Appeals court needed for NM family to sue coppers for illegal arrest — WTF?

Heather and Stephen Maresca and children

Elementary school principal Stephen Maresca was heading home from hiking in the Sandias with his wife, three children and their dog when the family was arrested by armed deputies after a rookie Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office deputy typed in a wrong license plate number.

Responding officers had the couple and their children exit the truck, walk backward with their hands up and lie face-down on the pavement. The officers aimed firearms at the parents and children, including two boys ages 17 and 14 and a 9-year-old girl, according to a summary of evidence in an opinion by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

The court ruled last month that the arrest was illegal – reversing an earlier decision that gave the arresting officer, Deputy J. Fuentes, immunity.

The county is now on the hook for that 2013 arrest by Fuentes…

So, that much took two years.

The reversal was based not on the mistyped number itself, the appeals court said.

Instead, it was based on the fact that the deputy failed to notice the difference between a 2009 Chevrolet sedan with expired plates, which was the vehicle reported stolen, and a 2004 Ford pickup with current plates, the vehicle Maresca was driving, or to check the information. That information was in front of Fuentes on a computer screen the entire time…

Incredible. Ignore the typo. The copper who called in the bust and all the responding boys in blue never noticed a Ford pickup truck doesn’t look like a Chevy sedan.

According to the family’s lawsuit, Fuentes, followed by another patrol officer in a separate vehicle, called in the correct license plate number to dispatch but entered a number off by one digit in her computer.

The computer indicated from that number that the vehicle was stolen.

Garbage in = garbage out. Forever.

The deputy behind her, G. Grundhoffer, did not run any plate numbers before the two approached the pickup at gunpoint…

Other officers arrived, but none verified that the license plate belonged to a stolen car…

The family was detained for about 40 minutes, fearful, humiliated, tearful and separated from one another in different vehicles, it says. Maresca had been allowed to take their agitated dog, Maya, with him after it wandered into the highway.

Eventually, a sergeant arrived and apologized for the deputies’ mistakes…

The case was first heard by Circuit Judge Paul Kelly of Santa Fe, who found all the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity because the stop was an investigatory detention reasonable under the circumstances.

The three-judge panel in the Appeals Court found that “an unreasonable mistake of fact cannot furnish probable cause…” NSS! Stupid does as stupid is – is not a reasonable defense. None of the responding coppers ever checked the description of the vehicle. Not so incidentally, the father of this family tried his best to lead them through correct procedure. He was an ex-cop.

Just in case you thought our government and the courts would be on the side of ordinary citizens…

Three years ago, a federal court found the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers responsible for the catastrophic flooding of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

On Monday, an appeals court threw that decision out…The new court decision, which potentially gets the government off the hook for tens of millions of dollars in damages, is based on a legal provision specifically designed to keep courts from second-guessing government decisions when the government is sued for its actions or inaction.

Residents of New Orleans, where more than 1,000 people were killed and many thousands made homeless in one of the worst disasters in American history, have been suing the corps, arguing that it failed to maintain a Mississippi river canal and didn’t protect the city properly from the storm.

A federal judge issued a blistering decision against the corps in 2009, accusing it of negligence over a period of 40 years because of “insouciance, myopia and short-sightedness.”

U.S. District Court Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages to each of five families that lived in the worst-hit sections of the city: the Lower 9th Ward and St. Bernard Parish…

But a higher court reversed the decision Monday.

The appeals court found that the government could not be held responsible because of a provision known as the discretionary function exception, or DFE, which says the government can’t be sued for actions that an agency or government employee makes, or fails to make, if the function is discretionary.

The DFE is intended to prevent courts from second-guessing government decisions “grounded in social, economic, and political policy” during the course of lawsuits, the appeals court said.

“Our application of the DFE … completely insulates the government from liability,” the three judges hearing the case wrote.

Just in case you thought we had legal recourse to damages for years of corruption, non-compliance, political ineptitude – because of politicians and bureaucrats who didn’t care a crap about the quality of the work they performed for us – have another think.

Regardless of what citizens may try to achieve for compensation through the courts – it is forbidden by a law expressly passed to protect civil servants and elected officials from responsibility for their incompetence.

It’s the American way.

Federal Appeals Court upholds EPA’s greenhouse gas rules

A U.S. appeals court…upheld the first-ever U.S. proposed rules governing heat-trapping greenhouse gases, clearing a path for sweeping regulations affecting vehicles, coal-burning power plants and other industrial facilities.

Handing a setback to industry and a victory to the Obama administration, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia unanimously ruled the Environmental Protection Agency’s finding that carbon dioxide is a public danger and the decision to set limits for emissions from cars and light trucks were “neither arbitrary nor capricious.”

The ruling, which addresses four separate lawsuits, upholds the underpinnings of the Obama administration’s push to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, and is a rebuke to a major push by heavy industries including electric utilities, coal miners and states like Texas to block the EPA’s path.

