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Tag: 2024 News

U.S. DOJ Sues California Dept. of Corrections for Employment Discrimination

The U.S. Justice Department has challenged the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) on its denial of religious accommodations for correctional officers of various faiths, including Sikhs and Muslims, who wear facial hair as an expression of their faith. CDCR generally prohibits correctional officers from wearing beards, and the action seeks a temporary court order allowing these officers to wear beards while CDCR fully assesses options for providing them with religious accommodations while complying with California safety regulations.

The department’s action, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, alleges that although many officers had performed their jobs successfully for years while wearing facial hair, CDCR implemented a revised facial hair policy last year and, since then, has repeatedly denied religious accommodation requests, forcing officers to shave their beards or lose their jobs. The affected officers have been forced to violate core tenets of their faiths and have suffered shame and humiliation among their religious communities, including being shunned from houses of worship and denied participation in religious ceremonies, such as family weddings.

Since CDCR implemented its revised facial hair policy, numerous officers have filed charges of religious discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII). Because the EEOC’s investigation remains ongoing, the department is seeking relief in its requested court order only until the EEOC finishes its full investigation or until CDCR can otherwise show the court it has met its religious accommodation obligations under Title VII. The department’s complaint alleges that CDCR has failed to meaningfully consider the range of options proposed by the charging parties or those used by other correctional institutions to accommodate officers’ religious beliefs while meeting safety requirements. The department asks the Court to order CDCR to stop enforcing its facial hair policy against officers who request to wear a beard because of their religious beliefs and engage in good faith discussions with officers about possible reasonable accommodations that would allow officers to safely do their jobs and adhere to their religious beliefs.

“Our district is one of the most diverse in the country, with communities of many different faiths practicing customs that are central to their beliefs. The action brought today is an important use of the federal civil rights laws to protect this religious expression,” said U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert for the Eastern District of California. “My office will continue to work hand in hand with the Civil Rights Division to ensure that individuals of all faiths can receive due consideration for appropriate religious accommodations at workplaces in this District.”

Sikhs, Muslims and employees of other minority faiths should not be forced to choose between the practice of their faith and their jobs,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Religious freedom and religious accommodation are bedrock principles of our democracy. We are taking action to ensure that the rights of employees of minority faiths are respected and accommodated in the workplace. As faith communities celebrate Ramadan and other important holidays across religions in the coming weeks, the Justice Department will continue to combat religious discrimination in the workplace.”

Trial Attorneys Alicia Johnson and Sharion Scott of the Civil Rights Division’s Employment Litigation Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Fuentes for the Eastern District of California are handling the case.

California Supreme Ct. Clarifies “Hours Worked” in Wage Order 16

The California Flats Solar Project is a solar power facility located on privately owned land in Monterey and San Luis Obispo Counties. First Solar Electric, Inc. owns the facility. A subcontractor hired George Huerta and other workers to assist CSI Electrical Contractors, the company providing “procurement, installation, construction, and testing services” at the Site. A designated road provided access between a guard shack located at the Site’s perimeter and the employee parking lots. A security gate was located on that road several miles from the guard shack; from the Security Gate, it would take Huerta approximately 10 to 15 minutes to reach the parking lots. Huerta underwent security checks at the Security Gate and was told by CSI management that this gate was the “first place” he had to be at the beginning of the workday.

In the morning, vehicles formed a long line outside the Security Gate, where guards scanned each worker’s badge and sometimes peered inside vehicles and truck beds. At the end of the day, workers again formed a long line inside the Security Gate, where the exit procedure took place. The exit procedure could take up to a minute or more per vehicle and caused delays of five to over 30 minutes. CSI told Huerta that security guards had the right to search vehicles during the entry and exit processes, and the guards visually inspected the bed of his truck for stolen tools or endangered species. Huerta was not paid for the time he spent waiting to pass through the Security Gate at the beginning or end of the workday.

Because two endangered species were present near the Site, the Department of Fish and Wildlife required First Solar to obtain an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) before work could begin on the project. The ITP imposed a speed limit of 20 miles per hour on the access road between the guard shack and the parking lots, and restricted the roads that could be taken at the Site. It also required a biologist to monitor the Site to minimize disturbances to species’ habitats. As part of this monitoring, the biologist each morning ensured that the road between the guard shack and the parking lots was clear of endangered species before anyone could enter the Site. On some occasions, this clearing process added to the time Huerta spent waiting in line to enter the worksite in the morning.

