Court Digest

Longtime federal appeals court Judge Juan Torruella dies

BOSTON (AP) — Judge Juan Torruella, the first Puerto Rican to sit on a U.S. federal appeals court, died Monday at the age of 87, the Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said.

Toruella served nearly four decades on 1st Circuit and took part in such high-profile rulings as the tossing of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s death sentence this year.

First Circuit Chief Judge Jeffrey Howard called him “a wise decision-maker, a brilliant scholar, and a passionate participant in the pursuit of justice.”

“As a judge, his judicial legacy in the First Circuit and Puerto Rico will remain unsurpassed,” Howard said in a statement.

He was appointed to the court in 1984 by President Ronald Reagan. A decade later, he replaced Judge Stephen Breyer as chief judge of the 1st Circuit when Breyer was elevated to the Supreme Court. Torruella served as chief until 2001.

Torruella was part of a three-judge panel that unanimously overturned Tsarnaev’s death sentence  in July and ordered a new trial to decide whether he should be put to death for the attack that killed three people and wounded more than 260 others. The court said the judge who oversaw Tsarnaev’s trial did not adequately screen jurors for potential biases.

Federal prosecutors have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.

In 2015, Torruella dissented as part of a different three-judge panel that ruled that Tsarnaev’s case could stay in Massachusetts.

In a concurring opinion with the decision vacating Tsarnaev’s death sentence, Torruella again argued that Tsarnaev’s trial should never have been held in Boston, saying if his case didn’t merit a change of venue, none would.

“The physical and emotional wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, and the events of the following week, flooded the residents of the Eastern Division with sorrow, fear, and anger,” he wrote. “Few crimes have been as offensive and devastating to an entire community than those committed by the Tsarnaev brothers. But for even the most heinous of offenses, our system of justice demands vigorous protection — both in appearance and fact — of a defendant’s right to a fair trial and sentencing.”

Torruella was also on a three-judge panel that last month heard arguments in a case brought by a group that accuses Harvard University of intentional discrimination against Asian American students who apply to the Ivy League school. Students for Fair Admissions is asking the appeals court to overturn a trial-level judge’s 2019 decision finding that Harvard does not discriminate against Asian Americans.

Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling described Torruella as “a strong advocate for the rights of Puerto Ricans” who “spent his career advocating for their equal rights as U.S. citizens.”

“His insight and passion for the law will be missed,” Lelling said in an emailed statement.

Judge orders former NYPD officer to pay $1M for break-in

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A federal judge has ordered a former New York City police officer to pay $1 million to a Black woman whose house the white officer broke into during a drunken bachelor party in Nashville, Tennessee before he threatened her family inside.

U.S. District Judge Eli Richardson ordered Michael Reynolds on Monday pay the money to Conese Halliburton, the woman whose house Reynolds invaded in July 2018, The Tennessean reported. The judge’s order stems from a civil lawsuit filed by Halliburton.

“Ms. Halliburton promised from the beginning that she would hold ex-Officer Reynolds fully accountable for his criminal misconduct and obtain justice for her family regarding this despicable incident,” said Halliburton’s attorney, Daniel A. Horwitz. “We are certainly pleased with this development, but we also aren’t finished here.”

The former officer had admitted to breaking into Halliburton’s home, which he drunkenly mistook for the Airbnb rental where he was staying. He also admitted to using a racist slur during the incident.

Halliburton was in the home with her four sons at the time of the break-in, prosecutors said.

Reynolds was sentenced to 15 days in jail last December after pleading no contest to aggravated criminal trespass and three counts of assault in the home invasion. He quit the police force a month later amid protests calling for his firing.

It’s unlikely Halliburton will collect the full $1 million since Reynolds has declared bankruptcy, Horwitz said.

North Carolina
Suit claiming doctor ruined pregnancy chances dismissed

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina judge has dismissed a lawsuit that accuses a doctor of secretly inserting a device into a woman during surgery that she claims stopped her from getting pregnant.

The decision against Kimberly Bryant’s lawsuit was issued Friday by Forsyth County Judge Eric Morgan, Winston-Salem Journal reported. Bryant had filed the lawsuit against multiple parties including the doctor, Mehmet Tamer Yalcinkaya, and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center for medical malpractice, fraudulent concealment and negligence regarding the incident in 2007.

That’s the year Bryant visited Yalcinkaya, who at the time was a doctor at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, for a surgery to remove uterine fibroids.

Her lawsuit alleges Yalcinkaya inserted a Gore-Tex barrier, which acted as an IUD birth-control device, during the surgery without her knowledge. Bryant said she found out about it 10 years later when the device split, which led her to have an emergency surgery.

Yalcinkaya has denied the allegations, saying that he informed both Bryant and her husband about the device and mentioned it in the post-operation notes.

Bryant and her husband have denied Yalcinkaya told them, but the judge said in his decision that the existence of the device on the post-operation note “directly contradicts any inference that an attempt at concealment was made.”

The judge also sided with Yalcinkaya on his claim that the device was inserted for therapeutic purposes. Steven McCarus, a medical expert for the plaintiff, had said there was no medical reason for it.

Bryant was told to undergo a hysterectomy after the emergency surgery in 2017. She said in her affidavit that she had to go to therapy for several years after finding out she could not have children. Her lawsuit had sought nearly $10 million in damages.

