Archives for January 2013

Twitter Ordered to Identify Anti-Semitic Tweeters in France

Thomson Reuters; January 24, 2013

A French court on Thursday ordered Twitter Inc to help identify the authors of anti-Semitic posts or face fines of 1,000 euros ($1,300) per day, as the social network firm comes under renewed pressure to combat racist and extremist messages.

The order, requested by a Jewish student union and rights groups, concerned anti-Semitic material but could open the floodgates to legal pursuit of Twitter users who post a wide range of messages deemed illegal or offensive.

“This is an excellent decision, which we hope will bring an end to the feeling of impunity that fuels the worst excesses,” said Stephane Lilti, lawyer for the groups who sought the ruling.

The anti-Semitic messages started appearing last October, and have since been deleted.

The Paris court gave privately-held Twitter, whose general policy is that it does not control content posted on its network, 15 days to hand over data identifying people who have published messages judged anti-Semitic.

The court also ordered Twitter to set up a system in France that helps people draw attention to illegal content. Under French law, people found guilty of inciting racial hatred can be jailed for a year and fined.

Twitter’s lawyer in France, Alexandra Neri, declined to comment.

Failure to comply would expose the firm, founded in 2006 and now boasting 140 million monthly active users worldwide, to daily fines of 1,000 euros if the groups who sought the order request it, which Lilti said they would not hesitate to do.

A rights group involved in the case was quick to point out that the injunction, while limited to a case of anti-Semitic traffic, set a precedent that could also have a wider impact.

“This marks a decisive step forward in the battle against racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic offences on the Internet,” the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism (LICRA) said in a statement.

“Nobody can ignore French law, not even the giants of the American digital economy.”

For a first time, Twitter deployed a new message-blocker in Germany last October to jam the posting of messages by a neo-Nazi group banned by police.

A tool Twitter calls “country withheld content” allows it to censor tweets considered illegal in a given country.


More Marines may Be Eligible for Camp Lejeune Health Compensation Following New Report

NewsInferno; January 24, 2013

Tens of thousands of U.S. Marines and their family members may soon be eligible for federal health care after new information shows that water at North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune was contaminated as far back as 1953, four years that previously thought.

According to an AP report this week, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has informed the Dept. of Veterans Affairs that new computer models show that drinking water in the Hadnot Point area of Camp Lejeune was unfit for human consumption as far back as 1953. Now, more than a million Marines and their family members were likely exposed to toxic drinking water while they lived on base.

The Hadnot Point water system provided drinking water for the largest residential areas at Camp Lejeune. Most of the Marines living on base as well as the Naval Hospital, and barracks for unmarried Marines officers were served by the water from Hadnot Point. The water became contaminated decades ago from leaking fuel tanks and dry cleaning solvents found in the groundwater at Camp Lejeune. The water has been contaminated with toxins like benzene and other volatile organic compounds. More than a million gallons of fuel may have been leaked from underground storage tanks at Camp Lejeune.

For nearly as long as the water has been contaminated, military families and soldiers living at Camp Lejeune suspected that the drinking water was responsible for any number of health problems, including cancer. There have been at least 82 Marines men that have been diagnosed with breast cancer after living at Camp Lejeune.

The Marines became aware of this contamination in the early 1980s but only started to close some drinking water wells at Camp Lejeune later that decade. Still, many soldiers and their family members who are left dealing with the health complications caused by the tainted drinking water on base believe the military ignored calls to test groundwater and were negligent in their response to learning of the contamination and for allowing so many people over such a long period of time to be exposed to the tainted drinking water.

Last year, President Barack Obama signed a law that granted federal health care to hundreds of thousands of Marines veterans and their families who were affected by the poisoned water at Camp Lejeune. Based on the new federal evidence that’s come to light recently, as many as 55,000 more Marines and their families could be eligible for those same benefits.

Immigrants Get Lending Hand to Get Legal

Wall St. Journal; January 24, 2013

José Quiñonez entered the U.S. from Mexico when he was a child, arriving as an undocumented immigrant with members of his family. The 41-year-old is now trying to assist a new generation of Bay Area residents who also came illegally as minors and want to become legal residents.

Mr. Quiñonez runs Mission Asset Fund, a five-year-old San Francisco nonprofit that works to promote savings among immigrants who lack bank accounts and credit scores. The group’s latest effort is focused on helping undocumented immigrants raise the $465 fee for legalization applications under the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

“Sometimes it can be hard to come up with $465,” says Gustavo Cerritos, 22, an undocumented immigrant being helped by Mission Asset Fund.