As First Solar’s subcontractor, CSI was required to abide by the ITP and was required to ensure that its employees did as well. After passing through the Security Gate each morning, Huerta was subject to the rules imposed by the ITP in addition to other rules governing his conduct. CSI required adherence to speed limits between five and 20 miles per hour; restricted travel to driving on the access road to reach the Site, thereby prohibiting employees from driving on other roads near the Site or walking or biking from the Security Gate to the parking lots; and prohibited employees from honking their horns, playing music that could be heard outside of their vehicles, or otherwise disturbing local wildlife. Violation of these rules or other Site rules could result in suspension or termination. Huerta was not paid for the time he spent driving between the Security Gate and the employee parking lots.

Huerta’s employment was governed by two collective bargaining agreements (CBAs), which specified that the standard workday included an unpaid 30-minute meal period. CSI did not allow workers to leave the Site during the workday and instructed workers to spend their meal periods at a designated area near their assigned worksite (Installation Site). In accordance with the CBAs, Huerta was not paid for his meal periods.

Huerta filed a wage and hour class action in the Superior Court of Monterey County on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated against CSI, seeking payment for unpaid hours worked. The suit was removed to the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. The district court granted Huerta’s motion for class certification. CSI then filed a motion for partial summary judgment on the class claims Huerta raised in his first amended complaint; that motion was granted by the district court. CSI filed a second motion for partial summary judgment on the class claim that survived the first motion for partial summary judgment. This second motion was also granted.

Huerta timely appealed the orders granting CSI’s motions for summary judgment to the Ninth Circuit, which certified three questions to the California Supreme Court which answered those questions in the case of Huerta v CSI Electrical Contractors S275431 (March 2024). The request from the Ninth Circuit was to answer three questions about Wage Order No. 16 and the scope of the term “hours worked.”  Industrial Welfare Commission wage order No. 16-2001 (Wage Order No. 16) governs wages, hours, and working conditions in the construction, drilling, logging, and mining industries. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 8, § 11160.) It entitles certain employees in these industries to at least minimum wage compensation for “hours worked.”

First: “Is time spent on an employer’s premises in a personal vehicle and waiting to scan an identification badge, have security guards peer into the vehicle, and then exit a Security Gate compensable as ‘hours worked’ within the meaning of . . . Wage Order No. 16?” (Huerta v. CSI Electrical Contractors, Inc. (9th Cir. 2022) 39 F.4th 1176, 1177 (Huerta).)

Second: “Is time spent on the employer’s premises in a personal vehicle, driving between the Security Gate and the employee parking lots, while subject to certain rules from the employer, compensable as ‘hours worked’ or as ‘employer-mandated travel’ within the meaning of . . . Wage Order No. 16?” (Ibid.)

And third: “Is time spent on the employer’s premises, when workers are prohibited from leaving but not required to engage in employer-mandated activities, compensable as ‘hours worked’ within the meaning of . . . Wage Order No. 16, or under California Labor Code Section 1194, when that time was designated as an unpaid ‘meal period’ under a qualifying collective bargaining agreement?” (Ibid.)

And the Supreme Court provided the answers to each question. “First, an employee’s time spent on an employer’s premises awaiting and undergoing an employer-mandated exit procedure that includes the employer’s visual inspection of the employee’s personal vehicle is compensable as “hours worked’ within the meaning of Wage Order No. 16, section 2(J).

“Second, the time that an employee spends traveling between the Security Gate and the employee parking lots is compensable as ’employer-mandated travel’ under Wage Order No. 16, section 5(A) if the Security Gate was the first location where the employee’s presence was required for an employment-related reason other than the practical necessity of accessing the worksite. Separately, this travel time is not compensable as ‘hours worked’ because an employer’s imposition of ordinary workplace rules on employees during their drive to the worksite in a personal vehicle does not create the requisite level of employer control.”

“Third, when an employee is covered by a collective bargaining agreement that complies with Labor Code section 512, subdivision (e) and Wage Order No. 16, section 10(E), and provides the employee with an ‘unpaid meal period,’ that time is nonetheless compensable under the wage order as ‘hours worked’ if the employer prohibits the employee from leaving the employer’s premises or a designated area during the meal period and if this prohibition prevents the employee from engaging in otherwise feasible personal activities. An employee may bring an action under Labor Code section 1194 to enforce the wage order and recover unpaid wages for that time.”

