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Federal judge rules California lethal injection protocol
Court Feed News | 2006/12/16 13:43

A federal judge issued a memorandum of intended decision Friday, concluding that California's lethal injection procedure creates "an undue and unnecessary risk" of cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution. The memorandum came in the case of condemned killer Michael Morales, who argued that it was not certain that the chemical cocktail to be used in his lethal injection would not prevent him from experiencing extreme pain during the process.

Morales' execution was postponed indefinitely in February after a court ruling that medical professionals must monitor executions by lethal injection to be sure that the inmate feels no pain. The ruling imposed a virtual moratorium on executions in California as anesthesiologists refused to take part in the execution.

In his memorandum Friday, US District Judge Jeremy Fogel wrote that:

At the present time, ... Defendants' implementation of California's lethal-injection protocol lacks both reliability and transparency. In light of the substantial questions raised by the records of previous executions, Defendants' actions and failures to act have resulted in an undue and unnecessary risk of an Eighth Amendment violation. This is intolerable under the Constitution.

Fogel set a 30-day deadline for the state to determine whether the lethal injection protocol would be modified.



Merck Wins Federal VIOXX Product Liability Case
Court Feed News | 2006/12/15 17:18

A federal jury in New Orleans returned a verdict in favor of pharmaceutical giant Merck Wednesday, concluding that the company did not fail to adequately warn a Tennessee man's doctors about risks associated with the painkiller Vioxx. Anthony Dedrick suffered a heart attack after taking Vioxx, and his lawyers argued that Merck failed to sufficiently warn his doctors about the risks of taking the drug and that the lack of a warning caused the heart attacks. Both claims were rejected by the jury.

"The jury determined that Merck acted appropriately in the development and marketing of VIOXX and that VIOXX did not substantially contribute to Mr. Dedrick's heart attack," said Phil Beck, of the law firm of Bartlit Beck, Merck's lead trial lawyer in the case, Dedrick v. Merck.

"He had multiple risk factors for a heart attack including a family history of cardiac problems, heavy smoking for many years and he had high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes," Mr. Beck said. "In addition, he had significant atherosclerosis before he began taking VIOXX. Unfortunately, Mr. Dedrick would have suffered a heart attack whether he was taking VIOXX or not."

U.S. District Court Judge Eldon E. Fallon of the Eastern District of Louisiana, who is overseeing all of the federal court litigation, presided over the trial.

Merck faces thousands of lawsuits over the drug, which was pulled from the market in September 2004 after a study showed that it could double the risk of heart attack or stroke if taken for more than 18 months. This is the fifth federal trial to reach a verdict; Merck has won four of those cases, with the fifth decided in favor of the plaintiff. A federal judge, however, threw out the $50 million jury verdict in the Merck loss as "grossly excessive" and ordered a new trial to determine damages.

Merck won the first case, Plunkett v. Merck, in February. The damages portion of the verdict in favor of the plaintiff in the second federal case, Barnett v. Merck, was overturned by Judge Fallon. Merck won the third case, Smith v. Merck, in September and the fourth case, Mason v. Merck, in November. Last month, US District Judge Eldon Fallon, who is responsible for co-ordinating pre-trial procedures in the federal cases, rejected a bid to have all federal lawsuits against Merck brought in connection with Vioxx consolidated in a single national class action against the company.



New York City Public School Employee Pleads Guilty
Court Feed News | 2006/12/15 16:37

A New York City Public School custodial engineer pleaded guilty today to conspiring to defraud the New York City Department of Education and its predecessor, the Board of Education of the City of New York (collectively NYCDOE), the Department of Justice announced.

Kenneth Loeffler, a custodial engineer and resident of Valley Stream, N.Y., pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Manhattan to participating in a conspiracy to commit mail fraud in connection with a kickback scheme used to defraud NYCDOE. Beginning in approximately July 1997 and continuing until at least June 2003, Loeffler received approximately $6,000 in kickbacks in exchange for allocating contracts for industrial cleaning and maintenance supplies to companies associated with his two unnamed co-conspirators. These kickbacks were paid through cash, dinners and tickets to sporting and theater events. “The Antitrust Division will prosecute anyone who subverts the competitive process, particularly where public monies are involved,” said Thomas O. Barnett, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department’s Antitrust Division.

As a NYCDOE custodian, Loeffler was responsible for purchasing goods and services necessary for the maintenance of NYCDOE schools to which he was assigned. In July 1999, NYCDOE began requiring its custodians to engage in competitive bidding before making purchases or awarding contracts worth more than $250 to vendors who were not on NYCDOE’s list of approved vendors and to award contracts to the bidder who provided the “maximum quality for the minimum price.” Also under the competitive bidding policy, employees are required to submit bid summary sheets for each purchase and to get written bids for purchases or contracts worth more than $5,000.

