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 ​​​​​​​​​​​The Latest Legal News & Industry Information

Supreme Court Hears Arguments
In First Case of New Session

     The Supreme Court reconvened last week with a docket certain to bring long-lasting changes to Washington, D.C.’s federal and local courts.
     The leading cases touch on health care, religious education and employment rights of the gay community.
     Oral arguments were heard this week in Altitude Express v. Zarda and related cases of gay employees who lost their jobs because of their sexual orientation. They claim a violation of their rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1963.
     In one of the consolidated cases, the Second Circuit ruled that Title VII would protect the employment of a skydiving company worker who was fired for being gay. In a different case, the 11th Circuit ruled Title VII would not protect the job of a gay social welfare services coordinator.
     The differing lower federal court rulings on similar issues brought the cases to the Supreme Court.
     The Court also must decide in this term whether Congress is required to pay insurers $12 billion due under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) enacted during the Obama administration.
     The ACA sought to encourage insurers to provide coverage to persons with pre-existing conditions by guaranteeing that if the insurance companies lost money on their policies, the government would reimburse them.
     By the time the companies asked for reimbursement, a Republican-dominated Congress and presidency had taken over. They restricted the reimbursement funds that could be paid.
     The insurance companies sued in a case likely to redefine the financial obligations incurred by one Congress that must be paid by a later one. The consolidated cases are Maine Community Health Options v. United States; Moda Health Plan v. United States; and Land of Lincoln Mutual Health v. United States.
     In a separate case, Montana is accused of violating religious rights by canceling a student aid program that gave students a choice of using their financial assistance for public or religious schools.
     The Montana Tax Credit Scholarship Program offered state taxpayers a $150 credit for contributions they made to a privately-run scholarship program. However, the Montana Department of Revenue refused to implement the program, citing Establishment Clause provisions of state and federal law that forbid government from endorsing religious institutions.
     After the state supreme court agreed with the Department of Revenue, a group representing students sued in the case of Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. They claim a violation of their 14th Amendment equal protection rights.
     A high-profile issue certain to bring demonstrations to the steps of the Supreme Court is the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
     DACA would allow many people who were brought to the United States as children by their illegal immigrant parents to remain as permanent residents. The Trump administration canceled the program, leaving many immigrants wondering whether they must leave the only country they have known.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

D.C. Sniper Case Heads to Supreme Court
For Ruling on Life Sentences for Juveniles

     The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments next week in the case of famed D.C. Sniper Lee Boyd Malo as he seeks to overturn his life sentence for murder.
     The bigger question in the case is the extent of state discretion in sentencing juveniles to life in prison without parole.
     Malvo was 17 years old when he and his adult accomplice murdered 10 Washington area residents at random in drive-by shootings. He was sentenced to prison in Virginia.
     The District of Columbia and 22 states have abolished life sentences for juveniles.
     States are supposed to follow the ruling in the 2012 Supreme Court case of Miller v. Alabama , which says juvenile life sentences are unconstitutional except in rare cases when there is no hope for rehabilitation. Judges must consider "Miller factors" such as whether the juvenile offenders were abused, coerced or their susceptible brains and personalities still were developing.
     All but a few states resentenced more than 2,000 juvenile lifers after the Miller ruling. Virginia and a few other states have resisted resentencing.
     The Supreme Court plans to decide whether the holdouts like Virginia and 21 other states have abused their discretion by avoiding resentencing.
     The District of Columbia has been a leader in giving juvenile offenders a second chance. Legislation pending before the D.C. Council would give offenders until the age of 25 a right to petition the court for sentence reductions.
     Called the Second Look Amendment Act, the bill is intended to build upon the popularity of a 2016 law that gives juveniles convicted of serious violent crimes an opportunity for sentence review after serving 15 years in prison.
     Opposition to the bill is coming from U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu. She said the bill risks turning rapists and murderers free while they still demonstrate violent tendencies.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

