- - Friday, March 26, 2010

CALIFORNIA

Toyota asks panel to consolidate lawsuits

SAN DIEGO — Attorneys for Toyota Motor Corp. and people suing the Japanese automaker over sudden acceleration problems urged a federal panel Thursday to consolidate more than 200 lawsuits before a single judge, with Los Angeles federal court emerging as the favored venue.

Toyota’s lead lawyer, Cari Dawson of Atlanta, told the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation that the company favors combining all personal injury and wrongful death cases before the California court, along with all potential class-action lawsuits filed by Toyota owners who claim safety recalls caused the vehicles to lose value.

Los Angeles is close to Toyota’s U.S. headquarters in Torrance, where many key documents and witnesses crucial for all the cases are located, Ms. Dawson said. In addition, the first potential class-action case was filed there in November.

Several of the 24 plaintiffs attorneys who spoke at the hearing also favored Los Angeles, which already has at least 34 pending Toyota cases, most of them before U.S. District Judge A. Howard Matz.

CONNECTICUT

Prodigy, 13, claims age discrimination

STORRS — A 13-year-old student says in an age-discrimination complaint that the University of Connecticut has blocked him from taking a class with overseas field work.

Colin Carlson is a sophomore seeking a bachelor’s degree in ecology and evolutionary biology and another in environmental studies.

He said he has been knocked off course by the rejection of his request to take a class that includes summer field work in South Africa. His mother said she offered to release the school from liability and to pay her way as a chaperone with Colin.

The U.S. Department of Education is investigating.

MASSACHUSETTS

Hacker sentenced for stealing card data

BOSTON — A computer hacker from Florida was sentenced Thursday to 20 years in prison for helping engineer one of the largest thefts of credit and debit card numbers in U.S. history.

U.S. District Judge Patti B. Saris sentenced Albert Gonzalez of Miami, who pleaded guilty last year to breaking into computer systems of major retailers, including TJX Cos. and BJ’s Wholesale Club.

Prosecutors had sought 25 years for Gonzalez, saying he victimized millions of people and cost companies, banks and insurers nearly $200 million. His lawyer had argued Gonzalez should get no more than 15 years.

Gonzalez pleaded guilty last year in three separate hacking cases brought in Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York. The Thursday hearing dealt with the Massachusetts case. A second sentencing Friday, also in Boston, will deal with the others.

MICHIGAN

Woman sentenced for Medicare fraud

DETROIT — A Florida woman who fleeced Medicare for millions of dollars at sham clinics in the Detroit area has been sentenced to eight years in prison.

U.S. District Judge Gerald E. Rosen said Thursday the case exemplifies the national debate on how to keep a lid on health costs when people are taking advantage of the system.

Daisy Martinez moved to Michigan from Florida after a crackdown on Medicare fraud there. She admitted her three clinics in the Detroit area billed the government for drug treatments that weren’t necessary or were never performed. Medicare paid $10.7 million over a 12-month period in 2006 and 2007.

Martinez pleaded guilty to conspiracy last year. She admits paying people to come to clinics so she and others could get their Medicare numbers for billing purposes.

NEW YORK

Fake jail changed after complaints

NEW YORK — Complaints have prompted New York City’s public housing authority to change a playground jungle gym made to resemble a jail.

Workers removed the word “jail” and fake bars on Wednesday from the Tompkins Houses jungle gym in Brooklyn.

Natasha Godley, who has a 6-year-old son, said she complained because “it was like promoting children to go to jail.”

Housing Authority spokeswoman Sheila Stainback said it was part of the original design of the playground, which was erected in 2004. She said no one had complained until this week.

She said the agency wants to replace that part of the playground and is looking into who ordered the equipment.

Changes also were being made to a second fake jail. Miss Stainback declined to divulge its location.

TEXAS

Boy in custody after police chase

LA GRANGE — A 12-year-old boy has been accused of leading police on a nighttime interstate chase at speeds topping 100 mph with the truck headlights off.

A judge ruled Wednesday that the boy must stay in juvenile detention during the investigation.

Authorities say the Comal County boy did not have permission to take his father’s pickup Monday night. Officers responded to 911 calls about a vehicle being driven erratically on Interstate 10 with its lights off.

Video from the patrol car’s dashboard camera shows the pickup weaving in and out of traffic in Fayette County. Officers threw down a spiked strip, which the pickup drove over, to end the 14-mile chase.

The video shows the boy exiting the vehicle with his hands raised and saying he was trying to call his mother.

Nobody was hurt.

UTAH

Officer nabs thief who asks for directions

OREM — A man accused of stealing two phones from a convenience store was arrested when he flagged down the investigating officer and asked for directions, police said.

Police said the officer noticed that John White matched the description a store clerk had given of the thief, and the address Mr. White wanted turned out to be the same one the officer was checking.

The address was on a slip of paper the thief had left at a gas station.

Mr. White was arrested Tuesday after the officer found he had both phones, along with a small amount of marijuana.

Police said charges are pending.

VERMONT

Nuclear plant: Leak has been plugged

VERNON — Officials at the state’s only nuclear power plant said they’ve stopped a leak of a radioactive substance and are starting to clean up the groundwater.

The Vermont Yankee tritium leak, reported Jan. 7, was from two pipes in a concrete tunnel. Water carrying tritium seeped into soil and groundwater because of a drain that was clogged with mud and debris.

Plant officials said groundwater cleanup will begin Thursday at the plant in Vernon, near where Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts meet.

They also said no detectable tritium levels have been found in nearby drinking-water well samples or in the Connecticut River.

The 38-year-old plant is scheduled to close in 2012, but owner Entergy Corp. is seeking permission to run it for another 20 years.

WISCONSIN

College: New e-mail font will save money

GREEN BAY — A Wisconsin college has found a new way to cut costs with e-mail — by changing the font.

The University of Wisconsin at Green Bay has switched the default font on its e-mail system from Arial to Century Gothic. It says that although the change sounds minor, it will save money on ink when students print e-mails in the new font.

Diane Blohowiak, the school’s director of computing, said the new font uses about 30 percent less ink than the previous one.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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