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Courts around the country are embracing text messages as a way to nudge people into showing up for their hearings.

On any given day, up to half of defendants fail to show up for their scheduled proceedings. No-shows cost the courts time and money, and can cost defendants their freedom.

Public defenders and court administrators are using text reminders in more than a dozen states, including Virginia, California, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Florida and Washington.

Richmond Public Defender Tracy Paner said the reminders have been a huge help to her clients, who are often struggling with poverty and chaotic family lives, in addition to dealing with the fallout from an arrest. Missing a court date can spur a judge to issue a bench warrant, which can lead to a citation or arrest, fines and even jail time.

“If you’re hustling and you don’t know how you’re going to pay your rent and looking for a job and wondering where you are going to get food, kind of the last thing on your mind is your court date,” Paner said. “If we can help with that, that’s easy for us.”

In Richmond and Petersburg, the Virginia Indigent Defense Commission used a grant to set up a pilot program. The commission contracted with Uptrust, a San Francisco-based company whose software integrates with the public defender’s case management software to access the names, cellphone numbers, court dates and other information to track cases.

Uptrust’s software builds a schedule of reminders for each defendant and automatically sends texts on those dates. The messages are typically sent 10 days, one week and one day before a scheduled hearing.

Some texts also include customized messages reminding people to seek time off from work, arrange for child care and figure out how they will get to court.

One of the main goals is to reduce failure-to-appear rates.

In New York City, researchers who studied a pilot program found that from March 2016 to June 2017 text messages that combined information on planning, what to expect and the consequences of not going to court led to a 26 percent drop in the number of no-shows.

Text messages were initially used by some courts to remind people to report for jury duty, said Bill Raftery, a senior analyst with the National Center for State Courts.

After Michael Brown was shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, a Justice Department investigation focused attention on the practice of issuing fines and other penalties for failing to appear in court, even for minor traffic charges.


Clarence Thomas has been a Supreme Court justice for nearly three decades. It may finally be his moment.

Many Americans know Thomas largely from his bruising 1991 confirmation hearing, when he was accused of sexual harassment charges by former employee Anita Hill — charges he denied. People may know he’s a conservative and has gone years without speaking during arguments at the court. But scholars say it would be wise to pay closer attention to Thomas.

Thomas is now the longest-serving member of a court that has recently gotten more conservative, putting him in a unique and potentially powerful position, and he’s said he doesn’t plan on retiring anytime soon. With President Donald Trump’s nominees Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh now on the court, conservatives are firmly in control as the justices take on divisive issues such as abortion, gun control and LGBT rights.

Thomas, for the first time, is on a court where there are at least four votes for some “pretty radical” decisions, said political science professor Corey Robin, the author of a Thomas book due out in September. Robin says the question will be whether the court’s more conservative justices — Thomas, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Samuel Alito — can get Chief Justice John Roberts, a more moderate conservative, to go along.

Thomas, 70, became the high court’s longest-serving justice, the “senior associate justice,” when Justice Anthony Kennedy retired last summer . But unlike Kennedy, who sat at the court’s ideological center and was most often the deciding vote when the court split 5-4, Thomas is consistently on the court’s far right.

That’s won him praise from Trump . As a presidential candidate, he called Thomas “highly underrated.” Trump said Thomas has “been so consistent for so long, and we should give him credit.”

More than 20 of the men and women Thomas mentored as law clerks have gone on to hold political appointments in the Trump administration or been nominated to judgeships by Trump . Thomas and his wife, Virginia, herself a well-known conservative activist, have dined with the president and first lady.

Elizabeth Wydra, president of the liberal Constitutional Accountability Center, acknowledged that Thomas’ views may now have more sway, something she described as “terrifying to many progressives.”


Court records show that video police recovered from an Illinois woman's cellphone showing her bruised 5-year-old son prompted the boy's father to lead investigators to the child's body.

JoAnn Cunningham and Andrew Freund Sr. of Crystal Lake are charged with murder in Andrew "AJ" Freund's death. Investigators found his body April 24 in a shallow grave.

An affidavit from a McHenry County Sheriff's detective says the video from March shows AJ lying naked on a mattress, covered in bruises and bandages.

The affidavit says the couple forced AJ to take a cold shower April 14 as punishment for lying about soiling his underwear. Freund told investigators they put the boy to bed and Cunningham later found him unresponsive. Freund says he put AJ's body in a plastic container and later buried him.



Attorneys for news organizations argued Thursday that the U.S. public should be allowed to see federal data about how prescription opioids were distributed as the nation’s overdose crisis was worsening.

