By Joseph Schuman
Clerks dismissed cases while St. Louis judge was
With clerks like these, who needs judges?
Associate Circuit Judge Barbara T. Peebles was in China for
two weeks in October, but that didn't keep her office from
handling court business, according to an investigation by the St. Louis Post Dispatch. During the time Peebles was out, her
clerks took care of at least 350 cases: they decided on their
own to dismiss five lawsuits, issued as many as 18 arrest
warrants and told defense attorneys no bail reductions would
take place until Peebles' return. At the same time, the clerks
rescheduled more than 300 cases to later dates - a move that
may have added weeks of jail time for defendants who sought
release ahead of their trials. "I think it's as illegal as
hell," defense lawyer David Stokely tells the paper.
It turns out Judge Peebles had arranged for colleagues to
handle cases that concerned recently-arrested inmates who had
to appear before a judge. But the arrangement did not extend to
the rest of her caseload. Reached by the Post-Dispatch, Peebles
declined to comment, saying some of the cases were still
But Circuit Court Presiding Judge Steven Ohmer described
the conduct of the clerks and Peebles as "wrong," and said he
had considered the so-called "nuclear option" of removing her
from the bench that initially handles criminal cases. In the
meantime, he said, the Commission on Retirement, Removal and
Discipline was looking into the matter.
Embryo disputes pit right to avoid reproducing against
right to make babies
Which constitutional right takes the higher priority: the
right to avoid procreation or the right to have your own
That question is largely unsettled by our judicial system,
but courts may soon have to answer it thanks to disputes over
frozen embryos that are working their way through the legal
In one case currently on appeal, a married Pennsylvania
couple had embryos frozen in 2004 ahead of the woman's
chemotherapy treatments, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Nearly three years later, they filed for divorce. But the
woman, Andrea Reiss, wants to use the embryos to have children
while her soon-to-be-ex-husband, Bret Reber, wants the embryos
destroyed. The trial court made a surprising ruling on this,
but we'll get to that in a moment.
Many fertility centers make couples agree on embryo divorce
scenarios ahead of time, but without such an agreement, the
courts in most states have been pretty clear. "The rationale is
that people have a right to change their minds, and nobody
should be forced to become a parent against his or her wishes,"
say Susan Crockin, an adoption and reproductive-technology
lawyer in Massachusetts. No high court in any state has ruled
in favor of a woman who wanted to use embryos when the
ex-husband opposed it.
But there aren't definitive rulings for when a woman's only
chance of bearing a biologically-related child relies on
disputed embryos. "The constitutional right to avoid
procreation is well defined," Boston family lawyer Maureen
McBrien says. "But what's less clear is the constitutional
right to reproduce and whether that right extends to a right to
bear a biologically-related child."
Now back to the case of Andrea Reiss and Bret Reber. Reber
argued the couple never intended to have children and froze the
embryos just as a precaution in case he changed his mind. For
her part, Reiss said that she wouldn't be able to bear children
without the embryos, and that adoption wasn't a "comparable
alternative." Judge David Bortner, moved by her arguments,
ruled last May that that Reiss could use the embryos despite
Reber's objections. This was the first time a court has issued
such a decision, and it is now being appealed to the Superior
Court of Pennsylvania.
U.S. airlines wait court's ruling over EU emissions
A trans-Atlantic legal fight is brewing over European Union
plans to charge airlines for their carbon emissions, and the
American carriers could get stuck between an insistent Brussels
and a resistant Washington, the Financial Times reports.
On January 1, the EU will launch an emissions-trading
system designed to reduce greenhouse gases by requiring
airlines to pay for the carbon dioxide they emit as a condition
for flying into and out of Europe. That prospect doesn't thrill
U.S. carriers, which unsuccessfully challenged the requirement
at the European Court of Justice.
Now the fight is escalating. In a letter to top EU diplomat
Catherine Ashton, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said
China, Japan, Russia and Brazil are ready to join the U.S.
effort to challenge the EU's environmental policies.
But the airlines could lose either way when the full
European Court of Justice, which rarely breaks from the
preliminary decision, issues a final ruling tomorrow. If the
ruling stands, the U.S. airlines could face penalties starting
next month. And if they pay the penalties, they could be
penalized as well, since a bipartisan majority in Congress
passed a law making it illegal for the U.S. airlines to comply
with the EU plan.
