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After three defendants fatally overdosed in a single week last year, it became clear that Buffalo's ordinary drug treatment court was no match for the heroin and painkiller crisis.

Now the city is experimenting with the nation's first opioid crisis intervention court, which can get users into treatment within hours of their arrest instead of days, requires them to check in with a judge every day for a month instead of once a week, and puts them on strict curfews. Administering justice takes a back seat to the overarching goal of simply keeping defendants alive.

"The idea behind it," said court project director Jeffrey Smith, "is only about how many people are still breathing each day when we're finished."

Funded with a three-year $300,000 U.S. Justice Department grant, the program began May 1 with the intent of treating 200 people in a year and providing a model that other heroin-wracked cities can replicate.

Two months in, organizers are optimistic. As of late last week, none of the 80 people who agreed to the program had overdosed, though about 10 warrants had been issued for missed appearances.

Buffalo-area health officials blamed 300 deaths on opioid overdoses in 2016, up from 127 two years earlier. That includes a young couple who did not make it to their second drug court appearance last spring. The woman's father arrived instead to tell the judge his daughter and her boyfriend had died the night before.

"We have an epidemic on our hands. ... We've got to start thinking outside the box here," said Erie County District Attorney John Flynn. "And if that means coddling an individual who has a minor offense, who is not a career criminal, who's got a serious drug problem, then I'm guilty of coddling."

Regular drug treatment courts that emerged in response to crack cocaine in the 1980s take people in after they've been arraigned and in some cases released. The toll of opioids and profile of their users, some of them hooked by legitimate prescriptions, called for more drastic measures.

Acceptance into opioid crisis court means detox, inpatient or outpatient care, 8 p.m. curfews, and at least 30 consecutive days of in-person meetings with the judge. A typical drug treatment court might require such appearances once a week or even once a month.




Immigrant children who cross the border without their parents have the right to a court hearing to challenge any decision to detain them instead of turning them over to family in the U.S., a federal appeals court said Wednesday.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said two laws passed by Congress did not end the right to a bond hearing for unaccompanied immigrant children who are detained by federal authorities.

Tens of thousands of unaccompanied children fleeing gang and drug violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have entered the U.S. in recent years.

Federal officials place the vast majority of them with family in the U.S., who care for the minors while they attend school and while their cases go through the immigration court system.

But the Department of Human Services has the authority to hold children in secure facilities if they pose a danger to themselves or others or have committed a crime. Some have spent months in detention.

Immigration advocates estimate the size of the group in secure custody at several hundred children and say bond hearings allow them to understand why they are being held and challenge their detention.

"If you don't give kids transparency and a clear finite date when their detention will end you see all kinds of psychological effects," said Holly Cooper, co-director of the Immigration Law Clinic at the University of California, Davis.

Cooper represented plaintiffs in the legal fight over the bond hearings. The 9th Circuit ruling cited a declaration from one teenager who was held for 16 months, mostly at a juvenile detention center in Northern California. The teen, referred to only by his first name, Hector, said federal officials provided no explanation for his continued detention, and he received no hearing before an immigration judge. He was eventually released to his mother.

The Obama administration argued that two laws — one approved in 2002 and the other in 2008 — did away with the bond hearing requirement in a 1997 court settlement by giving the human services department all authority over custody and placement decisions for unaccompanied children.

The Department of Justice said in a 2016 court filing that immigration judges "are not experts in child-welfare issues and possess significantly less expertise in determining what is in the best interest of the child" than human services officials.




A company that owns 10 Jimmy John's sandwich shops in the Twin Cities was within its rights to fire six union workers who circulated posters critical of the company's sick-leave policy, a federal appeals court ruled Monday.

The full 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a three-judge appeals panel, which had affirmed a National Labor Relations Board ruling in favor of the workers, who were part of a unionization drive by the Industrial Workers of the World at shops owned by MikLin Enterprises.

The full appeals court concluded that the poster attack was "so disloyal" that it wasn't protected by federal labor law.

The posters were timed to the flu season in early 2011. They protested the company's policy against workers calling in sick without finding replacements to take their shifts, and accused the company of putting the health of its customers at risk. The poster features two identical photos of Jimmy John's sandwiches but said one was made by a healthy worker and one was made by a sick worker.

"Can't tell the difference?" the poster read. "That's too bad because Jimmy John's workers don't get paid sick days. Shoot, we can't even call in sick. We hope your immune system is ready because you're about to take the sandwich test."

The poster and a press release were distributed to more than 100 local and national news organizations, and the IWW threatened wider distribution if its demands were not met.

The NLRB concluded that MikLin violated protections for employee communications to the public that are part of an ongoing labor dispute. The three-judge appeals panel agreed. But the full appeals court said the board misapplied a controlling precedent set in a 1953 U.S. Supreme Court case that permits firings for disloyalty when the quality of a company's product is attacked, as opposed to communications targeting the employer's labor practices.

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