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The Montana Senate is considering a bill that would make it illegal for doctors to help terminal patients take their own life.

The bill heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday would open doctors up to possible homicide charges if they prescribe a lethal dose of medication at the request of their patients.

A 2009 state Supreme Court decision protects doctors from prosecution for the practice, though it is not explicitly allowed in state law.

Supporters of the bill said that allowing physician-assisted death would send the wrong message to those considering suicide in the state. Montana has one of the highest suicide rates in the U.S.

“Once allowed this is a severely slippery slope,” said bill sponsor Republican Sen. Carl Glimm. “We need to show in every way we can that suicide is wrong.”

Opponents of the bill made clear that medically assisted death is not related to the state’s suicide rate. The practice is only available to those suffering from terminal disease.

“Medical aid in dying is not suicide. These patients are not depressed — they are dying. There is a very big difference,” said Dr. Colette Kirchhoff, a hospice and palliative care physician from Bozeman. “It’s a way to alleviate suffering.”

Leslie Mutchler, the daughter of Robert Baxter, the plaintiff in the Montana Supreme Court case that allowed the practice, testified in opposition to the bill. Her son chose physician assistance to end his life in 2016 after being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer.

“He gained so much peace of mind when he was able to obtain the life-ending medication from a physician,” Mutchler said. “It’s not suicide. It’s a life that is already ending. It is just a way to hasten it.”

Several states allow physician-assisted suicide, including California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

Similar measures to criminalize physicians for the practice have faltered in Montana in every legislative session in the past decade — when the bills have died before reaching the governor’s desk.

This year, the bill may find a more favorable fate with the support of the administration of Gov. Greg Gianforte, the state’s first Republican governor in 16 years. Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras testified in favor of the bill on Friday, saying the governor supports the measure.

Juras said two of her grandchildren are diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a disease that causes persistent lung infections and over time reduces lung capacity.

“We are committed to walking with them through the hard days. I do not want you to send them the message when they have a tough day that suicide is an acceptable option,” she said.


The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe scored a legal victory Friday when the U.S. Interior Department withdrew a Trump administration appeal that aimed to revoke federal reservation designation for the tribe’s land in Massachusetts.

A federal judge in 2020 blocked the U.S. Interior Department from revoking the tribe’s reservation designation, saying the agency’s decision to do so was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and contrary to law.” The Trump administration appealed the decision, but the Interior Department on Friday moved to dismiss the motion.

In a filing in a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., the Interior Department said it had “conferred with the parties and none opposes this motion.” A judge granted the motion and dismissed the case.

The tribe’s vice chair, Jessie Little Doe Baird, called it a triumph for the tribe and for ancestors “who have fought and died to ensure our Land and sovereign rights are respected.”

“We look forward to being able to close the book on this painful chapter in our history,” Baird said in a statement. “The decision not to pursue the appeal allows us continue fulfilling our commitment to being good stewards and protecting our Land and the future of our young ones and providing for our citizens.”

The Cape Cod-based tribe was granted more than 300 acres (1.2 square kilometers) of land in trust in 2015 by then-President Barack Obama, a move that carved out the federally protected land needed for the tribe to develop its planned $1 billion First Light casino, hotel and entertainment resort.

The tribe learned in March 2020 that the federal government was moving to reverse the reservation designation. The Trump administration decided it could not take the land into trust because the tribe was not officially recognized as of June 1, 1934. That was the year the federal Indian Reorganization Act, which laid the foundation for modern federal Indian policy, became law.

At the time, the tribe’s chair called it a “sucker punch.”

The tribe, which traces its ancestry to the Native Americans that shared a fall harvest meal with the Pilgrims in 1621, gained federal recognition in 2007.

U.S. Representative Bill Keating, D-Mass., whose district includes Cape Cod, applauded the decision to drop the appeal.


In a closely divided ruling, New Jersey’s Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a $1.8 million jury award for a woman who was struck on the head with a bottle while riding a New Jersey Transit bus.

The 4-3 decision affirmed that NJ Transit, a public carrier, has the same heightened duty of care to protect customers as would a private carrier. NJ Transit had argued it wasn’t liable under the higher standard.

Anasia Maison needed 22 stitches in her forehead after the 2013 attack in Newark, which occurred after a group of young men began harassing her.

A new jury will determine whether any of the damages should be shared by the bottle-thrower, who was never caught. Under new instructions included in Wednesday’s ruling, jurors can consider whether NJ Transit had effective polices in place and whether the driver followed those policies.

