Court Roundup

 Wisconsin

7th Circuit Court revives lead paint poisoning lawsuit 
MILWAUKEE (AP) — A federal appeals court has revived a lead paint lawsuit in Wisconsin, which could also reactivate more than 170 other lead poisoning cases that have been on hold pending the outcome of court’s decision.
 
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a 2010 ruling Thursday by a federal judge in Wisconsin’s Eastern District.

Judge Rudolph Randa threw out a case involving Ernest Gibson, now 17, who suffered lead poisoning and sued a half dozen paint manufacturers. At the time, Randa said the “risk contribution theory” used in the case violated the due process rights of the defendants, which made the lead carbonate pigment.

The “risk contribution theory” was approved by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in another lead poisoning case in 2005. The theory uses state law to apportion liability based on the proportion of the market a manufacturer held when the plaintiff was injured.

Gibson’s attorney, Peter Earle, said the appeals court ruling is “a complete vindication” of the 2005 decision, according to the Journal Sentinel.

The state Supreme Court in 2005 ruled Steven Thomas, a Milwaukee teenager who said he was poisoned from lead paint chips, could sue paint manufacturers, even if he did not know which one had made the product that caused his injuries.

Supporters of the ruling said it would ensure injured children could get justice from an industry when there was evidence it knew its paint was toxic. But, opponents said it created a system in which manufacturers were guilty until proven innocent.

Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP-majority Legislature approved a law in 2011 that undid the Supreme Court decision for future cases. The state budget last year included a provision aimed at blocking lead paint lawsuits that had already been filed involving 171 children, including Gibson.
 
Attorney Ralph Weber, who represents defendant American Cyanmid, says the counsel for all the companies had no comment on the ruling.
Gibson’s case returns to federal court in Milwaukee for further proceedings.

Mississippi
Justices won’t revisit ruling on voter poll books 
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi Supreme Court said Thursday that it won’t reconsider its ruling that voters’ birthdates must be redacted before poll books are opened for public inspection.
 
State Sen. Chris McDaniel had asked the nine justices to hold a hearing and reconsider the ruling they issued last week. On Thursday, the court said no. Two justices did not participate in the ruling and three said they would have granted a hearing.

McDaniel wants to see full information in poll books, including birthdates, as he prepares to challenge his 7,667-vote loss to U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran in the June 24 Republican primary runoff.

McDaniel campaign spokesman Noel Fritsch said Wednesday that the campaign was still gathering evidence of potential wrongdoing to prepare to file an election challenge. During a July 16 news conference, McDaniel attorneys said a challenge could be filed within the following 10 days.

In a separate development, a federal judge spent more than eight hours Thursday listening to testimony and arguments about a lawsuit also dealing with access to voters’ birthdates on poll books. U.S. District Judge Nancy F. Atlas of Texas, who was assigned to the case after federal judges in Mississippi recused themselves, did not indicate when she might rule.

“I’m not here as a popularity contest,” Atlas said late in the day. “I have no horse in this race on the merits of any election that ever happens in Mississippi.”

The federal lawsuit was filed by 22 Mississippi residents and a Texas-based group called True the Vote. It seeks access to information in nine Mississippi counties and from the secretary of state and the state Republican Party.

Atlas said the hearing Thursday was not to determine whether fraud occurred in the June 3 primary or the June 24 runoff in Mississippi. Rather, she said, she was focusing on the narrow question of whether the general public has a legal right to see birthdates on voter rolls.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys said a federal law that dates to the early 1990s, the National Voter Registration Act, specifies that birthdates are part of the public record.

Defense attorneys, including those representing the secretary of state and the Mississippi Republican Party, said the federal Freedom of Information Act, which is older, specifies that birthdates are not subject to public disclosure.

Volunteers from True the Vote went to many Mississippi counties in early July to seek access to voter rolls, which are master lists of registered voters in each county; poll books, which precinct workers use on election days to mark names of those who have voted; and other material.

California resident Ellen Swensen, a True the Vote volunteer, testified Thursday that she requested, but did not get, information from Leake, Covington and Jones counties. She said she cited the National Voter Registration Act to back up her request for voter rolls that include birthdates. Swensen said True the Vote recently spent $30 to purchase information about 18 million voters in California.

Atlas said that while True the Vote leaders might have the best intentions to protect voters’ privacy, others could be “fraudsters” who would use birthdates to steal people’s identity. Atlas also said a database with information about millions of voters “sounds like the NSA” and such a database could be vulnerable to hackers.

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