What Pennsylvanians Had To Say About The Chauvin Trial Verdict

It might be that the Derek Chauvin trial goes down in history as one of the most important of the 21st century — one of those landmark cases that prove the tides are turning against racial disparities and injustices. Or it might mean nothing at all. In April, the jury deliberated to find Chavin guilty on charges of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter after the man kneeled on George Floyd’s neck, asphyxiating him.

Pennsylvanians have had a lot to say on the matter.

A prominent lawyer at Nagel Rice firm in the New York metropolitan area said that the jury’s verdict wasn’t exactly unexpected: “Public opinion matters almost as much as the evidence in cases like these, and there was a lot of both. Witness testimony was a slam dunk for the prosecution, successfully showing exactly what happened that day. But without the witnesses? It might not have happened. For now, we think we’re moving in the right direction and tackling racism where it matters most. But we’ll remain skeptical until the waves crash down on these guys harder.”

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said, “Today’s conviction is one step of accountability on a long road toward justice. The failures of our system haunt our country’s history, from Dred Scott to Rodney King to Trayvon Martin, but we can write a new chapter.”

Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Bob Casey agreed: “While Derek Chauvin will be held accountable for the murder of George Floyd, it’s not enough. Countless others have died at hands of police because of a broken system that must be reformed.”

Governor Tom Wolf didn’t waste any time commenting: “We know that one verdict will not, by itself, change the course of our nation. But this verdict was made possible by the bravery and ceaseless advocacy of people who stood up and called for change, and it marks a turning point.”

The jury had been deliberating from late evening one day and much of the next day — ten hours in total — to find the defendant guilty on the aforementioned charges. Most leaders accepted that part of the problem was accountability related to discriminatory practices. 

Wolf added, “The work of changing policing, of fighting for racial justice, of ending centuries of discriminatory and traumatic policymaking, is hard and painful. It is also, above all, necessary.

President Biden said, “Enough of these senseless killings. Nothing can ever bring [George Floyd] back… but this can be a giant step toward justice in America.”

Now, the long walk toward justice reform begins. Many advocates of change say the first step is legalizing marijuana due to the obvious racial disparities in doling out punishments. Caucasians and African Americans use marijuana at about the same rate — but the vast majority of all related arrests fall on the shoulders of the African American community.

Pennsylvania State To Receive $700 Million In SNAP Funds

To say that Pennsylvanians are in need due to the novel coronavirus is a massive understatement. Savings have been gutted. Family members have passed away. And there’s been little relief amidst a bureaucratically divided Congress. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has provided many families with food stamps to pay for meals they couldn’t otherwise afford during these trying times.

But not enough.

A chunk of the emergency relief provided by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act went to SNAP benefits, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) used an equation to determine where exactly those extra funds went — and somehow, those who were hurting the most were left out.

That’s because anyone who already received the maximum benefit couldn’t receive anymore. Not so coincidentally, those were the people who were most likely to be living in poverty — and therefore the ones who needed the extra help to survive more than anyone.

Feeding America released an October 2020 survey that shed light on the rise in food insecurity in Pennsylvania. The new settlement should rectify some of those huge obstacles.

The Community Legal Services of Philadelphia recently tweeted: “HUGE NEWS: Community Legal Services in Philadelphia and pro bono co-counsel @MorganLewisLaw have secured a litigation settlement that will deliver significant emergency SNAP (food stamps) benefits to the neediest Pennsylvanians…We are so pleased that USDA is revisiting this issue so that people across the country can receive the help they need. Over 650,000 households in PA will finally be getting the extra SNAP they were previously denied. This will help parents put food on the table for their kids.”

Another 12 million families across the United States are eligible for the extra funding they missed out on the first time around.

Benefits Data Trust (BDT) contact center supervisor Yvonne Clintron said, “Food is always at the top of the list. You don’t work, you don’t get paid, you can’t buy food, so SNAP is always at the top.”

