Checkpoints have been announced for St. Louis City, St. Louis County, and Columbia throughout the St. Patrick’s Day weekend (March 14-17). Municipalities in St. Louis County have also announced roadblock plans for this weekend, including Clayton and Creve Coeur (hint: be careful on Olive Road in Creve Coeur between Ballas and Mason). Drive safe out there, and remember that the luck of the Irish cannot save you if you have been drinking and you find yourself in one of these checkpoints.
The Court of Appeals heard a trio of cases regarding the use of red-light cameras in St. Louis City, Creve Coeur and Florissant this week. The same constitutional and due process arguments that have been raised since these controversies began were raised again this week – namely, that these violations unjustifiably force a defendant to prove his innocence rather than place the burden of proof where it should be – with the State.
The three-judge panel is expected to rule on these issues later this year. This court will also soon hear a similar case out of Arnold, and the Western District Court of Appeals will hear arguments concerning the legality of Kansas City’s red-light camera system later this month.
Attorneys for aggrieved motorists and the cities in which they are in place (with support from counsel from ATS, the company making millions off these cameras) both argued their cases in predictable ways, rehashing the same arguments used in circuit court. While the motorists’ attorneys focused on mainly constitutional arguments, the attorney for the red-light camera that operates the devices in question said that “there is no constitutional right to run a red light.” After presumably similar arguments on the Kansas City red-light camera are heard, it is almost a certainty that this case will make it up to the Missouri Supreme Court later this year or early in 2014. Perhaps then we will finally have a decision as to whether these annoying cash cows are here to stay.
A novel way to rid our towns of these cameras: uncover a bribery scheme. The company that operates Chicago’s red light cameras lost its contract with the Windy City after a bribery scheme was uncovered earlier this week. This company (Redflex) operates many red-light cameras in St. Charles County, and they have had their own shady dealings in our area, according to the Riverfront Times.
It comes as a surprise to many drivers that it is against the law to text and drive in Missouri if you are under the age of 21. Apparently this law also comes as a surprise to many law enforcement officers, as a report released today indicates that “fewer than 4 people a month” have received texting-while-driving citations since the law was passed in 2009. In nearly half of Missouri’s 144 counties, not a single such citation has ever been issued. And in counties where there have been a handful of these tickets handed out, the fines are more often than not about as costly as a seat belt ticket ($20.50).
These tickets are rarely issued due in large part to the difficulty of enforcing the law. The “drivers under age 21″ restriction further hinders police enforcement. Laws to make texting-while-driving illegal in Missouri has stalled several times in Jefferson City, placing Missouri in the vast minority of states that do not have outright bans on this dangerous and all-too-common activity.
Having received two calls for this violation in recent weeks, it appears as though enforcement is on the rise. And public awareness of this issue is escalating in Missouri. Last week, a Distracted Driving Summit was held in Jefferson City to address what has become a major problem in our state. This Summit was held one day after House Bill 394 was introduced, making texting-while-driving illegal for all drivers who do not possess hands-free texting capabilities. This bill is similar in language to bills introduced in recent years, but those bills were held up in committee and failed to pass.
While Missouri lags behind the rest of the country in just about every conceivable way, especially when it comes to our laws and the enforcement of them, it appears that an across-the-board texting-while-driving ban may not be wishful thinking. Until then, do us all a favor and put your phone down while you are driving. I’m sure your text can wait.
Yesterday in Jefferson City, representative Rory Ellinger (D – U.City) introduced two bills which both aim to greatly decriminalize the possession of marijuana throughout the state. The first bill (intended to repeal RSMO 195.202 and RSMO 195.233) is a bare-bones marijuana decriminalization law. If passed, this law would make it so that anyone caught with under 35 grams of marijuana would not be arrested, but would rather be given a ticket and a court date. [This is the the current practice in some local municipalities, but is by no means the predominant method of charging people with small-time marijuana possession]. The bill goes on to propose a fine of no more than $250 and a misdemeanor charge. This bill is based on a successful law now on the books in Columbia, and is similar in language to a bill introduced in the City of St. Louis last month.
The second bill brought by Rep. Ellinger opens the door for the expungement of certain non-violent, non-sexual crimes after 5 years, including misdemeanor drug possession. Missouri is one of the toughest states in the nation to get charges cleared off a criminal record. Like many defense attorneys, Ellinger has cited the myriad cases of young adults who get a minor drug charge on their record and have the charge haunt them for years down the road. “Literally thousands of people are affected this way on a yearly basis,” Ellinger said. Unlike in most states, even misdemeanor drug charges may stay on your record for at least a decade. If passed, minor drug charges could be expunged after 5 years.
