Courts’ work will continue amid government shutdown
Lawyers with federal court cases calendared for next week won’t get a respite even if the U.S. government shuts down. “They’ve got court on Monday. They should be there,” Katherine Hord Simon, clerk for the Western District of North Carolina, said. “The main thing for us is we will be operating business as usual.” Two sources of money will keep the courts going for at least the short term: fees and “non-year” funds, which roll over from the fiscal year 2023 budget, Peter A. Moore Jr., clerk for the Eastern District of North Carolina, explained. The court’s national administrative office estimates that the money could last three to four weeks. Said Simon, “If we have a lapse in funding [for fiscal 2024], we can use that funding to continue to operate without violating the Anti-Deficiency Act.” But after those three to four weeks, a shutdown’s effects might be felt. “At that point, we won’t be able to perform nonessential duties such as training, … but the main business of the court will continue,” John S. Brubaker, clerk for the Middle District of North Carolina, said. Courts have constitutionally mandated duties that must be carried out. Among them are the right to a speedy trial and the right to counsel, Moore said, “the different things along those lines that the courts have to be involved in.” But contingency plans are still being made. “Our plan is, if it does happen, how do we react as a district, not knowing if it will or will not happen,” Moore said. “It’s just being prepared.” In the Middle District, Brubaker said, “We have a plan that will evaluate the work of the court at that time to see what functions we have that are essential and what functions that are not.” Nonessential functions — which could include pay for court staffers — could stop. The possibility of a government shutdown comes at midnight Saturday, the end of fiscal 2023. So far, Congress has been unable to pass budget bills for fiscal 2024, which begins at one second past midnight. The Senate advanced a bipartisan stopgap spending plan Tuesday, the Associated Press reported. However, deep political divisions in the House make the plan’s passage there difficult. The courts were not affected by the last government shutdown, which ran from December 2018 to January 2019. “Thankfully, we had funds to cover our operations for four weeks or whatever that time frame was,” Brubaker said. Efforts to reach a representative for the District of South Carolina were unsuccessful. •
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Power List Real Estate nominations open
From those who close the sales of starter homes to colleagues handling transfers of multi-thousand-acre tracts, South Carolina Lawyers Weekly wants to recognize the best in the state’s real property lawyers. Now is your chance to nominate them for the 2023 Real Estate Power List. Act today! The deadline for nominations is Oct. 19, 2023.
- Real Property – Tort Claims Act – Inverse Condemnation – Stormwater Act – Discretionary Immunity
- Criminal Practice – Consciousness of Guilt – Harmless Error – Petition for Rehearing
- Domestic Relations – Parent & Child – Custody & Support – Attorney’s Fees – Contempt
- Contract – Breach of Contract – Breach of Implied Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing – Unjust Enrichment – Arbitration
- Civil Practice – Motion to Intervene – Motion to Set Aside Default Judgment – Service of Process
- Constitutional – Voluntariness of Confession – Miranda Waiver – Coerced Confession
- VIDEO: 5 Questions With … Tom A. Killoren Jr.
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- VIDEO: New SCAJ president Killoren talks barriers to the court system
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- Video: Oklahoma judge uses phone during trial over fatal beating of toddler
Judge dismisses state lawmaker’s defamation suit
OMAHA, Neb. — A judge dismissed a defamation lawsuit filed by a Nebraska lawmaker against a conservative political action committee that labeled her a child "groomer" and sexual abuser in online posts, citing the constitutional right to free speech. State Sen. Megan Hunt sued the Nebraska Freedom Coalition and three of its officers after they repeatedly targeted her in social media posts, even suggesting she had sexually abused her own child. The attacks came as Democratic lawmakers, like Hunt, and conservative lawmakers in the officially nonpartisan Nebraska Legislature clashed over a Republican-backed bill to ban gender-affirming care for anyone under the age of 19. The judge threw out the lawsuit on Wednesday before it could be heard by a jury, and dismissed the case with prejudice, meaning it can't be refiled. Douglas County District Judge Todd Engleman's ruling said the Nebraska Freedom Coalition's "hyperbolic language" in the posts showed that the accusations were statements of opinion rather than fact, making them protected speech under the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment. The PAC, which routinely posts profane material on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, began targeting Hunt in tweets in March after Hunt publicly shared in a legislative floor speech that her 13-year-old child is transgender. She called the bill an affront to her and other parents caring for transgender teens. Nebraska Freedom Coalition not only attacked Hunt, but also posted images of Hunt's child. In her lawsuit, which sought an unspecified amount in damages and legal costs, Hunt said the group's posts led others to join in on the online harassment. Hunt said she was called a "groomer" on Twitter "no fewer than 231 times." She also received dozens of harassing calls and emails; some threatened her with physical harm. The judge cited a 1964 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that deemed "debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open" in his dismissal of the lawsuit, noting that such debate often includes "vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks" on public officials. "Because of this country's profound commitment to freedom of speech, the statements at issue are not actionable as a matter of law," Engleman wrote. Hunt's attorney and former colleague in the Legislature, Adam Morfeld, said he and Hunt were surprised by the ruling and are considering an appeal. "No mother, regardless of whether they are an elected official or not, should be accused of abusing their child when there is absolutely no basis in fact, and then receive physical threats," Morfeld said. The Nebraska Freedom Coalition issued a statement on social media lauding the dismissal as win for free speech. "This victory underscores the pivotal role played by organizations like NFC in safeguarding the rights of citizens to engage in political discourse without fear of retribution," the statement said. The Nebraska bill at the center of the controversy was later amended and passed on a single vote. It bans gender-confirming surgery for anyone under 19 and restricts the use of hormone treatments and puberty blockers in minors. That bill also folded in a 12-week abortion ban. At least 22 states have enacted laws restricting or banning gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors, and most of those states face lawsuits. An Arkansas ban that mirrors Nebraska's was struck down by a federal judge in June as unconstitutional and will be appealed to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court — which also oversees Nebraska cases.
