Montgomery County Suing Opioid Manufacturers & Distributors

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett

Washington Post article (2017-12-12) announced that Montgomery County Executive Ike has retained the law firm Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP to pursue legal action against manufacturers and distributors of opioid painkillers. Maryland, like the rest the nation, is facing an opioid crisis. From the article:

Leggett said one goal of the lawsuit is to challenge opioid manufacturers and distributors who may understate how addicting their drugs can be.

There were 84 opioid-related deaths in the county in 2016, said Raymond Crowel, chief of behavioral health and crisis services for Montgomery’s Department of Health and Human Services. Numbers for 2017 are not yet available.

A Montgomery County press release (2017-12-12) from Leggett provided further information:

“Every day brings fresh evidence of the very real damage that the Opioid crisis in wreaking on individuals and communities throughout our great nation. I wish I could stand here and tell you that Montgomery County is immune to this epidemic. Unfortunately I cannot do that. Ask our first-responders in our Fire & Rescue Service and in our Police. Ask our front-line personnel in Health & Human Services. Death. Addiction. Broken families. Broken lives. We are living this reality today.

“As we continue to respond as a County to the critical needs created by this epidemic, I wanted to do more. I wanted to reach out and ask that those manufacturers and distributors of opioids who marketed the drugs and possibly downplayed their addictive nature be held responsible somehow for the consequences of those actions.

“That is why I asked for – and the Council approved, today – the hiring of outside counsel – the firm of Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP — to investigate the culpability of opioid producers and distributors and move to take legal action for reimbursement to the County for taxpayer resources that have been, are, and will be used to respond to the crisis.”

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of the Opioids

Counties Receive Legal Issues Update at 2017 Winter #MACoCon

County officials received updates on pending state and federal legal issues on December 6 at the 2017 MACo Winter Conference. The panel was called “From the Bench: A Federal and State Legal Update” and was moderated by Maryland Delegate William Folden.

National Association of Counties (NACo) Associate Legislative Director Jack Peterson discussed several cases before the United States Supreme Court that would address: (1) whether banning political apparel at polling places violates the first amendment ; (2) how and when states can remove individuals from their voter rolls; (3) whether comments made at a public meeting must relate to the topic under consideration; and (4) whether states and local governments can collect sales tax from online retailers regardless of whether they have a physical presence within their jurisdiction.

From left to right: Jack Peterson, Lisa Oschenhirt, Timothy Baker

Peterson discussed several regulatory issues, including the recent definitional change to the federal “Waters of the United States” rule. Peterson noted that the issue would likely remain a top legislative priority for NACo. Peterson also discussed NACo’s efforts to improve the “integrated planning” option under the Clean Water Act that in theory simplifies how local governments can meet federal and state mandates for water quality.

Finally, Peterson discussed several pending federal legislative issues, including extension of the current federal budget so that the government does not run out of money and current tax reform efforts. On tax reform, key local issues included losing the deduction for local income taxes and some property taxes and the removal of the ability to refinance local municipal bonds. Peterson stated that tax reform would probably be done by the end of the year.

AquaLaw Attorney Oschenhirt discussed the permitting process and current litigation for Maryland counties subject to a Phase I or Phase II Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit. Oschenhirt stated that Phase I controversies included: (1) whether the  permit applied across the entire county or just to those areas of a county that have stormwater systems; (2) whether the proposed permits go beyond the “maximum extent practicable” standard; and (3) whether nutrient credit trading will be included or not.

Delegate William Folden

Oschenhirt also noted that MACo, the Maryland Municipal League, and the Maryland Municipal Stormwater Association submitted joint comments on the new Phase II MS4 permit proposed by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). The comments raised concerns over who should be included in the permit, the geographic scope of the permit, the 20% treatment retrofit burden, and the lack of nutrient trading authority.

Oschenhirt also touched on the pending regulations for nutrient trading, staffing and program funding issues within the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load Mid-Point Assessment, tax sales, and state legislation regarding non-flushable wipes.

Maryland State Archivist and Commissioner of Land Patents Timothy Baker highlighted an optional program that is being set up by the Maryland State Archives to encourage county governments to appoint a records officer. The records officer would liaison with State Archives regarding document retention policies and infrastructure.

Basics of Risk Management at #MACoCon

I bet you know that every dollar a county spends on property damage, work related injuries, liability claims, automobile claims, accidents, insurance premiums and the like, is a dollar not spent on providing county services. But do you know how to manage those risks?

Lawrence J. Bohlen, Director of Field Services, LGIT

Risk management is an important tool for local governments. At “The Basics of Risk Management” 2017 MACo winter conference session, presenters Lawrence J. Bohlen, Director of Field Services, and Jeffrey Perkins, Loss Control Consultant, from the Local Government Insurance Trust (LGIT) taught attendees the importance and benefits of managing risk, the ways of identifying and analysizing loss exposure, risk financing, and other aspects of the risk management process. Using case studies and role play, attendees applied the principles they learned hands on.