How these bills will fare in the Republican-controlled legislature in Jefferson City remains to be seen. Stay tuned…
My brother Alex Lindley was back at the office over winter break from Mizzou. He has proven himself invaluable once again, assisting in various matters and making the workload around here much lighter. He is returning to school this weekend, and will be sorely missed around this office.
Missouri Highway Patrol troopers arrested 130 drivers for DUI between December 21 and midnight on Christmas day this year, more than doubling the 56 arrests made by the department during this same weekend in 2011. The increase is due, in some part, to the longer weekend, as Christmas fell on a Tuesday this year. 42 drivers arrested by the MOHP were taken off the road in the St. Louis area. The high number of drivers arrested during this brief period is made even more alarming when one considers that drivers arrested by county and municipal law enforcement officers were not included in these numbers.
Happy New Year from the Law Office of Nicholas Lindley!! All the best in 2013…
The all-male Iowa Supreme Court, in a 7-0 ruling, held last week that a dentist acted legally when he fired his assistant because of an “irresistible attraction”. The assistant, an employee of the dentist for 10 years, filed suit alleging gender discrimination. The district court and Iowa Court of Appeals dismissed the case, and the Iowa Supreme Court upheld their holdings.
The Court said that the purpose of this firing was the dentist’s effort to save his marriage, and was not gender discrimination. The dentist in this case said that his assistant was “the best dental assistant” he has ever had, but admitted to firing her due to her repeated displays of “tight and distracting clothing”.
Writing for the Court, Justice Ed Mansfield stated that no unlawful discrimination had taken place because the dentist’s actions were “motivated by feelings and emotions” and concern for the health of his marriage, rather than gender.
You can read the Court’s opinion here, and after reading some of the things that the dentist said to this woman over the course of her employment, one must wonder about how the case was decided. So…should attractiveness be a “protected class”?
In a press release issued this morning, Michael Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, announced the addition of 35 compassionate allowances, bringing the number of compassionate allowances conditions to an even 200. Compassionate Allowances (CAL) are a way to quickly identify certain diseases and conditions that automatically qualify under the Listing of Impairments. In effect, claimants who have one or more of these conditions can have their disability decision “fast-tracked”, and can receive their benefits in days, rather than months or even years.
While providing claimants who suffer from these conditions quicker access to their benefits, this program also eases the heavy backlog faced by the SSA. Disability claims are up over 20 percent since 2008, the year in which the CAL program was launched. So far, over 200,000 have received expedited benefits under the CAL program. Explaining the “compassionate” aspect of this program, Commissioner Astrue said, “Why for someone who is going to die in 15 months do we need 15 years of medical records? If somebody’s got a confirmed diagnosis [of a fatal disease], it’s not only a disability, it’s a death sentence, and there is no use in burdening them with paperwork.”
You can find a complete list of the 35 new Compassionate Allowances conditions here
County police departments in St. Louis and St. Charles Counties are increasing their sobriety checkpoint patrols next week (Dec 10-16) as part of their annual “Holiday DWI Enforcement Campaign”. This campaign was highly successful last year, according to press releases and, more poignantly, calls to this office.
Unlike usual checkpoint campaigns, last year’s Holiday Enforcement checkpoints were often held at earlier hours, undoubtedly to catch drivers who may have had too much to drink at office holiday parties or happy hours. Please be safe this holiday season and know when to say when…
In today’s highly compartmentalized employment world, the answer to this question is more difficult to answer than ever before. Is it the head “boss” of the company? Someone slightly higher up on the pyramid who occasionally drops a new project on your desk? A guy in middle-management whose emails you only occasionally read?
The question of who is and is not a “supervisor” has puzzled employment lawyers and judges in the district and federal courts alike, so the Supreme Court has decided to intervene and rule on this matter. The Court heard oral arguments Monday on a case where a caterer at Ball State University sued the University claiming that a co-worker made racial taunts and made her life a “living hell”. This employee claimed the antagonist was her supervisor, despite the fact that this person did not have the power to fire her.
The federal court in this case used a narrow definition of “supervisor”, defining such a position as anyone who can “hire, fire, demote, promote, transfer or discipline.” Other federal courts have used a more broad definition, declaring anyone a supervisor if they can simply manage the day-to-day activities of an employee.
The Supreme Court will clear this quandary up during this term. This case is being watched closely by employment attorneys, industry groups, and businesses across the country. Supervisors are held to a higher standard in hostile work environment and discrimination cases, and the Court’s outcome could potentially have an enormous effect on this area of the law. Stay tuned…