Archive for October, 2013

Suspected al QaedaTerrorist to be Tried in Court

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

Plans have been made to prosecute a suspected al-Qaeda terrorist in a U.S. civilian court instead of a military tribunal. Nazah Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, also known as Libi, will be tried at a U.S. federal court in the Southern District of New York for his role in the twin bombings of U.S. embassies at Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, which occurred in 1998. The venue in which the prosecution will be conducted has revived the controversy as to how the U.S. should deal with terror suspects.

Libi was captured by American special forces at his home in Libya on Oct. 5. He was initially taken to a U.S. Navy ship for questioning, but was brought back to shore after experiencing undisclosed health problems. Subsequently, he was read his Miranda rights, as is everyone who is charged with a crime in the American criminal justice system, and was also provided with an attorney. Plans to try the case in a civilian court were announced by Mark Martins, the chief war crimes prosecutor for the U.S. military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Mr. Martins said the decision to try the case in New York was based on such factors as the feasibility of the case and the efficiency of U.S. federal courts. He also noted that Libi had been indicted by a federal court even before his capture. Libi has pleaded not guilty to the charges facing him.

The truck bombings at the two embassies killed 224 persons, including 12 Americans, and injured more than 4,000 others. Libi was one of 21 suspects indicted for their involvement in the attacks. Although some still remain at large, six of those involved have been successfully prosecuted and sentenced to prison. The bombings brought attention to al-Qaeda, the organization that would later be implicated in other terrorist events, including the attack in the U.S. in September 2001.

The decision to try Libi is reminiscent of an earlier attempt by the administration of President Barack Obama to prosecute terror suspect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a civilian court. This attempt was thwarted by action of the U.S. Congress, and the case was turned over to the U.S. military.

Chinese Pet Treats Makes Thousands of Cats and Dogs Ill

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

Federal officials have reported that around 600 pets have died after consuming jerky treats manufactured in China.

MSNBC.com revealed that dogs of all sizes, breeds and ages have become ill after eating duck, sweet potato and chicken flavor treats. Despite thorough testing, the root cause of the illnesses and deaths remains elusive. The FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine deputy director, Martine Hartogensis, stated that illness in dogs and cats continues to be reported despite the warnings regarding the treats.

The Food and Drug Administration has an ongoing investigation into the treats based on complaints filed by consumers. This has resulted in two class-action lawsuits. The first one was filed against Milo’s Kitchen, which is a subsidiary of the Del Monte company and sells Chicken Jerky Dog Treats that have been manufactured in China. The suit alleges that the treats have caused illness and killed dogs. The monetary amount of the suit is undisclosed. The second class-action suit, in the amount of five million dollars, was filed against Nestlé Purina Petcare Company alleging its Waggin’ Train Yam Good chicken treats caused dogs to suffer kidney failure.

Overall, 10 cats and 3,600 dogs have fallen sick after consuming jerky treats. This represents the number of reports as of September 24, 2013.

The FDA has released a fact sheet about the treats, which are sold in the form of strips or tenders and contain duck, chicken, dried fruit and sweet potato, or a mix of all. Samples of the product were tested for substances known to cause the sort of illness that was reported. Included in the tests were antibiotics, metals, pesticides and salmonella among other poisons and chemicals. Nutritional components were also examined, namely protein, crude fiber, moisture, ash and fatty acids.

Currently, the cause of the sickness and deaths is not known.

Chance of Settlement in Fosamax Case

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

Strong competition from major pharmaceutical firms, massive layoffs and a potentially pricey legal maneuver are prompting news analysts and observers to ponder about a possible settlement by Merck in the ongoing multidistrict litigation involving the controversial medication Fosamax.

Alendronic acid or alendronate is a medication manufactured by pharmaceutical giant Merck mainly for the treatment of osteoporosis. In the United States, this medication is marketed and prescribed as Fosamax. Among the various side effects associated with Fosamax, necrosis of the jaw is one of the most serious. This side effect prompted hundreds of plaintiffs from around the country to file lawsuits against Merck.

The Fosamax lawsuits piled on at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, where they were eventually consolidated under Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) 1789. In late August 2013, the judge presiding over MDL 1789 ordered the cases to be returned to the jurisdictions where they were originally filed. The ordered was issued with the intent of holding trials for the cases at the rate of 200 per month.