Additionally, attendees of the session that are participates in the Academy Fellows certificate program received credit for the Academy for Excellence in Local Governance. The Academy for Excellence in Local Governance is a volunteer certificate program for elected and appointed county and municipal officials. The program provides a strong background of necessary skills and knowledge for local government leaders. It was founded by MACo and MML, is facilitated by the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy, and is sponsored by the Local Government Insurance Trust (LGIT).

This session was moderated by President of the Commissioners of St. Mary’s County Randy Guy and held on Wednesday, December 6 at the Hyatt Regency in Cambridge Maryland.

 

Wicomico Sheriff’s Office Launches Body-Worn Camera Pilot Program

The Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office is Launching a Body-Worn Camera Pilot Program for agency personnel. Body-worn cameras are small video and audio recording devices that can be worn on the body of first responders to record interactions with the public.

According to a Wicomico Sheriff’s Office press release:

This program is guided by a policy that incorporates the best practices of the departments around the state that are successfully utilizing this tool. The objectives of  body-worn cameras are to enhance deputy safety, facilitate evidentiary integrity, acquire audio and visual information, enhance courtroom testimony proceedings and assist with internal inquiries. Body-worn Cameras may also be useful in capturing events such as demonstrations and civil disorder and may be utilized to provide impartial basis for self-critiques, field evaluations and recruit deputy training.

In 2015, the Maryland General Assembly enacted legislation to permit first responders to develop and implement Body-Worn Camera Pilot Programs. Since that time, questions have been raised about how body-worn camera footage should be treated under Maryland’s Public Information Act (PIA).

The PIA was largely created to handle paper documents and only recently updated to better handle static electronic records. Body-worn cameras raise a number of privacy and transparency concerns for state and local governments. In order to address these concerns, MACo has adopted aligning public access laws with modern technologies as one of four 2018 Legislative Initiatives.

Align Public Access Laws with Modern Technologies

Maryland’s Public Information Act creates a balanced framework for guaranteeing public access to open information, while protecting sensitive and private material. The rapid ascension of new technologies has strained the implementation and effect of these laws – potentially chilling their otherwise beneficial use. Maryland should clarify and reframe its Public Information Act to better accommodate citizen electronic engagement, personal surveillance footage from first responders and other county officials, and the release of sensitive personal information.

Click here to learn more about MACo’s 2018 Legislative Initiatives.

Aligning public access laws with modern technologies will be a topic of discussion at the MACo Winter Conference.

 

Learn more about MACo’s 2017 Winter Conference:

Calvert County Recognized for Staff Training Practices

The Local Government Insurance Trust, a MACo corporate partner, recognizes members each year for outstanding efforts to address risk management issues. At this year’s LGIT Annual meeting held October 27 in Annapolis, Calvert County received an award for their outstanding efforts with staff training.

From the LGIT event program:

With this outstanding effort, it is obvious that Calvert County understands the benefits and positive impact loss control and risk management training can provide. County attendance at training continues to benefit not only Calvert County staff and personnel, but the citizens of Calvert County and the community as a whole.

Contesting Speeding Tickets, Online

In every county in North Carolina, drivers can request and receive reductions on speeding tickets – all online.

From ThePilot.com:

The efficient, user-friendly service provides 24/7 convenience for motorists who receive a speeding ticket and meet eligibility criteria to potentially reduce and process their citation without ever having to appear at the courthouse.

“Online reductions of speeding tickets are more efficient and convenient to process the most commonly cited traffic offenses,” said Judge Marion Warren, director of the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts. “Court technology and online services are modernizing the way the public does business with our courts.”

Technology can help counties save money, too. Learn about programs and tools servicing county budget officers at the session, “Programming Power: Technological Tools to Tighten the Budget,” at this year’s MACo Winter Conference, “The Power of Partnerships,” on Thursday, December 7 from 2pm to 3pm.

Learn more about MACo’s 2017 Winter Conference:

Get Up to Date on Critical Legal Issues at #MACoCon

Get caught up on key federal and state legal issues that can affect your county at the 2017 MACo Winter Conference.

From the Bench: A Federal and State Legal Update

Description

From water issues to local preemption cases, there are many controversial legal topics currently being litigated or legislated that directly affect Maryland’s counties. Panelists will provide an update on current federal and state legal issues that could impact a county’s authority, programs, or economic bottom line.

