Monday, June 14, 2021

Judge upholds dismissal of case against resort developer

A U.S. bankruptcy judge has upheld court decisions that the state of Montana lacked legal standing to file an involuntary bankruptcy petition nearly a decade ago against Yellowstone Club co-founder Tim Blixseth. Judge Mike N. Nakagawa of Nevada on June 3 confirmed the ruling by previous judges to dismiss the involuntary petition, noting the case has lingered for nearly 10 years. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2019 the Montana Department of Revenue (MDOR) lacked legal standing to file an involuntary bankruptcy petition against Blixseth and referred the case to bankruptcy court to see if it should be dismissed. The Yellowstone Club, a private ski and golf resort in Big Sky founded by Blixseth and his now ex-wife in 1997, filed for bankruptcy in 2008. Blixseth was accused of pocketing much of a $375 million Credit Suisse loan to the resort and later gave up control of the enterprise to his ex-wife during their 2008 divorce. The club, which has touted billionaire Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and former Vice President Dan Quayle as members, has emerged from bankruptcy under new ownership. The Montana Department of Revenue had done an audit of Blixseth and in 2009 said he owed $56.8 million in taxes, penalties and interest arising from eight audit issues, court documents stated. The Montana action against Blixseth is separate from Blixseth’s claims against Montana in Nevada for damages due to the involuntary petition , the Independent Record reported. In 2011, Montana joined with the Idaho State Tax Commission and the California Franchise Tax Board against Blixseth, however, those two states had settled agreements and withdrew from the petition, according to court documents. Nakagawa noted that as of the hearing date, close to a decade has passed since the Involuntary Petition was filed. He said that since April 20, 2011, only Montana has continuously pursued this issue against Blixseth. He said Yellowstone Club Liquidating Trustee apparently was interested in pursuing the involuntary proceeding against Blixseth, but gave up nearly two years before the 9th Circuit mandate was received by this bankruptcy court.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Ruling: Missed court date in Washington does not imply guilt

The Washington state Supreme Court this month unanimously rejected the notion that a man who skipped his court date could be presented as evidence that he felt guilty about the original crime. State Supreme Court justices agreed that criminalizing a single missed court date could disproportionately harm people of color, poor people or people without reliable transportation or scheduling conflicts due to child care or work, The Daily Herald reported. The ruling came less than a year after the state Legislature revised the bail jumping law, which gives people more time to respond to a warrant. Samuel Slater, 27, had one unexcused absence in his case, which predated the new law. Records show Slater was convicted of violating no-contact orders five times in five years, multiple driving offenses and domestic violence charges. He pleaded guilty in 2016 to assault in Washington state. A judge ordered him not to have contact with the woman, who was not identified, but he showed up within a day of being let out of jail. He was charged in 2017 with alleged felony violation of a no-contact order and felony bail jumping after missing a court date later in the year. Slater’s attorney, Frederic Moll, asked for separate trials on the counts. Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Anita Farris, a former public defender, found that the charges could be tried together for “judicial economy reasons” and that they were cross-admissible, meaning one could be used to prove the other. Judge Ellen Fair presided over the trial and agreed with Farris. State Court of Appeals judges also agreed. During the trial, deputy prosecutor Adam Sturdivant repeatedly noted how the defendant missed his court date, asking: “If he didn’t do it, why didn’t he show up for trial call a year ago?” Slater was found guilty on both counts and sentenced to more than two years in prison and a year of probation.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Justices consider hearing a case on ‘most offensive word’