The dissenting justices disagreed with the majority’s assessment of the level of care required of New Jersey Transit, and with the scope of the new jury instruction that “presses the jury to allocate most — if not all — of the fault in this case to NJ Transit,” according to Justice Anne Patterson.

According to court documents, the driver didn’t stop the bus or ask the men harassing Maison to get off after she switched seats. After Maison was hit with a liquor bottle, he contacted NJ Transit’s control center, which notified police and emergency medical services.

The ruling “is a significant victory for those of us who work to assure public safety,” Maison’s attorney, K. Raja Bhattacharya, said in an email. “We hope that NJ Transit will follow the direction of the court and re-examine its policies and procedures concerning passenger safety.”

New Jersey Transit declined to comment Wednesday, citing the pending litigation.



A man who broke an ankle on an obstacle course at a pumpkin patch will get his foot inside a courthouse again.

A judge wrongly dismissed Tarek Hamade’s lawsuit against DeBuck’s Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch, the Michigan Court of Appeals said Thursday.

Hamade fractured an ankle while running across tires that were part of an obstacle course known as “Tough Farmer.” He said he was injured while stepping on a tire that was very soft at the fall attraction near Belleville.

DeBuck’s argued that the spongy tire was an open and obvious risk, a key legal standard under Michigan liability law.

“It’s an obstacle course. It’s meant to be difficult to traverse,” attorney Drew Broaddus said at a Feb. 3 hearing.

But the appeals court said the tire’s condition was not obvious.

“If they’d called it the ‘spongy tire challenge’ we might have a different case. But that’s not what it was presented as,” Judge Michael Gadola said.

Hamade’s lawsuit now returns to Wayne County Circuit Court.



A Dubuque man who was granted a new trial by the Iowa Supreme Court last year is seeking a change of venue for that new trial.

Fontae Buelow, 28, filed Thursday for the change of venue from Dubuque County, saying media coverage of the case has made it impossible for him to get a fair trial there, the Telegraph Herald reported.

Authorities have maintained that Buelow fatally stabbed his girlfriend, 21-year-old Samantha Link of Peosta, on March 31, 2017. Buelow has insisted Link stabbed herself twice in the chest. A jury convicted Buelow of second-degree murder in 2018, but in December, the state Supreme Court ordered a new trial.

The high court agreed with the Iowa Court of Appeals, which faulted the trial judge for not allowing defense attorneys to present information about Link’s mental health records and prior suicide attempt. Buelow’s second trial is scheduled to begin May 25.



A Polish court on Monday ordered a record high compensation of nearly 13 million zlotys ($3.4 million) to a man who had spent 18 years in prison for a rape and murder of a teenager he didn’t commit.

Tomasz Komenda’s case has shocked Poland, and the right-wing government highlighted it as an example of why it says the justice system needs the deep changes it has been implementing.

Komenda, now in his mid-40s was arrested in 2000 over a 1997 rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl at a New Year’s village disco party. He was initially handed a 15-year prison term, which was later increased to 25 years, despite him protesting his innocence.

As a result of family efforts, the prosecutors reviewed the case and came to the conclusion that he couldn’t have committed the crime. Komenda was cleared after DNA tests, among other factors, showed that he wasn’t involved.

Komenda was acquitted of all charges and released in 2018, having wrongfully served 18 years of his term. He had been seeking 19 million zlotys ($5 million) in damages and in compensation.

A court in Opole ruled Monday that he should receive most of that amount — the highest ever compensation awarded in Poland. The verdict is subject to appeal.

Two other men have been convicted and handed 25-year prison terms in the 1997 case.  Komenda’s story was told in 2020 Polish movie “25 Years of Innocence. The Case of Tomek Komenda.”



Georgia court officials say they are hopeful jury trials will resume in March given the recent decline in coronavirus cases along with the rollout of vaccines.

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold D. Melton signed an order on Sunday extending for another 30 days a statewide judicial emergency that suspends the trials because of concerns about COVID-19.

But the order says the surge in virus cases that led to the suspension appears to be declining, and it is anticipated that superior and state courts will get the green light to resume the trials at their discretion in March.

Online payment of court costs, fines expands in Kentucky

The Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts has expanded its online payment options.

As of last week, people who owe court costs, fines, fees or restitution on eligible cases can make full or partial payments, the office said in a news release. Previously the ePay program only allowed payment in full in prepayable cases, which is one that doesn't require a court appearance.

"The primary advantage is that anyone who owes court costs can now pay online," Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. said. "We're also easing the financial strain for those who have a prepayable case by allowing them to pay over time, if needed."


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