U.S. District Judge John Keenan is no stranger to multidistrict litigation involving prescription medications. He has presided over high profile cases such as Vioxx, a painkiller also manufactured and marketed by Merck. By ordering a number of trials back to their original jurisdiction, Judge Keenan hopes to establish a clear frame of reference with regard to the changes of the plaintiffs and defendant Merck in the Fosamax case.

The Fosamax Trials Delay

In early October, Judge Keenan ordered the delay of the Fosamax trial by one month. The trials were set to start on November 1st, but plaintiffs will now have to wait until December 2nd before they can face Merck in court.

This court-ordered delay can be interpreted as an opportunity for the Merck legal teams to sit down and contemplate the possibility of a settlement in the case. In the meantime, new Fosamax lawsuits can be filed. Fosamax gained approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) back in 1995. Complaints against Fosamax allege that this medication actually causes bone loss instead of alleviating osteoporosis.

Juvenile Detention Center in PA Reaches Settlement

Monday, October 28th, 2013

A settlement has been reached in the high profile case involving two former judges who took $2.8 million in alleged kickbacks from a commercial builder, an attorney, and a businessman in exchange for giving higher and more frequent sentences to juveniles in order to keep full two new juvenile detention centers that they had a financial interest in. The settlement in the civil suit against PA Child Care and Mid-Atlantic Youth Services Corp. is reported to be $2.5 million and has been sent to US District Judge A Richard Caputo for approval.

This marks the end of what has been a long and sorted legal battle, beginning with the judges themselves. One of the judges in question was responsible for 6,500 wrongful juvenile offender convictions, all of which were overturned by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania shortly after former judge Mark Ciavarella Jr. was indicted in September of 2009 after withdrawing a guilty plea he had entered the previous February. He was eventually sentenced to 28 years in prison in August of 2011, less than the possible life that he could have received, for racketeering, mail fraud, money laundering, tax fraud and other related crimes. In December of 2012, a settlement for $18 million was awarded to the children wrongly convicted by Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, the other judge involved. Ciavarella attempted to appeal based on statements the lower court judge had made to the media before sentencing, but the appeals court found against him.

Conahan managed a plea bargain for his part in the crime, receiving only a 20 year prison sentence, fines, and disbarment. A joint attempt at a plea bargain by the two men for honest services fraud and tax evasion was rejected as it appeared neither accepted responsibility for their actions and the sentence was far too light.

If the settlement with the service companies is approved, as it is expected to, it is unclear whether or not the companies in question will actually be hurt by it at all. Regardless, this should be the end of this scandal and the requisite fallout it has caused.

9 year-old Stowaway on Flight Removed From Home

Friday, October 25th, 2013

A nine-year-old boy from Minnesota who stowed away on a flight to Las Vegas will not be allowed to go home for an indeterminate period of time. The child, who managed to outwit airport security and board the flight before anyone realized anything was amiss, is too young to be charged with a crime under state law. However, a juvenile judge has granted a petition filed by Hennepin County to remove the boy from his parents’ home.

The boy’s family did not object to the order, which was designed to provide support for the family and help break a months-long pattern of acting out by the boy. The parents as well as the boy are ordered to participate in therapy, but will be allowed liberal visitation.

According to the petition, the act of boarding the flight was only the latest example in a troubling pattern of escalating behavior. The proceedings painted a picture of a child who was difficult to control. Earlier this year, he received a suspension for what the school called aggressive behavior. The boy has a pattern of leaving his home without permission and sleeping over with friends without his parents’ OK. On one occasion, he left to go to the library and did not go home all night, turning up in a local park a day later. On another, he went swimming without supervision at a YMCA at closing time.

In an episode that may have presaged the flight incident, the child, who is not being named, was able to get into an amusement park without a ticket by behaving as though he was a part of another family. He is also accused of stealing a delivery truck and hitting both a pole and a patrol car and of stealing luggage to make himself look as though he were traveling before ordering a meal at the airport and leaving the bill unpaid.

BP Settlement Requested to be Upheld

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

The attorneys for plaintiffs who agreed on a court settlement worth billions of dollars have asked an appeals court to review a judge’s decision. The personal injury suit was initially filed seeking damages against BP for the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Carl Barbier, a United States District Judge, approved the settlement in 2012, and recently, lawyers have filed motions in the 5th United States Circuit Court of Appeals. The recent filing highlights that only a few objections have been made with respect to the settlement, and the only issues raised were narrow concerns. No complaints were filed about compensation calculations or about the amount of money that plaintiffs are eligible to receive.

