Wednesday Reads: Flowered Floats and Fiscal Cliffs and Fruitless Lawsuits

3f05186vGood Morning

How did y’all spend your first day of 2013?

Were you watching the fiscal “parley” of enemies down in the swamp?

After seeing what as become Obama’s calling card, his apparent need for approval and for people to “like” him…that makes Obama a shitty negotiator, I could not stand the constant cliff talk on all the news channels.

If, you avoided the news frenzy over the fiscal bunny slope, as Dakinikat calls it, you can read the updates as it happened here. Boston Boomer also posted this link in the comments, you should not miss it:

Political Animal – Obama and the Anxieties of the Financial Meritocracy

Otherwise, you can take a look at the following two articles:

‘Fiscal Cliff’: Congress Passes Compromise to Avert Recession – ABC News

Amid Pressure, House Passes Fiscal Deal – NYTimes.com

(Check out Biden’s grin at that NYT link…he sure is pleased with himself.)

Yesterday was the 124th Tournament of Roses Parade . The still make those floats out of all natural flowers and plants, and even though the Rose Parade commentary can be annoying as hell, I still like to see the pictures of the floats and performers.

FireShot Screen Capture #369 - 'The 124th Tournament of Roses Parade I Jan_ 1, 2013 - Framework - Photos and Video - Visual Storytelling from the Los Angeles Times' - framework_latimes_com_2013_01_01_2013-rose-para

Dole’s “Dreaming of Paradise” float, love the flaming volcano! Click image for more photos of the parade.

This year Dole won the top trophy, the third time in a row…The colors are wonderful and brilliant, way much nicer than the other tropical color we have seen a lot of lately. You know, that tangerine orange skin tone of the big man on the hill.

Blossoming with lush tropical flowers and fresh fruits grown by Dole just for the Rose Parade, the award-winning float “Dreaming of Paradise” honored the independent family farmers from around the world that Dole partners with, and paid tribute to the beauty and bounty of Latin America’s tropical paradise.

The float, which heralded Dole’s mission of being actively involved in the communities of independent family farmers, also served as a reminder that with responsible, sustainable growing and operating practices the dream of paradise can remain alive.

To capture the essence of a tropical landscape, the Dole float featured a 26-foot erupting volcano complete with smoke and real fire shooting 20 feet into the sky over prowling tigers, fluttering butterflies, chimpanzees, parrots, dragonflies and three life-like waterfalls cascading more than 1,000 gallons of recycled water. Fully completing the spirit of Latin America, twenty Costa Rican dancers dressed in traditional costumes performed alongside the exotic and rare flowers from around the world.

That Paradise float is over 22 tons! Ooof!

FireShot Screen Capture #370 - 'The 124th Tournament of Roses Parade I Jan_ 1, 2013 - Framework - Photos and Video - Visual Storytelling from the Los Angeles Times' - framework_latimes_com_2013_01_01_2013-rose-para

This image is also from the parade, you can click that photo of the Korean dancers to see more Rose parade pictures.

Of course, New Year’s Day does not only bring floats of flowers, it also brings plenty of college football. One state university that was nowhere to be seen on any bowl game field was Penn State. Their football program was punished by the NCAA for ignoring the obvious child abuse that was taking place within their “winning” football machine. A punishment that I thought lacked enough oomph in relation to the level of pain and trauma Penn States non-action caused. Well, guess what? The State of Pennsylvania is suing the NCAA. Money is honey and it is all that matters. State of Pennsylvania to file lawsuit against NCAA

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett will announce a federal lawsuit against the NCAA tied to the historic sanctions levied against Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Corbett will hold a press conference on Wednesday morning in State College, Pa., to announce the suit, which will be filed by the state.

Penn State, which has been working in concert with the NCAA since the scandal, is not involved in preparing the suit. It is being handled solely by the state.

Corbett’s office has been vague in regard to the specific aim of the suit, but it appears to be dedicated to the overall sanctions issued by the NCAA in July. Corbett referred to them on Tuesday as “illegal sanctions.”

A wholesale suit against the NCAA by a third party as powerful as the state of Pennsylvania could loom as an important case in testing the ultimate power of the NCAA.