They urged a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati to overturn a lower court judge’s denial of access to the information. The judges will rule later.

“The value of transparency here is great,” said Karen C. Lefton, an Akron, Ohio, attorney representing The Washington Post. The data concerns “a public health crisis” that affects many more people than a typical case, she said.

The data is a key piece of evidence in hundreds of lawsuits filed by state and local governments against companies that make and distribute the drugs. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration database details the flow of prescription painkillers to pharmacies, showing the number and doses of pills.

A Justice Department attorney told the judges releasing the data would compromise investigations.

“This is an issue of really critical importance to the United States and DEA,” said government attorney Sarah Carroll. Making the information public, she said, “would tip defendants off to the scope of DEA investigations.”

Cleveland-based U.S. District Judge Dan Polster, who is overseeing more than 1,500 of the lawsuits, had ruled in July 2018 that the information cannot be made public. He said that doing so would reveal trade secrets. The Post and the HD Media newspaper chain, which had asked the court for the data, then appealed to the federal circuit.

The appellate judges raised a number of questions about Polster’s orders keeping the data secret and hundreds of filings in the case that are under seal.

Judge Eric Clay said it seemed that the secrecy in the case had “just gone overboard.” He told Carroll, of the Justice Department, that “just saying” cases would be compromised seems inadequate.


Taking a harder line on health care, the Trump administration joined a coalition of Republican-led states Wednesday in asking a federal appeals court to entirely overturn former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law — a decision that could leave millions uninsured.

Congress rendered the Affordable Care Act completely unconstitutional in 2017 by eliminating an unpopular tax penalty for not having insurance, the administration and GOP states told the court.

The “Obamacare” opponents hope to persuade the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans to uphold U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor’s ruling late last year striking down the law.

If the ruling is allowed to stand, more than 20 million Americans would be at risk of losing their health insurance, re-igniting a winning political issue for Democrats heading into the 2020 elections. President Donald Trump, who never produced a health insurance plan to replace “Obamacare,” is now promising one after the elections.

The Trump administration acknowledged it had changed positions in the case. Early on, the administration argued that only certain key parts of the ACA, such as protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions, should be invalidated. But it said other important provisions such as Medicaid expansion, subsidies for premiums and health insurance markets could continue to stand.

Wednesday, the administration said it had reconsidered in light of O’Connor’s ruling. “The remaining provisions of the ACA should not be allowed to remain in effect — again, even if the government might support some individual positions as a policy matter,” the administration wrote in its court filing.

The Justice Department’s legal brief also seemed to be trying to carve out some exceptions. For example, the administration said the ACA’s anti-fraud provisions should remain in effect.


The Arizona Court of Appeals has ruled that the Costco warehouse store chain can be sued for privacy violations by a Phoenix-area man because a pharmacist joked with his ex-wife about an erectile dysfunction prescription he had never picked up.

The ruling issued Tuesday revived the lawsuit the man filed after the pharmacist told his ex-wife about the prescription when she went to pick up another prescription with his approval. The man had called Costco twice to cancel the prescription before his ex-wife went to the north Phoenix store in early 2016, but the pharmacist did not do so, according to the ruling.

Attorney Joshua Carden filed the lawsuit for the man alleging a variety of violations, but it was dismissed by a trial-court judge. The Court of Appeals revived sections alleging negligence under federal health care privacy law commonly called HIPAA. The ruling potentially allows him to seek punitive damages.

The ruling is the first to say that negligence claims under HIPAA can be brought in Arizona courts, Carden said.

“If there is a big deal in the case it’s that the court went ahead and said yes to negligence claims based on HIPAA violations,” Carden said. “That’s not ever been announced in Arizona before.”

The federal health privacy law doesn’t allow individuals to sue for violations in federal court, he said, and state courts haven’t always been clear about that right.


Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack has been re-elected to a third, two-year term leading the court.

The court announced her re-election by fellow justices Tuesday. The result was public, but the vote was done in secret and the breakdown was not announced.

Roggensack replaced Justice Shirley Abrahamson as chief justice in 2015 after voters approved a constitutional amendment giving justices the power to elect the chief justice. Prior to that it had automatically gone to the longest-serving member, who is Abrahamson.

Roggensack is one of the four majority conservative justices. Abrahamson is one of three minority liberal members.

Roggensack says in a statement that she is honored to continue serving as chief justice. She has been on the Supreme Court since 2003.

The chief justice also serves as the administrative head of Wisconsin's judicial system.

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