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North Dakota can continue to pursue reimbursement from the federal government of the millions of dollars spent policing protests against the Dakota Access oil pipeline, a judge has ruled.

U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Traynor on Tuesday denied the federal government’s motion to dismiss North Dakota’s attempt to recover more than $38 million from the months-long pipeline protests five years ago.

The federal government argued North Dakota’s emergency response expenses are not “money damages” for “injury or loss of property.”

Traynor, who is based in Bismarck and nominated for the judgeship by former President Donald Trump, ruled the state’s claim of damages is permissible.

The state filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2019. North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem has long argued that the Corps allowed and sometimes encouraged protesters to illegally camp without a federal permit. The Corps has said protesters weren’t evicted due to free speech reasons.

The $3.8 billion pipelines has been moving oil from the Dakotas through Iowa to Illinois since 2017. Thousands of opponents gathered in southern North Dakota in 2016 and early 2017, camping on federal land and often clashing with police. Hundreds were arrested over six months.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe opposed the pipeline built by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners over fears it would harm cultural sites and the tribe’s Missouri River water supply — claims rejected by the company and the state.

Trump in 2018 denied a state-requested disaster declaration to cover the state’s costs. The Justice Department later gave the state a $10 million grant for policing-related bills. The pipeline developer gave the state $15 million to help with the costs that were funded from loans from the state-owned Bank of North Dakota.

Stenehjem has argued the reimbursements don’t get the Corps off the hook for the state’s $38 million total costs of policing.

Traynor last year issued a ruling allowing North Dakota to proceed in its effort to recoup money the state spent on policing protests against the pipeline.

The Army Corps of Engineers then recommended the Department of Justice negotiates a settlement with North Dakota.

Stenehjem said Wednesday settlement talks are ongoing. If no settlement can be reached, a trial is set for May 1, 2023.


A former Chicago-area obstetrician/gynecologist has been sentenced to three years in prison after admitting that he sexually abused two of his former patients during exams.

Dr. Fabio Ortega, 75, was sentenced Tuesday after pleading guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to two counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse.

The charges stem from incidents in which the two women said Ortega sexually abused them during exams in 2017 and 2016 while he was employed with the NorthShore University HealthSystem, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Nine civil lawsuits involving similar accusations from other women have been consolidated in Cook County Circuit Court, said Tamara Holder, an attorney representing those women.
Some of those civil suits also name NorthShore and Swedish Covenant Hospital as defendants and allege that NorthShore failed to warn patients about allegations made against Ortega.

Ortega worked at Swedish before working at NorthShore, according to the suits, which allege that NorthShore permitted him to retire rather than fire him. Swedish has since become part of the NorthShore.

NorthShore said in a statement Tuesday that it was unable to comment on any litigation related to Ortega. The health system has also declined to comment on the circumstances surrounding the end of his employment.

Ortega’s medical license was suspended in 2018 for “engaging in sexual misconduct with (a) patient of his practice,” according to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.


A federal appeals court dealt another blow to a lawsuit targeting Maine’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers, resulting in an 11th-hour appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday.

A three-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to stop the vaccine requirement, saying a lawsuit brought by opponents of the mandate was unlikely to succeed. The state is due to begin enforcing the vaccine requirement on Oct. 29.

The decision was dated Tuesday, the same day the U.S. Supreme Court declined an emergency request to intervene.

But the Supreme Court left open the door for another appeal, and lawyers swiftly filed a request for a preliminary injunction Wednesday after the appeals court issued its final decision.

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills praised the decision by the appeals court, saying Wednesday that vaccinations “are the best tool we have to protect the lives and livelihoods of Maine people.”

“This rule protects health care workers, their patients and our health care capacity in the face of this deadly virus. Just as vaccination defeated smallpox and vaccination defeated polio, vaccination is the way to defeat COVID-19,” she said in a statement.

The 1st Circuit decision came a week after a federal judge in Maine upheld the vaccination mandate for health workers.

“Maine’s interest in safeguarding its residents is paramount. While we do not diminish the appellants’ liberty of conscience, we cannot find, absent any constitutional or statutory violation, any error in the district court’s conclusion that the rule promotes strong public interests and that an injunction would not serve the public interest,” the 1st Circuit wrote.

The Liberty Counsel, which filed the lawsuit in federal court in Maine, claims to represent more than 2,000 health care workers who don’t want to be forced to be vaccinated.

Mat Staver, founder and chair of the Liberty Counsel, said Wednesday that it’s now up to the Supreme Court “to obtain relief for these health care heroes against Governor Janet Mills’ illegal edict.”

Most health care workers have complied but several dozen have opted to quit over the mandate, and Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston already curtailed some admissions because of a shortage of nurses. Nearly 97% of Maine emergency medical workers are vaccinated against COVID-19, Maine Department of Public Safety said Wednesday.