This suit against the NCAA could also have repercussions with any civil cases yet to be brought against Penn State University, as well as, the State of Pennsylvania because PSU is a state-run university.

Another possible suit that floated about news headlines this past week was proposed by the parents of a surviving victim of the Sandy Hook Shooting. However, it required prior approval by the state’s claims commissioner for the lawyer to even file a lawsuit against the state. Though the child’s attorney has withdrawn the request, I still feel it is an important issue that needs to be addressed.

The State of Connecticut has some of the most wealthiest residents in the nation, it also has a law that gives the state sovereign immunity against lawsuits…the only one in the country were only one person has the power to approve a suit brought against the state.  Check this out…for an Attorney to seek permission to sue the State they must first get one man to sign off on it. For a…

…lawsuit to proceed…(you) need a single man in an obscure agency in Hartford to agree — J. Paul Vance Jr., the state’s claims commissioner.

Vance’s power is unparalleled. Connecticut’s system, experts say, is unlike that of any other state.

“From the lawyers I have spoken to in other states, this is not something they have ever heard of,” said David Cooney, immediate past president of the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association.

Seems like this one man is the all powerful Oz when it comes to “who” can hold the state accountable for their actions.

The position, which dates back to the 1970s and is appointed every four years by the governor and Legislature, determines whether many types of claims of damages or injury lodged against state government are “just.”

The commissioner, after reviewing evidence and if necessary, scheduling hearings, can: Approve immediate payment of claims worth $7,500 and under; recommend the General Assembly pay or reject claims over $7,500; and allow lawsuits against Connecticut to proceed.

His decisions can only be appealed to the Legislature.

According to a decade’s worth of reports, the fewest number of claims submitted were 288 in fiscal year 2006-07, with the most — 586 — in 2004-05. Since 2004, an average of two dozen lawsuits have been allowed to proceed each year.

Hey, the state’s claims commissioner is an important and influential post. I’d imagine this dude has many ethical decisions to make every day…not just whether lawsuits are justified to move forward, but also addressing any conflicts that arise from who or what company this commissioner associates with…I mean, this is a sensitive position to hold.

The role of the claims commissioner originates with the principle of sovereign immunity: Governments should be protected from paying damages private citizens can be held liable for.

“Sovereign immunity is something we got from England,” said Richard Kay, a University of Connecticut law professor. “It originates in the phrase, `The king can do no wrong.’ Nonetheless, in modern times, given all the things a state does … you want the state accountable for its wrongs.”

So, Kay explained, processes were established for states to grant the right to be sued. Initially in Connecticut, claims were filed with the General Assembly, then a commission was created and whittled down in the 1970s to one person.

Michael Tardif, a Washington-based lawyer who in 2005 helped author a report on sovereign immunity, said many states have decided to waive that protection, instead setting damage caps to protect finances.

“In most you can go to court and file a lawsuit,” Tardif said.

Other states may also have commissions or boards that must approve lawsuits against the state, but they have several members who must vote on whether the suit can go forward or not. In Connecticut, only one man holds ALL the cards.

“It’s a bizarre, convoluted and arcane system,” said state Sen. Andrew Roraback, R-Goshen, a senior member of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, the first stop for claims appeals. “Hopefully it weeds out bad claims. The risk is it also weeds out legitimate claims.”

Cooney, who has handled around two dozen claims cases, argued, “You have one person who has the complete discretion to say either you can file a lawsuit or not … I don’t see any reason why the state should have this mechanism in place to make it incredibly difficult to sue the state when no other corporate entity or individual has the same shield.

“If a judge hears it and there’s no legal basis for a claim, the judge will render a judgement for the state,” Cooney said. “Our clients would feel they’re getting a fairer shake because they get their day in court.”

And just who is this man? Well, his name is J. Paul Vance Jr., and he gave up his Waterbury mayoral bid when he was first appointed to the position by Gov. Daniel Malloy in the Fall of 2011. (You can read about the politics of this appointment here.)

Vance, Jr’s comments have caused some concerns from litigation lawyers in Connecticut. When he was given the claims commission job, Vance’s comments to the Waterbury Republican American were:

“I’ve always been a litigator, primarily defense, so this is the perfect fit for me.”

