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A federal judge has limited the ability for now for the nonprofit running Oak Ridge National Laboratory to place employees on unpaid leave who receive exemptions to a COVID-19 vaccine requirement.

U.S. District Judge Charles Atchley in Knoxville issued the temporary restraining order Friday barring UT-Battelle from placing employees on indefinite unpaid leave or firing them after they receive a religious or medical accommodation to the vaccine.

The six workers who sued have argued they were told the unpaid leave would be indefinite. Their employer said in a court filing that the leave will last 60 days — with health benefits intact — and then will be reevaluated. Those with security clearances will maintain them for 90 days, the filing states.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory spokesperson Morgan McCorkle said Sunday that officials there “remain confident our policy is legal, in taxpayers’ interest, and necessary for the well-being of our workforce.”

The judge wrote that he will decide by Oct. 29 whether to let the order expire or keep it while the case plays out. He reasoned that “preventing their (employees’) placement on unpaid leave for a matter of two weeks simply will not harm” the organization, while the unpaid leave presents a “functional loss of employment” and other damages for the workers at the lab, which is about 25 miles west of Knoxville.

The judge wrote that the order shouldn’t be interpreted that he is inclined to block the order permanently, and instead was put in place to avoid the “risk of irreparable harm” until a full hearing can be held.

The employees sued earlier this month, saying they requested religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine and two of them also asked for a medical exemption. The lawsuit also seeks class-action status, arguing the unpaid leave policy breaches civil rights and disability discrimination protections.

The lawsuit says the workers were not offered alternatives, such as working remotely or periodic testing. All employees currently face a mask mandate at the lab.
The laboratory, which falls under the U.S. Department of Energy, announced on Aug. 26 that all staff needed to be vaccinated by Oct. 15, with a request that those who were seeking accommodations for religious or medical reasons to submit them by Sept. 15.

UT-Battelle had 145 employees request for accommodations for religious beliefs, and in 24 cases had in-person discussions with the workers. UT-Battelle received 75 requests for medical exemptions, granting 47 of them, denying 25, with three pending, a filing states.
According to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory website, there are 5,700 staff workers at the facility.

“The risk posed by unvaccinated staff members was exemplified by the employees who tested positive on the day they were being interviewed about their religious accommodation requests,” UT-Battelle wrote.


The chief of Vermont’s trial courts is retiring after 17 years as a judge, including seven as chief superior judge, the state Supreme Court has announced.

Chief Judge Brian Grearson will retire Nov. 1.

“Vermont’s judiciary is a vital institution of democracy that ensures equal justice under the law,” Vermont Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Reiber said in a statement on Friday. “Judge Grearson’s work in support of the courts has been distinctive, accruing to the benefit of every person in our great state.”

The court also said that Superior Judge Thomas A. Zonay of Hartland will succeed Grearson.

The chief superior judge supervises and oversees the administrative responsibilities of the judicial officers who serve in the state superior court and trial courts.

Zonay was appointed as a superior judge in 2007. Before being named a judge Zonay practiced law in Rutland and Woodstock for 18 years. Zonay also has served as president of the Vermont Bar Association and the New England Bar Association.

“He is a knowledgeable, hardworking and committed public servant,” Reiber said of Zonay. “I wish him all the best in his new role.”


An Eastern Shore judge who was about to be arrested at his home was found dead Friday, officials said.

Federal and local officials said FBI agents went to the residence of Caroline County Circuit Court Judge Jonathan Newell in Henderson, Maryland, early Friday morning to arrest him on a federal criminal complaint.

He was under investigation for sexual exploitation of a child, according to a federal affidavit.

“Upon entering the residence the agents found Newell suffering from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound,” a joint statement from Acting Maryland U.S. Attorney Jonathan Lenzner and other officials said. “He was pronounced dead at 6:43 a.m. Maryland State Police will lead the investigation into the apparent suicide.”


With abortion and guns already on the agenda, the conservative-dominated Supreme Court is considering adding a third blockbuster issue — whether to ban consideration of race in college admissions.

The justices could say as soon as Monday whether they will hear an appeal claiming that Harvard discriminates against Asian American applicants, in a case that could have nationwide repercussions. The case would not be argued until the fall or winter.

“It would be a big deal because of the nature of college admissions across the country and because of the stakes of having this issue before the Supreme Court,” said Gregory Garre, who twice defended the University of Texas’ admissions program before the justices.

The presence of three appointees of former President Donald Trump could prompt the court to take up the case, even though it’s only been five years since its last decision in a case about affirmative action in higher education.

