Tag Archives: law suit

Flint residents file class action suit

A lawsuit stemming from lead-contaminated water in Flint was filed this week on behalf of the city’s residents against Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder as well as other current and former government officials and corporations.

The federal lawsuit — which is seeking class-action status — alleges that tens of thousands of residents have suffered physical and economic injuries and damages. It argues officials failed to take action over “dangerous levels of lead” in drinking water and “downplayed the severity of the contamination” in the financially struggling city.

Governor responds to Flint suit

Snyder’s spokesman Ari Adler said the administration doesn’t comment on pending litigation, but is “staying focused on solutions for the people of Flint.”

Numerous lawsuits have been filed on behalf of Flint residents since a public health emergency was declared last year. The latest lawsuit, which seeks a jury trial and unspecified damages, was filed on behalf of seven residents.

A second recall petition filed by a Flint activist and naming Snyder while referencing the water crisis was approved by the Board of State Canvassers, the Detroit Free Press reported.

An earlier Snyder recall petition by a Detroit pastor over the water crisis was approved last month.

Flint, with a population of about 100,000, had switched from Detroit’s water system to the Flint River as a way to save money until a new pipeline to Lake Huron was ready. But during those 18 months, the corrosive water leached lead from the city’s old plumbing because certain treatments weren’t added to the water.

Snyder, whose administration repeatedly downplayed the lead threat, now calls it a “disaster.”

A report by the state auditor general released Friday found that state environmental regulators made crucial errors as Flint began using the new drinking water source that would become contaminated with lead. It says staffers in the Department of Environmental Quality’s drinking water office failed to order the city to treat its water with anti-corrosion chemicals as it switched to the river in April 2014, but also said the rules they failed to heed may not be strong enough to protect the public.

The report came as crews in the city started to dig up old pipes connecting water mains to homes.

No level of lead in the human body is considered safe, especially in children. The river water also may have been a source of Legionnaires’ disease, which killed at least nine people in the region.

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver announced Sunday that Union Labor Life Insurance Co. committed to bring $25 million in low-cost loans to help remove lead pipes and improve water quality. She said the loans will help her Fast Start initiative that’s designed to replace all lead service lines in the city.


Bring it — to the ballot box

State election officials say “bring it” to the ballot box.

They mean your photo ID.

We say “bring it.”

And we mean your right, your vote, your democratic power.

Voting in the 2016 election cycle began this month, with much attention to the caucuses in Iowa and the first-in-the-nation primary in New Hampshire. Of course at WiG we’re as interested in — and vested in — the presidential race as you. But we also want to emphasize the importance of state and local elections and the role of each citizen in the democratic process.

Regardless of which party holds your allegiance or who you support on the ballot, pocket your photo ID and “bring it” to the polls on Feb. 16 to cast your choice in the Wisconsin primary, to be followed by the presidential preference primary, the spring election and the general election.

This is no endorsement of the photo ID law that the GOP enacted at the bidding of a right-wing movement to minimize the influence of voters who traditionally vote for  the Democratic Party. Like you, we wanted to see this discriminatory measure overturned by the courts. We still want to see the law repealed.

But, to get there, we must “bring it.”

We must abide by the photo ID law so we can elect those who support voting rights for all and oust those who advocate for a government that just serves them and their well-funded special interests.

We know there’s confusion among voters about whether a photo ID is needed to vote and which IDs are acceptable. We found this guidance from the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, the ACLU of Wisconsin and Common Cause.

ACCEPTABLE IDS: Include a Wisconsin driver’s license, a state ID card, a tribal ID card, an unexpired receipt for a driver’s license or state ID, a certificate of naturalization issued within the past two years, a U.S. military photo ID, a U.S. passport or a college photo ID card from a state-accredited college that contains an expiration date and signature.

WHAT IF THE ADDRESS ISN’T CURRENT ON THE ID? An acceptable photo ID does not have to include a current address.

THE NAME ISN’T AN EXACT MATCH: The name on a photo ID need not exactly match the name used to vote. For example, an ID that says “Sue Doe” can be used by registered voter “Susan Doe.” However, a person who’s legally changed his or her name must present an ID with the new name.

NO PHOTO ID: A resident can get a free voter photo ID from the local Division of Motor Vehicles by providing a Social Security number as well as an original document (birth certificate, certificate of citizenship, certificate of naturalization, Social Security card, military discharge papers, utility bills, pay stubs, insurance policies, mortgage papers, court order for adoption, divorce, name or gender change) containing the person’s name, date of birth, identity, proof of U.S. citizenship and residency. 

