Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning Jr. is hearing arguments this morning on the parties’ motions for judgement in the dispute over the Asheville city water system  - one of a number of turf wars between the state and local authorities arising from the General Assembly’s 2013 long session. (The Charlotte airport and the Dorothea Dix park in Raleigh are also in play.)

In May 2013, the General Assembly created the  Metropolitan Water and Sewage District and immediately transferred Asheville’s water system to that district.  The city then filed a lawsuit in Wake County and obtained a temporary injunction from Manning. After further arguments by attorneys, Manning extended that injunction in September.

 A ruling in the case will have obvious implications for the city, but it may also  touch more broadly on the question of municipal self-rule. Cities across the state and the League of Municipalities agree with Asheville that the state is treading on dangerous ground when it comes to concepts of local rule.

In this issue brief, the league noted these points:

  • Local communities should decide how to meet the water/wastewater needs of a local area, and how to pay for those investments – not lawmakers in Raleigh.
  • Cities should be able to operate water/wastewater enterprises like a business, without external interference from the state legislature. Decisions over rates, extensions, financing, and service should all be left to the discretion of system owners.
  • Intrusive legislative decisions impacting individual water/wastewater systems disrupt predictable rate structures for existing customers.

Watch below as Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer explains the case and its impact to residents at a meeting earlier this year.

Read more here about the Asheville and Charlotte lawsuits.

Jail photToday’s must read is this National Public Radio story on the increasing amount of fees and fines being charged in state criminal justice systems and the impact that’s having on criminal defendants — particularly the poor.

Bottom line: in some cases, the crime won’t land a defendant in jail, but failure to pay the fees just might.

As part of its “Guilty and Charged” series (in conjunction with the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Center for State Courts), NPR found that defendants are charged for many government services that were once free, including those that are constitutionally required. For example:

  • In at least 43 states and the District of Columbia, defendants can be billed for a public defender.
  • In at least 41 states, inmates can be charged room and board for jail and prison stays.
  • In at least 44 states, offenders can get billed for their own probation and parole supervision.
  • And in all states except Hawaii, and the District of Columbia, there’s a fee for the electronic monitoring devices defendants and offenders are ordered to wear.

That includes North Carolina (see this breakdown of states).

Here’s Durham County Chief District Court Judge Marcia Morey (from NCPW’s own series last year on the impact of budget cuts on the courts), discussing how the state is in some ways funding the courts on the backs of those who need their services most through ever-increasing costs and fees:

We say, “okay, you got $250 to do community service, you got $180 to pay for your court costs, you may have a fine, you have attorney’s fees of $55 an hour and a $6 dollar court appointment fee” – add that all up on someone who’s unemployed, mentally ill, charged with a misdemeanor. “And if you don’t pay, you’re going to jail.” What kind of system is that? I mean, of course it’s a revolving door.

 

Southern EqaulityA federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled today that the state’s law banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, bringing the number of state marriage amendments overturned in the federal courts this past year to twelve, according to this report by Think Progress. “We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history,” U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III wrote in Whitewood v. Wolf. Jones added:

The issue we resolve today is a divisive one. Some of our citizens are made deeply uncomfortable by the notion of same-sex marriage. However, that same-sex marriage causes discomfort in some does not make its prohibition constitutional. Nor can past tradition trump the bedrock constitutional guarantees.

Read the full opinion here.

vote2The groups and individuals challenging North Carolina’s recent voting law changes filed papers late yesterday in federal court in Winston-Salem asking that implementation of those changes be suspended until at least after the November mid-term elections.

“North Carolinians should be able to vote in the November election without having to navigate the barriers imposed by this discriminatory law,” said Chris Brook, legal director of the ACLU of North Carolina and one of the attorneys for the challengers in League of Women Voters of North Carolina et al. v. North Carolina.

Those challengers contend that changes eliminating a week of early voting, ending same-day registration, and prohibiting out-of-precinct voting unduly burden the right to vote and discriminate against African-American voters, in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“Voters are at real risk of being blocked from participating in the pivotal midterm election,” Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a statement. “If this law is subsequently found unconstitutional, as we fully expect it will be, North Carolinians who were denied the vote will never get a do-over.”

The parties’ motion follows a ruling late last week by U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder requiring state lawmakers to disclose communications about the voting changes between themselves and others during the time such changes were being discussed and implemented.

Read the parties’ motion requesting a preliminary injunction here.

Myrick-2

Photo: New York Times

The dying art of courtroom sketches. One unforeseen consequence of the ongoing battle for cameras in courtrooms is the phasing out of courtroom sketch artists, a breed who will be more appreciated in their passing.

The New York Times has this must-see Op-Doc about one such artist, Gary Myrick (shown above with some of his sketches), who covered Texas court proceedings for four decades.

As Ramtin Nikzad wrote about Myrick:

Starting with the Dallas school desegregation trial in 1976, he sketched courtrooms that featured famous politicians, serial killers, professional athletes, international arms merchants, housewives-turned-killers, victims’ families, rapt juries and napping judges — all rendered with an empathetic gaze and understated wit. His work conveyed the tragedy and folly of the courtroom experience, while avoiding sentimentality and snap judgments about his subjects. His human touch captured what cameras never could.

Another round for “Raging Bull.”  Speaking of courtroom sketches, see below for one today from Art Lien, who covers the U.S. Supreme Court and, because there’s still no cameras allowed in that court, is one of the few fortunate courtroom artists left with an active docket.  The sketch shows Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg reading from her opinion today in Petrella v. MGM – otherwise known as the “Raging Bull” case.  In that decision, the court held, 6-3, that the daughter of a deceased screenwriter could proceed with her lawsuit against Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for infringing on an earlier screenplay of what ultimately became the movie about the life of boxer Jake LaMotta.

Art Lien via Twiter (@courtartist)

Art Lien via Twiter (@courtartist)

Rage against the machine. Raging of another sort thankfully continues with the likes of Public Justice’s Paul Bland, who in this short video relays what the media and the public need to know about what the U.S. Supreme Court — under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts — is doing to consumers and class actions.

As Media Matters says in the introduction to the video:

For its part, the conservative Roberts Court has repeatedly sided with corporations, all the while making it difficult for consumers to fight back. Under Roberts, the Court has slashed at its own precedent in an effort to make class actions obsolete, making it more difficult for women and people of color who have been systematically paid less by their employers to join together as a class to sue.

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