Montana Restricts Inmate Mail to Written in English Only

The ACLU is representing an inmate in a lawsuit against the Montana state Corrections Department, claiming they violated constitutional rights to free expression and equal protection under the law by confiscating letters in Spanish to a foreign-born inmate. The defendants cite security concerns and a lack of funding for a interpreter and deny having an English-only policy. In May 2010, Montana corrections officers stopped delivering mail written in Spanish from family members to William Diaz-Wassmer, citing security concerns. They argued that restrictions on inmate correspondence prohibit letters written in “code or foreign language not understood” by corrections staff who monitor prison mail.

Previously, a volunteer prison worker had been interpreting letters partly written in Spanish. A staff attorney for the Corrections Department said budget constraints don’t allow the state to hire another interpreter, and that requiring the state to provide translation services would pose a financial hardship.


President Obama Supports Repeal of DOMA

Press Secretary Jay Carney announced that, “the President has long called for a legislative repeal of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which continues to have a real impact on the lives of real people — our families, friends and neighbors. He is proud to support the Respect for Marriage Act, introduced by Senator Feinstein and Congressman Nadler, which would take DOMA off the books once and for all. This legislation would uphold the principle that the federal government should not deny gay and lesbian couples the same rights and legal protections as straight couples.”

Same-sex marriage has been legalized in six states and the District of Columbia. Currently, DOMA allows other states to ignore those recognized same-sex marriages, and prevents same-sex couples from receiving federal benefits available to married couples.


Father Who Was Shot in Road Rage Incident Sued by Daughter

Thomas Timko’s 11-year-old daughter Kaitlyn is suing him for trauma she sustained after he made an obscene hand gesture at motorist Christian Squilliacotti. Squillaciotti, a former Marine who has also been diagnosed wtih schizophrenia, responded by firing four bullets at Timko’s car, one hitting Thomas Timko in the head. Timko suffered permanent brain damage and was left with a disfiguring scar and large medical debts. Kaitlyn’s mother, Lori Hardwerk, says she’s never psychologically recovered from the 2008 incident.

Squillaciotti was convicted of two counts of attempted murder and weapons charges and is currently serving a 13- to 26-year jail term, but was not named in the lawsuit because he has no assets, and his insurance would not apply because the shooting was intentional. Kaitlyn’s claim is based on the foreseeability of harm due to her father’s display of road rage. Despite the legal wrangling, father and daughter still have visitation and handle the situation by not discussing it.


SCOTUS to Decide if Government Needs Warrant to Put GPS Device on Suspect’s Car

In an important case for privacy rights, United States v. Jones, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide if the police need a search warrant to put a GPS tracking device on a suspect’s vehicle. Lower courts have been sharply divided.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has ruled that the police must get a warrant, while federal appeals courts in Chicago, St. Louis, and San Francisco, have ruled the other way. The government is relying on the Supreme Court’s 1983 ruling in United States v. Knotts, which held that the police did not need a warrant to install an electronic beeper in a container of chemicals being transported on a truck. Civil libertarians counter that monitoring someone with GPS for a month is far more invasive than a single instance of monitoring. The Jones case could be argued as soon as this fall.


Racketeering Charges Filed Against Lady Gaga Over Japanese Charity Wristbands

Lawyers from Michigan-based 1-800-LAW-FIRM have filed a $5 million class action federal racketeering suit against entertainer Lady Gaga, claiming she improperly profited from “We Pray for Japan” charity wristbands sold on her website.

According to the Washington Post blog Celebritology, Gaga began selling the $5 wristbands on her site shortly after a tsunami struck Japan in March, advertising that “all proceeds go directly to Japan relief efforts”.

The plaintiff claims Gaga, her co-defendants, and merchandizing company, retained a portion of the proceeds, inflated shipping charges and wrongfully taxed consumers. Reuters reports that Gaga donated about $3 million to Japan disaster relief.