LACKING REQUIRED DOCS FOR ID: Complete a short form at the DMV stating that the documents needed to prove U.S. citizenship, name and date of birth are unavailable and require a fee to obtain.

PROVISIONAL BALLOT: If you get to the polls and don’t have a photo ID, don’t leave without voting. Voters have the right to request a provisional ballot and to show an ID by the end of the week.

Got it?

Now, “bring it.” 

Wisconsin Gazette’s mission is to help build a strong, informed community; promote social equality and justice; support immigration and electoral reform; expose government secrets and call out political corruption; celebrate and support the arts; and foster appreciation and respect for the state’s extraordinary natural resources.

ACLU sues architects of CIA torture program

Three former Central Intelligence Agency prisoners represented by the American Civil Liberties Union suing two psychologists who designed and implemented the CIA’s torture program.

CIA-contracted psychologists James Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen helped convince the agency to adopt torture as official policy under George W. Bush administration, making millions of dollars in the process.

The two men, who had previously worked for the U.S. military, designed the torture methods and performed illegal human experimentation on CIA prisoners to test and refine the program. They personally took part in torture sessions and oversaw the program’s implementation for the CIA.

The lawsuit is being brought on behalf of three men — Gul Rahman, Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud — who were tortured using methods developed by Mitchell and Jessen, as detailed in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s landmark report on CIA torture.

The United States has never charged or accused the victims of any crime. One of them was tortured to death and the other two are now free.

“Mitchell and Jessen conspired with the CIA to torture these three men and many others,” said Steven Watt, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Human Rights Program. “They claimed that their program was scientifically based, safe and proven, when in fact it was none of those things. The program was unlawful and its methods barbaric. Psychology is a healing profession, but Mitchell and Jessen violated the ethical code of ‘do no harm’ in some of the most abhorrent ways imaginable.”

Melissa Rivers is funny and affectionate in ‘Book of Joan’

Melissa Rivers wanted to laugh — and she wants her readers to do the same.

Consider it mission accomplished on both counts, thanks to her best-selling memoir, “The Book of Joan: Tales of Mirth, Mischief and Manipulation” (Crown Archetype). It’s a touching, revealing and above all funny paean to her mother, Joan Rivers, who died last September at 81 after complications from minor throat surgery.

The book is free of a daughter’s grief, or her undeniable anger. (Rivers has filed a malpractice lawsuit against the Manhattan clinic where her mother suffered what she has called “shocking and, frankly, almost incomprehensible” incompetence.) Instead, the approach is light-hearted, affectionate — and funny.

“Writing it gave me permission to laugh and joke, and a safe place to do so,” says Rivers, who, still reeling from her loss last fall, set to work with her writing partner, Larry Amoros, a long-time family friend and writer for Joan who could add his own rich store of recollections.

“We wanted to call the book ‘Cheaper Than Therapy,’” says Rivers, “but we were afraid it would get mixed up in the Self-Help Therapy section of the bookstore.”

In the first pages, Rivers attempts to summarize this pint-sized, outspoken force of nature: “My mother was a comedian, actress, writer, producer, jewelry monger, tchotchke maker, spokesperson, hand model, ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ winner and a self-appointed somewhat-goodwill-ambassador to 27 Third World countries that were unaware they had a goodwill ambassador.”

The book nods at an early concept offered the publisher: a collection of Lessons I Learned From My Mother. It was an idea Rivers balked at. “I don’t know if people would want to take THAT advice,” she laughs.

Yes, there was a method to Joan’s madness, but it formed the logical underpinnings of someone who didn’t always cater to logic.

Joan on marriage: “Your father didn’t care if I went to bed mad. He cared if I went to Bergdorf mad.”

Joan on cosmetic surgery: “Better to have a new you coming out of an old car than an old you coming out of a new car.”

Rivers, now 47, grew up close to both her parents.

“People always said I was much more like my father (film and TV producer Edgar Rosenberg) than her, and they had a successful marriage. Maybe that’s why she and I were so bonded.”

One thing that tied them together: “Our love of the ironic and the absurd. Nothing was better than looking at each other when we were out somewhere” with a wordless exchange conveying, “Oh, have we got something to talk about when we get in the car! Can you BELIEVE what just happened?!”

No wonder Joan and Melissa were also bonded professionally. Together they blazed a new frontier of style and snark on the glitziest red carpets, while Joan became a connoisseur of couture catastrophes as host of “Fashion Police,” which Melissa produced.