Mr. Cerritos arrived in San Francisco as a 9-year-old, joining his mother, who had left him to be raised by grandparents in Honduras while she established herself in California. Mr. Cerritos finished high school in 2008 but says he was afraid to apply to college because he was unable to produce a Social Security number and feared discovery and deportation. Besides, he adds, “How was I going to pay for college if I can’t work?”

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, makes young undocumented immigrants eligible for legal residency, on at least a temporary basis, through a 2012 presidential order. DACA followed Congress’s failure to pass the Dream Act, which would have provided a path to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors.

Overall, there are an estimated 3,770 undocumented people 30 and younger who are eligible for DACA in San Francisco alone, according to Chicago demographer Rob Paral. An additional almost 60,000 are eligible in other parts of the Bay Area, about half of them in the counties of Santa Clara and Alameda.

Mission Asset Fund’s new program is modeled loosely on the immigrant tradition of “lending circles”—known as “tandas” or “cestas” in Latino communities, “keh” in Korean ones—where members typically agree on a weekly or monthly schedule for each to contribute a predetermined sum until everyone gets a turn taking home the pot. “Tanda” pots often provide the down payment on a first car, or even a down payment on a home.

“Immigrants have a strong tradition of coming together and helping each other by forming lending circles,” says Mr. Quiñonez, a native of Durango, Mexico. “We decided to leverage that structure by formalizing the practice.”

As of this week, Mr. Quiñonez says his group has organized nine lending circles involving 97 total members. In each of the circles Mission Asset Fund puts together, members agree to pay $31 a month until all have saved $310, or two-thirds of the $465 application fee.

For lender-borrowers of good standing, Mission Asset Fund waives the last $155 of the $465 target, using money donated by friends of the nonprofit to push participants over the finish line. Some of those donations come from local philanthropies, like the Friedman Family Foundation and the Thomson Family Foundation, all in San Francisco.

In addition, through Facebook FB +1.42% and other social media, donors sympathetic to undocumented immigrants have so far contributed $10,000 to Mission Asset Fund, often getting employers to match their contributions, Mr. Quiñonez says.

Peter Cornell, who works in sales for Yahoo Inc., YHOO +1.92% recently gave $200, which his employer matched. “The way I see it, these are my fellow Americans; they shouldn’t have to face the risk of being thrown out of the country,” says Mr. Cornell, 35.

Evangelina Montenegro, who works at Visa, raised more than $800 from family, friends and colleagues to support Mission Asset Fund’s DACA aspirants. “I see myself in them,” says the 46 year-old, who was born in Jalisco, Mexico. Before Ms. Montenegro legalized her own status in 1986 and finished college, she says she was “always afraid of being deported.”

Mission Asset Fund’s initiative got a boost from San Francisco’s Latino Community Foundation, which recruited more than 150 early donors for the new lending circles. The project is one of several “Dreamer”-support networks that have sprung up nationwide, some tailored specifically toward finding ways to match DACA applicants with donors who can provide the $465 to defray one of the costs of legalization.

Four Freedoms Fund, a project of New York-based Public Interest Projects, supports organizations working with “Dreamers” to offset the cost of legal services and overall processing, as well as broader comprehensive immigration reform. Unbound Philanthropy, another New York-based nonprofit, is joining Public Interest Projects’ effort through a “rapid response” fund to support workshops to prepare DACA-eligible immigrants before they begin the application process. And the Hispanic Federation has earmarked $50,000 for grants to needy families for their DACA application fees in New Jersey, Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania.

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Family of Former Chargers Star Junior Seau Sues NFL over Suicide

Thomson Reuters, January 23, 2013

The family of former San Diego Chargers star Junior Seau, who killed himself last year, sued the National Football League on Wednesday, saying that brain damage he suffered during his 20 years in the league led to his suicide.

Seau’s children and ex-wife, along with the trustee of his estate, also claim in the San Diego Superior Court lawsuit that the NFL has long concealed from its players and the public the risks of neurological injury in the sport.

“We know this lawsuit will not bring back Junior,” the Seau family said in a statement. “But it will send a message that the NFL needs to care for its former players, acknowledge its decades of deception on the issue of head injuries and player safety, and make the game safer for future generations.”

