The Supreme Court got rid of a pandemic-related immigration case with a single sentence.
Justice Neil Gorsuch had a lot more to say, leveling harsh criticism of how governments, from small towns to the nation’s capital, responded to the gravest public health threat in a century.
The justice, a 55-year-old conservative who was President Donald Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, called emergency measures taken during the COVID-19 crisis that killed more than 1 million Americans perhaps “the greatest intrusions on civil liberties in the peacetime history of this country.”
He pointed to orders closing schools, restricting church services, mandating vaccines and prohibiting evictions. His broadside was aimed at local, state and federal officials — even his colleagues.
“Executive officials across the country issued emergency decrees on a breathtaking scale,” Gorsuch wrote in an eight-page statement Thursday that accompanied an expected Supreme Court order formally dismissing a case involving the use of the Title 42 policy to prevent asylum seekers from entering the United States.
The policy was ended last week with the expiration of the public health emergency first declared more than three years ago because of the coronavirus pandemic.
From the start of his Supreme Court tenure in 2017, Gorsuch, a Colorado native who loves to ski and bicycle, has been more willing than most justices to part company with his colleagues, both left and right.
He has mainly voted with the other conservatives in his six years as a justice, joining the majority that overturned Roe v. Wade and expanded gun rights last year.
But he has charted a different course on some issues, writing the court’s 2020 opinion that extended federal protections against workplace discrimination to LGBTQ people. He also has joined with the liberal justices in support of Native American rights.
When the omicron variant surged in late 2021 and early 2022, Gorsuch was the lone justice to appear in the courtroom unmasked even as his seatmate, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who has diabetes, reportedly did not feel safe in close quarters with people who were not wearing masks.
So Sotomayor, who continues to wear a mask in public, did not take the bench with the other justices in January 2022. The two justices denied reports they were at odds over the issue.
The emergency orders about which Gorsuch complained were first announced in the early days of the pandemic, when Trump was president, and months before the virus was well understood and a vaccine was developed.
The thrust of his complaint is not new. He has written before in individual cases that came to the court during the pandemic, sometimes dissenting from orders that left emergency decrees in place.
The justices intervened in several COVID-related cases.
With Gorsuch and five other conservatives in the majority, they ended the eviction moratorium and blocked a Biden administration plan to require workers at larger companies to be vaccinated or wear a mask and submit to regular testing. Once Amy Coney Barrett joined the court, after Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, they ended restrictions on religious services in some areas.
By a 5-4 vote from which Gorsuch and three conservative colleagues dissented, the court allowed the administration to require many health care workers to be vaccinated.
But on Thursday, Gorsuch gathered his complaints in one place, writing about lessons he hoped might be learned from the past three years.
“One lesson might be this: Fear and the desire for safety are powerful forces. They can lead to a clamor for action —almost any action — as long as someone does something to address a perceived threat. A leader or an expert who claims he can fix everything, if only we do exactly as he says, can prove an irresistible force,” he wrote.
Another possible lesson, he wrote: “The concentration of power in the hands of so few may be efficient and sometimes popular. But it does not tend toward sound government.”
He also had strong words for the Republican-led states that tried to keep the Title 42 policy in place, and the five conservatives justices whose votes extended the policy five months beyond when it would have otherwise ended in late December.
“At the very least, one can hope that the Judiciary will not soon again allow itself to be part of the problem by permitting litigants to manipulate our docket to perpetuate a decree designed for one emergency to address another,” Gorsuch wrote.
In the final paragraph of his statement, Gorsuch acknowledged, but only grudgingly, that emergency orders sometimes are necessary. “Make no mistake — decisive executive action is sometimes necessary and appropriate. But if emergency decrees promise to solve some problems, they threaten to generate others,” he wrote.
Island short-term rental operators are wondering when the Park Board of Trustees will roll out more than $1 million worth of property-tracking software meant to provide a data-driven roadmap for guiding officials’ decisions about governing the booming market.
Rental operators who spoke to The Daily News said they still were clueless about when the park board will launch the software both they and officials want.
“We have seen no information on data collecting — nothing at all,” Ron Venable, who owns a rental property and manages seven others, said.
“Our whole bottom line for years, and I do mean years, is it’s all about the data,” Venable said. “Without the data, it’s all anecdotal.”
