Court Digest

New York
‘Judge Judy’ sues for defamation over National Enquirer, InTouch Weekly stories

NEW YORK (AP) — “Judge Judy” Sheindlin sued the parent company of the National Enquirer and InTouch Weekly on Monday for a story that she said falsely claimed that she was trying to help the Menendez brothers get a retrial after they were convicted of murdering their parents.

The story was first published on InTouch Weekly’s website on April 10 under the headline “Inside Judge Judy’s Quest to Save the Menendez Brothers Nearly 35 Years After Their Parents’ Murder,” according to the lawsuit, filed in circuit court in Collier County, Florida.

A version of the story later appeared in the National Enquirer, a sister publication to InTouch Weekly also owned by Accelerate360 Media. The 1989 Menendez murders in Beverly Hills, California, was a case of some tabloid renown.

Sheindlin said she’s had nothing to say about the case. Her lawsuit speculated that the news outlets used statements in a Fox Nation docuseries made by “Judi Ramos,” a woman identified as an alternate juror in the first Menendez trial, and misattributed them to the television judge.

There was no immediate comment from Accelerate360, whose attempt to sell the National Enquirer last year fell through.

Sheindlin does not ask for a specific amount of damages, but made clear it wouldn’t be cheap.

“When you fabricate stories about me in order to make money for yourselves with no regard for the truth or the reputation I’ve spent a lifetime cultivating, it’s going to cost you,” she said in a statement.
“When you’ve done it multiple times, it’s unconscionable and will be expensive. It has to be expensive so that you will stop.”

Sheindlin, who hosted the syndicated “Judge Judy” through 2021 and now hosts “Judy Justice,” has had run-ins with the Enquirer in the past.

In 2017, the newspaper retracted and apologized for stories that falsely claimed she suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and depression and had cheated on her husband.

U.S. Supreme Court denies state’s appeal for immunity for COVID-19 deaths at San Quentin

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday denied an appeal from California corrections officials who sought immunity from lawsuits claiming they acted with deliberate indifference when they caused a deadly COVID-19 outbreak at one of the world’s most famous prisons four years ago.

The justices turned down the appeal without comment or dissent.

The lawsuit stemmed from the botched transfer of infected inmates in May 2020 from a Southern California prison to San Quentin, which at the time had no infections. The coronavirus then quickly sickened 75% of inmates at the prison north of San Francisco, leading to the deaths of 28 inmates and a correctional officer.

California now faces four lawsuits from the relatives of those who died as well as from inmates and staff who were infected but survived.

“The state has had its due process all the way to the Supreme Court. They’re not getting off on a technicality,” Michael J. Haddad, an attorney for the families, said in a statement following the high court’s decision. “Now it’s time to face the facts. Prison administrators killed 29 people in what the 9th Circuit called a ‘textbook case’ of deliberate indifference.”

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said Monday that it does not comment on active legal proceedings.

Prison officials “ignored virtually every safety measure” in making the transfers, Marin County Superior Court Judge Geoffrey Howard wrote in a 2021 tentative ruling in the case.

In 2021, California workplace safety regulators hit San Quentin with a $421,880 fine, one of the largest pandemic-related penalties against an employer.

State Sen. Mike McGuire, who represents the San Quentin area, called the deaths “completely avoidable” and said the transfer never should have happened. “I don’t say this lightly, but this is a failure of leadership,” McGuire said during a 2020 Senate oversight hearing.

Lawyers for the state have maintained prison officials took numerous steps to try to protect inmates from infection, including temporarily reducing the population of the state’s oldest prison by 40%, short of the 50% recommended in June 2020 by health experts.

Prison officials said the botched transfer itself was a flawed but well-intentioned effort to move 121 vulnerable inmates away from an outbreak at the California Institution for Men in Chino.

Man who rammed rental truck into barriers at White House pleads guilty to felony

A Missouri man who crashed a rental truck into White House barriers and showed a Nazi flag before his arrest last year pleaded guilty on Monday to damaging government property, court records show.

Sai Varshith Kandula, 20, drove a U-Haul truck onto a sidewalk, sending pedestrians running for safety, before ramming it into metal bollard barriers near White House grounds. He nearly struck two people who were standing next to a park bench, but nobody was injured.

Kandula faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to a felony charge of depredation of government property. U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich is scheduled to sentence him on Aug. 23.

Prosecutors agreed to recommend a prison sentence no longer than eight years for Kandula, but the judge isn’t bound by that term of his plea agreement.

