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Alaska denied oil check benefits to gay couples, dependents
Business Law Info | 2021/04/15 17:33
Alaska discriminated against some same-sex spouses for years in wrongfully denying them benefits by claiming their unions were not recognized even after courts struck down same-sex marriage bans, court documents obtained by The Associated Press show.

The agency that determines eligibility for the yearly oil wealth check paid to nearly all Alaska residents denied a dividend for same-sex spouses or dependents of military members stationed in other states for five years after a federal court invalidated Alaska’s ban on same-sex marriage in 2014, and the Supreme Court legalized the unions nationwide in June 2015, the documents show.

In one email from July 2019, a same-sex spouse living out-of-state with his military husband was denied a check because “unfortunately the state of Alaska doesn’t recognize same sex marriage yet,” employee Marissa Requa wrote to a colleague, ending the sentence with a frown face emoji.

This Permanent Fund Dividend Division practice continued until Denali Smith, who was denied benefits appealed and asked the state to start including her lawyer in its correspondence.

Smith later sued the state, seeking an order declaring that state officials violated the federal court decision and Smith’s constitutional rights to equal protection and due process

Smith and the state on Wednesday settled the lawsuit. Alaska admitted denying benefits to same-sex military spouses and dependents for five years in violation of the permanent injunction put in place by the 2014 U.S. District Court decision. The state also vowed to no longer use the outdated state law, to deny military spouses and dependents oil checks going forward, and updated enforcement regulations.

There were no financial terms to the settlement. In fact, Smith had to pay $400 out of pocket to file the federal lawsuit to get her oil check, and her attorney worked pro bono.

In Alaska, the oil wealth check is seen as an entitlement that people use to buy things like new TVs or snowmobiles, fund college savings accounts or, in rural Alaska, weather high heating and food costs. The nest-egg fund, seeded with oil money, has grown into billions of dollars. A portion traditionally goes toward the checks, but the amount varies. Last year, nearly every single resident received $992. The year before, the amount was $1,606.

About 800 pages of emails provided by the state for the lawsuit show a clear misunderstanding or outright disregard of the 2014 precedent and reluctance to reach out to the attorney general’s office for guidance.


NYC corruption case prompts dismissal of 90 drug convictions
Business Law Info | 2021/04/08 21:43
Prosecutors are asking a New York City court to throw out 90 drug convictions following a review of arrests involving a former narcotics detective charged with corruption.

The mostly low-level cases investigated by Joseph Franco while a NYPD officer in Brooklyn from 2004 to 2011 should be vacated because of his ongoing criminal case in Manhattan, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said Wednesday. A 2019 indictment accuses Franco of perjury and other charges alleging he framed innocent people.

The review of the mostly low-level Brooklyn cases dating back a decade or more found no similar misconduct on Franco’s part or that the defendants were innocent, prosecutors said Wednesday. But because of the Manhattan case, “I have lost confidence in his work,” Gonzalez said in a statement.

“I cannot in good faith stand by convictions that principally relied on his testimony,” he added.

Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge of the Legal Aid Society’s criminal defense practice, lauded Gonzalez’s decision to vacate the convictions. She urged other district attorneys in the city to perform similar reviews.

Franco “touched thousands of cases throughout New York City, and we may never know the full extent of the damage he caused and lives he upended,” Luongo said in a statement.

During a virtual hearing on Wednesday morning, a judge began the process of vacating the cases at the request of defense attorneys. At issue were 27 felony and 63 misdemeanor convictions, most resulting from guilty pleas.



Governor swears in newest Rhode Island state court judge
Business Law Info | 2021/03/26 09:19
The newest judge to the Rhode Island Superior Court was sworn in Saturday.

Democratic Gov. Dan McKee presided over the swearing in of R. David Cruise, a longtime political operative and state senator, at the Boys & Girls Club location in Cumberland.

McKee, a former Cumberland mayor who has known Cruise for years, said in a statement that he’s an “honest, fair and thoughtful leader who brings decades of legal and government experience to the bench.”

Cruise is a former state senator and Cumberland town councilor. In recent years, he’s served as former Gov. Gina Raimondo’s director of legislative affairs, former administrative magistrate with the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal and chief of staff to the Rhode Island Senate, among other posts, according to McKee’s office.

In the 1990s, Cruise worked in the commerce department under President Bill Clinton and chief of staff to former Governor Bruce Sundlun. In the 1980s, he was a state senator and before that served on the Cumberland Town Council.

Cruise, who graduated from Providence College and the Suffolk University School of Law, replaces former Superior Court Judge Bennett Gallo, who retired in February.

The Rhode Island Superior Court has 22 judges and five magistrates. It handles both civil and criminal matters.


Washington judge taking time off after comments on Black man
Business Law Info | 2021/03/16 22:22
A judge in southwestern Washington said he will take time off to reflect on his behavior after he came under pressure for making critical comments about a Black man killed last year by police.

Clark County District Court Judge Darvin Zimmerman made the announcement Tuesday following condemnations from county District Court judges, a decision by prosecutors to seek his removal from their criminal cases and a call from a prominent law firm for him to resign, The Columbian reported. Zimmerman said he will determine what he can do to help heal community he has served.

