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Massachusetts

In Bristol County, Mass., the force of public prosecution will protect your lawful comings and goings only when the D.A. approves of them [Eugene Volokh on environmentalist blockade case, earlier]

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Police and prosecution roundup

by Walter Olson on September 11, 2014

  • Enviro activists unlawfully block coal ship, Massachusetts prosecutor expresses approval by dropping charges [James Taranto, Jacob Gershman/WSJ Law Blog, ABA Journal]
  • Unfortunately-named Mr. Threatt charged with “robbery that happened while he was in jail” [Baltimore Sun via @amyalkon]
  • “How conservative, tough-on-crime Utah reined in police militarization” [Evan McMorris-Santoro, BuzzFeed] More: What if we needed it someday? San Diego Unified School District defends acquisition of armored vehicle [inewsource.org] And Senate hearing [AP]
  • “Machine-based traffic-ticketing systems are running amok” [David Kravets, ArsTechnica]
  • Thanks, Fraternal Order of Police, for protecting jobs of rogue Philadelphia cops who could cost taxpayers millions [Ed Krayewski; related earlier]
  • Study: returning from 6- to 12-person juries could iron out many racial anomalies at trial [Anwar et al, Tabarrok]
  • Courts can help curb overcriminalization by revitalizing rule of lenity, mens rea requirement [Steven Smith]

A new paper estimates that Massachusetts voters’ decision to end rent control added $2 billion to the value of Cambridge, Mass. residential housing stock over 10 years. While some of this represents the improved worth of rental property whose value had been artificially suppressed by the previous law, much of it reflects improvements in the value of other, nearby property that had never been under rent control, as increased rates of renovation and improvement made whole neighborhoods more desirable. “In net, our estimates imply that more than half (55 percent) of the capitalized cost of rent control was borne by owners of never-controlled properties, illustrating both the importance of spillovers in housing markets and the potential unintended side effects of price ceilings.” [David H. Autor, Christopher J. Palmer and Parag A. Pathak, Cato Research Briefs in Economic Policy]

  • Did feds try to pass off bogus paperwork in Maryland forfeiture case? [Van Smith, my two cents at Free State Notes, Radley Balko (and thanks for mention)]
  • “I’m not saying that warrants are completely useless.” [Ken at Popehat]
  • “Massachusetts is the only state that incarcerates people suffering from addiction who have not been convicted of crimes” [ACLU of Massachusetts]
  • “Where Would We Be If Not For Police In SWAT Gear Raiding Poker Games?” [Amy Alkon]
  • Class of federal crimes that shows the biggest racial disparity isn’t drug offenses, it’s gun offenses [Balko on Shaneen Allen case in New Jersey]
  • Our merciful laws: “I Saw a Man Get Arrested For a Sex Crime Because He Made a Scheduling Error” [Lenore Skenazy, Reason] “Sex Offender Laws Have Gone Too Far” [Matt Mellema, Chanakya Sethi, and Jane Shim, Slate]
  • Police chief seeks to arrest one of own officers on brutality charge, state’s attorney says no [Scott Greenfield; Ed Krayewski, Reason; Enfield, Ct.]

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  • “Emails show feds asking Florida cops to deceive judges by calling Stingrays ‘confidential sources.'” [Wired]
  • Trial penalty: mortgage fraud defendants in study fared far worse if they insisted on process of law to which they are notionally entitled under Constitution [Wes Oliver at Daniel Fisher's; more on joint Duquesne Law/Pittsburgh Post Gazette study from reporter Rich Lord, first, second]
  • “‘Florida’s Worst Cop’ Finally Convicted of Something, May Be Headed to Jail” [Ed Krayewski, Reason, earlier]
  • “Plans to expand scope of license-plate readers alarm privacy advocates” [Center for Investigative Reporting, earlier here, here, here, here, here] But at least our sensitive personal information will be safe with the government! [Lowering the Bar]
  • “Challenges to ‘shaken baby’ convictions mounting” [Wisconsin State Journal, earlier]
  • A Pavlik Morozov for the Drug War? “Brave” Minnesota 9-year-old hailed for turning in parents on pot rap [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, background on Soviet youth hero]
  • “Police SWAT teams in Massachusetts form private corporations, then claim immunity from disclosure laws” [Radley Balko via @gabrielroth, more from ACLU report on police militarization]

