Lawsuit filed: Police chief condones white officers’ racism, abuse

ASSOCIATED PRESS — According to a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday, white police officers in a Washington, D.C., suburb have used racist slurs, circulated text messages expressing a desire to “reinstitute lynching” and put a black face and Afro wig on a training dummy.  Civil rights groups sued Maryland’s Prince George’s County and its police chief on behalf of several current and former officers. The suit accuses police officials of condoning racist, abusive behavior by white officers and retaliating against black and Hispanic officers who complain about misconduct. The suit claims the county’s police chief, Henry Stawinski, has allowed racism to “thrive” in his department since his appointment nearly two years ago. Read the full article >>

Lawsuit filed over rule banning smoking inside public housing

A lawsuit was filed challenging the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s rule that directs all state and local housing authorities to ban smoking inside and out of public housing facilities nationwide. HUD’s anti-smoking regulation was finalized during the Obama Administration with an effective date of compliance no later than July 30, 2018. Public housing tenants, many of whom are veterans or minorities, are subject to eviction for violating the new regulation. Read the full story here. 

Municipality overbooks electronic monitoring units, gets sued

A lawsuit filed in Ohio claims that at least 13 people who have posted bond are still in jail because the county ran out of monitoring units. The lawsuit says Martin has posted bond, but he is required by a judge’s order to wear an electronic monitoring unit and all of the units are currently in use. According to the lawsuit, the sheriff’s office has told Martin’s family that he is 13th on the waiting list. Read the full story here.

Federal and State Courts Deny Daubert and Kemp Motions and Set Stage for Abilify Trials Over Compulsive Behaviors

gavelHundreds of Plaintiffs Nationwide Claim Drug Led to Compulsive Gambling, Sex, Eating The United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida’s Chief Judge M. Casey Rodgers has released a redacted version of its January 22, 2018 order denying summary judgment against plaintiffs’ claims that the drug Abilify caused them to engage in compulsive behaviors. The plaintiffs, led on the issue by the national trial firm Robins Kaplan LLP® with significant contributions from other MDL leadership counsel, defeated defendants’ arguments that the cases lacked a credible scientific basis. The federal court denied defendants’ motion to exclude with respect to plaintiffs’ leading experts, finding “most of plaintiffs’ evidence on general causation – including epidemiology (i.e., Etminan Study), background risk, biological plausibility, disproportionality analyses, in vivo and in vitro studies, voluminous case and adverse event reports (including dose-response, dechallenge and recehallenge events), FDA materials, defendants’ investigative findings, and plaintiffs’ experts Bradford-Hill and weight-of-the-evidence analyses – satisfies Rule 702 and Daubert…” The decision clears the way for a bellwether trial against defendants Bristol-Myers Squibb, Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co. and Otsuka America Pharmaceutical Inc., scheduled for June 2018 in Pensacola. Robins Kaplan also represents approximately 50 plaintiffs in state court in New Jersey before Judge James DeLuca. On January 24, 2018, Judge DeLuca issued an order denying defendants’ Kemp motions. Judge DeLuca found as well that plaintiffs’ experts had a sound scientific basis for their opinions that Abilify causes compulsive gambling and compulsive behaviors. Defendants have sought permission from the appellate court to file an interlocutory appeal of that decision. “We’re thankful to the courts for their close attention to this case, and look forward to trying these claims before Florida and New Jersey juries beginning in June,” said Tara Sutton, partner and chair of the Mass Tort practice at Robins Kaplan, which serves as lead counsel to the New Jersey plaintiffs. Plaintiffs in the 700-plus federal court cases and 50-plus New Jersey cases allege that taking Abilify, a treatment for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression which is also prescribed off-label, led them to engage in compulsive gambling, compulsive shopping, hypersexuality, and binge eating. Robins Kaplan has also been appointed to the leadership team in the federal multidistrict litigation (MDL), which involves nearly 600 plaintiffs. In the MDL proceeding, Sutton, who was lead counsel in the Daubert hearing, also serves on the Joint Settlement Committee, Gary Wilson serves as co-lead counsel and serves on the Executive Committee, and Munir Meghjee was named Plaintiffs’ Federal/State Liaison counsel. The New Jersey litigation is Jonathan Yun v. Bristol-Myers Squibb, et al., pending before Judge James J. DeLuca, and the MDL is In re Abilify (Aripiprazole Products Liability Litigation, MDL no. 2734), pending before the Hon. Chief Judge M. Casey Rodgers. In addition to Sutton, Wilson, and Meghjee, other Robins Kaplan attorneys representing the plaintiffs in these matters include Rayna KesslerJulie Reynolds Eric Lindenfeld, and Jason DePauw. Rodgers Daubert decision redacted public version[2][4][1]

