Archives for August 2015

Obama Admin. Fighting To Keep Family Detention Centers

As reported in Politico on 8/7/15: US citizens Esmeralda Tepetate, 10, with her brother Sebastian, 2, whose parents are originally from Mexico, holds a sign that says "stop separating families" during a rally for comprehensive immigration reform, Friday, Nov. 7, 2014,  outside of the White House in Washington. After the midterm elections immigration groups are pushing for executive action. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

As reported in Politico on 8/7/15: US citizens Esmeralda Tepetate, 10, with her brother Sebastian, 2, whose parents are originally from Mexico, holds a sign that says “stop separating families” during a rally for comprehensive immigration reform, Friday, Nov. 7, 2014, outside of the White House in Washington. After the midterm elections immigration groups are pushing for executive action. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Politico and others are reporting that the Obama administration is asking a federal judge to reconsider her ruling that the U.S. must release of tens of thousands of immigrant mothers and children who tried to cross the southern border illegally. Says Politico: “… in a 60-page response filed late Thursday, Justice Department lawyers argued that family detention facilities run by the Department of Homeland Security are a necessary tool to help deter illegal migration to the United States.”
 
The judge’s order is starting to gain notice, as has the family detention issue. President Obama also finds himself at odds with his own party, according to Politico, which reports that “… detaining immigrant families caught at the border have run into steep opposition from Democrats on Capitol Hill. Nearly all members of the House Democratic Caucus signed onto a letter circulated last week by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), a former immigration attorney who is the ranking member on a House subcommittee overseeing the policy.”
 
“It is long past time to end family detention,” the House Democrats wrote in the letter. “In light of this recent federal court ruling, we urge you take all necessary and appropriate steps to bring the Department’s practices in line with the settlement agreement and the recent court ruling.” Keep track of the slow-burning fuse here:
Read more: DOJ fights family detention ruling (Politico)

L.A. Times Calls Out Congress Over Immigration Court Backlog

In a major editorial, the Los Angeles Times is calling upon Congress to fix the immigration court backlog and offers some compelling numbers in the process: “… over the last 10 years, the workload of the federal immigration court system has increased by 146% to an astounding 453,948 active cases at the end of July. The average amount of time each of those cases has been pending: 627 days. Some have been lingering for years.”
 
The LAT also notes that the backlog effects are exactly what we don’t want: People who have no legal right to be in the country get lengthy reprieves simply because the judges can’t get to their cases while those with legit claims are left “twisting in the wind.”
 
The editorial says that “… the reason for the enormous backlog is clear. While the government has poured money into enhancing border security — the number of border agents has nearly doubled to 21,000 in the last decade — it has failed to similarly increase the capacity of the immigration court system that hears deportation cases. According to a recent report, immigration enforcement budgets increased 300% from 2002 through 2013, but immigration court budgets rose only 70%.
 
The immigration courts are really an international embarrassment for the United States. The LAT editorial shows just how bad it is, and why it’s likely to get worse: The immigration court backlog: Why won’t Congress act?

Judge Orders Govt. To Release Detained Kids

A federal judge in Los Angeles has given the federal government until Oct. 23 to release thousands of “border kids” seeking refuge in the United States. The Los Angeles Times explains that Judge Dolly Gee said that children should not be held for more than 72 hours unless they are a significant flight risk or a danger to themselves and others.
As reported by NPR: Detainees sleep and watch television in a holding cell where hundreds of mostly Central American immigrant children are being processed at a U.S. Customs facility in Nogales, Texas.

As reported by NPR: Detainees sleep and watch television in a holding cell where hundreds of mostly Central American immigrant children are being processed at a U.S. Customs facility in Nogales, Texas.

The LAT story also noted that “… the case centers on 1997 legal settlement — known as the Flores agreement — that set legal requirements for the housing of children seeking asylum or in the country illegally. In July, Gee found that the government had violated that agreement; she repeated that findingFriday. Federal attorneys had argued that Gee’s initial ruling would spark another surge of illegal immigration across the U.S.-Mexico border. Gee denied the government’s request for reconsideration, equating that argument to “fearmongering.”

The Times feels that “… it’s likely that hundreds of immigrant families will remain locked up and in limbo as the case makes its way through the courts — possibly up to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.”

Buddy Holly’s Hometown Unlikely Pioneer With Lightning and ‘CSST’ Fuel Gas Solution

Originally published in the Huffington Post. 

A 2012 lightning incident, the resulting house fire and tragic death of a 31-year-old Texan, combined with the resulting civil litigation, seem poised to change how at least one community regulates the flexible pipes that funnel natural gas into American homes.

And, at least by implication, offer questions about how everyone else might raise the standard of those pipes.

Lubbock, Texas – probably best known as Buddy Holly’s hometown and certainly not known as a hotbed of government regulation – is illustrating the role that civil cases can play in building codes. I’ve noted before that, even if you balk at the concept that plaintiffs’ attorneys can become “the common people’s attorneys general,” you still have to admit that some of the research and advocacy that goes into lawsuits can help advance public safety.

