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American Scene

- - Thursday, February 2, 2012

CALIFORNIA

Court: Prop 8 video tapes to stay sealed

SAN FRANCISCO | The video recording of the trial to overturn California's marriage amendment must remain sealed as promised, a three-judge appellate panel ruled Thursday.

"The integrity of our judicial system depends" on the ability of people "to rely on a judge's word," wrote Judge Stephen R. Reinhardt of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for the Northern District of California.

In 2009, Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker of the U.S. District Court of Northern California asked that a video recording be made for his in-chambers use of the trial on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, which defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman. He promised the recording would be sealed and not publicly broadcast.

Proposition 8 supporters fought any recording because of concerns of retribution or harassment of their witnesses.

Before and after Judge Walker retired, he used his recording to show excerpts of the trial at public appearances, and gay-rights advocates sued to have the recording unsealed.

In 2011, Chief Judge James S. Ware, who replaced Judge Walker, agreed that the recording should be unsealed because of a "right of public access."

The appellate court reversed the lower court, saying it had "abused its discretion" when it ignored Judge Walker's "solemn commitments" to keep the recording sealed.

MASSACHUSETTS

State: Bone marrow donor recruiting cases settled

BOSTON | A bone marrow registry and medical laboratory company that used fashion models wearing high heels and short skirts to recruit potential donors will pay the states of Massachusetts and New Hampshire $770,000 for engaging in an improper marketing practice, officials in both states said Thursday.

The Caitlin Raymond International Registry and UMass Memorial Health Ventures Inc. paid models to help recruit potential registrants during donor drives at malls, festivals and sporting ventures, including Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., and the Mall of New Hampshire. The practice drew sharp criticism from officials in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire, prompting an apology and a promise to stop using models from UMass Memorial Health Care Inc. in December 2010.

According to a final judgment filed Thursday in Suffolk Superior Court, the registry and lab company - both subsidiaries of UMass Memorial Health Care - will pay restitution to Massachusetts consumers for any out-of-pocket payments they previously made for donor testing.

They will also pay the state $500,000 for initiatives to improve health care services and to combat unlawful marketing practices and $20,000 to cover the cost of the state attorney general's investigation.

MISSISSIPPI

Pardoned killer may fight return to state

JACKSON | A convicted murderer who left Mississippi after being pardoned by former Gov. Haley Barbour seems poised to fight attempts to force him to return from Wyoming.

Joseph Ozment's attorney, Robert Moxley, told the Associated Press on Thursday that he will defend Mr. Ozment's freedom if he decides to try to stay in Wyoming. The 40-year-old is not a fugitive and no warrant has been issued for his arrest.

A legal challenge to the pardons, however, is headed for the Mississippi Supreme Court next week. It's far from clear what might happen to those who were freed from prison by the pardons, such as Mr. Ozment.

Mr. Ozment worked as a trusty at the Governor's Mansion before he was pardoned last month in the final days of Mr. Barbour's second term. He had dropped out of sight by the time state Attorney General Jim Hood persuaded a judge to order Mr. Ozment and four others to check in daily with corrections officials and attend hearings.

TEXAS

Dallas, Fort Worth emerge from drought

HOUSTON | For millions of Dallas-area residents, one of the most severe droughts in Texas history is no longer a concern, for now.

The U.S. Drought Monitor, in its weekly map posted online Thursday, classified the Dallas-Fort Worth area as officially out of drought for the first time since July, likely heralding the lifting of water restrictions on the more than 6 million people in the nation's fourth-most populous metro area, and the region north and northeast to the Oklahoma and Arkansas borders.

But meteorologists and climatologists warn the situation remains precarious. Texas is experiencing the most severe single year of drought in its history, and nearly 60 percent of the state remains in severe or exceptional stages of drought. Another dry spring or blistering hot summer could quickly reverse any gains.

NEW YORK

Police: TSA agent stole $5K from passenger

NEW YORK | A Transportation Security Administration agent, police say, stole $5,000 in cash from a passenger's jacket as he was going through security at John F. Kennedy International Airport, the latest in a string of thefts that has embarrassed the agency.

Alexandra Schmid took the cash from the jacket of a Bangladeshi passenger as it went along an X-ray conveyor belt at around 8 p.m. Wednesday, said Al Della Fave, spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's police force.

The video showed Miss Schmid wrapping the money in a plastic glove and taking it to a bathroom, he said.

The money hasn't been recovered, Mr. Della Fave said. Police are investigating whether Miss Schmid gave it to another person in the bathroom.

Miss Schmid, 31, was arrested on a charge of grand larceny and suspended pending an investigation.

NEW MEXICO

Hiker finds jawbone among remains of man

SILVER CITY | Scattered body parts have been found in the Gomez Peak area over the past few weeks after a hiker picked up what appeared to be a lower jawbone Jan. 19, authorities said.

The medical investigator determined a bone found nearly a week later by a U.S. Forest Service worker was a femur.

The Grant County Sheriff's Office, the medical investigator, and members of the Forest Service and U.S. Border Patrol searched the area Tuesday near Silver City and discovered more remains.

A preliminary analysis shows the bones are from a man approximately 6 feet tall and weighing 200 pounds.

The remains were sent to the Office of the Medical Investigator in Albuquerque in an attempt to determine the identity and cause of death.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports