U.S. Third Circuit - FindLaw

U.S. Third Circuit - The FindLaw 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Qualified immunity? For a claim of employment retaliation for whistle-blowing? Believe it or not, that's the defense Philadelphia School District mounted after a federal district court denied its motion for summary judgment in this employment retaliation case.

Francis Dougherty, a former employee, was fired after she told the news media that the school district's superintendent, Dr. Arlene Ackerman, directed a contract to a minority-owned firm without a bidding procedure. The Third Circuit said "no" to the district's claim that it was protected by qualified immunity.

Last month, we reported that the Pennsylvania legislature had passed Senate Bill No. 508, a law that would allow a crime victim to prevent the crime perpetrator from talking about the crime if doing so would make the crime victim feel bad.

The Pennsylvania law in this case was pretty squarely targeted at Mumia Abu Jamal, convicted in 1983 of murdering a Philadelphia police officer. Almost immediately after Gov. Bill Corbett signed it into law, Mumia supporters sued to block its enforcement.

The midterms are over, which means it's time to get back to work. And President Barack Obama has wasted no to time in getting back to one of his major legacies: shaping the judiciary. On Wednesday, the White House announced two nominees to federal circuit courts of appeals, including one to the Third Circuit.

Who's the new local judge nominee? He's actually not new at all: It's Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo, a long-time Philadelphian who began his legal career as a local public defender and, for the last year, has been a federal district court judge.

It's a rare occasion when a federal appellate court upholds a grant of habeas corpus. It's rarer still when the habeas petition centers on ineffective assistance of counsel. Nevertheless, last month, the Third Circuit overturned the district court's denial of habeas corpus to Dung Bui, a Pennsylvania resident convicted in federal court of growing marijuana.

So what exactly happened that led the Third Circuit to this infrequent result?

Delaware prison officials have indicated they plan to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in a rare instance in which prison officials were found liable for the acts of subordinates.

In Barkes v. First Correctional Medical Inc., the Third Circuit determined that state prison administrators were responsible for the suicide of Christopher Barkes, an inmate at a Delaware prison.

One of the most legendary rock songs of all time, "Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin, might just be a copy-and-paste job. That's the claim of the heirs of Randy Craig Wolfe (aka Randy California), a legendary guitarist in his own right, a protege of Jimi Hendrix who formed the band Spirit when he was still a teenager and was a pioneer in the psychedelic rock category.

Spirit released the instrumental interlude "Taurus" two years before "Stairway to Heaven." Zeppelin toured with Spirit and often covered the latter band's songs when they opened for them.

Now Wolfe's estate, decades after the songs were released, is raising a copyright infringement claim over the issue.

Earlier this week, the long-simmering and now-public feud between Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery and Chief Justice Ronald Castille finally ended with McCaffery's resignation. Their bitter battle goes back years (and ended with a pornographic email scandal); many suspect it was the reason why Castille ran a retention election knowing that he'd only be able to serve a single year because of the state's age limit. Castille himself admitted that he was gunning for McCaffery, calling him a "sociopath" in the court's suspension order earlier this month.

McCaffery is gone. Castille has two more months on the bench. And much of the rest of the bench is gone, or on the way out. Let's take a look at the openings, and how the seats will likely be filled.

When "Porngate" first erupted, it seemed like a minor blip, especially the involvement of Justice Seamus McCaffery of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. He sent porn, from a personal email address, to a handful of colleagues in other state offices.

It's porn. From a personal account. None of which seemed to be illegal. What's the big deal?

It's apparently a much bigger deal than we thought, as the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has just suspended Justice McCaffery with pay pending an investigation by the state Judicial Conduct Board. The opinions publicly air a number of grievances, including alleged unethical financial dealings and alleged ticket-fixing for his wife, an alleged attempt to pull a fellow justice into the fray by threatening to leak more emails, and of course, the original emails themselves (which are pretty damn racy).

Oh, and Chief Justice Ron Castille just called Justice McCaffery a "sociopath" in his published concurrence.

From the "that's a terrible idea" department comes a proposed law from Pennsylvania, Senate Bill No. 508, that would allow a crime victim to obtain an injunction preventing the criminal "offender" from engaging in "conduct which perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime on the victim." This is further defined as "conduct which causes a temporary or permanent state of mental anguish."

According to Techdirt, the bill was authored following a pre-taped commencement speech given by Mumia Abu-Jamal to the graduate of his correspondence college. Abu-Jamal was convicted of murdering a Philadelphia police officer in 1981, and his name evokes strong feelings in both the police and prisoners' rights communities. Some state legislators in Pennsylvania were apparently so outraged that criminals have First Amendment rights that they passed Senate Bill No. 508 in a few days.

You know the old trope of the two friends who couldn't be more different? "The Odd Couple"? "Bosom Buddies"? "The Patty Duke Show"? Well, Estate of Lagano v. Bergen County Prosecutor's Office is like that, except one was Chief of Detectives for the East Brunswick, New Jersey, police department and the other one might be a mobster. (I smell a "Sopranos" spin-off!)

Frank Lagano was under investigation; his friend Michael Mordaga was the detective. Mordaga told his friend to hire a particular attorney to make all of it go away. Instead, Lagano became a confidential informant for the New Jersey Attorney General's office.