- - Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Pot law might spark court action

SAN FRANCISCO | Federal officials haven’t ruled out taking legal action if California voters approve a ballot initiative that would legalize recreational marijuana use in the state, President Obama’s drug czar said Wednesday.

In a phone interview with the Associated Press, Director of National Drug Control Policy Gil Kerlikowske said Justice Department officials are “looking at all their options” for responding to the measure, which would conflict with federal laws classifying marijuana as an illegal drug.

Among them, he said, is following the recommendation nine of the nation’s former Drug Enforcement Administration chiefs made last month in a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.: having Mr. Obama sue to overturn Proposition 19 as an affront to federal authority.

Mr. Holder told the former DEA heads last week that the U.S. government plans to “vigorously enforce” federal laws outlawing marijuana possession and distribution, even if the activities are allowed under state law. But the attorney general did not respond directly to their suggestion that the administration should go to court if California passes the first-of-its-kind measure aimed at treating marijuana the same as alcohol.

Proposition 19, a state constitutional amendment on the November ballot, would allow adults at least 21 years old to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and grow 25-square-foot pot gardens for personal pleasure. It would also authorize county and city governments to regulate and tax commercial cultivation and sales.


South has highest teen birthrates

Teen births are the highest in Southern states, the federal government said in a new report that offers state-by-state data.

In 2008, the national teen birthrate fell to 42 births per 1,000 teens aged 15 to 19, the National Center for Health Statistics said Oct. 20.

The 10 highest teen birthrates, however, were in swath of states stretching from Kentucky to Nevada.

The highest rates — 62 births or higher per 1,000 teens — occurred in Arkansas, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.


State to get large solar farm

PILESGROVE | Officials have broken ground on a farm in southern New Jersey that will cultivate energy from the sun.

The Pilesgrove solar farm is to be among the biggest in the nation. Its sponsors think it would be the largest in the Northeast.

It’s scheduled to open next spring and would eventually have enough capacity to generate 20 megawatts of power. That’s enough to run more than 5,000 homes.

The solar farm is being developed by a subsidiary of the power company Consolidated Edison Inc., and Panda Power Funds, which is dedicated to increasing electric generating capacity.


Lawyers must verify foreclosures

NEW YORK | The chief judge of New York’s courts implemented a new rule Wednesday requiring every lawyer handling a foreclosure to sign a form verifying that all paperwork in the case is accurate.

The move comes amid an uproar over accusations that mortgage lenders nationwide cut corners on paperwork and legal procedure as they moved to seize millions of homes.

Attorneys already have an obligation to ensure that the documents they present to the court are valid, but New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said having them sign something affirming that all papers got a proper review will hold them accountable like never before.

The rule requiring a signed affirmation applies to both new cases and the 78,000 foreclosure actions already under way in New York courts.


Bond raised for girl’s stepmom

NEWTON | Dozens of investigators searched a North Carolina landfill Wednesday for evidence in the disappearance of a disabled 10-year-old girl, but said they didn’t expect to find the girl’s body there.

As Hickory police and FBI agents checked mounds of trash in Caldwell County, a judge increased bond for the girl’s stepmother, Elisa Baker, from $45,000 to $65,000 after prosecutors convinced him she was a flight risk.

Catawba County District Judge Robert Mullinax Jr. said there were “disturbing and unsettling allegations” in the case as he dismissed a request by Mrs. Baker’s lawyers to reduce her bond on a charge of obstructing justice to $10,000.

Investigators said Mrs. Baker wrote a bogus ransom note found Oct. 9, the day she and her husband reported Zahra Clare Baker missing. Police have said they think the girl is dead, but have not found her body and haven’t charged anyone with killing her.


Black lawyer rejected in 1800s honored

PITTSBURGH | A lawyer rejected from practicing law in Pennsylvania in the 1800s because he was black has been posthumously admitted to the state’s bar.

The family of George Vashon was in Pittsburgh on Wednesday for a ceremony before the state Supreme Court. Chief Justice Ronald Castille signed and presented an admission certificate to the family.

Mr. Vashon was the first black person to graduate from Oberlin College, the first black lawyer in New York and the first black professor at Howard University. He grew up in Pennsylvania and studied law in Pittsburgh but was twice rejected to practice law because of his race.

A lawyer who read about Mr. Vashon decided with the family to petition the court to posthumously admit Mr. Vashon. The court agreed in May.


Penthouse founder Guccione dies

DALLAS | Bob Guccione, who founded Penthouse magazine and created an erotic corporate empire around it, only to see it crumble as his investments soured and the world of pornography turned toward video and the Internet, died Wednesday. He was 79.

A statement issued by the Guccione family said he died at Plano Specialty Hospital in Plano. His wife, April Dawn Warren Guccione, said he had battled lung cancer for several years.

Penthouse reached the pinnacle of its popularity in September 1984, when it published nude pictures of Vanessa Williams, the first black Miss America.

Miss Williams, now a singer and actress, was forced to relinquish her crown after the release of the issue, which sold nearly 6 million copies and reportedly made $14 million.

A frustrated artist who once attended a Catholic seminary, Mr. Guccione started Penthouse in 1965 in England to subsidize his art career and was the magazine’s first photographer. He introduced the magazine to the American public in 1969 at the height of the feminist movement and the sexual revolution.

Penthouse quickly posed a challenge to Hugh Hefner’s Playboy by offering a mix of tabloid journalism with provocative photos of nude women, dubbed Penthouse Pets.

“We followed the philosophy of voyeurism,” Mr. Guccione told The Independent newspaper in London in 2004.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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