Southwest Airlines to Pay $15 Million to Settle Collusion Claims

January 4, 2018
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) – Southwest Airlines will pay $15 million to settle class action lawsuits claiming it conspired with Delta, United and American Airlines to keep ticket prices high by limiting capacity.

The Dallas-based airline says the settlement is not an admission of wrongdoing and it continues to deny it entered into “any unlawful agreements” with other airlines.

“We’re entering into this settlement to avoid considerable distraction and expense of protracted class-action litigation,” Southwest said in a statement Thursday. “For decades, we have consistently set our capacity planning with a goal of offering our lowest fares to the hundreds of millions of customers of America’s largest and original low fare airline.”

American and United said Thursday they would continue to defend against the lawsuits, which were filed against the airlines in 2015.

The Department of Justice has requested documents from the airlines to investigate possible collusion, but has yet to take any further action.

In an antitrust lawsuit filed in Milwaukee Federal Court in July 2015, the plaintiffs claim the defendants control over 80 percent of seats in the domestic travel market.

“During that period, they have eliminated unprofitable flights, filled a higher percentage of seats on planes and made a very public effort to slow growth in order to command higher airfares,” the complaint stated.

The plaintiffs claim the term “discipline” – an alleged euphemism for limiting flights and seats, higher prices and bigger profit margin – was repeatedly used by airline executives at the annual International Air Transport Association conference that year.

They further claim Delta’s removal of schedule and fare information from third-party websites “is a part of a broader push by defendants to restrict how – and whether – sites can use their fare and schedule data” to limit consumers’ ability to do price comparisons.

Southwest says the settlement is not an admission of wrongdoing and it continues to deny it entered into “any unlawful agreements” with other airlines.

“We’re entering into this settlement to avoid considerable distraction and expense of protracted class-action litigation,” Southwest said in a statement Thursday. “For decades, we have consistently set our capacity planning with a goal of offering our lowest fares to the hundreds of millions of Customers of America’s largest and original low fare airline.”

From Courthouse News.

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Cop Cleared in Fiery Death of Oklahoma Man

December 15, 2017
By David Lee

PURCELL, Okla. (CN) – An Oklahoma prosecutor cleared a cop Thursday of wrongdoing in the Taser shooting of an apparently suicidal man doused in gasoline who caught fire and died.

McClain County District Attorney Greg Mashburn said Lindsay, Okla., Officer Brian Guthrie’s actions were “appropriate under the law” when he shot Dana Carrothers, 52, of Norman. Mashburn also said Guthrie would not be prosecuted, in a letter issued Thursday.

Mashburn said it was unclear if the fire was started by the Taser or by a lighter Carrothers was holding at the time.

According to the DA, law enforcement began searching for Carrothers on Nov. 7 when a friend reported finding a suicide note after confronting him about allegedly sexually assaulting her relative.

Guthrie and Officer Kyle Phillips located Carrothers in his truck later that night. He refused to leave the vehicle and appeared to be pouring liquid out of a red can, according to Mashburn.

“Finally, Carrothers exited the truck with a lighter in his hand. He did not smell of gasoline. He was ordered to the ground numerous times but did not respond,” Mashburn wrote in the letter, as reported by The Oklahoman newspaper. “He then turned to the truck as if to get in. Officer Guthrie, fearing that Carrothers would return to the truck where he may have access to a weapon and harm an officer, deployed his Taser.”

Mashburn said Guthrie grabbed Carrothers to put out the fire before he “broke contact” and suffered first and second-degree burns to his arms and face.

“As officer Guthrie was trying to get his burning clothes off, Carrothers got back in his truck,” the letter stated. “There was a loud explosion and Carrothers was sitting in the front driver’s seat. He made no effort to get out and stayed in the truck until he died.”

Mashburn said that, according to Norman police, Carrothers had tried to kill himself two other times.

From Courthouse News.

Oklahoma State Senator Pleads Guilty to Child Sex Crime

December 1, 2017
By David Lee

OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) – A disgraced former Oklahoma state senator pleaded guilty Thursday to a federal child sex trafficking charge, admitting that he solicited a teenage boy to have sex at a hotel.

Ralph Shortey, 35, R-Oklahoma City, ignored reporters as he entered the federal courthouse in Oklahoma City. He was charged in September with two counts of transportation of child pornography, production of child pornography and child sex trafficking.

Prosecutors agreed to drop the first three charges in exchange for his plea. He faces 10 years to life in federal prison and will be sentenced in 2018.

