Tag Archives: judge

Evidence destruction leads to ruling U.S. was negligent

Under the civil rules of procedure, a sanction for the destruction of evidence would include an adverse finding.  In other words, if you are a party to a lawsuit and destroy evidence, the court may find that you were guilty of the allegations.

One of the reasons for this is that now, the court has no way of telling what the evidence said.  Would the evidence point to the party knowing about the problem?  Would the evidence show the party did nothing while it knew?  Would the evidence show nothing?

That is why it is so important to write a Spoliation Letter.  An Spoliation Letter is a letter that explains your duty to preserve evidence.  The letter explains that because there is a lawsuit (or there will be one), you now have to stop destroying evidence.

As an attorney, regardless of what side you are in, you have a duty to advise your client.  A big part of discovery is finding relevant evidence.  It would be against the idea of justice to go about destroying evidence.

This case highlights the importance of not destroying evidence.  In this case, in 2009, a 9-year old boy was at a mountain trail in Lassen Volcanic National Park when the retaining wall gave way.  Unfortunately, the boy died from this accident.

Court records show a complaint that the chief of maintenance shredded all of his documents, some of which dealt with visitor safety issues.  The documents were shredded sometime around December 2009 and January 2010.

As a sanction for destruction of evidence by the National Park Service in a wrongful death case, a federal judge in Sacramento, Calif., ruled Tuesday that the United States was negligent.

U.S. District Judge Nunley, held that the government was negligent “for all purposes in this case.”  The judge found that the government “purposely destroyed” the remains of the retaining wall, and that the park director and some staff knew the wall was unsafe, the newspaper says.

“What is less clear, although highly suspicious, is whether defendant [destroyed] evidence other than the wall,” U.S. Magistrate Gregory G. Hollows wrote in a previous decision.

Still undecided in the case and expected to be addressed at a June hearing is whether the government can assert a “discretionary function” defense under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The government argues that those in charge of the park had discretion to decide whether or not to repair the wall, and hence the government cannot be held liable for their decision-making.

via As sanction for destroying evidence, federal judge finds US negligent in wrongful death case – ABA Journal.

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Filed under courts, discovery, District Court, electronic discovery, legal decision, rules, sanctions

Jane Kelly confirmed for 8th Circuit bench

The Senate confirmed the nomination of Jane Kelly to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals by a vote of 96-0.  There were 4 non-voting votes.  If you can’t find the link, go here and find Vote 00108 (April 24th).

Jane Kelly will be the second woman and first public defender to serve in the history of the court since its establishment in 1891.

Jane Kelly received her bachelor’s degree from Duke University and her law degree from Harvard Law School in 1991.  After her graduation, Jane Kelly clerked for U.S. District Judge Donald J. Porter of South Dakota and Eighth Circuit Court Judge D. Hansen.

Jane Kelly has been an assistant public defender in the Northern District in Iowa since 1992, and the supervising attorney since 1999.

On the Senate floor, Senator Chuck Grassley stated, “She is a credit to all of use who have chosen public service.”

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Filed under Appellate, courts, Judges, Pending Legislation

Judicial Ethics and Social Media

On February 21, 2013, the American Bar Association released a formal opinion (#462) regarding judicial ethics in the social media context.  The ABA concluded,

A judge may participate in electronic social networking, but as with all social relationships and contacts, a judge must comply with relevant provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct and avoid any conduct that would undermine the judge’s independence, integrity, or impartiality, or create an appearance of impartiality.

So what does this mean?

Electronic Social Media and the Judicial Independence, impartiality, and integrity

The ABA recognized that social networking is a part of worldwide culture and that electronic social media interactions might be beneficial to judges in order to prevent them from being thought of as isolated or out of touch.

So how should judges then behave in this electronic environment?  Given the oath and importance of promoting public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality,” the judge must be sensitive to the appearance of relationships with others.

It is important to understand that relations over the internet are difficult to manage because messages may be taken out of context, misinterpreted, or relayed incorrectly.

In other words, judges must assume that comments, images, or profile information, as well as any other information, might be publicly revealed without the judge’s permission.

In addition, judges should not form relationships with persons or organizations that might be violative of Judicial Ethics because these relationships convey that the individuals or organizations are in a position to influence the judge.

Furthermore, there might be disclosure or disqualification concerns regarding judges when the sites that were “friended” or “liked” which are used by lawyers or others who may appear before the judge.  The context is important here when assessing the judge’s relationship to attorneys or others who may appear before them.

Electronic Social Media and Election Campaigns

In the ABA Model Code (which may be adopted as a whole or in part by states), a judge or judicial candidate may engage in political or campaign activity with certain enumerated exceptions.

Of great importance is that judges and judicial candidates must “be free and appear to be free from political influence and political pressure.” ABA Model Rule 4.1 [1].

Similarly of equal importance, the judge or judicial candidate is prohibited from personally soliciting or accepting campaign contributions other than through a campaign committee.  ABA Model Rule 4.1(A)(8); see also ABA Model Rule 4.4.  In the Model Rules, the method of communication is not addressed or restricted.

