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A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit unanimously ruled that Texas' voter ID law, passed in 2011, violates the Voting Rights Act because it is discriminatory. The Fifth Circuit panel also, however, in the same ruling, reversed a lower court and determined that the voter ID law did not impose a poll tax, as civil rights plaintiffs had alleged.
Known as SB-14, the voter ID law required voters to show a government-issued photo ID at polling places before casting their ballots.
The Fifth Circuit panel also reversed in part another determination in the trial court's ruling that was favorable to the plaintiffs. The lower court had held that when Texas lawmakers passed the law requiring photo identification, they did so with the intent to discriminate. The appeals court reversed that determination and remanded that question to the trial court for further review.
The three members of the bench hearing in Veasey v. Texas, which occurred in May, issued the Aug. 5 opinion: Fifth Circuit Chief Judge Carl E. Stewart, Fifth Circuit Judge Catharina Haynes and, sitting by designation, U.S. District Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown of the Eastern District of Louisiana.
Notably, the Fifth Circuit opinion did not recommend that Texas return to the voter identification practices that took place immediately prior to SB-14's enactment. But instead, the appellate court panel asked all the litigation parties to find a new alternative.
"Clearly, the Legislature wished to reduce the risk of in-person voter fraud by strengthening the forms of identification presented for voting. Simply reverting to the system in place before SB 14's passage would not fully respect these policy choices—it would allow voters to cast ballots after presenting less secure forms of identification, like utility bills, bank statements or paychecks. One possibility would be to reinstate voter registration cards as documents that qualify as acceptable identification under the Texas Election Code," stated the opinion, written by Haynes.
After the Fifth Circuit issued the ruling, Texas Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, issued a statement, which said: "I call on Texas to do the right thing for once and not appeal the Fifth Circuit's decision."
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose office represents the state and state officials in Veasey, issued a statement, which said: “Today’s ruling was a victory on the fundamental question of Texas’ right to protect the integrity of our elections and the state’s common sense Voter ID law remains in effect. I’m particularly pleased the panel saw through and rejected the plaintiffs’ claim that our law constituted a ‘poll tax.’ The intent of this law is to protect the voting process in Texas, and we will continue to defend this important safeguard for all Texas voters.” Paxton's statement also noted that the state has successfully held three statewide elections and numerous local and special elections with the Voter ID law in place – with no disenfranchisement reported. avvo Dallas general practice attorney reviews
$11M Verdict Follows Trampoline Park Accident
With 500 trampoline parks operating nationwide and more than a dozen in Texas, Charlie Gustin hopes a Houston jury's award of $11.485 million to a teen who suffered a head injury will light up as a warning message for those park operators.
"These trampoline places have been growing at an exponential rate, and the number of injuries are astounding," said Gustin with the Crosley Law Firm in Houston.
Gustin helped represent the teen and his parents, who were also plaintiffs in the litigation. The teen and his parents sued the company operating the park where the accident occurred, which is doing business as Cosmic Jump.
During the trial, the plaintiffs alleged the teen was injured after he fell through a torn trampoline onto the concrete floor.
After a two week trial and five hours of deliberation, the jury found on Feb. 26 that the defendant had been grossly negligent. The jury awarded a verdict of $5.485 million in actual damages and then another $6 million in punitive damages.
David W. Medack, a shareholder of Houston's Heard & Medack, who represents Cosmic Jump, did not return a call for comment. In an answer, Cosmic Jump denied the allegations and argued that its Eighth Amendment rights would be violated if punitive damages were awarded.
Gustin said he has another client who is a victim of a trampoline park accident and has filed a lawsuit against the park operator. In addition, Gustin said his firm is investigating similar accidents for several more clients.
The verdict, issued in the 334th District Court in Houston, is the largest ever against a trampoline park operator, Gustin said.
Miriam Rozen, Texas Lawyer
Trial lawyers have no way of knowing on the day of trial who will show up on a jury panel—it could be the most famous person who lives in any given city. That happened to Martha Hardwick Hofmeister on Aug. 5, who was watching her law partners Brian Shaw and Brandon Starling defend a landlord-tenant dispute before Dallas 14th District Court Judge Eric Moyé. "I just went down to watch them pick a jury. And Brian Shaw said, 'Guess who's going to be on our panel? He's the most famous person in Dallas,'" said Hofmeister, a partner in Dallas' Shackelford. "And I said, Dirk Nowitski?" She was wrong. It was the United States' 43rd president and Dallas County resident George W. Bush. Bush came into court with a security detail, sat down with his fellow venire members and even asked a question during voir dire. Hardwick said the panel was made aware that the plaintiffs attorney had five other cases against Shackelford's landlord client. "The president asked, 'Can you tell us what happened to the other five?' And Brian said, 'No,'" Hofmeister recounted. "And then Brian said, 'I've never said no to a president before.' Everybody laughed. And then he said, 'That felt pretty good.'"
Bush seemed to be more than willing to serve on the jury, but he was seated too far back on the panel to be reached.
"He was like juror number 28. My husband said it would be funny if he was number 43.''
Bush then left the courthouse, but not before stopping to take photos with jurors and lawyers.
"He was so friendly. Wow," Hofmeister said. "You don't expect someone who had that position to be so accessible.''
Moye said Bush, a Republican, was quite popular in the Dallas civil courthouse, which is dominated by Democratic trial judges.
"Honestly, he was so affable; he took pictures with all of the staffs of half a dozen courts. He took pictures with interns, judges—anybody he encountered,'' said Moye, including each and every one of his fellow venire members.
"He greeted everybody. He got introduced to people, he said, 'My name is George Bush.' We'd be lucky if everybody treated jury service the way he did." avvo reviews general practice attorney
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