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  Politics - Legal News

Appeal in John Steinbeck lawsuit heard in court

  Politics  -   POSTED: 2019/08/08 15:47

Both sides had another day in court Tuesday in a family battle that has been waged for decades over who controls the works of iconic author John Steinbeck.

A three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments to an appeal by the estate of Steinbeck’s late son, Thomas Steinbeck. The panel was in Anchorage to hear various cases.

Thomas Steinbeck’s estate is contesting a 2017 federal jury verdict in California that awarded more than $13 million to the author’s stepdaughter, Waverly Scott Kaffaga, whose mother was John Steinbeck’s third wife. The lawsuit said Thomas Steinbeck and his wife, Gail Steinbeck, impeded film adaptations of the classic works. A judge earlier ruled in the same case that the couple breached an agreement between Kaffaga’s late mother and Thomas Steinbeck and his late brother, John Steinbeck IV.

Neither Gail Steinbeck nor Waverly Kaffaga attended Tuesday’s proceeding.

Attorney Matthew Dowd, representing the Thomas Steinbeck estate, told the circuit judges the appeal contends the 1983 agreement was in violation of a 1976 change to copyright law that gave artists or their blood relatives the right to terminate copyright deals. The appeal also disputes the award handed up by the jury, maintaining it was not supported by substantial evidence of Gail Steinbeck’s ability to pay.

Kaffaga’s attorney, Susan Kohlmann, told the circuit judges multiple courts, including an earlier Ninth Circuit decision, have already upheld the agreement as binding and valid, and deemed it enforceable. She called the contract argument a “complete red herring.”

Dowd disagreed. He said previous decisions on the agreement didn’t completely deal with the particular issue involving the 1976 statute. He said Gail Steinbeck was not allowed to fully address the issue in court.

The appeals panel did not rule immediately on the case. Dowd earlier said he didn’t expect a decision for several months.

The judges appeared skeptical that the contract issue wasn’t adequately dealt with in previous rulings, and they questioned whether they were being asked to review another circuit court’s decision.

The judges also said the punitive damages of about $8 million awarded by the Los Angeles jury in 2017 appeared to have been decided without evidence of Gail Steinberg’s ability to pay. If that part was stricken from the award, there would still remain $5.25 million in compensatory damages, they noted.


Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled federal courts aren’t the place to settle partisan gerrymandering disputes, opponents of North Carolina’s district maps are putting their hopes in state courts.

An election reform group, the state Democratic Party and voters will go to court in two weeks to try to persuade state judges that Republican-drawn General Assembly districts discriminate against Democrats based on their political beliefs and voting history.

What’s different in this case is that the plaintiffs — some of whom sued in federal court over the state’s congressional map, which ended with Thursday’s 5-4 Supreme Court decision against them — argue the House and Senate boundaries violate the state constitution, not the U.S. Constitution.

“We are confident that justice will prevail in the North Carolina courts,” said Bob Phillips with the North Carolina office of Common Cause, which is a plaintiff in both matters. “And we will continue to work with state lawmakers to reform our broken redistricting system that has left far too many without a voice in Raleigh.”?

Voting-rights advocates across the country have vowed to turn to state litigation after Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the opinion addressing North Carolina and Maryland cases that federal courts have no authority to determine whether partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional.

Addressing complaints of partisan gerrymandering in state courts has already succeeded in Pennsylvania, where last year the state Supreme Court struck down congressional districts based on language in the Pennsylvania constitution that is similar to North Carolina’s. That ruling led to the court redrawing congressional lines. Democrats picked up four additional seats in 2018.

The pending partisan gerrymandering case filed in Wake County court marks at least the eighth lawsuit challenging North Carolina maps on the basis of racial and partisan bias since the current round of redistricting began in 2011. The lawsuits resulted in redrawing congressional lines in 2016 and legislative districts in 2017 — both to address racial bias. The state has spent millions of taxpayer dollars defending the maps.

Unlike the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, the state Supreme Court that would hear the appeal of the trial court’s decision has six registered Democrats and one Republican.


Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday that the Trump administration intends to challenge the right of federal district courts to issue rulings blocking nationwide policies, arguing that such injunctions are obstructing President Donald Trump’s agenda on immigration, health care and other issues.

In a speech at the Federalist Society conference in Washington, Pence argued that nationwide injunctions issued by federal judges “prevent the executive branch from acting, compromising our national security by obstructing the lawful ability of the president to stop threats to the homeland where he sees them.”

He said the administration will seek opportunities to put this question before the Supreme Court “to ensure that decisions affecting every American are made either by those elected to represent the American people or by the highest court in the land.”

Top administration officials have often complained about the proliferation of nationwide injunctions since Trump became president, so the idea of pushing back is not new.

Indeed, the administration has asked the Supreme Court to deal with nationwide injunctions in the past, including in the travel ban case. But the court never addressed the nationwide extent of the injunction against the ban issued by lower courts because the justices upheld the ban in its entirety.

For the Supreme Court to issue a definitive ruling on nationwide injunctions, it would first have to rule against the administration on the underlying merits of the case before it. Only at that point could the court consider whether a lower court order should apply nationwide or only to the people who are challenging an administration policy.

