- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2008

CALIFORNIA

Court to take up gay-marriage ban

SAN FRANCISCO | California’s highest court agreed Wednesday to hear several legal challenges to the state’s new ban on same-sex marriage, but refused to allow gay couples to resume marrying before it rules.

The California Supreme Court accepted three lawsuits seeking to nullify Proposition 8, a voter-approved constitutional amendment that overruled the court’s decision in May that legalized same-sex marriage.

All three cases claim the measure abridges the civil rights of a vulnerable minority group. They argue that voters alone did not have the authority to enact such a significant constitutional change.

FLORIDA

Astronaut who lost bag admits mistake

CAPE CANAVERAL | The astronaut who lost her tool bag on a spacewalk admitted Wednesday she made a mistake by not checking to see if the sack was tied down, and said she’s still smarting over the whole thing.

Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper said in an interview with the Associated Press that it was “very disheartening” to lose her bag full of tools. She was trying to clean up grease that had oozed out of a grease gun in the backpack-size bag, when the tote and everything in it floated away Tuesday.

The bag was one of the largest items ever lost by a spacewalking astronaut.

For a split second, she thought she might be able to grab it and she tried to judge how far away it was. Just as quickly, “I thought, no, that would probably just make things worse and the best thing to do would be to just let it go.”

“There’s still the psychological thing of knowing that we made a mistake and having to live through that,” she said. “During the spacewalk … it was easy to put it aside because I knew that we still had five hours of spacewalk work to do, and the work needed to get done, and you can’t dwell on a mistake. It was hardest coming back in and having to face everybody else.”

MASSACHUSETTS

Senator resigns after bribery charges

BOSTON | A Massachusetts state senator photographed while purportedly stuffing thousands of dollars in bribe money into her sweater has resigned.

Dianne Wilkerson’s resignation was announced Wednesday by state Senate President Therese Murray. Miss Wilkerson, 53, was indicted a day before on eight counts of attempted extortion.

The Democrat had faced increasing pressure to step down and possible expulsion by her Senate colleagues since she was arrested last month.

Miss Wilkerson issued a statement saying she would have no further comment. If convicted, she could face up to 20 years in prison.

NEW YORK

Jury convicts philanthropist

NEW YORK | Opera-loving philanthropist Alberto Vilar was convicted on fraud charges Wednesday for swindling investors, including the mother of actress Phoebe Cates, out of millions of dollars.

Federal prosecutors accused Vilar and a business partner of falsely telling investors their money would be safely invested. The government contended that the men actually poured millions of dollars into risky technology stocks before they crashed.

Lily Cates, the mother of the actress, testified that $5 million of her money was lost improperly by Vilar and a co-defendant.

Defense attorneys insisted that Vilar was innocent and that he never intended to mislead anyone.

The charges included conspiracy to commit securities, mail, wire and investment fraud.

NORTH CAROLINA

Taser used on pallbearer

WILMINGTON | A North Carolina sheriff’s official has apologized for plunging a funeral into chaos when undercover agents tried to arrest the dead man’s son, and used a Taser on him in the process.

It happened as the coffin was being loaded into a hearse. The officers planned to quietly arrest pallbearer Gladwyn Taft Russ III, the Star-News of Wilmington reported Wednesday.

Relatives said two deputies dressed in coats and ties grabbed Mr. Russ and kneed him in his back before Tasering him. One deputy’s gun fell out of its holster.

Mr. Russ’ sister, Taffy Gause, said when she got out of the car, a deputy “was waving a gun at me and my mom and yelling to get back or he was going to shoot.” She said some mourners went home instead of going to the cemetery.

Mr. Russ, 42, had failed to surrender after being charged with threatening his ex-wife, who lives in another state, officials said. Following his father’s death Nov. 11, Mr. Russ agreed to surrender after the funeral.

PENNSYLVANIA

FBI agent killed while serving warrant

GLENSHAW | A former police officer who had been an FBI agent for less than two years was fatally shot Wednesday as he served a warrant at the home of a suspected cocaine dealer.

Agent Samuel Hicks was shot about 6 a.m. in Indiana Township, a middle-class community about 10 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. He was taking part in a drug-ring roundup at the home of Robert Korbe, who was in custody on the drug charges.

Mr. Hicks, 33, had been with the FBI since March 2007. He was a former Baltimore police officer and schoolteacher with a wife and 3-year-old son.

Mr. Korbe was one of 35 people charged in a 27-count drug-trafficking indictment unsealed Wednesday. The indictment accuses the defendants of conspiring to traffic cocaine and crack from October 2007 through September.

RHODE ISLAND

Woman loses appeal for Nazi-era painting

PROVIDENCE | A painting forcibly auctioned by Germany’s Nazi government should remain with the estate of a late Jewish art dealer who lost it when his gallery was liquidated, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The ruling by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston blocks an attempt by German baroness Maria-Luise Bissonnette to recoup the painting “Girl from the Sabine Mountains,” which has been valued by appraisers between $67,000 and $94,000.

The painting is thought to be a work of Franz Xaver Winterhalter, a 19th-century artist famous for painting Queen Victoria, the czar of Russia and other European nobles.

From wire dispatches and staff reports.

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