December 13, 2012 by Dave Moore at 10:31:00 am
The Androvett Legal Media & Marketing team, which spends its days immersed in legal news, has developed a list of the top news stories for 2012 in North Texas. As you’ll see, our list spans a broad range of law – from mineral rights legal work in the Oil Patch to a Constitutional question of freedom of religion in Kountze, Texas. Below are what we consider to be North Texas’ top 10 legal news stories, ranked from 10 to 1.
10. SCOTUS Stops Irving Attempt to Buy Oklahoma Water
With Texas mired in a prolonged drought, a water rights ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court in March is being seen as increasingly important. The case centered on an agreement between the cities of Irving and Hugo, Okla., that would have allowed Irving to buy water from its northern neighbor. Irving and Hugo sued the Oklahoma Water Resources Board and the Oklahoma Water Conservation Storage Commission with constitutional challenges to Oklahoma laws requiring state approval for water sales. The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals eventually ruled that the cities had no standing to sue, with the U.S. Supreme Court upholding the decision without comment.
9. Texas Regains Stature as Energy Patch State
High oil prices and increased natural gas production propelled Texas to the forefront of U.S. energy production in 2012, sending energy lawyers and landmen scurrying to keep up. Experts say the boom might push U.S. production to 11 million barrels a day by 2013, approaching Saudi Arabia-like levels. Much of that production has come via fracking – fracturing rock layers with pressurized fluids to release oil or natural gas – which originated in Texas and is generating its own legal scrutiny in some circles.
8. U.S. Supreme Court Declines to Hear ‘Candy Cane’ Case
A religious-themed case from North Texas once again gained national attention in 2012 when the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear a dispute over the Plano Independent School District’s decision to prevent students from handing out religious-themed gifts at school parties. The controversy stemmed from a student who wanted to give classmates a candy cane with a card that included the line: "So, every time you see a candy cane, remember the message of the candy maker: Jesus is the Christ!" The nation’s highest court declined to review a lower court ruling that public school principals have qualified immunity.
7. Cheerleader Signs Spark Another Religion Lawsuit
Public school cheerleaders from Kountze, Texas, (pop. 2,147) became the unlikely national champions for religious free speech in 2012. The dispute centers on whether the Kountze Independent School District cheer squad can display biblically themed banners at school-sponsored sporting events. School officials maintain that the practice violates the separation of church and state. Advocates for the cheerleaders claim the students are simply exercising their free speech rights. Temporary restraining orders allowed the banners to be displayed throughout the football season.
6. SCOTUS Reviewing UT Admissions Policy for Reverse Discrimination
The University of Texas’ affirmative action admissions policy was scrutinized by the U.S. Supreme Court in October after a white student who was denied admission to the school claimed she was passed over for less-qualified minority students. The high court’s pending decision could have far-reaching implications for colleges and universities across the nation. Legal experts say the UT case hinges on whether the Supreme Court is willing to continue to uphold affirmative action precedents established in cases involving other state colleges in Michigan and California.
5. Whistleblower Spurs Largest Medicaid Settlement in Texas History
The Texas Attorney General and attorneys for Pennsylvania whistleblower Allen Jones secured the largest Medicaid fraud settlement in state history in August when pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson agreed to pay $158 million to resolve claims that it used false marketing tactics to convince Texas officials to put the anti-psychotic drug Risperdal on the state’s Medicaid drug plan. The state district court trial in Austin was settled after a week of trial after jurors heard evidence that Johnson & Johnson targeted every level of the Texas Medicaid Program with misrepresentations about the drug.
4. Bankruptcy for Hostess Could Spell Twinkie’s End
Irving-based Hostess Brands Inc. filed for bankruptcy protection in 2012, putting in peril such cherished brands such as Twinkies and Ding Dongs. Bankruptcy lawyers flocked to New York to work on the expansive case, with the company courting potential buyers for its various brands. Hostess officials came under fire for accepting nearly $2 million in bonuses as part of the planned liquidation, while workers complained that their pensions were not funded as Hostess had promised.
3. American Airlines Attempts to Emerge from Bankruptcy
Fort Worth-based American Airlines cleared a major hurdle in its attempt to emerge from bankruptcy protection after reaching a compromise with pilots in December. The cost for the massive reorganization topped $200 million, with American eyeing a potential partnership with US Airways. Unions for American’s pilots, flight attendants and mechanics reportedly have signed off on a US Airway merger, which could create a combined entity worth more than $8 billion.
2. Irving-based Boy Scouts of America Releases “Perversion Files”
In October, an Oregon court ordered Irving-based Boy Scouts of America to release thousands of files detailing decades of sexual abuse by troop leaders. Experts estimate that the organization maintained nearly 5,000 records of sexual deviance dating back to the 1920s, dubbing them the “perversion files.” The Boy Scouts say they have upgraded youth protection policies since the 1980s, including criminal background checks conducted on paid employees and adult volunteers. However, the group is still withholding portions of the files dating from 1985 to the present. A lawsuit in San Antonio seeks their release.
1. Legal Fight Over Texas’ Legislative Redistricting Nullifies Texas’ Political Impact
The legal dispute over Texas’ legislative redistricting made the Lone Star State a non-player in the presidential election. Texas originally was set to be a part of the Super Tuesday primary elections in March, but was delayed to May 29 when Democrats challenged legislative boundaries redrawn by Republicans. By then, Mitt Romney’s remaining Republican challengers – Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul – had effectively folded their campaigns. At the root of the Democratic challenge was the assertion that 3.7 million additional minority Texans should warrant at least one additional Democratic district. A U.S. District Court in San Antonio redrew the legislative boundaries to resemble new census data, but was then slapped down when the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a version more closely resembling Texas legislators’ original map.
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