Well Known Los Angeles Attorney Charged in $2.4M Tax Case

A federal grand jury has indicted Los Angeles attorney Milton C. Grimes with the evasion of payment of his individual income taxes and willful failure to pay taxes.

Grimes served as the lead attorney for Rodney King 30 years ago, and was responsible for prevailing in a $3.8 million civil claim on behalf of King. Rodney King was the black motorist whose beating at the hands of LAPD sparked the deadly 1992 riots and led to local and national police reform.

It is not the first time tax charges have been leveled against Grimes. Not long after the lawyer made national headlines representing accused murderer Sheryl Lynn Massip – who was charged with running over her infant son with the family Volvo in 1987, Grimes pled guilty in 1988 to three counts of willfully failing to file a tax return. (Rev. & Tax. Code, § 19401.)

According to the California Supreme Court records (51 Cal.3d 199 (1990) 793 P.2d 61 270 Cal. Rptr. 855) Grimes was suspended from the practice of law for a period of two years, but the order of suspension was stayed, and he was placed on probation for two years upon conditions including sixty days’ actual suspension, and that he comply with the other conditions of probation. Grimes acknowledged the omission in 1988 when he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor tax charge in Orange County Municipal Court. He was ordered to pay delinquent taxes of $1,269, along with a $4,000 fine, and to perform 100 hours of community service.

The current indictment filed in March 2024, charges Grimes with one count of attempted tax evasion and four counts of willful failure to pay taxes. He is expected to be arraigned in United States District Court on April 10.

According to the indictment, Grimes owed the IRS more than $1.7 million in taxes for tax years 2010 and 2014.

The IRS tried to collect the unpaid taxes from Grimes by, among other things, levying his personal bank accounts. In response to IRS collection efforts, from 2014 through 2020, Grimes allegedly engaged in a scheme to thwart the tax levies by keeping his personal bank account balances low.

Grimes deposited the money he earned from representing clients into his law firm’s business bank accounts, and then he routinely purchased cashier’s checks and withdrew cash from those business bank accounts, the indictment states.

By not depositing income earned into his personal accounts, Grimes allegedly avoided IRS collection efforts. With this scheme, Grimes allegedly withdrew approximately $16 million in funds from the business accounts in cashier’s checks during those years, rather than paying the amount owed to the IRS.

Grimes also allegedly filed individual income tax returns for tax years 2018 through 2021 reporting that he owed approximately $700,000 in taxes. Grimes allegedly did not, and has not, paid the taxes that he self-reported he owes.

In total, Grimes is alleged to have caused a tax loss of approximately $2,418,050 to the IRS.

If convicted, Grimes faces up to five years in prison for the tax evasion count and up to one year in prison for each count of willful failure to pay taxes. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the United States Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Hi-Level S.F. City Manager Arrested for Stealing $627K in Work Comp Funds

The San Francisco District Attorney announced the arrest of 38 year old Stanley Ellicott who lives in Oakland, and who is a manager in the HR Department for the City, on 62 felony charges involving the theft of more than $627,000 directly from the Department of Human Resources’ Division of Workers’ Compensation, the very department where he worked.

A criminal complaint filed by the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office alleges that, over a four-and-a-half-year period from May of 2019 to January of 2024, Ellicott stole $627,118.86 from the City. The complaint alleges one count of grand theft (PC 487(a)) and one count of misappropriation of public money (PC 424). The complaint also alleges 10 counts of insurance fraud (PC 550(a)(5)) as well as 50 counts of money laundering (PC 186.10). Further, the complaint alleges an aggravated white collar crime enhancement (PC 186.11) and that one of the money laundering counts was committed while Ellicott was out on bail in another case (PC 120221(b)).

An affidavit filed with the Court in support of the arrest warrant explains that at the time of the crimes, Ellicott was the Assistant Director of Finance and Technology for the City’s Human Resources Department, Workers’ Compensation Division. One of his responsibilities was to oversee “the financial integrity of the Workers’ Compensation Division.”

