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Mental health court established for offenders on probation
Legal News Digest | 2017/07/23 09:03
A specialized court has been established in Pinal County to give defendants with mental problems an alternative path and keep them out of the criminal justice system.

Presiding Judge Stephen McCarville signed an administrative order last month calling for the establishment of Mental Health Treatment Court. It’s a therapeutic, post-sentence court for defendants placed on supervised probation.

People screened with a mental illness are referred to the court by the Pinal County Attorney’s Office or the county’s probation department. Then the court’s staff reviews the defendant’s case to determine whether the person’s situation is appropriate for the program, the Casa Grande Dispatch reported.

The offender undergoes outpatient treatment at a mental health facility while checking in with the court on a weekly basis. If defendants don’t follow the terms of the treatment, then they’re subject to having their probation revoked.

The goal is to keep people with mental disabilities out of the criminal justice system, Pinal County Superior Court Administrator Todd Zweig said. The number of probationers with mental health conditions has been increasing in the county, he added, prompting the need for this type of service.





Supreme Court deadline nears for suit over wetland loss
Legal News Digest | 2017/07/11 19:34
A Louisiana flood board is nearing a deadline for asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review its lawsuit seeking to make oil and gas companies pay for decades of damage to coastal wetlands.

Federal district and appeals courts have rejected the lawsuit, which was met by fierce opposition from the energy industry and many in state government when it was filed in 2013. The suit by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority East said drilling and dredging activity contributed to loss of wetlands that form a hurricane buffer for New Orleans.

Oil industry supporters have labeled the lawsuit an attack on a vital industry. Tuesday marks the deadline for the flood board attorneys to seek Supreme Court review after their last defeat in April.

A federal district judge's 2015 ruling held that federal and state law provided no avenue by which the board could bring the suit.

A three judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling in March and the full 15-member court refused a rehearing in April. Lawyers for the flood board had a 90-day window to seek Supreme Court review.

Flood authority lawyers have argued that the flood board has the right to seek compensation for levee damage under the federal Rivers and Harbors Act. They also argued that federal judges should not have allowed the case to be moved to federal court from the state court where it originally was filed.

Meanwhile, some coastal parishes are pursuing coastal damage suits in state courts on different legal grounds. Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, has urged the energy companies to work toward a settlement. Industry leaders have resisted, saying the suits are meritless.



Alabama asks US Supreme Court to let execution proceed
Legal News Digest | 2017/06/07 11:06
Alabama’s attorney general on Monday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to let an execution proceed this week, arguing that questions about a lethal injection drug have been settled by the courts.

Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office asked the justices to let the state proceed with Thursday’s scheduled execution of Robert Melson who was convicted of killing three Gadsden restaurant employees during a 1994 robbery.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week granted a stay as it considers appeals from Melson and other inmates who contend that a sedative used by Alabama called midazolam will not render them unconscious before other drugs stop their lungs and heart. The state argues there was no reason to grant the stay since midazolam’s use in lethal injections has been upheld by the high court, and the court has let executions proceed using midazolam in Alabama and Arkansas.

“Alabama has already carried out three executions using this protocol, including one less than two weeks ago in which this court, and the Eleventh Circuit, denied a stay,” lawyers with the attorney general’s office wrote in the motion

“If the stay is allowed to stand, Melson’s execution will be delayed many months, if not years. The State, the victims’ families, and the surviving victim in this case have waited long enough for justice to be delivered. This Court should vacate the lower court’s stay,” attorneys for the state wrote.

Melson is one of several inmates who filed lawsuits, which were consolidated, arguing that the state’s execution method is unconstitutional. A federal judge in March dismissed the lawsuits, and the inmates appealed to the 11th Circuit saying the judge dismissed their claims prematurely.

A three-judge panel of 11th Circuit judges did not indicate whether they thought the inmates would succeed in their appeals. Rather, the judges wrote Friday that they were staying Melson’s execution to avoid the “untenable” prejudging of the inmates’ cases.

Midazolam is supposed to prevent an inmate from feeling pain, but several executions in which inmates lurched or moved have raised questions about its use. An Arkansas inmate in April lurched about 20 times during a lethal injection. Melson’s lawyers wrote in a Friday motion that Alabama “botched” a December execution in which inmate Ronald Bert Smith coughed and moved for the first 13 minutes.

“Mr. Smith’s botched execution supports the argument that midazolam is a vastly different drug than pentobarbital. It does not anesthetize the condemned inmate, and because it does not anesthetize, defendants’ use of potassium chloride is unconstitutional,” Melson’s attorneys wrote last week.


Former County Sheriff Joe Arpaio loses another round in court
Legal News Digest | 2017/05/23 00:40
An appeals court has rejected former Sheriff Joe Arpaio's bid to have a jury, rather than a judge, decide whether he is guilty of a criminal contempt-of-court charge for disobeying a court order in a racial profiling case.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that Arpaio didn't show that his request warranted its intervention in the case.

The former six-term sheriff of metro Phoenix faces the misdemeanor charge for defying a 2011 court order in a racial profiling case to stop his signature immigration patrols.

Arpaio has acknowledged prolonging the patrols, but insists his disobedience wasn't intentional. If convicted, the 84-year-old could be sentenced up to six months in jail.  His trial is scheduled to begin on June 26.


Family of Colorado man killed by police settles lawsuit

Court documents show the family of a Colorado man killed by police has settled its lawsuit against the city and the officer.

The Pueblo Chieftain says it obtained documents Thursday which showed the settlement resolved “all pending claims” against officer James Ashby and the city of Rocky Ford.

Reports say Ashby fatally shot 27-year-old Jack Jacquez. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison for the murder.

Jacquez’s mother, his estate and the mothers of his minor children filed a lawsuit against Ashby and the city in October.

The settlement is waiting on the approval of the Otero County Probate Court judge to include the children in it.

A court filling from this week does not show the terms of the settlement.


New Mexico Supreme Court won't restore funds to Legislature
Legal News Digest | 2017/05/11 23:16
The New Mexico Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a request to override budget vetoes, leaving negotiations about how to solve the state's budget crisis — and restore funding to the Legislature — in the hands of the governor and lawmakers.

In a two-page order, the court said it was too soon to consider any possible constitutional violations related to Gov. Susana Martinez's vetoes of all funding for the Legislature and state universities in the coming fiscal year.

The order said the Legislature's lawsuit was "not ripe for review," siding with attorneys for the governor who cautioned justices against an abuse of their judicial power.

The Republican governor has called a special session for May 24 in an attempt to resolve the state budget crisis linked to faltering tax revenues and a weak state economy.

The Democratic-led Legislature had argued that Martinez overstepped her authority by defunding the legislative branch of government and all state institutions of higher education.

Martinez had urged the state Supreme Court to stay out of budget negotiations and said her vetoes were made in pursuit of reductions to state spending and never sought to abolish the Legislature.

Thursday's ruling sent lawmakers and the governor back to the negotiating table with no signs of agreement on how to shore up wobbly state finances.

"We need to have a little love, and there is not much love going around right now," said Republican Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, describing distrust that stands in the way of a budget deal and related tax reforms.

For the upcoming special session, Martinez has outlined rough proposals to restore most vetoed funding for the fiscal year starting July 1. Democratic lawmakers say the proposals are linked to untenable tax revenue increases on nonprofits and food.

The governor's office issued a statement praising the court decision and prodding legislative leaders to abandon a proposed tax increase on gasoline sales designed to shore up state finances.


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