Court Roundup

Pennsylvania
Court supports dismisssal of gay conversion suit

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - A judge's decision to dismiss a lawsuit challenging New Jersey's ban on gay conversion therapy was upheld Monday by a federal appeals court.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled that U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson was right to reject the claims of a couple who said their constitutional rights were being violated because the law prevents them from seeking treatment for their teenage son.

Republican Gov. Chris Christie signed a law in 2013 banning the therapy in New Jersey, saying that the potential health risks trumped concerns over the government setting limits on parental choice. New Jersey was the second state to pass such a law; California passed a similar law in 2012, and the U.S. Supreme Court turned aside a challenge to that law last year.

The couple claimed in their suit that the state's law violated their rights to free speech and freedom of religion, as well as their 14th Amendment right to equal protection. An attorney representing the couple didn't immediately return a message seeking comment.

It is the second time the appeals court has upheld the law after ruling in favor of the state in a lawsuit brought by a group of plaintiffs that included two licensed therapists who practice what are called "sexual orientation change efforts," referred to in court filings as SOCE.

The court pointed to that previous ruling Monday, saying the state has an "'unquestionably substantial' interest in protecting citizens from harmful professional practices, and that this interest is even stronger where the citizens protected are minors."

Wolfson ruled against the counselors as well, writing in her November 2013 ruling that the law doesn't impinge on free speech because it covers conduct - the therapy, specifically - and not speech. The statute doesn't restrict freedom of religion, she added, because it is neutral with respect to religion even if it "disproportionately affects those motivated by religious belief."

She cited numerous court rulings that have held that states have the right to regulate what medical or mental health treatments parents choose for their children.

"Surely, the fundamental rights of parents do not include the right to choose a specific medical or mental health treatment that the state has reasonably deemed harmful or ineffective," Wolfson wrote. "To find otherwise would create unimaginable and unintentional consequences."

Ohio
ACLU seeks probe amid hunger strike at prison

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The American Civil Liberties Union is calling for an independent investigation into conditions at Ohio's super-maximum security prison amid a long-running hunger strike.

The protest at the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown began March 19 to draw attention to recreation and programming restrictions, including a ban on religious gatherings, imposed after an assault on a corrections officer. A prisons department spokesman couldn't immediately say how many inmates were continuing to refuse meals Monday.

The ACLU detailed its concerns in letters to state prisons director Gary Mohr and to the head of the Legislature's oversight panel. The group cites a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld the due process rights of supermax prisoners, who are held in their cells for up to 23 hours a day.

Louisiana
Racketeering, drug scheme brings arrests

LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) - An officer with the Louisiana State Police and a Lafayette Parish sheriff's deputy were booked over the weekend for allegedly accepting thousands of dollars in a drug and racketeering scheme that led to a man's unlawful arrest last year.

The Advocate reports the alleged scheme resulted in over $100,000 in cash payments and transfers to various people, including State Trooper Corey Jackson and sheriff's Deputy Jason Kinch.

Jackson, who joined the State Police in 2004, was booked Saturday into the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center on counts of racketeering.

Kinch, who joined the Sheriff's Office in 2005 and was part of the office's narcotics task force, was booked into jail Sunday on counts of racketeering.

Both officers are on administrative leave.

Few details have been released about the scheme.

Maj. Art LeBreton, chief deputy of the Lafayette Parish Sheriff's Office, said the company's former CEO, Mark Knight, allegedly arranged for the false arrest of his brother and Knight Oil Tools' co-owner, Bryan Knight.

The arrest, which occurred in June, was conducted by the Lafayette Parish Sheriff's Office narcotics task force, who found two magnetic containers filled with cocaine and prescription drugs on the bottom of Bryan Knight's car, LeBreton said.

Jackson and Kinch alleged provided details that helped in Knight's arrest, though it's not yet clear what those details are.

The charges against Bryan Knight were ultimately dismissed in court, LeBreton said. But last month, the Sheriff's Office received a tip that Knight's arrest was "planned and staged," he said.

Authorities said in a news release that Mark Knight is also wanted on racketeering counts, but he has not been arrested, authorities said.

Another employee of Knight's, Russell Manual, allegedly helped coordinate the scheme - and he is wanted on counts of criminal conspiracy, possession of cocaine, possession of Lortab, possession of methadone, extortion and intimidating a witness, authorities said.

Published: Tue, Apr 14, 2015

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