The affidavit describes how Ellicott enlisted a friend to register a fake business in Illinois called “IAG Services” and open a bank account for the business, which she gave full control of to Ellicott. Ellicott then added this fake business as a vendor in the workers’ compensation system and over time billed more than 600 actual City workers’ compensation claims with charges for auditing services. Department archives show no evidence any auditing services were ever performed. Because the City is self-insured for workers’ compensation purposes, payments to doctors, employees, and vendors related to workers’ compensation claims come directly from the City’s coffers.

The affidavit further explains that all of the City payments to “IAG Services” were deposited into the account set up by Ellicott’s friend, then the money was systematically transferred into Ellicott’s personal checking accounts in a pattern to appear like they were payroll payments. In total, he transferred more than $488,000 from IAG’s account into accounts belonging to him.

The affidavit describes a website for the Illinois business “IAG Services” created in Oakland – where Ellicott lives – and IAG emails sent to Ellicott’s work address that appear to be created by him. The affidavit also explains that on several occasions, Ellicott emailed his subordinates and directed them to process payments to IAG that he had approved, enlisting their unknowing and unwitting assistance in his fraud.

This is a second case against Ellicott who was charged in January in a separate case for his role in a scheme to misappropriate grant funds awarded through the City’s Community Challenge Grant Program. He faces charges in court number 24001435 for misappropriating City money, aiding and abetting his co-defendant – former employee of the Office of the City Administrator Lanita Henriquez – in having a conflict of interest in contracts she entered into on behalf of the City by kicking grant money back to her, and possessing stolen property by selling electronics purchased with City funds on eBay. Local businessman and former City employee Rudolph Dwayne Jones is also a co-defendant in that case.

Ellicott was arrested without incident in Oakland this morning and will be arraigned in Department 10 of the San Francisco Superior Court on March 22, 2024. If convicted of all counts, Ellicott faces a substantial term of incarceration in state prison.

“The charges announced today reflect my Office’s continuing commitment to uncover official misconduct in San Francisco’s City government,” said District Attorney Brooke Jenkins. “My Office would like to thank the Department of Human Resources for its swift and thorough cooperation in uncovering the depths of their trusted manager’s great betrayal.”

Ellicott began working for the city in 2012, with a brief hiatus between 2015 and 2016. He was a manager at the human resources department from 2017 until January 25 of this year, when he was placed on paid leave. Transparent California lists Ellicott’s 2022 pay as $187,884, with benefits of $55,613, for a total compensation package of $243,496.t

Newsom Derails Indoor Heat Standard Rules Over Cost Concerns

It has taken five years for California to adopt regulations to protect workers from indoor heat. This week there was an unexpected delay.

CalMatters reports that the rule was expected to be finally voted into place by the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board at a meeting this week in San Diego. But Wednesday night, state officials ordered that it be pulled from the agenda after Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration suddenly withdrew a required stamp of approval, saying it learned the rule would cost state prisons much more money than anticipated.

The eleventh-hour move infuriated workers, their advocates – and the safety board itself, which faced a brief protest by the rule’s proponents during the meeting. Then in an equally remarkable rebuke, the board unanimously voted to approve the indoor heat rule anyway.

The six-member board, an independent part of the state’s labor agency, is appointed by the governor. Members said during the meeting that they had been “blindsided,” that the move to pull the agenda item was “a slap in the face” and that workers in numerous other industries such as warehouses, manufacturing and restaurants had waited long enough.

Still, the future of the rule is uncertain.

Approved regulations cannot become law without the sign-off from the state’s Department of Finance, which it withdrew Wednesday night. Department spokesperson H.D. Palmer told CalMatters it had received a late estimate “in the last few weeks” from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation that it would cost the state billions more dollars to comply with the rule in state prisons than the state’s workplace safety agencies predicted. He did not explain why the information came so late, but said after the vote that his department has been meeting with the board’s staff in recent weeks.

And this weeks meeting was only nine days before a deadline in California administrative law to approve the proposed rule – with a sign-off included – for it to take effect this summer.

Board members said they hoped their move would spur the administration to resolve its concerns with the proposed rule with more urgency.  They also asked Cal/OSHA, which enforces workplace safety laws and which initially drafted the heat rule in 2017, to prepare to re-introduce the rule as an emergency regulation this year, which allows faster approvals. Cal/OSHA’s deputy chief of health Eric Berg told the board his agency, too, was caught by surprise by the administration’s move.