Kandula, then 19, flew from St. Louis to Washington, D.C., and rented the truck in Herndon, Virginia, before crashing it into the barriers on May 22, 2023. After Kandula backed up and slammed into the bollards a second time, the disabled truck began smoking from its engine compartment and leaking fluids.

Kandula was arrested after he exited the truck and retrieved a flag bearing a Nazi swastika from his backpack. Authorities didn’t find any weapons, ammunition or explosives in his possession.

Kandula told Secret Service agents that his goal was to “get to the White House, seize power and be put in charge of the nation,” according to prosecutors.

“When agents asked how (Kandula) would seize power, he stated he would ‘Kill the President if that’s what I have to do and would hurt anyone that would stand in my way,’” prosecutors wrote.

Kandula, who is from the St. Louis suburb of Chesterfield, Missouri, said he bought the flag online because he admires Adolf Hitler and the Nazis’ “great history,” according to prosecutors.

Defense attorney Scott Rosenblum said Kandula is taking medication to treat schizophrenia. Rosenblum said he expects to have a medical specialist address the court at Kandula’s sentencing.

GOP AGs sue administration and California over rules on gas-powered trucks

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A large group of Republican attorneys general on Monday took legal action against the Biden administration and California over new emissions limits for trucks.

Nebraska Attorney General Mike Hilgers is leading the group of GOP attorneys general who filed a petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to overturn an Environmental Protection Agency rule limiting truck emissions.

A separate lawsuit against California claims a phased-in ban on internal-combustion trucks is unconstitutional and will hurt the U.S. economy.

Hilgers in a statement said the EPA and California rules “will devastate the trucking and logistics industry, raise prices for customers, and impact untold number of jobs across Nebraska and the country.”

“There’s not one trucking charging station in the state of Nebraska,” Hilgers later told reporters. “Trying to take that industry, which was built up over decades with diesel and fossil fuels-based infrastructure, and transforming it to an electric-based infrastructure – it’s probably not feasible.”

EPA officials have said the strict emissions standards will help clean up some of the nation’s largest sources of planet-warming greenhouse gases.

The new EPA rules are slated to take effect for model years 2027 through 2032, and the agency has said they will avoid up to 1 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions over the next three decades.

Emissions restrictions could especially benefit an estimated 72 million people in the U.S. who live near freight routes used by trucks and other heavy vehicles and bear a disproportionate burden of dangerous air pollution, the agency has said.

A spokesperson for the EPA declined to comment on the legal challenge to the new rules Monday, citing the pending litigation.

California rules being challenged by Republican attorneys general would ban big rigs and buses that run on diesel from being sold in California starting in 2036.

An email seeking comment from California’s Air Resources Board was not immediately answered Monday.

California has been aggressive in trying to rid itself of fossil fuels, passing new rules in recent years to phase out gas-powered cars, trucks, trains and lawn equipment in the nation’s most populous state.
Industries, and Republican leaders in other states, are pushing back.

Another band of GOP-led states in 2022 challenged California’s authority to set emissions standards that are stricter than rules set by the federal government. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit last month ruled that the states failed to prove how California’s emissions standards would drive up costs for gas-powered vehicles in their states.

States that joined Nebraska’s latest action against the EPA are: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.

States that joined Nebraska’s lawsuit against California are: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Former frat member pleads guilty in hazing that caused brain damage, blindness

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — A former member of a University of Missouri fraternity has pleaded guilty in the hazing of another student that caused blindness and significant brain damage.

Ryan P. Delanty of Manchester, Missouri, pleaded guilty Friday in Boone County to supplying liquor to a minor and misdemeanor hazing, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. As part of a plea agreement, prosecutors will recommend a six-month jail sentence followed by six months of house arrest. Sentencing is May 24.

The hazing in October 2021 at a Phi Gamma Delta fraternity event left freshman Danny Santulli unable to see, walk or speak.

“Ryan understands the gravity of the situation, and he’s pleased to reach a resolution that avoided a trial,” said Delanty’s lawyer, Stephanie Fortus.

Santulli was pledging the fraternity in October when he was found unresponsive due to alcohol poisoning. Authorities said his blood alcohol content was 0.486, six times the legal limit.

The fraternity chapter was shut down. Santulli’s relatives filed a civil lawsuit against the fraternity and 23 members. It was settled for an unspecified amount in 2022.

Another fraternity member, Thomas Shultz of Chesterfield, Missouri, pleaded guilty in April to supplying liquor to a minor. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail, two years of probation, and was ordered to perform community service and complete a drug and alcohol education program.