Robert Collier says that during the seven years he worked as an operating room aide at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, white nurses called him and other Black employees “boy.” Management ignored two large swastikas painted on a storage room wall. And for six months, he regularly rode an elevator with the N-word carved into a wall. Collier ultimately sued the hospital, but lower courts dismissed his case. Now, however, beginning with a private conference that was scheduled for Thursday, the Supreme Court is considering for the first time whether to hear the case. (Although the court did not comment, the case remained on its calendar, which likely means it was discussed Thursday.) Focusing on the elevator graffiti, Collier is asking the justices to decide whether a single use of the N-word in the workplace can create a hostile work environment, giving an employee the ability to pursue a case under Title VII of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. Already, the court’s two newest members, both appointed by President Donald Trump, are on record with seemingly different views. The case is also a test of whether the justices are willing to wade into the ongoing, complex conversations about race happening nationwide. The public could learn as soon as Monday whether the court will take Collier’s case. Jennifer A. Holmes, a lawyer with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which has urged the court to take the case, says she hopes the conversations taking place nationally will push the justices in that direction. Doing so gives the court an “opportunity to show that they’re not insensitive to issues of race,” Holmes said. And courts are “all the time” confronting workplace discrimination claims involving use of the N-word, she said. The question for the justices, she said, is just whether someone who experiences an isolated instance of the N-word can “advance their case beyond the beginning stage.” Two of the court’s nine justices have experience with similar cases.

Judge: Pretrial release OK for man accused in Capitol riot

A judge has ruled that one of two Oregon brothers accused in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol will be released from custody Friday to a third-party guardian, where he will be on home detention and GPS monitoring pending his trial. U.S. District Judge Randolph D. Moss, of the District of Columbia, on Thursday granted Matthew Klein’s pretrial release to a Baker County couple after refusing to allow him to stay with his parents. Moss last week cited text messages that showed Klein’s mother and father warning Matthew’s younger brother and co-defendant Jonathanpeter Klein not to broadcast their roles, noting “braggers get caught,” according to court testimony and documents, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported. Matthew Klein, 24, and Jonathanpeter Klein, 21, both have pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States, aiding and abetting in the obstruction of an official proceeding, obstruction of law enforcement during civil disorder, destruction of government property, entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds, and disorderly conduct in a restricted building or grounds. The judge ordered Matthew Klein to be released to a woman who is retired from Baker County government and lives with her husband, a prison guard at the Powder River Corrections Facility, court documents said. He’ll be released on Friday once he is fitted with a location monitoring device. Jonathanpeter Klein also has asked for pretrial release to a third-party guardian, under home detention and GPS monitoring. Federal prosecutors don’t object. His release hearing will be held in early June.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Court to hear appeal of Dallas officer who killed neighbor

A Texas court is scheduled to hear arguments Tuesday on overturning the conviction of a former Dallas police officer who was sentenced to prison for fatally shooting her neighbor in his home. An attorney for Amber Guyger and prosecutors are set to clash before an appeals court over whether the evidence was sufficient to prove that her 2018 shooting of Botham Jean was murder. The hearing before a panel of judges will examine a Dallas County jury’s 2019 decision to sentence Guyger to 10 years in prison for murder. It follows the recent conviction of a former Minneapolis police officer who was found guilty of murdering George Floyd, again focusing national attention on police killings and racial injustice. Guyger is not expected to appear in court Tuesday and the appeals panel will hand down a decision at an unspecified later date. More than two years before Floyd’s death set off protests across the country, Guyger’s killing of Jean drew national attention because of the strange circumstances and because it was one in a string of shootings of Black men by white police officers. The basic facts of the case were not in dispute. Guyger, returning home from a long shift, mistook Jean’s apartment for her own, which was on the floor directly below his. Finding the door ajar, she entered and shot him, later testifying that she through he was a burglar. Jean, a 26-year-old accountant, had been eating a bowl of ice cream before Guyger shot him. She was later fired from the Dallas Police Department. The appeal from Guyger, now 32, hangs on the contention that her mistaking Jean’s apartment for her own was reasonable and, therefore, so too was the shooting. Her lawyers have asked the appeals court to acquit her of murder or to substitute in a conviction for criminally negligent homicide, which carries a lesser sentence. In court filings, Dallas County prosecutors countered that Guyger’s error doesn’t negate “her culpable mental state.” They wrote, “murder is a result-oriented offense.” Jean’s mother, Allison Jean, told the Dallas Morning News that the appeal has delayed her family’s healing. ”I know everyone has a right of appeal, and I believe she’s utilizing that right,” Jean said. “But on the other hand, there is one person who cannot utilize any more rights because she took him away. “So having gotten 10 years, only 10, for killing someone who was in the prime of his life and doing no wrong in the comfort of his home, I believe that she ought to accept, take accountability for it and move on,” she said. Guyger could have been sentenced to up to life in prison or as little as two years. Prosecutors had requested a 28-year sentence ? Botham Jean would have been 28 if he were still alive during the trial. Under her current sentence, Guyger will become eligible for parole in 2024, according to state prison records. Following the trial, two members of the jury said the diverse panel tried to consider what the victim would have wanted when they settled on a 10-year prison sentence. Jean ? who went by “Bo” ? sang in a church choir in Dallas and grew up in a devout family on the island nation of St. Lucia. After sentencing, Brandt Jean embraced Guyger in court and told her his older brother would have wanted her to turn her life over to Christ. He said if she asked God for forgiveness, she would get it.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Alaska denied oil check benefits to gay couples, dependents

