[JURIST] The Second District Court of Appeals in Los Angeles [official website] on Wednesday upheld [judgment, PDF] a $13.8 million judgment against Philip Morris [corporate website] in the death of 45-year-old lifelong smoker Betty Bullock. Family of the deceased won the case after accusing the company of fraud by using deceptive marketing tactics. Philip Morris argued that the punitive judgment should simply match the judgment for pain and suffering, $850,000, as Bullock's health was mitigated by her conduct. The three-judge panel voted 2-1 to uphold the judgment and all three judges rejected Philip Morris' reasoning.
Philip Morris knew that the consensus among scientific and medical professionals was that cigarette smoking caused lung cancer and other serious diseases, that its cigarettes contained many carcinogens, and that smokers suffered lung cancer and other serious diseases at rates far greater than nonsmokers. Despite that knowledge, Philip Morris and other cigarette manufacturers for many years conducted a public campaign designed to obscure and deny the truth. Philip Morris falsely asserted that there was no consensus in the scientific and medical community concerning the adverse health effects of smoking and that the relationship between smoking and health was unknown. Philip Morris assured its customers that if it learned that any cigarette ingredient caused cancer it would remove that ingredient, and falsely stated that it did not believe that smoking was hazardous. Philip Morris repeatedly asserted that more research was needed and that it was diligently pursuing that research, but avoided sponsoring any research that would reveal the hazards of smoking and went to great lengths to avoid disclosing its own toxicological data. Rather than remove nicotine from its cigarettes as it had the ability to do, Philip Morris added urea to its cigarettes to enhance the effect of nicotine so as to further exploit its customers' addiction and gain new customers. Its customers included individuals such as Bullock who first began to smoke as youths before July 1, 1969, attracted in part by an aggressive advertising campaign in television, print and other media that was particularly appealing to youths.
In May, the Supreme Court of California ruled [JURIST report] unanimously to allow claims against tobacco companies for smoking-related ailments that arise after the statute of limitations for an earlier condition has elapsed. Though state law requires that parties file suit within two years of discovering an injury, the decision will allow smokers to proceed with claims based on medical conditions originating after a previous diagnosis so long as the injuries are "separate and distinct." In December, Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds [corporate website], along with an industry trade group, filed an appeal [JURIST report] with the US Supreme Court to overturn a $271.5 million class action settlement for having "distort[ed] the entire body of public knowledge about the addictive effects of nicotine." The settlement was awarded [opinion, text] by the Louisiana Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] in order to establish a fund meant to help Louisianans quit smoking.
[JURIST] After a day's deliberation, the Council of States [official website], India's upper house of parliament voted 189 - 17 on Thursday to impeach [daily bulletin, PDF] Justice Soumitra Sen [official profile], a justice of the Calcutta High Court [official website] accused of embezzling funds. Impeachment hearings began [JURIST report] Wednesday. Sen was charged with misappropriation of funds and misrepresentation of facts. Sen, in his capacity as justice, was assigned to sell an inventory of rejected goods from two civil suits, with the proceeds going back toward the payment of the judgment in one case, and disbursed to workers as back payments in another. Sen was to keep five percent for himself and had absolute control over all bank accounts connected to the cases. Parties to the cases requested information from Sen after not receiving their funds, which he ignored. Eventually, Sen withdrew all the money from the accounts and closed them, without explanation to the courts. Sen's case will now be sent to the House of the People [official website], India's lower house, for identical proceedings. They are expected to hear arguments next week [The Hindu report].
If impeached, Sen will be the first sitting high judge to be removed from office in Indian history, and it is only the second impeachment proceeding ever attempted. President Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil [official website] announced in February that the government will work to eradicate corruption [JURIST report]. The government recently created a group of ministers charged with streamlining the judicial system [Indian Express report], particularly working to expedite corruption cases brought against civil servants suspected of corruption and to amend current laws to facilitate bringing claims against public servants. Singh called for the establishment of special courts [JURIST report] to deal only with corruption charges, telling a convention of high-ranking justices and government ministers that, "apart from pendency and delayed justice, corruption is another challenge we face both in government and the judiciary." Singh said addressing these problems would increases both domestic and foreign confidence in the court system. India's judiciary was analyzed in the FORUM post India and Pakistan: A Tale of Judicial Appointments [JURIST op-ed] by guest columnist Shubhankar Dam [official profile] of the Singapore Management University School of Law [official website].