Commonwealth Of Pennsylvania And State Police To Pay $2.2 Million Settlement

The United States government pitted itself against both the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) in a recent lawsuit, contesting that the state trooper hiring process was gender-biased and in direct contradiction to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII guarantees a person’s right to find employment or sign a lease free from discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.

An attorney for neighboring NYC Lipsky Lowe employment law firm anonymously commented: “We were surprised it took so long for the Justice Department to recognize the wrongdoing by the PSP as far back as 2003. The tests employed by the PSP were very obviously discriminatory and disrespectful to women.”

According to the lawsuit, the PSP violated the rights of several applicants by testing for skills not required to perform tasks related to the job. 

Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pamela S. Karlan of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said, “Employers cannot impose selection criteria that unfairly screen out qualified female applicants. When the Pennsylvania State Police use a physical fitness test as part of the process for choosing state troopers, they must ensure that the test complies with federal law. This settlement agreement reflects the Civil Right Division’s continued commitment to removing artificial barriers that prevent women from becoming law enforcement officers.”

The settlement means that the PSP will pay a surprising $2.2 million into a fund that will become available to the women who were involved in the lawsuit. PSP will also be forced to alter its work environment to be more beneficial for the women who already work there. PSP will offer hiring relief and retroactive seniority to at least 65 women for the jobs that they were barred from receiving. The applicants must still pass all relevant physical examinations.

Both parties requested a court order to approve the settlement deal. 

Cases like these are on the rise, but the aforementioned Title VII does nothing to help those who are discriminated against based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The recent Equality Act passed through the House of Representatives, but faces a major hurdle in the United States Senate, where Democrats hold the slimmest of minorities. They need to convince at least ten Republican colleagues to vote for the piece of legislation at a time when Republicans across the country are set on waging war against trans rights. It’s a high bar.

It seems likely now that the only way Biden’s agenda will become law is to remove the filibuster — but the conservative-leaning Democratic Senator Manchin has already put his foot down, saying he will never change his mind to favor the idea. Republicans seem poised to obstruct every piece of major legislation that Biden has set his sights on.

How Much Did Election Lawsuits Cost Pennsylvania’s Taxpayers?

Most people probably don’t realize that public officials can’t simply build a lawsuit without inheriting the cost — and we’re talking every single cent of it. That’s because when a federal legislator decides to sue, it’s on the defendant to…well, defend. And in this case, Pennsylvania was the defendant. All combined, the 2020 election litigation cost our state a whopping $3.4 million in attorneys fees. 

That’s the result of 24 cases from 2019 until just last month. By the end of November, Trump’s team had sued anybody and everybody in hopes of illegally invalidating the state’s votes. Every single lawsuit was thrown out. 

On November 21, Trump supporter and United States Senator Pat Toomey wrote, “President Trump has exhausted all plausible legal options to challenge the result of the presidential race in Pennsylvania.”

But that didn’t stop others from following in Trump’s footsteps.

Only days later, Republican Representative Mike Kelly — from our own Butler County — decided to launch a lawsuit of his own in order to challenge Act 77, which facilitated no-excuse mail voting in Pennsylvania. Many people didn’t acknowledge the dog and pony show at the time, but we weren’t fooled — only a year earlier, nearly all Republican lawmakers voted to pass Act 77. Because it made sense. It still does.

The absurdity of these lawsuits shouldn’t be lost on anyone — especially since we’re the ones paying for it. Former Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said, “It was shocking, to be honest. [He was] trying to disenfranchise millions of Pennsylvania voters.”

On March 16, Trump told Fox News: “Our Supreme Court and our courts didn’t have the courage to overturn elections.”

Well, that’s because free and fair elections are not supposed to be overturned. But he would have had it so, for no other reason than to boost his own ego. Don’t forget: this was the most secure election in our country’s history.