The park board hopes to deploy the program to the public this summer, with a targeted release date in June, CFO Bryson Frazier said. The park board still was in the testing and due diligence phase Friday, Frazier said.
City officials hope the software will help drive decisions on policing the rentals and vacationers who use them, Mayor Craig Brown said.
“We at the city are very interested in having the software come online as soon as possible,” Brown said. “It’s our first step toward providing some organization.”
The software, which cost $1.3 million, scrapes data from hundreds of different rental sites every day, Frazier said.
It identifies short-term rental properties, registered and not registered, and totals up all advertising activity. The park board has a five-year agreement with Deckard Technologies. The agreement calls for $275,000 in the first year and $265,000 for the next four.
“The program compares the property data to our registration database and determines which are in compliance and whether they are registered or not registered,” Frazier said. “It notifies our team of compliance issues and generates letters for our team to administer to the owner or property manager identified in the property profile.
“It also allows us to cross reference booking calendars on different platforms, and we can see past stays and future bookings to track occupancy.”
That data can be used to encourage compliance, Frazier said.
“Through the initial testing of the program, we were able to find additional funds for the city from newly discovered, previously unregistered properties,” Frazier said.
To foot the software’s bill, the city council in October voted to increase the annual registration fee for short-term rental owners from $50 to $250.
Rental operators figured $100 per owner would have covered the cost of the software, Venable said. As of March 31, there were about 4,281 short-term rentals registered with the park board. The $250 annual fee in its first year resulted in about $1 million collected from rental owners.
“We still are not clear on where all that registration is going to,” Venable said. “We have asked, and they have only alluded to things. The software was supposed to provide data. For instance, the city wants to add more marshals for code enforcement. Before we pay extra fees for marshals, we want to know if that’s where the money is actually going to.
“There is absolutely no data on what code-enforcement issues are from residents and what’s from short-term rentals.”
That money is being used for police and marshals to better monitor and enforce ordinances concerning short-term rentals, Brown said.
City officials hope to curb complaints about short-term rentals through gathering data. But Venable and other short-term rental operators argue complaints are coming from a small group, he said.
“We think it’s the same squeaky wheel, and the data will tell us,” Venable said.
Many short-term rental operator argue the fee increase should have been delayed until some data was collected, Venable said.
The city should have allowed the park board to collect data for at least a year before it increased the fee, Venable said.
Officials originally told rental operators the software would be online by spring break, which came and went without any notification from the park board or city, Ana Draa, who owns a rental property and is social media director for the short-term Rental Owners Association of Galveston, said. The association is a nonprofit that promotes responsible rental operations through education, advocacy and networking.
“We think fair regulations evenly enforced works for everyone,” Draa said.
Debate and discourse between the city and park board has given the latter little time to bring the software online, rental owners who spoke to The Daily News said.
“I think their hands are full, and it’s an ongoing issue between the city and park board,” Venable said.
Frazier agreed on Friday.
“We initially had hoped to get the program launched in the spring, however, we had to reprioritize negotiating the interlocal agreement with the city as well as adjusting processes due to recently passed ordinances,” Frazier said. “We are excited to be in the closing phase to get this program launched this summer.
“Visit Galveston has been recognized by other cities nationwide as an innovative leader in short-term rental regulation and compliance.”
Local hotel occupancy tax collections on the island grew by about 22 percent in 2022, according to an economic impact report. The park board collected about $30 million in hotel occupancy tax, which is a record, from hotel and rental stays on the island.
That rise was driven by an almost 50 percent increase in collections from vacation rentals, which led the segment to overtake hotels as the biggest hotel occupancy tax contributor, Frazier said.
In 2018, vacation rentals made up about 29 percent, about $5.4 million, of the total hotel occupancy tax collected. That rose to about 54 percent, about $16.3 million, in 2022.
“Short-term rentals generate additional income for homeowners, attract visitors who support local businesses and contribute to the overall economic growth of the community, Tony Lyle, chief tourism officer, said.
“We are hopeful that this software will increase compliance and also allow us to review the short-term rental landscape in Galveston to better assess needs in sustainability,” Lyle said.
Ousted University of Texas Medical Branch President Ben Raimer violated policies through a mentoring program that involved giving male students haircuts, but there was no evidence students believed they were subject to direct sexual contact or sexual requests, according to documents released by the University of Texas System.
