Ebola Contacts Ask to Vote by Email

My Ballot by TalAtlas, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   My Ballot,  TalAtlas 

October 27, 2014
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) – Dallas officials on Monday asked a state judge to let the isolated health care workers who treated Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan vote by email to avoid exposing the public.
Dallas County Elections Administrator Toni Pippins-Poole filed her request in Dallas County Court Monday afternoon.
She cited a “need to balance the state’s duty to protect the public health” and her “statutory responsibility to safeguard and insure” voters’ rights.
Pippins-Poole “requests permission to be allowed to provide an alternative voting procedure for individuals who as a result of precautionary public health measures arising from the recent outbreak of the Ebola virus in Dallas County are under agreed movement restrictions until such time that they are no longer within the incubation period for contracting the Ebola virus,” the 5-page petition states.
“These individuals include healthcare workers who were in contact with Thomas Eric Duncan aka ‘Patient Zero,’ and others who were in contact with those healthcare workers.”
Ninety-seven contacts in Dallas were placed under surveillance during the 21-day incubation period for Ebola, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Seventy-nine contacts have completed the isolation period and have been released from isolation, including Duncan’s immediate family.
Two nurses who cared for Duncan at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas later tested positive for Ebola and were quickly isolated.
Nina Pham was transferred to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.
Amber Vinson was transferred to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
Both nurses have since tested negative for the disease and Pham was released on Friday .
Pippins-Poole said the still-isolated healthcare workers voluntarily agreed to restrict their movements during the incubation period.
The Dallas County Commissioners Court declined to impose mandatory control orders on the contacts on Oct. 17, citing a need to balance public safety with civil liberties .
Pippins-Poole says that the requested email voting program has been vetted and accepted by the Texas Secretary of State, and has been successfully administered in Bexar County in the past.
“Dallas County will appoint a limited number of individuals to receive the ballots of these voters by email, and these individuals will sign a non-disclosure agreement stating that they understand they will be viewing marked ballots by known voters, and that they are not authorized to disclose or divulge the voter’s selection, or any data regarding the individuals allowed to vote by this method to protect their privacy,” the petition states. “Dallas County and health officials will notify all members of the eligible class of voters of the availability of this procedure.”
Pippins-Poole also asked the court to extend the deadline for applying to vote by mail from Oct. 24 to Nov. 2 – two days before election day. She said time for preparations for the procedure are needed “because the ultimate extent of the Ebola outbreak cannot be known.”
Pippins-Poole’s petition was filed by the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office.
Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday afternoon.

From Courthouse News.

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Prosecutorial Misconduct Frees Two Dallas Men From Life Sentences

DA Craig Watkins releases duo after proo by Dallas County DA, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   DA Craig Watkins,   Dallas County DA 

October 28, 2014
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) – Two Texas men were freed Tuesday when their life sentences were overturned due to prosecutorial misconduct during their murder trials.
Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins agreed Tuesday morning to overturn the convictions of Stanley O. Mozee, 55, and Dennis Lee Allen, 52. The men were convicted of the robbery and stabbing death of the Rev. Jesse Borns Jr., who was killed in April 1999.
Dallas County Judge Mark Stoltz released Mozee and Allen on $25,000 bond during a hearing packed with their friends, family and other exonerees.
Both men await appellate rulings on their case and new trials.
Allen told the media outside the courtroom that he feels like he is “in heaven.”
“Try to imagine the best joy you ever experienced in your life,” he said. “That’s what I’m feeling right now.”
Mozee said that despite his ordeal he is not mad at anyone.
“I give the Dallas County judicial system a positive note,” he said. “The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals [must now] act and do the just thing in this matter.”
District attorney spokeswoman Debbie Denmon said Watkins’ office was approached by the Innocence Project in late 2008 and allowed its workers to review of the case files, in accordance with Watkins’ open file policy.
“It was only after this open file review that the Conviction Integrity Unit and the Innocence Project discovered letters written by jailhouse informants who were ultimately called as witnesses by the state,” Denmon said in a statement.
“In these letters, the witnesses demanded certain benefits from a former Dallas County prosecutor in exchange for testifying, and/or sought to have the prosecutor deliver on promises that the witnesses believed had been made in exchange for their testimony.”
The letters and “substantive discussions” were not disclosed at either Mozee’s or Allen’s trials.
“Consequently, at least one witness was allowed to mislead jurors about why he was testifying,” Denmon said.
Watkins said the prosecutorial misconduct occurred in an administration before his, and that the tactics used to win a conviction were “wrong back then, and it is wrong today.”
“Allowing a jury to be swayed due to prosecutors playing dirty just further erodes the trust of the criminal justice system,” he said after the hearing.
Innocence Project co-director Barry Scheck urged state officials to “conduct a thorough investigation of the prosecutor’s handling of this matter and hold him accountable if he violated professional responsibilities, as the evidence strongly suggests.”
DNA tests conducted on “a trove of physical evidence” from the crime scene did not match Mozee or Allen, he said.
“However, DNA from one or more persons that does not match the defendants or the victim was identified on several items, including a bloodstain from the scene, a hammer found next to the victim’s body, and a hair underneath the victim’s fingernails, potentially from a close-range struggle in which the victim suffered numerous defensive wounds to his hands,” the Innocence Project said Tuesday afternoon.
Allen’s attorney, Gary Udashen, said the record showed “there was never a shred of credible evidence pointing to either” man.
“Instead the prosecution built a case from several unreliable jailhouse informants. As the court found, under questioning by the prosecutor, these informants falsely denied that they expected help from the prosecutor with their own cases,” Udashen said. “In fact, as the court also found, these jailhouse informants testified against Mozee and Allen only in exchange for promised help from the prosecutor.”

From Courthouse News.

IRS Defeats Suits by 42 Tea Party Groups Over Tax-Exempt Analyses

October 27, 2014
By David Lee
WASHINGTON (CN) – A federal judge nixed claims that political bias led to unfair scrutiny on the tax-exempt status of dozens of conservative Tea Party groups.
Houston-based True the Vote and 41 conservative groups led by Franklin, Tenn.-based Linchpins of Liberty filed their separate lawsuits against the Internal Revenue Service in the weeks after an IRS official’s May 2013 public apology before the American Bar Association “for a pattern of misconduct whereby the IRS intentionally and systematically targeted.”
They claimed that the IRS and its officers had violated their First Amendment and Administrative Procedure Act in delaying and singling-out their applications for tax-exempt status beginning in February 2010.
Citing an “IRS Action Plan” that announced the suspension “of ‘be-on-the-lookout,’ or BOLO, lists in the application process for tax exempt status,” U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton in Washington, D.C., dismissed both suits as moot Thursday.
Walton noted that the defendants “publicly announced that they suspended the unconstitutional conduct complained of by the plaintiffs and implemented changes to the tax-exempt review process to assure the public that the conduct will not recur.”
“Thus, the allegedly unconstitutional governmental conduct, which had delayed the processing of the plaintiffs’ tax-exempt applications and spawned this litigation, is no longer impacting the plaintiffs,” the 23-page page opinion in the Linchpins case states.
Compounding these changes is the subsequent approval by the IRS of the groups’ applications, the court found.
“The defendants’ grant of tax exempt status to the plaintiff, and the defendants’ suspension of the alleged IRS targeting scheme during the tax-exempt application process, including remedial steps to address the alleged conduct, coupled with the reduced ‘concern about the recurrence of objectionable behavior’ by government actors convinces the court the ‘voluntary cessation’ exception is not applicable here,” Walton wrote.
True the Vote founder Catherine Engelbrecht noted that she is “stunned” by Walton’s ruling.
“The notion that the IRS can target Americans for years because of their political beliefs is reprehensible,” Engelbrecht said in a statement Sunday. “The court acknowledges in its opinion that the IRS did in fact target True the Vote for our perceived political beliefs, but then it holds that neither the agency nor the individual IRS agents or officers are responsible for this unconstitutional conduct. Right now, we are considering all legal options and will announce our next steps very soon.”
Freedom Path filed a similar federal complaint in Dallas regarding the “additional and unconstitutional scrutiny” of conservative groups based on their policy positions.
In a bid to dismiss the group’s First and Fifth Amendment claims against her last month, Lois Lerner, former head of the Exempt Organizations Unit with the IRS, told U.S. District Judge Sidney Fitzwater that Freedom Path failed to allege any contact between her and Texas.
Fitzwater has yet to rule on Lerner’s motion.

