Special Reports Coming to National Courts Monitor (NCM)

SPECIAL REPORTS: In the coming weeks, the National Courts Monitor (NCM) will be announcing a series of “special reports” focusing on some of today’s most urgent civil litigation issues. Similar to the print-edition special reports that helped launch the website in California (as the California Courts Monitor) more than a decade ago, the reports from across the country will include original reporting and production from the NCM while also showcasing investigative and writing from partner organizations. Watch this space for more information, and we are making this announcement now because our reporters and video producers are now in the field conducting the background research necessary for multi-media reporting on issues including environmental lawsuits, immigration issues and, of course, the rationing of civil justice in America.

– THE EDITORS

Court rebukes President Trump for blocking followers on Twitter

Photo Credit: Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times as reported in The New York Times on 7/9/19.

How the First Amendment functions in the social media age gained further clarity this week when a federal appeals court ruled that President Trump violated the Constitution by blocking people from following his Twitter account.

“Because Mr. Trump uses Twitter to conduct government business, he cannot exclude some Americans from reading his posts — and engaging in conversations in the replies to them — because he does not like their views, a three-judge panel on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, ruled unanimously,” The New York Times reports.

Tuesday’s ruling may be appealed.

“Mr. Trump’s legal team argued, among other things, that he operated the account merely in a personal capacity, and so had the right to block whomever he wanted for any reason — including because users annoyed him by criticizing or mocking him,” The New York Times reports.

“Courts have increasingly been grappling with how to apply the First Amendment, written in the 18th century, to the social-media era,” The Times continues. “In 2017, for example, the Supreme Court unanimously struck down a North Carolina law that had made it a crime for registered sex offenders to use websites like Facebook.”

 

Another judge rebuked for treatment of sexual assault case

Excerpt from the judge’s statement as reported by the New York Times, 7/2/19.

Judicial treatment of sexual assault cases continues to prompt scrutiny, the latest involving a New Jersey family court judge who argued that prosecutors should have considered the suspect’s college prospects and how charges would affect his life.

The New York Times reports on an appeals court’s rebuke of Monmouth County Judge James Troiano of Superior Court, who denied prosecutors’ motion to try a 16-year-old sexual assault suspect as an adult.

The judge questioned whether the incident was rape, although investigators said the boy shared a cellphone video among friends and sent a text that said, “When your first time having sex was rape.”

“The boy filmed himself penetrating her from behind, her torso exposed, her head hanging down, prosecutors said,” The New York Times reported.

The judge said “the young man came from a good family, attended an excellent school, had terrific grades and was an Eagle scout,” according to the article.

The appeals court “cleared the way for the case to be moved from family court to a grand jury, where the teenager, identified only as G.M.C. in court documents, will be treated as an adult,” the article explained.

“In recent years, judges across the country have come under fire for the way they have handled sexual abuse cases,” The New York Times reported. “One of the most notorious was in 2016, when a judge in California sentenced a Stanford University student to six months in jail after he was found guilty of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. After an intense public backlash, California voters recalled the judge. Judge Troiano, who is roughly 70, was one of two family court judges whom appeals courts in New Jersey have criticized in recent weeks over relatively similar issues.”

Alabama case stirs debate about the rights of fetuses over those of mothers

Marshae Jones was charged with manslaughter when she was shot and her fetus died. Photo Credit: Jefferson County Jail as reported by The New York Times.

According to the New York Times, “Marshae Jones was five months pregnant when she was shot in the stomach. Her fetus did not survive the shooting… But on Wednesday, it was Ms. Jones who was charged in the death.”

“The police have said she was culpable because she started the fight that led to the shooting and failed to remove herself from harm’s way,” explains the report. Since Jones was arrested and charged with manslaughter in Alabama last month, there has been “heated debate over the rights of pregnant women and fetuses nationwide, and Alabama is ground zero for the issue.”

From another New York Times report: “Activists have also cited it as a demonstration of the dangers of the “personhood” movement, which pushes for the rights of fetuses to be recognized as equal to — or even more important than — the rights of the mothers who carry them. And many are now watching as the movement gains momentum in Alabama, which already has some of the most restrictive reproductive rights laws in the country.”

The Times explains that last November, Alabama voters approved a ballot measure that amended the state’s constitution to recognize the “sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children.” This has resulted in a number of court cases aimed to protect the rights of unborn children, including a wrongful-death lawsuit by a 19-year-old man against a clinic and a pharmaceutical company that provided an abortion pill to his girlfriend.
“Under Alabama law, life begins at conception,” said Bryan Fair, professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Alabama School of Law as reported in The New York Times. “The question is whether that is consistent with federal constitutional law.”

New courthouse in Placerville – unsought by judiciary – funded in California budget

A controversial effort to build a new courthouse in Placerville received a boost in California’s $215 billion budget.

The Recorder by law.com reported on June 13 about the $2.8 million allocation, which will pay for about 5 acres of vacant land, the prospective site of a new courthouse.

The land is owned by El Dorado County, “acquired by the county in a 2014 land swap with John V. Briggs, a former Republican assemblyman and state senator.” Described as an example of pork-barrel politics, the allocation was not requested by the judiciary.

“The judicial branch has no immediate plans to build the courthouse,” The Recorder reported. “The Judicial Council hasn’t secured the funding for a project with an estimated price tag of $82 million.”

California legislators approved the budget on June 13. The $2.8 million allocation for courthouse land “was not vetted in months of budget committee hearings this spring. It appeared for the first time Sunday night as a line item in the budget deal reached between Gov. Gavin Newsom and lawmakers,” The Recorder reported.

“The current three-story, four-courtroom building in Placerville is postcard pretty, but at 106 years old it lacks modern-day features. It is crowded and has no holding cells for in-custody defendants, no dedicated jury assembly room and limited public parking. The idea of building a new courthouse instead of renovating and expanding the existing one has been a contentious one for decades. A 1965 grand jury report recommended relocating the court. Local residents balked and the existing courthouse was remodeled instead,” the article noted.

 

‘Stairway to Heaven’ gets second chance

Photo credit: Michael Ochs Archives 1973, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle on 6/10/19.

The U.S. federal court of appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco agreed Monday to give Led Zeppelin a new hearing to defend a jury’s favorable verdict in a suit that claimed the opening lines of the 1972 hit, “Stairway to Heaven,” had been plagiarized from a 1968 song by the California band Spirit, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

“The 1968 Spirit instrumental ‘Taurus’ opens with a rising and falling guitar melody somewhat similar to the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ opening,” notes the report.

A Los Angles jury heard “conflicting testimony from musicology experts about whether the passages were similar enough for a copyright violation” during the trial in 2016.

“Led Zeppelin’s request for a rehearing, supported by other songwriters and music publishers, argued that allowing copyright protection for ‘commonplace elements’ in composition would cause ‘widespread confusion’ in the music business,” explains the report.