Category Archives: Law

Federal Judge Upholds 1st Amendment

In what should have been the easiest ruling ever.

A federal judge in Green Bay ruled Friday that Northeast Wisconsin Technical College violated the First Amendment when officials ordered a student to stop handing out Valentine’s Day cards containing messages from the Bible, including “Jesus Loves You!” and “God is Love!”

Polly Olsen, 29, a Green Bay woman studying to become a paralegal, filed a lawsuit against the college a little more than a year ago and came to the attention of President Donald Trump, who invited her to the White House in March.

On Valentine’s Day 2018, Olsen was handing out cards with Bible messages to students and staff when a campus official told her she was violating school policy and took her to the security office. Olsen has said the cards were a family tradition started by her late mother.

“There can be no doubt that in handing out her homemade valentines to her fellow students, friends and staff at NWTC, Olsen was engaged in a constitutionally protected form of expression,” U.S. District Court Chief Judge William C. Griesbach wrote in his decision.

Griesbach ruled in favor of Olsen, awarded damages of $1 and ordered that NWTC not use a school policy in order to prevent other students from handing out similar cards or messages.

The NWTC policy in question is called “Freedom of Speech, Expression, and Public Assembly.”

It is infuriating that we have to even litigate things like this. The woman was handing out cards. If you received one and didn’t want it, throw it away. End of problem. The school did not need to insert itself into such a simple human interaction with its stupid and unconstitutional policy.

Republicans Sign Blanket Confidentiality Agreement

This is an interesting story.

Under Republican lame-duck laws limiting Kaul’s authority, he is required to seek approval from the Republican-controlled legislative budget committee to settle a number of lawsuits. But Republicans, up until their announcement on Thursday, had been unable to agree on a procedure for doing so.

Kaul on Tuesday told committee members they would each need to sign confidentiality agreements to review and approve the cases he brought to them. But all lawmakers objected to doing so for different reasons. The unprecedented saga this week has tested how the lame-duck laws will work in practice.

The blanket secrecy agreement is meant to ameliorate concerns from lawmakers over signing individual nondisclosure agreements.

“This action should resolve the Attorney General’s confidentiality concerns, and he should send over all of the relevant settlement information for review,” Darling and Nygren said in a statement. “The Committee stands ready to review and approve any settlements that are in the state’s interest.”

It’s unclear whether the agreement passes legal muster. Kaul in a statement said the department is assessing the proposed confidentiality agreement.

“We will continue attempting to reach agreement on this issue, as we began attempting to do more than six months ago,” Kaul said. “Our interest remains in ensuring that Wisconsinites are represented as effectively as possible and that the enforcement of our environmental, consumer protection, and other laws is not impeded by partisan gamesmanship.”

On the one hand, I understand Kaul’s concerns. He is litigating cases where his office is bound by confidentiality agreements and it is in the best interests of Wisconsin to keep things confidential until there is a resolution. By extending the circle to include legislators, he wants them to be bound by the same confidentiality requirements. This is particularly an issue because politicians are notoriously leaky – particularly when they believe there might be a political advantage in leaking.

On the other hand, the Attorney General works for the state and the legislature sets the rules. The legislature passed a law requiring the AG to include them and the AG, by forcing this requirement, is refusing to comply with the law. Kaul doesn’t have the legal authority tp refuse to comply with the law without a confidentiality agreement.

Federal Lawsuit Against Act 10 Thrown Out

Act 10. Still legal. Still right. Still working.

MADISON – A federal judge on Wednesday threw out a lawsuit seeking to overturn former Gov. Scott Walker’s signature law that sharply limited collective bargaining for most public employees in Wisconsin.

The lawsuit over the law known as Act 10 was brought by two arms of the International Union of Operating Engineers after state and federal courts upheld the law in other cases. The union intends to file a new lawsuit, according to a motion filed by its attorneys.

Union officials filed the latest lawsuit in 2018, dropped it months later and revived it in May to name Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul as defendants.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman agreed to throw out the lawsuit after Kaul in July argued the court did not have jurisdiction because the case had previously been closed.

Attorneys for the union agreed with Kaul and didn’t object to the lawsuit’s dismissal, according to court records.

Taxpayers on Hook for $110,000 to Jailed Felon

Sigh… government screws up and it’s always the taxpayer left to pay the bill.

WAUSHARA COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) – A Wisconsin prison inmate is receiving tens of thousands of dollars from the state as the result of a federal lawsuit settlement over what’s been dubbed “The Rat Emoji Incident.”