Unveiling some secret recipes of the Supreme Court
Martin Ginsburg was a tax lawyer and law professor. But
cookbooks outnumbered the legal tomes in his library, according
to his wife, who happens to be Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader
Ginsburg. The professor's rule of thumb was simple: "My wife
does not give me any advice about cooking, and I do not give
her any advice about the law."
Martin Ginsburg died last year, and now his widow has
helped publish a book of his favorite recipes, "Chef Supreme:
Martin Ginsburg." "He was quite an artist in the kitchen, and
he wanted to communicate to others the pleasure that he derived
from making something successfully," the justice tells the Associated Press, adding that if he hadn't become a lawyer, he
might have studied to be a chef. The cookbook is a compilation
published by the Supreme Court Historical Society with recipes
from his wife and grandchildren, as well as other Supreme Court
"One of the goals as spouses is to be supportive to each
other as well as the court family. Marty led the way with
perfect pitch," says Martha-Ann Alito, the wife of Justice
Samuel Alito. Ginsburg's "culinary creations awed and
delighted" his fellow high court spouses and their
Ginsburg tells the news service that since her husband
died, she has dealt with his recipes in the book but not in the
kitchen, and admits she never understood why he spent so much
time on them. "I could spend hours writing an opinion. But when
it's done it's there on paper, and I can see it again," she
says. "What Marty made was consumed too quickly, but he didn't
regard it that way."
Exonerated Texan goes after prosecutor and process that
sent him to prison
Legal stories often have three themes: fair, unfair or
egregiously unfair. And it's the latter that seems to have the
best chance of changing the system.
Take the case of Michael Morton, a Texan man wrongfully
jailed for 25 years for the murder of his wife. Morton's
lawyers are trying to turn the tables on the prosecutor who
sent Morton to prison and their effort might help bring the
state a more open discovery process for criminal cases.
A quarter of a century ago, Morton, now 57 years old, was
imprisoned for the fatal beating of his wife, the Los Angeles Times reports. The lead prosecutor in the case was Ken
Anderson, now a state District Court judge. This past fall,
Morton's lawyers concluded an investigation of Anderson and the
case that resulted in Morton being freed. "The problem in the
Morton case is not that the system failed, but that Judge
Anderson did not play by the rules," the report says. Anderson,
they say, illegally suppressed evidence that would have proven
Morton's innocence and even failed to provide documents sought
by the trial judge. At the hearing on Monday where Morton was
officially exonerated, Morton's legal team asked a judge to set
up a "court of inquiry" to examine Anderson's
Typically, this kind of a request goes to the presiding
judge of the district, but since that judge has recused
himself, the decision will probably go to Texas's Supreme
Court, the Times says. Anderson's lawyer, Eric Nichols, called
the investigation "one-sided" and points out that Anderson has
apologized to Morton, though he has denied misconduct.
University of Texas Professor Susan Klein tells the Times it
would be "incredibly unusual" for Anderson to be prosecuted or
even disciplined over the case.
Still, Barry Scheck, one of Morton's lawyers and a
co-founder of the Innocence Project, is aiming for broader
repercussions. "We are really hoping there will be hearings and
not just in Texas, but across the country to get a remedy to
this problem to make sure this never happens to anybody else
again," Scheck says. One way of doing that is to enact the kind
of "open file" laws other states now have guaranteeing
defendants access to all prosecutorial files. A state committee
created to prevent wrongful convictions urged the Texas
legislature last year to enact such a law, and a spokeswoman
for Gov. Rick Perry says he supports the idea.
One in three adults have been arrested by age 23, study
We Americans are part of a very incarcerated society.
That's one way of looking at a study out Monday and
reported by the New York Times that finds nearly a third of
U.S. citizens have been arrested for a crime by the age of 23.
It's a staggering demographic and legal piece of information to
contemplate, and compares with the 22 percent rate found by a
1965 study. "This estimate provides a real sense that the
proportion of people who have criminal history records is
sizable and perhaps much larger than most people would expect,"
New York State University at Albany criminologist and study
co-author Shawn Bushway tells the Times. The reasons aren't
clear. It might be a sign that the U.S. justice system has
become more aggressive, or be partly to blame on the surge of
drug-related crimes over the decades.
But its implications go beyond the law, culturally and even
economically, especially for those who have been arrested.
Criminal justice experts point out to the Times that
prospective employers these days often conduct criminal
background checks before they hire someone.
Summary Judgments for Dec. 19
Summary Judgments for Dec. 16
Summary Judgments for Dec. 15
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