Court Digest

Women who could not get abortions despite health risks take case to state’s high court

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Texas Supreme Court on Tuesday scrutinized efforts to clarify exceptions to the state’s abortion ban, which a growing number of women say forced them to continue pregnancies despite serious risks to their health.

The Texas lawsuit is among the biggest challenges to abortion bans in the U.S. since Roe v. Wade was overturned last year. In July, several Texas women gave emotional testimony about carrying babies they knew would not survive and doctors unable to offer abortions despite their spiraling conditions.

A judge later ruled that Texas’ ban was too restrictive for women with pregnancy complications, but that order was swiftly put on hold after the state appealed.

The decision now rests with Texas’ highest court, and during arguments Tuesday, one justice on the all-Republican panel signaled concerns about potentially giving physicians too broad discretion to provide exceptions.

“This very well could open the door far more widely than you’re acknowledging,” Justice Jimmy Blacklock said.

A ruling from the court could take months.

The lawsuit does not seek to repeal Texas’ abortion ban but to force more clarity on when exceptions are allowed under the law, which is one of the most restrictive in the U.S. Under the law in Texas, doctors who perform abortions risk life in prison and fines of up to $100,000.

Opponents say that has left some women with providers who are unwilling to even discuss terminating a pregnancy. Among those in the packed court gallery Tuesday were women who joined the lawsuit after being denied abortions, some of whom criticized justices for questioning whether women should instead sue physicians for failing to provide care.

“There was no point to sue my doctor who was already giving me the best care that our state offers. I think it falls back on the legislation,” said Kimberly Manzano, who traveled to New Mexico in May for an abortion after doctors said her baby would not survive outside the womb.

Women across the U.S. have continued to file lawsuits challenging abortion restrictions that went into effect in Republican-led states after the Supreme Court overturned Roe last year. What has set the Texas case apart is that the women are believed to be the first in the U.S. to have sued a state and testify over being denied abortion following newly enacted bans.

School district in court after parents accuse it of violating public meetings law

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — An Oregon school district that sparked controversy in 2021 over a decision to ban diversity symbols was in court Tuesday after parents sued it for allegedly violating public meetings law.

The trial, which opened in Yamhill County, stems from a lawsuit filed in 2021 by a group of seven parents against the Newberg School District and four school board members.

In court filings, the parents accused the school board members of meeting in secret, separately from the board’s three other members, to discuss the firing of the district’s superintendent and the hiring of an attorney who helped oversee a ban on Black Lives Matter and gay pride symbols, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.

The parents also alleged the district failed to properly notify the public about the meetings during which the votes to fire Superintendent Joe Morelock and hire attorney Tyler Smith occurred, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported, citing court documents.

The four school board members named in the lawsuit voted to fire Morelock in November 2021. The board’s three other members were upset by the move and claimed the conservative board members fired him because he didn’t aggressively implement the ban on diversity symbols.

The district and the four current and former school board members say they didn’t violate public meetings law.

Chelsea Pyasetskyy, attorney for the board members, said that just because they communicated with one another doesn’t mean they met in violation of the law. In court filings, she stated there was “no evidence” to support the parents’ claim “other than engaging in speculation.”

“It is not and should not be a battle of political views or ideological stances,” she said in court filings.

Attorneys for the school district acknowledged that a portion of an Aug. 24, 2021 meeting where they hired Smith, prior to going into executive session, did not get recorded.

“Luckily, the Board secretary eventually realized that the meeting should be recorded and began recording the meeting in time to capture most of the deliberations,” they said.

Newberg, a town of about 25,000 nestled in Oregon’s wine country, is located some 25 miles (40 kilometers) southwest of Portland. The ban on diversity symbols divided the town and made it an unlikely focal point for the national battle over schooling between the left and right.

The bench trial runs through Thursday. Yamhill County Circuit Court Judge Cynthia Easterday will decide the case and any penalties instead of a jury.

Easterday also heard a separate lawsuit over the district’s diversity symbols ban. She ruled it unconstitutional in September 2022.

New York
Customer sues restaurant over salad she says contained piece of manager’s finger

MOUNT KISCO, N.Y. (AP) — A customer has filed a lawsuit against the fast casual chain Chopt over a salad that she says contained a piece of the manager’s finger.

The lawsuit filed Monday by Allison Cozzi of Greenwich, Connecticut, alleges that she bought a salad at a Chopt location in Mount Kisco, New York, on April 7, 2023, and realized while eating it that “she was chewing on a portion of a human finger that had been mixed in to, and made a part of, the salad.”