Taxpayers are footing the bill for that $110,000 settlement. There may be more to come.The lawsuit stems from an incident at Redgranite Correctional Institution. Target 2 Investigates uncovered the story in January.A now-former corrections sergeant at the prison exposed the identity of five inmates who were acting as confidential informants in a high-profile undercover gang investigation by placing pictures or rats next to their names.

“To be honest with you, it was rage. Rage,” former prison gang investigator Jason Wilke says was his first reaction after learning criminal charges were never filed against the sergeant.

One of the inmates filed a federal civil rights lawsuit and the state decided to settle. He’s serving time for armed robbery, and getting a big payout from taxpayers.

10% Responsible for Genocide

What a fascinating case.

The Dutch supreme court has upheld a ruling that the Netherlands was partially responsible for 350 deaths in Bosnia’s Srebrenica massacre.

The court said the state had 10% liability, as this was the probability that its soldiers could have prevented the killings.

Bosnian Serb forces killed a total of 8,000 Muslim men in the town of Srebrenica in 1995.

The Dutch had been guarding a UN safe zone when it was overrun.

It is rare for a state to be held responsible for failures in UN peacekeeping work, but the court emphasised that the Netherlands bore “very limited liability”.

[…]

The court ruled that if Dutch forces had given 350 men hiding in the UN compound the chance to stay, there was just a 10% chance they would not have fallen into the hands of the Serbs, and so the Dutch state should be liable for only that proportion of the damages suffered by the bereaved.

The ruling did not give details on how it calculated the 10% chance of survival.

The final verdict draws a line under years of legal battles between the Dutch state and the plaintiffs – a group of victims’ relatives known as the Mothers of Srebrenica.

The case was escalated to the highest court because the state wanted to be cleared of responsibility, while the Mothers of Srebrenica wanted it to be held accountable for all 8,000 deaths in the genocide.

An appeals court had previously set the liability at 30%, but the supreme court’s ruling has drastically reduced that figure.

This is the Dutch court system ruling that their own people were partially responsible for failing in a UN peacekeeping mission that resulted in a genocide. While noble, war is incredibly ugly and I question the rationale of lawyers assigning percentages of blame decades after it happened – particularly for a NOT doing something. These soldiers didn’t commit a war crime. They merely failed to act to prevent one when they might have been able to.

Attorney General Asks for Input

While I applaud the effort at transparency, why would he need to solicit comments from the public about opinions? I thought that the AG was supposed to offer legal opinions based on the law – not public opinion.

MADISON, Wis. – Attorney General Josh Kaul today unveiled a new process and website for all Wisconsinites to provide information and perspectives on proposed Attorney General Opinion topics prior to the beginning of the Department of Justice drafting process. The new Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) webpage, doj.state.wi.us/OpinionRequests gives anyone the opportunity to weigh in on issues facing opinion review.

“With the changes announced today, we are making the AG opinion process transparent and open to input from the public,” said Attorney General Kaul.

With the new website, all commentary submitted will now be open to public review through the public records process. Public records requests can be made through the Department of Justice Office of Open Government by phone, mail or online. More information about making a public records request can be found here.

By statute, the Attorney General must, when asked, provide the legislature and designated Wisconsin state government officials with an opinion on legal questions. The Attorney General may also give formal legal opinions to district attorneys and county corporation counsel under certain circumstances. Wis. Stat. § 165.25(3) and 59.42(1)(c). Please see 77 Op. Att’y Gen. Preface (1988) for a more detailed explanation of the criteria for requesting a formal opinion.

Facebook Fined for Sharing Users’ Data Without Consent

Shocking… the Democrats voted to protect Big Tech.

US regulators have approved a record $5bn (£4bn) fine on Facebook to settle an investigation into data privacy violations, reports in US media say.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been investigating allegations that political consultancy Cambridge Analytica improperly obtained the data of up to 87 million Facebook users.

[…]

The FTC began investigating Facebook in March 2018, following reports that Cambridge Analytica had accessed the data of tens of millions of its users.

The investigation focused on whether Facebook had violated a 2011 agreement under which it was required to clearly notify users and gain “express consent” to share their data.

Anonymous sources familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal on Friday that the $5bn fine was approved by the FTC in a 3-2 vote, which broke along party lines with Republican commissioners in favour and Democrats opposed.

Sources cited in other media also reported the same information.

 

Taylor Swift Protests Sale of Catalog

This is a good lesson in contracts, ownership, and private property rights.

