Department of Justice Files Fair Housing Act Suit Against City of New Berlin

On Thursday, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a complaint against the City of New Berlin. The complaint arises out of a series of events that led to the City’s denial of a “workforce” housing development proposal made by MSP Real Estate, Inc. (MSP).  The DOJ alleges that the City of New Berlin ultimately denied the proposal on the basis of racial discrimination, in violation of Section VIII of the Fair Housing Act.

According to the complaint (which can be viewed here), on March 10, 2010, MSP submitted a development application to construct 180 units of affordable housing in what is known as New Berlin’s “City Center.”  The proposal stated that the development would include 100 elderly units and 80 workforce housing units.  The development was intended to be financed in part by the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, a program that allows a developer to sell tax credits to investors in exchange for the promise that the developer will rent the apartments for below-market rates to tenants who qualify.  For this specific development, MSP was going to rent to individuals who made 40 to 60 percent of the median household income in New Berlin.  In New Berlin, the median income as of 2000 was approximately $70,000, which means the proposed development would rent to individuals who made $28,000 to $42,000 a year.


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Springtime for Daubert: Insights From the EDWBA Panel

In late January the “tort reform” package imposed the staid Daubert rules on the Wisconsin Rules of Evidence. Now it’s spring, although the weather feels a lot like January, and we must get serious about what to do with this gift that the judiciary did not want. The new rules require that expert testimony be based on demonstrably reliable methods and principles. To be determined is whether Wisconsin will be a “strict” or a “lax” Daubert jurisdiction — whatever that is. It is worth noting that the first wave of Wisconsin Daubert cases, which will likely set the mold for what follows, are also those that least interested the tort reformers, namely, criminal cases and “chapter 980” sexually violent offender cases.

Right now, however, we are in a state of nature, legally speaking. Case law under the relevancy test, the current standard, is of little avail. And while the new rules are copied from the federal rules, state courts are not bound by federal precedent (yes, that includes Daubert itself!). Last week alone I spoke at two conferences, one a large, attentive gathering of state judges in Elkhart Lake and the other an even larger, equally engaged joint convocation of state prosecutors, public defenders, and private defense counsel here at Eckstein Hall. There is a clamor for answers and a discernable unease about what to do. (more…)

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Racial Disparities in the Federal Death Penalty: Uncovering the Key Role of Geography

The federal death penalty is plagued by two important types of disparity.  One is racial: as of last year, nearly half of federal death row inmates (28 of 57) were black.  The other is geographic: out of the 94 federal districts, just 16 have produced 75 percent of the death sentences, and nine have produced nearly half.  Although both disparities have been much commented on separately, it seems they are actually connected.  Or so argue G. Ben Cohen and Robert J. Smith in an interesting new paper, “The Racial Geography of the Federal Death Penalty,” 85 Wash. L. Rev. 425 (2010).

Their thesis is simply stated.  A vastly disproportionate number of federal death sentences come from counties with high minority populations that are located in districts that are heavily white overall.  Think diverse urban cores surrounded by lily-white suburbs.  Given that federal juries are typically drawn from the entire district, this means that capital trials in these districts are apt to involve minority defendants being judged by white-dominated juries.  Having minimal racial diversity on the jury means that black defendants have little protection from the unconscious racial biases that most of us carry around.  This, in turn, drives both the racial and geographic disparities in federal death sentences.

The patterns are striking.  (more…)

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How Toxic is Thomas?

Pat McIlheran has an interesting find in today’s Journal Sentinel, commenting on Judge Randa’s underreported decision in Gibson v. American Cyanamid. Judge Randa held that application of the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s Thomas decision (which applied something called risk contribution theory to hold lead paint pigment manufacturers collectively responsible for all harm from that product) would violate the federal due process rights of a defendant who had not itself manufactured lead paint pigment, but had assumed the liabilities of a manufacturer who had.

I spoke briefly with Pat yesterday on the potential fallout from the case and he quoted part of what I said. (The tyranny of 800 words is best understood by those who must submit to it.)

Here’s a more expanded version. (more…)

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What’s Good for the Goose . . .

Earlier this week, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit issued its decision in In Re Sherwin-Williams Co. The court upheld Judge Lynn Adelman’s decision not to recuse himself from a case pending before him in the Eastern District of Wisconsin, Burton v. American Cyandamid, et al

Sherwin-Williams is currently before Adelman as a defendant in a personal injury action involving lead paint, heard in diversity jurisdiction. S-W believed “his impartiality might reasonably be questioned” (the relevant legal standard) because he had written an article defending the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s controversial lead paint decision in Thomas v. Mallett, 2005 WI 129.  (The article is Adelman & Fite, Exercising Judicial Power: A Response to the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s Critics, 91 Marq. L. Rev. 425 (2007)). In the article, Adelman defended the Court’s 04-05 term generally and praised Thomas particularly as a “positive development” which ensured that “the doors of the courthouse remain open.” Id. at 446. 

Based on this characterization, S-W sought his recusal in this case.  (more…)

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