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States brief ~ WI Supreme Court rules damage cap unconstitutional

[JURIST] Leading Thursday's states brief, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled [text] today that the state's cap on medical malpractice noneconomic damage awards is unconstitutional because it violates the equal protection guarantees of the state constitution [PDF text] and the legislature's rationale for implementing the cap was too broad and speculative to accept. Noneconomic damages include compensation for mental distress, loss of enjoyment of normal activity, and loss of society and companionship. The legislature approved a $350,000 limit on such damages in medical malpractice awards, with adjustments for inflation, in 1995. Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce [official website] President James S. Haney said the ruling has "terrible implications for the Wisconsin economy." AP has more.

In other state legal news ...

  • A unanimous Nevada Supreme Court ruled [PDF text] Thursday that parents have no constitutional guarantee to a lawyer in legal proceedings to terminate the custody of their children. Instead, the right to counsel must be assessed on a case-by-case basis. The ruling was the result of an appeal by a mother who claimed her court-appointed attorney failed to properly represent her during a parental rights termination hearing. AP has more.

  • The Wisconsin Supreme Court has denied a former police officer's request for documents relating to a 2000 sexual harassment investigation against him under the state's Open Records Law [text]. The opinion [text] found that the documents fall into an exception under the Open Records Law because they request was made during an ongoing investigation and stated, "Disclosure would also expose the names with statements of informants who were promised confidentiality for their cooperation in the internal investigation." Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson criticized the majority for "creating a rule that unfortunately can be applied in a broad array of cases to deny access to records." The law requires record holders to balance the public's interest in releasing the documents against the government's interest in keeping them private. AP has more.

  • Missouri Governor Matt Blunt has repealed a 2003 early release law which allowed certain nonviolent felons with no prior prison time to seek release after serving 120 days, even though their sentence may have called for years more. According to the Missouri Department of Corrections [official website], only 44 of the 1,011 prisoner requests for early release were granted. The governor also signed additional legislation [Governor's press release] which creates new crimes; increases penalties for certain sex crimes, theft, voter fraud, and traffic offenses; and requires sex offenders whose victims are less than 14 to remain on lifetime electronic surveillance. AP has more.

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