Court Digest

Doctor pleads guilty in opioid overdose death

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee doctor has pleaded guilty to causing the overdose death of a patient by illegally prescribing the painkiller hydrocodone, federal prosecutors said.
Thomas K. Ballard III faces 20 years in prison under a plea agreement, the U.S. attorney’s office in Memphis said Wednesday. Sentencing is set for Sept. 21.
Ballard was one of 53 medical professionals in the U.S. who were indicted in April 2019 on federal charges related to the illegal prescribing of painkillers.
Ballard, 63, operated the Ballard Clinic in Jackson. Ballard prescribed addictive drugs without any legitimate medical purpose and “engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with several female patients while he ignored red flags that they were abusing the medications he prescribed,” the U.S. attorney’s office said in a news release.
Ballard ignored one patient’s past problems with drugs and psychiatric issues when he prescribed medications for her, including the opioid hydrocodone, prosecutors said.
Ballard issued the patient a hydrocodone prescription in May 2015 — before she fatally overdosed, prosecutors said.

West Virginia
Probation for ex-VA hospital doc who admitted fondling women

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (AP) — A former physician at a West Virginia’s veterans hospital was sentenced to probation Wednesday after pleading guilty to touching two female staffer’s breasts without permission.
The sentencing of Dr. Kenneth C. Ramdat, 65, of Silver Spring, Maryland, comes a month after a former nursing assistant at the Louis A. Johnson VA Hospital in Clarksburg was sentenced to seven consecutive life terms for giving seven elderly veterans fatal injections of insulin.
Prosecutors said the separate incidents involving Ramdat occurred as he hugged the women in 2019. He pleaded guilty Wednesday to two counts of simple assault. A U.S. magistrate judge then followed the prosecution’s recommendation and sentenced him to a year’s probation, The Exponent Telegram  reported.
According to a plea agreement, Ramdat will not be required to register as a sex offender.
Ramdat apologized in court and called his behavior “repulsive,” the newspaper said. He has retired from the Veterans Affairs system, according to statements in court.
Ramdat’s plea “is a step in the right direction to giving the women affected by his horrific actions the justice they deserve,” said U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. “The systemic negligence at the Clarksburg VAMC must be addressed and dealt with. Accountability begins at the top, and I am committed to working with VA Secretary McDonough and as a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to ensure that these serious issues are addressed.”
In May, a federal judge called ex-nursing assistant Reta Mays “the monster that no one sees coming” before sentencing her on seven counts of second-degree murder for intentionally injecting the veterans with unprescribed insulin.
Mays, who has a history of mental health issues, offered no explanation for why she killed the men. But U.S. District Judge Thomas Kleeh told her “you knew what you were doing.”

Lawyer: City wants to jail him for release of video

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A Virginia attorney and law professor filed a federal lawsuit against the government of Louisiana’s capital city Wednesday, saying police there sought a court order that could land him in jail him for releasing video of a questionable arrest and the warrantless home search.
Thomas Frampton’s lawsuit says Baton Rouge police sought a contempt of juvenile court ruling against him, even though there was no juvenile court case involved, and the video at issue had been part of a public court record for months.
“They seek to jail him for speech,” says the lawsuit.
Attorneys for Frampton include Katie Schwartzmann, director of the First Amendment Clinic at the Tulane Law School in New Orleans.
The case arises from the January 2020 traffic stop and arrest by Baton Rouge police of Clarence Green. The case led to a federal gun charge against Green but it was later dropped by prosecutors. A federal judge, in accepting the decision to drop charges, lambasted the police for violating Green’s rights “first by initiating a traffic stop on the thinnest of pretext, and then by haphazardly invading Defendant’s home (weapons drawn) to conduct an unjustified, warrantless search.”
Frampton, a University of Virginia law professor, represented Green in a civil lawsuit against the city that was settled for $35,000, according to the lawsuit.
It was after a story, including some of the video, appeared on network television that, according to Frampton’s suit, the city filed to have found in “contempt of juvenile court.” But, Frampton said, there was never a juvenile court proceeding involved. Green’s younger brother, a juvenile, had been in the car with him the night of the stop, but he was never charged, according to the suit.
Frampton said the city’s contempt filing, which could result in jail time, was in retaliation for adverse publicity.
“These actions would chill the speech of a person of ordinary firmness, and in fact have chilled the speech of Professor Frampton, who cancelled additional media events after learning of the Defendants’ retaliatory conduct,” the suit says. “A court proceeding against a lawyer is a serious threat to that individual’s liberty, but also to their licensure and career.”
The city did not immediately respond Wednesday to an emailed request for comment. The city’s juvenile court petition, a copy of which was provided with the lawsuit, said the edited videos released led to “negative correspondence from the public” and that the city sought to release all of the video to help “accurately explain the events” leading to Green’s arrest.
Relief sought in Frampton’s lawsuit includes a court order stopping the city from retaliating against him or trying to keep anyone “from releasing material documenting behavior of the Baton Rouge Police Department.”

