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First Opioid Court in the U.S. Focuses on Keeping Users Alive
Legal Business | 2017/07/06 19:35
After three defendants fatally overdosed in a single week last year, it became clear that Buffalo's ordinary drug treatment court was no match for the heroin and painkiller crisis.

Now the city is experimenting with the nation's first opioid crisis intervention court, which can get users into treatment within hours of their arrest instead of days, requires them to check in with a judge every day for a month instead of once a week, and puts them on strict curfews. Administering justice takes a back seat to the overarching goal of simply keeping defendants alive.

"The idea behind it," said court project director Jeffrey Smith, "is only about how many people are still breathing each day when we're finished."

Funded with a three-year $300,000 U.S. Justice Department grant, the program began May 1 with the intent of treating 200 people in a year and providing a model that other heroin-wracked cities can replicate.

Two months in, organizers are optimistic. As of late last week, none of the 80 people who agreed to the program had overdosed, though about 10 warrants had been issued for missed appearances.

Buffalo-area health officials blamed 300 deaths on opioid overdoses in 2016, up from 127 two years earlier. That includes a young couple who did not make it to their second drug court appearance last spring. The woman's father arrived instead to tell the judge his daughter and her boyfriend had died the night before.

"We have an epidemic on our hands. ... We've got to start thinking outside the box here," said Erie County District Attorney John Flynn. "And if that means coddling an individual who has a minor offense, who is not a career criminal, who's got a serious drug problem, then I'm guilty of coddling."

Regular drug treatment courts that emerged in response to crack cocaine in the 1980s take people in after they've been arraigned and in some cases released. The toll of opioids and profile of their users, some of them hooked by legitimate prescriptions, called for more drastic measures.

Acceptance into opioid crisis court means detox, inpatient or outpatient care, 8 p.m. curfews, and at least 30 consecutive days of in-person meetings with the judge. A typical drug treatment court might require such appearances once a week or even once a month.



Idaho Supreme Court to hear veto challenge arguments
Legal Business | 2017/06/15 09:33
Proponents of a lawsuit challenging Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's veto of a contentious grocery tax repeal bill will present arguments in front of the Idaho Supreme Court on Thursday.

State GOP Reps. Ron Nate and Bryan Zollinger, both from eastern Idaho, spearheaded a lawsuit in April arguing that the Idaho Constitution says a governor has 10 days to veto a bill immediately after the Legislature adjourns.In 1978, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled a governor has 10 days to veto or approve a bill starting when it lands on his desk.

However, 30 lawmakers have signed on with Nate and Zollinger urging the court to overturn its previous decision — a request rarely granted by courts due to a preference to follow prior judicial precedent. The lawsuit has attracted the support of House Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane and House Majority Caucus Chairman John Vander Woude and House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee Chairman Lynn Luker in the lawsuit.

Also named in the petition is GOP Rep. Heather Scott of Blanchard, who helped lead an organized movement to disrupt progress inside the Statehouse this year to protest legislative leadership. Other legislators include Sen. Cliff Bayer of Meridian, who was the original sponsor of the grocery tax repeal bill this year.

Idaho's top lawmakers are countering that the lawsuit is unnecessary because the court has already ruled that the deadline kicks in when the governor receives the bill. Secretary of State Lawerence Denney has also warned that if the court overturned the nearly 40-year-old ruling, it is unknown how many other post-legislative adjournment vetoes would be affected.


West Virginia high court excludes inmates from workers' comp
Legal Business | 2017/06/13 09:34
Inmates participating in work-release programs do not quality for workers' compensation benefits, the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled has ruled.

The court on Thursday unanimously affirmed a Workers' Compensation Board of Review's 2015 decision to not grant workers' compensation to a work release inmate named William F. Crawford, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported. Crawford's hand was severely injured in a wood chipper in 2013 while he was working on a road crew for the state Division of Highways.

He was employed by the Charleston Work Release Center, now called the Charleston Correctional Center. Inmates live and work there as they prepare to re-enter society after leaving prison.

Crawford's injury required hospitalization and surgery, and his ring and pinky fingers were partially amputated. The state Department of Corrections covered his medical expenses, which exceeded $90,000. He was released on parole shortly after his hospitalization.

Court documents say Crawford sought workers' compensation benefits because "lack of treatment has put him at a significant disadvantage in re-entering society." He had appealed the board of review's decision, saying state law didn't clarify coverage exclusion for work-release inmates. He also said his equal protection rights had been violated, arguing that inmates working for private businesses would receive the benefits, while inmates working for a state agency would not.


Court sides with towns over utilities in tax dispute
Legal Business | 2017/06/04 11:41
Two electric utilities seeking to reduce their property taxes in dozens of towns across New Hampshire lost an appeal Friday to the state Supreme Court.

Eversource and the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative sought tax abatements from 64 towns in 2011 and 2012, but the state Board of Tax and Land Appeals rejected most of those requests, and the utilities appealed.

The utilities argued that towns' property tax assessments were too high and that their property taxes instead should be based on a valuation formula used by the state Department of Revenue Administration in levying a separate utility tax.

In the ruling released Friday, the court sided with the towns, though it said it was troubled by substantial differences in assessments by towns for property tax purposes and assessments by the state for utility taxes. The court said such disputes could be avoided by adopting a uniform appraisal method, a decision for the Legislature, not the courts.

Eversource spokesman Martin Murray said the company has a duty to dispute valuations made by communities the company considers extreme outliers compared to the state assessments. He said the company remains concerned about the wide discrepancies.


South Dakota and Flandreau Santee Sioux tribe clash in court
Legal Business | 2017/05/13 23:15
The Flandreau Santee Sioux tribe is suing South Dakota over the state's interpretation that contractors working on an expansion of the Royal River Casino are required to pay contractor excise taxes to the state.

The Argus Leader reported that the lawsuit alleges it's an intrusion into tribal sovereignty and is conflicting with U.S. laws that regulate commerce on reservations.

"The economic burden and the intrusion into tribal sovereignty interfere and are incompatible with the federal and tribal interests in promoting tribal self-government, self-sufficiency and economic development," the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit is the latest clash between the tribe and the state. The tribe's casino has often been a flashpoint for disputes.

The Flandreau started expanding the casino after Gov. Dennis Daugaard agreed to allow the tribe to double the number of slots it had there. The tribe agreed to increase payments to Moody County to offset law enforcement expenses.

Daugaard's chief of staff, Tony Venhuizen, said the tribe doesn't collect the contractors' excise tax.


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