According to Bridgeport Attorney Charles Willinger, who represents the victim of a chimp attack and has been waiting for Vance’s decision on their request to sue the state.

“The claims commissioner has been described by the Connecticut Supreme Court as `the conscience of the state.’ What he is supposed to be doing is not defending the state against claims.”

Vance declined to discuss pending matters, but he said he knows his responsibilities.

“My job is not to protect the state,” Vance said. “It’s to make sure it’s a fair process for people.”

“There is that (sovereign) immunity, and there are situations where that immunity should be yanked.”

That is a huge responsibility for Paul Vance Jr. to hold, and if the claims commissioner’s name sounds familiar, it should. His father is J. Paul Vance, Sr., the official “spokesman” for the state police in charge of the Sandy Hook investigation.

We have seen Vance Sr. in action during the past few weeks giving information, or should I say…not giving information, during press conferences about the Newtown shooting.

I’ve stated repeatedly that I have a gut feeling about the peculiar attitude of Lt. Vance Sr. at these press conferences. There is something strange about the lack of information coming forward too. As Dak mentioned in a comment a few weeks ago:

….people are trying to understand what caused this to happen or at least what factors contributed to it. The only thing that I’ve noticed about this particular shooting is that the police haven’t been very forthcoming with anything. In some of the other shootings, we had all kinds of people coming forward and the police offered up a lot of different bits and pieces of information. The Head of the State troopers hasn’t been saying anything which leads to all kinds of rumors and speculation as people try to understand how something this horrible could happen. I think it’s just people looking for answers when no information has been forthcoming from the traditional sources. Think of how we knew immediately from the Aurora Mall shooter’s school and the Tuscon Mall shooter’s school and parents about their issues. They both had to even go through the criminal justice system so it’s rather odd that the Connecticut State Police seem so tight about whatever it is they have. Again, I think it’s just rampant speculation because no has come forward with anything concrete. Probably doing the community a lot of injustice and likely the shooter and his mom who both are the sources of all kinds of media rumors.

I got the impression Lt. Vance was very defensive about giving information on the investigation. You can click this link below to review the press conference I am talking about:

WATCH: CONNECTICUT STATE POLICE UPDATE ON ELEMENTARY SCHOOL TRAGEDY

Lt. Vance has a defensive attitude about his position as the singular voice of authority for all the various agencies investigating the shootings.

Maybe that has something to with Lt. Vance’s immediate family connection to the man who must approve any lawsuits the shooting victim’s families bring against the state.

Sounds like a conflict of interest to me…

And there is a difference in the tone and substance of the information they are releasing.  Take the Columbine shooting, and how that was handled in the press:

Officials In Newtown Follow A Well-Worn Media Script

In setting himself up as the sole source of reliable information, the state police spokesman was following a well-worn script for getting control of a big, growing story, says Steve Davis, who experienced similar challenges as the official liaison to the media covering the 1999 mass shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado.

‘Brutally Honest’ When Needed

On the day of the Columbine shootings, Davis was on the phone and first realized something was wrong when officers rushed out of the office. Within minutes, he was in a car on his way to the high school, trying to make sense of dozens of early and contradictory reports.

“I know it’s hard to imagine now that it could have been any worse, but there were reports that day that we had as many as eight gunmen in the school. Some were [reportedly] hiding in ductwork,” remembers Davis, who is now the spokesman for the police department in the Denver suburb of Lakewood.

Davis said he told reporters at Columbine, “Look, let’s try to understand that there’s going to be a lot of misinformation here. I will try to confirm it and reconfirm it before I give it to you.”

But Davis said he also was “brutally honest” when needed. “Sometimes I had to tell them, ‘You know what? I do know the answer to your question, but … I can’t release it quite yet.’ “

He set up on-the-hour news conferences to keep reporters informed and control the flow of information.

“A big part of each news conference was just rumor control,” Davis says. But he took all questions and did his best to get timely answers for reporters, he says.

Davis seems to have been genuinely concerned with relaying information to the public, more forthcoming with information and less arrogant with his attitude.