From Courthouse News.

Controversial Ten Commandments Monument at Oklahoma Capitol Smashed

By David Lee
October 27, 2014
OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) – An Oklahoma man told law enforcement he drove his car into and destroyed the Oklahoma Capitol’s controversial Ten Commandments monument because Satan told him to – drawing condemnation even from those who oppose the monument.
Michael Tate Reed Jr., 29, of Roland, was arrested Friday after he threatened to kill President Barack Obama at the Oklahoma City Federal Building, Secret Service Special Agent David Allison said.
Reed later said he was directed by Satan to urinate on and destroy the monument, The Oklahoman newspaper reported.
State spokesman John Estus said the monument was knocked over around 9 p.m. Thursday. Reed’s vehicle was abandoned there and towed away.
Oklahoma Highway Patrol spokesman Capt. George Brown said Reed was taken to an Oklahoma County mental facility “for an emergency order of detention and mental evaluation.”
Investigators will coordinate with the Oklahoma County District Attorney for possible criminal charges, Brown added.
The 6-foot granite monument was authorized by the Oklahoma Legislature in 2009 and installed three years later through private donations. In August 2013, Dr. Bruce Prescott sued the Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission with help from the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma for the monument’s removal. An Oklahoma County district judge dismissed the lawsuit in September.
Ryan Kiesel, director of ACLU of Oklahoma, condemned the monument’s destruction. He said its “desecration by vandals is highly offensive” to his clients “as people of faith.”
“The ACLU of Oklahoma and our clients are outraged at this apparent act of vandalism. While we have and continue to seek the removal of the Ten Commandments monument from the Capitol grounds through the judicial process, the Ten Commandments constitute a strong foundation in our clients’ deeply held religious beliefs,” Kiesel said.
“Our Oklahoma and Federal Constitutions seek to create a society in which people of all faiths and those of no faith at all can coexist as equals without fear of repression from the government or their neighbors. Whether it is politicians using religion as a political tool or vandals desecrating religious symbols, neither are living up to the full promise of our founding documents.”
In January this year, New Jersey-based American Atheists sued the commission in Federal Court, claiming the monument violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the 14th Amendment and the Supremacy Clause of Article VI of the U.S. Constitution. The group claims the state is endorsing religion that “indirectly compels participation” by nonbelievers.
That same month, a New York-based satanic group filed an application with the commission to erect a taller, 7-foot statue of a goat-headed, horned Satan on Capitol grounds, claiming the Ten Commandments monument opened the door to their request.
That design depicts Satan as Baphomet – a goat-headed figure with horns, wings and a beard – sitting on a pentagram throne with two smiling children standing beside him.
“The monument has been designed to reflect the views of Satanists in Oklahoma City and beyond,” Satanic Temple spokesman Lucien Greaves said at the time. “The statue will also have a functional purpose as a chair where people of all ages may sit on the lap of Satan for inspiration and contemplation.”
The temple condemned the monument’s destruction as well, saying it still wants its monument but “only alongside” the Ten Commandments monument.
“If our monument stands at the state Capitol, we want it to complement and contrast the Ten Commandments, with both standing unmolested as a testament to American religious freedom and tolerance,” the temple said in a statement Friday.

From Courthouse News.