Taylor Swift has described herself as “sad and grossed out” by Scooter Braun’s acquisition of Big Machine Records, which holds the rights to her entire catalog up through 2017’s “Reputation,” calling the deal “my worst case scenario.” Swift said she was shocked to first learn of the transfer of her work through news accounts Sunday morning. Braun declined Variety‘s requests for comment.

Swift posted her impassioned reaction in a Tumblr post, which reads:

“For years I asked, pleaded for a chance to own my work. Instead I was given an opportunity to sign back up to Big Machine Records and ‘earn’ one album back at a time, one for every new one I turned in. I walked away because I knew once I signed that contract, Scott Borchetta would sell the label, thereby selling me and my future. I had to make the excruciating choice to leave behind my past. Music I wrote on my bedroom floor and videos I dreamed up and paid for from the money I earned playing in bars, then clubs, then arenas, then stadiums.

[…]

“This is my worst case scenario. This is what happens when you sign a deal at fifteen to someone for whom the term ‘loyalty’ is clearly just a contractual concept. And when that man says ‘Music has value’, he means its value is beholden to men who had no part in creating it.

“When I left my masters in Scott’s hands, I made peace with the fact that eventually he would sell them. Never in my worst nightmares did I imagine the buyer would be Scooter. Any time Scott Borchetta has heard the words ‘Scooter Braun’ escape my lips, it was when I was either crying or trying not to. He knew what he was doing; they both did. Controlling a woman who didn’t want to be associated with them. In perpetuity. That means forever.

While Swift has the right to object to the sale, the fact is that she doesn’t own it. It’s not hers. She sold her music. And it’s not like she didn’t get any value for the sale. She received money, access to the industry, and help in her rise to fame and fortune. Could she have reached her current level of stardom without Big Machine Records? Maybe. But we know for sure the result of her relationship with BMR. And since BMR owns the music, they have every right to sell it or monetize it in any way they see fit.

Think of it this way… when an artist paints a painting or creates a sculpture and sells it, does the artist retain the right to control the art after it is sold? Of course not. Does the fact that it is art that the artist created on their bedroom floor when they were 15 change anything? Nope.

Swift may be upset, but it’s not like she didn’t get anything out of the deal.

Court Rules that DPI is Part of Government

Well, it took them a couple of tries, but they got it right.

Three years after ruling the Department of Public Instruction doesn’t have to submit proposed administrative rules to the guv for review, the state Supreme Court reversed course today and found the agency is subject to the requirement just like any other agency.

In a 4-2 decision, the court overturned that 2016 ruling. In doing so, the conservative majority found the Wisconsin Constitution gives the state superintendent the power to supervise public instruction.

But the Legislature grants the superintendent and DPI the power to promulgate rules. Therefore, the court ruled, lawmakers can set limits on that power.

“That the SPI also has the executive constitutional function to supervise public instruction does not transform the SPI’s legislatively delegated rulemaking power into a constitutional supervisory function,” Chief Justice Pat Roggensack wrote in the majority opinion that was joined by her fellow three conservatives.

State Supreme Court to Rule on DPI Superintendent’s Authority

This will be an interesting ruling.

MADISON, WIS. (AP) — The state Supreme Court is poised to release a ruling on whether the governor or the state schools superintendent controls Wisconsin school policy.

Republicans passed a law dubbed the REINS Act in 2017 that requires all state agencies to get the governor’s permission before writing regulations. The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty filed a lawsuit with the high court last year arguing then-Superintendent Tony Evers was writing regulations without then-Gov. Scott Walker’s approval.

[…]

The court ruled in 2016 that the schools superintendent doesn’t have to abide by a 2011 law similar to the REINS Act that requires agencies to get the governor’s permission before writing regulations.

Supreme Court Affirms Constitution

Two thoughts… first, it’s hard to get excited over something that should be obvious to all. Second, it’s a travesty of justice that this was not a unanimous ruling. It just shows how hardcore partisan the liberals on the court have become and why the voters need to continue to correct for their bias.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin’s conservative-controlled Supreme Court on Friday upheld lame-duck laws limiting the powers of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul, handing Republican lawmakers a resounding victory.

The win was on procedural grounds only and the ruling isn’t the end of the legal challenges. Two other challenges to the laws themselves and not the process used to pass them are pending. One of those is in federal court, a move that Democrats hope gives them a better shot at sidestepping conservative judges.

Most of the laws — enacted just weeks before Republican Gov. Scott Walker left office after his November defeat — have been reinstated and are in effect while the legal challenges proceed.

