National Roundup

Settlement avoids trial in 2011 Katrina trash lawsuit

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A decade-old lawsuit over the awarding of waste disposal contracts following Hurricane Katrina has been settled, avoiding a Monday trial and ending the latest chapter in a story that added to corruption allegations against a convicted former New Orleans mayor and included a shakeup at a U.S. Attorney's Office.

Terms of the settlement between Waste Management of Louisiana and River Birch Inc. weren't made public. The settlement was disclosed in a Friday order dismissing the case by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans.

In its 2011 lawsuit, Waste Management claimed, among other things, that illegal campaign contributions to former Mayor Ray Nagin prompted him to reverse his approval for the use of a Waste Management landfill. Nagin, who was convicted of corruption on unrelated matters, denied wrongdoing, as did the River Birch owners, Frederick Heebe and Albert Ward Jr.

Nagin, 64, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2014 on multiple counts including wire fraud, money laundering and bribery. The charges relate to crimes that happened before and after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. He was mayor from 2002 until 2010.

Released early in April 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, Nagin has long denied allegations of corruption in his administration and he gave a deposition while imprisoned denying allegations in the River Birch lawsuit.

In 2012, Jim Letten resigned as the U.S. Attorney in New Orleans after attorneys for Heebe, while River Birch was under investigation, discovered that a Letten assistant had been posting comments about cases under pseudonyms on a newspaper website. Further investigation revealed another prosecutor making such posts as well. The federal investigation of River Birch ended with no charges against Heebe or Ward.

South Carolina
State may extend religious objections to therapists

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina lawmakers are considering a bill to let mental health professionals refuse to provide care that violates their religious beliefs in response to an ordinance banning conversion therapy for minors in the state's capital city.

The Senate Medical Affairs subcommittee heard testimony on the legislation Monday, but didn't take a vote.

The state already has such medical conscience protections in place for doctors and other health care providers, allowing them to opt out of providing non-emergency services to people when it contradicts their religious, moral, ethical or philosophical beliefs or principles. The legislation would expand those protections to mental health professionals, said bill sponsor Sen. Josh Kimbrell, a Republican from Spartanburg.

The bill  is a direct response to Columbia's new ordinance barring  attempts by licensed therapists and counselors to change the sexual orientation of minors. Opponents say the bill would harm LGBTQ individuals and make health care more difficult to access for many marginalized and rural South Carolinians.

Kimbrell previously asked  South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson to block the Columbia measure, which was passed last week and is reported to be the first of its kind in the state.

"It's being called an attack against the city of Columbia or an attack against LGBT individuals, and it's none of those things," Kimbrell said. "What this is, is a response to an attack against people for what they believe."

Kimbrell and other proponents of the bill framed the legislation as protecting the free speech of therapists and the rights of parents to choose care for their children.

Some who testified Monday said the bill would only lead to more instances of health care providers discriminating against patients.

"I've heard stories of friends kidnapped in the middle of night, then sent to wilderness and beaten with Bibles," said Phil Ford of the South Carolina United for Justice and Equality coalition. "That's what we are protecting children from."

Ford noted that the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry  all state that conversion therapy lacks evidence and is not among best practices for professionals.

Sen. Brad Hutto, a Democrat from Orangeburg, asked Kimbrell why he wanted to protect insurance companies. Hutto said the bill is written so that the insurance companies can also start denying more claims under the guise of a medical conscience case.

Several states have introduced or passed bills targeting LGBTQ people this year. In South Carolina, a bill to bar transgender students from playing on girls' sports teams in middle and high school repeatedly failed to pass out of committee this session.

No health care providers testified for or against the bill Monday. Lawmakers intend to hold another hearing later this summer.

Ex- Supreme Court justice  running for AG

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman formally launched a run for attorney general Monday, becoming the latest challenger to embattled GOP incumbent Ken Paxton.

Guzman, a Republican who spent more than a decade on Texas' highest court before stepping down this month,  joins Texas Land Commissioner  George P. Bush  in what may be the state's most contested primary in 2022.

Guzman is a longtime judge who became the first Latina to join the Texas Supreme Court in 2009. Both Gov. Greg Abbott and Sen. John Cornyn are also former justices who were later elected attorney general.

Paxton did not draw a primary challenger in 2018 but now has at least two as his legal problems mount. He is under FBI investigation following an extraordinary revolt by his top aides, who accused him of abusing his office in the service of a donor, and he is still awaiting trial on separate charges of securities fraud.

The Texas bar association  is also investigating whether Paxton's failed efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election based on bogus claims of fraud amounted to professional misconduct. Paxton has pleaded not guilty to the fraud charges and has denied the other accusations as politically motivated.