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Court Won't Hear Young Killer's Appeal
Court Line | 2008/04/16 15:07

The Supreme Court has refused to review a 30-year prison sentence for a teen who was 12 when he killed his grandparents in South Carolina.

Lawyers for Christopher Pittman wanted the justices to examine whether the long prison term for a child violates the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. With no possibility of parole, he will be 42 before he is released, they said.

Pittman is the only inmate serving such a lengthy sentence for a crime committed at such a young age, his lawyers said. The judge who sentenced him was prohibited by law from taking his age into account.

South Carolina contended the punishment is proportionate to the crime and said there is a national trend of increased punishment for young violent criminals.


9th Circuit Declines Serial ADA Plaintiff's Appeal
Court Line | 2008/04/08 14:29

The 9th Circuit refused to reconsider wheelchair-bound activist Jarek Molski's challenge to an order requiring Molski and his attorneys at the Frankovich Group to obtain special permission before filing any new lawsuits in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

    U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie labeled Molski a vexatious litigant after he crusaded across the state, filing discrimination claims against businesses that failed to properly accommodate disabled patrons. His lawsuits sought large damages and usually settled quickly.

    A three-judge panel affirmed the orders against Molski and his preferred law firm in a decision the full 9th Circuit declined to reconsider. But eight judges signed Judge Berzon's dissenting opinion, in which he called for less Draconian sanctions that do not "infringe the fundamental right to access the courts."


Ohio Settles Lawsuit Over Youth Prisons
Court Line | 2008/04/04 15:07

The state of Ohio plans to pour money and resources into its juvenile detention system after settling a lawsuit alleging serious violations.

The state is promising $30 million in additional annual spending and the hiring of more than 100 extra guards. It also will hire additional psychologists, nurses, social workers and teachers, improve its off-hours programs for children and revamp its program for sex offenders.


A report released late last year found Ohio's youth prisons are overcrowded and understaffed and fail to educate children behind bars or keep them safe. It also found cases of excessive use of force.

The settlement ends legal challenges that began in 2004 with allegations of excessive force being used against girls at the Scioto Juvenile Correctional Facility.

A judge must still approve the settlement filed Thursday in federal court in Columbus.

The state is satisfied the agreement will bring much-needed change to the system, said Tom Stickrath, director of the Youth Services Department. He said the extra funding is a strain during tight budget times but eventually could lead to lower costs as the system improves.

The annual budget for the system, which serves about 1,700 children, is about $260 million.

"It's certainly a long-term investment in doing the right thing for the youth in our system, for the juvenile courts across the state and ultimately for the citizens," Stickrath said in an interview.

"It's a difficult time to be looking at any extra resources but I think it's a needed investment in our future," he said.

A veteran civil rights attorney who helped coordinate the lawsuit commended the state for settling.

"The plan safeguards public safety while working toward more youth being served in smaller, more appropriate, community-based facilities," said Cincinnati attorney Alphonse Gerhardstein.

In 2004, lawyers with the Children's Law Center of Kentucky sued the state over allegations of excessive force being used against girls at the Scioto Juvenile Correctional Facility. Around the same time, the Department of Justice launched an investigation over the same allegations.

Twelve employees at the Scioto facility were eventually charged with abusing and endangering inmates and in early 2005 the agency's director was forced to resign.

A year ago, the Children's Law Center and other groups updated the 2004 suit to include the entire agency, saying the state had made inadequate progress on its promises to address their concerns.

In addition to overcrowding and excessive force, a report found that guards regularly place children in solitary confinement for inappropriately long periods of time, a practice that "is unconstitutional on its face" and should cease immediately.



9th Circuit: County Can't Use RICO
Court Line | 2008/03/25 16:14

An anti-illegal immigration lawsuit turned out to be much better as a metaphor than as a lawsuit.

When a former leader of Canyon County, Idaho, invoked civil RICO lawsto sue four corporations for hiring illegal immigrants, the move madeheadlines all the way up to The New York Times: The newspaper viewed it as a prism to understand how the immigration issue split the Republican Party.

But an ideologically balanced panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disposed of the complaint last week.Canyon County didn't have standing to argue that the companies' allegedhiring of illegal immigrants unfairly upped the cost of providingpublic services, Senior Judge A. Wallace Tashima ruled.

"We find it particularly inappropriate to label a governmental entity'injured in its property' when it spends money on the provision ofadditional public services," Tashima wrote, "given that those servicesare based on legislative mandates and are intended to further thepublic interest."

Senior Judge William Canby Jr. and Judge Consuelo Callahan joined Tashima.



Man Pleads Guilty After Verdict Tossed
Court Line | 2008/03/20 15:59

A man who was on death row for nearly 20 years until the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his verdict because of racial discrimination has pleaded guilty to the 1985 slaying for which he was originally sentenced to die.

Thomas Miller-El accepted a deal with prosecutors Wednesday that spares the 56-year-old from heading to death row for a second time but virtually assures he will never leave prison.

A judge sentenced Miller-El to life in prison after he pleaded guilty to capital murder and aggravated robbery in the killing of a hotel clerk. He waived his right to appeal in exchange for prosecutors not seeking the death penalty, reported Thursday.

The plea appeared to end a two decades-old saga in which Miller-El, who is black, had his original conviction tossed in 2005 by the high court on the grounds of racial discrimination in jury selection.

"The attitude currently in the DA's office is not conducive to the tone that existed back when Mr. Miller-El's case was tried," said Doug Parks, Miller-El's attorney.

The Supreme Court cited a manual, written in 1969 and used until at least 1980, that instructed prosecutors on how to exclude minorities from Texas juries. Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter called racial discrimination in Dallas County's jury selection process unquestionable.

Miller-El was sentenced to death row in 1986 by a 12-member jury that included one black. Prosecutors struck 10 of the 11 blacks eligible to serve.

Miller-El pleaded guilty to killing Holiday Inn clerk Douglas Walker during a robbery. Walker and co-worker Donald Ray Hall were bound, gagged and shot. Hall, who was paralyzed in the shooting, identified Miller-El as the triggerman.



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