Defendants' policy and practice of shackling all detained immigrants for immigration court proceedings causes detainees to suffer physical and emotional pain, is dehumanizing, and undermines the dignity of court proceedings. It also hinders detainees' ability to communicate with their attorneys. ... Freedom from physical restraint has always been recognized as a fundamental constitutional right, requiring due process before it can be infringed.
The suit was filed by four individuals on behalf of a class of people who are or will be detained for their immigration proceedings in San Francisco. The ACLU-NC expects the case to have national implications.
The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled in 2005 that it is unconstitutional [JURIST report] to force capital murder defendants to appear before juries in shackles. The majority said that viewing a prisoner in shackles would be too damaging to the jury's perception of the defendant. ICE and DHS have previously faced criticism for their treatment of immigration detainees. In March, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights [official website] reported that US immigration enforcement agencies are overly reliant on a flawed detention system [JURIST report]. The report expresses concern over increased use of detention by the US government, citing a doubling in detention of non-citizens by ICE. It criticized the US government for viewing detention as a necessity and not as an exception in its enforcement.
[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] on Thursday began the retrial of Ramush Haradinaj [materials; BBC profile], a Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) commander and the former prime minister of Kosovo, who was acquitted [JURIST report] of all charges in 2008. The ICTY appeals chamber overturned the acquittals [JURIST report] of Haradinaj, Idriz Balaj and Lahi Brahimaj in July 2010. The appeals chamber found that the integrity of the original proceedings was compromised due to the trial chamber's "[failure] to take sufficient steps to counter the witness intimidation that permeated the trial." After the acquittals, many Serbians believed that the ICTY was unfairly prosecuting Serbians and letting ethnic Albanians free. In preparation for the trial, witness and former KLA member Shefqet Kabashi was transferred to the ICTY to stand trial for contempt of court [press release] after refusing to answer questions during the initial proceeding. The ICTY says his testimony is critical to proving six counts of the indictment.
[JURIST] Syrian government forces cracking down on the opposition may be committing crimes against humanity, according to a report [text, PDF; press release] published Thursday by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website]. The 22-page report, prepared by the the Fact-finding Mission on Syria, contains allegations of summary executions, killing of unarmed protesters and torture of detainees. According to the report, "[t]he Mission found a pattern of human rights violations that constitutes widespread or systematic attacks against the civilian population, which may amount to crimes against humanity as provided for in article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court." The Fact-finding Mission recommended that the UN Security Council refer Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official websites] for further investigation. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] is set to address the Security Council later Thursday, and the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) [official website] will hold a special session on Syria [press release] on Monday.
The Fact-finding Mission was established [JURIST report] by the HRC in April. Last week, 27 rights groups called for the HRC to convene a second special session on Syria [JURIST report]. Also last week, the Los Angeles Times reported that an unknown Western country is funding an investigation [JURIST report] into Syria's recent human rights abuses. Last month, two UN rights officials expressed concern over reports of violence [JURIST report] used by Syrian authorities against the country's own people. Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide Francis Deng and Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect Edward Luck said that reports of Syrian forces killing or arbitrarily arresting peaceful protesters indicate potentially grievous violations of international human rights laws, and urged officials to adhere to the government's 2005 pledge to protect its citizens. In June, the OHCHR published a preliminary report [JURIST report] describing human rights violations in Syria and calling for an investigation into government-authorized abuses related to pro-democracy protests that began earlier this year.