Natural Gas Company Will Pay $1.9 Million After Environmental Damage

Our environment is our most important commodity. Without it, many of the world’s species are doomed to extinction. And courts have had a tough time finding ways to hold big companies who damage our environments culpable — and liable. Recently, a consent decree was filed in the United States Middle District Court. It will settle a legal dispute between natural gas supplier Chesapeake Appalachia, the federal government, and Pennsylvania State Department of Environmental Protection for about $1.9 million.

The agreement was made without Chesapeake admitting to guilt for damaging streams and wetlands. The Oklahoma City corporation quickly filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy (www.t-plaw.com). A Texas bankruptcy court is now tasked with approving or disapproving of the decree. 

Plaintiffs filed the lawsuit on behalf of at least 76 properties in Beaver, Bradford, Sullivan, Suquehanna, And Wyoming Counties after complaints that the gas provider dumped dredged material into streams and wetlands, contaminating the areas after construction projects.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Army Corps of Engineers, and DEP were all notified of the illegal and unauthorized activity back in 2014, and an audit was conducted. 

Gas and oil companies are required to assess potential environmental damages before new construction projects take place. In this case, Chesapeake failed to uphold its end of the bargain by mitigating damages.

The new agreement was drawn up to ensure that those permits are obtained and upheld in the future, thereby mitigating damage done to dozens of acres of wetland and streams in the aforementioned counties. In order to continue construction, a third-party will ensure compliance with the Clean Water Act of Pennsylvania.

Chesapeake will also be required to audit two full years of construction activity for the EPA, DEP and Army Corps of Engineers, create a representative employment position to guarantee oversight, and pay fines of at least $1,000 for each future violation.

The agreement could be terminated if the courts find that Chesapeake is holding up its end of the bargain — but this is unlikely due to the fact that a previous 2014 case with similar findings in West Virginia resulted in a separate settlement.

EPA Mid-Atlantic Acting Regional Administrator Diana Esher said, “This substantial federal-state settlement highlights the cooperative efforts of EPA and PADEP to protect the Commonwealth’s waters and wetlands. These natural areas are critical ecological and economic resources for all Pennsylvanians.”

This agreement will not repair the damage already done on the East Coast because of wetlands pollution, however. For example, about 80 percent of the hellbender population has been wiped out.

Senior attorney for the Center of Biological Diversity Brian Segee said, “Hellbenders are under pressure from a multitude of threats throughout their range, and those threats are only expected to worsen in the coming years. Until it’s reversed, the Trump administration’s denial of protection to these endearing salamanders will doom them to continue on a path toward extinction.”

What Are Pennsylvania Employee Data Privacy Lawsuits?

For more than two decades, digital security experts have been trying to protect your information from would-be hackers — who might be working to steal it from as far away as a Russian office overseas or as close to home as a sixteen-year-old working from his mother’s basement. And it hasn’t gotten easier to protect this information, which is why you’ve heard about data breach after data breach from huge companies with familiar names.

Employers have always collected personal information. They need your name, number, address, and social security number just to run business smoothly — and make sure you’re paid promptly. 

And that’s why hackers have increasingly targeted them. A few years ago, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that every employer had the duty to protect each employee’s information. Failing to implement adequate security could land them in hot water legally, especially when identities are stolen or negligent behavior on the part of big corporations leads to an individual’s financial loss.

There was an important class-action case known as Dittman v. UPMC. Barbara Dittman and her attorneys sued the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and UPMC McKeesport alongside a number of other plaintiffs on whose behalf they fought after their private information was stolen. All 62,000 employees who worked for UPMC experienced this theft.

Dittman and her attorneys argued that UMPC did not take the appropriate precautions to protect the data, such as setting up strong firewalls or establishing authentication protocols for accessing the private information store on the company’s servers.

This was the case that made it clear that Pennsylvania workers had the right to hold onto their private information, and that it was up to employers to protect it. But a few years later, that information is still under constant attack, and courts are struggling to hold companies liable for these damages as hackers get better at stealing. And that means more lawsuits are inevitable in the future.