An NFL spokesman, Greg Aiello, told Reuters in an email that the league’s attorneys would review the lawsuit and respond to the claims appropriately in court.

Seau, a 12-time Pro Bowl linebacker for the Chargers and two other NFL teams during his two-decade career, died last May after shooting himself in the chest at his beachfront home in Oceanside, California.

The lawsuit filed by his family, which claims fraud, negligence and wrongful death, seeks unspecified damages from the league and several football helmet makers.

It comes seven months after some 2,000 ex-NFL players sued the league in federal court in Philadelphia over similar allegations, consolidating more than 80 lawsuits.

A study by independent researchers found that Seau, 43, suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE – the same debilitating brain disease diagnosed in at least two other former NFL players who committed suicide.

The NFL has said the findings about Seau’s brain underscored “the recognized need for additional research to accelerate a fuller understanding of CTE.” League teams have donated $30 million to the National Institutes of Health for research.

Brain Injury Employee Denied Unum Benefits, Insurance Attorney Helps; January 21, 2013

Long Beach, CA: Hoang Nguyen suffered a traumatic brain injury while working for Northrop Grumman. Nguyen, who was an exemplary employee of 19 years and received a salary of $100,000 per year, was soon afterward terminated and Unum, the company’s insurance company, immediately stopped paying his disability benefits.

That was in 2006. In 2008 Nguyen’s friend helped him find an attorney and, with the attorney’s assistance, he was able to apply for social security benefits. (English is Nguyen’s second language.) Meanwhile he had to borrow money from his children–he didn’t have any savings. It wasn’t until 2010, four years later, that Nguyen finally received disability benefits from Social Security, including four years of back pay. Four years of long term disability benefits owed him that should have been paid by Unum, known back then as Unum Provident.

This is what happened.

“A metal rack fell on my head at work and knocked me out,” says Nguyen. “I don’t remember how long I was unconscious for but I went back to my office and told my boss. He wanted to call an ambulance but I thought I was OK.”

By this action alone, you could say that Nguyen was dedicated and loyal to his job. And you could describe him as a “brainiac”. He was an IT systems engineer at Northrop Grumman–the fourth-largest defense contractor in the world with about 100,000 employees worldwide–and he was working on a very big satellite project. Because his work was so specialized, a traumatic brain injury, or TBI, was indeed nothing short of traumatic.

“That night I went home and vomited and passed out again,” Nguyen explains. “I told my son what happened at work and if I pass out again to drive me to ER. But I seemed alright that night and went back to work the next day. But I couldn’t work, I knew something was wrong. I couldn’t focus, my head hurt, my ears were ringing and it felt like I had water in my ears. My whole body ached. I thought these symptoms would pass, but I also thought it would be best to see the company nurse. She sent me to the company doctor. He told me to go to the hospital for a CAT Scan and take time off work. Then the company doctor sent me to a neurologist.”

The neurologist told Nguyen that he had suffered a concussion and diagnosed him with a TBI. He was out of work on short term disability–from Unum–for a few months.

“I am sorry but I don’t remember much, everything is confusing,” says Nguyen. “The neurologist sent me to yet another neurologist because my arms were numb but I had to pay the second neurologist out-of-pocket because he wasn’t hired by the company and Unum wouldn’t cover it.

“I had four surgeries over the next few months on both arms because the nerves were damaged from the head injury–my neck was damaged. After the fourth surgery I had some tests to determine whether I could go back to work, full time or not. My medical report said I could only go back with “modified work”, meaning less hours and a lighter job.”

Six months after his injury Unum started to pay Nguyen long term disability benefits. When the company received his medical report that stated “modified work only” they laid him off. And Unum stopped paying his benefits immediately. In typical Unum style, he didn’t receive any notice. No one told Nguyen that he had the right to appeal, or that he should seek help from an attorney.

“At that time I didn’t know how to handle anything and I didn’t know where to turn for help,” says Nguyen. “My children loaned me money to survive during that time and I never went back to work. I am completely disabled.”

Unum paid about half his salary, $50,000, for one year before they cut him off. Now he receives $1,800 per month from social security. Nguyen says he was born in 1950 (he couldn’t figure out his age when asked) and planned to work for many more years.

“I didn’t want to retire at this age,” he says. I worked 19 years for that company. I just don’t know why they treated me so badly. I worked very hard for them, six days a week, sometimes 60 hours a week without any overtime pay. When they laid me off it felt like they killed me. Everyone I talked to were mad with Northrop Grumman for getting rid of me. They are still very upset but what can they do?“

On its website, Northrop Grumman says corporate responsibility is key and it “takes pride in conducting our business with a broad perspective, taking into account our employees.” Wait, there is more.