A spokesperson for the Department of Industrial Relations – which oversees both the standards board and Cal/OSHA – said it was “evaluating options to strengthen protections as soon as possible” and would continue assessing workers’ complaints of indoor heat under a general rule requiring safe workplaces. The agency received 549 safety complaints related to indoor heat in 2023, and 194 the year before.

Cal/OSHA and the standards board have been developing the rule for years amid rising concerns about the health effects of climate change on workers. A 2016 law directed the agencies to create an indoor workplace heat rule by 2019 — five years ago.

The proposed rule would require employers to either try to cool workplaces that get hotter than 87 degrees indoors or take other measures to reduce the risks of heat illness. California faces a budget deficit projected at as much as $73 billion. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Democratic leaders in the Legislature announced Wednesday that they would try to reduce the shortfall by $12 billion to $18 billion before passing a full budget.

A 2021 RAND Corp. economic impact report estimated the costs of the indoor heat rule on employers statewide to total $215 million in the first year and about $88 million annually afterward, mostly for employers to install AC or fans or provide cool-down areas. The analysis also stated employers would save money because the rule would cut indoor workplace heat injuries by 40% by 2030.

For state government, the standards board last year estimated the Department of Corrections would need to pay less than $1 million in the rule’s first year and less than $500,000 annually after that to comply. About half of the state’s 1,500 correctional institutions are either already climate controlled or located in areas that won’t be hot enough to trigger the heat rule, the Department of Industrial Relations stated. That was after finance officials told the department in 2021 that it underestimated prison costs; the department said its updated analysis resulted in double the cost to the state.

The proposed rule was first drafted by Cal/OSHA in 2017 before going to the independent standards board for official rulemaking in 2019. After the board finally officially proposed the rule in March 2023 and held the public hearing, it also revised the rule three more times.

The rule has been subject to wide-ranging employer pushback and a lengthy economic impact analysis. The COVID-19 pandemic diverted attention from an understaffed state labor agency, CalMatters reported last month.

The proposed rule would require warehouses, factories, restaurants and other workplaces to cool workplaces down if the temperature reaches 87 degrees. If installing air conditioning isn’t feasible, employers would be required to take other measures such as adjusting schedules, allowing longer breaks or providing personal fans or cooling vests.

Mariner Health Stipulates to Injunction & Pays $15.5M for Poor Care Claims

The California Attorney General announced a settlement with Mariner Health Care, Inc. who operated 19 skilled nursing facilities in California. The settlement, which is linked to the Bankruptcy Reorganization Plan of two Mariner entities in Chapter 11, will provide injunctive relief for a minimum of five years, monitoring by an independent monitor for a minimum of three years, payment of $2.25 million in costs, and penalties of up to $15.5 million dollars for any violations of the injunction or law.

The settlement resolves allegations filed by the Attorney General and the District Attorneys of Alameda, Los Angeles, Marin, and Santa Cruz counties, alleging that Mariner violated California’s Unfair Competition Law and False Advertising Law by understaffing its facilities and subjecting its patients to negligent care while inflating their skilled nursing facilities advertised ratings to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  All 19 facilities, including their Alameda facility, were named in the settlement.

On April 8, 20t21, the Division of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse (DMFEA) and the four District Attorneys filed a civil complaint against the 19 skilled nursing facilities and their corporate management entities. The complaint sought injunctive relief and claimed Mariner Health understaffed facilities leading to resident harm, unsafely discharged residents from the facilities, and, falsified staffing numbers to CMS to advertise inflated ratings.

Understaffing allegedly left residents vulnerable and the inadequate care resulted in unnecessary amputations, the spread of diseases such as lice and pests among residents, and a high number of unreported sexual assault cases, among other issues.

On January 6, 2022 the Alameda County Superior Court granted a motion for a preliminary injunction requiring Mariner Health to comply with laws and regulations regarding the staffing of five of its facilities and with the discharges from 19 of its facilities in order to safeguard the safety and well-being of their residents.

Mariner also allegedly falsified staffing numbers to government regulators in an attempt to improve their published ratings, the complaint said

NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit dug into the company’s inspection records which revealed a long list of issues at 10 Bay Area facilities operated by Mariner. According to records from the California Department of Public Health, inspectors found more than 170 deficiencies at those facilities and issued seven fines totaling nearly $20,000.

