U.S. Supreme Court Notebook

US Supreme Court won’t hear rabbi’s appeal of $22M case

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a Connecticut rabbi’s appeal of a $21.7 million jury verdict in a lawsuit that accused him of sexually abusing a teenage boy.

The court provided no comments in its decision to let stand a federal appeals court ruling last year that upheld the verdict against Rabbi Daniel Greer, 80, and the Yeshiva of New Haven school he founded.

Greer was sentenced to 12 years in prison in December 2019 on state criminal charges related to the abuse. Messages seeking comment were left Monday for his lawyer.

The 2017 verdict came in a federal court lawsuit filed by a New Jersey man, Eliyahu Mirlis, now 33, who said Greer repeatedly sexually abused him in 2002 and 2003 when he was a teenager attending the school. Greer denies he abused Mirlis and is appealing his criminal convictions.

Greer argued in his appeal of the verdict that the trial judge made mistakes in instructing the jury about how to consider, during deliberations, Greer’s invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when declining to answer questions during the trial.

The federal jury awarded Mirlis $15 million in compensatory damages and a judge tacked on another $5 million in punitive damages plus $1.7 million in interest.

The Associated Press generally does not name people who say they’ve been sexually assaulted, but Mirlis wanted to come forward, his lawyer said.

Mirlis said Greer sexually assaulted him on school property, in the bedroom of Greer’s New Haven home and at motels in Branford and in Philadelphia and Paoli, Pennsylvania, among other places.


Supreme Court rebuffs Utah in roads, wilderness case

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court has dealt a blow to the state of Utah in a lawsuit involving environmental groups.

The high court decided Monday to let stand an order allowing two conservation organizations to intervene in the contentious, long-running case, the  Deseret News reported.

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance says the case is about who controls federal public lands in Utah. They say the state is claiming “stream bottoms and cow paths” as highways, in an effort to make the land ineligible for Congressional wilderness designation. That designation protects the land and also limits how it can be used.

Multiple counties and states across the West have filed right-of-way claims on thousands of these roads so-called RS2477 roads. They say the byways are an integral and vital part of ranching, mining and residents’ access that needs to remain in place.

Claims to the roads have been entangled in litigation for years. The latest case had Utah and Kane County arguing conservation groups should not be part of the case. The groups disagreed, saying the argument cut to the core of their mission to protect public lands.


High court orders continued look at Texas death row case

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Monday ordered a further review by a lower court of a lawsuit brought by a Texas death row inmate who objects to a policy that bars a chaplain from accompanying him into the death chamber.

The justices ordered Ruben Gutierrez’s case sent back to a federal trial-level court for additional proceedings. The justices in June had blocked Gutierrez’s execution  after Texas changed its policy and barred all spiritual advisers from the death chamber.

Gutierrez’s attorneys argue his religious rights are being violated. The justices in June had asked a lower court to determine whether there would be “serious security problems” if Texas’ death row inmates were allowed to choose spiritual advisers to accompany them into the death chamber. The lower court said no.

On Monday, in a brief order, the high court sent the case back to the trial court. The justices said that given the lower court’s findings that there would be no serious security problems if spiritual advisers were allowed, the lower court should now consider “the merits of petitioner’s underlying claims.”

Texas had previously allowed state-employed clergy to accompany inmates into the room where they’d be executed. But the state changed its policy in 2019, barring all clergy from the death chamber. That change came after the Supreme Court halted the execution of another inmate, Patrick Murphy, who requested a Buddhist adviser be allowed in the chamber. Texas’ prison staff included only Christian and Muslim clerics, meaning Murphy’s adviser would have had to observe from a different room. By changing the policy, Texas argued all inmates were being treated the same.

“A condemned prisoner’s access to the comfort and guidance of a spiritual advisor at the time of his death is not a matter of convenience, it is a fundamental right,” Gutierrez’s attorney Shawn Nolan said in a statement after the Supreme Court acted Monday.

Gutierrez is on death row for fatally stabbing an 85-year-old woman. Prosecutors said Gutierrez was attempting to steal more than $600,000 that Escolastica Harrison had hidden in her home in Brownsville, located in Texas’ southern tip, when he killed her in 1998.