- - Wednesday, July 21, 2010

ALASKA

Judge halts oil, gas development

ANCHORAGE — A federal judge on Wednesday stopped companies from developing oil and gas wells on billions of dollars in leases off Alaska’s northwest coast, saying the federal government failed to follow environmental law before it sold the drilling rights.

The lease sale in February 2008 brought in nearly $2.7 billion for the federal government from the sale of 2.76 million acres in the Arctic waters of the Chukchi Sea, including $2.1 billion in high bids submitted by Shell Gulf of Mexico Inc.

U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline, a 2001 appointee of President Bush, said that the Minerals Management Service failed to analyze the environmental effect of natural-gas development despite industry interest and specific lease incentives for such development.

The agency analyzed only the development of the first field of 1 billion barrels of oil despite acknowledging that the amount was the minimum level of development that could occur on the leases.

Judge Beistline enjoined all activity under the lease sale pending additional environmental reviews.

COLORADO

Probe launched in turbulence

DENVER — The government on Wednesday began investigating how a United Airlines jetliner hit severe turbulence on a cross-country flight over Missouri, injuring at least 22 and jolting one woman out of her seat so forcefully that she left a crack when she hit the side of the cabin, authorities and a witness said.

The Tuesday flight was the airline’s third this year during which passengers were hurt because of turbulence.

The flight originated at Washington Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia and was headed to Los Angeles. It was diverted to Denver International Airport, where it landed safely around 7:45 p.m.

CONNECTICUT

Judge: Cheerleading not a college sport

HARTFORD — Competitive cheerleading is not an official sport that colleges can use to meet gender-equity requirements, a federal judge ruled Wednesday in ordering a Connecticut school to keep its women’s volleyball team.

Several volleyball players and their coach had sued Quinnipiac University after it announced in March 2009 that it would eliminate the team for budgetary reasons and replace it with a competitive cheer squad.

The school contended the cheer squad and other moves kept it in compliance with Title IX, the 1972 federal law that mandates equal opportunities for men and women in athletics. But U.S. District Judge Stefan Underhill, a 1999 appointee of President Clinton, disagreed in a ruling that those involved say was the first time the issue has been decided by a judge.

Quinnipiac has 60 days to come up with a plan to comply with gender rules.

ILLINOIS

Conrad Black released from prison

CHICAGO — Former media mogul Conrad Black quietly left a federal prison in the blazing central Florida heat Wednesday, free on bond after serving just two years of a 6½-year sentence for defrauding investors, officials said.

Earlier in the day, U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve in Chicago set his bond at $2 million and ordered him not to leave the country, pending the outcome of the appeal of his 2007 conviction. She set a Friday court hearing for the former Hollinger International Inc. chairman to hear conditions of his release and also was considering a request from Black’s attorneys to let him return to Canada, where he owns a home in Toronto.

Black arrived at his oceanfront Palm Beach mansion after being released.

Black’s attorney, Miguel Estrada, said the Federal Bureau of Prisons issued Black an ID that would allow him to fly to Chicago. The bond was paid by Black’s friend and former business partner, Roger Hertog.

In 2007, Black and three former Hollinger executives were convicted of defrauding shareholders out of $6.1 million. One of the prosecutors’ arguments was that Black deprived the company of his faithful services as a corporate officer, breaking the so-called “honest services” law.

MASSACHUSETTS

Justice who wrote gay ruling to retire

BOSTON — The Massachusetts chief justice who wrote the state’s landmark ruling legalizing gay marriage has announced she’s stepping down.

Chief Justice Margaret Marshall, 66, said Wednesday she will retire by the end of October to spend more time with her husband, former New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis. The two-time Pulitzer Prize winner retired in 2001 and has Parkinson’s disease.

Justice Marshall was first appointed to the bench in 1996 after four years as general counsel and vice president of Harvard University. She became chief justice three years later.

VIRGINIA

Man charged in terrorist aid

A Northern Virginia man who was known for issuing a warning to the creators of the “South Park” cartoon that they risked death by mocking the prophet Muhammad has been charged with providing material support to the Somali terrorist organization known as al-Shabab.

Zachary Chesser, 20, of Oakton, Va., was arrested Wednesday.

According to court records, Mr. Chesser, also known as Abu Talhah Al-Amrikee, told federal agents that he twice tried to travel to Somalia to join al-Shabab as a fighter, once with his infant son in tow to help him evade scrutiny.

A court affidavit also states that Mr. Chesser corresponded with the radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki last year.

From wire dispatches and staff reports