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Big Oil lost a pair of court battles Tuesday that could lead to trials in lawsuits by California cities and counties seeking damages for the impact of climate change.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected arguments by energy companies and ruled state courts are the proper forum for lawsuits alleging producers promoted petroleum as environmentally responsible when they knew it was contributing to drought, wildfires, and sea level rise associated with global warming.

The lawsuits claim Chevron, Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, BP, Royal Dutch Shell and other companies created a public nuisance and should pay for damage from climate change and help build sea walls and other infrastructure to protect against future impact ? construction that could cost tens of billions of dollars.

The ruling overturned a decision by one federal judge, who had tossed out lawsuits brought by the cities of San Francisco and Oakland.

“It is time for these companies to pay their fair share,” San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement applauding the ruling. “They should not be able to stick taxpayers with the bill for the damage they knew they were causing. We will continue to hold these companies accountable for their decades-long campaign of public deception about climate change and its consequences.”

While the rulings were victories for the coastal counties and cities ? all in the San Francisco Bay Area except for the tiny city of Imperial Beach in San Diego County ? and cheered by environmental groups, it could take years before they ever get to a jury, if they make it that far.




The Wisconsin Supreme Court announced Friday that it will hear oral arguments early next week in a lawsuit seeking to block Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ stay-at-home order.

The justices ruled 6-1 to accept the case and scheduled oral arguments for Tuesday morning via video conference. The arguments are expected to last at least 90 minutes.

The ruling said the court will consider whether the order was really an administrative rule and whether Palm was within her rights to issue it unilaterally. Even if the order doesn’t qualify as a rule, the court said it will still weigh whether Palm exceeded her authority by “closing all ‘nonessential’ businesses, ordering all Wisconsin persons to stay home, and forbidding all “nonessential’ travel.’”

Conservatives hold a 5-2 majority on the court. Liberal Justice Rebecca Dallet cast the lone dissenting vote. The ruling didn’t include any explanation from her.

Evers initially issued the stay-at-home order in March. It was supposed to expire on April 24 but state Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm extended it until May 26 at Evers’ direction.

The order closed schools, shuttered nonessential businesses, limited the size of social gatherings and prohibits nonessential travel. The governor has said the order is designed to slow the virus’ spread, but Republicans have grown impatient with the prohibitions, saying they’re crushing the economy.

Republican legislators filed a lawsuit directly with the conservative-controlled Supreme Court last month challenging the extension. They have argued that the order is really an administrative rule, and Palm should have submitted it to the Legislature for approval before issuing it.



Polish President Andrzej Duda on Thursday appointed an acting head of the beleaguered Supreme Court following the retirement of its president, who had vehemently defended its independence.

The court under Malgorzata Gersdorf has been critical of the steps that the right-wing government is taking to put Poland’s judiciary under political control.

Gersdorf is retiring Thursday and a crowd is gathering before the Supreme Court to thank her for her role in defending the independence of Poland's judiciary and bid her farewell.

A court general assembly that should have chosen her successor has been put off until social distancing rules against the coronavirus spread are lifted.

President Andrzej Duda, who has the authority to appoint the new head of the court, appointed Judge Kamil Zaradkiewicz on Thursday to be the acting head.



On the evening before he was to argue a case before the Supreme Court years ago, Jeffrey Fisher broke his glasses. That left the very nearsighted lawyer with an unappealing choice. He could wear contacts and clearly see the justices but not his notes, or skip the contacts and see only his notes.

It wasn’t hard to decide. “I couldn’t imagine doing argument without seeing their faces,” Fisher said.

He won’t have a choice next month. Because of the coronavirus pandemic the high court is, for the first time in its 230-year history, holding arguments by telephone. Beyond not being able to see the justices' nods, frowns and hand gestures, the teleconference arguments in 10 cases over six days present a range of challenges, attorneys said, but also opportunities.

Roman Martinez, who will argue in a free speech case, said the lack of visual cues may change what sense is most important. “Maybe it will concentrate the mind on listening,” he said.

The unprecedented decision to hold arguments by phone was an effort to help slow the spread of the virus. Most of the justices are at risk because of their age; six are over 65. And hearing arguments by phone allows them to decide significant cases by the court’s traditional summer break.

The attorneys arguing before the court include lawyers for the federal government and states as well as those in private practice. Only a few are women. Most have made multiple arguments and are familiar to the justices, although at least one lawyer is giving his first argument before the court. The Trump administration's top Supreme Court lawyer, Solicitor General Noel Francisco, will argue twice.



Johnny Gibbs has been trying to get a valid driver’s license for 20 years, but he just can’t afford it.

To punish him for high school truancy in 1999, Tennessee officials told him he would not be able to legally drive until he turned 21. He drove anyway, incurring two tickets and racking up more than $1,000 in fines and fees.

Like other low-income defendants in similar situations across the country, Gibbs couldn’t pay and ended up serving jail time and probation. That incurred another cost: a monthly supervision fee to a private probation company.

Rather than risk another arrest, Gibbs, now 38, decided to quit driving, which he said makes it nearly impossible to work. He said he spent several years living in a motel room with his mother, his disabled father and his sister before they all became homeless. In August, the family found housing in a dilapidated trailer, miles from the nearest town or food source.

A growing number of legal groups and nonprofit organizations throughout the U.S. are challenging these practices, but they continue — despite a 1983 U.S. Supreme Court decision that found it unconstitutional to incarcerate defendants too poor to pay fines.

In Oklahoma, for example, the Washington-based Civil Rights Corps, which has litigated more than 20 lawsuits since it was founded in 2016 to undo various aspects of “user-funded justice,” is challenging policies that it claims have led to one of the highest incarceration rates in the world.

Counties across the state of Oklahoma refer debt collection to a for-profit company, Aberdeen Enterprizes II, which adds an additional 30 percent fee and threatens debtors with arrest. Many of those who can’t pay are not just thrown in jail; they’re also made to pay for their incarceration, further increasing their debt.

Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Bivens said reforming fees, fines and bail is a priority of the Conference of Chief Justices, a nonprofit organization comprising top judicial officials from each of the 50 states.


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