Speakers

  • Jack Peterson, Associate Legislative Director, National Association of Counties
  • Lisa Oschenhirt, Attorney, AquaLaw
  • Timothy Baker, Maryland State Archivist and Commissioner of Land Patents

Date & Time: Wednesday, December 6, 2017, 1:30 PM – 2:30 PM

Learn more about MACo’s 2017 Winter Conference:

 

Supreme Court Considers Hearing Legislative Prayer Issue

The United States Supreme Court is considering whether to hear a case regarding legislative prayer that would resolve a federal court of appeals circuit split. The case, Lund v. Rowan County addresses whether the Establishment Clause is violated when legislative prayers are offered exclusively by members of a local legislative body. As previously reported on Conduit Street, the Supreme Court upheld the right of a legislative body to have sectarian payers at their public meetings in the case of Town of Greece v. Galloway. Rowan County deals with whether an otherwise appropriate sectarian prayer can solely be offered by legislators.

While the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ultimately found on July 14, 2017, that the Establishment Clause was violated in Rowan County, the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit decided the opposite in a very similar case, Bormuth v. Jackson County, on September 6, 2017. Given the split, the Supreme Court may decide to hear the Rowan County case to provide clarity on the issue.

Useful Links

US Court of Appeals Opinion in Lund v. Rowan County

US Court of Appeals Opinion in Bormuth v. Jackson County

Conduit Street Article on Town of Greece v. Galloway Case

 

Supreme Court Declines Maryland Marijuana Stop & Frisk Appeal

A Daily Record article (2017-10-02) reported that the United States Supreme Court declined to review a Maryland Court of Appeals holding that simply smelling unsmoked marijuana in a vehicle does not allow police officers to frisk a passenger for weapons. In Joseph Norman Jr. v. State of Maryland (March 27, 2017), the Court of Appeals found that in order to conduct a weapons frisk, a police officer must have “reasonable articulable suspicion” that a passenger may be armed and dangerous. This suspicion is based on the “totality of the circumstances” and must include more than smelling marijuana in a car. In declining to hear Maryland’s appeal, the Supreme Court essentially upheld the Court of Appeals holding and dismissed the argument of Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh. From the article:

“By withholding authority to frisk the occupants of a car that an officer already has probable cause to search, and by retreating from the widely recognized association of drugs and guns particularly in the circumstances of drug trafficking or transport on the nation’s roads, the decision below makes constitutionally unreasonable the educated instincts that keep traffic officers alive,” Frosh wrote in Maryland’s petition for review. “This should not be.” …

In a responsive filing, Maryland Public Defender Paul B. DeWolfe countered that the Maryland court’s decision did not merit the justices’ review as it correctly interpreted the Fourth Amendment.

“As an initial matter, the rule proposed by the state is breathtaking in its scope, and adoption of it would permit pat-downs of passengers in a staggering number of situations, including stops in which the police have probable cause to believe the car contains evidence of very minor crimes, such as shoplifting,” DeWolfe wrote in the brief to the justices… .

The article also noted that DeWolfe cited the legalization or de-criminalization of small amounts of marijuana by more than 20 states as further evidence that simply having small amounts of marijuana is not viewed as dangerous behavior.

Useful Links

Court of Appeals Case – Joseph Norman Jr. v. State of Maryland

 

Baltimore City Sewer Agreement Challenged In Federal Court

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Bay Journal article (2017-09-20) reported that environmental group Blue Water Baltimore has launched a federal court challenge against a Baltimore City plan to upgrade its aging sewer system. As previously reported in Conduit Street, the City, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reached a consent decree agreement in 2016 requiring the City to commit $1.2 billion to sewer system repairs through 2030. However, the agreement was criticized by some environmental and affected neighborhood groups. According to the article, the agreement has since been further revised in response to the criticisms, including the addition of reporting, transparency, and sewage backup mitigation requirements. From the article:

Both [EPA] and [MDE], which have been overseeing the city’s sewer overhaul, urged the court to accept the latest plan. Ben Grumbles, Maryland’s environment secretary, called it “a better contract for clean water and environmental justice.” The state also pledged to provide $300 million in low-interest loans to the city and suburban Baltimore County to help cover costs to repair the sewer system that handles waste from both jurisdictions. …

On Wednesday, Blue Water Baltimore took its objections to court. Previously granted the right to intervene in the case, the group filed a motion in federal court contending that despite some improvements, the agreement has been seriously compromised by a previously undisclosed provision. The provision prohibits the state or the EPA from using the stream monitoring data to order additional repairs by the city if the planned upgrades are not having the promised result of reducing bacteria levels and making the water safer for human contact.

The environmental group filed a motion Wednesday in opposition to the consent decree, asking the court to deny approval unless that provision is removed.

Useful Links

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of Baltimore City Consent Decree

Blue Water Baltimore Website