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Court: Schools may be due hog giant's environmental payments
Court Watch | 2018/09/02 13:11

North Carolina judges are setting up a court battle to decide whether the world's largest pork producer will keep paying for environmental projects as it promised 18 years ago or if the millions should go to public schools instead.

A divided state Court of Appeals resurrected a lawsuit Tuesday challenging Smithfield Foods's 2000 agreement to pay up to $2 million a year for 25 years. The state attorney general has largely decided who got the money.

The court determined a trial should decide if the payments are actually penalties for bad behavior. The state constitution requires that schools get penalty payments.

Smithfield agreed in the same 2000 deal to phase out open-air hog waste pits within five years. The cesspools are still used on hundreds of farms raising Smithfield's hogs.


In Veterans Court, former service members fight new battle
Court Watch | 2018/08/26 10:14

Sheriff's deputies steered three handcuffed men into Veterans Court one day this summer. The backs of their red jumpsuits read "Allegheny County Jail." One prisoner had doe eyes and long hair, resembling pictures of Christ.

He wore shackles around his ankles.

When he stood before Judge John Zottola, his eyes cast down, the judge cocked his head with a "What are we going to do with you?" expression on his face.

A probation officer said the young man, an Iraq War combat veteran, had absconded -- a word that in court means fled -- while under house arrest. The judge ordered a transfer to a Bath, N.Y., treatment center for veterans who suffer post-traumatic stress and addiction.

Seeing a veteran shackled in his own country is particularly unsettling when you realize jail may be where he is most safe. But most veterans in this court are not incarcerated. They have an out, as long as they check in with the probation officer, keep their records and urine clean and show up for court. The process of getting through three phases of good behavior takes a year.

Allegheny County Veterans Treatment Court is an acknowledgement that veterans deserve special consideration when they land in the criminal justice system. They are diverted into a side stream of the larger channel. If they have post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury on top of their violations, their treatment team can work to untangle these issues.

Judge Zottola, who meets before court with the parties of each day's hearing, describes it as "a problem solving court, with positive rewards and regular sanctions."

His courtroom hums with collaborative spirit. Before he calls the room to order, people mill about, sharing information. The hearings, too, are more casual than typical court proceedings.

"We are a team and we take a team approach to assist you," Judge Zottola says as he opens his sessions. "Please take advantage of that help.



Nevada Supreme Court taking up execution case
Court Watch | 2018/08/13 10:47

The Nevada Supreme Court has stepped in to decide whether drug companies can try to stop the state from using their medications in a twice-postponed lethal injection of a condemned inmate who wants to die.

A state court judge in Las Vegas cancelled hearings Thursday following an order late Wednesday from six of the high court's seven justices.

Supreme Court intervention had been sought by the state attorney general's office regarding the execution of Scott Raymond Dozier.

The judge had planned to hear drugmaker Sandoz's request to join a bid by Alvogen and Hikma Pharmaceuticals to prevent Nevada from using their products in a three-drug combination never before tried in any state.

A Nevada death-row inmate whose execution has been postponed twice says the legal fight over his fate is taking a tortuous toll on him and his family and he wants his sentence carried out.

Scott Raymond Dozier told The Associated Press that the state should, in his words, "just get it done, just do it effectively and stop fighting about it."

Dozier's comments in a brief prison telephone call on Wednesday came a day before a third drug company is due to ask a state court judge in Las Vegas to let it join with two other firms suing to block the use of their products in executions.

The companies say they publicly declared they didn't want their products used in executions and allege that Nevada improperly obtained their drugs.


N Carolina Supreme Court race lawsuit returning to court
Court Watch | 2018/08/12 06:47

A North Carolina Supreme Court candidate's lawsuit against Republican legislators over a law preventing him from having his party listed on November ballots is returning to court.

A judge scheduled a Wake County hearing Monday to consider requests by candidate Chris Anglin and a lower-court candidate also fighting the law finalized by GOP legislators earlier this month.

The law says a judicial candidate's party affiliation won't be listed next to the candidate's name if it was changed less than 90 days before filing for a race. Anglin says the law targets him — he was a registered Democrat three weeks before entering the race as a Republican.

Republicans accuse Anglin of trying to split the GOP vote with incumbent Justice Barbara Jackson to help Democratic opponent Anita Earls win.


Court: Mud buggy race operators weren't negligent in crash
Court Watch | 2018/08/03 23:38

A jury properly determined that the operators of an Eau Claire mud buggy race weren't negligent in a wild crash that cost a spectator part of his leg, a Wisconsin appeals court ruled Tuesday.

The case revolves around Shawn Wallace, who was watching a race at Eau Claire's Pioneer Park in 2012 when a buggy hit a guardrail, flew off the track and landed in the crowd. Wallace was injured so badly he had to have one of his legs amputated below the knee.

He filed a lawsuit in 2013 alleging that the track's owner, Chippewa Valley Antique and Engine Model Club Inc., and the race's sanctioning body, Central Mudracing Association Inc., had been negligent.

The jury at the 2016 trial found that the accident was unforeseeable and that neither defendant had been negligent.

Wallace appealed, arguing that Eau Claire County Circuit Judge William Gabler had improperly barred him from telling the jury about a 2005 crash at the track that injured spectators and had improperly limited a crash reconstruction expert's testimony.

The 3rd District Court of Appeals sided with the judge. The court said in its ruling Tuesday that Gabler reasonably determined that the 2005 crash wasn't similar to the 2012 incident.

The earlier crash occurred on a different part of the track, the spectators who were injured were viewing the race from a truck, not the bleachers, and the track operators extended guardrails following that crash, the appeals court noted. Therefore the crash was of little value in Wallace's case, the court concluded.


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