A group of liberal-leaning organizations led by the League of Women Voters sued in January alleging the laws are invalid because legislators convened illegally to pass them in December. The groups maintained the Legislature’s session had ended months earlier and that the lame-duck floor session wasn’t part of the Legislature’s regular schedule.

Bakery Wins Libel Suit

It’s nice to see a win over the hate mob. Hopefully this will be a lesson to others, but I doubt it.

(CNN)An Ohio jury has ordered Oberlin College to pay $11 million to a bakery which said it was libeled and wrongfully accused of racially profiling students.

The case stems from the November 2016 arrests of three black Oberlin students at Gibson’s Bakery and market near the college’s campus in Oberlin, Ohio.
One student, Jonathan Aladin, was accused of attempted robbery for allegedly trying to “steal wine or otherwise illegally obtain wine” from the bakery, according to a defamation lawsuit. He would eventually confess in a written statement to buying alcohol illegally.
Two other suspects, Cecelia Whettston and Endia J. Lawrence, were arrested and accused of misdemeanor assault, court documents state.
After that, Oberlin staff members tried to discredit the family-owned bakery, the lawsuit says.
Oberlin College staff — including deans and professors — and students engaged in demonstrations in front of Gibson’s Bakery following the arrests of the three students, the lawsuit stated.
The suit also said Oberlin Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo and other college staff members “handed out hundreds of copies” of a flier to the community and the media stating that Gibson’s Bakery and its owners racially profiled and discriminated against the three students.
The court documents include a copy of the flier, which included the words “DON’T BUY.”
“This is a RACIST establishment with a LONG ACCOUNT of RACIAL PROFILING and DISCRIMINATION,” the flier read, according to the lawsuit.
The flier also listed 10 of the bakery’s competitors and urged customers to shop there instead.

Public Records Must Be Provided in their Original Digital Format

Hurrah, hurrah.

A Wisconsin appeals court has affirmed that officials must provide copies of electronic records in their original format.

The decision, released Wednesday, upholds a lower court’s order requiring state Rep. Scott Krug, R-Wisconsin Rapids, to turn over electronic copies of emails requested by The Progressive magazine editor Bill Lueders.

Lueders, who is president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, said the decision represents “a major win for requesters in Wisconsin.”

You might remember that I have been pushing for this for years. I file open records requests from time to time and it frustrates the heck out of me when governments insist on printing emails to give to me. It’s wasteful and imposes undue expenses on the requester for no good reason. I’m glad to see the courts insisting that government abide by the state’s Open Record Laws.

Lawsuit Filed Against NY Education Department Over Racist “Equity” Plan

It ain’t just New York. Social Justice superseded education a long time ago in far too many government school systems.

Three white female executives in the New York Education Department were demoted in favor of less-qualified people of color, a $90 million suit launched by the women claims.

The longtime officials say they were unfairly targeted as part of the department’s crusade against ‘toxic whiteness’ through its controversial racial equity plan.

Lois Herrera started at the DOE in 1986 as a guidance counselor and worked her way up to lead its Office of Safety and Youth Development.

In the suit filed Tuesday, she claims she saw the culture shift when Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed Richard Carranza as the chancellor of NYC‘s public schools in April 2018.

Lois Herrera is one of three women suing the New York Education Department for $90m over claims they were demoted in favor of less-qualified people of color

By June the Harvard graduate – who was recognized in 2017 for contributing to the ‘safest year on record’ in city schools – was abruptly removed from her position and demoted three levels.

[…]

Herrera was never given any reasoning for her demotion but claims she was told, ‘If you’ve been with the DOE for more than 20 years, you are responsible for the problem,’ by LaShawn Robinson, the then executive director of the DOE’s Office of Equity and Access.

[…]

Department insiders say that under Chancellor Richard Carranza, who was appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, administrators are subjected to endless lectures and workshops critiquing ‘whiteness’ and attempting to root out ‘white supremacy’ in the workplace.

SCOTUS Leaves Transgender Bathroom Policy In Place

I agree with this decision.

Washington (CNN)The Supreme Court on Tuesday left in place a lower court ruling in favor of a Pennsylvania school district policy that allows some transgender students to use bathrooms that match their gender identity.