One could also argue that’s what’s happening in Lubbock, where Brennen Teel’s 2012 death was blamed on lightning and the failure of what’s called “yellow” Corrugated Stainless Steel Tubing (CSST). Brennen Teel’s parents, Ken and Becky Teel, later formed the Brennen Chase Teel Foundation for Gas Line Safety…. to educate the public about lightning and CSST. Having commissioned testing of the tubing, they began to make the results of the independent laboratory tests available to all who visit the foundation’s website at BTFgaslinesafety.org. CSST is used in millions of American homes but can be compromised with lightning.

The flexible pipe CSST was developed in Japan and other earthquake-prone areas because it doesn’t break during quakes, like hard-metal pipe might. It’s also popular because of cost and ease of installation. Amid the official investigation, civil lawsuit and research the city of Lubbock declared a moratorium on CSST.

That moratorium is impactful, in part because of how national building codes evolve. There is no one national uniform “code,” instead agencies and industries adopt “standards” and those standards get incorporated into a patchwork of local codes. Your building codes may be the latest and greatest, or perhaps a bit behind the times. If people take notice of Lubbock, the trend can spread as it appears Lubbock has found a solution.

Steve O’Neil, Lubbock’s chief building official for more than a quarter-century, explains that a special fuel gas committee was formed to look into their situation and thinks it has such a solution – it is recommending that Lubbock become the first U.S. community to adopt the highest standard for CSST pipe going forward. The next step, he says, will be taking the committee recommendation to the city’s Code Board on Aug 26, then likely to the city council to be held in September or October, depending on how quickly lawyers can draw up the rules.

O’Neil explains that CSST comes in three broad categories known first by color: “yellow,” which was the go-to product for decades, and two kinds of more recent “black” CSST. He says a few brands control about 80-plus percent of the CSST market, so for shorthand he notes that the FlashShield brand is one type meeting a LC1027 standard while another common brand, CounterStrike, represents what’s known as the LC1024 standard. Generally, CSST made to the LC1027 standard incorporates a protective metal shield similar to those used on aircraft.

Attorneys for the Teel family say they believe pipes made to the lesser standards may have been involved in hundreds of fires over the years. Lubbock, says O’Neil, is moving toward only allowing the LC1027 standard, in effect outlawing products that are routinely used daily in communities across the country. He says the reason is “… there’s just a huge difference” in safety performance, especially concerning lightning strikes.

Since the cost difference is expected to be pennies per foot, he adds, homeowners will benefit greatly without spending much more money. He says his local building community embraces anything that provides “a level playing field.”

“The public doesn’t know,” said O’Neil of the CSST issue. “The simple fact of the matter is that it [lightning-strike house fires] is happening.” He speculated that other communities no doubt know about the problem but have not yet acted.

The Lubbock situation has earned national attention in the fire-code world in part because there are literally hundreds of lawsuits around the country over CSST failure claims. The research and possible regulation is bound to become routinely cited in those situations, including the research sparked by civil litigation.

In reporting on Lubbock, NBC News noted that “lightning ignites 22,600 fires a year in the U.S” and “that figure includes approximately 4,290 home fires, which cause a majority of the associated losses. According to the Insurance Information Institute, analyzing homeowner insurance data, there are on average about 200,000 insurer paid lightning claims per year. Thousands of house fires are attributed to “god-like” event lightning strikes while the science to understand the impact and power of lightning evolves.

The NBC report quoted Mitch Guthrie, an engineer and member of the National Fire Protection Associaton, or NFPA, Lightning Protection Committee who has not testified in the many lawsuits either for or against manufacturers, saying “I just want to know the solution to the [lightning] problem, because the problem is out there.”

Guthrie actually praises the Teel Foundation as “… providing input and providing information” that might not come from other sources. Marquette Wolf, a Teel attorney and a founder of the Foundation, said they became potential advocates of the LC1027 standard because of extensive testing.

The litigation and politics have clearly pushed the CSST discussion. According to Lubbock officials and others who have reviewed testing, metal shielded pipes made to the LC1027 standard have performed safely in hundreds of relevant tests, where non-shielded products have failed. Meanwhile, the Lubbock building official says there has been local support of the new CSST recommendation.

O’Neil says that his community is united to make the change to LC1027-rated CSST. Meanwhile Guthrie, with 35 years of experience and having seen the recent testing, says the LC1027 standard would be the only CSST pipe he would allow in his home.

Apparently, thanks in no small part to attention gained via civil litigation, it may also be the only CSST pipe Lubbock, Texas, allows in its homes.

Sara Corcoran Warner is publisher of the National Courts Monitor website, “Your Daily Ration of Civil Justice Rationing,” and a frequent commentator on national legal policy and civil courts issues. Courts Monitor producers contributed to this post.

Police Conduct Drawing More Civil Lawsuits

Many personal injury lawyers have typically dodged lawsuits against police officers, worried about discovery costs, ability to pay if individuals are found liable and government immunity from many lawsuits. But that’s apparently changing, according to a report in the National Law Journal.

The report says that “… how much cities are paying out to specifically resolve brutality claims and lawsuits is uncertain, but at last month’s National Bar Association conference James Montgomery of James D. Montgomery and Associates Ltd. in Chicago said police misconduct cases have generated a “cottage industry” for lawyers. He said that cities with the nation’s 10 largest police departments have paid $1.2 billion between 2010 and 2014 to resolve them.

“In this country, that’s $300 million in legal fees,” he said. “So it’s a great avenue to make money. And the police are feeding you new cases every day.” Some of the decisions have been headline-grabbing, and it turns out that video can help both sides.