That show, minus queen bee Joan, returned on E! in January and promptly suffered a meltdown with cast strife and the abrupt departures of panelist Kelly Osbourne and new host Kathy Griffin. It is off the air again until fall.

“We came back too fast. None of us was ready,” says Rivers. “It was extremely painful. I spent way too much time crying about the show and what it represents to me. But we learned. No, I don’t know who is going to be in the cast. But now I’m actually excited to figure it out.”

The pain of loss is ever-present in Rivers’ life. Her mother’s death is all too recent while, even after three decades, she says she still misses her father, who committed suicide in 1987.

But in her book, death rears its head in wryly humorous terms.

“I don’t know, or pretend to know, what happens to us after we die,” writes Rivers as she builds to one of her many laugh-lines. “Nobody really does, except the dead, and they’re not talking (at least not to me, but I have AT&T: I can barely get living people on the phone).”

Whistling past the graveyard? Joan Rivers wasn’t afraid of death, her daughter insists.

“It was an obsession: ‘This is gonna happen.’ But we would discuss it as calmly as you’d ask for a glass of water. She was very much at peace with the idea.”

Maybe so, but she held her own at bay for 81 unbridled years. And as readers of “The Book of Joan” will surely realize between the laughs, it still came too soon.

North Carolina religious-exemption gay marriage bill becomes law

A measure allowing some court officials to refuse to perform gay marriage responsibilities because of their religious beliefs became law in North Carolina on June 11, but opponents said litigation challenging the new measure was likely to come soon.

The state House voted to override Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto of the bill, making the law effective immediately. The Senate voted to override last week.

North Carolina becomes the second state with such an exemption for court officials. Utah passed a similar one earlier this year.

The new law means some register of deeds workers who assemble licenses and magistrates to solemnize civil marriages can decide to stop performing all marriages if they hold a “sincerely held religious objection.”

The law “protects sincerely held religious beliefs while also ensuring that magistrates are available in all jurisdictions to perform lawful marriages,” House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said in a statement.

Gay rights groups and Democrats who opposed North Carolina’s bill said after the vote that litigation was likely to be filed soon. Republicans supporting the measure said federal laws provided religious accommodations to government officials, in keeping with the U.S. and state constitutions.

McCrory had said no one who takes a government oath should be able to avoid performing the duties that it requires.

“It’s a disappointing day for the rule of law and the process of passing legislation in North Carolina,” McCrory said in a statement. McCrory had been unhappy with several days of delays before the override vote by House leaders, while Democrats complained that the GOP used a parliamentary maneuver Thursday to abridge debate.

The law says court officials who disclose a “sincerely held religious objection” must stop performing marriage duties for both gay and heterosexual couples for at least six months. The chief District Court judge or the county register of deeds – both elected officials – would fill in on marriages if needed.

Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, introduced the bill shortly after federal rulings last October overturned North Carolina’s voter-approved constitutional ban on gay marriage. Berger responded to several magistrates who resigned when the state’s top court administrator wrote in a memo that those who declined to officiate for same-sex couples could be punished, terminated or face charges.

Providing religious accommodations are “the way employment law has worked for more than 50 years, and it was only in this misguided memo … that even started this issue,” said Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, a key supporter of the law.

In his May 28 veto message, McCrory said many North Carolina residents, including him, believe marriage is between a man and a woman. But “no public official who voluntarily swears to support and defend the Constitution and to discharge all duties of their office should be exempt from upholding that oath,” McCrory wrote.

The Senate overturned McCrory’s veto quickly, but House Republicans put off a vote because some supporters of the original bill were absent. Others were on the fence, according to lawmakers.

Opponents said the bill created a new form of discrimination similar to biases of a generation ago against multiracial marriages. They also said the bill didn’t prevent delays for gay couples getting married if a court official suddenly disclosed a religious objection when a couple approached the office counter of the magistrate or a register, particularly in smaller counties with smaller staffs.

The state ACLU urged people who encountered “new hurdles” getting married to contact its office. “This shameful backlash against equality will make it harder for all couples in our state to marry,” state Executive Director Sarah Preston said.

Rep. Cecil Brockman, D-Guilford, apologized to all lesbian and gay couples in North Carolina for the House’s action. “Your love is not different than anybody else’s love in this state,” he said at a news conference. His attempt to apologize publicly on the House floor after the vote was ruled out of order by Moore and halted.

McCrory’s decision put him at odds with social conservatives aligned with Republicans. Concerned Women for America accused McCrory of betraying state residents and forcing court officials to violate their consciences.

“It’s hard to believe that any governor – much less a conservative one – would veto a bill protecting the religious freedoms of his constituents,” North Carolina Values Coalition Executive Director Tami Fitzgerald said.

