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Illinois to require veterans courts across the state in 2018
U.S. Court News | 2017/10/30 01:12
A law passed last year requires every judicial circuit in Illinois to have a veterans treatment court starting Jan. 1.

The courts allow veterans who were honorably discharged to plead guilty to a crime in exchange for a probation sentence, The Chicago Tribune reported. The sentence requires frequent court visits and mental health or substance abuse treatment.

Veterans can also apply to have their records expunged upon completing the sentence. Those who use the courts typically face lower level felonies.

Supporters say the program will help those who risked their lives for their country.

Army veteran Gregory Parker enrolled in the Lake County Veterans Treatment and Assistance Court after his fourth drunken driving arrest resulted in a felony reckless driving charge. Parker graduated from the program in about 18 months. He's quit drinking and continues to go to therapy.

"I finally find myself enjoying things in life I've never enjoyed before," he said.

But some wonder if every community has the resources or the need for a court dedicated to veterans.

Some rural communities may only have a few veterans moving through the court system, said Michelle Rock, executive director of the Illinois Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health and Justice, which provides support for treatment courts statewide.

"We know that it may not be cost-effective for every county in the state to have one," she said.

Before the new law, Kane County officials weighed the need for a veterans court with the availability of resources and decided against offering the court, said Court Administrator Doug Naughton.

The overall court system should be improved, instead of offering one group more options, said Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the ACLU of Illinois.



Supreme Court to consider American Express fee dispute
U.S. Court News | 2017/10/15 01:15
The Supreme Court is taking up an appeal by 11 states that argue American Express violated antitrust laws by barring merchants from asking customers to use other credit cards that charge lower fees.

The justices said Monday they would review a ruling by the federal appeals court in New York that sided with American Express.

The case stems from a lawsuit filed by states and the Obama administration in 2010 against American Express, Mastercard and Visa. The lawsuit said that letting merchants steer customers to cards with lower fees for merchants or to other preferred cards would benefit consumers and increase incentives for networks to reduce card fees.

Visa and MasterCard entered into consent judgments in 2011 and stopped their anti-steering rules for merchants while American Express proceeded to trial.

A trial judge ruled against American Express in 2015, but the appeals court reversed that ruling last year.

The Trump administration said it agreed with the states, but still urged the Supreme Court to reject the case. The administration said the justices should let the issue percolate in the lower courts.

The 11 states that joined the appeal are Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Ohio, Rhode Island, Utah and Vermont.

Other states that were part of the original lawsuit are Arizona, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Tennessee and Texas.

The court will hear argument in Ohio v. American Express, 16-1454, during the winter.


Businesses ask Supreme Court to take gay rights case
U.S. Court News | 2017/09/30 01:16
Some of America's most well-known companies are urging the Supreme Court to rule that a federal employment discrimination law prohibits discrimination based on a person's sexual orientation, a position opposite of the one taken by the Trump administration.

The 76 businesses and organizations — including American Airlines, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, Starbucks and Microsoft — filed a brief Wednesday encouraging the high court to take up the issue. They want the court to take a case out of Georgia in which a gay woman who worked as a hospital security officer says she was harassed and punished for dressing in a male uniform and wearing her hair short. Jameka Evans, who worked at Georgia Regional Hospital at Savannah from 2012 to 2013, ultimately left her job and sued.

The question in her case is whether a federal law barring workplace discrimination "because of...sex" covers discrimination against someone because of their sexual orientation. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under President Barack Obama took the view that it does. But President Donald Trump's administration has argued that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars discrimination based on gender but doesn't cover sexual orientation.

The businesses' court filing says they and their employees would benefit if the court agreed to take the case and rule that Title VII covers sexual orientation discrimination.

"Businesses' first-hand experiences — supported by extensive social-science research — confirm the significant costs for employers and employees when sexual orientation discrimination is not forbidden by a uniform law, even where other policies exist against such discrimination," the businesses wrote in their brief. The organizations that joined the brief also include two sports teams, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Miami Heat.

The case out of Georgia is not unique. Most federal appeals courts in the past have ruled that "sex" means biological gender, not sexual orientation. But a federal appeals court in Chicago, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, ruled earlier this year that the law covers sexual orientation. In that case, a gay part-time community college instructor sued after she was repeatedly turned down for a full-time job and her part-time contract was not renewed.

The New York-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit is also weighing the issue. Last month, the full court heard arguments in a case in which a skydiving instructor, Donald Zarda, claimed he was fired from his job after telling a client he was gay. He sued under the Civil Rights Act, but previous rulings have gone against Zarda, who died in an accident in Switzerland three years ago. A ruling in his case isn't expected for some time.




Court asked to dismiss cases tied to ex-drug lab chemist
U.S. Court News | 2017/09/20 10:15
A petition is asking the highest court in Massachusetts to dismiss every case connected to a former state chemist who authorities say was high almost every day she went to work at a state drug lab for eight years.

The state's public defender agency is a party to the petition filed Wednesday before the Supreme Judicial Court by two women whose drug possession convictions are tied to evidence handled by chemist Sonja Farak.

Farak pleaded guilty in 2014 to stealing cocaine from the state crime lab at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She worked at the lab between 2005 and 2013.

The women say the state failed to notify them of Farak's misconduct even after her conviction, depriving them of the opportunity to challenge their convictions.


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