How odd is it that a national Veterans Administration scandal is unfolding just as the nation observes Memorial Day? Reports of false documentation, delayed treatment and even deaths brought an address from President Obama last week, including his promise that anyone responsible will be “punished.” The president also expressed the hope that the scandal does not become “another political football.”
AP photo as part of the Journal Sentinel report on 3/24/14.
But of course, it will and we should note that in the world of asbestos damage claims, veterans have always been part of the debate. Because the military used so much asbestos decades ago, many vets are getting mesothelioma today. The most recent high-profile example of how that plays out came as Wisconsin passed reforms on asbestos-focused bankruptcy trusts.
Victims’ attorneys argued that increased transparency was unfair to veterans and would make gaining compensation more difficult. And several veterans groups lobbied against the measure. But the AMVETS group countered that bogus claims could deplete the trusts and thus reduce payouts. The “tort reform” advocates say that opposing vets eventually dropped their opposition, but that was only after the governor assured them he was going to sign the legislation, according to the Journal Sentinel newspaper.
You can follow the vets-as-political-football here.
The U.S. Senate is set to approve six federal judges to the Arizona district, a move expected to relieve a backlog that has resulted in years-long waits for civil trials and an emergency declaration to avoid the constitutional demand for a speedy criminal trial.
The Associated Press reports that “… according to the U.S. District Court website, then Chief District Judge Rosalyn Silver declared a judicial emergency in 2011 to temporarily suspend the time limit imposed on bringing defendants to trial. The Speedy Trial Act mandates that a federal criminal trial begin within 70 days after a criminal complaint or indictment is filed. A judicial emergency can extend that deadline to a maximum of 180 days.”
The notes that the federal courts have relied on visiting judges from other states and temporary use of retired judges. One official told the AP that “… civil cases have been hurt by the backlog as well. He is hoping that judges will now have more time to devote to civil matters. Right now in a busy court like Arizona’s, it is not unusual to wait as long as three years for a civil trial to start.”
It seems that any frustration over mortgage disputes has an added twist: Shut up about the problem. Reuters is reporting that “… mortgage payment collectors at companies including Ocwen, Bank of America Corp and PNC Financial Services Group are agreeing to ease the terms of borrowers’ underwater mortgages, but they are increasingly demanding that homeowners promise not to insult them publicly, consumer lawyers say. In many cases, they are demanding that homeowners’ lawyers agree to the same terms. Sometimes, they even require borrowers to agree not to sue them again.”
Reuters says that lawyers make this point: if a collector, known as a servicer, makes an error, getting everything fixed can be a nightmare without litigation or public outcry. The news service also notes cites a 2013 report by the National Consumer Law Center that “… found that servicers routinely lost borrowers’ paperwork, inaccurately input information, failed to send important letters to the correct address—or sometimes just didn’t send them at all.”
Consunmer advocates are outraged; law enforcement is starting investigations. Read about it here:
A new yearlong NPR investigation has found that costs of the United States criminal justice system are increasingly being levied against poor defendants and offenders, and that the poor who cannot pay face ever-increasing charges. While the report focuses on the criminal side of the court system, some of the trends spill into the civil courts – where some “offenders” facing non-payment of things like parking tickets can enter the criminal system.
A state-by-state NPR survey shows that “… in at least 43 states and the District of Columbia, defendants can be billed for a public defender… in at least 41 states, inmates can be charged room and board for prison stays… in all states except Hawaii and the District of Columbia, there’s a fee for the electronic monitoring devices defendants and offenders are ordered to wear.”
The report notes that jailing people for, in effect, non-payment of fines can create financial challenges as governments pay for that incarceration. Read and hear the story via Vermont Public Radio here: As Court Fees Rise, The Poor Are Paying The Price
New Mexico judges are suing after Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed their 8 percent pay increase. They are making some of the same arguments we hear from other states, especially when they express funding as a percentage of the state’s total budget – in California, for example, advocates for increased courts funding like to point out that the total courts funding is less than one percent of state spending, and at two percent they would be fully funded.
In a column for the New Mexico News Service, longtime reporter Sherry Robinson noted that “… even though the National Center for State Courts declared New Mexico judges to be the nation’s lowest paid, Martinez sees it as a fairness issue. Other state employees got only a 3 percent increase, she has said, while judges got the 5 percent increase intended for them plus the 3 percent for all state employees.”
Robinson also notes that “… I don’t remember an occasion when judges as a group went after a governor, but then this governor spends a lot of time in court. In poking her finger in the court’s eye, it seems like the governor is also saying her lawyering days are over because she’s bound for bigger things.”