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Nation Briefs: L.A. jury awards $4.5 million to Filipino teachers

- - Tuesday, December 18, 2012

LOS ANGELES — A federal jury in Los Angeles has ordered a company to repay $4.5 million to Filipino teachers who paid large fees to obtain U.S. jobs through a placement agency.

The jury on Monday found that Los Angeles-based Universal Placement International and its owner, Lourdes Navarro, failed to properly disclose the fees for the 350 teachers who were recruited for $40,000-a-year jobs in Louisiana, mostly in East Baton Rouge Parish.

A lawsuit brought by the American Federation of Teachers and the Southern Poverty Law Center claimed the teachers were misled and forced into paying excessive debts in abuses that amounted to human trafficking.

However, Don A. Hernandez, a lawyer who represented the company, says jurors rejected the human trafficking allegations. He also says there was no intentional wrongdoing by his client.

TEXAS

Fort Hood suspect allowed to keep beard at trial

FORT HOOD —The Army psychiatrist charged in the deadly Fort Hood shooting rampage will be allowed to keep his beard during his military trial.

The new judge overseeing Maj. Nidal Hasan's case told the defendant during a Tuesday hearing that the beard is a violation of Army regulations. But the judge, Col. Tara Osborn, said she won't hold it against him.

Maj. Hasan answered her questions, saying he grew the beard voluntarily. He previously said his Muslim faith requires it.

The officer faces the death penalty if convicted in the 2009 rampage that killed 13 and wounded more than two dozen others on the Texas Army post. His trial date hasn't been set.

A military appeals court recently ousted the previous judge and tossed his order requiring the defendant to be forcibly shaved before his trial.

WASHINGTON

Anti-whaling group to keep 500 yards from ships

SEATTLE — A U.S. appeals court ordered American anti-whaling activists to stay 500 yards away from Japanese whaling ships off Antarctica.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued an injunction against the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which sends vessels every December to disrupt whale killings by Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research.

The whalers sued Sea Shepherd last year to prevent the protesters from interfering, but the judge refused to grant the request.

The whalers appealed, and a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit ordered Sea Shepherd not to attack or approach any of the Japanese vessels until it can rule on the merits of the appeal.

UTAH

Boy brings gun to school, cites Newtown shooting fears

KEARNS — Authorities say a Utah sixth-grader caught with a gun at school told administrators he brought the weapon to defend himself in case of an attack similar to the mass shooting last week in Newtown, Conn.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that two classmates at West Kearns Elementary School reported the gun to a teacher toward the end of the school day Monday.

Granite School District spokesman Ben Horsley says the teacher "immediately apprehended the student," and police responded shortly after.

Mr. Horsley told KSL-TV that an unloaded gun and ammunition were found in the 11-year-old's backpack. Authorities have not released the child's name.

ILLINOIS

Frat members charged in student hazing death

DEKALB — Nearly two dozen fraternity members at Northern Illinois University have been charged with hazing-related counts after a freshman was found dead at their fraternity house following a night of drinking.

DeKalb police and prosecutors issued arrest warrants Monday for 22 members of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity in DeKalb. Five members are charged with felony hazing, while the other 17 members are facing misdemeanor hazing charges.

The warrants were filed after David Bogenberger, 19, was found unresponsive at the fraternity house early on Nov. 2. The DeKalb County Coroner's Office said toxicology results found his blood alcohol content was about five times the legal limit for driving.

The coroner ruled the cause of death was cardiac arrhythmia, with alcohol intoxication as a contributing cause.

From wire dispatches and staff reports