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BNSF railroad wants a federal judge to prevent two of its unions from going on strike next month over a new attendance policy that would penalize employees for missing work.

The Fort Worth, Texas-based railroad went to court after the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, and the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation union both threatened to strike over the new policy that is set to go into effect on Feb. 1.

The unions said they are surveying their 17,000 members who work for BNSF to see if workers will support a strike.

The heads of the two unions, BLET National President Dennis Pierce and SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson, said in a joint statement that the new policy would violate their contracts with BNSF and could provide an incentive for workers to show up when they are sick in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

“This unprecedented BNSF policy repudiates direct and clear contract language, and in application, will attempt to force our members to report for duty without regard for their medical condition as we struggle to come out of a pandemic,” Pierce and Ferguson said.


A judge in eastern Washington has been charged with domestic violence assault, according to court documents.

Benton-Franklin Superior Court Judge Sam Swanberg was cited with two counts of fourth-degree assault domestic violence in Franklin County District Court, The Tri-City Herald reported. He’s scheduled to enter a plea to the charges on Feb. 8.

Swanberg’s lawyer Scott Johnson said Swanberg will enter a not guilty plea to the charges.

A temporary protection order for his ex-wife is in place until then. A 1-year no-contact order is also in place in Benton County to prevent him from contacting an ex-girlfriend, who said he harassed her after their breakup. Those allegations have been referred to an outside prosecutor for review.

Swanberg’s attorney said they had not been aware of the Franklin County investigation before the citation was issued on Friday. The sheriff’s department issued the citation without involvement by Franklin County prosecutors.

Sheriff’s investigators said in court documents they tried to contact Swanberg, and identified themselves as detectives investigating the matter, but he did not return their calls.

Swanberg’s attorney Scott Johnson said Swanberg absolutely disputes his ex-wife’s accounts and called the charges questionable.

Swanberg was accused of abuse by his former spouse in a court filing last month. The filing was part of supporting documentation in the civil case requesting a no-contact order brought by an ex-girlfriend.


A man whose toddler son died after he left him in a hot car for hours is asking Georgia’s highest court to overturn his convictions for murder and child cruelty.

Justin Ross Harris, 41, was convicted in November 2016 on eight counts including malice murder in the death of his 22-month-old son, Cooper. A judge sentenced him to life without parole as well as 32 more years in prison for other crimes.

Harris has appealed his convictions for murder and first-degree child cruelty. The Georgia Supreme Court scheduled oral arguments for Tuesday.

Harris, who moved from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to the Atlanta area for work in 2012, told police he forgot to drop his son off at day care on the morning of June 18, 2014, driving straight to his job as a web developer for Home Depot without remembering that Cooper was still in his car seat.

Cooper died after sitting for about seven hours in the back seat of the vehicle outside his father’s office in suburban Atlanta, where temperatures that day reached at least into the high 80s.

Prosecutors argued at trial that Harris was unhappily married and killed his son on purpose to free himself. Defense attorneys described him as a doting father and said the boy’s death was a tragic accident.

Police officers who interacted with Harris after his son’s death didn’t think he acted the way a father should under the circumstances, and began investigating all aspects of his life, according to a defense brief filed with the high court.

Evidence showed he was a loving and attentive father, even if exchanging sexually explicit messages and graphic photos with women and teenage girls and meeting some of them for sex revealed that Harris was not a great husband, the defense brief says.

Investigators “cherry picked the mountain of electronic data to support the conclusion that (Harris) murdered his son, ignoring contrary evidence,” the brief says.

Harris’ lawyer, Mitch Durham, argues that the judge shouldn’t have admitted evidence of Harris’ extramarital communications and in-person trysts at trial because his sexual misconduct had nothing to do with the death of his child. Prosecutors argue that plenty of evidence was presented to allow jurors to infer that Harris “acted out of a desire to be free of his wife and son so that he could pursue his self-described sexual addiction.”

Durham argues that there was insufficient evidence to show that he intended to kill his son and that some of his internet searches, activity and messages were twisted to fit that narrative. He says the evidence of sexual misconduct served only to prejudice the jury against Harris.


Jury trials have been paused in some western Michigan counties due to a surge in coronavirus cases, court officials said Monday.

