In recent years, the American government has given the fossil fuel industry hundreds of billions of dollars of subsidies and opened up wide swaths of public land for drilling. Now, as the climate crisis worsens, a federal judge has given a private corporate law firm with ties to fossil fuel companies the power to criminally prosecute one of the industry’s biggest foes—a lawyer who notched one of history’s biggest legal victories against a major oil company. In 2011, Steven Donziger led the legal team that secured a $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron for polluting the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador. Chevron has not paid that claim, and last year a judge appointed a private law firm to criminally prosecute Donziger for a contempt charge in a countersuit filed by Chevron in federal court in Manhattan. That law firm, Seward & Kissel LLP, has represented Chevron itself as recently as 2018, according to recent court documents. Put another way: The government has taken the extraordinary step of giving prosecutorial power to a law firm that has worked for Chevron—and is allowing that prosecutorial power to be aimed at Chevron’s chief adversary, who has been under house arrest for 332 days.
Federal charges against the four protectors of the Venezuelan Embassy, who defended the building in Washington DC against violent opposition crowds for several weeks between April 10 and May 16 of 2019, were completely dropped in a case that was brought directly by prosecutors of the Trump administration. After several months of proceedings that produced a mistrial in February 2020, the four activists expressed in a public statement that “Today’s sentence marks yet another victory in the effort to protect the Venezuelan Embassy. The Embassy Protection Collective broke through the blockade and got supplies to the people inside; the people inside prevented the coup supporters from staying in the embassy; the embassy was not turned over to Guaidó—it remains empty today—and now the federal charges have been dropped.”
One of the nation’s most respected public defender nonprofits is unionizing, the latest in a surge of union drives at prominent nonprofits across the country. The Bronx Defenders, a large nonprofit that defends low-income people in the Bronx, New York, told management today that they intend to unionize with the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, an affiliate of the UAW. The proposed union will have about 270 members, covering virtually the entire non-management staff. Of those, about 100 are not attorneys, including everyone from social workers to paralegals to facilities workers. Employees at the Bronx Defenders cited issues like pay, health care benefits, and equality of professional development and promotions as motivating factors for the union drive. But one factor stood out more than any other: the potential for burnout among public defenders and those who work alongside them.
A federal court in Montana invalidated 440 oil and gas leases sold across the West, ruling Friday the Trump administration did not properly follow a plan to protect sage grouse habitat. U.S. District Court Judge Brian Morris said the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) under the Trump administration “undercut” the 2015 plan the agency created under the previous administration that set aside land for the threatened bird. The decision strikes down a 2018 memo that sought to change that plan, meaning the government will have to return millions of dollars for oil and gas contracts spread over some 336,000 acres. “The errors here occurred at the beginning of the oil and gas lease sale process, infecting everything that followed,” Morris wrote. Environmentalists are hopeful the decision will lead to reversals on more oil and gas leases in other states.
On Friday, May 22, Judge Lisa Godbey Wood of the Southern District Federal Court of Georgia in Brunswick assigned new dates for seven defendants, according to the Kings Bay Plowshares' attorney, Bill Quigley. Many of the defendants had asked the court to postpone their May 28th and 29th court dates to accommodate their right to be sentenced in person in open court, witnessed by the public and press and not by video. The seven were convicted of three felonies and one misdemeanor last October for their nonviolent, symbolic disarmament act at the Kings Bay Trident nuclear submarine base. The defendants had also asked for home confinement during this time of COVID-19, as entering prison could be a death sentence. Their request was denied.
Siding with The New York Times, a federal judge has ordered that the Federal Communications Commission must disclose information about users who submitted comments during the 2017 net neutrality proceeding, despite the agency’s objections that doing so could compromise people’s privacy. U.S. District Court Judge Lorna Schofield in the Southern District of New York ruled Thursday that disclosure of the data — including commenters’ IP addresses, time stamps and user-agent headers — is in the public interest, particularly given concerns that many comments were fraudulent.
With allegations that major banks shuffled Paycheck Protection Program applications to prioritize larger loan amounts and bigger businesses, Main Street businesses are furious. This possibility points to a clear design flaw in the program that tried to use the private lending market, already rife with discrimination and putting profits over all, as the mechanism for small business relief. Small businesses are demanding that any new funding must come directly to them via subsidies, not loans, and it must prioritize those who were left out. Business owners of color are particularly vulnerable to discrimination in the lending system. A report from the Center for Responsible Lending shows that a large majority of minority owned businesses, including 95 percent of Black business owners...