A nationwide injunction has the effect of stopping “a federal policy everywhere,” the administration told the Supreme Court in the travel ban case. The more common practice is for a judge to issue an order that gives only the people who sued what they want.

A White House official said the administration would be looking for potential relevant cases to press the issue, and said Pence also discussed it at the end of the Cabinet meeting convened by the president on Wednesday.

In his remarks, Pence quoted from an opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas, who joined the majority opinion upholding the Trump travel ban last June, but also wrote separately to say nationwide injunctions “are legally and historically dubious” and that the high court would have to step in “if federal courts continue to issue them.”

Trump has long railed against district courts, especially the 9th Circuit, for blocking his initiatives, including efforts to overhaul the nation’s immigration system.

At a re-election rally Wednesday night in Florida, Trump said, “Activist judges who issue nationwide injunctions based on their personal beliefs undermine democracy and threaten the rule of law.”

But Trump won a 2-1 ruling from the 9th Circuit on Tuesday that allows the administration to make asylum seekers wait in Mexico for immigration court hearings while a court challenge continues.


A federal appeals court raised concerns Friday that power lines with towers nearly as high as the Statue of Liberty could spoil the view in one of the nation's most historically rich areas, a stretch of river in Virginia where England founded its first permanent settlement.

The power lines cross the James River near Jamestown Island. And they began transmitting 500,000 volts of electricity on Tuesday.

Despite the project's completion, the court directed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prepare a full environmental impact statement for the project. The agency previously deemed it to be unnecessary.

The appeals court found that the Corps failed to fully consider the project's impact before issuing a permit to Dominion Energy. The ruling also said the Corps failed to resolve concerns that were raised in many of the 50,000 public comments that were submitted and by other federal agencies over the years.

For instance, the National Park Service has said utility lines should be run underground in the area, allowing people to experience views similar to what English explorer John Smith saw in the early 1600s.


female Cuban-American appellate judge to become the state's newest justice.

Barbara Lagoa, for the past 12 years a judge on the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Miami, was introduced by DeSantis at an event at Miami's Freedom Tower. The site is highly symbolic for Cuban-Americans because so many immigrants who fled the communist reign of Cuban leader Fidel Castro were processed into the U.S. through that building.

"In the country my parents fled, the whim of a single individual could mean the difference between food and hunger, liberty or prison, life or death," Lagoa said. "Unlike the country my parents fled, we are a nation of laws."

DeSantis, who just took office on Tuesday, said Lagoa, 51, has an impeccable judicial background and that her Cuban-American upbringing gives her extra appreciation for the rule of law. He noted that she has considered more than 11,000 cases and written 470 legal opinions.

"She has been the essence of what a judge should be" the governor said. "She understands the rule of law, how important that is to a society."

Lagoa, who grew up in the heavily Cuban-American suburb of Hialeah, attended Florida International University and Columbia University law school where she was associate editor of the Columbia Law Review. She also is a former federal prosecutor in Miami. Her father-in-law is Miami senior U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck and her husband, Paul C. Huck Jr., is a prominent Miami attorney.



Three months after a ruling halted the impeachment process involving most of West Virginia's Supreme Court justices, the state Senate president is seeking a second opinion.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael said Friday at the annual Legislative Lookahead forum he's asked state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey to look into handling a possible appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Carmichael, a Republican, is still steamed at a panel of state Supreme Court stand-ins that ruled impeachment efforts of the justices were a violation of the separation of powers doctrine. The process was officially derailed when the presiding judge didn't show up to Justice Margaret Workman's trial in the state Senate in light of the court's ruling blocking it.

"We believe it is totally, completely wrong," Carmichael said. The acting justices ruled the Senate lacked jurisdiction to pursue Workman's trial and later applied the decision to trials involving justices Robin Davis and Allen Loughry, who had petitioned the court to intervene.

Davis retired after the House approved impeachment charges against her. Loughry resigned after being convicted of felony fraud charges in federal court.


The partial government shutdown has prompted the chief judge of Manhattan federal courts to suspend work on civil cases involving U.S. government lawyers. The order suspends action in several civil lawsuits in which President Donald Trump is a defendant.

Judge Colleen McMahon said in a written order that the suspension will remain in effect until the business day after the president signs a budget appropriation law restoring Justice Department funding.

The Manhattan courts, with several dozen judges, are among the nation’s busiest courts.

In one case involving Trump, a judge last week ruled that a group of people suing Trump and his three eldest children can remain anonymous because they fear retaliation by the president or his followers.

Back from a 29-hour trip to visit U.S. troops in Iraq, President Donald Trump is returning his attention to the ongoing partial U.S. government shutdown, which is in its sixth day.

In a morning tweet, Trump says “we desperately need” a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, funding for which has been a flashpoint between the White House and Congress ever since Trump took office.

The president is calling on Democrats in Congress to fund his wall, saying the shutdown affects their supporters. He says: “Do the Dems realize that most of the people not getting paid are Democrats?”

Hundreds of thousands of federal workers are on unpaid furlough and even more are required to work without pay after Trump and Congress could not reach consensus on a short-term funding bill last week.

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