After NYCDOE’s implementation of the competitive bidding policy, Loeffler accepted kickbacks in exchange for ensuring that he would not invite potential competitors who were not co-conspirators to bid on contracts awarded by NYCDOE schools for industrial cleaning and maintenance supplies, the Department said. Also, the Department said that some of the kickbacks Loeffler received were the result of his participation in a phony invoice scheme whereby NYCDOE paid for supplies delivered only in part or never delivered at all.

Today’s case is the second to arise out of an ongoing investigation of fraud and bidding irregularities in the award of contracts for industrial cleaning and maintenance supplies being conducted by the Antitrust Division, the Office of the Special Commissioner of Investigation for the New York City School District and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In November 2006, a former NYCDOE custodial engineer pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges in connection with participating in a similar kickback scheme.

Loeffler is charged with violating 18 U.S.C. § 371, which carries a maximum penalty of five years of imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. The maximum fine may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victim, if either of those amounts exceeds the statutory maximum fine.



Former Enron CEO reporting to prison
Court Feed News | 2006/12/13 17:27

Former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling is expected to report to a minimum security federal prison in Waseca, Minnesota to begin a 24-year sentence for fraud, conspiracy and insider trading after a three-judge panel of the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled late Tuesday against his application for bail pending appeal of his sentence. Skilling had earlier been allowed to postpone his prison date while the bail application was considered. Judge Patrick Higginbotham wrote for the court: Our review has disclosed serious frailties in Skilling's conviction..., difficulties brought by a decision of this court handed down after the jury's verdict, as well as less formidable questions regarding the giving of jury instruction on deliberate ignorance. Yet Skilling raises no substantial question that is likely to result in the reversal of his convictions on all the charged counts. We are not then persuaded that any resulting sentence will likely exceed the expected duration of his appeal.



Overriding of gun-bill veto kills local laws
Court Feed News | 2006/12/13 17:25

The Ohio Senate voted Tuesday to override outgoing Gov. Bob Taft's veto of a bill that will wipe out local gun laws, marking the first time in 29 years the legislature has rejected a gubernatorial veto.

Members of the Ohio Senate voted 21-12 Tuesday to override outgoing Ohio Governor Robert Taft's veto of a revised concealed-carry gun law that Taft claimed would preempt local gun-related legislation in some 80 Ohio communities. The House approved an override last week, making this the first time since 1977 that the Ohio legislature has successfully overcome a veto by the state's chief executive.

In his veto message last week, Taft noted that the new legislation would effectively replace several stricter local legal regimes, including assault weapons bans in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Toledo, and emphasized the importance of allowing local communities to make laws appropriate to their own challenges and circumstances. Supporters of the new legislation have emphasized the importance of statewide legal uniformity.

A majority of respondents to an Ohio survey said overriding local gun laws was a bad idea, according to a poll released Tuesday by the Hamden, Conn.-Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

The vote was the first override by the legislature since lawmakers rejected a veto by Gov. James Rhodes of an election revision bill in 1977.

"The governor strongly believes his veto was the right thing to do and that our cities should have the ability to protect their citizens through reasonable firearms regulation," said Taft spokesman Mark Rickel.

The Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, which opposes concealed carry, accused lawmakers of giving in to the powerful and politically generous National Rifle Association.

"The passage of HB 347 and the override of Gov. Taft's veto is an appalling arrogance against the will of and respect for the people of Ohio to govern themselves," coalition Executive Director Toby Hoover said in a statement.



Judge rules US currency discriminates against blind
Court Feed News | 2006/12/13 16:49

The US Department of Justice filed an appeal Tuesday against a November 28 ruling  by US District Judge James Robertson declaring that "the Treasury Department’s failure to design and issue paper currency that is readily distinguishable to blind and visually impaired individuals violates section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act." Section 504 provides that no disabled person shall be "subjected to discrimination . . . under any program or activity conducted by any Executive agency."

Government lawyers argued in court papers that printing readily distinguishable bill denominations at the urging of the American Council of the Blind would put undue burdens on the vending machine industry and would impose significant costs on the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which produces American paper money. The government also argued that blind persons could already use personal readers to distinguish bills or opt to make payments by credit card instead.

The United States is the only nation of some 180 using paper currency that produces undifferentiated same-size same-color bills in all denominations. Approximately 1.3 million Americans are legally blind.



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