Shortey will not be further prosecuted for “his transportation, possession or production of child pornography or child sex trafficking during the period from October 2013 through March 9, 2017,” in exchange for his guilty plea, the 10-page plea agreement states.

Shortey, an early supporter of President Donald Trump, is a married father of four.

Prosecutors said the unidentified teenage boy told Shortey on the Kik messaging app on March 8 that he needed money for spring break.

“I don’t really have any legitimate things I need help with right now,” Shortey replied. “Would you be interested in ‘sexual’ stuff?”

The indictment stated Shortey later drove the boy to a Super 8 Motel in Moore and rented a room with his credit card. Police say the boy’s father told them his son “has a history of soliciting himself” for sex on Craigslist and that they found the two in a room with a strong odor of marijuana, a bottle of lotion and an open box of condoms.

The Oklahoma Senate unanimously passed a resolution stripping Shortey of his powers and kicked him out of his Capitol office in March, shortly after he was found with the teenage boy. He resigned days later.

Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn filed state charges against Shortey, but dismissed them after federal prosecutors filed their case.

From Courthouse News.

Texas Congressman Won’t Run Again After Nude Photo Leak

November 30, 2017
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) – U.S.  Rep. Joe Barton of Texas said Thursday he will not seek re-election next year, one day after a constituent accused him of sending her inappropriate private messages on Facebook and a week after his nude sexting photo was posted online.

The Republican had insisted he would seek an 18th term in Congress next year after apologizing for the nude image. He appears to have changed his mind after Kelly Canon came forward Wednesday with screenshots of sexual messages she received about four years ago during a Facebook conversation.

“So … that means u r wearing a tank top only… and not panties? right now?” Barton allegedly asked.

“Ok thats enough,” Canon replied. “You know my attire! Good night…..”

A message a few days later from Barton allegedly read, “wanna tell me what u r wearing or not wearing tonight miss sweet dreams.” Canon says she replied, “still in my ‘regular’ clothes!”

Barton has represented the 6th District of Texas since 1985. The district includes the suburbs of Ennis, Mansfield and Arlington near Dallas and Fort Worth. Barton’s current term expires in January 2019. He thanked his constituents for their “support and friendship,” but did not mention the allegations against him.

“I am very proud of my public record and the many accomplishments of my office,” Barton said in a statement. “It has been a tremendous honor to represent the 6th District of Texas for over three decades, but now it is time to step aside and let there be a new voice.”

Barton said his slogan as a young congressman was “listening to you in Texas, working for you in Washington,” and that it was a way of life for him.

Barton is among several lawmakers who are facing allegations of inappropriate behavior towards women, including U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., U.S. Rep. John Conyers, R-Mich., and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, R-Ala.

The claims come amidst a deluge of allegations of sexual misconduct against men in positions of power that has claimed the jobs of movie producer Harvey Weinstein, journalists Charlie Rose and Matt Laurer and music executive Russell Simmons, among others.

Barton told The Dallas Morning News he believes he could still win re-election, but that it would be a “nasty campaign” that would be “difficult” for his family.

He said he made up his mind to not seek re-election on Wednesday and not because of the growing calls from fellow Republicans for him to step aside.

“I’m at peace with it,” he said. “I’m not happy about what’s gone on. But I did do the things and I’ve always been truthful … You have to be accountable for your actions, and I’m trying to do that.”

Barton repeated earlier claims that he is the victim of “revenge porn” and said an investigation is underway.

Canon said Thursday she is “glad he came to his senses” in not seeking re-election.
“I’m a little disheartened that it took me coming forward to make him realize it’s more than just a picture,” she told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “It’s a pattern.”

Canon said she never completely shut down the conversations she had with Barton because she is politically active and wanted an open line of communication with him.

“He is my congressman,” she told NBC-affiliate KXAS on Wednesday. “This is an effort not only to get him to not run again, but to get other people – but to get other women – to come forward, too.”

From Courthouse News.

Macy’s Fined $375,000 for Hazardous Waste Violations

October 26, 2017
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) – Retail giant Macy’s will pay $375,000 to settle claims it violated federal hazardous waste regulations for three years, the Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday.

Macy’s generated more than 269,158 lbs. of hazardous waste from 2012 to 2015 from 44 locations identified in the settlement, the EPA said in a statement. Each site should have registered with the EPA and state, but did not.

This violated the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which gives the EPA authority to control hazardous waste from “cradle to grave.” The EPA estimates Macy’s manages as much as 1.2 million lbs. of hazardous waste nationwide annually, based on the average rate of hazardous waste generated by the 44 stores in the civil settlement.

