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Iraqi Cabinet authorizes reopening of US talks
Politics & Law | 2008/10/21 02:45
The Iraqi Cabinet on Tuesday authorized Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to reopen talks with the United States on a security pact that would allow U.S. troops to stay in Iraq for three more years after their U.N. mandate expires on Dec. 31.

With a week to go before the American presidential elections, the Iraqi decision could delay the key agreement that provides the legal basis for the U.S. to operate in Iraq past the end of the year.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said members of the Cabinet proposed unspecified "essential" amendments and gave them to al-Maliki to offer to American negotiators.

Parliament must approve the agreement and al-Maliki is reluctant to submit the draft unless he is confident it will pass by an overwhelming majority.

White House press secretary Dana Perino said the Bush administration hasn't seen the Iraqis amendments yet, so "it's not possible to say at this point" whether U.S. officials would be willing to re-open talks. But officials have said previously that the agreement represented Washington's last offer, and that its success now rests with the complex Iraqi political system — a signal that the White House would likely be unwilling to engage in additional negotiations.



Ohio top court mulls Planned Parenthood files
Legal Watch | 2008/10/08 14:19
Ohio Supreme Court justices appeared skeptical Tuesday that an abortion clinic's medical records on other patients are relevant to a lawsuit brought by parents of a 14-year-old girl who had an abortion without their consent.

Lawyers for the girl's family argued that the information they seek is necessary to prove that Planned Parenthood of Cincinnati had a pattern of violating Ohio's parental consent law and failing to report abuse. The unusual case pits a single plaintiff against the privacy interests of a decade's worth of patients.

Planned Parenthood attorney Daniel Buckley says the clinic has a legal obligation to protect the privacy of its clients' records.

Charles Miller, an attorney for the parents, told the justices the plaintiffs seek only three facts about other minors treated at the clinic: the girl's age, whether she had a sexually transmitted disease, and whether she entered the clinic pregnant. He said about 200 cases a year would be involved.

Chief Justice Thomas Moyer questioned how any of those three details would advance the family's case for damages.

"Where's the linkage?" he asked.

The court did not indicate when it would rule.

The case involves a girl who was 14 at the time of her abortion in 2004, when the state's parental consent law had not been completely settled by the courts. She had been impregnated by her 21-year-old youth soccer coach, John Haller.

The family's lawsuit accuses the Planned Parenthood clinic of failing to get parental consent, report suspected abuse or to inform the girl of risks and alternatives. It seeks unspecified damages.

Court records say the girl gave Haller's cell phone number as her father's, and clinic officials thought they had reached the father when they called inquiring about parental consent. Haller was later convicted on seven counts of sexual battery.

An appeals court ruled last year that records on other patients weren't necessary for the family's lawsuit.



High court could block 'light' cigarettes lawsuit
Legal Watch | 2008/10/07 14:12
The Supreme Court picked up Monday where it left off last term, signaling support for efforts to block lawsuits against tobacco companies over deceptive marketing of "light" cigarettes.

The first day of the court's new term, which is set in law as the first Monday in October, included denials of hundreds of appeals. Chief Justice John Roberts opened the new session in a crowded courtroom that included retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Last term, the justices handed down several opinions that limited state regulation of business in favor of federal power. Several justices posed skeptical questions in this term's first case, whether federal law prevents smokers from using consumer protection laws to go after tobacco companies for their marketing of "light" and "low tar" cigarettes.

The companies are facing dozens of such lawsuits across the country.

The federal cigarette labeling law bars states from regulating any aspect of cigarette advertising that involves smoking and health.

"How do you tell it's deceptive or not if you don't look at what the relationship is between smoking and health?," Chief Justice John Roberts said during oral arguments on the case.

Three Maine residents sued Altria Group Inc. and its Philip Morris USA Inc. subsidiary under the state's law against unfair marketing practices. The class-action claim represents all smokers of Marlboro Lights or Cambridge Lights cigarettes, both made by Philip Morris.

The lawsuit argues that the company knew for decades that smokers of light cigarettes compensate for the lower levels of tar and nicotine by taking longer puffs and compensating in other ways.

A federal district court threw out the lawsuit, but the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said it could go forward.

The role of the Federal Trade Commission could be important in the outcome. The FTC is only now proposing to change rules that for years condoned the use of "light" and "low tar" in advertising the cigarettes, despite evidence that smokers were getting a product as dangerous as regular cigarettes.



