- - Wednesday, March 21, 2012

CLEVELAND — The accused ringleader in beard-cutting attacks on fellow Amish in Ohio cannot rely on taxpayers to pay his legal bills, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

U.S. District Court Judge Dan Polster ruled that Samuel Mullet Sr., 66, who has a nearly 800-acre farm near Steubenville with oil and gas leases, can afford to pay his defense attorney.

Mr. Mullet has been represented by a public defender, Edward Bryan, but now must pay the going court rate of $125 hourly if he wants to keep him, the judge ruled.

Mr. Mullet and 11 followers are charged in five beard- and hair-cutting attacks on other Amish last year. They have pleaded not guilty.

Other defendants received court-appointed attorneys.

A feud over church discipline allegedly led to attacks in which the beards and hair of men and hair of women were cut, an act considered deeply offensive in Amish culture. The Amish believe the Bible instructs women to let their hair grow long and men to grow beards and stop shaving once they marry.

The judge didn’t specify how much Mr. Mullet is worth or the value of the oil and gas leases. Mr. Mullet’s financial disclosure affidavits have been sealed by the court.

In his ruling, the judge said the initial affidavit showed Mr. Mullet’s debts exceed his assets.

Jefferson County property records online show Mr. Mullet and his wife, Martha, own eight parcels of agricultural land totaling 783 acres with a value of more than $580,000.


40-year-old nuke plant draws calls for closure

MONTPELIER — Groups critical of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant are observing the facility’s 40th birthday by renewing their calls for the plant to be shut down.

Vermont Yankee’s initial 40-year license expires Wednesday. It has won approval from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to operate an additional 20 years. The state Public Service Board has yet to rule on the plant’s future, but the Vernon reactor is expected to continue operating in the meantime.

The Vermont Public Interest Research Group, Conservation Law Foundation and other groups say plant owner Entergy Corp. isn’t trustworthy and that the plant is unreliable.

A pro-Yankee group, the Vermont Energy Partnership, which includes Entergy, responded by releasing a statement on a study showing economic harm to southeastern Vermont if the plant is closed.


Pro-life activist performs ultrasounds at Capitol

BOISE — The Idaho Capitol was part medical clinic, part reality-TV show and all cultural battlefield on Wednesday, as a pro-life advocate secured a basement meeting room to conduct live ultrasound procedures on six women before a mostly female audience of 150.

Some were ejected from the room by Idaho State Police troopers after interrupting Brandi Swindell’s descriptions of the ultrasound images shown on three projector screens.

Ms. Swindell, a Boise resident who briefly caused an international incident with her arrest in China for protesting abortion ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, hoped the event would help persuade state lawmakers to support a bill that would require women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound first.

Currently, Idaho requires women seeking an abortion be given the option of an ultrasound. The House planned to take up the ultrasound mandate on Thursday. The measure has already passed the Senate, 23-12.

“How can anybody call this offensive?” Ms. Swindell said. “Who doesn’t love an ultrasound image of a baby?”


Anti-Obama Marine captain told he faces dismissal

SAN DIEGO — The Marine Corps on Wednesday notified a sergeant who has been openly critical of President Obama that he is violating Pentagon policy barring troops from political activities and that he faces dismissal.

Camp Pendleton Marine Sgt. Gary Stein started a Facebook page called Armed Forces Tea Party to encourage fellow service members to exercise their free-speech rights. He declared a few weeks ago that he would not follow the unlawful orders of the commander in chief.

Sgt. Stein, a nine-year member of the Corps, said he did nothing wrong and planned to fight the charges. He had applied to extend his service, which was set to expire in a few months.

“I’m completely shocked that this is happening,” he said. “I’ve done nothing wrong. I’ve only stated what our oath states that I will defend the Constitution and that I will not follow unlawful orders. If that’s a crime, what is America coming to?”

The Marine Corps said in a statement Wednesday that Sgt. Stein’s commanding officer ordered a preliminary inquiry on March 8 after receiving allegations that Sgt. Stein posted political statements about Mr. Obama on Facebook in violation of the Pentagon’s directives.


Town loses again in fight over illegal immigrants

DALLAS — A federal appeals court Wednesday upheld a lower court ruling that stopped a Dallas suburb’s ban on illegal immigrants seeking housing.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Farmers Branch overstepped its authority in 2008 when it passed a law calling on the city’s building inspector to check the immigration status of anyone wanting to rent an apartment who wasn’t a U.S. citizen.

Under the law, illegal immigrants would have been barred from rental housing, and landlords who knowingly allowed them to stay could have their rental licenses barred.

“Because the sole purpose and effect of this ordinance is to target the presence of illegal aliens within the City of Farmers Branch and to cause their removal, it contravenes the federal government’s exclusive authority over the regulation of immigration and the conditions of residence in this country,” the court’s opinion stated.


Defense: Feds held key data in militia case

DETROIT — Defense attorneys in the trial of seven Michigan militia members want a mistrial declared, claiming they should have been given details about the past work of an FBI agent who infiltrated the group.

Attorneys found out this week that agent Steve Haug was the handler for a New Jersey man who was paid by the FBI to collect information on white supremacists and hate groups, starting in 2003. The informant was a right-wing radio host and blogger who made threats against critics and public officials while on the FBI payroll.

Attorney William Swor told a judge Wednesday that prosecutors had an obligation to turn over material that could aid the defense. The government says there was no violation.

Militia members are accused of conspiring to commit rebellion.


Beekeepers, greens ask EPA to ban pesticide

FRESNO — Commercial beekeepers and environmental organizations filed a petition Wednesday, asking federal regulators to suspend use of a pesticide they say harms honeybees.

The group is urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to ban the insecticide clothianidin, one of a class of chemicals that act on the central nervous system of insects. More than 1.25 million people also submitted comments in partnership with the organizations.

Beekeepers and some scientists say the chemicals known as neonicotinoids are lethal to bees and weaken their immune systems, making them more susceptible to pathogens. They say it could contribute to colony-collapse disorder, in which all the adult honeybees in a colony suddenly disappear or die.

The disorder continues to devastate hives in the U.S. and overseas. Since it was recognized in 2006, the disease has destroyed colonies at a rate of about 30 percent a year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Before that, losses were about 15 percent a year from a variety of pests and diseases.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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