Alaska discriminated against some same-sex spouses for years in wrongfully denying them benefits by claiming their unions were not recognized even after courts struck down same-sex marriage bans, court documents obtained by The Associated Press show. The agency that determines eligibility for the yearly oil wealth check paid to nearly all Alaska residents denied a dividend for same-sex spouses or dependents of military members stationed in other states for five years after a federal court invalidated Alaska’s ban on same-sex marriage in 2014, and the Supreme Court legalized the unions nationwide in June 2015, the documents show. In one email from July 2019, a same-sex spouse living out-of-state with his military husband was denied a check because “unfortunately the state of Alaska doesn’t recognize same sex marriage yet,” employee Marissa Requa wrote to a colleague, ending the sentence with a frown face emoji. This Permanent Fund Dividend Division practice continued until Denali Smith, who was denied benefits appealed and asked the state to start including her lawyer in its correspondence. Smith later sued the state, seeking an order declaring that state officials violated the federal court decision and Smith’s constitutional rights to equal protection and due process Smith and the state on Wednesday settled the lawsuit. Alaska admitted denying benefits to same-sex military spouses and dependents for five years in violation of the permanent injunction put in place by the 2014 U.S. District Court decision. The state also vowed to no longer use the outdated state law, to deny military spouses and dependents oil checks going forward, and updated enforcement regulations. There were no financial terms to the settlement. In fact, Smith had to pay $400 out of pocket to file the federal lawsuit to get her oil check, and her attorney worked pro bono. In Alaska, the oil wealth check is seen as an entitlement that people use to buy things like new TVs or snowmobiles, fund college savings accounts or, in rural Alaska, weather high heating and food costs. The nest-egg fund, seeded with oil money, has grown into billions of dollars. A portion traditionally goes toward the checks, but the amount varies. Last year, nearly every single resident received $992. The year before, the amount was $1,606. About 800 pages of emails provided by the state for the lawsuit show a clear misunderstanding or outright disregard of the 2014 precedent and reluctance to reach out to the attorney general’s office for guidance.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Colorado court: Speed-reading bills violates constitution

The Colorado Supreme Court has ruled that state Senate Democrats violated the constitution in 2019 when they responded to Republicans’ request that bills be read at length by having computers speed-read the bills in an intelligible garble. The Colorado Sun reports that in a 4-3 ruling released Monday, the court ruled the speed-reading tactic violated the constitution’s mandate that legislation be read at length upon request. “There are unquestionably different ways by which the legislature may comply with the reading requirement,” Justice Carlos Samour Jr. wrote in the majority opinion. “But the cacophony generated by the computers here isn’t one of them.” Minority Senate Republicans were trying to delay Democrats’ attempts to overhaul oil and gas regulations by asking that bills be read aloud ? including a 2,000-page measure. When Democrats resorted to computers, Republicans sued. A lower court found for the minority party. In a dissenting opinion, Justice Monica M. Marquez wrote that the court should give direction on how legislation ought to be read in the future. In 2019, Democrats began negotiating with Republicans to avoid further stalling tactics ? and the GOP has since slowed down work on other occasions to force Democrats to make deals.