Pennsylvania Senators Fight To Remove Child Sex Abuse Statute Of Limitations

A statute of limitations is a legal mechanism put into place to reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits or prosecutorial overreach by limiting the amount of time a plaintiff or prosecutor has to build a case either in criminal court or in civil court. Notably, the statute of limitations for civil litigation cases involving victims who were children when subjected to sexual abuse is limited to a short timeframe. 

Oftentimes, there isn’t enough time for a victim to process the long-term trauma of the abuse, accept that it happened, speak out about what happened, and try to build a lawsuit based on what happened. It’s too much.

President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R-Benner Township) said, “I’ve gotten to the point where enough is enough. These poor individuals have suffered the most heinous crime you can imagine.”

Here and now, Corman acknowledged that the law needs to change, and that he would support House Bill 951, which would open up the statute of limitations to allow adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse to process lawsuits against their abusers and anyone else who helped facilitate the commission of these crimes.

For example, survivors were previously barred from suing the employers of the abuser — but that changed in light of a sex abuse scandal that came to light when victims came forward to implicate priests. Now, survivors can also sue the Catholic church for fostering an environment in which abuse is more likely.

Corman said, “If there’s enough vagueness [in the bill] at least to be argued, I’m prepared to let all the lawyers have their day, the judges to have their day, and most importantly victims of these terrible crimes to have their day.”

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said, “Today’s vote brings these brave survivors the closest they have been to having their day in court. Now it’s time to deliver justice and closure for those who spoke up, relived their trauma, and bolstered the system for future victims.”

Originally, the plan to open the statute of limitations would have been put forth to the voters — but the bureaucracy failed to deliver in time for the primary election last year. That’s why many legislators have changed their mind to prefer the new law over the constitutional amendment.

Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Lisa Baker (R-Dallas) said, “But, if you believe as strongly as I do that abuse victims have been denied a fair remedy for far too long, then we are obligated to attempt every avenue to deliver a just result.”

In order for HB 951 to become law, the state Senate will have to pass it when legislators reconvene on April 27. How fast will it receive a vote — and how many Senators will support the bill’s passage? That’s what we’re waiting to find out.

Pennsylvania Challenges To 2020 Election Finally Over

Most people probably didn’t even realize that the weird lawsuits contending the 2020 election results were still ongoing, but alas — until recently, they were. The United States Supreme Court finally shut down the last Pennsylvania lawsuit after a Republican congressional candidate’s appeal fell flat. The lawsuit challenged the state’s mail-ballot deadlines, like many other failed legal challenges had already done.

The ruling doesn’t change the outcome of the election — or even the outcome of where Pennsylvania state’s electors were to be assigned — and so the Supreme Court ruled that the case should be dismissed as moot. That means Pennsylvania can finally finish the very big job of counting 10,000 mail-in votes that didn’t arrive until after Election Day. 

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court had previously extended the deadline for mail-in ballots until three days after Election Day. Republicans have routinely argued that counting should end on Election Day, even though that’s never how it’s actually worked. The rules don’t change just because we didn’t have a result like we usually do. And of course mail-in ballots generally favor Democrats — especially since then-president Trump told his supporters to vote in person and not by mail — and so of course Republicans would want to challenge the results.

One of the most obvious outcomes of the outright dismissal is that future legal challenges related to election results can be litigated without biased precedent affecting the verdict. 

Right now, hundreds of legislative changes are in the queue to restrict how and when people are allowed to vote. These changes sometimes make voting more secure, but primarily they seem to restrict the ability of people of color to cast a vote.

Pennsylvania Department of State spokesperson Wanda Murren said, “We are pleased that yet another court ruling has affirmed the accuracy and integrity of Pennsylvania’s November 2020 election. Pennsylvanians can be proud of the work done in every county election office to ensure that every voter’s ballot was cast and counted fairly.”

The COVID-19 Wrongful Death Lawsuits Have Begun

The Biden administration has a growing problem on its hands: essential workers and their families are beginning to sue in a tide of personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits. Many essential workers are aggravated that their health — and sometimes even their lives — were put on the line just so they could make less than the millions of people who lost their jobs due to coronavirus were making on unemployment.