Schools roundup

by Walter Olson on February 14, 2014

  • “Attorney parents of ‘mathlete’ lose again in legal battle over right to select son’s algebra teacher” [Martha Neil, ABA Journal, earlier]
  • One reason NYC doesn’t close schools amid brutal winter storms? They’ve got a food program to run [Business Insider; James Panero, NYDN]
  • Should Gov. Deval Patrick, CNN host Piers Morgan apologize to townspeople of Lunenburg, Mass.? [Chuck Ross, The Federalist]
  • Kansas school-finance suit tests whether litigators can end-run elected officials on taxes and spending [WSJ, compare Colorado]
  • Lenore Skenazy (who’ll speak at Cato Mar. 6) on the Wellesley “Sleepwalker” sculpture flap: “Once we equate making people feel bad with actually attacking them, free expression is basically obsolete” [WSJ]
  • “School Found Liable After Child Sneaks Onto Roof And Falls” [Erik Magraken; British Columbia, Canada]
  • National Research Council issues report on Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) [Zachary Schrag first, second, third, fourth posts]
  • Vergara v. California: notwithstanding the hoopla, bringing more lawsuits might actually not be the best way to save American education [Andrew Coulson]

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It’s illegal to have an open bar at a ticketed event in Massachusetts, and if you overlook that rule the Boston cops might just show up and get you to “voluntarily” turn some of the event’s proceeds over to them. [Clark at Popehat]

  • Follow the federal funding: “Stop giving out awards for arrests” [Andrew Sullivan]
  • NYC cops shoot at mentally disturbed man, hit bystanders instead, charge him with their injuries [Scott Shackford, Popehat]
  • Electric car owner charged with stealing 5 cents worth of power [Chamblee, Ga.: WXIA, auto-plays]
  • Claims re: sex trafficking in US fast spiraling into absurdity. Keep going [Maggie McNeill, earlier] “Perverse Incentives: Sex Work and the Law” [Cato Unbound symposium] “California to Open Victim Compensation Funds to Prostitutes” [Shackford]
  • Illegal ticket quotas at the LAPD, inmate beatings at the county sheriff’s jail: Los Angeles policing hit by multiple scandals [L.A. Times: editorial on charges against 18 sheriff's deputies, LAPD ticket quota]
  • Massachusetts crime lab test faker Annie Dookhan gets 3-5 year sentence [ABA Journal]
  • “Overcriminalization in the states” [Vikrant Reddy, Texas Public Policy Foundation, draft; related Mother Jones] Conservatives call for reforms in New Mexico justice system [Rio Grande Foundation via @PatNolanPFM]
  • Also: “Chief Judge For 9th Circuit [Alex Kozinski] Cites ‘Epidemic’ Of Prosecutor Misconduct” [Radley Balko]

Medical roundup

by Walter Olson on November 27, 2013

  • “In a nationally representative sample, higher patient satisfaction was associated with…increased mortality.” [White Coat/BirdStrike]
  • Low premiums! Few glitches! Larger states “working faithfully to implement the law with as few glitches as possible”! New Yorker’s Oct. 7 “Talk of the Town” on ACA’s smooth launch is a retrospective hoot;
  • Massachusetts Nurses Association goes all Venezuelan on hospital governance [Ira Stoll]
  • “Can a healthcare provider make an arbitration agreement with patients for resolving future malpractice disputes?” [Alex Stein]
  • “FDA Proposal To Curb Painkiller Overdose Deaths Would Add Burdens For Pain Patients” [Radley Balko]
  • Georgia DUI expert in hot water [PennLive] “Deconstructing the mechanical engineer” [Manhattan; Eric Turkewitz]
  • “FDA Suspension of Ponatinib: Serious Problem, Wrong Solution” [Richard Epstein, leukemia drug]
  • “Missouri Lawmakers Override Veto to Enact Good Samaritan Law” [Michael Cannon, Cato]

