Posts Tagged ‘consent decrees’

Baltimore, DOJ sign police consent decree

Yesterday the city of Baltimore signed a 227-page consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice putting the city’s police department under wide-ranging federal control for the indefinite future (earlier).

The decree (document; summary of high points) mingles some terms that rise to genuine constitutional significance with others that no court would have ordered, and yet others that appear not to be requirements of the law at all, but at most best practices. Many are virtually or entirely unenforceable (“professional and courteous” interaction with citizens). Whether or not the decree results in the less frequent violation of citizens’ rights, it is certain to result in large amounts of new spending and in the extension of the powers of lawyers working for various parties.

In November David Meyer Lindenberg of Fault Lines, the criminal justice website, wrote this opinion piece about the failure of DoJ police reform consent decrees to live up to the high claims often made for them (more: Scott Shackford, Reason). Our consent decrees tag traces the problems with these devices in a variety of public agencies such as those handling children’s and mental health services, as well as the budgetary rigidity they often impose.

Since Congress passed enabling legislation in 1994 in the aftermath of the Rodney King beating, the Washington Post and Frontline reported in a 2015 investigation, “Twenty-six [police] investigations — a little more than half of them since President Obama took office — have led to the most rigorous outcome: binding agreements tracked by monitors. More than half were consent decrees, meaning they were approved and managed in federal court.” As of that point only Ohio, at 4 agreements, had had more than Maryland, at 3.

This 2008 report from the Alabama Policy Institute by Michael DeBow, Gary Palmer, and John J. Park, Jr. takes a critical view of the decrees’ use in institutional reform litigation (not specifically police), and comes with a foreword by Sen. Jeff Sessions, now the nominee to replace Loretta Lynch as Attorney General of the U.S. Speaking of which, there’s something so weird about some liberals’ eagerness to hand the keys to big-city police departments over to Mr. Sessions. It’s as if they think once Main Justice is calling the shots it won’t think of using that leverage on issues like, say, sanctuary cities.

Consent decrees: the cost to kids

13 years after Ross Sandler and David Schoenbrod’s groundbreaking book Democracy by Decree, small groups of litigators, experts, special masters and other insiders continue to run many government agencies under what are known as consent decrees, court-enforced agreements to resolve litigation. Children’s services are particularly affected: “the Illinois child-welfare system is burdened by 10 different consent decrees, including one that has lasted nearly 40 years.” But the decrees often work against the real interests of the intended beneficiaries, argue Maura Corrigan and John Bursch in a paper for the American Enterprise Institute. By design, it is made hard to get out from under a decree, which can leave the small controlling group in control indefinitely: Connecticut’s 25-year-old child-welfare consent decree “contains 22 outcome measures that all must be met and sustained for six months before exit,” which has never happened.

Environment roundup

  • Judge Royce Lamberth: EPA “offensively unapologetic” about its failures to comply with FOIA requests [Josh Gerstein/Politico, Washington Post, Courthouse News]
  • Cato President and CEO John Allison to Senators Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.): “Your letter of February 25, 2015 is an obvious attempt to chill research into and funding of public policy projects you don’t like. … you abuse your authority when you attempt to intimidate people who don’t share your political beliefs.” [Patrick Michaels, Cato; earlier Allison rebuff to intimidating tactics by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)]
  • Smithfield Foods questions plaintiffs’ lawyers’ client recruitment methods in North Carolina farm-nuisance suit [Wilmington Star News]
  • “Can Market Urbanism Revive U.S. Cities?” [Scott Beyer]
  • Addressing sweetheart don’t-force-us-to-regulate consent decrees: “Sunshine for Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act” would “require regulatory agencies to give public notice when they learn of a lawsuit that could eventually impose a federal rule” and “[give] outside parties an opportunity to intervene in the court case” [American Action Forum, U.S. Chamber in 2013]
  • After nine-year battle, Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service will let Native American pastor use sacred eagle feathers [WSJ via Becket Fund, Kristina Arriaga, Daily Caller, earlier on eagle feathers and the law here, here, etc.]
  • “Yes, Gov. Whitman, states may choose which federal laws to implement” [Jonathan Adler]