Fmr. Big Brothers Big Sisters general counsel alleges racial bias by CEO

October 24, 2014
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) – The leader of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America disproportionately fired minorities after expressing an intent to move the group away from serving its base of ethnic minorities, two black former employees claim.
Former Big Brothers marketing manager Erick C. Brown, of Illinois, and former general counsel and vice president Kelley Gilbert, of the District of Columbia, sued the Irving, Texas-based volunteer mentor program in Federal Court on Thursday.
They say former Tampa Mayor Pamela Ioria was hired as chief executive in March and informed senior leadership of her “intent to shift the focus of BBBSA away from serving ethnic minority communities, namely African-American, Latino and Native-American children and their families.”
“A direct outcome of Iorio’s new vision was a race-based change in BBBSA’s national office staffing,” the complaint states. “With a staff of forty-three (43) employees in its Irving, Texas national headquarters, Iorio took steps to reduce BBBSA’s Irving-based staff to twenty-two (22) employees. …
“(T)he organization retained sixteen (16) Caucasians and only six (6) minorities among its Irving-based national office staff. Of the 16 Caucasians retained, three were promoted to senior roles and received increased remuneration, while the majority of the remaining minority staff work in administrative or junior management roles.”
Iorio is not a party to the lawsuit, though the plaintiffs claim she Iorio “systematically terminated” 14 minority employees while firing only seven white ones “as part of her vision” to shift focus from serving minorities.
They say Big Brothers went on to hire back some of the fired white employees, further increasing the racial disparity.
The plaintiffs say they are not challenging Iorio’s authority to determine the group’s mission.
“Instead, plaintiffs challenge … Iorio’s decision to slash BBBSA’s staff to match this ethnically-altered vision. Simply put, it is not axiomatic that ethnic minorities can serve only ethnic minority populations.”
Big Brothers serves more than 200,000 children and families nationwide, more than 70 percent of whom are black, Hispanic or Native American.
The plaintiffs point out the group receives “significant federal funds,” including from the Department of Labor’s Reintegration of Ex-Offenders grant program.
“BBBSA recognizes this target population is largely minority and cites the populations it serves and assessment data to support federal grant applications,” the complaint states.
Big Brothers did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday evening.
The plaintiffs seek actual and punitive damages for racial discrimination. They are represented by Michael Coles in Dallas.

From Courthouse News.

DePuy Wins Bellwether Dallas Hip Implant Case

Prosthetic hip by DanR, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   Prosthetic hip,  DanR 

October 24, 2014
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) – DePuy Orthopedics won a bellwether products liability trial Thursday when a federal jury cleared it of liability for a woman’s injuries from its discontinued Pinnacle hip implants.
DePuy – a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson – is facing several thousand such lawsuits for the metal-on-metal implant. The cases were consolidated in Dallas Federal Court under U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade, according to the Courthouse News database.
Kathleen Herlihy-Paoli sued in 2012, claiming the two Pinnacle implants she received in 2009 shed metal inside of her during use. Her Pinnacle claims are the first to have gone to trial.
“Defendants knew, or should have known, of reports that metal-on-metal implants, such as the Pinnacle, generated unusually high amounts of metal debris over time due to unusual, premature or increased wear and tear,” her complaint stated. “This debris can spread throughout the surrounding bone and tissue and cause serious complications and damage.”
During the two-month trial, DePuy argued that her Pinnacle hips were not properly implanted. It took jurors two days of deliberation to unanimously rule against Herlihy-Paoli and order she take nothing .
Jurors declined to find negligence, strict liability or violations of the Montana Consumer Protection Act.
DePuy spokeswoman Mindy Tinsley said the company is “pleased” with the verdict and that it “reflects the facts of a case.”
“The evidence showed that ULTAMET Metal-on-Metal was designed to meet the needs of patients and is backed by clinical data showing a track record of safety and effectiveness in reducing pain and restoring mobility for patients suffering from chronic hip pain,” Tinsley said in a statement. “The company expects additional cases to be tried in the coming months and remains committed to the long-term and vigorous defense of the allegations in these lawsuits.”
DePuy stopped selling Pinnacle implants last year. In 2010, it recalled the similar metal-on-metal ASR hip implants after reports of high failure rates.
Several thousand lawsuits were filed over ASR. DePuy settled 7,000 of the claims last year for $2.5 billion.