“Ms. Bryant strongly disagrees with the Court’s ruling,” her attorneys said in the statement Monday. “We will appeal the decision to the North Carolina Court of Appeals.”

Couple pleads not guilty to abuse of 6 adoptive children

HARRIMAN, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee couple have pleaded not guilty to abusing their six adoptive children.

Randall Joseph Ridenour, 53, and Michelle Lee Ridenour, 48, of Harriman were arraigned Monday on 14 counts of aggravated child abuse, seven counts of aggravated child neglect and five counts of aggravated assault, WBIR-TV reported.

The charges involve six children between the ages of 6 and 14 years old, according to an indictment handed down last week by a Roane County grand jury.

Deputies began investigating in July after receiving a referral of alleged child abuse from the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, according to the Roane County Sheriff’s Office.

The children reported being choked, kicked, punched and hit with objects, authorities said. They also reported that food was sometimes withheld as punishment.

The couple is due back in court in December.

Lawuit: Officer arrested teen as vengeance for son

The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii is among those suing the Honolulu Police Department, claiming that an officer targeted and harassed a 15-year-old boy, “motivated solely by a personal vengeance.”

The officer had the boy arrested in violation of his civil rights because the teen and the officer’s son were at odds and had fought after school, said the lawsuit filed Monday in federal court in Honolulu.

The ACLU of Hawaii, along with lawyers for the boy’s parents, said the lawsuit also seeks to end the police department’s practice of letting officers abuse their power for personal purposes.

They noted it’s another example of how Honolulu police officers abuse their power, along with the case of a now-retired police chief convicted of conspiracy in what’s considered Hawaii’s biggest corruption case. Louis Kealoha and his former deputy city prosecutor wife are scheduled to be sentenced to prison terms next month after a jury found them guilty in a plot to frame a relative to keep him from revealing fraud that funded the couple’s lavish lifestyle.

“We have probably the most corrupt police department in the nation,” said Eric Seitz, one of the attorneys representing the boy’s parents.

Josh Wisch, executive director of the ACLU of Hawaii, noted that Honolulu police officials have recently said the police abuses that have been highlighted in other parts of the U.S. don’t happen in Hawaii.

Spokespersons for the police department and the city of Honolulu didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

In 2018, a day after his son started a fight with the boy identified in the lawsuit as J.R., Officer Kirk Uemura, in his patrol car, followed the school bus as it drove the boy from the Marine Corps base where his father Jorge Rivera is stationed to Kalaheo High School, the lawsuit said.

Uemura grabbed the boy as he got off the bus and detained him in front of students and staff, the lawsuit said, for personal retribution “in an outrageous abuse of power.”

Uemura couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Monday.

The boy was taken to a police station, where he was handcuffed and shackled, the lawsuit said.

ACLU of Hawaii attorney Wookie Kim said they have tried for nearly two years to use the police disciplinary process to hold the department accountable, but there’s been little or no information about whether the officers involved were disciplined.

Jenna Rivera told reporters during an online news conference that her son is in therapy and had to repeat the ninth grade because of what happened to him. “After the incident, it was downward spiral,” she said.

Another lawyer who accused Texas AG of crimes resigns

DALLAS (AP) — Another top deputy to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is leaving his agency, continuing the exodus of lawyers who earlier this month accused the Republican of crimes including bribery and abuse of office.

Darren McCarty, the deputy attorney general over civil litigation, confirmed his resignation Monday but declined to comment further. He’s set to depart the attorney general’s office next week.

McCarty’s resignation comes as Texas is involved in a landmark antitrust lawsuit  brought with other states and the U.S. Department of Justice against Google.

Paxton’s office did not immediately respond to questions about the resignation or how the top civil lawyer’s departure might affect the case against the online search giant.

McCarty was one of seven senior lawyers who reported their boss to law enforcement for alleged crimes tied to an investigation requested by one of the Paxton’s wealthy donors. Most of them have since resigned, been put on leave or fired.

Paxton’s office dropped the investigation into claims made by Austin developer Nate Paul after his staff’s revolt became public. He has denied any wrongdoing and refused calls for him to leave office.

Grand jury charges man with murder charge in overdose death

SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — A grand jury charged a 27-year-old central Florida man with first-degree murder for his role in the overdose in January of an acquaintance who used fentanyl-laced heroin he had purchased.

Daniel Bachert was arrested in March following the January death of Jessica Ackerman, 19, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

At the time, investigators said Bachert bought the drugs that killed Ackerman, and also failed to call for help when she started to overdose at his home. He then waited hours before dropping her “lifeless” body off at a hospital, prosecutors said.

Seminole County Sheriff’s deputies initially booked Bachert on a first-degree murder charge, but prosecutors instead formally charged him with manslaughter over the summer, the newspaper reported.

But last week, when Seminole County resumed judicial proceedings after a suspension during the coronavirus pandemic, the grand jury brought the upgraded charge against Bachert, the newspaper reported. Florida law says only grand juries can formally charge

Prosecutors say Bachert was a small-scale dealer and drug user.

Assistant Public Defender Larry Kowal, who represented Bachert during his first appearance hearing in March, argued that there was no concrete evidence Bachert bought the drugs that killed Ackerman.