5th Circuit blocks Louisiana redistricting hearings
NEW ORLEANS — A federal judge's plan to hold hearings next week to draw up congressional boundary lines giving Louisiana a second majority-Black district was blocked Thursday by a divided appeals court panel. Supporters of establishing a second such district had hoped a recent Supreme Court ruling upholding a redrawn map in Alabama would soon result in similar results in Louisiana. But in a 2-1 ruling, a panel of judges at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Baton Rouge-based U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick was moving too quickly and must give the state more time to consider a new map. Dick had issued an injunction last year blocking a map that had been drawn up by the Legislature, saying it violated the Voting Rights Act. But the map was used in the 2022 elections after the Supreme Court put the Louisiana case on hold, pending the outcome of the Alabama case. Writing for the majority in Thursday's appellate ruling, Judge Edith Jones said Dick had set an "impossibly short timetable" last year for lawmakers to draw new maps. Now, she said, "there is no warrant for the court's rushed remedial hearing by the first week of October 2023, months in advance of deadlines for districting, candidate filing, and all the minutiae of the 2024 elections." Judge James Ho, nominated to the court by former President Donald Trump, concurred with Jones, a nominee of former President Ronald Reagan. Judge Stephen Higginson, nominated by former President Barack Obama, dissented, noting that the issues has been before the courts for over a year. Louisiana has six U.S. House districts. Five are currently represented by white Republicans and one by a Black Democrat. The Legislature met last year to adjust congressional district boundaries to account for population shifts reflected in the last census. The maps passed by the Republican-dominated body included only one mostly Black district and were passed over the objection of Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, who agreed with voting rights advocates who said a second majority-Black district is needed in a state where the population is roughly one-third Black. Another panel of the 5th Circuit is scheduled to hear arguments next week on the injunction Dick issued last year that blocked the use of the 2022 map.
Verdicts & Settlements
Apartment complex tenant reports assault by trespasser; $725,000 settlement
Action: Apartment negligent security Injuries alleged: Physical, mental and emotional injuries Case name: Withheld Court/case no.: Withheld Mediator: Kurt Rozelsky Amount: $725,000 Date: June 23, 2023 Most helpful expert: Attorneys: Thomas M. Creech Jr. of Thomas Creech Law Offices, Greenville (for the plaintiff) The case involved an assault of an apartment tenant by a trespasser on the premises of the apartment complex. Through an extensive pre-suit investigation, plaintiff's counsel was able to uncover evidence that the apartment complex knew or should have known about the presence of a trespasser and, after having such knowledge of the trespasser's presence, failed to confront, remove or call law enforcement to have the trespasser removed. The pre-suit investigation further revealed that the apartment complex had a history of numerous law enforcement visits and violent crimes. Moreover, there was evidence that the apartment complex woefully lacked basic, reasonable safety and security measures.
Charleston collision leaves plaintiff with several injuries; $800,000 settlement
Action: Motor vehicle collision Injuries alleged: Disc protrusion and an annular tear at L5-S1, disc bulge at C4-5, injuries to the shoulder and wrist, and a concussion. Case name: Adam Chapman v. John Kuhn Amount: $800,000 settlement and $159,251 special damages Date: July 14, 2023 Attorneys: Mark Bringardner of Bringardner Injury Law Firm, Charleston (for the plaintiff) Insurance companies: Progressive, Geico On Oct. 29, 2021, a motorist was driving erratically on U.S. 17 in the West Ashley area of Charleston when he made a sudden, unsafe left turn into oncoming traffic and crashed into the plaintiff vehicle. The plaintiff said he suffered serious injuries to his neck, back, shoulder and wrist and that the other driver was negligent and reckless. Due to the collision, the plaintiff suffered a disc protrusion and an annular tear at L5-S1, a disc bulge at C4-5, post-concussive symptoms and injuries to his shoulder and wrist. He underwent a course of conservative medical treatments, including physical therapy and various injections before undergoing an anterior cervical discectomy and arthroplasty surgery at the C4-5 level.
Minor gravely injures right hand in machine: $3.25 million settlement
Action: Product liability Injuries alleged: Loss of portions of two fingers and other injuries to right hand and future significant medical needs Case name: Withheld Court/case no.: Withheld Mediator: Kip Darwin Amount: $3.25 million Date: June 27, 2023 Most helpful expert: Attorneys: Cooper Wilson, John Hudson and Mullins McLeod of McLeod Law Group and Tara Leaphart of Tara Leaphart, Attorney at Law, Charleston and Columbia (for the plaintiff) A minor injured their hand in a workout machine at a local facility. The minor’s counsel also alleged that the facility failed to properly maintain the machine, to include not utilizing the suggested locking mechanism when the machine was not in use, and that the contractor hired to service the machine failed to properly do so. Counsel for the defendants argued the case based on liability and damages, including defenses of various applicable caps. Before the case was settled at mediation, it was litigated for almost two years, during which time plaintiff’s counsel developed helpful testimony against both defendants regarding their individual roles in maintaining and servicing the machine.