In the 82-page ruling, the three-judge panel also found that the EPA’s interpretation of the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide regulations is “unambiguously correct…”

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said the court found the agency “followed both the science and the law in taking common-sense, reasonable actions to address the very real threat of climate change by limiting greenhouse gas pollution from the largest sources…”

The ruling clears the way for the EPA to proceed with first-ever rules limiting carbon dioxide emissions from newly built power plants, and to move forward with new vehicle emission standards this summer.

They “followed both the science and the law…” – two qualities that absolutely confound the Party of NO, Blue Dog Democrats and let’s don’t leave out the petty flunkies that dash about like water skaters dispensing denialist agitprop like so much pigeon poop.

This was an excellent object lesson in why American reactionaries consider the appointment of compliant legal trolls essential when Republicans are in office – and blocking the appointment of pretty much anyone else committed to law and reality the rest of the time.

Falsely accused – Thomas Haynesworth free after 27 years in jail

A Virginia appeals court declared Thomas Haynesworth an innocent man Tuesday, clearing his name and acknowledging that he spent 27 years behind bars for rapes he did not commit.

It is the first time the state has issued a “writ of actual innocence” in a rape case without the certainty of DNA evidence. Haynesworth, 46, was supported by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II and two state prosecutors — all of whom concluded that he was mistakenly identified by a rape victim as he walked to a Richmond market for sweet potatoes and bread one February afternoon in 1984.

“It’s a blessing,’’ Haynesworth said as he stood with his attorneys and Cuccinelli. “There are a lot of people behind the scenes who believed in me. Twenty-seven years, I never gave up. I kept pushing. I ain’t give up hope.

“I am very happy. Me and my family can finally put this behind us, and I can go on with my life. And I can finally vote.”

The case shows how far Virginia has come in allowing convicts to argue their innocence. Historically, prisoners were barred from introducing new evidence more than three weeks after sentencing, and in the 1990s, then-Attorney General Mary Sue Terry famously said, “Evidence of innocence is irrelevant.” But when DNA testing resulted in hundreds of exonerations nationwide, it prompted Virginia lawmakers to open the door for courts to reconsider guilt based first on genetic evidence and later on other evidence, such as recanted testimony, fingerprints or ballistics.

Although Haynesworth was released on parole in March, he has not been fully free. Now, his photo has been taken off the state’s sex offender registry. He is allowed to use the Internet. Finally, he can take a woman on a date without first introducing her to a parole officer.

Our system of justice is once again found whole by exception rather than the rule.

Many states, many jurisdictions consider such case only an imposition upon the “track record” of prosecutors who would rather be known as successful politicians, police departments more interested in conviction rates than preventing crime or public safety.

Racism is still a given in the all-American equation.

Federal appeals court lifts ban on funding for stem cell research

A federal court has given the Obama administration the go-ahead to continue funding embryonic stem cell research. The controversial 2-1 decision Friday is a victory for supporters of federally funded testing for a range of diseases and illnesses.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia lifted an injunction imposed last year by a federal judge, who said all embryonic stem cell research at the National Institutes of Health amounted to destruction of embryos, in violation of congressional spending laws.

Legislation passed in 1996 prohibits the use of taxpayer dollars in the creation or destruction of human embryos “for research purposes.” Private money had been used to gather batches of the developing cells at U.S.-run labs. The current administration had broken with the Bush White House and issued rules in 2009 permitting those cells to be reproduced in controlled conditions and for work on them to move forward…

Two scientists had brought a lawsuit to block further research. But the three-judge panel concluded in their 21-page ruling, “the plaintiffs are unlikely to prevail because Dickey-Wicker is ambiguous and the NIH seems reasonably to have concluded” that the law does not ban research using embryonic stem cells.

Yes, the Right Wing nutballs in this land can always find one or two researchers who are academically-qualified to support some crap ideology. While the course of science overall proceeds along the traditional conservative, cross-checked methods of investigation and validation that have always been root and cause of progress.

As long as we can assume a modicum of honesty in American jurisprudence there is the chance of sanity.

And then there is Congress. 😦

Court affirms Gay adoption rights in Florida

Martin Gill (L) and his attorney, Robert Rosenwald
Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

Florida Governor Charlie Crist says the state will stop enforcing its law banning adoption by gay people after an appeals court ruled it unconstitutional.

Crist announced the decision Thursday after the ruling from the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Miami. It would take a decision by the state Supreme Court to strike down the 33-year-old law, the strictest of its kind in the nation.

The decision upholds a lower court ruling that there is no rational basis for the ban. The law was challenged by Martin Gill and his male partner, who adopted two young brothers.

Gill and the American Civil Liberties Union want the state to appeal to the state Supreme Court so that a final decision can be made for the entire state.


Meanwhile, Republicans and the teabaggers will continue their reactionary stand denying any declaration of civil rights for the gay community in Florida.