Last week, Zimmerman described Kevin Peterson Jr. as “the Black guy they were trying to make an angel out of,” and said, among other comments, he believed Peterson “was so dumb.”

Court records say three Clark County deputies shot Peterson, of Camas, on Oct. 29 after authorities said he sold Xanax pills to a confidential informant in Hazel Dell. Deputies fired 34 rounds at the 21-year-old, who died after being hit four times. Peterson was carrying a gun but investigators have found no evidence that he fired it.

Zimmerman’s son was on scene as a member of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office but didn’t fire his weapon. In a story by The Columbian on Monday, Zimmerman told the newspaper, “any time we lose a life, it is a tragedy; Kevin Peterson is no exception.” But he did not apologize for his statements or describe them as racist.

The judge said Peterson’s father had told a police chaplain he felt the shooting was justified but, “the next day, he wakes up with dollar signs in his eyes and George Floyd’s attorneys had already contacted him.”

In a statement Tuesday issued on Zimmerman’s behalf by attorney Josephine C. Townsend, he said, “I have always prided myself in being open minded, fair and just in my duties as a judicial officer. I do understand that even my personal comments, when made public – bring about an outcry of concern because I am a judicial officer.”

The statement said Zimmerman deeply regrets his comments that have caused divisiveness and concern in the community.

Townsend said Zimmerman self-reported his statements to the Commission on Judicial Conduct over the weekend, which has the power to investigate the comments and recommend that the Washington Supreme Court take action against him.

“I want my colleagues and the public to know that I have accepted responsibility for my actions,” Zimmerman’s statement said.

In the meantime, his leave from the bench will be coordinated through District Court’s presiding judge, Townsend said.


Anchorage companies, man fined for clean air violations
Business Law Info | 2021/03/02 06:28
Act involving asbestos work at a shopping center more than five years ago, a judge said.

The work was performed at the Northern Lights Center in Anchorage, the former location of an REI store. Reports of potential asbestos exposure at the time closed the store for a day back in 2015, authorities said.

U.S. District Court Judge Joshua Kindred sentenced Tae Ryung Yoon, 64, on Friday to probation, fined him $35,000 and said he owes $30,000 in restitution for medical monitoring of the four workers who claimed they were exposed to asbestos, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

The owners of Yoo Jin Management Company Ltd. and Mush Inn Corp. were also sentenced after agreeing to plead guilty to a charge of violating the Clean Air Act’s Asbestos Work Practice Standards. Both companies are owned by Chun Yoo, who is in his 80s and has “serious medical conditions,” and his wife, attorney Kevin Fitzgerald said. The couple still owns the center.

The case centers on workers who said they were exposed to asbestos during improperly conducted renovations involving an old boiler room. The work was stopped when two of the workers raised concerns.

High levels of asbestos exposure can cause lung disease or cancer.

Prosecutors said in a statement that the building owners and manager relied on a contractor who was not a certified asbestos abatement contractor and “failed to inform the contractor of the possibility of asbestos in the old boiler room.”

Fitzgerald argued that an assessment indicated no evidence of asbestos when his clients bought the center in 2006. Yoon was the building’s property manager at the time.

Documents show the boilers were replaced by another company in 2012 and the old ones were removed in 2014 to make more room. Some of the workers took photos of what they thought was asbestos and emailed them to the property management company that employed Yoon.




Labor unions to hand out masks outside House sessions
Business Law Info | 2021/02/24 04:07
Labor union members plan to hand out personal protective equipment outside the sports complex where members of the New Hampshire House will be meeting this week.

The 400-member House is meeting Wednesday and Thursday in Bedford, where they will sit 10 to 12 feet apart to prevent spread of COVID-19. Democrats with serious medical conditions went to court seeking remote access to the sessions, but a federal judge declined Monday to order  Republican Speaker Sherm Packard to accommodate them.

While the House will provide members with masks and hand sanitizer, members of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades and the AFL-CIO of New Hampshire also will be at the facility’s entrances with similar supplies, including mask and gloves.

One New Hampshire school is planning to hold remote learning for two weeks following the winter vacation, despite Gov. Chris Sununu’s executive order requiring schools to offer in-person instruction to all students for at least two days, starting March 8.

The decision regarding Profile School in Bethlehem, which would be in effect as of March 1, is not expected to conflict with the order, Kim Koprowski, chairperson of the school board, said Monday, the Caledonian-Record reported. The school serves students in grades 7 through 12.

“My understanding of it is there were a handful of schools in the state that are totally remote and he is trying to push those to go to two days a week,” she said. “Since we have been doing that all year, we’ve been face to face, with the exception of a remote period. You could call us hybrid. We should be good.”

A message seeking comment was left Tuesday with the state Education Department. The executive order allows schools to return to remote learning for 48 hours if necessary due to COVID-19 infections. After that, state approval would be required.

Koprowski said that although COVID-19 numbers are trending down, “they are still not at the level they were last fall before Thanksgiving and Christmas.”



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