Bad enough for Congress to meddle in adoptions in hopes of helping out Indian tribes. But…burials? My new guest column at Jurist examines the first-of-its-kind lawsuit by which some descendants of Native American sports great Jim Thorpe are trying to use the law to require the borough of Jim Thorpe, Pa. to yield up his remains for re-interment in Oklahoma. It concludes:
In a nation where people regularly fall in love across ethnic lines, laws that assign rights differentially to some members of families based on descent or tribal affiliation are especially hard to justify under US Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. … Say what you will about the Third Circuit’s reasoning, it at least postpones the day when tribal enmities extend into our very cemeteries, and even the dead cannot escape counting based on race.
Earlier on the Mauch Chunk/Jim Thorpe controversy; on NAGPRA and science, and the Kennewick Man affair, etc.
Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania: “A jury in a Luzerne County civil case ruled that PennDOT was partially responsible for a deadly crash in 2011 that killed a 15-year-old girl, even though the driver of the SUV was driving at roughly twice the speed limit and did not have a driver’s license.” While the driver admitted he was going nearly 90 miles an hour when he lost control, the family’s lawyer “told jurors in closing arguments that PennDOT’s own manuals showed Suscon Road needed more so-called chevron signs that reflect light and warn of an upcoming sharp curve.” [WNEP]
Both houses of the Pennsylvania legislature have passed and sent to Gov. Tom Corbett a bill “allowing judges to issue injunctions, or grant any other ‘appropriate relief’ if there is ‘conduct’ by a criminal ‘offender’ that ‘perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime on the victim.” Such an effect is specified to include, though it is not limited to, a “temporary or permanent state of mental anguish.” The “revictimization remedy” bill, S. 508, is apparently aimed at providing a way to go after a much-cooed-over convicted cop-killer for delivering recorded speeches at college campuses, to the distress of the family of the policeman he shot; Paul Alan Levy describes the bill’s use of the word “conduct” as a “fig leaf” for its intent to restrict speech. What Levy calls the “exceptional breadth” of the bill’s language could imperil or chill a wide range of other activity that might tread on victims’ feelings, such as campaigns to rally public opinion against a conviction or in favor of clemency. The bill, Levy says, “threatens to make Pennsylvania a national laughing stock.” [Consumer Law & Policy; Fox News; NBC Philadelphia; more, Joel Mathis, Philadelphia mag] More on the ever-popular “victims’ rights” cause from Steve Chapman and Roger Pilon.
Former Utah Attorneys General John Swallow and Mark Shurtleff were arrested Thursday on a combined 23 counts arising from a series of episodes in which the two men are said to have accepted cash and favors from persons with business dealings with their offices; Swallow is also accused of destroying and falsifying evidence to cover up dealings with a now-deceased entrepreneur from whom he had allegedly accepted $17,000 in gold coins. The two men, both Republicans, say they are innocent and expect to be vindicated. The Salt Lake Tribune’s coverage saves the Harry Reid angle for paragraph 19; the Las Vegas Review Journal gives it more attention, emphasizing Reid’s strong denial of any wrongdoing. Unrelated but also depressing: a former New Mexico AG and a penny stock.
Also: Meanwhile in Pennsylvania, officials have placed plaques beneath portraits of four lawmakers in the state capitol with details of their eventual criminal convictions. I have more details in a Cato post.
From her threat to sue the Philadelphia Inquirer over its reporting to her use of elected office to pursue quarrels with political foes, it’s a record that makes a case all by itself for demoting the office of Pennsylvania Attorney General to something appointive and lower-profile. [Joel Mathis, Philadelphia Magazine, earlier]
Last week I did a Cato podcast about how nickel-and-dime fines and fees arising from low-level law enforcement can spiral to the point of overwhelming poor persons’ lives. Now take a look at this appalling AP story from Pennsylvania [via Brian Doherty, Reason]. “More than 1,600 people have been jailed in Berks County alone — where Reading is the county seat — over truancy fines since 2000.”
Pennsylvania attorney general Kathleen Kane dropped a longstanding corruption “sting” probe that had snagged several Philly officials. The Philadelphia Inquirer raised questions about her decision in its reporting, which contributed to a public outcry over the episode. Then Attorney General Kane brought a prominent libel litigator with her to a meeting with the Inquirer editors, and that lawyer announced that Kane was exploring her options of suing the paper and others that had reported on the matter, and that he was going to do the talking for her.
On Sunday the paper continued to cover the sting story here and here. Ed Krayewski comments at Reason. Longtime Overlawyered readers may recognize the name of Kane’s attorney Richard Sprague.
Pennsylvania: “According to police, Kyle Piper, then 17, lost control of his car on a wet Route 422 in Union Township and struck a steel pole.” His 15-year-old brother Stephen, a passenger, was catastrophically injured. “At the time of the accident, according to court documents, the family was insured through Erie Insurance Exchange and believed $200,000 in uninsured motorist benefits and another $100,000 in liability coverage was available for Stephen.” Several legal twists later, Erie has agreed to pay $18 million. [New Castle (Pa.) News]
One would think the whole concept of the union-backed “correctional officers’ bill of rights” might have been thrown into disrepute by last year’s Maryland scandal, in which the statute was found to have entrenched problem guards even as the Baltimore jail descended into a scandalous state of gang-run corruption. But apparently not: the Pennsylvania House has unanimously (!) voted in favor of having that state adopt its own such “bill of rights,” weakening administrators’ power to investigate possible officer misconduct. Details of H.B. 976 here.
“Two Northeastern Pennsylvania bars have settled for a combined $6.6 million with a man who became quadriplegic after driving drunk and crashing his car into a tree.” Jason Mercado sued two East Stroudsburg, Pa. bars on the theory that they had inexperienced bartenders and staff who should have known better than to serve him. Attorney Robert Sink, who represented Mercado, said the case was not without its difficulties: “if the jury found the drunk driver was more than 50 percent at fault, then he would have gotten nothing” under Pennsylvania law. The insurers defending the case decided that the risk of a verdict otherwise was worth $6.6 million. [Legal Intelligencer]
P.S. Redditors discuss.