The House vote of 69-41 was just over the three-fifths majority needed. Ten House members were absent and didn’t vote. Three Democrats joined all but three Republicans present in voting for the override.

Madison joins in amicus brief backing Obama’s executive actions on immigration

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin this week announced that the city joined 73 cities and counties in filing a friend-of-the-court brief in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals urging immediate implementation of President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

The brief, coordinated through the Cities United for Immigration Action coalition, demonstrates robust support from the country’s largest cities — as well as its suburbs and rural areas — for the president’s reforms. Signers said the reforms will provide temporary relief from deportation to immigrants with longstanding ties to the United States who pass a background check and meet other criteria.

The cities and counties — representing 43 million people across the country — argue that the district court judge who temporarily blocked implementation of the programs failed to consider the significant harms to America’s local governments caused by this delay.

“I proudly stand with my fellow mayors throughout the country in support of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration that promote family stability, economic growth and community cohesiveness,” Soglin said in a news release. “Every president since President Eisenhower has used executive authority to provide temporary immigration relief and in fact, there have been 37 instances of presidents using executive authority since 1956. That action has come under both Republican and Democratic administrations so this is not, and should not be, a partisan issue. This is a human rights issue.” 

As part of Cities United for Immigration Action, more than 70 cities and counties, the National League of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors argue that the national public interest is served clearly and overwhelmingly by implementing immigration relief by executive action without delay.

The brief also argues that the judge’s decision to block executive action with a preliminary injunction is bad for the economy, hurts families, threatens law enforcement priorities and will stall needed changes to the federal government’s immigration policies. 

The brief argues that executive action will benefit cities and counties by providing work authorization to millions, increasing local tax revenue, stimulating local economies, facilitating the civic engagement of immigrants, keeping families together and improving public safety by strengthening our neighborhoods and communities.

In addition, the brief argues that delay in implementation of the president’s executive action has significant costs for local economies and immigrant families. The delay in implementation has forced mixed-status families — a number which is estimated to be in the millions — to continue to live in ongoing fear of deportation and separation, a situation that has profound emotional, educational and health impacts on children. 

Court dismisses challenge to law allowing Wisconsin to forcibly detain pregnant women

The federal court in Wisconsin has dismissed a petition filed by Alicia Beltran challenging her detention under a provision of the Wisconsin Children’s Code that allows the state to take women into custody from the earliest stages of pregnancy.

Beltran challenged her detention under the Wisconsin law that permitted her arrest, detention and involuntary in-patient medical treatment based upon the unproven charge that she “habitually lacked self-control in the use of alcohol or controlled substances.”

The matter began when Alicia Beltran, a 28-year-old pregnant woman, sought early prenatal care and confided in health care workers about prior use of painkillers and her efforts to end that use on her own. Instead of commending Beltran for her progress, her medical practitioners reported her to the state Department of Human Services and she was arrested on July 18, 2013, by Wisconsin law enforcement officials.

Beltran was forcibly taken into custody when she was 14 weeks pregnant, put into handcuffs and shackles and brought to a court hearing. Although a lawyer had already been appointed to represent her fetus, Beltran had no right to counsel — and therefore had no attorney — at the court appearance which resulted in her long-term detention. Without testimony from any medical expert or without giving Beltran any chance to challenge any allegations against her, a family court referee ordered Beltran to be detained at an inpatient drug treatment program two hours from her home and from her prenatal care provider.

Beltran filed a complaint in federal court, gaining national press attention to her detention. After that, the state allowed her to leave in-patient treatment and, subsequently, the state dropped the petition against Beltran. By that time, however, she had been detained against her wishes far from family for more than 70 days.

It was on the ground that Beltran had eventually been released and the charges against her dropped that the federal court this week dismissed the case as moot. So the court did not rule on the merits of Beltran’s complaint.

However, the court ruling acknowledged that “if Beltran’s allegations are true, what happened to her is extremely disturbing.”

“We are disappointed that the court refused to address the constitutionality of the law, and instead avoided reaching a decision about a statute that permits the State to rip pregnant women from their homes, endangering them and their future children.” said Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women and a member of Beltran’s legal team.

She added that “the law does not even give pregnant women the right to counsel at the initial stages of the proceedings against them and most of the women who are detained while pregnant will have difficulty finding lawyers able to bring constitutional claims.”

The court suggested, however, that another civil rights action, potentially representing a class of women brought within the ambit of the law, might not present the same mootness issues. Beltran is currently considering her legal options in the wake of the decision, according to a news release.