Considering the state has also decided to keep affidavits and warrants sealed, is there something the state wants to keep out of the press?  Sandy Hook affidavits remain sealed

A state Superior Court judge said Thursday that search warrant affidavits for the cars and home of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter Adam Lanza and his mother would stay sealed for another 90 days.

Judge John Blawie granted motions filed Wednesday by Danbury State’s Attorney Stephen Sedensky to extend the statutory sealing period for the five warrants, including three for the Yogonanda Street home where the 20-year-old Lanza fatally shot his mother, Nancy, four times in the face on the morning of Dec. 14, before embarking on the rampage that left 20 first-graders and six educators dead.

The judge’s order also covers the two other search warrants, for the 2010 Honda Civic Adam Lanza drove to the school and for Nancy Lanza‘s 2009 silver BMW, which was parked in the garage attached to the home.

“The court finds that due to the nature and circumstances of this case and the ongoing investigation, the state’s interest in continuing nondisclosure substantially outweighs any right to public disclosure at this time,” Blawie wrote.

Those warrants and affidavits would have been made pubic 14 days after the being filed with the court.  Danbury’s State Attorney Sedensky said…

 …his applications that the affidavits contained information “not known to the general public” and that premature disclosure would “seriously jeopardize the outcome and success of the investigation” by “divulging sensitive and confidential information” known only to investigators.

Although no arrests have been made and “none are contemplated,” Sedensky also said the possibility has not been ruled out, and that releasing the information would make it difficult to solve crimes that others might have committed.

I understand the need to control the information coming out, and keep rumors and false media reports at bay, however much of the information first given by Lt. Lance was incorrect. (Like the name of the shooter, the weapons used to kill the students and faculty, etc.)

We have heard absolutely nothing new from Lt. Lance, in fact the only recent update to the investigation is reported by The Hartford Courant: Police To Re-Create Scene Outside Sandy Hook School

State police are considering partially re-creating the scene outside the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown on Dec. 14 as the first police officers responded to the mass shooting to try and answer a nagging question: Did Adam Lanza fire at police officers?

Police are discussing bringing back some of the cars that were in the school lot as the first Newtown officers and state police troopers arrived following 911 calls that was a shooter was on the loose. The cars will be placed exactly where they parked that morning as will the police cruisers of the first responders. The plan is to receate the scene in the coming week.

[…]

Police have found numerous bullets outside the school that hit at least three cars, including the one owned by Lauren Rousseau, who was killed by Lanza in her classroom along with 14 of her students and a special-education aide. The three cars that were hit, belonging to Sandy Hook staffers, were near where at least one of the first group of officers parked before running into the school, sources said.

Why weren’t these bullet holes investigated earlier?

Sources said the bullets that hit cars outside probably were fired from teacher Victoria Soto’s room. That was the second room Lanza entered as he firing at teachers and students. Soto and her aide, Mary Ann Murphy, were killed there, as were six students. Six other children escaped because, police believe, Lanza stopped firing briefly either because his gun jammed or he had trouble reloading his gun. Seven other students survived because Soto hid them in a closet.

Investigators are trying to determine if the bullets fired into the parking lot were strays as Lanza fired in Soto’s classroom or if he saw officers arriving and fired through the window at them. Investigators have done trajectory work in the classroom but now want to line up the police cars and see if it is possible some of the bullets were aimed at them.

No cruisers were hit and none of the officers interviewed so far has indicated that they were shot at. But several of the officers involved in the initial response have not been interviewed yet because they are still traumatized and they may not have realized they were being shot at as they ran towards the school.

Now, that article was published on Dec. 29th…and it states several of the initial response officers have not been interviewed yet? That seems strange to me….what do you think?

The partial re-creation will likely be one of the last things state police do at the school before wrapping up that part of the investigation. There are no plans to recreate what happened inside the school or to interview any of the students who survived, police say.

Well, it seems like police should talk to the students who survived for possible information relative to the case, it would also help these kids talk through this violent shooting that will affect them for the rest of their lives.

There have been several shooting deaths since the Sandy Hook massacre, and we know more about those crimes than we do about this shooting in Newtown. Think back to the information that was released in the days and weeks after the Holmes shooting in Aurora. The press had plenty of reports about James Holmes and what evidence they had found.

