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American Scene: Judge backs state in discrimination case

- - Tuesday, April 17, 2012

DES MOINES — A judge has ruled that Iowa's state government hiring policies have not discriminated against blacks.

District Judge Robert Blink ruled Tuesday against a class of up to 6,000 black employees and applicants passed over for jobs and promotions with Iowa's executive branch dating back to 2003. He says the state does not have to pay them lost wages or change its policies to track and eliminate disparities among racial groups.

The ruling came after Judge Blink oversaw a monthlong trial last fall in the case, which has been closely watched by civil rights activists. Experts have called the case the largest class-action lawsuit of its kind against an entire state government's civil service system.

WISCONSIN

State cracks down on sex, drugs at nude beach

MAZOMANIE — Wisconsin officials have long turned a blind eye to nudists who flock to a beach about a half-hour north of the capital, but they draw the line at public sex.

Officials say arrests for drug use and illicit sex at the beach on the Wisconsin River just north of Mazomanie spiked last year. In just nine days of surveillance, wardens arrested 42 people for illicit sex or drug possession, up from 14 in six days in 2007.

To try to curb the bad behavior, the state Department of Natural Resources said Tuesday that it will close down huge expanses of the woods around the beach in hopes of forcing people into clear view.

Nudists aren't happy with the plan, but other river users say something must be done.

OHIO

Bishop plans to reopen 12 closed Catholic parishes

CLEVELAND — Twelve of 13 closed Roman Catholic churches spared by the Vatican in the Cleveland Diocese will be reopened, the bishop announced Tuesday.

The action was a response to last month's extraordinary Vatican decision overruling his decision to close the 13 parishes, a rare instance in which Rome reversed a U.S. bishop on the shutdown of churches.

Cleveland Bishop Richard Lennon had ordered the churches closed over the past several years because of declining numbers of priests and parishioners and financial issues.

The Vatican's Congregation for the Clergy ruled that Bishop Lennon failed to follow church law and procedure in the closings.

The 13 churches were among 50 shut down or merged by Bishop Lennon.

Parishioners, many of them second- and third-generation members of the churches, challenged some of the closings, staged sit-ins and other protests and even created a breakaway congregation.

The cutbacks left the eight-county Cleveland Diocese with 174 parishes in all as Catholics and members of the wider community moved out of Cleveland to suburban communities.

Cleveland's population has fallen 17 percent, to just less than 400,000, since 2000 and the number of Catholics in the diocese has declined from 797,000 to 710,000 since 2007.

The diocese had begun selling its closed churches, with some bought by other denominations and charter schools. The sale of churches was put on hold in cases where the closings were challenged.

INDIANA

'Sextortion' suspect faces out-of-state child porn charge

INDIANAPOLIS — An Indiana man charged with coercing two teenage boys into making sexually explicit online videos now faces similar federal charges in Michigan.

The U.S. attorney's office in Detroit has filed charges of production of child pornography against Richard Finkbiner, 39, of Brazil, Ind. He could face from 15 years to life in prison if convicted.

The criminal complaint alleges Mr. Finkbiner videotaped a 14-year-old Michigan boy who exposed himself in a chat room and then blackmailed the boy into performing sex acts on webcam by threatening to post the video on a gay porn website.

The Michigan charges apparently involve one of the same victims as the Indiana case. In Indiana, Mr. Finkbiner faces charges of sexual exploitation of a child.

NEW JERSEY

Rescued woman says she owes life to mayor

NEWARK — The woman pulled from her burning home by Newark Mayor Cory Booker says she would be dead if he hadn't come to her rescue and feels "blessed."

Zina Hodge told WWOR-TV from her hospital room that she was gasping for air and delusional when Mr. Booker lifted her from her bed and carried her to safety Thursday.

Ms. Hodge, 47, said she doesn't remember Mr. Booker picking her up. All she remembers is the mayor calling out for her.

The mayor suffered smoke inhalation and burned his right hand when, against the wishes of his security detail, he rushed up the stairway of his neighbor's burning house to rescue Ms. Hodge.

Ms. Hodge is recovering at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston from burns to her legs and back.

COLORADO

Forest Service in quandary about frozen cows in cabin

DENVER — It may take explosives to dislodge cows that wandered into an old ranger cabin high in the Rocky Mountains, then died and froze solid when they couldn't get out.

The carcasses were discovered by two Air Force Academy cadets when they snowshoed up to the cabin in late March. Rangers believe the animals sought shelter during a snowstorm, got stuck and weren't smart enough to find their way out.

The cabin is near the Conundrum Hot Springs, a nine-mile hike from the Aspen area in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness area.

Michael Carroll, a spokesman for the Wilderness Society in Colorado, said that cattle often are allowed to wander on federal wilderness lands as long as ranchers get a permit from the Forest Service, and that sometimes animals get separated from the herd.

The Forest Service said Tuesday that the animals came from a herd of 29 cows that went missing last fall from the nearby Gunnison National Forest, where the rancher had a permit. An aerial search failed to turn up any sign of the animals.

Forest Service spokesman Brian Porter said rangers saw about six cows inside the cabin, and several dead cows lying around the building.

"There is a lot of snow, and it's hard to determine how many cows are there," Mr. Porter said.

U.S. Forest Service spokesman Steve Segin said Tuesday that they need to decide quickly how to get rid of the carcasses.

"Obviously, time is of the essence because we don't want them defrosting," he said.

Mr. Segin said officials are concerned about water contamination in the nearby hot springs if the cows start decomposing during the thaw.

The options: use explosives to break up the cows, burn down the cabin, or use helicopters or trucks to haul out the carcasses.

But Mr. Segin said using helicopters is too expensive and rangers are worried about using trucks in a wilderness area, where the government bars permanent improvements and tries to preserve the natural habitat.

Mr. Carroll praised the Forest Service for trying to remove the animals while doing the least damage. He said burning down the cabin or packing out the carcasses are probably the best solutions.

"They don't want to leave the land scarred," he said.

DELAWARE

Firefighters quell blaze at historic private school

WILMINGTON — More than 100 firefighters put out a major fire that partly collapsed the roof of a half-century old building on the campus of a Delaware private school founded in 1748.

Authorities say all students were safe and accounted for after the fire broke out Tuesday at the prestigious Wilmington Friends Upper School. But officials say two firefighters were hurt while battling heavy flames that forced them to evacuate when part of the roof collapsed. Heavy smoke could be seen for miles.

The building that caught fire was built in 1961, and authorities reported a preliminary damage estimate of about $1 million.

WYOMING

Where's a Yellowstone bear? Just look on your phone

CHEYENNE — Pretty soon, the best place to be on the lookout for a wolf, grizzly bear or other wildlife in Yellowstone National Park could be your phone.

Just don't be surprised if lots of other people get the same idea.

New smartphone apps enable people to pinpoint where they have seen critters in Yellowstone. Other people can then drive to those places for a wildlife viewing experience that otherwise wouldn't happen except for the luck of being in the right place at the right time.

One app called Where's a Bear promises "up to the second" animal sightings in Yellowstone. A website called Yellowstone Wildlife offers a similar app.

Park officials say apps could become a concern if they contribute to the traffic jams that occur when wildlife linger near roadsides.

From wire dispatches and staff reports