The White House press office did not immediately respond Wednesday to a request for comment on the families’ characterizations of the meeting. One day after that encounter, Justice Department officials agreed to release the name of one mid-level Saudi religious official who had been tied to the case in an FBI document that had been partially declassified earlier. At the same time, however, Barr asserted the state secrets privilege to protect other FBI documents sought by the families. The latest flurry of statements supporting that claim responded to challenges from the plaintiffs. Although the close alliance between the United States and the Saudi kingdom has survived countless moments of tension, it has frayed in recent months in ways that could prove helpful to plaintiffs in the 9/11 lawsuit. In recent weeks, Republican senators from states that have been hard hit by the collapse of world oil prices have criticized the Saudi government with growing intensity. On March 25, before the Trump administration negotiated a cut in Saudi oil production, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska cited the law under which the 9/11 families were allowed to sue the Saudi government as one of the levers of pressure that the United States could use if the kingdom did not take account of American concerns. In a letter on Monday, three other influential senators asked the Justice Department’s inspector general to examine in depth why the FBI has refused to disclose more information about Saudi connections to the plot in response to a subpoena filed by the 9/11 families in 2018. Those senators, Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican, and two Democrats, minority leader Charles Schumer of New York and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, cited a recent investigative report by ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine that raised new questions about the FBI’s inquiry into the Saudi role in the attacks. “The September 11 attacks represent a singular and defining tragedy in the history of our Nation,” the senators wrote to the Justice Department inspector general, Michael Horowitz. “Nearly 20 years later, the 9/11 families and the American public still have not received the full and transparent accounting of the potential sources of support for those attacks to which they are entitled.”
Flint, MI – Leaders of the Flint water crisis prosecution team said in a statement Friday that their investigation remains on track despite an earlier warning about a looming statute of limitations deadline. April 25 will mark six years since Flint’s water source was switched to the Flint River. Michigan’s criminal law sets a statute of limitations of six years for misdemeanors and of six to 10 years for most felonies. But Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said the statute of limitations won’t be a problem for their investigation. “April 25, 2014, is a significant date in the history of the Flint Water Crisis. However, we want to correct the misconception that April 25, 2020 is the deadline to bring charges against those who may be criminally liable,” the prosecutors said in a statement.
Great Falls, MT — A federal judge today ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated the law when it approved Nationwide Permit 12, a water-crossing permit critical for TC Energy’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and many other pipelines nationwide. The ruling invalidates Nationwide Permit 12, prohibiting the Corps from using this fast-tracked approval process for any pipelines nationwide, including Keystone XL. The ruling could also block construction through hundreds of water crossings along the Keystone XL pipeline route. The ruling comes in response to a lawsuit filed by conservation and landowner groups last year that challenged the Corps’ failure to adequately analyze the effects of pipelines authorized under Nationwide Permit 12, including Keystone XL, on local waterways, lands, wildlife and communities.
Monsanto has settled claims in a proposed class action alleging that it falsely advertised that the active ingredient in Roundup Weed & Grass Killer only affects plants with a $39.5 million deal that includes changing the labels on its products, Law360 reported Saturday. The proposed class, led by named plaintiff Lisa Jones, asked a Missouri federal court on Monday to approve the deal, saying the fund, none of which will revert to Monsanto if money is left over, represents a fair settlement that will benefit not only the plaintiffs in this case, but also the general public by changing the products’ labels. In the February 2019 suit, Jones says Monsanto falsely claimed through its labeling that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, targets an enzyme that is only found in plants and would therefore not affect people or pets. According to the suit, that enzyme is in fact found in people and pets and is critical to maintaining the immune system, digestion and brain function.
Federal judges on Monday blocked officials in Texas, Ohio and Alabama from banning most abortions in those states as part of their orders to postpone surgeries and other procedures deemed not medically necessary during the coronavirus crisis. The rulings came in a series of legal actions aimed at blocking steps by various Republican-led states cracking down on abortion during the pandemic. The first of the decisions involved Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s announcement last week that abortion providers were covered by a state order that required postponement of non-urgent medical procedures to preserve hospital beds and equipment during the pandemic. U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel in Austin ruled that Paxton’s action “prevents Texas women from exercising what the Supreme Court has declared is their fundamental constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before a fetus is viable.”
Washington, D.C. —A federal court today granted a request by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to strike down federal permits for the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. The Court found the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it affirmed federal permits for the pipeline originally issued in 2016. Specifically, the Court found significant unresolved concerns about the potential impacts of oil spills and the likelihood that one could take place. For example, the Court criticized the Corps for failing to address the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s expert criticism of its analysis, citing issues like potential worst case discharge, the difficulty of detecting slow leaks, and responding to spills in winter. Similarly, the Court observed that DAPL’s parent company’s abysmal safety record “does not inspire confidence,” finding that it should have been considered more closely.