Friday, attorneys for BP argued that the 5th Circuit should overturn Judge Barbier’s initial order that was deemed legally binding. The attorneys argued in front of a three-judge panel that hears appeals, and they advocated on behalf of BP in the event that the company’s other appeal on recent rulings is not successful. BP holds that the trial judge misinterpreted the terms of the settlement, and as such, the ruling has allowed numerous business owners to receive hundreds of millions for claims that are inflated or totally fictitious.

The BP appeal was heard by a different 5th Circuit Court panel in July, but they have not issued their ruling yet. BP has also said that is will support Barbier’s approval of a settlement if their other appeal is successful.

While the brief that was filed in the appeal court on Tuesday does not deal with the dispute, lawyers for plaintiffs said that BP was “thrilled” with the way that the claims were being handled. These personal injury attorneys argued that BP undervalued the initial settlement and vastly underestimated the number of claimants that would qualify for payouts under the deal.

According to the claims administrator, Patrick Juneau, his office has received more than $4.5 billion in offers to cover the claims for more than 55,000 business owners and residents who claim that they lost money as a result of the oil spill.

NJ Judge Rules on Same-Sex Marriages

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

New Jersey is in a bit of a legal uproar when it comes to civil unions and marriages. Despite where the state’s legislature and governor wanted to be, a state judge ordered on September 27, 2013, same-sex couple could enter civil marriages. This decision was confirmed again by the same judge when the state tried to file a motion to argue the matter. As a result, the decision will become effective on Monday, October 21, 2013.

The state’s motion was no surprise; it was an attempt to temporarily stay the original order on civil marriages until the state supreme court had a chance to hear the matter. However, the trial judge wasn’t about to cooperate on a delay. She summed her logic to force the issue to reality as follows:

• The State of New Jersey was not going to suffer any immediate or irreversible harm by the order.
• The State has very little chance of success on an appeal of the order.
• On an equity basis, allowing a delay would not be fair to those who would benefit from the order. While the parties benefiting would be harmed, the state would not suffer any harm from an immediate implementation.

The plaintiffs who filed the case and are seen as subject to immediate impact by a delay includes six couples who are gay or lesbian as well as their children, including not being able to exercise federal marital benefits.

If there’s any consolation, the State of New Jersey is not the only jurisdiction dealing with the legal scuffle on same-sex marriage and civil unions. California clearly has been in the forefront with legalization and propositions fighting the matter both ways. Michigan’s state tax collectors took and opposite tack requiring same-sex spouses to file separate state tax returns. Ohio at the federal court level is disputing the issue of recognition of same-sex partners on death certificates. And Kentucky recently ruled same-sex spouses are required to testify in trials of their partners, unlike traditional spouses.

Ultimately, state supreme courts and state governments are going to have to define the law in an absence of a federal presence in the matter. However, the trend over time is clear; same-sex unions are coming. It’s a matter of how long the march will take by state.

4 year-old Steven Johnson Syndrome Victim Makes a Rare Recovery

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

When 4-year-old Emma Miller came down with a fever one Friday evening, her parents gave her ibuprofen, thinking nothing of it.

“We were giving her ibuprofen for the fever to go down, that was a Friday,” her mother told The Daily Iowan. “But Saturday morning, there were red rashes covering her face and then went all over her back.”

Unknown to her parents, little Emma had contracted Steven Johnson Syndrome (SJS), a rare and life-threatening skin disorder characterized by severe rashes and swelling. It’s so unusual that doctors aren’t even sure where it comes from: Some say it’s an autoimmune disorder that reacts badly to infections and medications; others think it’s an existing infection, usually manifesting as flu-like symptoms, that is in turn treated and worsened by medication.

In Emma’s case, doctors rushed to save her life after the condition spread to more than 85 percent of her body. SJS rashes are not dissimilar to second- and third-degree burns, requiring skin grafts and causing potential blindness and hearing loss when it reaches the eyes and ears.

Emma lost most of her skin and spent almost two weeks on a ventilator in the pediatrics ward of the University of Iowa’s Children’s Hospital. Then, on the 11th day, her parents witnessed a miracle.

“Just as fast as she got bad, she flipped the switch and got better,” her father told reporters.