“We remain committed to maintaining the highest of ethical standards…and becoming an ideal corporate citizen…acting with integrity in all we do, valuing our people…and our commitment to our employees, our customers and the communities in which we live and work. As we continue to grow and evolve, the responsibility we feel to serve our communities and help those in need grows with us.”

According to the way this company and Unum treated Hoang Nguyen, the above statement couldn’t be further from the truth. LaywersandSettlements asked Northrop Grumman to comment on Hoang Nguyen’s termination. They did not respond.

Massive Hurricane Sandy Lawsuit Seeks End to Con Edison; January 22, 2013

Staten Island, NY: Usually it’s the attorney advocating for his client in a lawsuit. This time, however, the attorney is the plaintiff in a massive Hurricane Sandy lawsuit that seeks $500 million in damages and seeks to have the defendant, Consolidated Edison (Con Edison) put out of business for good. After losing his power for five days in 2011 following Hurricane Irene, the Staten Island lawyer was without power for 17 days following Sandy.

According to the Staten Island Advance (1/16/13), Robert Prignoli hopes to elevate his Hurricane Sandy power outage lawsuit to class action status on behalf of anyone who lost power for a sustained period of time as the result of the horrific storm. The plaintiff also holds that Con Edison failed to properly prepare for the onset of Hurricane Sandy, and indeed has dropped the ball with regard to ongoing infrastructure improvements over a sustained period of time.

Prignoli’s Hurricane Sandy Utility lawsuit claims that he was even told by Con Edison workers themselves that the utility’s infrastructure was “old and decrepit,” and that the Utility failed to spend any meaningful dollars to fix up the grid and make it more reliable.

The plaintiff claims he has experienced power outages every year since he moved into his Huguenot home in 2004. He also alleges his power is the first to go and the last to be restored. Prignoli claims in his lawsuit that power to his home, which was not damaged in the windstorm and subsequent flood, was off for 17 days, even though most of his neighbors had their power restored after only a few days.

The neighborhood in which the plaintiff lives has buried power lines, and thus nothing overhead to be affected by high winds, snow buildup or ice accumulation.

In his lawsuit, Prignoli notes that Con Edison required a formal inspection by the city Buildings department as his home is located in the Zone A evacuation area. The inspection finally took place and the plaintiff’s home was cleared November 5. However, according to the report, there was yet another delay. The utility, according to the court documents, informed the plaintiff that before it could restore power to his home, the Utility required a certification from a licensed electrician avowing that no repairs were required. Court documents show the certification was delivered to the Utility November 12 of last year.

The plaintiff says it took the Utility several days beyond delivery of the certification, for his power to be restored. Most of his neighbors saw their power restored October 31st??”two days after the storm. “There’s still people without power today and we’re going to pursue it,” Prignoli said January 15 in a telephone interview with the Staten Island Advance. “I don’t believe Con Edison properly prepared for the storm, (and) I don’t think they invested enough in capital improvements over the years.”

The plaintiff, who lives on Nicolosi Loop near Raritan Bay, alleges gross negligence in his Hurricane Sandy Lawsuit. “In any severe event,” the plaintiff alleges in court documents, “we lose power first and have it restored last.” Prignoli notes he was given six different dates for power restoration by Con Edison, before finally seeing his power restored after two weeks. He’s pushing to have Con Edison shut down, and the lights turned out at the historic public utility for good.

In his Hurricane Sandy Power Outage Lawsuit, the plaintiff also names National Grid USA, and the New York State Public Service Commission. The lawsuit was filed In New York State Supreme Court, St. George.


LA Diocese Protected Molester Priests

NewsInferno, January 22, 2013

Los Angeles church officials are being accused of protecting pedophile priests, according to confidential church files.

Retired Cardinal Roger Mahony and other key Roman Catholic officials in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles protected molester priests, hid molestation accusations from parishioners, and ensured “damage control” for the church, according to The Huffington Post, citing church personnel files. The confidential records were filed in a lawsuit against the archdiocese.

