A New York judge rules counties may sue opioid distributors, The Massachusetts Supreme Court agrees that judges can jail those who violate probation by using drugs, and Spokane’s public defenders are trying out a new and cheap way to remind their clients of trial dates. All of these stories and more in the latest edition of the Friday News Roundup.
Criminal Justice News
NY Opioid Litigation on Fast Track as Judge Rules Counties May Press Claims Against Distributors – A New York judge presiding over the state courts’ multicounty opioid litigation in Suffolk County brought on behalf of a coalition of New York counties, which is being closely watched by courts in other jurisdictions around the country, has refused to toss claims against drug distributors. The rulings were the “first of their kind” in the United States, said plaintiffs’ attorney Paul Napoli. He said the decisions place the New York litigation, brought on behalf of some 50 counties, at the head of the pack compared with the federal multidistrict litigation that’s playing out in Ohio and cases proceeding in courts in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and West Virginia. (New York Law Journal, NY, 7/17/18)
State’s highest court rules that judges may force defendants with drug addiction to stay sober – A person with a substance use disorder may be jailed for relapsing while on probation, the state’s highest court ruled Monday, disappointing public health advocates who had hoped the case would discourage courts from incarcerating defendants as they recover from addiction. The Supreme Judicial Court unanimously ruled that judges, while they should consider the challenges of drug addiction, “must have the authority to detain a defendant” who has violated probation by using drugs. (Boston Globe, MA, 7/16/18)
Pharma sues New York over ‘unconstitutional’ opioid tax – A national trade group representing drug distributors is suing New York in an attempt to block a new law that holds its members financially responsible for the havoc wrought by the opioid epidemic. In a federal complaint filed Friday in the Southern District of New York, the Healthcare Distribution Alliance argues that the state’s new Opioid Stewardship Act is unconstitutional because it singles out and punishes drug manufacturers and distributors for their alleged role in a “complex public health epidemic” that involves “myriad actors.” (Times Union, NY, 7/11/18)
Drug Treatment Courts
Drug Court: Funds in place to bring back successful program – Funding is in place to install a drug court in the Washington County Court of Common Pleas by year’s end, and it will mark the first time the specialized court has been in the county in a decade. A previous court ran from 2004 to 2008 before funds dried up. Kerenyi plans to have each of those needed partners– law enforcement, the adult parole authority, treatment providers, child advocates, the prosecutor’s office, public defender’s office and county commissioners (fiscal agent) around the table in the next month to discuss the logistics needed to run a drug court, and elicit their support. (The Marietta Times, OH, 7/13/18)
St. Tammany Parish Council supports juvenile detention alternative – The St. Tammany Parish Council unanimously adopted a resolution at its July 12 meeting supporting the 22nd Judicial District Court’s efforts to be designated as a Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative site by the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement. The designation will allow the court’s Family Justice Initiative program to apply for grants from multiple state agencies to develop alternatives to pretrial detention for low-risk juvenile offenders. (The New Orleans Advocate, LA, 7/12/18)
Utah works to improve public defense – According to the Utah Indigent Defense Commission’s 2017 report, progress is being made to improve the system. The development of a grant application process allows local governments to receive more funding for indigent defense while also helping the Indigent Defense Commission collect data to determine how to best allocate resources. “I hear many people talking about the First Amendment — freedom of speech — or the Second Amendment — the right to bear arms,” he said. “I’m glad the state is finally focusing on the Sixth Amendment because our entire judicial system will be improved as we improve our commitment to making sure everyone has adequate and appropriate representation.” (The Daily Universe, UT, 7/17/18)
Text-message reminders are a cheap and effective way to reduce pretrial detention – With just a couple of dollars, courts and public defenders can keep people from being arrested. Court date reminders sent to defendants via text message are an inexpensive, simple intervention being tested across the country. “There is this perception that flight risk is a real thing that people need to worry about,” Sills says. However, he says that the vast majority of criminal defendants are not flight risks—they’re attendance risks. (ABA Journal, 7/17/18).
Spokane Public Defenders Try Texting To Get Clients To Court – Many of the inmates in the Spokane County jail are there because they missed a court date. Sometimes a person was supposed to appear in court, but didn’t know that, and when he or she didn’t show, a judge would sign a warrant for that person’s arrest and an officer would go make that arrest and book them into jail. Krzyminski found a Silicon Valley company called Uptrust that sends text reminder messages to defendants. It can even let them know that day care is available at the courthouse or it can convey some other message of convenience for that particular person. The county commissioners voted this week to spend the $40,000 needed to install the new system here. (Spokane Public Radio, WA, 7/12/18)
Morehouse to Host National Public Defender Training Program – Gideon’s Promise, the national public defender advocacy organization, will move its summer training program from the University of Mississippi to Morehouse College in Atlanta, starting July 27, the group announced Wednesday. Ole Miss served as a “phenomenal” host for the training program the past three summers, “but, as attendance increased, lodging and accessibility for the national staff and participants became an issue,” said marketing consultant Karen Stewart, noting that the closest airport for Oxford is in Memphis. The weekend of programs and activities will serve as Gideon’s Promise’s biennial gathering to provide training, leadership development and mentoring to public defenders from across the county, Stewart said. (The Daily Report, GA, 7/11/18)
Veterans Treatment Courts
Local veteran brings Department of Veterans Affairs to Federal Court – A local marine veteran is fighting for his right to access opioids to manage his chronic pain. Veteran Robert Rose of Gray, Tennessee is trying to get a federal judge to stop the Department of Veterans Affairs from continuing its Opioid Safety Initiative. The Opioid Safety Initiate was adopted by the VA last year. It works by tapering veterans off opioids to help lower the number of opioid related deaths. Rose says without opioids, the chronic pain he suffers with is crippling. But he says this fight is not about him, this is a fight for all veterans. (WCYB News 5, TN, 7/16/18)