[JURIST] The Supreme Court of British Columbia [official website] dismissed [press release] a right to die [JURIST news archive] suit by the Farewell Foundation [advocacy website] for lack of standing on Wednesday but encouraged the group to intervene in a similar suit later this year. The group reported that Judge Lynn Smith was very respectful of the questions they raised but dismissed the suit due to the organization's commitment to keeping their members anonymous. However, Smith suggested the Farewell Foundation intervene in a similar suit [press release] by the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) [advocacy website], which the group is planning to do, partially because the BCCLA's suit is fighting for physician-assisted suicide, while the Farewell Foundation seeks something closer to the "Swiss model" that allows people to take their own lives without physician assistance. Both groups are challenging the constitutionality of section 241(b) of the Criminal Code of Canada [text], which criminalizes assisted suicide. The groups argue that this is contrary to sections 7 and 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text], which guarantee the rights to liberty and equal protection, respectively. The BCCLA's suit is slated to begin arguments on November 15.
[JURIST] Mexican President Felipe Calderon [official website, in Spanish] on Wednesday signed a reform [press release, in Spanish] to the Mexican Constitution [text, PDF, in Spanish] that eliminates the president's ability to use a pocket veto to prevent the passage of a bill. Originally, the president could kill the legislation by ignoring it for 30 days. The constitutional reform now requires the president to take action on a bill within 30 days of receipt. Otherwise, the bill will automatically become law. Calderon stated that the change reiterates his commitment [statement, in Spanish] to strengthening Mexico's democratic system.
Calderon's administration has been plagued with accusations of corruption and rights violations. Last week, Mexico's National Human Rights Commission [official website, in Spanish] released a report contending that military and law enforcement officials conduct illegal searches and engage in a "systematic pattern" of coercive, threatening and abusive behavior [JURIST report] in their efforts to combat the country's narcotics trade. Following the April resignation [JURIST report] of former Mexican attorney general Arturo Chavez, the Attorney General's Office (PGR) [official website] last month charged [JURIST report] 111 officials who served under Chavez with various corruption-related offenses, including falsifying documents, interfering with the administration of justice, abuse of power, perjury and bribery. Additionally, 140 police officers were fired and it was disclosed that 280 more are under investigation. Mexico has struggled to combat the drug cartels' influence on the government and the country as a whole. There have been more than 27,000 drug-related deaths [STRATFOR report] since 2006, and the violence has steadily escalated over the past few years. In April 2009, Mexico's Senate passed a constitutional amendment [JURIST report] permitting the seizure of suspected drug traffickers' property prior to their conviction. In 2008, a former assistant attorney general was arrested for receiving bribes, and Mexico's prosecutor's office admitted that it had been infiltrated [JURIST reports] by the drug cartels.
[JURIST] More than 26,000 iPhone users in South Korea joined in a class action lawsuit filed Wednesday against Apple's local headquarters for collecting location data without their consent. The class is composed of individuals who purchased an iPhone prior to May 1, and each plaintiff is seeking 1 million won (USD $933) in damages [AFP report]. One of the lawyers handling the case, Kim Hyung-Suk, filed suit on his own [Reuters report] regarding the privacy breach and was awarded one million won in June. The class action suit alleges that Apple's privacy breach violated article 10 and article 17 of the Constitution of the Republic of Korea [text] and that the individual plaintiffs suffered emotional damages as a result. Kim anticipates that another suit will be filed in the near future with a smaller class of around 900 affected individuals.
Earlier this month, South Korean regulators fined Apple [JURIST report] USD $2,855 for collecting location information from its iPhone and iPad users. It marked the first time Apple was punished for collecting location information from users of its widely popular mobile computing products. The country has also been investigating Google over illegal data collection. In January, the South Korea National Police Agency [official website, in Korean] announced it had found evidence that Google illegally collected private data [JURIST report] in the process of producing its popular Street View [website] mapping service. The illegally captured data included hundreds of thousands of emails, instant messages, passwords and search histories through unencrypted Wi-Fi networks. The information was discovered on 79 hard disks seized from Google's Seoul office, which police raided [JURIST report] last year.
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