“It is important to note that we found no evidence Dr. Raimer engaged in any sexual activity with students or made sexual requests or sexually explicit statements,” according to an Aug. 22 report by UT Chief Inquiry Officer Trey Atchley to Chancellor James B. Milliken regarding allegations against Raimer of inappropriate and unprofessional conduct.
Included among documents the UT System has fought since August to withhold, were summaries of interviews with various students and medical branch faculty.
Atchley determined Raimer had violated two UT System Regents’ rules, the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and the medical branch’s sexual misconduct policy, according to the report.
The documents, obtained through the Texas Opens Records Act, detail why Raimer was placed on administrative leave in August and provide the context of his sudden resignation the same month.
They also contain correspondence by an attorney on Raimer’s behalf asserting action against the former president of the University of Texas Medical Branch was in retaliation for the departure of person whose name was redacted.
“I feel like I’ve been really victimized,” Raimer said Friday. “I believe it was an agenda somewhere that somebody didn’t like something and really tried to assassinate my character and that of my family.”
Raimer on Friday said he believed his ouster was linked to the April 27, 2022 resignation of Robert Thomas, a former vice president for strategic initiatives and chief diversity officer at the medical branch who is married to Amy Shaw Thomas, the senior vice chancellor for health affairs in the UT System.
In the Aug. 19 letter, Raimer’s attorney, Laurence E. Stuart, implored the UT board of regents to take immediate action to prevent the removal of Raimer from his position as president of the medical branch.
Stuart, in the heavily redacted document, reminds regents of Texas laws that prohibit public officials from appointing their family members to positions compensated with public funds. University rules and regulations also “explicitly dictates that no employee of the UT system or any of its institutions “may approve, recommend, or otherwise act” with regard to the employment of a family member.
In an April 26 letter, Raimer described Robert Thomas a “probationary employee,” who had received a clear description of a job to be performed and of standards.
“Although you represent that you have knowledge of facilities, hospital operations, diversity, equity and inclusion and other university operations, your work performance thus far does not reflect your alleged experience,” Raimer told Thomas in the letter.
Among other assertions, Raimer listed several examples of “inappropriate behavior” by Thomas, including refusing to assume certain roles or take on certain assignments when asked; verbally reprimanding/berating a peer in front of others; and reaching out to individuals at the UT System prematurely regarding University of Texas Medical Branch facility issues.
Raimer in the letter also told Robert Thomas he created an “environment of fear of reprisal and intimidation among senior executives and your peers.”
On April 27, a day after Raimer’s letter, Robert Thomas resigned.
Raimer was abruptly placed on administrative leave Aug. 8, shocking islanders. He resigned Aug. 22.
But UT System officials deny Raimer’s ouster had anything to do with Robert Thomas or was retribution.
“The record, all of which you have, demonstrates that is categorically false,” Daniel H. Sharphorn, vice chancellor and general counsel for the UT System said in a statement to The Daily News.
“As you very well know by now, Dr. Raimer resigned two days after his attorney was fully briefed on the preliminary findings of an investigation into Dr. Raimer’s conduct,” Sharphorn wrote.
“During the investigation, more than a dozen people were interviewed and multiple actions were identified that were inconsistent with the Board of Regents’ expectations of the conduct of a university president, and which were not denied by Dr. Raimer.
“The investigation was conducted by experienced, independent investigators uninfluenced by anything extraneous. They found all the witnesses they interviewed credible and reached their conclusions independently.”
Raimer’s long esteemed career with the medical branch ended abruptly and harshly after an anonymous student stated to the UT System he felt uncomfortable after Raimer cut his hair, which the student described as “creepy” and “grooming behavior.”
“Raimer denied engaging in sexual grooming; however, several of the behaviors associated with the informal mentorship program correlate with behaviors that tend to be associated with sexual grooming,” according to Atchley’s report.
Raimer Friday said he has an idea why a student wrote the anonymous letter. It had to do with a student losing a job, he said.
“Of course, I don’t know who he is, but I’ve certainly looked at the style and have my guess as to who that student is,” Raimer said. “There was a one-year limit to the job and somebody replaced him. I don’t think he was too happy about that.”
