- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2006

CALIFORNIA

Mountain lion wanders into suburb

LOS ANGELES — Zachary Bovinette was looking out of his kitchen window in a Los Angeles suburb yesterday morning when he saw his cat on a roof outside looking “most eager to get back in.”

About 15 feet behind the pet was a much bigger feline — a 65-pound mountain lion. The big cat snoozed away unfazed by a gathering crowd of onlookers in the Los Angeles suburb of Altadena. A nearby school was closed as a precaution.

Lt. Marty Wall of the California Department of Fish and Game walked to within six feet of the animal and tranquilized it. The mountain lion tried to run away but changed its mind when it saw men standing ready to prevent its escape. It retreated behind a row of trash cans in the front yard.

“He was such a well-behaved cat. He did not move and just fell asleep,” Mr. Bovinette said. The animal was taken away and released into the nearby Angeles National Forest.

GEORGIA

Black sheriff loses case on white firings

ATLANTA — Georgia’s Supreme Court yesterday upheld a lower-court ruling that 27 deputies, most of them white, were unjustly fired by their county’s new black sheriff.

The deputies were fired by Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill on Jan. 3, 2005, his first day in office. Some had supported the incumbent, who lost the race.

The deputies sued, claiming discrimination and political retaliation. A lower court judge ordered Sheriff Hill to rehire most of the employees within days, but he did not give them their former jobs. Instead, he demoted them to work as correctional officers.

The high court ruled 6-1 yesterday “that the elected sheriff is not subject to the civil service system, but those occupying positions in his office are.” It said the sheriff’s employees can be fired only”for good cause and in accordance with civil service system rules and regulations.”

KENTUCKY

Judge resigns amid ethics charges

FRANKFORT — A northern Kentucky judge has resigned rather than face removal over charges that he profited from a $200 million settlement involving the diet drug Fen-Phen, a state judicial panel said yesterday.

Judge Joseph F. Bamberger was publicly reprimanded yesterday by the state’s Judicial Conduct Commission.

In a letter of reprimand, the commission said Mr. Bamberger, who resigned Friday, gave attorneys, including one of his personal friends, between $86 million and $104 million from the 2001 settlement.

In addition, Mr. Bamberger allowed more than $20 million from the settlement to be put into a charitable fund and then became a paid director of the fund, receiving $5,000 a month plus a $350 monthly expense allowance.

OHIO

Court rules hundreds must be resentenced

COLUMBUS — Hundreds of defendants will have to be resentenced because judges considered evidence that wasn’t presented at trial, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled yesterday.

The unanimous ruling found parts of Ohio’s sentencing law unconstitutional. The law required judges to consider evidence that a defendant had not admitted to at trial, such as criminal record, which often resulted in longer sentences.

Most of the cases affected by the ruling involve repeat offenders or serious drug offenders, the court said.

A 2004 U.S. Supreme Court opinion threw out similar sentencing guidelines in Washington state on the basis that they violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of a jury trial.

RHODE ISLAND

Paint makers argue to limit damages

PROVIDENCE — Attorneys for three former lead paint makers found liable last week for creating a public nuisance told a judge yesterday that they should not have to pay punitive damages.

The attorneys said it would be unjustified and wrong for a jury to impose punitive damages against Sherwin-Williams Co., NL Industries Inc. and Millennium Holdings LLC, which already face the expensive prospect of cleaning up lead paint contamination across the state.

Rhode Island is the first state to successfully pursue the companies in court. The state did not put a dollar amount on its lawsuit, but advocates and attorneys estimate that dealing with the problem could cost hundreds of millions.

TENNESSEE

Former guard denies aiding prison escape

KNOXVILLE — A former prison guard pleaded not guilty yesterday to a charge of helping an inmate make a deadly escape from a courthouse last year.

Randall Ridenour, 35, was fired in November after officials say he acknowledged letting the inmate, George Hyatte, use his cell phone to contact his wife, Jennifer, a month before the escape from the Roane County Courthouse.

Hyatte, 34, a career criminal serving a 41-year sentence, escaped Aug. 9 as two guards led him to a van after a court hearing. Mrs. Hyatte, 31, a former prison nurse who met and married Hyatte behind bars, is charged with ambushing the guards, killing one and wounding the other when her husband yelled, “Shoot him.”

The Hyattes were captured 36 hours later at a motel in Columbus, Ohio, and are charged with murder.

Authorities say Mr. Ridenour also acknowledged making a personal call to Mrs. Hyatte later that day. The content of the conversations has not been disclosed. Mr. Ridenour acknowledged violating the prisons’ ban on personal relationships with inmates but has denied violating the law.

TEXAS

Yates rejects deal with prosecutors

HOUSTON — Andrea Yates has rejected a plea offer that would have sent her to prison for 35 years for drowning her children and is expected to face a retrial next month, her attorney said yesterday.

Prosecutor Joe Owmby said the state would leave the offer on the table until March 10 — 10 days before her capital murder retrial is set to begin in the deaths of three of the five children in 2001.

She has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, as she did at her first trial. The plea offer would require her to plead guilty or no contest to murder.

Yesterday, State District Judge Belinda Hill granted the state’s request to hire a second expert witness to evaluate her. Her attorney, George Parnham, opposed another evaluation.

WISCONSIN

Burglary suspect leaves parole card

STEVENS POINT — A woman didn’t have to look far to figure out who likely broke into her home and took a camera from her purse. Police said the burglar left his probation and parole card.

The woman was going through her purse after the burglary earlier this month to ensure nothing other than the camera had been taken, Detective Sgt. Tony Babl said.

She found the man’s probation and parole card, which had a date and time stamp on it for his next appointment, the detective said.

“He must’ve had the card in his hand when he went into her purse,” Sgt. Babl said. “He doesn’t even know how it got there.”

Police plan to request burglary charges in the next week for at least eight incidents in the past three years, Sgt. Babl said.

WEST VIRGINIA

Governor wants adds to mine-safety bill

CHARLESTON — Gov. Joe Manchin III yesterday proposed adding emergency shelters to the array of new safety gear being mandated in response to one of the deadliest recent years in West Virginia’s underground mines.

The Democratic governor wants all 315 underground mines to contain at least one rescue chamber stocked with enough air, food and water for at least 24 hours.

Mr. Manchin’s shelter proposal would amend emergency rules filed earlier this month as part of the state’s new mine safety law. So far, 16 miners have died in accidents this year.

In Canada, airtight chambers packed with food, water and extra air supplies helped 72 miners survive a fire in their underground potash mine last month.

From wire dispatches and staff reports


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