In two separate cases, residents left the building without supervision. One was hit by a car, and another was found eating rocks and dirt. In another case, a resident’s foot had to be amputated after inspectors say a wound wasn’t properly treated or monitored. Other deficiencies included dirty kitchens, medication errors, and other patient care issues, according to the records.

As part of the settlement, Mariner will be required to:

– – Reform and improve its practices and the services for residents in their California skilled nursing facilities.
– – Implement an independent monitor for no less than 3 years.
– – Pay $2.25 million in costs and up to $15.5 million in civil penalties.

The California Department of Justice’s Division of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse protects Californians by investigating and prosecuting those who defraud the Medi-Cal program as well as those who commit elder abuse. These settlements are made possible only through the coordination and collaboration of governmental agencies, as well as the critical help from whistleblowers who report incidences of abuse or Medi-Cal fraud at oag.ca.gov/dmfea/reporting.

DMFEA receives 75% of its funding from HHS-OIG under a grant award totaling $87,038,485 for federal fiscal year 2024. The remaining 25% is funded by the State of California.

Setting Reserves? US Life Expectancy Rises After 2-Year Dip

Reserving is an important aspects of claim handling. Whether it is a normal run of the mill lost time claim, or a claim with benefits payable over the remaining life of the injured worker, the goal is always the same: To accurately place the proper amount of money or reserves in the claim for the duration of the claim, which may be for the life of the claimant.

One method of estimating life expectancy is to use a one-size-fits all chart or table based upon historical data. This is the method set by California regulations (§10169. Commutation Tables and Instructions) when a commutation of future benefits is ordered by a WCJ. This table is based on the U.S. Decennial Life Tables for 1989-91, a metric that is outdated by about two and a half decades.

However, a rigid life expectancy chart or table may not be the best choice when a more accurate calculation is needed, such as when estimating settlement value, or a reserve estimate.

U.S. life expectancy increased for the first time in two years, according to a new report by the CDC. The report, released this week, marks a notable reversal: People born in the U.S. in 2022 can expect to live 77.5 years, an increase from 76.4 in 2021.

The data shown in this report reflect information collected by the National Center for Health Statistics for 2021 and 2022 from death certificates filed in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and compiled into national data known as the National Vital Statistics System. Differences between death rates were evaluated using a two-tailed z test.

The 10 leading causes of death in 2022 remained the same as in 2021. Heart disease was the leading cause of death, followed by cancer. Age-adjusted death rates decreased for 9 leading causes and increased for 1. Life expectancy at birth increased 1.1 years from 76.4 in 2021 to 77.5 in 2022, largely because of decreases in mortality due to COVID-19, heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries, and homicide.

Data from the National Vital Statistics System

– – Life expectancy for the U.S. population in 2022 was 77.5 years, an increase of 1.1 years from 2021.
– – The age-adjusted death rate decreased by 9.2% from 879.7 deaths per 100,000 standard population in 2021 to 798.8 in 2022.
– – Age-specific death rates increased from 2021 to 2022 for age groups 1-4 and 5-14 years and decreased for all age groups 15 years and older.
– – The 10 leading causes of death in 2022 remained the same as in 2021, although some causes changed ranks. Heart disease and cancer remained the top 2 leading causes in 2022.
– – The infant mortality rate was 560.4 infant deaths per 100,000 live births in 2022, an increase of 3.1% from the rate in 2021 (543.6).

The rise in life expectancy comes as overdose deaths leveled out between 2021 and 2022, according to a separate CDC report also released Thursday.  According to that report, while overdose deaths nearly quadrupled over the past two decades, they did not significantly increase between 2021 and 2022. The rate of drug overdose deaths was 32.4 deaths per 100,000 people in 2021 and 32.6 deaths per 100,000 people in 2022.

And a number of other factors can make major differences. According to the latest CDC data in 2022, the difference in life expectancy between females and males was 5.4 years, a decrease of 0.4 year. from 2021.

From 2021 to 2022, age-adjusted death rates, corrected for race and ethnicity misclassification, decreased 15.4% for Hispanic males (915.6 to 774.2) and 14.5% for Hispanic females (599.8 to 512.9).