In that Texas case, the court reaffirmed in a 4-3 decision that colleges and universities may consider race in admissions decisions. But they must do so in a narrowly tailored way to promote diversity, the court said in a decision that rejected the discrimination claims of a white applicant. Schools also bear the burden of showing why their consideration of race is appropriate.

Two members of that four-justice majority are gone from the court. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died in September. Justice Anthony Kennedy retired in 2018.


The Philippine Supreme Court on Tuesday condemned the alarming number of killings and threats against lawyers and judges. One legal group has said these attacks are considerably higher under President Rodrigo Duterte compared to the past 50 years under six former presidents.

The 15-member high court asked lower courts, law enforcement agencies and lawyers and judges’ groups to provide information about such attacks in the last 10 years, in order for the court to take preemptive steps. The attacks, it said, endanger the rule of law in an Asian bastion of democracy.

“To threaten our judges and our lawyers is no less than an assault on the judiciary. To assault the judiciary is to shake the very bedrock on which the rule of law stands,” the high court said in a rare, strongly-worded censure of the attacks. “This cannot be allowed in a civilized society like ours.”

The court said it would not “tolerate such acts that only perverse justice, defeat the rule of law, undermine the most basic of constitutional principles and speculate on the worth of human lives.”

The Free Legal Assistance Group, a prominent group of lawyers, said at least 61 lawyers have been killed in the five years of Duterte’s presidency compared to at least 25 lawyers and judges slain under six presidents since 1972, when dictator Ferdinand Marcos placed the Philippines under martial law.

Lawyers’ groups said the court’s denunciation was long overdue but nevertheless welcomed it. “We have been sounding out the clarion call and providing information and concrete recommendations for the longest time,” said lawyer Edre Olalia, who heads the left-wing National Union of People’s Lawyers.

A number of lawyers who represented suspected drug dealers or were linked to the illegal drug trade were among those gunned down under Duterte’s rule. When he took office in mid-2016, Duterte launched a massive anti-drug crackdown that has left more than 6,000 mostly petty suspects dead and alarmed Western governments and human rights groups.


Attorneys who represent clients in the medical marijuana industry are concerned they might face discipline under a state Supreme Court directive that appears to put federal law in conflict with state law.

The directive, which took effect July 1, says attorneys cannot participate in — or advise clients how to participate in — acts that are illegal under federal law but legal under state law. Medical marijuana is illegal under federal law but was approved by Missouri voters in 2018.

Attorney Dan Viets, of Columbia, who represents medical marijuana clients, said he recently asked the state Supreme Court Advisory Committee whether he could be disciplined under the directive, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Viets said attorneys drafting the 2018 constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana anticipated the conflict and included protections in the amendment’s text for attorneys working in the legal marijuana industry.

The Missouri amendment says, in part: “An attorney shall not be subject to disciplinary action by the state bar association or other professional licensing body for owning, operating, investing in, being employed by, contracting with, or providing legal assistance to prospective or licensed” medical cannabis businesses.

“I was very concerned,” Viets said, adding the state Supreme Court’s directive “appears to contradict the Missouri Constitution. ... I just don’t understand how the court can do that.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling followed the filing of more than 800 lawsuits by medical marijuana entrepreneurs who had been denied business licenses by the state after a controversial application process.

Beth Riggert, spokeswoman for the Missouri Supreme Court, said the court would not comment on the order.



The city of Albuquerque and the U.S. Department of Justice have proposed a plan to temporarily assist Albuquerque Police Department internal affairs investigators.

An outside team is expected to correct issues as they arise and train detectives on how to improve their job performance, the Albuquerque Journal reported Sunday.

The proposal was outlined in a stipulated order filed in federal court and agreed to by the city, the justice department and an independent monitor overseeing a police reform effort.

The plan is a response to a November report by independent monitor James Ginger that said the police department failed at every level to regulate itself.

Ginger evaluated progress the city made in compliance with a settlement agreement resulting from a 2014 justice department finding that officers showed a pattern and practice of excessive force.

In his analysis for Feb. 1 through July 31, 2020, Ginger found officers failed to report use of force, detectives in the Internal Affairs Force Division were “going through the motions” and the department leadership allowed subpar work that was approved by the department’s chief at the time.

Chief Michael Geier was asked to step down partly because of the report. Deputy Chief Harold Medina now serves as interim head of the department.

Medina said in a statement that the department welcomes the resources and expertise while changing its use-of-force investigations.

“While this is a temporary solution, our longer-term goal is to build an internal investigative process that addresses the overall reform of the department,” Medina said.

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