The Haunting of President Trump (Lawyer Style)
It’s a classic ghost story plot device—bad things befall those who disturb sacred Indian burial grounds. This time, I hope it comes true. Because President Donald Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke deserve to be haunted for slashing the size of two national monuments in Utah—land that is breathtaking in beauty, rich in cultural heritage and archeologically significant. If not by ghosts, then by lawyers. Already, lawsuits are flying over the president’s decision on Monday to roll back protection for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. In perhaps the strongest claim (at least from the perspective of standing), the Hopi, Ute, Ute Mountain and Zuni tribes and the Navajo Nation sued in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. “Bears Ears has been home to Native peoples since time immemorial, and is still cherished by Native peoples for its cultural, spiritual, and archaeological importance,” the plaintiffs wrote. “Bears Ears contains hundreds of thousands of objects of historic and scientific importance, many traditional cultural properties, and many sacred sites.” The tribes argue that while the Antiquities Act gives the president the power to designate national monuments, it does not give him the power to rescind or modify them. “That power is reserved to Congress alone,” wrote lawyers for the tribes including Matthew Campbell of the Native American Rights Fund. “If this unprecedented and unlawful action is allowed to stand, the Bears Ears area will immediately be subject to the devastating damage of oil and gas drilling, uranium and potash mining, mineral exploration, uncontrolled off-road vehicle use, widespread vandalism and looting, and grave robbing.” Ten environmental groups represented by lawyers from Earthjustice, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance sued as well to defend the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. “President Trump has flouted 111 years of conservation history. His decision to abolish the Monument in part and to remove monument protection from many of the remarkable objects identified in the 1996 Proclamation that created the Monument exceeds his authority under the U.S. Constitution and the Antiquities Act,” they wrote. The outdoor clothing company Patagonia (which turned its website black on Tuesday, with the message “The President Stole Your Land”) also said it intends to file suit. The company’s general counsel, Hilary Dessouky in a statement said, “We worked to establish Bears Ears National Monument and will now fight to protect it. On Wednesday, we will be filing a lawsuit challenging the president’s revocation of Bears Ears National Monument.” Which is terrific, but I’m not sure they can get standing based on selling fewer fleece jackets and backpacks because a national monument is shut down.
A $350 Million Save For Kirkland in FCA Trial
It’s been called “The Student Loan Scandal That Just Won’t Die”—a long-running False Claims Act case over a loophole exploited by student loan companies. On Tuesday, a jury in the Eastern District of Virginia may have finally brought the case—which has already been to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit three times—to a close, handing a major win to Kirkland & Ellis and its client, the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency. The Kirkland team, led by Chicago litigation partner Matt Regan, and assisted by Washington litigation partners Justin Brown and Michael Glick, prevailed over Wiley Rein name partner Bert Rein, who represented whistleblower John Oberg. Oberg filed his original complaint in 2007, alleging that student loan companies abused a provision that guaranteed holders of federal student loans funded with tax-exempt bonds a 9.5 percent interest return on investment. Congress repealed the subsidy in 1993, but the lenders allegedly repacked loans to continue getting the high rate. The companies “willfully violated United States law and Congress' intent, and fraudulently and illegally obtained as much as one billion dollars or more in special allowance overpayments,” Oberg alleged. Since then, nine defendants settled for about $100 million in total. But Kirkland’s client decided to fight, risking exposure of $116.5 million, plus trebling. The trial before U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton lasted five days before an eight-person jury, which took just two and a half hours to come to a unanimous verdict for the defendants.
Quote of the Day
"When have we ever given [First Amendment] protection to food?" --Justice Sonia Sotomayor to Kristen Waggoner of Alliance Defending Freedom Read my colleague Marcia Coyle’s coverage of the argument on Tuesday in the anti-gay baker case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, here.
More Money for Katy Perry
Singer Katy Perry, who was named the world’s richest female celebrity in 2015, just got a little bit richer. On Monday, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury awarded $10 million in punitive damages to Perry and her unlikely co-plaintiff, The Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The verdict follows a Nov. 17 award of $5 million in legal fees to Perry and the Archdiocese. At issue: a real estate developer’s alleged attempt to interfere with church’s $14.5 million deal to sell a former convent to Perry and her company, The Bird Nest LLC. The jury awarded $6.7 million in favor of The Archdiocese of Los Angeles and a related entity; and $3.3 million in favor of the Bird Nest LLC. “The jury worked diligently over the past month to understand the facts of the case and weigh the evidence appropriately,” said McKool Smith Hennigan attorney Kirk Dillman, lead trial counsel for The Archdiocese of Los Angeles. “Our client is very pleased with the verdict.” Perry was represented by Eric Rowen, who co-chairs Greenberg Traurig’s real estate litigation practice.
More Legal News
With SCOTUS Cloud Overhead, Appeals Courts Take Up Travel Ban 3.0 What I’m watching tomorrow. Literally. CSPAN is broadcasting the Ninth Circuit arguments, which are set to begin at 2 p.m. PT Wednesday (Go Neal Katyal!). But read this first so you know what’s going on. Florida Ranked No. 1 in Judicial Hellholes Report Just judicial hellholes, or hellholes in general? MDL Panel Orders All Federal Opioid Cases to Ohio All 180 cases are going to U.S. District Judge Dan Polster of the Northern District of Ohio, a 1998 appointee of President Bill Clinton. Merry Christmas. Trump Lawyers Cast Statements at Heart of Defamation Case as Mere 'Rhetoric' Since when is “fiery campaign rhetoric” a protected category of speech? Public Defender Organization Accused of Retaliation Over Staff Attorney's Sexual Harassment Allegations Troubling allegations against the New York County Defenders Services. Phila. Jury Slams Makers of Xarelto With $27.8M Verdict The state court verdict comes after three straight losses for plaintiffs in federal court.