U.S. Fifth Circuit - The FindLaw 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

September 2011 Archives

Fifth Cir. OKs First Amendment Candy Canes and Qualified Immunity

The holidays are a time when we can set aside our differences and focus on what unites us as people. For kids, candy canes might be the common thread. For school principals, it's qualified immunity. For the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, it's a 100-page decision on First Amendment rights for kids and qualified immunity for the instructors who teach them.

In Morgan v. Swanson, better known as the Candy Cane case, the Fifth Circuit ruled that Texas elementary school students had a First Amendment right to engage in student-to-student religious speech, but school administrators who restricted their right to do so were protected by qualified immunity because the law is unclear on the extent of students' free speech rights.

Texas Man Can Pursue Accessible Sidewalks Suit Under ADA Title II

The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) has mandated reasonable accommodations for disabled citizens since 1992. Among the protections the ADA affords? Accessible sidewalks.

In Arlington, Texas, however, accessible sidewalks don’t seem to be a priority. That’s why Richard Frame, a quadriplegic, sued Arlington in 2005, alleging that the city had violated ADA Title II by building or altering sidewalks and curbs without making them accessible.

A district court dismissed the case because Frame waited too long after the work commenced to bring his claim. Frame challenged the district court’s dismissal in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and won.

Order in the Court? Chief Judge Jones to Colleague: Shut Up!

The pressures of the bench may finally be affecting Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Edith Jones.

After admonishing District Judge Sam Sparks for acerbic opinions, (Sparks ordered two attorneys to report to a ‘kindergarten party’ after they were “unable to practice law at the level of a first-year law student” and issued an order in which he called out another attorney for incompetence), Chief Judge Jones is, herself, in the spotlight for bad manners.

First up? The infamous email criticizing Judge Sparks’ “caustic, demeaning, and gratuitous” treatment of attorneys. While email is a fast, efficient form of communication, it’s easily distributed to the masses with a click of a button. Every lawyer knows the danger of an email trail which makes some people question why Chief Judge Jones didn’t call Judge Sparks for a tête-à-tête.

New Trial or Walk Free: Princess Lacaze Returning to Court?

Princess Lacaze will either receive a new trial or walk free on second-degree murder charges.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the prosecution erred in Lacaze's trial because it did not reveal a deal struck with the star witness in the trial, Lacaze's former lover, Meryland Robinson.

LaCaze was having an extramarital affair with Robinson, when Robinson shot and killed LaCaze's husband, Michael. LaCaze admitted that she knew about the planned murder in advance, saying that it was her dying husband's wish to be killed rather than to go on dialysis, which he was to begin shortly before his death.

Fifth Circuit Filing Fee Increase Effective November 1

The cost of litigating in appellate courts will soon increase.

The Judicial Conference of the United States recently adopted a new court fee schedule in response to inflationary expenses. Court filing fees were last increased in 2003. Fee increases will become effective November 1, 2011.

Judiciary fees allows it to reduce the branch's annual appropriations request to Congress. Fees in appeals, district, and bankruptcy courts are affected. The increase is expected to yield an estimated $10.5 million in additional fee revenue for fiscal year 2012. The new Miscellaneous Fee Schedule is available here.

No First Amendment Attorney Fees in Cheerleader Rape Protest Case

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week that a cheerleader who refused to cheer at school events for her alleged rapist does not have to pay the originally-awarded attorney's fees to the parties she sued following the alleged rape.

In October 2008, H.S., a student and member of the cheerleading squad at Silsbee High School, was allegedly sexually assaulted by two classmates, Bolton and Rountree, at a private party. After a grand jury declined to indict either Bolton or Rountree, H.S., as a cheerleader, refused to cheer for Bolton during a varsity basketball game.

H.S. allegedly cheered for the team as a whole, but refused to cheer for Bolton individually; when Bolton shot free throws, H.S. symbolically protested and expressed herself by either quietly folding her arms or going to sit by SISD Cheerleading Sponsor Sissy McInnis.

Following H.S.'s protest, SISD Superintendent Richard Bain, Jr. and Silsbee High School Principal Gaye Lokey allegedly pulled H.S. aside and told her to cheer for Bolton or to go home. H.S. chose the latter, and McInnis and Lokey removed H.S. from the cheerleading squad for her refusal to cheer for Bolton.

Civil Law? Chief Judge Edith Jones to Judge Sam Sparks: Be Nice

It's not-so-secretly the highlight of our day when a judge takes a bumbling lawyer to task in an opinion. That's probably because we're cozily nestled behind our computers writing about the law, unafraid of incurring a judge's ire in the courtroom.

But when a judge has words with, or rather for, another judge, it's even better. To wit: Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Edith Jones, does not enjoy reviewing snarky opinions on appeal.

Chief Judge Jones recently sent an email to U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks of Austin, Texas regarding his sarcastic comments on the job, saying, "Frankly, this kind of rhetoric is not funny. In fact, it is so caustic, demeaning, and gratuitous that it casts more disrespect on the judiciary than on the now-besmirched reputation of the counsel," reports ABA Journal.

Federal Sentencing Guidelines Punish Use of a Minor

What should a parent do when he cannot afford to pay a $762 child support bill?

We think asking family members for loans, selling personal belongings, or even begging for the court's mercy are reasonable options.

Aaron C. Robinson, on the other hand, tried to postpone his child support hearing by phoning in a bomb threat on the courthouse where the hearing was to occur, using a prepaid cellphone that he asked his then-14-year-old stepsister to buy for him.

The plan worked for a little while; the courthouse was evacuated, the hearing was delayed, and Robinson ditched the phone.

Ultra Vires Claim Dismissed in Thomas Porteous Impeachment Case

Political corruption is old hat in Louisiana.

Huey Long. Edwin Edwards. William Jefferson. The string of insurance commissioners that could set up their own cell block while serving corruption sentences. Louisianans practically expect scandals from their elected officials.

Judges, however, are a different class entirely. Say what you will about the state’s politicos, but Louisiana judges tend to provide the state with pearls of civil law wisdom and legal color commentary. Considering Louisiana judges’ relatively tame record, Rhonda Danos probably thought she would have job security when she took a job with Judge Thomas Porteous. She was wrong.