National Roundup

Clerk accused in court case-fixing bribery scheme

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) - A former Orange County Superior Court clerk and nine others were arrested Wednesday on charges related to a bribery scheme in which more than 1,000 cases were illegally fixed without knowledge of prosecutors or judges, federal prosecutors said.

Authorities expected to have two additional defendants in custody soon, the U.S. Attorney's Office said. All were named in a 38-count indictment.

The ex-clerk, Jose Lopez Jr., was at the center of a sophisticated bribery scheme, according to prosecutors. He is accused of receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars over several years to illegally resolve tickets for people charged with drunken driving or other traffic offenses. The scam ended in 2015 when the court learned of the misconduct.

People who paid the bribes were solicited directly by Lopez, 38, or by the other defendants, who acted as recruiters. Prosecutors said Lopez charged up to $8,000 per case.

As a result, hundreds of defendants had charges dismissed, saw fees reduced, or avoided jail time, prosecutors said.

U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker said the scam "compromised the entire justice system" in Orange County.

Lopez would "resolve" cases by changing information in the court's computers to make it appear that a defendant had paid fees or performed the required community service and, in some cases, he forged prosecutor signatures.

In some drunk-driving cases, he falsified records to indicate that a defendant had pleaded guilty to reckless driving, thereby allowing the person to avoid a drunk-driving charge, officials said. He also allegedly changed records to make it appear that second-time DUI offenders had served mandatory jail time when they had not.

Lopez is accused of illegally resolving approximately 1,034 cases - including 69 misdemeanor DUI cases, 160 other misdemeanor cases and other 805 traffic cases.

The court corrected all the inaccurate records and the cases were re-set by a judge and proceeded normally, a court statement said.

The court also redesigned software, refined auditing practices and added new safeguards to help prevent future schemes, according to the statement.

New Mexico
Ex-high court justice, MALDEF <t-2>founder Sosa dies

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Dan Sosa Jr., a former New Mexico Supreme Court justice and one of the founders of a national Hispanic civil rights organization, died Saturday at the age of 92.

Sosa, who served on the state's high court from 1975 to 1991, died after a lengthy illness in the adobe house where he was born, the Las Cruces Sun-News reported.

New Mexico Administrative Office of the Courts spokesman Barry Massey confirmed Sosa's death to The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Born in Las Cruces, Sosaplayed on the basketball team that won the 1941 state championship - the first state title won by a Las Cruces school. He later served as a World War II pilot before graduating from the University of New Mexico Law School in 1951.

Sosa returned to Las Cruces and was elected district attorney to a district that included Doña Ana, Otero and Lincoln counties. He was the first Hispanic to serve in that position.

In the mid-1960s, he and a group of lawyers founded the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. The group, a key player in protecting the voting rights of Latinos and helping immigrants, is now based in California.

New Mexico Gov. Jerry Apodaca appointed Sosa to the state Supreme Court in 1975, where he served until his retirement in 1991.

During a re-election campaign for his Supreme Court seat, Sosa said he remembered seeing a young lawyer put up his signs in Albuquerque and Farmington, New Mexico. Sosa approached the lawyer and thanked him for his work but didn't know how he could repay him.

"You already have, Justice Sosa," the lawyer told him. "You're one of the founders of MALDEF. I'm one of the beneficiaries of MALDEF."

The group Sosa helped found had paid for all of the lawyer's legal education.

"Bendito a dios," Sosa said. "Isn't that something?"

His daughter, Rita Jo Sosa-Carver, told the Sun-News her father will likely be taken to Santa Fe, where he will lie in state. His body will be returned to Las Cruces for burial.

Appeals court: Uber drivers must resolve claims individually

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - In a victory for Uber, a federal appeals court said Wednesday drivers for the most part have to resolve claims against the company individually and not through a class action lawsuit.

The ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals came in a lawsuit by Uber drivers over the company's background checks, but it also affects drivers in a separate suit who accuse the ride-hailing service of exploiting them by treating them as independent contractors instead of employees. The arbitration clause the ruling upheld also applies to the vast majority of the roughly 380,000 drivers in that lawsuit.

Those drivers will now have less leverage against Uber, as they pursue claims individually through arbitration instead of as a group through a class action suit.

"Today's decision is not good for the class," said Shannon Liss-Riordan, an attorney for drivers in the lawsuit over Uber's classification of drivers as independent contractors.

Liss-Riordan said only about 6,000 drivers that the lawsuit represents are not covered by the arbitration clause the 9th Circuit upheld.

Ted Boutrous, Uber's attorney, applauded the 9th Circuit ruling, saying "arbitration is a fair, speedy and less costly alternative to class-action litigation."

San Francisco-based Uber has fought efforts to classify its drivers as employees. The change would give the drivers more rights and benefits, but raise Uber's operating expenses significantly and go against its business model and identity, potentially undercutting its plans to eventually sell its stock in an initial public offering.

Uber and the drivers in the independent contractor suit reached a $100 million settlement, but that deal was rejected last month by a federal judge who said it wasn't fair.

The agreement would have required Uber to pay at least $84 million to drivers in California and Massachusetts who had been picking up riders who requested them through the company's service dating back to August 2009. Uber would have paid another $16 million to the drivers if the company's market value increased by 1.5 times within the first year of its IPO.

But U.S. District Court Judge Edward Chen was troubled that the settlement also would have prevented the drivers from pursuing claims on a variety of other employment issues that could have generated another $1 billion in a trial verdict in their favor. With those potential liabilities, the proposed settlement would be paying the drivers less than 5 percent of what they could win in a trial - a sum that Chen concluded was "not fair, adequate or reasonable."

Published: Fri, Sep 09, 2016