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US Judge Awards $37M in Peru Massacre
Headline News | 2008/03/05 21:43
A federal judge has ordered a former Peruvian army officer to pay $37 million for his role in a 1985 massacre in Peru in which 69 civilians were slain, including elderly people and infants.

U.S. District Judge Adalberto Jordan ruled Tuesday in a lawsuit filed against former Maj. Telmo Hurtado by two women — Ochoa Lizarbe and Pulido Baldeon — who were 12 at the time and survived the attack.

Jordan had previously found in the lawsuit that Hurtado was had committed torture, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Hurtado, 46, is in federal custody in Miami while fighting deportation to Peru, with a hearing set for March 26. He did not contest the lawsuit, did not have a lawyer and refused to testify last month when he was brought to court for a hearing on damages.

Jordan said the money can be awarded under a 1991 U.S. law allowing torture victims to collect damages in this country for violations if a foreign government refuses to do so. Neither woman has received any compensation from Peru's government.



EPA Head Unaware of Pressures on States
Headline News | 2008/03/05 20:26

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday he didn't know of behind-the-scenes efforts by EPA officials to blunt state attempts to reduce mercury emissions from power plants.

Those efforts occurred even as the Bush administration argued in court that states are free to enact tougher mercury controls from power plants, The Associated Press reported last month, based on internal EPA documents.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., questioned EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson about the report at a hearing of the Senate Appropriations environment subcommittee.

"Has anyone with EPA ever pressured any state against instituting any more restrictive mercury regulation?" asked Leahy, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"I don't recall having any firsthand knowledge of that," said Johnson. "I don't know if they have, no I don't," he added.

Leahy cautioned Johnson that such pressure on states was inappropriate, and if it did occur, "then the EPA gave misleading information to the courts, which is an extremely serious matter."

A federal appeals court last month struck down the Bush administration's industry-friendly approach for mercury reduction that allowed plants with excessive smokestack emissions to buy pollution rights from other plants that foul the air less.

Internal EPA documents obtained by the advocacy group Environmental Defense show attempts over the past two years to bar state efforts to make their plants drastically cut mercury pollution instead of trading for credits that would let them continue it.

Many states did not want their power plants to be able to buy their way out of having to reduce mercury pollution.

The push to rein in uncooperative states continued until the eve of the Feb. 8 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that struck down the EPA's program. A day before that ruling, the White House Office of Management and Budget approved a draft regulation to impose a "federal implementation plan" for mercury reduction in states whose mercury control measures did not meet EPA approval.



Teen Appealing Web Blog Free Speech Decision
Headline News | 2008/03/05 20:22
A high school senior who used vulgar language in reference to her school administrators is appealing the decision of a lower federal court and fighting for her right to serve as class secretary and to speak at her graduation in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.

Avery Doninger, 17, was barred from running for class secretary by Lewis S. Mills High School in Burlington, Conn. because administrators she had written in her personal blog that officials were “douchebags” because she thought they cancelling an event she had helped plan. She also called for others to take action against Superintendent Paula Schwartz and to “piss her off more” by writing and calling Schwartz. Officials discovered the blog two weeks after she had written and the teen was told to apologize to Schwartz, show her mother the blog and was told she could not run again for re-election as class secretary. Doninger won the position by write-in votes, but was not permitted to serve.

U.S. District Judge Mark Kravitz had said that because Doninger’s blog was addressing school issues and because it was read by other students, she could be punished by the school. However, in the appeal, Doninger’s attorney argued that schools should not be able to regulate what is done on the internet if it does not create a risk of disruption and because it did not take place on school grounds or during a school activity.

"It's just a bigger soapbox," her attorney, Jon L. Schoenhorn, told the Hartford Courant.

According to the Hartford Courant, Thomas R. Gerarde, the school’s attorney, said that the Internet has increased the impact of their words by how many people they can reach and that if student leaders make offensive comments about the school on the Internet, the school should be able to punish them.

"We shouldn't be required to just swallow it," he said.

He also contended that the blog did cause school officials to receive numerous phone calls and emails and that some students had considered staging a sit-in.

However, the Harford Courant reported, Judge Sonia Sotomayor said that "pedagogical rights can't supersede the rights of students off campus to have First Amendment rights."


Law firm sues 'Juiced' publisher Judith Regan
Headline News | 2008/03/04 03:27
Former book publishing powerhouse Judith Regan was sued Monday for legal fees by the firm that prepared her lawsuit against HarperCollins LLC after the publishing company fired her.

In court papers, Dreier LLP says Regan reneged on a retainer agreement she signed and then fired the law firm "in a transparent and calculated effort to avoid paying petitioners the agreed upon fee."

After Dreier prepared and filed the lawsuit, court papers say, Regan hired Los Angeles lawyer Bertram Fields to negotiate a settlement with HarperCollins. The terms were not disclosed.

After the settlement was final, Regan fired Dreier and refused to pay the firm, court papers say.

The lawsuit names Fields as a defendant and accuses him of tortious interference with the business relationship between Dreier and Regan.



U.S. court rules against Bayer's Yasmin patent
Headline News | 2008/03/04 03:20
A U.S. district court ruled against the validity of Bayer Schering Pharma's patent for its contraceptive drug Yasmin, the German drug company said late on Monday.

This was the result of a patent challenge by generic manufacturer Barr Laboratories, Bayer said in a statement.

"Bayer disagrees with the court's decision and will consider its legal options in this regard," the company added.

Bayer Schering's contraceptive drug Yasmin has annual sales of more than one billion euros. Sales of Yasmin in the United States came in at 321 million euros ($486.9 million) last year, it said.



Canada-U.S. lumber spat gets split court ruling
Headline News | 2008/03/03 20:30
A London arbitration court has issued a split ruling on Canadian softwood lumber shipments to the United States in the latest installment of the two countries' long-running trade feud.

The ruling, released on Tuesday, addresses the first of two complaints the Bush administration has lodged, alleging that Canada had breached a 2006 trade deal by shipping too much lumber and exacerbating woes for struggling U.S. lumber firms.

The United States accused Canada of misinterpreting the agreement to give its exporters an unfair advantage.

The ruling marked a victory for the Western Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta when the panel found against the U.S. claim that the provinces owed millions of dollars in export taxes aimed at limiting export surges.

Under the deal, Canadian lumber exporters can either pay export charges of up to 15 percent based on their selling price to the United States or cap the charge at 5 percent along with an export quota that restrains volume.

British Columbia has traditionally produced about half of all the softwood that Canada exports to the United States.

However, the court found that Quebec and Ontario in Canada's east, which are also big producers and use the quota option to limit their exports, had sent too much lumber south.

"Under the panel decision, producers in the east of Canada will be penalized for over-shipping their allowable quota," said Zoltan van Heyningen, executive director of the Coalition for Fair Lumber Imports, the U.S. industry group that has been driving the complaints from Washington.

Canada claimed at least partial victory and said the ruling was a healthy step for the bilateral 2006 agreement, which was designed to avoid repeating years of long, costly lawsuits.

"While Canada believes that it has fully complied with the agreement, we respect the tribunal's ruling ... Today's decision provides clarity with respect to the implementation of the SLA (Softwood Lumber Agreement) in the future," said Canadian Trade Minister David Emerson.

The United States had argued that the starting point for calculating export charges and volumes should be the first quarter of 2007, while Canada argued it should be July 2007. The court sided with the United States on that issue.



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