When she bought her car, Tinker Martin-Bowen signed a contract with an arbitration clause that took away her right to a jury trial. Only later did she realize just what she had given up.
Deborah L. Pierce, an emergency room doctor in Philadelphia, was optimistic when she brought a sex discrimination claim against the medical group that had dismissed her. Respected by colleagues, she said she had a stack of glowing evaluations and evidence that the practice had a pattern of denying women partnerships.
She began to worry, though, once she was blocked from court and forced into private arbitration.
Presiding over the case was not a judge but a corporate lawyer, Vasilios J. Kalogredis, who also handled arbitrations. When Dr. Pierce showed up one day for a hearing, she said she noticed Mr. Kalogredis having a friendly coffee with the head of the medical group she was suing.
During the proceedings, the practice withheld crucial evidence, including audiotapes it destroyed, according to interviews and documents. Dr. Pierce thought things could not get any worse until a doctor reversed testimony she had given in Dr. Pierce’s favor. The reason: Male colleagues had “clarified” her memory.
When Mr. Kalogredis ultimately ruled against Dr. Pierce, his decision contained passages pulled, verbatim, from legal briefs prepared by lawyers for the medical practice, according to documents.
“It took away my faith in a fair and honorable legal system,” said Dr. Pierce, who is still paying off $200,000 in legal costs seven years later.
If the case had been heard in civil court, Dr. Pierce would have been able to appeal, raising questions about testimony, destruction of evidence and potential conflicts of interest.
But arbitration, an investigation by The New York Times has found, often bears little resemblance to court.
Over the last 10 years, thousands of businesses across the country — from big corporations to storefront shops — have used arbitration to create an alternate system of justice. There, rules tend to favor businesses, and judges and juries have been replaced by arbitrators who commonly consider the companies their clients, The Times found.
The change has been swift and virtually unnoticed, even though it has meant that tens of millions of Americans have lost a fundamental right: their day in court.
“This amounts to the whole-scale privatization of the justice system,” said Myriam Gilles, a law professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. “Americans are actively being deprived of their rights.”
Seeking to build support for a bipartisan criminal justice overhaul, President Obama will speak to a group of police chiefs on Tuesday in his hometown of Chicago.
But Obama also plans to wade into the politically divisive issue of gun control during his speech to the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
“He will continue to push for criminal justice reforms that will make the system smarter, more effective, and more fair, while addressing the need for commonsense gun safety reforms,” a White House official said in a statement.
Obama is seeking to capitalize on bipartisan momentum behind reducing the nation’s large prison population, which could hand him a major legislative victory during his final 15 months in office.
The president and Democrats argue mass incarceration has ripped apart families across the country, especially in communities of color. Republicans have emphasized the high cost of imprisoning nonviolent drug offenders.
Obama asked Congress this summer to send him a criminal justice reform bill by year’s end. That effort took a step forward last week, when the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a proposal that would reduce certain mandatory minimum sentences.
The legislation still faces a long road to passage — the House and Senate must vote on it. But if it reaches Obama’s desk, it would be a significant achievement given partisan divisions in Congress that have been deepened by election-year politics.
At the same time, Obama has vented his frustration at lawmakers for failing to pass new restrictions on gun sales following a series of mass shootings that have cast a cloud over his presidency.
The White House is aware of the symbolism of speaking out on the issue in Chicago, where gun violence has reached record levels. The city had experienced 2,300 shootings this year as of the end of September, up by 400 at the same point in 2014. Homicides have jumped by 21 percent.
“The problem of gun violence is all too familiar to our nation’s police officers and is a critical threat to public safety and their safety,” the White House official said.
Obama said he would not be afraid to “politicize” the issue of mass shootings earlier this month after a gunman killed ten people at an Oregon community college.
The ‘Gist Settlement’ for freed slaves leads to a legal fight 200 years later
Originally published on Grist.
On Wednesday morning, for the first time in a decade, there was a US Senate hearing on agricultural biotechnology. Lawmakers are tuning into the issue for two reasons: First, the Obama administration has said that it’s time to update and modernize GMO regulations; second, there are bills pending that would either force or ban mandatory labeling of GMOs in food products.
The hearing, held by the Senate agriculture committee, provided a chance to gauge how senators are thinking about this issue. The Senate is currently mulling a bill, already passed by the House, that would set a federal standard for voluntary labeling, while also invalidating any mandatory labeling laws that states — like Vermont — have passed or might pass. I’ve gotten the sense from Politico’s reporting on this that Republicans are having a hard time finding Democratic senators to sign on to the bill, so I was a bit surprised to see a fairly pro-GMO sentiment prevailing in the hearing Tuesday morning.
Of course, this was the agriculture committee — and I’d expect some pro-GMO sentiments from Democrats with big constituencies of farmers. But I was also expecting to see some senators from more liberal states channeling anti-GMO concerns as well. Instead, I heard strong pro-GMO statements, and no senator planted a flag on anti-GMO ground.
An exchange between regulators and Heidi Heitkamp, a no-nonsense Democrat from North Dakota, was illustrative of the general tenor of the hearing. The regulators had been saying time and time again that the GMOs they approved were just as safe as any other food. So Heitkamp asked William Jordan, from the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, to explain how he shared the information he used to determine that safety with the public. Jordan began talking about making every effort toward transparency against a broader backdrop of a general decline in trust in government.
Heitkamp jumped in: “Except what people hear is blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah.”
Jordan: “I know that.”
Heitkamp: “I believe the science is so strong in this area — that these are products that will not have an adverse effect in any way on health, in fact can improve health by making food more available worldwide. And yet we seem to be losing the fight, not just on labeling but on how we are going to make these products more accessible.”
Then, turning away from Jordan, she threw the question to a USDA regulator, who began to give a similar homily about the importance of press releases and emailing stakeholders.
Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., was endorsed for House speaker by the conservative Freedom Caucus. As speaker of the state legislature in Florida, Webster gave the members more of a say, which is what conservatives in Congress want from their next leader.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., is running for speaker of the House. His chances are not good, but a look at his career explains why he’s the choice of the House Freedom Caucus.
Those conservatives in the House say they want a speaker who will not be a top-down leader, but will give members more of a say in what legislation sees action on the floor and who controls committees.
Webster says that is the mode in which he ran the Florida House of Representatives when he was the speaker in Tallahassee from 1996-98.
“Are we going to just change the personalities in the speakership?” Webster said in a web video pitching his candidacy. “Or are we going to fundamentally transform the way we do business here in Washington, D.C?”