According to the suit, a manager at the restaurant accidentally severed a piece of her left pointer finger while chopping arugula.

The manager went to the hospital but the contaminated arugula was served to customers including Cozzi, the lawsuit says.

Westchester County health department records show that Chopt was fined $900.

Cozzi said in the lawsuit that she suffered injuries including shock, panic attacks, migraine, cognitive impairment, nausea, dizziness, and neck and shoulder pain as a result of eating the contaminated salad.

She is seeking unspecified monetary damages.

An email seeking comment was sent to Chopt Creative Salad Co., a chain with more than 70 locations across the eastern United States.

Cozzi’s attorney said Tuesday that she does not want to comment further.

Mother charged with drowning  daughter in tub

WESTMINSTER, Calif. (AP) — A Southern California woman was charged Tuesday with drowning her 9-year-old daughter in a bathtub where her decomposing body was found days later, prosecutors said.

Khadiyjah Pendergraph, 32, of Westminster, was arrested last Friday in a grocery store parking lot in Aliso Viejo — about 20 miles (32 kilometers) away — on the same day that the girl’s body was found in their shared apartment, according to a statement from the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.

The girl, identified by the office only as Victoria, had cerebral palsy and couldn’t speak, prosecutors said.

“Words simply do not exist to express the utter heartbreak knowing this little girl could not even scream for help as her mother pushed her underwater and cut her life so tragically and so unnecessarily short,” District Attorney Todd Spitzer said in the statement.

Pendergraph was charged with a count of murder and could face a sentence of 25 years to life in state prison if convicted. She made her first court appearance Tuesday but did not enter a plea, although her defense was assigned to the public defender’s office, the district attorney’s office said. She remained jailed without bail.

Authorities didn’t mention a possible motive for the alleged killing.

The girl’s father was divorced from Pendergraph. He had been scheduled to pick up his daughter on Thanksgiving, but when he went to his ex-wife’s apartment, he found the door locked and nobody answered, authorities said.

On Friday, he called police to report that his daughter was missing and that he had received “concerning messages” from Pendergraph, according to the statement from the district attorney’s office. It didn’t provide details about the messages.

The girl apparently was killed Nov. 19, five days before her body was discovered, prosecutors said.

Judge dismisses claims that impeachment panel violated open meeting law

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A judge dismissed on Tuesday a liberal watchdog group’s claims that a panel researching the possible impeachment of a Wisconsin Supreme Court justice violated the state’s open meeting laws.

Dane County Circuit Judge Frank Remington wrote in his ruling that American Oversight filed its claims prematurely and should have given District Attorney Ismael Ozanne more time to decide whether to launch his own lawsuit. Remington allowed the group to continue seeking records from the panel, however.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos asked former state Supreme Court justices David Prosser, Pat Roggensack and Jon Wilcox in September to advise on whether impeaching current Justice Janet Protasiewicz would be justified.

Protasiewicz is a member of the court’s four-justice liberal majority. Republicans are furious with her after she declared on the campaign trail last year that the Legislature’s GOP-drawn district boundaries are “rigged.” The high court is currently considering a challenge to the boundaries that could force lawmakers to redraw the maps ahead of the 2024 elections, potentially costing Republicans legislative seats next session. The GOP argues Protasiewicz’s campaign remarks indicate she has prejudged the case.

Prosser and Wilcox both advised Vos in October that Protasiewicz’s campaign remarks don’t rise to an impeachable offense. It’s unclear where Roggensack stands; she has not responded to messages.

American Oversight asked Ozanne to investigate whether the justices were working as a government entity and as such had violated the state’s open meetings law by operating in secret. Five days after filing the request the group filed a lawsuit alleging the justices violated the law and demanding records related to their work.

Vos filed a motion to dismiss the open meeting violation claims, arguing that under state law American Oversight had to give Ozanne 20 days to refuse or fail to launch an investigation. Ozanne did neither, according to court documents.

Remington wrote in his ruling Tuesday that the panel of former justices was a governmental body created by order of the Assembly speaker and nobody disputes that the panel met in secret. But American Oversight failed to give Ozanne the time allotted under law to refuse to investigate and therefore was barred from filing a lawsuit, Remington found.

The ruling leaves intact the group’s record demands. Vos, Prosser and Wilcox have turned over thousands of pages of documents so far. Remington on Nov. 10 gave Roggensack 30 days to produce her records.

American Oversight Executive Director Heather Sawyer said in a statement that despite Remington’s ruling Tuesday the lawsuit still resulted in documents getting released to the public “that otherwise might have remained shrouded in darkness.”

As for the open meeting claims, she said the group will be considering appellate options.