State agencies vowed to work with hospitals and nursing homes individually to address issues. That includes working with the facilities on recruitment and retention of workers, said Jeanne Lambrew, commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

“We have seen significant improvements in the vaccine rates in our hospitals and long-term care facilities,” she said.


A federal judge on Monday agreed to push back until next year the sentencing for U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz’s friend who pleaded guilty earlier this year to sex trafficking and other charges.

U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell said sentencing for Joel Greenberg could be postponed from next month to next March during a hearing in federal court in Orlando. Greenberg’s attorney had asked for the delay so the former local tax collector can continue cooperating with federal authorities. Prosecutors agreed to the postponement.

Greenberg wasn’t present during the 20-minute hearing. The judge said he would set a new sentencing date in the future.

Greenberg is facing up to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty last May to six federal crimes, including sex trafficking of a child, identity theft, stalking, wire fraud, and conspiracy to bribe a public official.

Greenberg’s plea agreement with prosecutors requires continued cooperation with an ongoing probe into sex trafficking.

Gaetz, a Republican who represents much of the Florida Panhandle, was not mentioned in Greenberg’s plea agreement. But Greenberg’s cooperation could play a role in an ongoing investigation into Gaetz, who was accused of paying a 17-year-old girl for sex. Gaetz has denied the allegations and previously said they were part of an extortion plot.


Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is defending her authority to decide how the state will spend more than $1 billion federal pandemic aid — without the approval of the Legislature.

In a written court briefing Friday, Lujan Grisham said a state Supreme Court decision nearly 50 years ago upheld the governor’s discretion over federal funding at universities and should hold true today more broadly regarding federal pandemic relief funds.

Republican Senate minority leader Gregory Baca of Belen and Democratic Sen. Jacob Candelaria of Albuquerque have asked the Supreme Court to intervene and rein in the governor’s authority to spend without legislative approval.

Lujan Grisham, who is running for reelection in 2022, has used the relief funds to replenish the state unemployment insurance trust, underwrite millions of dollars in sweepstakes prizes for people who got vaccinated, prop up agriculture wages amid a shortage of chile pickers and provide incentives for the unemployed to return to work. Decisions are pending on more than $1 billion in federal relief.

The ruling vacated approval of the pipeline, prompting FERC’s 90-day order allowing its continued operation.

Roberts handles emergency appeals to the Supreme Court in cases arising in the federal courts in Washington, D.C.

New Mexico’s state treasurer says a close reading of the state Constitution shows that the Legislature should help determine how to spend a recent round of pandemic relief signed by President Joe Biden in March.


An Alabama man was arrested on criminal mischief and other charges after someone threw paint on a Confederate monument that has been the subject of protests at the Lauderdale County Courthouse, the TimesDaily reported.

Sheriff’s Lt. Joe Hamilton said a deputy assigned to provide security at the courthouse saw a man splash paint on the monument Thursday afternoon. The man ran away after seeing the deputy but was captured quickly, Hamilton said.

Courthouse workers used a garden hose to wash away the blue and purple paint, and most of the discoloration was gone within 30 minutes, the newspaper reported.

Seth Jones Robinson, 20, of Florence was charged with second-degree trespassing, third-degree criminal mischief, desecration of a venerated object, and attempting to elude. Robinson was booked into the county jail, and court records weren’t available Thursday to show whether he had a lawyer who could speak on his behalf.

Erected in 1903, when Confederate veterans and their descendants were attempting to portray the South’s cause in the Civil War as noble, the monument has been the subject of complaints for years. Project Say Something, a group that opposes the memorial, has sought its removal but county commissioners cited a potential $25,000 state fine for refusing to do anything.


An appellate court is set to debate a lawsuit challenging South Carolina’s abortion law about a week after the U.S. Supreme Court considers a similar measure in Mississippi.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has tentatively calendared the South Carolina case for oral arguments the week of Dec. 6, according to an order from the court posted Friday.

Planned Parenthood is suing South Carolina to over the measure, which was signed into law by Republican Gov. Henry McMaster earlier this year and requires doctors to perform ultrasounds to check for a so-called “fetal heartbeat.” If cardiac activity — which can typically be detected about six weeks into pregnancy — is detected, the abortion can only be performed if the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest, or if the mother’s life is in danger.

Opponents have argued many women do not know they are pregnant at six weeks. And, they argue, with such an early deadline, the law gives women little time to consider whether to have an abortion.

Medical experts say the cardiac activity is not an actual heartbeat but rather an initial flutter of electric activity within cells in an embryo. They say the heart doesn’t begin to form until the fetus is at least nine weeks old, and they decry efforts to promote abortion bans by relying on medical inaccuracies.

A judge has blocked South Carolina’s law from going into effect pending the outcome of a challenge to Mississippi’s new abortion law, which the U.S. Supreme Court expects to hear Dec. 1.

Mississippi wants the high court to uphold its ban on most abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy, telling the court it should overrule the landmark Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing a woman’s right to an abortion and the 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that prevents states from banning abortion before viability.

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