A United States appeals court will now decide if wrongful death lawsuits belong in state or federal court.

According to Reuters, the Biden administration argued to the appeals court — alongside 19 states — that the government had nothing to do with Tyson Foods Inc’s decisions to keep its plants open during the pandemic. Therefore, the wrongful death cases should be heard in state court.

The U.S. Department of Justice and many left-leaning attorneys agree: the appeals court should uphold the previous ruling that said the suits belonged in federal court based on the function Tyson provides.

DOJ lawyers wrote, “Although the pandemic brought the importance of these functions into the public consciousness, federal officials’ acknowledgement of their importance and support for their continuance did not serve to federalize these fundamentally private actions.”

The relevant law states that state-law claims can be bounced to a federal court only when defendants were receiving specific direction from federal officials. A brief from the federal government seems to suggest that Tyson only kept its plants open at their direction.

Cases like these are already notoriously difficult to prove. The plaintiffs allege that the deceased caught coronavirus at work, but how do they prove it beyond any doubt? A previous COVID-19 wrongful death lawsuit in Texas shows us the arguments that are likely to be made.

In the Texas lawsuit Tyson Foods representatives said that allowing the case to move forward would “open the floodgates to potentially thousands of speculative claims.”

Tyson said in a motion to dismiss: “That Mr. Chavez is one of the many thousands of Americans who have died of complications related to COVID-19 is a tragedy. But the complaint brought by his estate fails to adequately plead a plausible claim against Tyson.”

It continued, “To establish causation, Plaintiffs must plead — and ultimately prove — that Mr. Chavez [an employee at Tyson Foods’ Center plant in Shelby County, Texas, who died on April 17] contracted COVID-19 from his work rather than elsewhere, and then, that he contracted COVID-19 due to Tyson’s alleged negligence rather than some other cause.”

And therein lies the rub. The plaintiffs need to make the judge believe that there is little cause to doubt the truth that they or their deceased loved ones came down with the disease because they caught coronavirus while working. Even authorities have had difficulty tracing the spread of the virus from one person to the next. How are we supposed to do it in court? Sadly, it isn’t enough to prove that an employer simply didn’t take the necessary precautions to protect employees — although that’s a start.

Legal Challenge Alleges That Pennsylvania’s Pollution Plan Is Outdated

A new lawsuit is taking aim at the recent EPA approval of a Pennsylvania plan it says is outdated. The Environmental Protection Agency was subject to significant cutbacks during the Trump administration — the head of the EPA notably didn’t even believe in man-made climate change, which made him a strange choice to help fight it — and those cutbacks haven’t yet been completely rectified by the Biden administration.

The lawsuit was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and says that Pennsylvania’s plan for dealing with pollution is outdated at best.

Senior Attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity Robert Ukeiley said, “Rubber-stamping weak and outdated measures that fail to control pollution from the methane gas industry is not how we’re going to transition to a clean energy economy. The EPA needs to ensure it’s requiring the best, most modern technology to control pollution from fossil fuels so the cost of dirty energy pollution is internalized and the economic playing field for clean energy is leveled.”

According to the EPA, Pennsylvania state is subject to increased ozone pollution, a type of smog associated with asthma, death, increased life span, and significant ecological and environmental damage. The pollution isn’t contained just to the state, though, and contributes to smog in other states downwind. 

The lawsuit said that Pennsylvania’s current standards have led to consistent violations of national standards.

Pollution affects minority populations disproportionately, turning the lawsuit into a race issue as well. 

Residential areas prone to increased smog see more ER visits, more school absences, more prescribed medications, and a higher incidence of death. The lawsuit also contends that the increased pollution has worsened the symptoms of COVID-19, making the pandemic hit Pennsylvania harder than it had to. 

Patients with underlying conditions like asthma are also more prone to serious complications from COVID-19, a disease caused by the novel coronavirus.