National Roundup

North Carolina
Judge resigns amid misconduct investigation

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina judge has resigned following a yearlong state investigation into multiple reports of misconduct.

Guilford County District Court Judge Mark Cummings agreed to resign from office and never run for a state judicial office again, effective Dec. 20, The News & Observer reported  Friday.

A letter Cummings submitted to Gov. Roy Cooper in October shows his resignation had been in the works for months, though the Judicial Standards Commission just made its order public this week.

In a consent order released earlier this week, Judicial Standards Commission officials wrote that they agreed to Cummings’ resignation to avoid any further delay to disciplinary proceedings.

The commission opened an investigation in September 2018 into reports Cummings allowed court documents to be falsified, forced prosecutors to dismiss charges in a case, changed a bond amount set by a higher court and filed to run for office in a district he didn’t live in, among other accusations.

Cummings has denied all of the allegations. He announced on Facebook that he has returned to private practice, the newspaper reported.

Judge wants answer: Where did some of the zoo animals go?

MANCHESTER, Iowa (AP) — A judge has ordered the owners of a closed-down roadside zoo in eastern Iowa to explain what happened to some animals that were supposed to be removed.

In late November Judge Monica Wittig found the Cricket Hollow Zoo near Manchester to be a nuisance and that the exotic animals at the site must be placed at accredited sanctuaries or zoos.

Four plaintiffs sued to have the animals removed and the zoo owned by Pam and Tom Sellner closed. It had been operated since 2002 despite repeated complaints that animals were mistreated.

In April last year a federal appeals court upheld a district court ruling that the zoo violated the Endangered Species Act with its treatment of some animals.

An attorney who represented Iowa residents in the lawsuit filed an affidavit requesting a contempt charge. It alleged that several animals specifically mentioned in Wittig’s removal order, including five brown bears, two mountain lions, a fox, a wolf hybrid and a camel could not be found.

The Sellners’ attorney didn’t immediately return a message Monday from The Associated Press.

The judge set the hearing for Feb. 7 in Manchester.

School district wants to end court supervision

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Tucson’s largest school district wants to free itself of court supervision in a 4-decade-old desegregation case, one that results in a spending boost of over $60 million a year.

Schools in Tucson Unified School District haven’t been segregated for decades and court approval of the request for so-called unitary status would save money now being spent on legal fees and administration but still keep dollars flowing for related programs for students, district officials said.

“This is not a segregated district,” Superintendent Gabrial Trujillo said. “You have 50% of the students in this district that are either in a fully integrated school or in a highly diverse school.”

However, a representative for the plaintiffs in the court case said TUSD has not complied with all of the desegregation court order. There is a continued racial disparity in student discipline and the district hasn’t properly implemented a plan specific to services for Mexican American students, said Sylvia Campoy.

The Arizona Daily Star reports  that TUSD officials expect a ruling by a U.S. District Court judge by August on the request filed Dec. 31.

Trujillo said 30 of the district’s 86 schools are fully integrated, although a racial achievement gap still exists, which is true throughout the state. However, TUSD doesn’t need a court order to “take the achievement gap seriously,” he said.

“This is no longer a desegregation case,” he said. “This is an academic achievement case.”

Under the federal court order, however, TUSD is required to focus on more than racial integration. The case calls for addressing not only quality of education, but student discipline disparities, facilities and technology, transportation and community engagement, among other issues.

The case started in 1978 when the Mendoza and Fisher plaintiff families sued the district for running a defacto desegregated school system.

The academic achievement of Mexican American students “continues to be of monumental concern to the Mendoza plaintiffs,” Campoy wrote in an email. “The seemingly casual abandonment of these type of academic services manifests the district’s ongoing lack of good faith effort in implementing important elements of its desegregation court order.”

The district receives more than $60 million annually from a  special property tax levy to cover expenses in the desegregation effort.

Once the case is closed, TUSD will still have those tax dollars available for a while, but Trujillo said the district will only ask the taxpayers for the funds needed to keep successful student programs.
Desegregation funding pays for student services like dual-language, and gifted and talented programs.

The District Court granted the district partial unitary status in September 2018, on 25 out of 50 provisions.

“I think we’re very much a model for integration now,” Trujillo said. “More than we’ve ever been in the past.”

New Mexico
Man in house arrest sues to use medical marijuana

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico man serving a house arrest sentence for drunken driving is suing to be allowed to use medical marijuana.

Attorney and Democratic state Sen. Jacob Candelaria recently filed a lawsuit in state district court on behalf of Joe Montano, who said authorities recently seized his medical cannabis, KOAT-TV reports.

According to court documents, correctional officers searched Montano’s home while he was on house arrest, found the marijuana, and put him in jail for a month as punishment.

The petition is seeking a judge to order the jail to allow him to possess and use his medical marijuana.

State lawmakers passed a measure last year to allow people on house arrest to use medical marijuana.

In a statement, Metropolitan Detention Center Chief of Corrections Ralph Fernandez said Community Custody Program inmates are considered in jail custody, and medical marijuana use is prohibited in the detention center.