Walker: Son witnessing same-sex wedding isn’t a policy statement

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker says his 19-year-old son’s decision to be a witness at a relative’s same-sex marriage isn’t a policy statement.

The potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate and an incumbent candidate in the governor’s race this fall was asked on July 8 about his son Alex’s decision to be a witness to the June 9 wedding in Waukesha County. The marriage was between the first cousin of Walker’s wife Tonette and her female partner.

Walker says he was aware that his son was attending the wedding, but Walker himself was in New York at the time of the ceremony.

Walker says of Alex’s decision to be a witness, “He doesn’t need my blessing to do anything he does.”

Walker is a longtime opponent of same-sex marriages and is defending the state’s ban that a federal court judge last has ruled unconstitutional.

U.S. appeals court hears challenge to Virginia’s gay marriage ban

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on May 13 heard oral arguments in what could be a landmark case for marriage equality and a debate on whether gay and lesbian couples have the right to marry under the U.S. Constitution.

In February, ruling in Bostic v. Schaefer, a federal judge said that Virginia’s prohibition against same-sex marriage is unconstitutional — a violation of the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the 14th Amendment. That ruling has reached the appeals court.

Due Process Clauses of the 14th Amendment. That ruling has reached the appeals court.

The gay couples involved in the case are represented by Theodore B. Olson and David Boies, who were the lead attorneys for the American Foundation for Equal Rights in the challenge to California’s Proposition 8. In that case, the anti-gay ban was overturned in federal court.

Olson said on May 13, “Today, the Fourth Circuit heard precisely why our plaintiffs and gay men and lesbians across the country are entitled to exercise their fundamental right to marry. Our plaintiffs have shared decades of love and commitment, and they desire nothing more than to have their home state recognize those relationships.

Boies, in a statement, added, “Our plaintiffs represent thousands of Virginians — and millions of Americans — who have been denied their fundamental right to marry the person whom they love. These discriminatory laws excluding loving gay and lesbian couples from marriage violate their personal freedom and cause them and their families serious harm.”

The case also involves attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Virginia, Lambda Legal and the law firm Jenner and Block. The attorneys represent a certified class of all same-sex couples in the state who originally had filed a class action suit seeking to overturn Virginia’s ban on gay marriage.

The suit was filed in August on behalf of Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff of Staunton, Virginia, and Christy Berghoff and Victoria Kidd of Winchester, Virginia.

“We’re hopeful that we’ll finally be able to pledge our love to each other like any other couple that’s ready to make that commitment,” said Harris. “Jessi and I are completely devoted to each other, and it’s important to us and to our son that our family is recognized in Virginia with all the dignity and protections that only come with marriage.”

The appeals court panel that heard the arguments consisted of Judge Henry F. Floyd, Judge Roger L. Gregory and Judge Paul V. Niemeyer.

The states in the court’s jurisdiction include Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

“All across the country courts are recognizing what a majority of Virginians already know — that it’s unfair to exclude same sex couples from marriage,” said James Esseks of the ACLU. “Today brings us one step closer to the day when all families are able to marry in their home states. Every family should know that they will be able to care for each other no matter what.”

Man loses same-sex harassment case

The Los Angeles Police Department does not have to pay $2 million for firing a traffic cop who made unsubstantiated sexual harassment charges against a male supervisor, reports Courthouse News Service.

Officer Richard Joaquin said he refused to go on a date with Sgt. James Sands, so Sands retaliated against him in 2005.

During an Internal Affairs investigation, Joaquin described about 14 months of questionable interactions with Sands. Sands allegedly complimented Joaquin’s and other men’s bodies, and he often showed up to watch Joaquin at traffic stops.

CNS reports Sands also allegedly made flirtatious comments, such as asking Joaquin if he planned to take a shower or if they could talk on the phone when Joaquin had “desk duty.”

When Internal Affairs concluded that Joaquin’s harassment claims were unfounded, however, Sands filed his own complaint against Joaquin. The department then held a Board of Rights hearing, which found that Joaquin had filed a false complaint and recommended dismissal.

After the police chief accepted the board’s firing recommendation, Joaquin sought review in superior court, where a judge found in Joaquin’s favor.

The department reinstated Joaquin in 2009, but it reassigned him to a different division and has not promoted yet him to sergeant.

Joaquin in turn sued the department for wrongful retaliatory termination in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act. A jury ultimately awarded him $2 million for lost wages and emotional distress, but California’s Second Appellate District reversed the verdict this week, according to the CNS report.