The files reveal that Reverend Lynn Caffoe, suspected of locking boys in his room, videotaping their genitalia, and amassing a $100 phone sex bill while with a boy, was sent for therapy and removed from ministry. It took until 2004 for Mahony to have Caffoe defrocked. “He is a fugitive from justice,” Mahony wrote of Caffoe to the Vatican’s Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger—Cardinal Ratzinger is now Pope Benedict XVI. Caffoe died in 2009, six years after a newspaper reporter discovered he was working at a homeless mission. The mission, noted The Huffington Post, was just two blocks away from an elementary school in Salinas.

Of the abuse allegations, Mahony issued a statement of apology stating, “It remains my daily and fervent prayer that God’s grace will flood the heart and soul of each victim, and that their life journey continues forward with ever greater healing…. I am sorry.” Meanwhile, some 20 years ago, Mahony wrote to accused priests offering similar words of prayer. In a 1987 letter to Reverend Michael Wempe during his inpatient treatment, Mahony wrote “Each of you there at Jemez Springs is very much in my prayers and I call you to mind each day during my celebration of the Eucharist,” adding that he supported Wempe in the experience. Wempe, noted The Huffington Post, admitted to abusing 13 boys.

The files discuss Reverend Nicholas Aguilar Rivera, who victimized children of illegal immigrants, threatening them with deportation. When parents in LA complained to the church, officials there advised Rivera two days before telling the police, enabling Rivera to flee to Mexico, The Huffington Post reported. Some 26 children told police the now defrocked and fugitive Rivera abused them.

The files of 13 other priests were attached to the motion that includes 30,000 pages of exhibits. The files, in an agreement with the archdiocese, will be given to over 500 victims and, in compliance with a recent judicial order, church officials names will remain in tact; this after intervention by The Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times, said The Huffington Post.

According to the files, Reverend Michael Baker, was sentenced in 2007 for molestation—20 years after he confessed abusing two brothers, over seven years, to Mahony. After returning to the ministry from psychological treatment in 1986 with a physician recommendation that he be immediately defrocked should he spend time with minors, Baker spent time alone with boys and conducted baptisms without church permission. He remained in the active priesthood until 2000. According to key Mahony aide, retired Monsignor Richard Loomis, Baker had at least 10 other victims. Baker was paroled in 2011 and is alleged to have molested 20 children, said the Huffington Post.

Mahony also helped ensure abusive priests undergoing treatment were kept out of California to avoid criminal and civil prosecution. In 1986, Monsignor Peter Garcia, was kept at a treatment center in New Mexico after an attorney warned the archdiocese that it could face “severe civil liability” if Garcia was returned and re-offended, The Huffington Post wrote, citing the files. Garcia admitted raping an 11-year-old boy and later told a psychologist he molested 15-17 boys. “If Monsignor Garcia were to reappear here within the archdiocese, we might very well have some type of legal action filed in both the criminal and civil sectors,” Mahony wrote to the director of the treatment program Garcia was attending; Mahony moved Garcia to another center. The molester priest returned to LA in 1988 and was removed from the ministry. Shockingly, Garcia contacted a victim’s mother seeking to spend time with her younger son, said The Huffington Post. In 1989, Mahony finally took steps to defrock Garcia, who died in 1999.

As we have written, it has been more than a decade since the first major wave of sexual abuse lawsuits were weighed against the Catholic Church in the U.S. Hundreds and possibly thousands of children were victims of sexual abuse committed by priests working for the church, which rather than risking a tarnished profile, opted to keep these issues to themselves; rather than removing abusive priests, the Church transferred the accused to different churches, allowing them to prey on unknowing parishioners and their children.

Allegations have been made, not only against officials in the Catholic Church, but also against the ultra-Orthodox Jewish population, the Boy Scouts of America, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Penn State and former coach, Jerry Sandusky, to name just some.

Toward a New View of Law and Society: Complexity and Power in the Legal System

National Public Radio; January 22, 2013

Contrary to its aim of promoting justice and equality before the law, in practice the American legal system increasingly favors moneyed and politically influential groups. The capture of Congress by campaign donors and lobbyists, accelerated by the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, is one prominent example, but this power dynamic is ubiquitous in political and legal institutions. This favoritism for the powerful can be best understood as deeply intertwined with, and even an inevitable result of, increasing complexity in legal institutions.

Corruption is a dynamic process. There is a symbiotic relationship between the legal system and powerful, regulated interests, which mutually benefit as they grow more complex and all-encompassing. The symbiosis between law and power is fractal in nature and can be found at all levels of hierarchy in the legal system.

