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Court to consider fraud investigator in NFL concussion case
Headline News | 2018/05/28 02:27
A federal judge in Philadelphia is scheduled to hear arguments in the NFL's request for a special investigator to look into what the league says are fraudulent claims in a $1 billion concussion settlement.

The league last month cited an independent study it said found that more than 400 claims had been recommended for denial based on evidence of fraud by attorneys, doctors and former players.

Plaintiffs' lawyers contend the league is not awarding settlement funds fast enough. So far, $227 million in claims have been awarded.

The league says attempts to scam the system are responsible for delays. The NFL has asked that the investigator be granted subpoena power.

League officials say a special investigator would help ensure the integrity of the settlement. Arguments are scheduled for Wednesday.


Supreme Court limits warrantless vehicle searches near homes
Headline News | 2018/05/03 02:28
The Supreme Court is putting limits on the ability of police to search vehicles when they do not have a search warrant.

The court sided 8-1 Tuesday with a Virginia man who complained that police walked onto his driveway and pulled back a tarp covering his motorcycle, which turned out to be stolen. They acted without a warrant, relying on a line of Supreme Court cases generally allowing police to search a vehicle without a warrant.

The justices said the automobile exception does not apply when searching vehicles parked adjacent to a home.

The court ruled in the case of Ryan Collins, who was arrested at the home of his girlfriend in Charlottesville, Virginia. Collins had twice eluded police in high-speed chases in which he rode an orange and black motorcycle.

The authorities used Collins' Facebook page to eventually track the motorcycle to his girlfriend's home.

Collins argued that police improperly entered private property uninvited and without a warrant.

Virginia's Supreme Court said the case involved what the Supreme Court has called the "automobile exception," which generally allows police to search a vehicle without a warrant if they believe the vehicle contains contraband.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor said for the court Tuesday that the state court was wrong. Sotomayor said that constitutional protections for a person's home and the area surrounding it, the curtilage, outweigh the police interest in conducting a vehicle search without a warrant.



Court won't reconsider making public family slain autopsies
Headline News | 2018/04/25 17:25
The Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday once again rejected requests for unredacted autopsy reports from the unsolved slayings of eight family members.

The court ruled 5-2 without comment against reconsidering its December decision that the Pike County coroner in southern Ohio does not have to release the reports with complete information.

The case before the court involved seven adults and a teenage boy from the Rhoden family who were found shot to death at four homes near Piketon, in rural southern Ohio, on April 22, 2016. No arrests have been made or suspects identified.

Heavily redacted versions of the autopsy reports released in 2016 showed all but one of the victims were shot multiple times in the head, but details about any other injuries and toxicology test results weren't released.

In the 4-3 December ruling, Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor, writing for the majority, said Ohio law regarding coroner records clearly exempts the redacted material as "confidential law enforcement investigatory records."

Once a criminal investigation ends, confidential information in autopsy reports can become public records, but the process leading to a suspect can sometimes take time, O'Connor wrote.


Taxpayer tab for law firm overseeing Atlantic City hits $4.8M
Headline News | 2018/04/19 00:29
New Jersey taxpayers' tab for the takeover of Atlantic City has reached about $5 million in fees from the law firm former Gov. Chris Christie picked to oversee the gambling resort.

Records obtained Thursday by The Associated Press show the firm of Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi billed the state for $4.8 million going back to the November 2016 takeover of the gambling resort. That's up from reports of $4 million from earlier this year.

The disclosure comes days after Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy announced that government functions overseen by the firm, run by former U.S. senator and Christie ally Jeffrey Chiesa, would revert to the state Department of Community Affairs within 30 days.

Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, who oversees the department, said the price tag was a factor in the decision.

"The cost was of concern to us and was relevant in our decision to bring Atlantic City oversight responsibilities back into DCA," Oliver said in a statement to the AP.

She added that the department is better equipped than an outside law firm to handle the job and that DCA has traditionally overseen financially distressed towns.

Oliver said she did not have an estimate for what the cost to oversee Atlantic City would be for the department, but predicted it would be "significantly less" than what Chiesa billed.

A message left for Chiesa was not returned.

Murphy's announcement said the action would "ensure economic growth and empowerment" for the city and its residents.

Chiesa's work has gotten mixed reviews. Christie, before he left office in January, praised it as a bargain, and Democrats too have given it some positive reviews.

Democratic Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo, whose district includes Atlantic City, gave Chiesa credit for settling a roughly $160 million bill owed to the Borgata for around $70 million.


Ohio court to decide if ex-player can sue over concussions
Headline News | 2018/04/08 01:33
The Ohio Supreme Court will decide whether the widow of a former University of Notre Dame football player can sue the school and the NCAA over allegations her husband was disabled by concussions from his college career in the 1970s.

Steve Schmitz was suffering from dementia and early onset Alzheimer's disease when he and his wife, Yvette, filed a lawsuit in Cuyahoga County in October 2014. The lawsuit alleged both institutions showed "reckless disregard" for the safety of college football players and for their failure to educate and protect players from concussions.

The lawsuit said the link between repeated blows to the head and brain-related injuries and illnesses had been known for decades, but it was not until 2010 that the NCAA required colleges to formulate concussion protocols to remove an athlete from a game or practice and be evaluated by doctors.

Steve Schmitz died in February 2015. The lawsuit said the Cleveland Clinic diagnosed him in 2012 with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a brain disease attributed to receiving numerous concussions.

A judge ruled that too much time had passed for Schmitz to sue, a decision overturned by a state appeals court. The state's high court planned to hear arguments from both sides on Wednesday.

A ruling in favor of Schmitz's widow would allow her to return to court and argue the specific allegations regarding the impact of concussions on her husband, a running back and receiver.

Notre Dame and the NCAA argue the statute of limitations for Schmitz to have sued date back to his playing days when he first realized he suffered head injuries. As such, the two-year window for filing a personal injury claim had long passed, the institutions say.


Court hears case alleging unconstitutional 6th District gerrymander
Headline News | 2018/03/18 04:40
U.S. Supreme Court justices expressed frustration with partisan gerrymandering on Wednesday as they heard arguments in a case challenging Maryland’s 6th Congressional District.

The case, which alleges a Democratic gerrymander in Maryland at the same time justices are considering the constitutionality of an alleged Republican gerrymander in Wisconsin, has some legal experts wondering whether the justices might be on the verge of establishing a standard that would allow judicial intervention in partisan gerrymandering cases for the first time in the court’s history.

The 6th District challenge was brought by seven Maryland residents, including three from Frederick County, who argue that the district — which includes southwestern parts of Frederick County and the city of Frederick — was unconstitutionally gerrymandered to favor Democrats and punish Republicans during the reapportionment process after the 2010 census.

The justices heard arguments in the Wisconsin political gerrymandering case in October, but have not yet released an opinion.

The Maryland and Wisconsin cases both focus on unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering, but there are some important differences. The Maryland case challenges the redrawing of a single federal district to favor Democrats, while the Wisconsin case is based on the statewide redrawing of Wisconsin State Assembly districts to favor Republicans.

The two cases also allege different violations of voters’ rights: The Maryland case claims retaliation against Republican voters under a First Amendment framework, while the Wisconsin plaintiffs are alleging a violation of the equal protection clause under the 14th Amendment.


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