ACLU Sues Georgia County Over Discriminatory, Wealth-Based Bail System

death rowThe American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Georgia filed a federal class-action lawsuit today against Glynn County, Georgia, for violating the constitutional rights of people arrested for misdemeanors. The lawsuit was brought against the county itself, as well as the county’s sheriff, chief magistrate judge, and court-appointed public defender, and seeks an immediate and permanent change to an unconstitutional cash bail system that discriminates against the people who are financially strapped. Those who cannot afford to pay money bail amounts determined by the county’s bail schedule are detained indefinitely, while those who face the same charges but can afford to pay the money bail amounts are freed until trial. Low-income people are also denied effective, meaningful representation at bail hearings where an attorney could argue for their release. “People who cannot afford to pay bail or hire a private attorney face an impossible choice — plead guilty or face loss of their families, jobs, and homes as they wait for their cases to move through the system,” said Andrea Woods, Equal Justice Works Fellowship attorney with the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project. “A person’s wealth should never decide their freedom, but that’s exactly what’s happening in Georgia and across the country. In Glynn County, the contract public defender and prosecutors alike refuse to grant people the presumption of innocence and ignore the government’s due process obligation to ensure that release upon arrest is the norm.” The lawsuit argues that Glynn County’s system of money bail violates the Constitution because it keeps people in jail if they can’t afford bail while allowing those who can pay to go home to their families, jobs, homes, and communities. With each day in jail, the person’s chances for a fair trial diminish as evidence and witnesses disappear, and many plead guilty even when innocent just to go home. “The Glynn County court system holds hostage the freedom of individuals arrested for misdemeanors, leaving those who are financially strapped unable to afford the predetermined ransom,” said Sean J. Young, legal director of the ACLU of Georgia. The suit, filed on behalf of two plaintiffs representing a class in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, accuses officials in the county of operating a two-tiered system of justice based on wealth, in violation of the Right-to-Counsel and Due Process clauses of the 6th and 14th Amendment and Equal Protection Clause to the 14th Amendment. The lawsuit filed today includes a complaint, a motion for class certification, and a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. The bail amounts for the suit’s plaintiffs are each $1,256. Neither of the plaintiffs can afford to hire a criminal defense attorney and are thus eligible for representation from the public defender. Plaintiff Margery Mock is incarcerated on a $1,256 bond on an alleged criminal trespass charge from trying to visit a relative at a motel. Her possessions are currently in a storage unit, which she was living in at the time of her arrest because she does not have stable housing, and risks losing all of her property due to her wealth-based incarceration. Glynn County’s system of wealth-based detention is arbitrary, the lawsuit argues. Each offense has an assigned dollar amount. If a person can arrange to pay the full amount to the sheriff in cash or property, or can arrange for payment through a bail bond company or another third party, the sheriff releases that person automatically without evaluating whether the person will flee before trial or endanger the community. Those who cannot pay the pre-determined bail amount must remain in jail, waiting days or weeks for their first hearing. The lawsuit also targets the deficient misdemeanor public defender system in the county. Glynn County only pays one lawyer to represent everyone accused of a misdemeanor who cannot afford to hire a private attorney. This contract defender does not visit clients who are stuck in jail, file motions on their behalf, or appear at hearings to request lower bail. The contract attorney instead only meets clients when they plead guilty to sign off on sentencing paperwork. The lawsuit against Glynn County is a continuation of efforts from the ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice to end wealth-based bail detention in Georgia and across the nation. The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice — an unprecedented effort to reduce the U.S. jail and prison population by 50 percent and to combat racial disparities in the criminal justice system — has launched a new initiative focused on bolstering the movement to end money bail and eliminate wealth-based pretrial detention through legislative advocacy, voter education, and litigation. The lawsuit in Glynn County is the third related filing by the ACLU in 2018 alone, with many to come across the country in the effort to end our overreliance on the money bail system. Today’s complaint can be found here: https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/mock-et-al-v-glynn-county-et-al-complaint