Bailout bill gains momentum on House floor
Headline News | 2008/10/03 14:15
After a week of tumult, an unprecedented government bailout of the financial industry gained ground in the House on Friday and leaders in both political parties expressed optimism the $700 billion measure would clear Congress by day's end for President Bush's signature.

With the economy showing fresh signs of weakness, the measure advanced past a key hurdle on a 223-205 vote.

An Associated Press tally showed 16 lawmakers who sent an earlier bailout bill to unexpected defeat on Monday had changed their minds and would vote in favor of the revised legislation, more than the dozen needed. Officials said changes made to the measure had sparked a far smaller number of defections among previous supporters.

"I'm optimistic about today. We're not going to take anything for granted but it's time to act," said House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio.

"I think it will pass," agreed Rep. Jim Clyburn, the chief Democratic vote-counter, as debate unfolded in the House chamber.

The Senate passed the measure earlier in the week on a bipartisan vote of 74-25.

"No matter what we do or what we pass, there are still tough times out there. People are mad -- I'm mad," said Republican Rep. J. Gresham Barrett of South Carolina, who opposed the measure the first time it came to a vote. Now, he said, "We have to act. We have to act now."

Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., another convert, said, "I have decided that the cost of doing nothing is greater than the cost of doing something."



Gov. Schwarzenegger asks Treasury for $7B loan
Politics & Law | 2008/10/02 15:57
California may need a $7 billion emergency loan from the Federal government for day-to-day operations and to pay teachers' salaries, nursing homes, law enforcement and every other State-funded service this month, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger warned in a letter sent Thursday to the U.S. Treasury secretary.

The California governor's letter, published in Friday's Los Angeles Times, was written on the eve of an expected vote in the U.S. House on the Federal bailout of the financial system.

"The federal rescue package is not a bailout of Wall Street tycoons - it is a lifeboat for millions of Americans whose life savings, businesses, retirement plans and jobs are at stake," Schwarzenegger said.

California State Treasurer Bill Lockyer issued a statement a day earlier saying because of the national financial crisis, California "has been locked out of credit markets for the past 10 days."

"Absent a clear resolution to this financial crisis that restores confidence and liquidity to the credit markets, California and other states may be unable to obtain the necessary level of financing to maintain government operations and may be forced to turn to the Federal Treasury for short-term financing," Schwarzenegger wrote.

California's governor warned that a number of states are facing the same cash flow crunch this month, but his state is "so large that our short-term cash flow needs exceed the entire budget of some states."

Schwarzenegger said his state would attempt to sell "$7 billion in Revenue Anticipation Notes for short term cash flow purposes in a matter of days."

Lockyer said that unless the national economic crisis subsides and California can secure private short-term loans "the State's cash reserves would be exhausted near the end of October."



Ex-Attorney Loses Bid to Access Legislator's Records
Court Center | 2008/10/01 14:18
The Ohio Supreme Court denied a retired lawyer's request for access toa state legislator's e-mails, text messages and correspondence.
    JeffreyGlasgow sought a writ of mandamus for access to the correspondence ofRep. Shannon Jones, because he was concerned about the effects of OhioHouse Bill 151 on his public-employee pension.
    The bill would require public investors to divest holdings in companies that do certain business in Iran or Sudan.
    The state Supreme Court ruled that Glasgow's request was overly broad.
    Glasgow'smerit brief focused on e-mails and text messages. Therefore, thejustices disqualified correspondence. Text messages were alsodisqualified because "they do not document work-related matters."
    SinceJones has already delivered the 26 e-mail messages pertaining to HouseBill 151, the justices ruled that Glasgow's request is moot.


Homeowner Get 122K in Hidden Cash, Court Says
Court Center | 2008/09/30 14:10
The $122,000 cash that an electrician found hidden in a ceiling belongs to the woman who bought the home, not the seller's estate, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled.

Helen Sollars bought a home from the estate of Helene Valoff in Milwaukie, Ore. An electrician found the money more than a year after the purchase.

The trial court ruled that the city should release the disputed money to the estate, because the real estate transfer was not intended to include the money.

Judge Ortega disagreed, citing the language the estate was required to remove personal property and leave other items. So, when the estate left Sollars the refrigerator, stove, and window coverings, it also left her the money.

"Nothing in the requirement that the estate remove all personal property provides any exception based on the parties' knowledge of such property," Ortega wrote.


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