From Courthouse News.

Both Texas Nurses Cleared of Ebola, Nina Pham released from NIH

October 24, 2014
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) – Texas nurses Nina Pham and Amber Vinson have tested negative for Ebola, much to the relief of public health officials seeking to calm the public after the nation’s fourth case was confirmed in New York City.
Pham, of Dallas, tested positive for Ebola on Oct. 12 after caring for original Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan at Texas Health Presbyterian Dallas.
Pham was placed into isolation and later taken via air ambulance to the National Institutes of Health in Maryland, where she emerged Friday with a clean bill of health.
NIH director Dr. Anthony Fauci said that Pham is “cured of Ebola” at a jovial press conference Friday morning that concluded with Pham hugging NIH officials.
Pham thanked her medical team and God for her recovery, while noting that others have “not been so fortunate.”
Pham said her prayers were with Vinson and Dr. Craig Spencer, who is under quarantine at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York. Spencer tested positive for Ebola after returning from hard-hit Guinea while volunteering for Doctors Without Borders.
Pham also thanked Dr. Kent Brantley, another volunteer physician who was cured after contracting the disease in West Africa.
“I would especially like to thank Dr. Kent Brantly for his selfless act of donating plasma to me,” Pham said. “As a nurse, I have a special appreciation for the care I have received from so many people. Not just doctors and nurses, but the entire support team.”
Pham asked for privacy upon her return to Dallas, where she looks forward to reuniting with her family and her dog, Bentley, who is in the middle of the 21-day isolation period at Hensley Field in Grand Prairie.
“I hope that people understand that this illness and this whole experience have been very stressful and challenging for me and for my family,” Pham said. “Although I no longer have Ebola, I know that it may be a while before I have my strength back.”
NIH officials reiterated that Ebola survivors “are not contagious and can no longer spread the disease.”
“We would not be releasing Ms. Pham if we were not completely confident in the knowledge that she has fully recovered, is virus free and poses no public health threat,” the NIH said in a statement.
Texas Department of State Health Services director Dr. David Lackey said he was happy for Pham’s recovery.
“Ms. Pham’s recovery is a testament to her perseverance in the face of the disease, the excellent care she has received and the support she had of so many here in Texas and across the nation,” Lackey said in a statement. “Ms. Pham is returning to Texas, where she will continue to rest and regain her strength, but there is nothing medically that will prevent her from resuming a normal life.”
Barclay Berdan, CEO of Presbyterian parent Texas Health Resources, said Pham’s coworkers are thrilled with her recovery and return to Dallas.
“Her colleagues and friends eagerly look forward to welcoming her back,” he said. “Her courage and spirit, first in treating a critically ill Ebola patient and then in winning her own battle against the disease, has truly inspired all of us.”
Immediately after her release, Pham met President Barack Obama in the Oval Office, where he hugged and thanked her for her “selfless” care for Duncan. The president took no special precautions to protect himself, since a “clean bill of health” from the NIH was enough, White House officials said.
Within an hour of Pham’s release, Emory University Hospital officials in Atlanta announced that Vinson is no longer testing positive for Ebola, either.
“Tests no longer detect virus in her blood,” Emory said in a statement. “She remains within Emory’s Serious Communicable Diseases Unit for continued supportive care. We do not have a discharge date at this time.”
Vinson tested positive for Ebola on Oct. 15, days after flying to and from Cleveland to plan her wedding.
Public health officials in Texas and Ohio then scrambled to identify and track possible contacts during her trip, resulting in the closure of several schools in both states.

From Courthouse News.