ABA Criminal Justice Section to meet in Albuquerque on April 28-30

The American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section will host its 2016 spring meeting at the Hotel Albuquerque from April 28-30.

The program is titled “Neuroscience: Paving the Way for Criminal Justice Reform.”

Chief Justice Charles Daniels of the New Mexico Supreme Court will be giving a luncheon address on April 29 at noon.

Later that day, my law partner, Roberta Cooper Ramo, who also serves as president of the American Law Institute, will be giving the keynote address.

You can register for this event here.

 

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Federalist Society will host Ilya Shapiro in Albuquerque on May 12

Yesterday I wrote that the American Constitution Society is forming a chapter in New Mexico, and expressed the hope that it will bring interesting speakers and debates to the Land of Enchantment.

Well, in a double dose of good news, I have learned that the sometimes-dormant New Mexico Lawyers Chapter of the Federalist Society will host a talk by Ilya Shapiro, Senior Fellow of Constitutional Studies at the Cato Institute, here in Albuquerque on May 12. This event is being co-sponsored by the Rio Grande Foundation.

The title of Mr. Shapiro’s talk is “The Scalia Legacy and the Future of the U.S. Supreme Court.”

This event will take place on Thursday, May 12, 2016, from 12:00 noon to 1:00 p.m, at the Marriott Pyramid Hotel at 5151 San Francisco Road NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109. You can register for it here. The cost is $30 per person through May 5, and $40 after that.

This is great news. I hope that both the Federalist Society and the ACS will continue to be active and promote the discussion of interesting and controversial legal issues.

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NM Supreme Court: State agencies aren’t immune from USERRA claims by national guard members

In Justice Judith Nakamura’s first opinion, the New Mexico Supreme Court has ruled that state agencies are not immune from claims under the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), which prohibits discrimination against members of the military.

Although USERRA creates a private right of action for individuals, it wasn’t clear whether Congress could abrogate the sovereign immunity of the states. After Phillip Ramirez, Jr. won a jury verdict against New Mexico’s Children, Youth, and Families Department under USERRA for allegedly firing him due to his military service in the national guard, the New Mexico Court of Appeals held that New Mexico has not waived its state sovereign immunity against such claims, and that Congress lacks the power to abrogate New Mexico’s sovereign immunity.

In Ramirez v. CYFD, the Supreme Court reversed on the ground that New Mexico has waived its sovereign immunity against USERRA claims under Section 20-4-7.1(B), which provides that USERRA’s rights and benefits “shall apply” to members of the New Mexico national guard. Among those rights is the right to sue for violations of USERRA. The Court also held that deciding the case on that ground made it unnecessary to decide whether the federal constitution gives Congress the power to abrogate state sovereign immunity for such claims against a state’s will.

 

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Judge Hanisee to speak at Albuquerque Lawyers Club on May 4

Judge Miles Hanisee of the New Mexico Court of Appeals will speak at a lunch meeting of the Albuquerque Lawyers Club on May 4, 2016, at noon, at Seasons Rotisserie and Grill in Albuquerque.

The luncheon is free to members, but non-members may attend for $30. For more information, e-mail ydennig@sandia.gov.

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American Constitution Society of NM to hold inaugural event on April 20

A chapter of the American Constitution Society is apparently being formed in New Mexico, and its inaugural event will be held tomorrow, April 20, 2016, in Room 2402 at the UNM Law School, at 5:30 p.m.

The speaker at this event will be Juan Melendez, who spent over 17 years on death row in Florida before being exonerated. After his talk, Prof. Gordon Rahn will lead a discussion about wrongful convictions.

This event is free and open to the public. For $5 you can even get CLE credit, which is a bargain.

The American Constitutional Society is an organization that promotes discussion and debates about legal and public policy issues from a progressive or liberal viewpoint. It was founded as a counterpart to the more well-known Federalist Society, which does the same thing from a generally conservative or libertarian standpoint.

I am glad to see a chapter of ACS being formed here. I hope that ACS will bring interesting speakers, and host debates on legal issues, here in New Mexico.

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Daniels sworn in as Chief Justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court

On Monday, Justice Charles Daniels was sworn in for his second term as New Mexico’s Chief Justice, taking over from Justice Barbara Vigil.

