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Court and legal news roundup

This week in legal news

  • A judge in rural Texas is arrested for stealing cattle and participating in organized crime
  • After refusing to settle and winning a $31,600 verdict, attorney fees in sexual harassment case add up to more than $138,000
  • Contract law protects patient who was billed $230K for a surgery she was told would cost $1,300
  • New York Court of Appeals reinstates felony charges for coach who sexted 15-year-old student after deciding that screenshots of conversations may be validated by testimony

Texas judge is arrested for cattle theft, organized crime

Loving Country Judge Skeet Jones was charged with livestock theft and engaging in organized crime along with three other men. Jones, 71, is accused of picking up and selling stray cattle.

According to NBC News, “word of the arrests spread faster than a prairie fire with a tailwind through this West Texas county, population 57 as of the last U.S. Census Bureau estimate.” NBC News described Jones as “the scion of a powerful ranching family that settled in Loving County in the 1950s.” (Via ABA Journal)

This is not Jones’ first brush with controversy. In 2016, he received a public warning from Texas’ State Commission for downgrading charges. Judge Jones holds that he was merely accepting plea deals, not downgrading charges.

Jones has served as county judge since 2007.

Sexual harassment case racks up $138,000 in fees for $31,600 verdict

When litigation concluded over the “job interview from hell,” plaintiff Christine Corbin was awarded a verdict of $31,600. Then, the Camden County Superior Court judge also awarded $138,190 in fees and $3,703 in costs to McOmber, McOmber & Luber.

The case stemmed from an incident when Corbin alleged that the defendant was intoxicated during a job interview and engaged in sexual harassment.

The defendants, America Home Crafters Remodeling and its president, Thomas Jackson, offered plaintiff Christine Corbin $2,000 to settle at the outset of the case, and increased their offer to $10,000 at the start of trial, but she rejected those offers, said her attorney, Matthew Luber of McOmber, McOmber & Luber in Marlton…Luber said the fee award caused the defendants’ exposure in the case to multiply under the fee-shifting provision of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination because of their failure to engage in meaningful settlement talks. (Via Law.com)

According to the details of the suit, Corbin alleges that company president Thomas Jackson was speaking with slurred speech during her job interview. Jackson made uncomfortable comments about Corbin’s high-heeled shoes, asked if her teenaged children were breastfed, gave Corbin multiple glasses of whiskey, and used vulgar language to suggest that he was interested in a sexual relationship. Afterwards, Jackson called Corbin multiple times in an attempt to convince her not to speak about what happened during the interview.

Corbin filed a police report about the incident. During the trial, the jury saw a surveillance video that captured the entire interview. Corbin received the full amount of compensation sought in the suit.

Patient who was billed $230K after being quoted a price of $1,300 will not have to pay, court decides

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled that contract law protects a patient who was billed about $230,000 for a surgery after being quoted a much lower price of $1,300.

Lisa Melody French was told that her spinal fusion surgery would cost about $57,600 in total with $1,300 due out of pocket and the rest covered by insurance. However, the hospital determined that they had misread her insurance card and she was actually an out-of-network patient, so they billed more than $300,000 for the surgery. French’s insurance covered $73,500. Subtracting the $1,000 payment French had already made, the hospital billed her for an additional $229,000.

When French did not pay this bill, the hospital sued for breach of contract.

An expert witness had testified that the actual cost of the medical services was $70,500, and that the Centura Health Corp.’s charges were unreasonable. The sums already paid to the hospital provided the Centura Health Corp. with a profit margin of about 5.5%, the expert testified. (Via ABA Journal)

The court ultimately decided that because the price was left open in the agreements that French signed, the hospital was only allowed to charge a reasonable value. Jurors determined that French owed a remaining amount of just $766.

New York Court of Appeals unanimously reinstates felony charges for sexting coach after testimony validates screenshots

Former high school volleyball coach Luis Rodriguez was accused of sending inappropriate photos, videos, and messages to a 15-year old girl in 2014. His original conviction was overturned on appeal based on the validity of screenshots used as evidence, and now the New York Court of Appeals has reinstated those charges after the girl testified that the screenshots were accurate.

This case came to light when the girl’s boyfriend discovered the images on her phone. He took screenshots and forwarded them to the girl’s mother and to himself, then attacked the girl, for which he was arrested.

The girl deleted the conversations with the coach and reset her phone, but the boyfriend showed the screenshots to the police. This led to charges against Rodriguez.

Arguments heard by the high court in April centered on whether screenshots of the text messages seized by the boyfriend could serve as an original document. Arguments from Rodriguez’s lawyer, Samuel Barr, hinged on authenticity issues and the best-evidence rule, a legal principle that holds an original of a document as superior evidence. Queens Assistant District Attorney William H. Branigan had said the trial court had the discretion to admit the screenshots into evidence once the victim identified the text messages and explained that they accurately reflected the exchanges between her and Rodriguez. At trial, the Supreme Court admitted five of the screenshots into evidence, based largely on the girl’s testimony that they were accurate copies of messages she received from Rodriguez. (Via Law.com)

Rodriguez was convicted of two felonies — attempted use of a child in a sexual performance and first degree dissemination of indecent material to a child — and a misdemeanor for endangering the welfare of a child.

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