First, laws enable new, partially unprestatable, strategy spaces for actors within the system. Creative actors seek adjacent-possible actions within the prevailing legal environment to achieve their desired ends. Naturally, these innovations produce unanticipated behaviors.

The unintended consequences are addressed through the creation of new laws, that again create partially unprestatable strategy spaces which are predictably further manipulated by powerful interests. This can create closed loops of mutually reinforcing laws and actions that is the basis of power structures.

Ironically, this self-defeating cycle ensures both the defeat of lawmaker’s intentions and empowerment of the lawmakers. When regulated entities creatively evade the intent of legislation, it should represent a failure on the part of lawmakers. Instead, it empowers them to draft even more laws to remedy the defects of the old ones.

For example, drug prohibition laws empower police to intervene in drug trafficking networks. Increasing police intervention, however, raises the risk of selling drugs and consequently the price. This attracts more drug dealers and entices them to sell even more drugs. Even worse, prohibition spurs the development of new, dangerous compounds that evade existing laws, as well as more potent, concentrated forms of existing drugs for easier concealment and transport. These new societal problems alarm the community and inspire the passage of even harsher laws.

Police authority (and power derived from it) and prisons flourish with the drug trade in a mutually dependent relationship. As Milton Friedman once quipped, “If you look at the drug war from a purely economic point of view, the role of the government is to protect the drug cartel. That’s literally true.”

Second, the positive feedback loop between regulator and regulated re-enforces itself at a systemic level as vast networks of laws generate increasing legal complexity. This emergent complexity creates its own partially unprestatable strategy spaces that benefit knowledgeable, repeat actors over their less sophisticated counterparts.

During litigation, for example, parties with deep pockets exploit various laws to bury their opponents in discovery and file flurries of pre-trial motions to force dismissal of the suit or a favorable settlement. Large corporations also often prefer complex regulatory schemes because they shut out potential competitors by raising the barriers to entry. While small farmers struggle to comply with extensive FDA, EPA and USDA regulations, for example, large agribusinesses hire armies of attorneys to navigate these regulations. Due to its increasing complexity, legal regulation often empowers the very same entities that it intends to disempower.

Third, this co-evolution of law and action does far more than produce partially unprestatable and, hence, exploitable strategy spaces for regulated entities. Crucially, it enables moneyed interests to influence the substance of laws, their implementation or positions of power within the legal system. The establishment of government institutions in order to regulate economic activity, for example, creates the opportunity for corporate interests to infiltrate regulatory bodies and thus “capture” these institutions.

This capture may be overt and intentional, or arise naturally from the incestuous relationship created by the “revolving door” between industry and regulatory bodies. Either way, a cursory examination of American administrative agencies, regulatory bodies and even presidential cabinets and Congress shows that both Democratic and Republican administrations have been thoroughly infiltrated by industry-sympathetic technocrats. Perhaps this corruption is a feature, not a bug. Money loves power and self-reinforcing loops of legal regulation and their enabled strategy spaces concentrate both.

This model of the evolution of law as a co-evolutionary process challenges the prevailing view that policy makers can control legal outcomes. The idea that we can control assumes that our actions are both knowable beforehand by those seeking legal control and also cause whatever outcomes are produced. But the legal system exists in an unbounded state space where the possibilities enabled by legal institutions cannot be predicted ahead of time.

Laws that were created for specific reasons can be used for myriad other purposes based on unprestatable societal changes, which then influence the directionality of the laws in richly cross-connected and self-reinforcing feedback loops. As the legal system expands its diversity, specialization and redundancy, increased complexity benefits groups best able to exploit its burgeoning ecological niches.

The language of cause and effect must be replaced with enablement of partially unprestatable strategy spaces that jointly form self-reinforcing power structures.

The use of law to regulate social behavior can radically alter the power structures embedded within society. We should carefully consider the possibility that, as the legal system covers a greater breadth of human conduct, the laws serve as adjacent-possible niches for the benefit of the powerful and to the detriment of the powerless.

Federal Prosecutor Defends Actions after Internet Activist Suicide

Thomson Reuters, January 17, 2013

BOSTON, Jan 17 (Reuters) – The prosecutor who pursued criminal charges against Aaron Swartz, the 26-year-old Internet activist and computer prodigy who killed himself last week, has defended her actions after facing several days of harsh criticism.

“There is little I can say to abate the anger felt by those who believe that this office’s prosecution of Mr. Swartz was unwarranted and somehow led to the tragic result of him taking his own life,” U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said in a statement Wednesday night, after extending her sympathies to the family.