SCOTUS Rules Civil Defendants Not Entitled to Lawyer

In a civil contempt case against a South Carolina father, Michael Turner, was sentenced to 12 months in jail for being $5,728 in arrears on child support. In a majority opinion, the Court found that an indigent defendant who faces jail for failure to pay child support does not have an automatic right to have counsel appointed in the same way a criminal defendant does. The constitutional right to counsel in criminal cases is part of the constitutional right to fair trial.

The Court also noted that to create such a requirement would create an imbalance in representation and put the other parent at a disadvantage if the other parent was unable to afford counsel. Critics of the decision claim that it endorses use of debtors’ prison in the United States.


Texas law Requiring Sonogram Before Abortion Challenged

The Center for Reproductive Rights has filed a lawsuit challenging Texas’ new law requiring a woman to have a sonogram performed before an abortion. The law also requires doctors to provide “a simultaneous verbal explanation of the results of the live, real-time sonogram images, including a medical description of the dimensions of the embryo or fetus, the presence of cardiac activity, and the presence of arms, legs, external members, and internal organs.”

The law is being challenged on First Amendment and Equal Protection grounds on behalf of a class of physicians who perform abortions. The physicians claim that the act is unconstitutional because it “profoundly intrudes on the practice of medicine, forces physicians to deliver ideological speech to patients, and treats women as less than fully competent adults.” The complaint described the following ways in which the act intrudes on medical practice:

The Act imposes strict liability, criminal penalties, and a mandatory penalty of the non-renewal of a medical license on any physician who fails to comply with any one of myriad requirements for providing government-mandated information to a patient in advance of an abortion. The Act imposes numerous requirements that are contrary to standard medical practice and/or violate standards of medical ethics. For example, the Act will compel physicians to deliver to their patients government-mandated speech including visual and auditory depictions of the fetus that falls outside the accepted standards and practices for medical informed consent. Moreover, given its harsh penalties and vague requirements, the Act will force physicians to deliver this government-mandated speech even where a patient declines to receive it, or else risk losing his or her license.


Madoff Payroll Manager Pleads Guilty to Charges

Eric Lipkin, former payroll manager for Bernard L Madoff Investment Securities LLC, pleaded guilty to six criminal counts in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York for his role in a Ponzi scheme. The scheme defrauded investors of billions of dollars. Lipkin admitted  to falsifying documents to defraud authorities. Judge Laura Taylor Swain said Lipkin could face up to 70 years in prison.

Also on Monday, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)  sued  Lipkin in the same federal court for violations of the Securities Act of 1933, Securities Exchange Act of 1934, and the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. The SEC wants Lipkin to disgorge his illegally acquired earnings and pay civil penalties.


U.S. Justice Department Hires More Liberals

Reversing a trend of weeding out liberals during the Bush administration, the U.S. Justice Department has been hiring more applicants with civil rights backgrounds. According to a study of submitted résumés done by the New York Times, Obama-era hires were more likely to have had experience in civil rights, and they graduated from more selective law schools, than those hired over the final six years of the Bush administration.

The study found that about 90 percent of the Obama-era hires listed civil rights backgrounds on their résumés, compared to about 38 percent of the Bush group hires. It is common for any administration to hire people who agree with the current administration’s ideology to fill the politically appointed positions that are vacated with each new president, but civil service laws prohibit taking ideology into account when hiring for the permanent posts known as “career” positions.


Real-ID Compliant Drivers Licenses Adopted

Connnecticut and New Jersey have recently implemented drivers licenses that comply with the requirements of the 2005 federal Real ID Act. New Jersey’s Enhanced Digital Driver License, while similar in appearance to the old license, features more than 25 covert and overt features designed to reduce fraud and abuse.

By 2017, a Real ID-approved form of identification, such as an enhanced driver license or ID, may be required at airport screenings or to enter federal buildings. At least 20 states have passed legislation that effectively says they won’t comply with the Real ID requirements. A 2011 policy position from the National Governors Association said that while governors support the strengthening of security features in state-issued drivers’ licenses and ID cards, Real ID puts unnecessary cost burdens on states and the legislation’s requirements should be revised.


Inside Real-ID Compliant Drivers Licenses Adopted