Dallas Co., Texas sued over bail practices

death rowCivil Rights Corps, the Texas Fair Defense Project, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Texas filed a federal class action lawsuit against Dallas County, Texas, the sheriff, and the county’s judges and magistrates, for violating the constitutional rights of people arrested for misdemeanors and felonies. Those who cannot afford to pay money bail amounts determined by the county’s bail schedule are detained indefinitely, while those who face the same charges but can afford to pay the money bail amounts are freed until trial. “No person should be kept in a cage just because she doesn’t have enough money to make a payment,” said Civil Rights Corps attorney Elizabeth Rossi. “The decision to throw a person who is presumed innocent in a jail cell is a serious one. And a person’s access to money should not be the only factor that determines whether she is free or is in jail.” Dallas County’s system of money bail violates the Constitution because it keeps people in jail if they can’t afford bail while allowing those who can pay to go home to their families, jobs, homes, and communities. With each day in jail, the person’s chances for a fair trial diminish as evidence and witnesses disappear, and many plead guilty even when innocent, just to go home. “It’s time for Dallas to create a post-arrest system that upholds due process and equal protection, and honors the presumption of innocence,” said Susanne Pringle of the Texas Fair Defense Project. “A fair pretrial system is also a safer pretrial system for the entire community. Dallas County’s current unconstitutional practice of holding anybody who cannot afford to make an arbitrary payment makes everybody in the county less safe.” The suit, filed on behalf of six plaintiffs in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, accuses officials in the county of operating a two-tiered system of justice based on wealth, in violation of the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The bail amounts for the suit’s plaintiffs range from $500 to $60,000. Of the six plaintiffs, nearly all are unemployed and living in poverty; one was working before his arrest and now fears losing that job because he is in jail. Plaintiff Shannon Daves, age 47, is homeless. On January 17, she was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor. She cannot afford the $500 money bail required by the court’s bail schedule. Ms. Daves is a trans woman and has been held in solitary confinement at the Dallas County Jail since her arrest because she is trans. “In Dallas County, the government rips people out of their lives and throws them in jail, for no other reason than their inability to pay money bail,” said Brandon Buskey, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project. “That jail time can bankrupt a family. Dallas County hurts not only the people who can’t afford its money bail, but those who can barely afford it—the families who wipe out their savings or fall victim to the bail bond industry’s predatory loan schemes just to keep a loved one out of jail.” Dallas County’s system of wealth-based detention is arbitrary. Each offense has an assigned dollar amount. If a person can arrange to pay the full amount to the sheriff in cash or property, or can arrange for payment through a bail bond company or another third party, the sheriff releases that person automatically, without evaluating whether the person will flee before trial or endanger the community. Those who cannot pay the pre-determined bail amount must remain in jail, waiting days or weeks a release hearing. Studies show that money bail systems like Dallas County’s make it more likely that innocent people will plead guilty before trial so they can get out of jail. Studies show that keeping someone in jail before trial increases the likelihood that, when released, they’ll be charged with another offense and return to the system. Nationwide, as in Dallas County, a person’s ability to pay bail is the most important factor in determining whether someone is released or detained following arrest. Yet research demonstrates that money bail does not improve public safety or court appearance rates. Non-financial conditions of release—like unsecured bond, reporting obligations, and phone and text message reminders of court dates—are more effective at ensuring public safety and court appearances. In Dallas County, money bail has a devastating impact. Nearly one out of every six people in the county lives in poverty. “The situation in Dallas County Jail is a crisis,” said Trisha Trigilio, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas. “Like hundreds of people Dallas keeps locked in jail every day, our clients were never asked if they could afford the bail they were assigned. A judicial system where the amount of money in a bank account is the only thing standing between a defendant and her freedom is not a system interested in dispensing justice.” Over the past two years, lawsuits have successfully challenged wealth-based detention, resulting in reform and judicial orders condemning these practices in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, and Texas. In 2014, an Alabama federal judge held in a case challenging money bail practices in a municipal court that “[j]ustice that is blind to poverty and indiscriminately forces defendants to pay for their physical liberty is no justice at all.” The lawsuit against Dallas County is a continuation of efforts to end wealth-based bail detention in Texas and across the nation. The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice — an unprecedented effort to reduce the U.S. jail and prison population by 50% and to combat racial disparities in the criminal justice system — has launched a new initiative focused on bolstering the movement to end money bail and eliminate wealth-based pretrial detention through legislative advocacy, voter education, and litigation. The lawsuit in Dallas County is our second bail related filing by the ACLU in 2018 alone, with many to come across the country as we work towards much-needed reforms to the money bail system. Relying on longstanding Supreme Court precedent holding that no person should be kept in jail just because she cannot afford to make a payment, Civil Rights Corps attorneys have brought groundbreaking class action lawsuits across the country, challenging the scourge of money bail and shedding light on the traumatic experience of being jailed for being poor. These cases have prompted dozens of jurisdictions around the country to end their unconstitutional wealth-based pretrial detention policies, and they have provided momentum for a pretrial reform movement that is rippling throughout the United States and changing the way our legal culture and our society think about wealth-based human caging. The Texas Fair Defense Project (“TFDP”) has worked to improve pretrial practices across Texas through both litigation and advocacy. This lawsuit is TFDP’s second lawsuit challenging unconstitutional money-bail systems in Texas. For the complaint and more information about the case: https://www.aclu.org/cases/daves-v-dallas-county

Podcast: When court-ordered rehab becomes slave labor

An Oklahoma rehab center is being sued after some of the people sent there said they were forced to work at a chicken plant that one described as “a slave camp.” Christian Alcoholics & Addicts in Recovery, or CAAIR, was supposed to be a year-long rehabilitation treatment that defendants could opt for instead of going to prison. But instead of getting much of any substance abuse treatment at “the Chicken Farm,” they worked for free, with CAAIR getting the pay. And if workers couldn’t keep up or got hurt, they could be threatened with jail. Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting has more on the story and the lawsuit that was filed because of it. You can listen to a podcast of Reveal’s investigation here.

Florida prosecutor sues governor over removal from death penalty cases

Florida State Attorney Aramis Ayala is suing Governor Rick Scott over his removal of her from several first-degree murder cases because she opposes the death penalty. In the federal lawsuit, Ayala says the governor’s action violates her constitutional rights. The cases were reassigned to State Attorney Brad King, who is also a defendant in the lawsuit. Read more on the story in this report at CNN.