National Roundup

Group says ‘excessive’ ­litigation could cost state ­billions

ELMHURST, Ill. (AP) — A group that advocates for tort reform in Illinois says “excessive” civil litigation may cost the state billions.

The Illinois Civil Justice League cited a new report Monday that estimates the annual direct costs to the Illinois economy could be more than $4 billion.

The report was prepared by a Texas-based analysis firm, The Perryman Group.

The president of Illinois Civil Justice League, John Pastuovic, says in a statement that reforms to the state’s civil justice system “must be a priority.” Among the reforms the Elmhurst-based group supports is limiting non-economic damages paid out in lawsuits.

The Springfield-based Illinois Trial Lawyers Association has consistently criticized such reform efforts.

Its website says the assertion that lawyers file an excessive number of frivolous lawsuits is “a myth.”

Border agent arrested in the deaths of 4 women wants judge to lower bond

LAREDO, Texas (AP) — An attorney representing a U.S. Border Patrol agent accused of killing four women in Texas is asking a judge to reduce his client’s bond, claiming that conditions in jail amount to cruel and unusual punishment.

An affidavit filed late last week says Juan David Ortiz has been denied clothing, eyeglasses and a toothbrush in his cell at the Webb County Jail in Laredo, where he has been held on $2.5 million bond since his arrest last month.

The Webb County District Attorney’s Office declined to comment to the Laredo Morning Times on the claim.

Ortiz is charged in the fatal shooting of four women over a 10-day period and say he was arrested after a fifth woman managed to escape.

A hearing is set for Wednesday morning.

Video evidence shows city ­commissioner shooting alleged thief

LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) — Prosecutors are trying to determine whether a Florida city commissioner should be charged in the fatal shooting of a man he accused of shoplifting a hatchet from an Army-Navy surplus store.

Surveillance video shows the store’s co-owner, Lakeland Com­mis­sioner Michael Dunn, shooting Cristobal Lopez on Oct. 3.

It shows Dunn holding a gun in his right hand while trying to keep Lopez from carrying the hatchet out of the store. Dunn grabs a fistful of his shirt and Lopez is partly out the door, raising the hatchet, when Dunn fires and Lopez falls, mortally wounded.

Dunn’s attorney, Rusty Franklin, told the Tampa Bay Times it was justified because Lopez was holding the hatchet.

Prosecutor Jacob Orr said Monday that keeping the video secret didn’t benefit the investigation.

Police officer is accused of ­raping woman during traffic stop

LANGLEY PARK, Md. (AP) — A Maryland police officer is accused of raping a woman in her car during a traffic stop.

News outlets report Prince George’s County police Officer Ryan Macklin was arrested Monday on charges including first-degree rape. Police Chief Hank Stawinski says the woman was pulled over early one morning last week. Police say the on-duty Macklin is accused of then forcing the woman to perform a sexual act.

Stawinski says there may be more victims. Police spokeswoman Jennifer Donelan says Macklin was suspended within hours of the woman reporting the alleged crime. Macklin has been suspended without pay and relieved of his weapons, police vehicle and credentials.

Donelan says police are investigating the allegations with the county state’s attorney’s office. It’s unclear if Macklin has a lawyer.

3 officers invoke 5th in use-of-force ­investigations

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Three Utah police officers have invoked their right against self-incrimination in the seven use-of-force investigations completed so far this year by Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill.

Officers across the country have been refusing to give statements to prosecutors for years, but Salt Lake City-area officials, including Gill, believe the trend is generally a response to increasing public criticism of police, The Salt Lake Tribune reported Monday.

An attorney who has represented those three officers in Salt Lake County said, “This is a Sim Gill problem.”

Utah police officers have historically cooperated in these use-of-force investigations, which include police shootings, Utah Fraternal Order of Police attorney Bret Rawson said. In doing so, they have gone “against their Fifth Amendment interests,” he said.

Rawson has been advising clients recently to not speak because he and others in law enforcement don’t think Gill is “capable of rendering judgment over these officers in an unbiased fashion.”

Gill, a Democrat, might criminally charge an officer to bolster support for his re-election, Rawson said. The police union has endorsed Republican Nathan Evershed for district attorney.
Gill said his decisions are not politically motivated. He decides cases based on facts and the law as an independent elected official, he said.

“My responsibility is to work with law enforcement, not work for law enforcement,” Gill said. “I work for the citizens of Salt Lake County.”

Gill has evaluated about 65 police shootings during his eight years in the role, he said. Four police shootings were found to be unjustified, leading to charges against two officers.

Gill said he understands officers’ constitutional rights and that they’re acting within the law when they decline to give statements. But their silence could foster distrust in the community.

Without an explanation from the officer, a family might never know the full reason for a shooting, Gill said.

“I’m trying to answer that question for our community,” Gill said. “They have every right to ask the institutions of power about why they shot somebody.”