“I must, however, make clear that this office’s conduct was appropriate in bringing and handling this case,” she said, adding that prosecutors in her office “took on the difficult task of enforcing a law they had taken an oath to uphold, and did so reasonably.”

Swartz, who at 14 helped create an early version of the Web feed system RSS and later worked on the popular website Reddit, was found dead Friday in his Brooklyn apartment.

He was accused of using MIT’s computer networks to steal more than 4 million articles from JSTOR, an online archive and journal distribution service. He had faced a maximum sentence of 31 years in prison and fines of up to $1 million.

Prosecutors offered him a deal to plead guilty to multiple counts of wire fraud and computer fraud and spend six months at a low-security facility, Ortiz said.

In a statement Saturday, the family and partner of Swartz lashed out at what they said were decisions by prosecutors that contributed to his death.

“Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach,” the statement said.

“The U.S. Attorney’s office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims,” it added.

Swartz, who pleaded not guilty to all counts, was released on bond. His trial was scheduled to start later this year.

The statement from Boston-based Ortiz was released after her husband, Tom Dolan, criticized the Swartz family via Twitter.

“Truly incredible that in their own son’s obit they blame others for his death and make no mention of the 6-month offer,” he had written.

Dolan could not immediately be reached for comment.

Court Rules Alabama Man Can Sue Brand Drug Maker over Generic Drug Injuries

NewsInferno, January 15, 2013

In a landmark move, an Alabama court is allowing a patient to sue the brand maker of acid reflux medication, Reglan (metoclopramide), over injuries he allegedly suffered over the generic version of the drug.

Last week, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that the patient can sue Wyeth, the maker of Reglan, even though the injuries he allegedly suffered involved a generic version of the drug, said The New York Times. The man claims the brand name manufacturers neglected to warn about the drug’s risks.

The plaintiff, Danny Weeks, claims he developed tardive dyskinesia, a movement disorder, after taking generic versions of Reglan for his acid reflux. In addition to Wyeth, the developer of the brand name version, Reglan, Weeks also sued generic makers, Actavis and Teva, said The Times.

For now, the decision only applies to Alabama; however, attorneys with similar pending cases who have been barred from suing generic companies due to a United States Supreme Court Ruling, will likely be reading the decision, The Times pointed out. The 2011 Supreme Court decision was Pliva v. Mensing and the ruling stated that generic drug companies did not have control over their labels’ verbiage and were protected against being sued for failure to advise patients about their drugs’ risks, The Times explained. For the most part, generic makers must use the same labeling as their counterparts’ brand labeling.

In its decision, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that “an omission or defect in the labeling for the brand-name drug would necessarily be repeated in the generic labeling, foreseeably causing harm to a patient who ingested the generic product,” according to The Times.

As we’ve previously written, symptoms of tardive dyskinesia include involuntary/repetitive movements of the extremities; facial tics; lip smacking, pursing, and puckering; face grimacing; tongue protrusion; rapid eye movements or blinking; impaired movement of the fingers; and Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS). There is no treatment or cure for tardive dyskinesia. Stopping Reglan or any of its generic versions may relieve some symptoms in some patients, in others, symptoms actually worsen when the drug is discontinued; the longer the treatment, the greater the risk, especially in senior women.

The Reglan and its generic versions work by helping to speed food through the stomach and intestines. In February 2009, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) mandated that the makers of metoclopramide add a black box warning to its label regarding the risk of tardive dyskinesia associated with chronic, long-term use. The FDA’s mandate followed the publication of analyses that suggested that Reglan is the most common cause of drug-induced movement disorders. A black box is the FDA’s strictest safety warning. Metoclopramide treatment beyond 12 weeks should be avoided, unless the benefit is judged to outweigh the risk.

Tardive dyskinesia may not be easy to recognize in early stages and is more likely to be irreversible with long-term treatment (over 12 weeks) and, less frequently, can develop with short-term treatment at low doses. In these cases, the symptoms are likelier to disappear either partially or completely over time, once treatment has been stopped.

Scores of people from around the country have filed tardive dyskinesia lawsuits against Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, the maker of Reglan. Reglan tardive dyskinesia lawsuits allege that Wyeth Pharmaceuticals knew of a widespread tendency among physicians to misprescribe Reglan and promoted the drug for longer use despite the lack of safety data to support such uses.