I sound like one of those conspiracy nuts, but there is a nagging in the back of my mind, and I can’t quiet let it go.

So, that is what I have for you this morning, be sure to post links to what you are reading today…hope to catch up with you later in the comment section.


Civil Trial in Orlando Has Important Implications for Athletes and Families

As everyone who hasn’t been living under a rock knows by now, there is a high profile trial going on in Orlando, Florida–complete with circus-like atmosphere and spectators fighting for tickets to see the trial live. I’m referring, of course, to the trial of Casey Anthony, accused of first degree murder in the death of her daughter Caylee.

The Anthony trial is getting wall-to-wall coverage on TV stations in Florida, as well as on a couple of cable outlets, but there is another case beginning jury selection today in the same Orange County Courthouse that may have wider implications for families around the country and for high school and college athletic programs.

A sickle cell with normal blood cells

In March, 2008, Ereck Plancher, a 19-year-old freshman at the University of Central Florida (UCF), collapsed and died after a preseason football practice. An autopsy showed that Plancher died from complications associated with sickle cell trait.

In March 2009, Plancher’s parents filed suit for wrongful death against UCF’s board of trustees and Athletics Association claiming that their son’s coaches and trainers knew that Plancher had the sickle cell trait but didn’t inform him or his family. In addition, they charge that UCF athletic staff failed respond when Plancher began to exhibit symptoms during the his last practice and therefore they contributed to his death.

Basically, individuals with this trait are carriers of one sickle cell gene–they are heterozygous. In order for sickle cell disease to fully manifest, an individual must have two copies of the abnormal gene. However, it is possible for sickle cell symptoms to appear under highly stressful conditions such as high altitudes, extreme physical exertion, or dehydration. In such instances, there can be dangerous complications. The sickle cell gene is far more common in people with African heritage than people from other ethnic backgrounds. The NCAA and some colleges and universities have resisted testing players for the trait for fear of being accused of racial discrimination.

The most egregious allegation is that the coach and trainers withheld water from players during the workout, and this was backed up in pre-trial testimony by three former UCF players, Nate Tice, Cody Minnich, and Anthony Davis. Tice and Minnich testified in a hearing on Friday.

When Tice was asked during his deposition whether water was available during Plancher’s last workout, he responded, “No.”

Tice, a reserve quarterback who transferred to Wisconsin, said players asked for water from athletic trainers “at your own risk” because O’Leary would curse at athletes who interrupted workouts.

Tice was then asked whether there were athletic trainers present during Plancher’s last workout. Tice said, “They were in a corner. They were not, like, with us.”

Minnich, a reserve offensive lineman who was dismissed from the team after being arrested for driving under the influence in December 2008, said during his deposition there was no water available in the practice facility while the players were running through an obstacle course and sprints.

“They were ordered to take the water outside of the building, and they weren’t there during that portion of the workout,” Minnich said of the athletic trainers.

When he was asked who ordered the athletic trainers to leave, Minnich said O’Leary shouted the instructions.

The question of adequate hydration is central to the case. The judge decided on Friday that Plancher’s parents can sue for punitive damages, but they will only be awarded if the jury decides water was unavailable during the practice.

Ereck Plancher

Tice and Minnich bolstered the previous testimony of Anthony Davis.

UCF officials, including O’Leary and athletic director Keith Tribble, said in the immediate aftermath of Plancher’s death that the workout in which he collapsed was not a taxing one. However, former wide receiver Anthony Davis said in his sworn statement that trainers didn’t help Plancher as he struggled to finish an obstacle course. He also told attorneys that he witnessed O’Leary curse Plancher at times when he couldn’t keep up with other teammates.

Davis also told attorneys that he witnessed O’Leary curse Plancher at times when he couldn’t keep up with other teammates.

Ereck Plancher is not the first athlete to die from complications of sickle cell trait.

CNN reports that nine collegiate football players’ deaths have been related to sickle-cell trait since 2000, making exertional sickling the leading cause of death in NCAA football players this decade.” But “the medical field is divided over whether there is enough evidence to warrant the mass screenings,” because the way the trait is related to the deaths is “unclear,” CNN reports.