In addition, judges and judicial candidates are prohibited from “publicly endorsing or opposing a candidate for any public office.” ABA Model Rule 4.1(A)(3).  This means that judges or judicial candidates should be aware that by “liking” or becoming a “fan” of, or by “sharing” messages, photos, or other content, this Model Rule might be violated.

In sum, judges and judicial candidates can use social media but must be aware of the potential pitfalls that might arise. These might arise from “friending,” “liking,” “sharing,” being a “fan” of, and posting comments, photos, or other information that might be distributed.  It is also important for judges and judicial candidates to be aware that any information on the Internet might be distributed by others and made public with or without their consent.

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Campaigners Can’t Lie in MN

Minnesota can prohibit political campaign workers from swaying an election by intentionally lying about a candidate or ballot question, a federal judge ruled.

The Minnesota Fair Campaign Act makes it a gross misdemeanor for anyone “who intentionally participates in the preparation, dissemination, or broadcast of paid political advertising or campaign material with respect to the personal or political character or acts of a candidate, or with respect to the effect of a ballot question, that is designed or tends to elect, injure, promote, or defeat a candidate for nomination or election to a public office or to promote or defeat a ballot question, that is false, and that the person knows is false or communicates to others with reckless disregard of whether it is false.”

It drew a challenge in 2008 from the 281 CARE Committee and the Citizens for Quality Education, which campaign against ballot initiatives that seek increased funding for school districts through bond increases and tax levies.  The groups claimed that the law violated their right to free speech and chills their ability to participate in rigorous political debate.  A federal judge in Minneapolis dismissed the complaint for lack of standing, but the 8th Circuit reversed in May 2011.

On remand, U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery granted summary judgment to the defendants, who consisted of two county attorneys and the state attorney general.

“Plaintiffs correctly note that our countrys forefathers used rancourous[sic], sometimes false statements to influence voters or even gain material benefits for themselves,” Montgomery wrote.

“But whats past is not always prologue. Over a century ago, the Minnesota legislature implemented minimal, narrow restrictions against knowingly false speech about political candidates in an effort to protect the debates between honestly held beliefs that are at the core of the First Amendment. For nearly a quarter of a century, these restrictions have also applied to statements regarding ballot initiatives. The ballot provisions in Minn. Stat. § 211B.06 reflect a legislative judgment on behalf of Minnesotan citizens to guard against the malicious manipulation of the political process. The court finds that the provisions at issue are narrowly tailored to serve this compelling interest.”

Though Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson had sought dismissal on the basis of qualified immunity, Montgomery deemed this question moot.

via Courthouse News Service.

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Filed under District Court, Judges, Minnesota

John Smith appointed to Court of Appeals

The Minnesota Lawyer Blog reports on the most recent appointment to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

Judge John P. Smith was appointed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Smith will replace  Judge  Wilhelmina M. Wright, who was appointed earlier this year to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Smith has served on the Ninth  District Court for over 21 years. He was appointed to the bench by Gov. Arne Carlson in 1991, and has served as chief judge and assistant chief judge. He has is currently  president of the Minnesota District Judges Association.

via John Smith appointed to Court of Appeals – MinnLawyer Blog.

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Judge Admonished for Comments About Victim’s ‘Technical Rape’ and Lack of Body Shutdown

You may remember the argument, which caused public outrage, over the belief that a body just “shuts down” when a woman is not subjected to real rape.  A judge used this same language in a California case, and was admonished for showing bias – a trait that runs afoul of judicial ethics.  These are the relevant parts of the article published in the ABA Journal News.

Judge Derek Johnson, from Orange County, California, was publicly admonished for saying a sexual assault victim had suffered only a “technical” rape and didn’t display vaginal damage characteristic of rape victims he had encountered as a prosecutor.

Judge Derek Johnson of Orange County had advanced his theory on body shutdowns during rape in a 2008 sentencing hearing, according to the opinion (PDF) by the California Commission on Judicial Performance.  The judicial discipline opinion has a transcript of his explanation why:

Johnson: “I spent my last year and a half in the DA’s office in the sexual assault unit. I know something about sexual assault. I’ve seen sexual assault. I’ve seen women who have been ravaged and savaged whose vagina was shredded by the rape. I’m not a gynecologist, but I can tell you something: If someone doesn’t want to have sexual intercourse, the body shuts down. The body will not permit that to happen unless a lot of damage is inflicted, and we heard nothing about that in this case. That tells me that the victim in this case, although she wasn’t necessarily willing, she didn’t put up a fight. And to treat this case like the rape cases that we all hear about is an insult to victims of rape. I think it’s an insult. I think it trivializes a rape.”

Johnson: “I just found the threats to be technical threats. I found this whole case to be a technical case. The rape is technical. The forced oral copulation is technical. It’s more of a crim law test than a real live criminal case.”

The commission said Johnson’s remarks reflected biased and insensitive views about sexual assault victims who do not “put up a fight.” Johnson had apologized for the remarks to the commission, saying he was frustrated by a sentencing request he considered inappropriate under the law. He remains on the bench.

via Judge Admonished for Comments About Victim’s ‘Technical Rape’ and Lack of Body Shutdown – News – ABA Journal.

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