High Court Action

A federal District Court judge threw out the case, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision. That court ruled the 1925 Federal Arbitration Act specifically excluded “seamen, railroad employees or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce,” which the court said includes Adams.

Business groups say arbitration is more convenient, less time-consuming and cheaper than lawsuits to settle grievances. Critics say workers forfeit certain rights when they go before a private arbitrator rather than a judge. Appeals often are limited, damages are capped, and severe restrictions are placed on discovery, the process by which a worker’s lawyer may gather information to buttress the case.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a policy recommendation in 1997 against mandatory arbitration. Several civil rights groups, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Organization for Women Legal Defense Fund, have sided with Adams.

Almost one-fifth of the national work force is covered by arbitration agreements, according to the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress.

The argument before the high court is whether an exclusion to the 1925 statute should be broadly interpreted to include workers such as Adams. Other appellate courts have chosen a narrower interpretation than the 9th Circuit.

The case is Circuit City Stores vs. Adams. 99-1379.

Justices Decline Multiple Defendant Case

The Supreme Court will not clarify whether prosecutors may claim different versions of the same events at the criminal trials of separate defendants.

The court, without comment, today let stand a lower court ruling that said prosecutors were out of bounds in a Missouri murder case that involved six defendants.

The 8th U.S. Court of Appeals overturned Jon Keith Smith’s conviction in the 1983 robbery and killing of an elderly couple, saying in effect that Missouri prosecutors could not have it both ways.

State prosecutors pointed to Smith as a chief culprit at his 1987 trial, which included testimony from an alleged accomplice.

The alleged accomplice had told authorities that all six people were involved in the killings, but on the stand at Smith’s trial he said only two people were killers. He admitted being part of a burglary ring but said he and Smith arrived at the scene after the killings.

The prosecutor produced the earlier statement, argued that all six were involved from the start and won murder and armed robbery convictions against Smith.

A few months later the same prosecutor put the alleged accomplice on the stand during the trial of another of the six defendants. The defendant was one of the two that the alleged accomplice had named as the killers at Smith’s trial.

This time, the prosecutor did not object when the alleged accomplice repeated the allegation that only two people were involved in the killings.

Smith claimed that his rights were violated when prosecutors stood behind two different versions of events. The federal appeals court, which covers Arkansas and six Midwestern states, agreed.

State prosecutors sought high court blessing of their approach, arguing that each defendant was treated fairly.

The case is Gammon vs. Smith, 00-354.

Court Avoids Cell Phone Tower Case

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