D.A. Drops Forfeiture Cases That Drew National Attention

Christos Sourovelis and the house he'll get to keep.

Christos Sourovelis and the house his family will get to keep.

The district attorney’s office has ended its attempts to seize the homes of two Philadelphia families who had sued over the city’s aggressive civil forfeiture practices.

The Institute for Justice, which had sued on behalf of Christos Sourovelis and Doila Welch to shut down the program, announced Thursday that the D.A. had dropped its forfeiture cases against the two.

“We are pleased that Christos and Doila’s families will be able to enjoy their homes for the holidays,” said Darpana Sheth, an attorney with the institute, in a press release.

Philadelphia’s civil forfeiture practices came under scrutiny in late 2012, when City Paper’s Isaiah Thompson wrote that the program brought $6 million a year in assets to the city’s law enforcement community. He explained that the law is intended to seize the assets of drug dealers to prevent the property from being used in crime.

The problem? The government doesn’t actually have to prove the property was used in a crime. And in many cases, it was only tangentially related to an alleged crime.
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SEPTA Sues Drug Maker Over $1,000-a-Pill Hep C Drug

SEPTA has sued the drugmaker Gilead over the price of its Hepatitis C drug Sovaldi, which costs about $1,000 a pill — or $84,000 for a standard treatment.

The lawsuit says the 12-week treatment costs only $900 in Egypt. Gilead also recently cut a deal to sell generic Sovaldi, sofosbuvir, in 91 developing countries. The lawsuit says the Federal Bureau of Prisons also receives massive discounts on the Hep C drug. Gilead has made $5.7 billion selling Sovaldi this year already, about half its revenue.

SEPTA is seeking a judgment that Gilead has engaged in price discrimination, as well as monetary restitution. The transit agency is suing because it is a “third party payor” of its employees’ health care costs; SEPTA has paid $2.4 million for Sovaldi since the drug came out.
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Bensalem Muslims Say Township Won’t Let Them Build a Mosque

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Bensalem has its fair share of churches and other houses of worship. The Bucks County township of 60,000 has Catholic churches, Protestant churches, synagogues, a Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall, and a Buddhist Temple. And there are two Hindu temples under development. But if you’re a Bensalem Muslim, you’re out of luck, because Bensalem doesn’t have a mosque. Instead, local Muslims meet once a week for Friday prayers inside a rented fire hall. Read more »

Comcast Responds to Hotspot Lawsuit

We told you this morning that Comcast is being sued in federal court over its Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspot program, which piggybacks on customers’ residential routers to provide Internet service to other customers who are out and about.

Late this afternoon, the company sent a statement to Philly Mag on the subject:

“We disagree with the allegations in this lawsuit and believe our Xfinity WiFi home hotspot program provides real benefits to our customers,” the company said in the release. “We provide information to our customers about the service and how they can easily turn off the public WiFi hotspot if they wish http://wifi.comcast.com/faqs.html.”

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Complaint: SRC Violated Pennsylvania Sunshine Act

As anticipated, public school activists have filed a complaint against the School Reform Commission, charging the SRC violated the state’s Sunshine Act when it unilaterally canceled the teachers’ contract last month.

The Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools and member Lisa Haver filed the complaint. Though the SRC meeting that canceled the teachers’ contracts was done on a Monday morning with little notice, the SRC published an ad in the Inquirer and on Philly.com that Sunday. The state’s Sunshine Act requires public meetings to be advertised at least 24 hours in advance.

But the lawsuit says those advertisements did not fulfill the Sunshine Act’s requirements.

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Main Line’s Overbrook Golf Club Hit With Messy Sexual Harassment Suit

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The Overbrook Golf Club may bear the name of the crowded, rough-in-parts neighborhood that sits on the western edge of Philadelphia, but the exclusive private club is very far removed from the inner city, located instead on 128 “magnificent, rolling acres” in Villanova, the “heart of the fabled Philadelphia Main Line,” as the club describes it. There’s a 25-meter pool, a 35,000-square-foot “Georgian manor” for member dining, and, of course, an exquisite golf course, where its members exchange blue-blooded niceties and market tips. But a new lawsuit casts an ugly shadow on all that high-society tidiness. Read more »

Lawsuit: School Funding in Pennsylvania is Unconstitutional

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Seventeen years ago, the city and School District of Philadelphia filed suit against Pennsylvania, accusing it of failing to provide sufficient education funding in violation of the state Constitution, which obligates the state legislature to “provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education.”

It didn’t work. Commonwealth Court rejected the suit, and the state Supreme Court in 1999 refused to hear an appeal.

Now school funding advocates are looking for a rematch. A potentially momentous lawsuit was filed in Commonwealth Court this morning, claiming that the state has “adopted an irrational and inequitable school financing arrangement that drastically underfunds school districts across the Commonwealth and discriminates against children on the basis of the taxable property and household incomes in their districts.”

One of many striking elements of this suit is that the School District of Philadelphia — which would be among the greatest beneficiaries of a successful lawsuit — is not among the plaintiffs.

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Lawyer Told to Pay $1M for Allowing Smoking Reference at Trial

A Philadelphia judge has ordered a suburban defense attorney to pay nearly $1 million for allowing an expert witness to make a smoking reference during a lung cancer-related medical malpractice trial.

The defense attorney, Nancy Raynor, says she’s going to fight it. She is calling for an investigation into the judge that issued the order, Paul Panepinto. “I’m not only going to appeal the decision, I am going after everyone in this,” Raynor told The Legal Intelligencer. “If they think for one nanosecond that I’m laying down and putting up with their bullshit, they’re crazy.”

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Philadelphia Sued Over City Council Speech Rules

"Justice" engraved on Philadelphia's City Hall

Photo | Jeff Fusco

A Philadelphia man has sued the city in federal court over the public comment rules at City Council meetings.

Patrick Duff, 38, argues city policy on public comment at City Council meetings violates the First Amendment and the state’s Sunshine Act. Duff’s lawsuit says city policy only allows for public comment on topics on the City Council agenda. Duff believes the city must allow citizens to comment on any subject at City Council meetings.

Four years ago, a lawsuit forced the city to have public comment at City Council meetings at all. For the past 60 years, City Council had limited public comments to committee meetings, rather than its general sessions.

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