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“The new law, which went into effect March 1, 2012, was hailed as the most dramatic reform in family law in decades and as a model nationwide, with alimony based on need. Unanimously approved by the Massachusetts Legislature, it curbs lifetime payments and sets specific time limits on alimony for marriages of 20 years or less.” So is it working? Bizarre cases and seemingly unreasonable spousal burdens persist: “the law, while a clear improvement, hasn’t been the hoped-for panacea.” [Bella English, Boston Globe]

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Medical roundup

by Walter Olson on October 25, 2013

  • Sen.-elect Cory Booker (and Mayor Bloomberg too) on liability reform and fixing health care [NJLRA] How plaintiff’s lawyers get around caps [Alex Stein, Bill of Health] Missouri protects health volunteer workers [John Ross]
  • Like an Ayn Rand novel: Massachusetts ballot initiative pushes confiscation of private hospital profits [Ira Stoll, NY Sun]
  • Advice: plan now to lower your 2014 income to get valuable ObamaCare subsidies [San Francisco Chronicle]
  • Medicare comes off poorly: “Quality Of Care Within Same Hospital Varies By Insurance Type” [Tyler Cowen]
  • Revisiting a panic over alleged mass drug injury: “Avandia’s posthumous pardon” [David Oliver, earlier here and at Point of Law]
  • Louisiana lawmakers use malpractice statute to discourage abortion [Alex Stein, Bill of Health]
  • Georgia committee looks at plan to replace med-mal suits with administered compensation [Georgia Report via TortsProf, Daily Report Online (constitutionality), Insurance Journal]
  • Uwe Reinhardt on professional licensure and doctors’ monopoly [David Henderson]

“A federal appeals court has shot down a Massachusetts consumer protection case against two doctors, a medical journal and its publisher over an allegedly flawed article cited by defendants in birth-injury medical malpractice cases. That means plaintiffs’ attorneys will have to challenge the article’s validity in each case in which the defense wishes to cite it.” The First Circuit did not reach the issue of constitutional free speech, but upheld a lower court’s ruling that the plaintiff had not shown adequately that expert testimony reliance on the allegedly faulty article had resulted in the loss of the litigation in question. [Sheri Qualters, NLJ] Earlier on A.G. v. Elsevier here.

Zero tolerance strikes again, this time at North Andover High School in Massachusetts [Jenny Erikson, CafeMom; Jason Bedrick, Cato]

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A plaintiff’s lawyer is suing a medical journal and two doctors for publishing a case report that makes it harder to win some birth-injury lawsuits.

Here are the details, as reported by Sheri Qualters of the National Law Journal. Some newborns are found to be suffering from brachial plexus injury, a type of harm to a child’s shoulder, arm, or hand that in a minority of cases results in permanent disability (so-called Erb’s palsy or a number of related conditions). A large volume of birth-injury litigation goes on as a result, in part because courts have tended to accept the idea that the only medically recognized cause of those conditions in newborns is excessive or traumatic use of physical force by clinicians (“traction”). In 2008, however, the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology published a case report of a delivery in which an infant was found to be suffering such injury although the physician by her own account had not applied any excessive traction during the birth. If instead natural forces of labor could cause the dislocation resulting in the condition, many lawsuits might rest on shakier ground. Since then, defense lawyers have cited the report — by Henry Lerner of Harvard Medical School and Eva Salamon of the Bond Clinic in Winter Park, Fla. — in litigation.