Chief Judge Mark Trusock said all jury trials in Kent County 17th Circuit Court, based in Grand Rapids, were on hold until March 7. Ottawa County Probate Court and the 20th Judicial Circuit Court, based in Grand Haven, will not summon the public to courthouses to serve as jurors until at least Feb. 1, according to a statement released by the court.

Michigan health officials said last week that the state’s record-high COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations could peak in late January or early February, and they urged the public to take steps to help control the spread.

Ottawa County court officials said their decision was made in consultation with the Ottawa County Department of Public Health. Circuit Court Administrator Susan Franklin said judges don’t want to bring large numbers of people into the courthouses given the current rates of COVID transmission.

Courts across the U.S. have paused jury trials at various points during the pandemic. The highly contagious omicron variant has prompted additional pauses in recent days, including in Indiana’s largest county and in the state’s second most-populous county.


A Box Elder man faces a second trial in a fatal stabbing in Rapid City.

A Pennington County judge last month declared a mistrial in a murder case of Barry Allman after discovering that prosecutors failed to inform the defense in a timely manner that immunity had been granted to several key witnesses.

KOTA-TV reports Judge Matt Brown announced a new trial Friday. Brown called the errors made by the state in the case “grossly negligent, egregious and caused serious inconvenience, burden and cost to the county, the court, court staff, jurors and to Mr. Allman.”

Allman is accused of stabbing Lance Baumgarten in the chest at a Rapid City apartment in August 2020. Allman was arrested a day following the stabbing near Wanblee by Oglala Sioux tribal officers.


Novak Djokovic returned to court on Sunday to fight an attempt to deport him because of what a government minister described as a perception that the top-ranked tennis player was a “talisman of a community of anti-vaccination sentiment.”

Three Federal Court judges hope to hear the entire case in a single day so that the men’s No. 1-ranked tennis player and nine-time Australian Open champion might begin on Monday his title defense at the first Grand Slam tennis tournament of the year.

Djokovic spent Saturday night in an immigration detention hotel after he and his lawyers met with immigration officials earlier in the day. Television footage showed the 34-year-old Serb wearing a face mask as he sat in a vehicle near the hotel Sunday morning.

Djokovic spent four nights confined to a hotel near downtown Melbourne before being released last Monday when he won a court challenge on procedural grounds against his first visa cancellation.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke on Friday blocked the visa, which was originally revoked when he landed at a Melbourne airport on Jan. 5.

Deportation from Australia can lead to a three-year ban on returning to the country, although that may be waived, depending on the circumstances.

On Sunday, Federal Chief Justice James Allsop gave his reasons for rejecting Hawke’s argument that the case only warranted a hearing by a single judge.

Allsop cited Hawke’s own words that the issues behind his decision to cancel the visa “go to the very preservation of life and health of many members of the community.”

A verdict of three judges is far less likely to be appealed than the decision of a single judge.

Djokovic could not appeal a decision made on Sunday or Monday in time to compete in the Australian Open, Allsop said.


A federal appeals court has ruled two counties that hold immigrant detainees at local jails must terminate contracts with federal authorities starting Thursday.

Leaders in Kankakee and McHenry counties sued over an Illinois law aimed at ending immigration detention in the state by Jan. 1 and lost. But they were allowed to delay while on appeal.

In the ruling, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the counties hadn’t made their case.

“We conclude that the counties have not made a ‘strong showing’ that they are likely to succeed on the merits,” the three-judge panel concluded.

Roughly 100 detainees remain at the jails. Winding down the contracts is expected to take a few weeks.

The Illinois law has been celebrated by immigrant rights activists who say detaining people awaiting immigration hearings is inhumane and costly. They’re pushing to release detainees instead of transferring them elsewhere.

Last year, downstate Pulaski County cleared its jail of immigrant detainees. Court records show 15 were released. Dozens of others were transferred to Kansas and the two Illinois facilities.

Officials in McHenry and Kankakee counties, who didn’t return messages Thursday, have previously said they’d continue to appeal. They say the contracts are lucrative and argue that ending them simply transfers detainees further from their families.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement didn’t return a message Thursday.

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