“During these times, each Macy’s store identified in the settlement generated thousands of pounds of hazardous waste to qualify as a small-quantity generator but failed to notify EPA and state authorities,” the EPA said in a statement. “Macy’s also failed to meet the conditions for small-quantity generator status and did not complete appropriate manifests.”

Macy’s agreed to develop a program to train 400 retailers in Oklahoma and Texas how to comply with the regulations, and conduct third-party audits of 11 of its largest facilities in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and New Mexico.

Macy’s did not immediately respond to an email message seeking comment after business hours Wednesday.

From Courthouse News.

NAACP Warns Black Travelers Not to Fly American Airlines

October 25, 2017
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) – The NAACP warned African-Americans on Tuesday against flying on American Airlines, citing several recent “disturbing incidents” against black passengers, including an activist being kicked off a flight.

“In light of these confrontations, we have today taken the action of issuing national advisory alerting travelers – especially African Americans – to exercise caution, in that booking and boarding flights on American Airlines could subject them disrespectful, discriminatory or unsafe conditions,” the civil rights group said in a written statement. “The series of recent incidents involve troublesome conduct by American Airlines and they suggest a corporate culture of racial insensitivity and possible racial bias on the part of American Airlines.”

The NAACP cited an incident last week involving Tamika Mallory, an organizer of the Women’s March in Washington in January.

Mallory said she was kicked off a flight by a white male pilot after she was told at the gate that a seat she had changed into at an airport kiosk had been assigned to another passenger. Mallory claimed she was treated disrespectfully by a black female gate agent and that the pilot asked if she could control herself on the flight.

Another alleged incident last year involved the Rev. William Barber, the former head of the North Carolina NAACP. Barber sued Fort Worth-based American, claiming he was removed from a plane after asking a flight attendant to tell a white passenger to be quiet.

American CEO Doug Parker said Wednesday he is “disappointed” with the travel advisory.

“The mission statement of the NAACP states that it ‘seeks to remove all barriers of racial discrimination,’” he said in a letter to employees. “That’s a mission that the people of American Airlines endorse and facilitate every day – we do not and will not tolerate discrimination of any king, We have reached out to the NAACP and are eager to meet with them to listen to their issues and concerns.”

Parker asked American employees to “keep doing the great and noble work you always do” and to “treat our customers and each other with respect.”

Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, said in a statement, “All travelers must be guaranteed the right to travel without fear of threat, violence or harm.”

“The growing list of incidents suggesting racial bias reflects an unacceptable corporate culture and involves behavior that cannot be dismissed as normal or random.  We expect an audience with the leadership of American Airlines to air these grievances and to spur corrective action.  Until these and other concerns are addressed, this national travel advisory will stand,” Johnson said.

From Courthouse News.

Dallas Elections Official Targeted for Ouster Over Voter Fraud

October 24, 2017
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) – A local attorney claims in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that Dallas County’s elections administrator should be removed from office for reportedly distributing hundreds of absentee ballots to elderly voters who did not request them.

Justin Jay Koch, an attorney with William M. Woodall PC, sued Dallas County Elections Administrator Toni Pippins-Poole in Dallas County District Court.

The lawsuit was filed three months after the arrest of Miguel Hernandez, 27, who faces a second-degree illegal voting charge.

Prosecutors said a voter picked him out of a lineup after saying she handed him a blank ballot that he allegedly offered to deliver to election officials on her behalf.

Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson began investigating in May after several elderly voters in West Dallas complained about receiving absentee ballots in the mail that they did not request. Others complained they were unable to vote on Election Day as someone apparently had mailed in absentee votes in their names.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton – a fellow Republican – soon joined the investigation, saying it was to “solidify” public trust in elections.

Koch’s lawsuit claims the voter fraud could have been stopped if Pippins-Poole did her job competently.

“It was her duty to oversee the examination of signatures for the purpose of comparison on mail in ballots and requests for mail in ballots,” the five-page complaint states. “It was her duty to ensure the mail in ballots were handled in a competent manner free of systematic fraud.”

Koch also claims Pippins-Poole engaged in official misconduct when she allegedly accepted a $1,500 gift from county elections vendor ES&S “to pay for lapel pins for her bid to become president of the International Association of Government Officials,” a Raleigh, N.C.-based association of government clerks, recorders, election officials and treasurers.

In addition, Koch accuses Pippins-Poole of “soliciting $500 to $800 from six elections company vendors” for a charity on behalf of her IAGO delegation from Texas.

County officials did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment late Tuesday afternoon.

Koch seeks Pippins-Poole’s removal from office under the Texas Election Code, Texas Government Code and Local Government Code.

From Courthouse News.