According to the Washington Post, there have been four such deaths in Florida alone.

Four in-state college football players have died in the past decade while participating in offseason workouts: Plancher; South Florida’s Keeley Dorsey; Florida’s Eraste Autin; and Florida State’s Devaughn Darling.

Devaughn Darling’s twin brother Devard, who went on to play in the NFL, spoke about his brother’s death and about having the sickle cell trait in this 2007 USA Today story.

“I believe it had some effect on him, definitely,” said Devard Darling. “My teammates, who were there at the time, said he was saying he couldn’t see, he was blacking out. … Clearly, there were signs for him to stop. There was definitely room for coaches and athletic trainers to step in and say that’s enough.”

Devard said he’s had no problems with the condition and has always done “all team activities.”

But, he added, “I know my body. It’s important for young athletes as they grow to know their limitations. The No. 1 thing is staying hydrated. … But there is a point at which you know something is not right. You need a little rest.”

He added, “I’m sure it’s not just me (participating in pro sports with sickle cell trait). They say one out of every 10-12 people of African descent carries the sickle cell trait. You know the high amount of African-Americans in pro sports.”

The Darling family received a $200,000 settlement from Florida State (the amount was $2 million, but Florida limits the amount that can be paid in a wrongful death suit!).

Devard has set up a foundation in his native Bahamas to support the brothers’ “dream of bringing football home to the Bahamas and creating opportunities for young kids.” The As One Foundation gets its name from the twins’ hearts beating “as one” in the womb.

A similar wrongful death lawsuit was recently filed in Mississippi.

The family of a deceased Ole Miss football player filed a wrongful death lawsuit Tuesday against the NCAA, the University of Mississippi, coach Houston Nutt as well as several staffers and medical personnel.

Bennie “Buster” Abram died in February 2010 following an early offseason workout due to complications from sickle cell trait. His parents alleged in a 32-page document filed in Mississippi circuit court that the defendants were so “reckless” that their actions rise to “the level of crimes such as” negligent criminal homicide and involuntary manslaughter.

[….]

Bennie Abram III, a walk-on, collapsed shortly after an early-morning workout on Feb. 19, 2010. Six hours later he was pronounced dead. Three months later, an autopsy determined sickle cell trait had contributed to his death. At the time, Abram was the 21st NCAA football player to die from a non-traumatic event since 2000. Eleven of those deaths had come in Division I-A. Sickle cell trait remains the leading killer of Division I football players since that year.

The NCAA did not mandate testing for the condition until last year. That move resulted from a legal settlement between the family of deceased Rice player Dale Lloyd II and the NCAA in 2009. Eugene Egdorf, the lead attorney in Abram’s lawsuit, represented the Lloyd family. Dale Lloyd died in 2006 as a result of sickle cell trait following a workout.

“[Bennie’s] death is a tragedy that should have been prevented,” Egdorf said in a release announcing Tuesday’s suit. “Every sickle cell expert in the world will tell you that the only way this trait can cause a student-athlete’s death is when they are put through overly strenuous workouts like the one Bennie went through before he died.”

Again, in this case, university officials knew the young man had the sickle cell trait and did not inform him or his family or take special precautions.

The NCAA now mandates testing for sickle cell trait for all Division I athletes, but there is an opt-out for students who sign a waiver.

Kourtni Livingston

In my opinion, screening for the trait should be instituted at every level of student athletics. Certainly there should also be protections to keep people who test positive from being discriminated against. High school athletes can also be stressed enough for the symptoms to manifest, as demonstrated in the case of 14-year-old Lubbock, Texas basketball player Kourtni Livingston, who died while running laps.

As one of the attorneys in the Ereck Plancher case emphasized:

“This is not a case about punitive damages or about insurance, it’s about saving lives,” Plancher attorney Steven Yerrid said recently. “It’s not about compensating the Plancher family. It’s about stopping football programs from disregarding safety of student athletes that participate in them. And that’s important and that’s the message. Punitive damages are not designed to compensate plaintiffs. … They’re designed to punish wrongdoers and to send a message that type of conduct won’t be tolerated.