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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.


Ugandan pop star, a government critic, faces military court
Legal Opinions | 2018/08/14 07:45
A pop singer and prominent critic of Uganda's government was charged with unlawful possession of firearms and ammunition in a military court on Thursday for his alleged role in clashes in which the longtime president's motorcade was attacked by people throwing stones.

Lawmaker Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, whose stage name is Bobi Wine, was arrested in the northwestern town of Arua earlier this week. In a court session closed to reporters, he was remanded and will reappear on Aug. 23, the military said in a statement.

Ssentamu's wife insisted he doesn't know how to handle a weapon, and rights activists demanded his release. In a suburb of the capital, Kampala, small groups of his supporters took to the streets and burned tires in protest but police quickly dispersed them, national police spokesman Emilian Kayima said.

Three other lawmakers arrested alongside Ssentamu were charged earlier on Thursday with treason in a magistrates' court in the northern town of Gulu, where he was detained.

Many Ugandans expressed concern for Ssentamu's safety after Uganda's deputy prime minister told lawmakers he had been hospitalized in custody, without giving details.

The clashes broke out on Monday when Ssentamu and other politicians, including President Yoweri Museveni, were in Arua campaigning in a by-election to choose a lawmaker after the previous one was shot dead near Kampala in June.

Ssentamu's driver was shot dead in the clashes. The lawmaker later posted a picture of the dead man on Twitter, saying he had been killed by the police "thinking they've shot at me."

A group of lawmakers authorized by the parliamentary speaker to investigate the situation told reporters on Thursday that they had been unable to see the pop star.


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.



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