To treat the blisters and prevent further complications, doctors encased Emma in medicated foam for another week. By day 23 she was pronounced fully healed and fit to leave the hospital. Even more miraculously, she escaped almost all the scarring and sensory damage usually left in the wake of SJS.

“She looked perfect,” said Gwen Erkonen, a critical care specialist who helped with Emma’s treatment. “She just looked beautiful when she left. You would never know what she’s been through.”

Emma’s battle wasn’t quite over, her stint in the hospital leaving her muscles weak and slightly atrophies, but she continued physical therapy from the comfort of home and was able to return to school before the end of the year. Today, she’s a bright and energetic 5-year-old who remembers little of her brush with death.

The Miller parents have become advocates for SJS awareness within the community. No word yet if they plan to file a lawsuit against the ibuprofen company.

Regulation of Greenhouse Gases to be ruled on by Supreme Court

Monday, October 21st, 2013

The Supreme Court announced on October 15, 2013 that it would hear petitions to determine whether the Environmental Protection Agency overstepped its jurisdiction by invoking the Clean Air Act in its decision to regulate carbon dioxide. The EPA found that since carbon dioxide from vehicles qualified as a public health risk, it could also regulate greenhouse gas emissions from “stationary sources” such as electrical plants, refineries and other industrial buildings.

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is permitted to enact new regulations in the case of substances and emissions that endanger public health. The EPA previously found that carbon dioxide could be reasonably expected to present an imminent risk to human health and safety when it was in the process of enacting new regulations on motor vehicle emissions. It then used these findings to justify its new regulations on the emissions from stationary sources as well.

Nine petitions were filed after the EPA opted to enact new regulations on greenhouse gas emissions requirements, but the Supreme Court declined to hear three of these petitions. The three petitions that were rejected questioned the EPA’s authority on greenhouse gas emissions.

Instead of hearing the petitions questioning the EPA’s decision to enact these new regulations, the Supreme Court consolidated the remaining six petitions and will rule on whether the EPA had the authority to enact new permit regulations under the endangerment finding that allowed it to enact new regulations on motor vehicles.

Representatives from the industries affected by the future regulations warn that implementing the necessary changes to comply with the regulations will place too much of an economic strain. Representatives said that companies whose factories and other industrial centers will have to spend billions of dollars upgrading their facilities. They say this would have negative effects on local economies since companies would be forced to lay off and fire workers in order to finance these upgrades. They also stated that the EPA should not have the power to enact such profound regulations and that Congress should vote on such measures.

Environmental advocates filed briefs in support of the EPA’s decision and asked the Supreme Court to decline to hear any of the petitions.

Same Sex Marriage Ban Challenged in Oregon

Friday, October 18th, 2013

While states across the country have been adopting legislation to legalize same sex marriage, the marriage equality movement has been an uphill battle in certain states. In recent weeks, New Jersey’s governor Chris Christie has filed appeals to overturn the state’s decision to legalize same sex marriage. Officials in North Carolina have also fought against legislation that will make it legal for gays to marry in their state. While the marriage equality movement has been gaining steam, gays have nonetheless been tasked with fighting to enjoy equal rights in many states.

Attorneys for two same sex couples in the state of Oregon have filed a suit to challenge the state’s constitutional ban on same sex marriage. This suit will be the first of its kind in the state, and will open a discussion about whether Oregon will be the next state to allow gays to legally marry and enjoy all of the rights and privileges of heterosexual married couples.

The suit, which was filed with the US District Court of Oregon, challenges the 2004 Ballot Measure 36 which makes it illegal for gays to marry in the state. The issue of whether marriage should be between opposite sex couples or extended to gays is one that has polarized both the country and the legal community. When Massachusetts decided to legalize gay marriage, many states clamored to create amendments to their constitutions that made gay marriage illegal.

As of October 2013, 14 states have made gay marriage legal either by popular vote or court decision. Thirty-five states ban same sex marriage and proponents of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) have fought vehemently to keep same sex marriage illegal. Massachusetts was the first state to make gay marriage legal in 2004, and it would take another four years for Connecticut to follow suit. Twelve other states would follow, with New Jersey being the most recent state to enact legislation to make gay marriage legal in 2013.

With couples in Oregon fighting through the court system to make gay marriage legal, the same sex marriage movement is changing the way we view marriage in the United States.