November 13 roundup

  • Italian appellate court overturns conviction of seismologists on manslaughter charges following 2009 L’Aquila earthquake [Lowering the Bar, earlier]
  • “The most ominous outcome in last week’s election: A band of big-bucks civil attorneys almost picked off an Illinois Supreme Court justice because they believe he’s a threat to their big paydays.” [Chicago Tribune on Karmeier retention] More: lawyers aren’t through with him yet [Madison County Record]
  • They were expecting any different? “Landlords Say de Blasio Ignores Their Plight” [New York Times]
  • “Liberties,” they said: New York Civil Liberties Union represented complainants who got couple fined $13,000 for not renting farm for a same-sex wedding [Ann Althouse]
  • Michael Greve on citizen suits, deadline-forcing consent decrees, and “sue and settle” [Liberty and Law] Why Germany rejects the citizen-suit device [same]
  • Harry Reid planning to push through large number of nominees in lame duck session, few more controversial than Sharon Block at NLRB [On Labor] (7 a.m. Thursday update: White House withdraws Block)
  • Maricopa County, Ariz. sheriff and perennial Overlawyered favorite Joe Arpaio sues building owners after sidewalk trip/fall “as he headed to a restaurant to get a bowl of soup” [AP/Yuma Sun]

Environmental roundup

  • Julie Gunlock, from her new book, on killer garden hoses [Free-Range Kids]
  • “EPA and the Army Corps’ ‘Waters of the U.S.’ Proposal: Will it Initiate Regulatory Overflow?” [Samuel Boxerman with Lisa Jones, WLF]
  • Federal rules governing land ownership on Indian reservations ensure waste and neglect [Chris Edwards, Cato]
  • “Zoning’s Racist Roots Still Bear Fruit” [A. Barton Hinkle]
  • Victor Fleischer: Pigouvian taxes on externalities beloved of economists, not so great as actionable policy [TaxProf]
  • So economically and so environmentally destructive, it’s got to be federal ethanol policy [Hinkle]
  • “Regulation Through Sham Litigation: The Sue and Settle Phenomenon” [Andrew Grossman for Heritage on a consent-decree pattern found in environmental regulation and far beyond; Josiah Neeley, The Federalist]

Environmental roundup

  • Behind costly EPA crackdown on wood-burning stoves, a whiff of sweetheart lawsuits? [Larry Bell]
  • Reminder: California’s Prop 65 doesn’t actually improve public health, makes lawyers rich, and harasses business [Michael Marlow, WSJ]
  • “What I learned from six months of GMO research: None of it matters” [Nathanael Johnson, Grist]
  • Eminent domain threatens store owner in Fire Island’s Saltaire [NYP]
  • In case you haven’t seen this one: chemical content of all-natural foods [James Kennedy Monash]
  • “The court ordered that the county pay the turtles’ attorneys fees.” [Dan Lewis, Now I Know]
  • “On the government’s books, the switch [from steel to aluminum in Ford’s new F-150 pickup] is a winner because MPG goes up.” [William Baldwin, Forbes]

Environmental roundup

In mental health care, a legacy of litigation

Starting in the 1960s a wave of foundation-backed lawsuits (Wyatt v. Stickney, etc.) resulted in the closure or drastic shrinkage of most larger state mental health facilities, with the hope that patients would benefit instead from more humane and decentralized “community-based care.” I have decidedly mixed feelings about the results of that episode: the old system inflicted abuses and deprivation of freedom that cried out for oversight and reform, but the new system has handed a great deal of power to unaccountable litigators managing consent decrees in pursuit of their own, sometimes quite debatable, view of clients’ and society’s best interest. Among the roads not taken: strengthening the inspectorate concept, which places oversight authority in a class of appointees intended to be independent of the care institutions but answerable to judges, elected officials, or both. I’m quoted at length on these issues in Neil Maghami’s new Capital Research Center profile of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, a key funder of the suits.

Environmental roundup