30 years for man who used child to make sexual abuse videos

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — A Coos Bay man has been sentenced to three decades in federal prison after he admitted to using a 3-year-old child to make videos of sexual abuse and disseminated them online.
Keith James Atherton, 33, pleaded guilty to using a minor to produce a visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.
U.S. District Judge Ann L. Aiken sentenced him Wednesday to the maximum prison term of 30 years followed by a life term of supervised release, in federal court in Eugene. He must also register as a sex offender.
Atherton played some of the videos during a video conference with a group exchanging child exploitation videos and discussing sexual abuse of children, according to federal prosecutors.
He live-streamed video of a home, and investigators identified Atherton and his residence, according to court records.
Federal agents from Homeland Security Investigations and Coos County Sheriff’s deputies raided his home in July 2018 and seized abusive videos Atherton had made.
Investigators seized devices containing at least 35,000 images and 8,000 videos depicting the sexual abuse of infants, toddlers, and young children, according to court records.

Philadelphia to pay bail funds over lack of out-of-cell time

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Philadelphia will pay a one-time $125,000 fine to two local bail funds after a judge found reasonable evidence that the city had violated a court order to allow three hours of out-of-cell time for people incarcerated at its prison facilities.
A hearing scheduled for Wednesday for contempt of court motions was canceled in lieu of the city’s agreement to pay the settlement. An ongoing class action lawsuit over conditions at the city’s jails was filed in April of last year by 10 inmates and cited deteriorating conditions in several of the facilities including mold and exposed wiring as well as some inmates complaining of 24-hour lockdowns.
Lawyers with the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and two private law firms, who filed the federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of the prisoners, said the continual lockdowns meant prisoners had no contact with their families through phone calls, no time to shower and inadequate exercise.
Attorneys for the inmates said they filed the contempt motion after receiving consistent reports that inmates were not getting out-of-cell time in compliance with the January 2021 court order.
City spokesperson Deana Gamble said the complaints were focused on incidents from the end of May and beginning of June. She said the city decided the settlement agreement was in the best interest of the taxpayers and the inmate population, saying low community and facility COVID infection rates have started allowing for larger groups of inmates to be out of their cells at the same time and for longer periods of time.
The money will be paid directly to the Philadelphia Bail Fund and the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund, both of which work to secure pre-trial release for people who remain in jail solely because they can’t afford the bail set in their cases. It was unclear Wednesday how many people would be released with the funds.
“We’re encouraged that the City is taking steps to improve conditions in the jails,” Candace McKinley, lead organizer with the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund wrote in an emailed statement. “But these are small steps compared to what is needed, including large reductions in the jail population.”
According to court documents, jail officials will have until July 12 to show they’ve made reasonable efforts to increase out-of-cell time beyond what is mandated by the court, as well as to produce a plan to return to pre-pandemic operating levels.
The court orders in place require the jail to implement a plan that allows 4.5 to 5 hours of time outside of cells for vaccinated units, 3.5 hours per day for general population, 3 hours for quarantined units and one hour for those held in segregation units like protective custody.

Judge: Medicaid expansion unconstitutional

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri judge on Wednesday ruled that a ballot measure to expand Medicaid is unconstitutional, meaning hundreds of thousands of newly eligible adults won’t be able to access the health insurance program July 1 as promised.
Cole County Circuit Court Judge Jon Beetem wrote that the voter-approved amendment unconstitutionally sought to force lawmakers to set aside money for the expansion.
Under the Constitution, lawmakers can’t be forced to make appropriations unless the ballot measure includes a funding mechanism.
Beetem wrote that the amendment “indirectly requires the appropriation of revenues not created by the initiative and is therefore unconstitutional.”
Voters approved Medicaid expansion last August, passing a constitutional amendment by 53% of the vote. It was set to take effect July 1.
But Republican Gov. Mike Parson declined to provide coverage for an estimated 275,000 newly eligible low-income adults after the GOP-led Legislature refused to provide any extra funding to do so in the state budget.
Three low-income women, including two mothers, sued the state to try to force Parson’s administration to give them the health insurance coverage. The plaintiff’s lawyers said they will appeal Beetem’s decision.
Beetem’s ruling deals a major blow to supporters of Medicaid expansion. It all but guarantees that the thousands of newly eligible low-income adults under the amendment won’t have access to the program.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs in a statement wrote that a question over the amendment’s constitutionality wasn’t even raised before the judge during Monday’s trial.
“We are disappointed in today’s ruling, but believe the Court of Appeals will disagree,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote in a statement.
Attorneys defending Parson’s administration declined to comment, citing an appeal.
During the trial, Solicitor General John Sauer had argued that additional funding approved by lawmakers was needed in order for Parson to enact the amendment.
Missouri’s Medicaid program currently does not cover most adults without children, and its income eligibility threshold for parents is one of the lowest in the nation, at about one-fifth of the poverty level.