Oklahoma lawsuit against opioid makers back in state court
Legal Opinions | 2018/08/09 10:45
A U.S. judge determined Friday that a lawsuit the state of Oklahoma filed against the makers of opioids does not "necessarily rise" to a federal issue.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange in Oklahoma City sends the matter back to state court. Drugmakers had it moved to federal court in June.

Oklahoma, one of at least 13 states that have filed lawsuits against drugmakers, alleges fraudulent marketing of drugs that fueled the opioid epidemic in the lawsuit filed in June 2017. It is seeking unspecified damages from Purdue Pharma, Allergan, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Teva Pharmaceuticals and several of their subsidiaries.

Opioid manufacturers had argued the state was asking them to make different safety and efficacy disclosures to the public than required by federal law and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The drug manufacturers listed as defendants said opioid abuse is a serious health issue, but they deny wrongdoing.

An attorney for the companies did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

The ruling came just minutes after Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby and Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton joined Hunter and Michael Burrage, a private attorney representing the tribes and the state, in announcing that the tribes are joining the state in suing the opioid manufacturers in state courts for unspecified damages.

Hunter did not immediately return a phone call for comment, but Burrage said during the news conference that the effort to return to lawsuit to state court was to keep it from potentially being folded into more than 800 similar lawsuit pending in Ohio.



US Supreme Court ruling in union dues impacts case in Oregon
Legal Opinions | 2018/08/01 23:32
An Oregon state employee and a labor union have reached a settlement over her lawsuit seeking payback of obligatory union fees, marking the first refund of forced fees since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in late June that government workers can't be required to contribute to labor groups, the employee's lawyers said Monday.

Debora Nearman, a systems analyst with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, said in her lawsuit filed in April in federal court that the state's practice of forcing her to pay fees to fund union activity violated her First Amendment freedoms. She said the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, opposes her political and religious views and even led a campaign against her husband Mike when he successfully ran as a Republican candidate for the state Legislature in 2016.

Nearman is a member of a state-wide bargaining unit represented by SEIU but doesn't belong to the union. The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which was involved in both the Supreme Court case and Nearman's, is handling some 200 other cases across the country, including a class-action lawsuit in California by 30,000 state employees, said Patrick Semmens, the group's vice president.

If the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rules in favor of the plaintiffs in the California case, they stand to be refunded more than $100 million, Semmens estimated.

Nearman said in a telephone interview the mailers sent by a political action committee funded by the union were "disgusting."

One showed a photo of her husband superimposed in front of a police car with flashing lights, giving the impression that he was a criminal, she said. Another hinted he didn't care about disabled people, said Nearman, who suffers from a progressive neuro-muscular disease. "I was just heartbroken to see that," she said.



Court deals major financial blow to nation's public employee unions
Legal Opinions | 2018/06/26 00:09
A deeply divided Supreme Court dealt a major blow to the nation's public employee unions Wednesday that likely will result in a loss of money, members and political muscle.

After three efforts in 2012, 2014 and 2016 fell short, the court's conservative majority ruled 5-4 that unions cannot collect fees from non-members to help defray the costs of collective bargaining. Justice Samuel Alito wrote the decision, announced on the final day of the court's term, with dissents from Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.

About 5 million workers could be affected by the decision overruling the court's 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education — those who pay dues or "fair-share" fees to unions in 22 states where public employees can be forced to contribute. Workers in 28 states already cannot be forced to join or pay unions.

"We recognize that the loss of payments from nonmembers may cause unions to experience unpleasant transition costs in the short term and may require unions to make adjustments in order to attract and retain members," Alito wrote. "But we must weigh these disadvantages against the considerable windfall that unions have received under Abood for the past 41 years."

From the bench, he noted that Illinois, whose Republican governor initiated the challenge, "has serious financial problems" that are exacerbated by costly union contracts. Gov. Bruce Rauner has sought to renegotiate public employee contracts.

Kagan's main dissent for the four liberal justices accused the court of "weaponizing the First Amendment in a way that unleashes judges, now and in the future, to intervene in economic and regulatory policy."

"It wanted to pick the winning side in what should be -- and until now has been -- an energetic policy debate," she wrote. "Today, that healthy -- that democratic -- debate ends. The majority has adjudged who should prevail."

Justice Neil Gorsuch cast the deciding vote against what conservative opponents have labeled a form of compelled speech. The money helps labor unions maintain political power in some of the nation's most populous states, including California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.


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