This case is a challenge to a Pennsylvania’s school district’s policy that allows some transgender students to use bathrooms that match their gender identity. The plaintiffs are students who say the policy violates their privacy rights and constitutes sexual harassment in violation of Title IX, a federal law that bars discrimination based on sex in educational institutions that receive federal funds.
Tuesday’s ruling was issued without comment.
In court papers, lawyers for the plaintiffs argue that “forcing a teenager to share a locker room or restroom with a member of the opposite sex can cause embarrassment and distress.”
We don’t need, or want, the courts to decide every societal disagreement. This is a cultural issue that people can work out for themselves. If the folks in that Pennsylvania school district want to let people pick their own bathroom, fine. If the folks in Colorado have a different opinion, that’s fine too. The court should just leave some things alone for people to decide.

Leftist Judicial Candidate Pledges to Be an Activist Leftist Judge

LOL.

Judge Jill Karofsky announced her candidacy Thursday. She said she feels America is on the “wrong track” because the judiciary is becoming increasingly politicized and the rule of the law is being ignored for partisan reasons.

“The American judicial system is built on independent judges, not a system in which you decide what political team you’re on,” Karofsky wrote in the announcement. “We can see the corroding effect of big money on our judicial system, and it’s time to restore a sense of justice and honor to our legal system. I will follow the law, and I will protect our Wisconsin values.”

So she decries the politicization of the judiciary and vows to follow the law, but in the SAME STORY we get this:

 “We will serve the needs of crime victims, we will stand up for racial justice and civil rights, we will protect the right to marriage equality, and we will never allow for the rights of women to be rolled back,” Karofsky wrote.

Um, I thought the courts were about following the law? Where is all of this “stand up for [insert liberal cause here]” stuff come from?

Court Reinstates Appointees Who Were Illegally Ousted by Evers

Good.

The 4-3 order handed down on Tuesday by the court’s conservative majority wasn’t the final say in the lame-duck lawsuit brought by the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin. But the court found that all of the former Gov. Scott Walker appointees – including those whose appointments that were rescinded by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers – can return to work while the appeal of the case proceeds.

“As we are only at the early stage of this appeal and in the context of a motion for temporary relief pending appeal, we express no position as to whether or not any of the Legislature’s arguments will ultimately prevail,” the court wrote. “We cannot say, however, that the Legislature’s arguments have ‘no likelihood of success on the merits,’ as the circuit court did.”

Supreme Court Dismisses Lawsuit Against Firearms Classifieds Site

Good ruling

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The state Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit Tuesday alleging a firearms website that enabled a man to illegally purchase the pistol he used in a mass shooting at a suburban Milwaukee spa six years ago is liable in the killings, ruling that federal law grants the site operators immunity.

The court ruled 5-1 that the federal Communications Decency Act protects Armslist LLC, a firearms classifieds website. The act absolves website operators of any liability resulting from posting third-party content.

Should the Names of Food Stamp Recipients be Public Information?

Interesting case.

The nation’s high court on Monday wrestled with whether government spending records from the nation’s largest food safety-net program are records that Congress intended to be released under a key federal transparency law.

Much of the argument in Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Mediacentered on the meaning and intent of the word “confidential” and its use in the Freedom of Information Act, which Congress passed in 1966 to make government records available to the public.

The Food Marketing Institute, which represents grocers and other retailers, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the issue after a lower court ruled that spending records from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program could be released to the public.

Justices appeared conflicted between upholding the spirit of the Freedom of Information Law and the desire to stick to the literal meaning of the word “confidential.”

“One of the aims of FOIA was to make information public despite official willingness,” Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said.

But Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch noted that the word “confidential” was presumed to mean something different in another section of the FOIA law. “Why should we give the same word two different meanings?” he said.

I can see why it would be nice for recipients to have their names kept secret. They don’t want to be harassed or marketed to. Also, there might still be a scrap of shame associated with receiving welfare that people don’t want to be shamed. Frankly, I don’t think there is a societal stigma on receiving food stamps anymore… at least if the line at Woodman’s is any guide.

But I don’t see any overriding governmental interest that would require this information to be kept secret. They are receiving public money and the taxpayers have a right to know where their money is going. This information should be public.

Supreme Court Takes Up Challenges to Legislation

Good. And for the last time, there was nothing “lame-duck” about those laws.

MADISON – The state Supreme Court agreed Monday to quickly take up a lawsuit challenging lame-duck laws aimed at curbing the power of the state’s top Democrats.

The high court unanimously accepted the case before an appeals court finishes its work on the lawsuit, speeding up its final resolution.

The justices put the case on a fast track, agreeing to hear arguments May 15.

Other lawsuits are pending — one in state court and one in federal court — so the Supreme Court’s ruling in this case likely won’t be the last word on whether the lame-duck laws are valid.