Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Oct 13, 2014

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A Louisiana Judge blocks the transportation of Ebola victim’s incinerated waste to the state, Amanda Bynes’ involuntary commitment provides high profile look into California mental health law, and alleged voter registration fraud leads to a lawsuit in Georgia.

Louisiana Judge Blocks Transport of Ebola Victim’s Personal Items

A state judge in Louisiana granted a temporary injunction that prevented officials from Texas from transporting the remains of personal items owned by a Dallas Ebola victim through Louisiana.  Personal belongings from the apartment of Thomas Eric Duncan, the Dallas man who died of Ebola last week, were incinerated in Port Arthur, Texas in preparation for transportation to a hazardous waste landfill in Louisiana.  In opposition to the planned waste disposal, Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell filed a request for a temporary restraining order, asking Judge Bob Downing of Louisiana’s 19th Judicial District Court to stop the hazardous waste trucks at the border.

Mr. Caldwell defended his position in a statement, writing, “There are too many unknowns at this point, and it is absurd to transport potentially hazardous Ebola waste across state lines… this situation is certainly unprecedented and we want to approach it with the utmost caution. We just can’t afford to take any risks when it comes to this deadly virus.” After reviewing the circumstances, Judge Downing agreed and issued an order that will keep Mr. Duncan’s incinerated items out of Louisiana. 

The order to block the transfer of Ebola waste into Louisiana comes despite assurances from the United States Center for Disease Control (CDC) that the planned waste disposal is safe and effective.  CDC Director Tom Frieden informed news outlets that officials have a confirmed procedure to “inactivate” the Ebola virus by incinerating all the potentially contaminated items.  CDC assurances notwithstanding, Judge Downing’s order will force Texas officials to keep the Ebola waste out of Louisiana and look for an alternative disposal sight.

Legal theatrics aside, the question of whether Louisiana will take the waste was rendered moot by the owners of the Lake Charles hazardous waste facility who issued a statement claiming that the ashes would not be accepted anyway.

Amanda Bynes Involuntarily Committed Under CA Mental Health Law

After a series of increasingly bizarre Tweets last week, former teen actress Amanda Bynes was involuntarily committed to a mental health facility as is allowed by California mental health law.  Last week Ms. Bynes unloaded a string of posts on her Twitter account that threatened lawsuits against media outlets for libel and accused her father of sexual abuse before rescinding her claims and blaming the situation on a “microchip” that was installed in her brain.  On Friday, shortly after her social media outburst, reports citing the family’s attorney indicated that Ms. Bynes had been placed in a Los Angeles hospital involuntarily – a process that is legal under California’s mental health law.

In California, like all states, the law allows for mental health professionals to hospitalize patients suffering from serious mental illness against their will.  Under California’s Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, police or an authorized mental health professional can place a person under a 72-hour hold if there is probable cause to believe that she is a danger to herself or others.  If, after 72-hours, professionals at the hospital decide more time is needed then they can order the patient be kept for a 14-day intensive treatment hold, which is also involuntary. 

A hospital that calls for a 14-day mental health treatment hold must defend its decision within four days at a probable-cause hearing by demonstrating that the patient is still a danger if released.  At this hearing, the patient may respond with argument that she should not be held involuntarily.  After 14 days, a court can extend the involuntary mental health hold for an additional 180 days if she has made “a serious threat of substantial physical harm or attempted or inflicted physical harm on another due to a mental disorder.”

As of this writing, Ms. Bynes’ involuntary hold has been extended to 14 days as allowed by California mental health law.

Get Out to Vote Initiative Leads to GA Lawsuit

In an election cycle that is becoming increasingly litigious, Republicans and Democrats clashed in Georgia this week over grass roots efforts to register minority voters.  The New Georgia Project, a nonprofit organization that has been working to register minority voters across the state, filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State Brian Kemp and five county election boards for allegedly failing to process thousands of voter applications in time for the November elections.

According to the New Georgia project, the nonprofit submitted 86,000 voter applications, almost all of them for Democrats, but saw only 40,000 processed.  With half of the voter registration applications unacknowledged, the lawsuit claims Mr. Kemp and other election officials have committed fraud in an effort to disenfranchise minority voters by preventing access to the polls.  The secretary of state’s general counsel, C. Ryan Germany, responded to the accusations via a written statement that alleged the 40,000 voter applications failed to provide sufficient information, saying that it “could have been taken from the phone book.”  The Fulton County Superior Court in Atlanta will likely move quickly to settle the problem in time for the upcoming election.