A Boston lawyer who claims to have debunked the Lerner-Salamon case study has proceeded to sue its two authors, Elsevier — which publishes AJOG and many other medical and scientific journals — and Dr. Salamon’s clinic for publishing and refusing to retract it. The damages are said to be $3 million each to two families of infant plaintiffs whose lawsuits did not succeed allegedly because of the case report. The lawsuit invokes a Massachusetts consumer protection law which allows treble damages, and also asks for a court order forbidding the report to be entered as evidence in future litigation. A trial court dismissed the case, in part on the grounds that the plaintiffs had not shown that the article was a material cause of the families’ failure to prevail in the suits. Now the case is on appeal to the First Circuit, where defense lawyers are arguing, inter alia, that if there are weaknesses in the article the remedy for plaintiffs is to introduce evidence to that effect to counter it in trials. “As for its own role, Elsevier argued that applying a state consumer protection law to its published material would violate its free-speech right under the First Amendment.”

First Amendment? Let’s not go to extremes. If we start applying the First Amendment, how are lawyers supposed to silence publications that inconvenience them?

Our “watch what you say about lawyers” tag — which perhaps we should rename as “watch what you say about lawyers or their cases” — is here (cross-posted at Cato at Liberty; & welcome readers from Jesse Walker, Reason, Prof. Bainbridge).

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The Massachusetts attorney general is now running for governor of the state after losing a Senate run three and a half years ago, so this makes a good occasion to revamp a 2010 post slightly so as to remind readers of Coakley’s central role in the Amirault travesty of justice, described so well by Dorothy Rabinowitz here. Earlier on the Amirault case here and here; on Coakley’s prosecutorial record here.  More: John Stossel and (via Memeorandum): Bronwyn’s Harbor, No Quarter (citing views of Jeralyn Merritt/TalkLeft); Dan McLaughlin, RedStateDan Riehl (Woodward, Souza cases). Yet more: on Coakley’s offer to a deal to one defendant on condition that the experienced defense counsel handling the deal agree not to represent a second defendant in future, see Scott Greenfield (characterizing the move as “a deliberate effort to undermine the constitutional right to counsel”), Kenneth Anderson/Volokh, and John Steele/Legal Ethics Forum. In 2010 we wondered whether Coakley’s Senate-race nosedive under critical public and press scrutiny amounted to the first time a Massachusetts prosecutor had paid a price for being wrong in the Amirault episode.

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Public employment roundup

by Walter Olson on August 14, 2013

  • “Retirement benefits cost Connecticut more than half of payroll” [Raising Hale] Jagadeesh Gokhale, “State and Local Pension Plans” [Cato] “In the report Krugman cites, the researchers note (repeatedly) that the trillion-dollar figure is very likely a dramatic understatement of the size of the unmet liability.” [Caleb Brown]
  • California: “Bill would reinstate state workers who go AWOL” [Steven Greenhut]
  • Eyebrow-raising federal salaries at unaccountable-by-design CFPB [John Steele Gordon, Commentary]
  • “North Carolina Ends Teacher Tenure” [Pew StateLine]
  • Not all states would benefit from a dose of Scott Walkerism, but Massachusetts would [Charles Chieppo, Governing]
  • “Prison Ordered to Hire Back Guards Fired over an Officer’s Murder Because Everybody Else Was Awful, Too” [Scott Shackford]
  • “New York State Lags on Firing Workers Who Abuse Disabled Patients” [Danny Hakim, New York Times] NYC educators accused of sex misconduct can dig in for years [New York Daily News]
  • “Pennsylvania’s GOP: Rented by Unions” [Steve Malanga, Public Sector Inc.] NYC’s Working Families Party expands into Connecticut [Daniel DiSalvo, same]

You know, the money that was said to be so vital to fund “tobacco control” programs. What percentage of the state of Massachusetts’s haul (more than $250 million a year from legal settlement proceeds, aside from outright taxes) do you think actually gets spent on such things? Guess, then click through to my new Cato post.

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A man who showed up at court in Springfield, Mass. to deal with a traffic ticket mistakenly wound up on a jury. The jury proceeded to hear the evidence and closing statements and convict the defendant; the judge declared a mistrial after it emerged that the man, who spoke limited English, had gotten on to the panel by accident. [MassLive]

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