ACLU Sues D.C. Government for Worker
Who Risks Job Over Medical Marijuana

     The Washington, D.C. government is being sued by a sanitation worker who was forced to give up medical marijuana so she could pass a drug test.
     The woman suffers from chronic back pain after being born with scoliosis. A supervisor told her she could not keep her job unless she could pass the city-required drug test that can detect marijuana residue.
     The American Civil Liberties filed the lawsuit last week in D.C. Superior Court for Doretha Barber, who has worked for the D.C. government since 2009. Her scoliosis also has given her degenerative disc disease in her spine.
     Marijuana relieves her back pain. Since she gave it up, she says she has been forced to work with pain and increased spasms.
     “Ms. Barber has never reported for work impaired by her medicine and never would,” said Michael Perloff, an ACLU attorney. “Her medical treatment needs are between her and her doctor, not between her and her boss.”
     Barber’s primary duties as a Department of Public Works (DPW) employee consist of collecting trash and raking leaves. She uses the marijuana only outside of her work hours.
     Mayor Muriel Bowser tried to clarify the city’s medical marijuana policy in an order last month. However, the ACLU says the order still creates a risk “safety-sensitive” employees could lose their jobs if they use marijuana.
     Safety-sensitive workers handle potentially hazardous job duties.
     The ACLU argues that the D.C. Human Rights Act requires that persons who uses medical marijuana must be treated the same as anyone else with a disability. In other words, employers must provide the workers with reasonable accommodations that allow them to keep their jobs.
     “It is unconscionable that DPW won’t honor the basic requirements of the D.C. Human Rights Act to accommodate a long-time employee with her medical condition,” Perloff said.
     The lawsuit seeks Barber’s reinstatement to paid status and a clearance to continue using marijuana.
     The case is Barber v. District of Columbia, D.C. Superior Court, October 2019.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

Washington Post Sues D.C. Council
For Access to Business Records

     The Washington Post is suing the D.C. Council to gain access to records of Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans’ business and personal appointments.
     Evans is being investigated for financial conflicts of interest that include allegations he used his D.C. Council job to win concessions for business associates who were paying him. He also is accused of using his political influence to seek a job with a law firm.
     The Post sued after the D.C. government declined some of the newspaper’s Freedom of Information Act requests for the records.
     “The requested records concern issues of the highest public importance: unethical and potentially criminal misconduct by a democratically elected lawmaker,” the lawsuit says.
     The D.C. government did turn over some records of Evans’ appointments in 2015 and 2016 but not the full amount the Post wants. The Post also seeks legal expenses.
     Several federal and local ethics investigations started after the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority reported Evans did not disclose a $50,000 consulting agreement with Colonial Parking, one of the region’s largest private parking lot businesses, while he served as a transit agency administrator.
     The D.C. Council responded to a reporter’s request for Evans’ business appointments by sending him copies of Evans’ Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Word calendar entries. Some entries were redacted.
     As the Post pressed for more information, the D.C. Council’s general counsel wrote to the newspaper saying further information was exempt because of a federal grand jury subpoena into Evans’ business dealings.
     The Post argues in its lawsuit that the D.C. Council was violating its own transparency rules.
     “Access to information relevant to the alleged wrongdoing of an elected lawmaker, as well as information relevant to assessing the council’s and WMATA’S official activities, are at the very heart of the democratic accountability that FOIA is designed to serve,” the lawsuit says.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

Congress and D.C. Council Agree
On Bans for E-Cigarettes

     The D.C. government’s efforts to clamp down on hazards from e-cigarettes is receiving a boost from Congress, where federal legislation is proposed that mirrors pending local bills.
     E-cigarettes are linked to 18 deaths and about 800 cases of users becoming sickened by a respiratory illness of unknown cause.
     The manufacturers are being sued by plaintiffs in the Washington area and nationwide.
     Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh recently introduced a bill to ban the sale or distribution of flavored e-cigarettes in the District of Columbia. At the same time, Ward 7 Councilmember Vincent Gray introduced a bill to ban use of vaping products without a prescription.
     Similar legislation was proposed in recent days by the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee.
     “As the popularity of these addictive products continues to grow, we’ve seen the proliferation of e-cigarette stores appear across the District without regard to the proximity to our schools or spaces intended specifically for children,” Cheh said in a press release. “The federal government has recently indicated its intent to also ban flavored e-liquids, but we cannot wait for the federal government to act while flavors such as cotton candy and gummy bear e-cigarettes remain on District shelves.”
     E-cigarettes, or electronic cigarettes, are handheld battery-powered vaporizers that simulate smoking but without burning harmful tobacco. Instead, users inhale an aerosol, which is known as vaping.
     Manufacturers who sell them under the names of Juul and NJOY try to make them more attractive to consumers by adding flavors to the vapors. The Food and Drug Administration is investigating whether the oils that add flavor to the aerosol are the culprits in the pneumonia-like illnesses.
     Montgomery County, Maryland, is proposing a ban on e-cigarette shops within a half-mile of schools. Other bans are being implemented in California, Michigan and New York.