- Associated Press - Thursday, September 3, 2015
Judge rejects UCare bid to halt public health program signup

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - A Minnesota judge dealt UCare a blow Thursday in its legal quest to keep a critical state contract, denying the Minneapolis company’s request to halt an upcoming registration period for public health care programs.

UCare sued state officials last month after losing in a competitive bid for contracts to cover hundreds of thousands of low-income Minnesota residents, arguing the state cut it out arbitrarily and asking the court to both restore some of its contracts and delay sign-ups for those programs scheduled to begin Friday.

The health insurance company’s case can still proceed to trial even after Ramsey County District Judge Robert Awsumb denied its request for an injunction. In his order, Awsumb wrote that the state and other health plans need time to begin preparing to shift UCare’s estimated 370,000 customers to new plans - a massive undertaking that could result in costly delays if the sign-up date was pushed back.

UCare will still get a chance to air its claims that the state was wrong not to offer a contract covering residents on MinnesotaCare or Medical Assistance. But without crucial information that could shed light on the state’s competitive bid such as scores for the companies who submitted applications - Awsumb said he couldn’t delay the registration period, as UCare wished.

“The court intends to provide a forum for that review,” he wrote. “It would be imprudent, however, for the court to prejudge the result in UCare’s favor based on the limited evidence and incomplete record available at this time.”


Defense wants new trial for Minnesota man who killed teens

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Attorneys for a Little Falls man convicted of killing two teenagers who broke into his home on Thanksgiving Day 2012 argued Thursday before the Minnesota Supreme Court that he deserves a new trial.

A jury convicted 67-year-old Byron Smith last year of first-degree premeditated murder in the fatal shootings of Haile Kifer, 18, and her 17-year-old cousin, Nick Brady. Smith was sentenced to life in prison with no parole.

At issue in the appeal is whether a court proceeding held on the trial’s opening day should have been open to the public, the St. Cloud Times reported. With only the attorneys and a court reporter present, the trial judge reminded the attorneys that he ruled against Smith’s wish to call friends of Brady to talk about his participation in previous burglaries.

“This is about justice … he did not get a fair trial,” defense attorney Steven Meshbesher told the justices. “The only way to fix it is to grant him a new trial.”

Prosecutors argued at the hourlong hearing that the closure had no impact and was meant to instruct attorneys on how they would conduct themselves. “This is not a courtroom closure. This is about a bench conference,” prosecutor Brent Wartner said.


Minnesota senior associate AD on leave during investigation

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - A senior associate athletics director at the University of Minnesota has gone on leave while outside lawyers investigate five anonymous complaints lodged against him since the resignation of athletics director Norwood Teague.

University spokesman Evan Lapiska says Mike Ellis agreed to take voluntary time off while the complaints are investigated by outside lawyers. They’re the same attorneys hired to investigate the circumstances of Teague’s resignation, which followed sexual harassment allegations from two high-level administrators.

Lapiska says he can’t disclose the nature of the five complaints against Ellis, which he says were received via the university’s EthicsPoint reporting system.

He says Ellis remains a university employee and has been cooperating fully.

Ellis did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment Thursday.


GOP Rep. Kline says he won’t seek re-election in Minnesota

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Republican Rep. John Kline, a seven-term lawmaker and chairman of the House Education panel, announced Thursday he won’t seek re-election next year in a Minnesota district that has grown more politically competitive in recent years.

Kline has represented southeastern Minnesota’s 2nd District since 2002. The former Marine carved out a niche in Congress on military issues and, more recently, on education issues as the head of the committee. He said he will use the next 16 months to fashion a replacement to the No Child Left Behind education law.

Kline would have lost that gavel after this term as part of a chairmanship term limit. With his 68th birthday arriving Sunday, he said, “it’s just kind of time” to move on.

“It’s time to let someone else have a shot at it,” Kline said, adding, “I’ve enjoyed the fight.”

He told reporters that it’s premature to speculate about a campaign for another office in Minnesota, such as governor or Senate in 2018.

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