Among the non-Hispanic population, death rates decreased 15.9% for American Indian and Alaska Native males (1,717.5 to 1,444.1), 14.0% for American Indian and Alaska Native females (1,236.6 to 1,063.6), 9.7% for Asian males (578.1 to 522.2), 9.3% for Asian females (391.1 to 354.9), 8.5% for Black males (1,380.2 to 1,263.3), 11.8% for Black females (921.9 to 813.2), 7.9% for White males (1,055.3 to 971.9), and 7.8% for White females (750.6 to 691.9).

California’s Chief Justice 2024 State of the Judiciary Address

The California Supreme Court Chief Justice Patricia Guerrero delivered the 2024 State of the Judiciary address to the California Legislature in March 19, 2024. This is the the second year of her 12-year term of office.

Among the various topics discussed, the Chief Justice reported on Increasing transparency, improving efficiencies and increasing productivity without sacrificing quality. Caseflow management is an important process in meeting these objectives and providing timely access to justice.

The California Supreme Court, has instituted internal targets for the court to meet. It’s annual number of opinions has trended up, and it also is working its way through some important landmark new laws, such as the Racial Justice Act, which is impacting workflow.

The Courts of Appeal statewide have implemented a monitoring system to manage appellate caseload inequities and ensure that they too are promptly resolving cases.

Caseflow management and time to disposition is also an important tool for trial courts. Data management and analytics help them to manage caseloads, provide interpreter coverage, and make jury duty more efficient. It also informs how they can work best with our justice system partners.

From the clerk’s window to final dispositions – and everywhere in between – caseflow management is critical for the public.The resources the legislature provides are of course crucial.

The Chief Justice was advocating for a stable budget that the judicial branch can count on to make public access to justice a reality for all 58 counties. For this budget year, she was grateful for Governor Newsom’s continued support of her mission to advance access to justice and for protecting essential funding for critical programs and services.

She went on to discuss what is called the Strategic Plan for California’s Judicial Branch. The Strategic Plan provides is a foundational document for the court system..

Since the first strategic plan was developed in 1992, the process has served to articulate their mission and direction, set governance structures and priorities, and helped to navigate some of the most significant reforms, improvements, and challenges in the history of California’s court system.

At periodic intervals they have updated our long-term goals as California and the needs of its residents have evolved.Most recently, in December 2022, the Judicial Council amended the number one strategic goal of “Access, Fairness, and Diversity,” to add “Inclusion.”

“Although this may seem like a small change, as one of our council members shared at the time, ‘As important as diversity is, if you’re not included, it doesn’t matter.’ We saw this as an opportunity to speak out louder and make more explicit the branch’s commitment to an inclusive court system in which all individuals are – and feel – respected and engaged, and their contributions are valued.”

And this first goal guides all facets of the Judicial Council’s review, analysis, and deliberations.

On the topic of Modernization of Management and Administration, the Chief Justice has asked Administrative Presiding Justice Mary Greenwood and Judge Arturo Castro to help lead the branch’s efforts to identify the foundational questions that must be asked to consider the opportunities and challenges that are associated with AI.

Their efforts will facilitate consideration of what might be appropriate uses of AI in relation to the judiciary with the guiding principle of safeguarding the integrity of the judicial process.

No discussion of modernization is complete without a discussion of remote technology. Court users themselves are choosing to access these new services and tools – including 24/7 eFiling, access to online records and research, self-help resources, and remote appearances.

The Chief Justice said that accessing court services remotely works! “We know this from court users and staff alike.” A recent Judicial Council report on this issue showed that:

– – Approximately 150,000 remote civil proceedings are conducted statewide each month;
– – More than 90% of court users and 98% of court staff reported positive experiences; and
– – Very few technical issues were reported.

As always, more work remains to be done. “But we can build on these successes.” Addressing remote access is one example of effective three- branch solutions to better serve the state.

Key California Health Care Players are Divided Over PBM Regulation

Key California health care players are divided over whether the state should impose new regulations on pharmaceutical middlemen to bring down spiraling drug prices in the largest market in the nation.

Those middlemen, the pharmacy benefit managers, came under the microscope Tuesday at “Corrective Action: How to address prescription drug costs,” a POLITICO Live event. And according to the report by Politico “It was somewhat hostile territory for the industry, featuring its chief antagonist in Sacramento: State Sen. Scott Wiener.”

Wiener has authored legislation, Senate Bill 966, that would impose new rules on PBMs, represented on the panel by industry advocate Caitlin Berry.

Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, a consumer advocacy organization, supported the goal of the legislation though not its specifics while a third panelist, UC Law San Francisco professor Robin Feldman argued that California can in fact act more boldly to bring down drug prices in the state.

Here are five takeaways from the event:

1) A chief antagonist of pharmacy benefit managers does not want to eliminate them. Wiener did not go as far as others nationally who seek to abolish the middlemen who negotiate with manufacturers over drug prices. He’s carrying legislation that would, among other things, require PBMs to be licensed with the California State Board of Pharmacy and to pass down drug rebates to consumers. The proposal is expected to dominate health care regulation discussions in Sacramento this legislative year.

Caitlin Berry, a senior principal with Prime Therapeutics, opposes the bill and argued her industry bolsters competition through negotiations and actually helps limit prices. “We build networks that stoke competition in between pharmacies to capture business from the insurance members in order to lower costs for the payer,” she said.

2) States have been limited in their ability to regulate the drug industry. That could be changing. UC Law San Francisco professor Robin Feldman argued a 2023 Supreme Court ruling allowing California to set rules for pork ranchers has reframed the Constitution’s Commerce Clause in a way that would allow states to regulate pharmaceuticals, too.

3) A group representing consumers didn’t back one proposed regulation of PBMs.Wiener’s SB 966 does not yet have the approval of Health Access California. Anthony Wright, it’s executive director said “we agree that there should be regulation of the industry,” but did not sound sure of which entity should license PBMs.

4) Drug pricing remains the elephant in the room. Pharmaceutical prices have risen faster than inflation, prompting finger-pointing between industry players and skeptics in government over who’s to blame.

5) Artificial intelligence could bring down drug costs. Wiener pointed to an antibiotic developed by artificial intelligence as evidence that the technology presents major promise for drug development. And using AI to help design treatment could help bring down the costs of doing so, including speeding the designing of generics, said Feldman.

East Bay Doctor Sentenced and License Revoked for Illegal Drug Prescriptions

Parto Karimi, a former Bay Area doctor, has been sentenced to one year and one day in federal prison for distributing powerful opioids outside the scope of medical practice, announced United States Attorney Ismail J. Ramsey and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), San Francisco Field Division, Special Agent in Charge Brian M. Clark.

The sentence was handed down on March 15, 2024, by the Hon. Jon S. Tigar, United States District Judge.

Karimi, 59, of Alamo, California, pleaded guilty in July 2023 to one count of distributing hydrocodone, a Schedule II controlled substance, outside the scope of professional practice, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C).

According to the government’s sentencing memorandum, Karimi practiced medicine from an accessory dwelling unit on the grounds of her suburban home from roughly 2011 to 2022. Her practice operated under the name “Mindful Medicine.” Karimi was a licensed practitioner of internal medicine who had previously worked as an emergency room doctor at an East Bay hospital and was authorized to prescribe controlled substances as part of her medical practice.

According to the government’s sentencing memorandum, the DEA began investigating Karimi after receiving concerning information from the family of one of Karimi’s former patients, who had passed away. The investigation included multiple visits by undercover agents to Karimi’s medical practice.

During one, on October 1, 2021, an undercover agent asked Karimi for 10mg Norco tablets based on a claim of leg pain resulting from work as a restaurant server. Karimi admitted in her plea agreement that she wrote the undercover agent a prescription for 60 high-dose Norco pills without conducting a physical examination, without asking follow-up questions about the undercover’s reported pain, without obtaining medical records, and without exploring alternative treatment options or trying a lower dose.

Karimi admitted that, in doing so, she knew she was acting in an unauthorized manner by prescribing a controlled substance outside the usual course of medical practice. She also admitted she knew the drug she prescribed was a powerful opioid that can be highly addictive and is liable to abuse by patients.

The government argued in its papers that Karimi wrote medical prescriptions for opioids like Norco in exchange for street drugs including cocaine and methamphetamine, as well as cash payments.

In addition to sentencing Karimi to prison, Judge Tigar ordered the defendant to serve three years of supervised release to begin after her prison term is completed. Judge Tigar also ordered the defendant to forfeit her California medical license and to pay a $4,000 fine.

Assistant United States Attorney Daniel Pastor is prosecuting the case with assistance from Laurie Worthen. The prosecution is the result of an investigation by DEA, with assistance from the United States Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General and the California Department of Justice Division of Medical Fraud and Elder Abuse.