Although Atchley’s determinations found no evidence students were subject to direct sexual contact or direct sexual requests, the informal mentorship program excluded women and existed separately from a formal student mentorship program at the medical branch in violation of regents’ rules, according to the report.
Raimer selected males for the program whom he believed were struggling with financial, emotional or familial and/or academic issues, Atchley said in his report to Milliken.
“An unnecessary and inappropriate element of this ‘program’ involved free haircuts performed by Dr. Raimer at his residence, after which Dr. Raimer and the student would talk about both personal and academic matters,” Atchley wrote.
The investigation also found evidence that Raimer invited some students to spend the night at his home and offered to buy them clothing, according to the report.
Raimer told UT officials he didn’t invite women for fear of the appearance of impropriety, according to Atchley’s report.
“Any personal or informal invitation, to male students only, to be mentored by the university president, with the unnecessary and inappropriate element of receiving a haircut in the president’s residence in private, does not set a proper tone, does not demonstrate respect for either the male students or the excluded female students, and ignores the power differential between a president and student,” according to Atchley’s determination.
“In other words, a student may feel obligated or enticed to accept because of the president’s position and perceived prestige of being closely affiliated with him.”
Such actions violated UT System rules that required officers and employees to “behave in a manner that demonstrates trust and credibility … ,” while the exclusion of women violated the regents’ rule, which prohibits exclusion from participation in any programs based or race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, veteran status or disability,” according to Atchley’s letter to Milliken.
But Raimer on Friday denied he excluded anyone.
“I’ve cut a number of women’s hair,” Raimer said. “They just didn’t ask that question, did they? I’ve cut the hair of all races and ethnicities. I’ve always done it in a transparent and very open way.”
The letter went on to state Raimer engaged in confidential and sensitive conversations with students regarding interactions with his executive team and that he improperly intervened on behalf of a student who was dismissed for failing four classes.
“Dr. Raimer admitted to us that it was improper for him to intervene on behalf of the student but said he did so because the student had severe depression and ‘deserved a second chance,” according to Atchley’s report to Milliken.
But Raimer denied to UT System officials he had sensitive discussions with students about his leadership team, according to the documents.
The UT System long ago should have released documents clearing Raimer of any sexual wrongdoing, Raimer said. Instead, silence allowed speculation to spread.
“It’s about time the UT System released something on this,” Raimer said. “They could have done that the first day. The first day of the investigation would have shown that there was no quid pro quo anywhere.”
Raimer asserted the UT System officials had also done themselves and the institutions harm.
“Good luck in the future in developing trust. Because with your current administration, trust is going to be a hard thing to validate for any faculty or anyone in a position within the UT System.
“The regents and the people in charge of the UT System need to take a good long look at themselves and their own ivory-tower behavior.”
A judge Thursday dismissed a $25 million civil rights lawsuit filed against the city and a police officer by a prominent couple who say they were wrongly jailed in connection with a parking lot fender bender last year, officials said Friday.
Judge Jeffrey V. Brown in the Texas Southern District Court dismissed the case for reasons of qualified immunity, officials said. Qualified immunity protects state and local officials, including law enforcement officers, from individual liability unless the official violated a clearly established constitutional right.
Developer Randy Hall, the grandson of Walter Hall, after whom parks and schools in the city are named, in October filed the lawsuit against League City and one of its police officers seeking a public apology after he and his wife, Rachael, on Sept. 18 were arrested in front of their children, handcuffed, photographed, fingerprinted and detained for more than eight hours in the city jail over a fender-bender in a gym parking lot Sept. 2.
The lawsuit asserted the Halls’ rights under the First, Fourth, Fifth and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution were violated during the arrest. It argued those violations occurred because the Halls were never shown copies of the warrants for their arrest nor informed of their Miranda rights during the arrest or booking into the city jail.
If qualified immunity applies, money damages aren’t available even if a constitutional violation has occurred, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“We think qualified immunity doesn’t apply in this case,” Randall Kallinen, a civil rights attorney representing the Halls, said. “It is not constitutionally sound.”
City officials couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.
The parking lot incident and arrests enraged the Halls, who argued if it could happen to them, it could happen to people with lesser means. They would spend proceeds from the lawsuit, if any, on helping people who have faced similar incidents, Rachael Hall said.
The lawsuit was just two months after police dropped charges against Rachael Hall, who was involved in the accident and charged with accident involving damage to vehicle of more than $200.