KRQE News has the story here, and KRWG has it here.

As it happens, last night I had the pleasure of hearing Chief Justice Daniels speak about the proposed bail reform amendment to New Mexico’s Constitution, which will be on the ballot this November.

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10th Circuit orders “Sister Wives” polygamy case dismissed as moot

Today, in the controversial case of Brown v. Buhman, the Tenth Circuit held that a challenge to Utah’s anti-bigamy statute brought by reality television star Kody Brown and his four “sister wives” is moot, and vacated the judgment in their favor.

Mr. Brown claims to be married to four women, and his lawsuit has been seen as an effort to challenge anti-polygamy laws on constitutional grounds, but his lawsuit was moot, the Tenth Circuit said (in an opinion by Judge Matheson) because the Utah prosecuting authorities adopted a policy under which it will only prosecute under the anti-bigamy statute in certain circumstances, none of which applied to the plaintiffs here.

Although this particular challenge to laws limiting marriage to two persons has now faltered, this issue will undoubtedly be raised again elsewhere.

 

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10th Circuit affirms injunction against ban aimed at jury nullification advocacy outside courthouse

On Friday, the Tenth Circuit has affirmed a preliminary injunction entered against a Colorado state trial court to prevent it from enforcing a rule prohibiting expressive activities in a plaza outside the courthouse.

The rule was targeted at advocates of jury nullification — i.e. the belief that jurors may refuse to convict a defendant if they believe the law under which she is charged is immoral or should not be enforced — who had been distributing pamphlets outside the courthouse, including persons called for jury duty.

Plaintiffs (including the Fully Informed Jury Association, an advocacy group that supports nullification) sued, arguing that the rule violated their First Amendment rights, and the district court granted a preliminary injunction.

The lengthy opinion in Verlo v. Martinez was written by Judge Carolyn McHugh, and while it affirms the preliminary injunction, it provides further guidance to the lower court on remand, and takes no position on whether a permanent injunction should be entered.

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Stephen French’s investiture as a judge on the NM Court of Appeals to be held on April 21

The Court of Appeals has announced that Judge Stephen French’s investiture ceremony will occur on Thursday, April 21, 2016, at 4:30 p.m., at the Court of Appeals building in Albuquerque, the Pamela B. Minzner Law Center at 2211 Tucker NE.

Judge French was actually sworn into office on February 19, shortly after his appointment as I noted in this post, but this is a public ceremony to welcome him to the Court.

A reception will follow the ceremony at Flamez Bistro, 9821 Montgomery Blvd. NE.

I plan to attend, and hope to see all members of the New Mexico appellate community there.

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10th Circuit reduces $25.5 million punitive award to $1.95 million

Last week, the Tenth Circuit issued its decision in a closely-watched punitive damages case, Lompe v. Sunridge Partners, LLC.

The case arose from a lawsuit filed by Amber Lompe, a 20-year old college student in Wyoming, who suffered carbon monoxide poisoning while living in an apartment complex. She claimed that the apartment complex’s owner, and its property manager, were negligent.

In an opinion by Judge Carolyn McHugh, the Court reduced the jury’s award of $25.5 million in punitive damages against two defendants to $1.95 million against one of them. The Court found that insufficient evidence supported any punitive award against the property’s owner, and that the award against the property management company was unconstitutionally excessive.

The Court explained that in reviewing the punitive damages award on post-judgment motions, the trial court improperly applied a deferential standard to the jury’s award, rather than the “exacting” de novo standard required by the Due Process Clause of the federal constitution.

The opinion contains a discussion of the factors that make a defendant’s conduct sufficiently reprehensible to warrant punitive damages, and also corrects the trial court’s improper calculation of the ratio of punitive to compensatory damages — the trial court erroneously compared the punitive award against each defendant to the total award of compensatory damages, rather than to each defendant’s share of compensatory damages. The Court reduced the punitive damages award against the management company to a 1:1 ratio with the compensatory damages award against it.

Judge Robert Bacharach dissented. He believed that the evidence was sufficient to support a punitive damages award against the property owner, and while he agreed that the punitive award against the management company was unconstitutional, he would have held that a 4:1 ratio of punitive to compensatory damages satisfied the constitutional standard.

 

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