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Court fines Washington state over education funding
Law Firm News | 2015/08/14 09:13
Washington officials are considering a special legislative session after the state Supreme Court issued daily fines a of $100,000 until lawmakers comply with a court order to improve the way the state pays for its basic education system.
 
Thursday's order, signed by all nine justices of the high court, ordered that the fine start immediately, and be put into a dedicated education account.

The court encouraged Gov. Jay Inslee to call a special session, saying that if the Legislature complies with the court's previous rulings for the state to deliver a plan to fully fund education, the penalties accrued during a special session would be refunded.

Inslee and legislative leaders are set to meet Monday in Seattle discuss what next steps the state should take.

"There is much that needs to be done before a special session can be called," Inslee said in a statement. "I will ask lawmakers to do that work as quickly as humanly possible so that they can step up to our constitutional and moral obligations to our children and lift the court sanctions."

The ruling was the latest development in a long-running impasse between lawmakers and justices, who in 2012 ruled that the state is failing to meet its constitutional duty to pay for the cost of basic education for its 1 million schoolchildren.

Thomas Ahearne, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said that the court's action "is long overdue."

"The state has known for many, many years that it's violating the constitutional rights of our public school kids," Ahearne said. "And the state has been told by the court in rulings in this case to fix it, and the state has just been dillydallying along."

The lawsuit against the state was brought by a coalition of school districts, parents, teachers and education groups — known as the McCleary case for the family named in the suit.

In its original ruling, and repeated in later follow-up rulings, the justices have told the Legislature to find a way to pay for the reforms and programs they had already adopted, including all-day kindergarten, smaller class sizes, student transportation and classroom supplies, and to fix the state's overreliance on local tax levies to pay for education. Relying heavily on local tax levies leads to big disparities in funding between school districts, experts say.



Man pleads guilty to charge over noose on Ole Miss statue
Law Firm News | 2015/06/17 16:00
A federal prosecutor said in court Thursday that Graeme Phillip Harris hatched a plan, after a night of drinking at a University of Mississippi fraternity house, to hang a noose on a campus statue of James Meredith, the first black student at Ole Miss.

Harris, who is white, pleaded guilty Thursday to a misdemeanor charge of threatening force to intimidate African-American students and employees at the university. Prosecutors agreed to drop a stiffer felony charge in exchange for the plea arising from the incident last year.

The 20-year-old Harris faces up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $100,000. U.S. District Judge Michael Mills said sentencing will be within 60 to 90 days, and he allowed Harris to remain free on a $10,000 bond.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Bob Norman told Mills that Harris, who had a history of using racist language and saying African Americans were inferior to whites, proposed the plan to two fellow freshmen while at the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity house on the night of Feb 15, 2014.

That led to the plan to hang the noose and a former Georgia state flag that features the Confederate battle flag on the statue of Meredith, in a jab at Ole Miss' thorny racial history.

When a federal court ordered the university to admit Meredith in 1962, the African-American student had to be escorted onto campus by armed federal agents. The agents were attacked during an all-night riot that claimed two lives and was ultimately quelled by federal troops.

After the noose and flag were placed on the statue, Norman said Harris and one of the other freshmen returned at sunrise on Feb. 16 to observe and were filmed by a video camera at the Ole Miss student union.



Court: State can’t order unions, companies to reach binding contracts
Law Firm News | 2015/05/17 15:27
A California appeals court sided with one of the largest fruit farms in the nation, ruling that a law allowing the state to order unions and farming companies to reach binding contracts was unconstitutional.

Labor activists say the mandatory mediation and conciliation law is a key to helping farm workers improve working conditions.

However, the 5th District Court of Appeal said Thursday it does not clearly state the standards that the contracts are supposed to achieve.

The ruling came in a fight between Gerawan Farming and the United Farm Workers, the union launched by Cesar Chavez. The union won the right to represent Gerawan workers in 1992, but the two sides did not agree to a contract.

At the union’s request, the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board in 2013 ordered Gerawan and the UFW to enter into binding mediation. The two sides couldn’t come to an agreement so a deal was crafted by the mediator and adopted by the labor relations board, the appeals court said. Gerawan objected to the terms.


Lawyers for Menendez, donor due in court in corruption case
Law Firm News | 2015/04/23 16:21
Attorneys representing indicted U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez and a donor who's charged with bribing him in exchange for political favors are due in court in New Jersey.

The pretrial conference is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon in Newark.

Menendez was indicted this month on charges he accepted nearly $1 million worth of gifts and travel from longtime friend and Florida-based ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen.

Menendez is accused of trying to get the State Department to intervene in a contract dispute involving a business Melgen owned in the Dominican Republic and advocating for Melgen in a Medicare billing dispute for several years.

Melgen has been charged separately with Medicare fraud.

The trial is scheduled for mid-July.


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