Officers dropped the charges because of an uncooperative complainant — the other party involved in the accident — Rebekah L. Saunders, chief assistant district attorney, said.
The driver of the other vehicle involved in the accident accused her of leaving the scene prematurely and blamed her for the accident, according to police.
Police charged Randy Hall with interference with police duties, and arrested him in his home. Police dropped charges against him last year.
Randy Hall was arrested hours after the wreck occurred when an officer showed up to their home to request Rachael Hall’s insurance information, she said.
Rachael Hall said she wasn’t convinced the man was a police officer and was concerned about what she called aggressive behavior.
She then called her husband, and he instructed the officer to leave their property if he didn’t have a warrant to be there.
“The judge is stretching what it means to interfere,” Kallinen said of the lawsuit being dismissed. “The law says speech only is not a violation, and he was arrested for speaking on the phone in El Campo, over 90 miles away.”
Kallinen declined to comment about next steps, citing “attorney-client privilege.”
But Randy Hall told The Daily News Friday they plan to appeal the dismissal.
“All of the things we have heard about the police department is the main reason we will continue to fight,” Hall said.
In the past eight months, no fewer than 20 people reached out to him with similar experiences, he said.
First responders find it difficult to conduct life-saving CPR while carrying prone patients down from the coastal county’s many stilted homes and long flights of stairs. But those issues should be in the rearview after they received 11 devices that replicate CPR compressions on the fly.
The Lund University Cardiopulmonary Assist System device, also known as the LUCAS device, is a machine that replicates CPR. The Galveston County Health District spent $198,000 for 11 of the devices in early April.
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation is a life-saving procedure typically performed when somebody’s heart stops beating.
Immediate CPR can double or triple chances of survival after cardiac arrest, according to the American Heart Association.
The LUCAS device is a mechanical CPR device that takes away a human factor, Brad Starkey, the deputy chief of administration that oversees the district’s EMS team, said.
One of the cons of a human conducting CPR is there’s a higher risk of fatigue, whereas the device will have a consistent rate of compressions, Starkey said.
To use the device, first responders check to see whether the patient is awake, Hope Jensen, EMS supervisor paramedic, said.
These patients typically are unconscious, pulseless and not breathing, Jensen said.
First responders will then conduct manual CPR as others prepare to put the device on the patient, Jensen said.
The average time to transition from manual CPR to the device can take fewer than 10 seconds, but the district is aiming to get it done within four seconds, Starkey said.
There’s a back plate on the device and a suction cup plunger that sets in the middle of the chest.
The EMS team will then press a button that starts the compressions, Jensen said.
The health district’s EMS demonstrated the device by putting it on a medical dummy. A plunger in the middle of the machine then started compressions in the middle of the dummy’s chest at a fast but steady rate.
“It looks scary, but it’s not that bad,” Starkey said. “But the depth it goes is about 2.2 inches, which is in the American Heart Association guidelines. The machine gives about 120 compressions per minute.”
One of the benefits of the devices is they’re typically light and can be carried in a backpack, Starkey said.
The device also can record data each time it’s used, Starkey said. Although the health district only has been using the device for a month, it has seen a survival rate of 80 percent, Starkey said.
“The device itself collects all data from the moment you turn it on,” Starkey said. “It can collect the depth rate, time used and how many compressions were made. Once they’re done with it, the data gets synced into a cloud.”
The average survival rate for out-of-hospital cardiac arrest is at 10 percent, according to the American Heart Association.
A research team at Sweden’s Lund University created the device to help the health district track data, Starkey said
One of the problems coastal communities face is there are many homes on stilts, Starkey said. The problem with stilts is when officials are transporting a patient down a flight of stairs, CPR will stop.
“It’s very nice to have the device here in Galveston Island specifically,” Jensen said. “We have stairs. Manual compressions while carrying a patient down the stairs isn’t safe. Because you’re putting pressure on a board that other people are carrying.”
In some places on the island, first responders have to carry patients down several flights of stairs, Jensen said.
The health district has sought the devices for four years, Jensen said.
Previously, the health district had a device that performed compressions but was 3.5 feet tall, making it inconvenient for first responders, Starkey said.
“I think we’re definitely going to see better patient outcome from these devices,” Jensen said.