Sen. Kennedy awarded honorary degree from Harvard
Court News | 2008/12/02 23:10
Saying he has "lived a blessed time," Sen. Edward Kennedy smiled broadly and flashed a thumbs up as he accepted an honorary degree Monday from his alma mater during a rare special convocation at Harvard University.

The 76-year-old senator walked onstage to a standing ovation and leaned lightly on a cane. He made no mention of his battle with cancer but sounded a reflective note toward the end of his eight-minute address.

"We know the future will outlast all of us, but I believe that all of us will live on in the future we make," Kennedy said. "I have lived a blessed time. Now, with you, I look forward to a new time of aspiration and high achievement for our nation and the world."

In being honored at a special convocation, Kennedy joins a select group that includes George Washington, Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela.

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, a former Kennedy staffer, spoke at the ceremony, and Vice President-elect Joe Biden was among those in attendance. The event had been scheduled for last spring but was postponed as the senator recovered from surgery to treat a malignant brain tumor.

Kennedy devoted nearly a third of his speech to the election of Barack Obama, describing the election of the first African-American head of state as a giant step forward in U.S. history, and one that marks a new beginning for the country.

He said he was "proud to have played a small part" in the historic election. Kennedy gave Obama a key endorsement during his hard-fought Democratic primary against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"There is no other time when I would rather receive this honor than this year — at this turning point in American history," he said.

Kennedy also defended his reputation as the "liberal lion" of the Senate, where he has served for 46 years.

He quoted his brother, former President John F. Kennedy, saying: "If by a liberal, they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind ... someone who cares about the welfare of the people — their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights ... then I am proud to say I am a liberal."

Kennedy graduated from Harvard in 1956 and was elected to the Senate six years later to fill the seat held by his brother before he was elected president.

Breyer, a former assistant professor at the Harvard Law School, introduced himself not as a member of the Supreme Court, but as a "former member of the Kennedy staff" who cut his political teeth working in the senator's office.

He said he learned key lessons from Kennedy, including how to work across political divides.

"He'd say be generous with the credit," Breyer said, "If you're successful there'll be plenty of credit to go around, and if you're not successful, who wants credit for that?"

Breyer ticked off a list of some of Kennedy's legislative successes, including his push to foster neighborhood health centers and to expand health care for children and the mentally ill.

During his comments, Kennedy recalled his love of sailing in the waters off Cape Cod, a metaphor for what he said was the next great adventure in the nation's history.

"I have believed that America must sail toward the shores of liberty and justice," Kennedy said. "There is no end to that journey, only the next great voyage."



Hawaiian Telcom files for bankruptcy protection
Legal Topics | 2008/12/02 23:07
Hawaiian Telcom Communications Inc., the largest telephone company in Hawaii, said Monday that it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The company had been working with creditors since October on a debt-restructuring agreement and said it decided the bankruptcy-protection filing was the best course of action. It blamed the filing partly on increased competition, economic volatility and its failure to meet capital expenditure needs.

President and Chief Executive Eric Yeaman, in a letter to customers Monday, stressed that the company was not going out of business and that service would not be interrupted.

Hawaiian Telcom posted a loss of $34 million in the third quarter, its third straight quarterly loss this year. Last month the company filed documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission stating that it may seek court protection if talks with creditors failed.

Hawaiian Telcom postponed a $26 million interest payment in November and was in the midst of a 30-day grace period, which ended Monday.

Hawaiian Telecom is carrying more than $1 billion in debt, the result of financing that was arranged three years ago for the company's $1.6 billion sale from Verizon Communications to Carlyle Group, a private-equity firm based in Washington, D.C.



Ill. corruption figure Rezko sentencing set Jan. 6
Headline Legal News | 2008/12/02 23:06
A federal judge in Chicago has set a Jan. 6 sentencing for political fundraiser Tony Rezko, who helped bankroll the campaigns of Barack Obama and Gov. Rod Blagojevich (blah-GOY'-uh-vich).

Defense attorney Joseph Duffy says Rezko just "wants to get on with his life." Duffy made his comments while leaving court Tuesday after Judge Amy St. Eve set the date.

Duffy, however, left open the question of whether Rezko is still cooperating with the government's investigation of corruption in the Blagojevich (blah-GOY'-uh-vich) administration.

Rezko, convicted in June of mail fraud and other counts, wasn't in court Tuesday. He had asked for an early sentencing date.

Rezko was a major fundraiser for Obama in his campaigns in Illinois but did not raise money in his presidential campaign.



Plea deal offered to 8-year-old murder suspect
Areas of Focus | 2008/12/01 23:08
Prosecutors have offered a plea deal to an 8-year-old boy charged with murder in the shooting deaths of his father and another man in their eastern Arizona home, court records show.

Complete details of the offer weren't spelled out in a court filing posted Saturday on the Apache County Superior Court's Web site.

But County Attorney Criss Candelaria wrote that he has "tendered a plea offer to the juvenile's attorneys that would resolve all the charges in the juvenile court contingent on the results of the mental health evaluations."

Candelaria was responding to a defense motion seeking to block him from dropping one of two first-degree murder charges the boy faces in the deaths of his father, Vincent Romero, 29, and Timothy Romans, 39, earlier this month.

Defense attorney Benjamin Brewer argued in a filing Tuesday that prosecutors wanted the charge dismissed so they could refile it when the boy was older and pursue case in adult court.

Brewer said Saturday that the deal would resolve the case without it being transferred to adult court, but he declined to provide additional details. Although he is considering the offer, Brewer said he is unsure of his client's ability to understand the proceedings. At least two mental health evaluations are yet to be completed.

The prosecutor explained in his response to Brewer's opposition filing that he wasn't trying to obtain an unfair advantage, but he pressed for the dismissal because the judicial system isn't equipped to deal with an 8-year-old charged with murder.

"It is done to ensure that the juvenile and the two murder victims in this case do not fall through the cracks in the system that might occur if both charges remain in the pending delinquency petition," Candelaria wrote.

Candelaria explained that the boy could be found incompetent to stand trial, and if that happened, the court's options would be limited.

The court would be required to order efforts to restore the boy to competency, but if that couldn't be done within about eight months, the judge would be required by law to dismiss the criminal case and bar it from being refiled.

The court would then be required to initiate civil commitment proceedings, Candelaria wrote. If the boy is found incompetent because of his age, he wouldn't fit the definition of a mentally disordered person and no treatment would be available.

"Such a result denies the victims and public of any sense of justice for these heinous murders," Candelaria wrote. "It also denies the juvenile the rehabilitative services that he apparently needs to both deal with why he was capable of committing these murders and to assist him with the grief and remorse that he is probably feeling."

Police in St. Johns found Romero and Romans shot to death after the boy ran to a neighbor's house on Nov. 5. The boy was questioned after Romans' wife raised suspicions about him the next day, and in a videotape released by prosecutors, he admits pulling the trigger. Both men were shot several times with a .22-caliber rifle.

Romans worked with Romero and rented a room in his home.

Police reports say the boy told a state Child Protective Services worker that his 1,000th spanking would be his last.

The boy is being held in a county juvenile facility, although he was allowed to spend Thanksgiving with his mother.

Brewer said the boy is back in custody. The next court hearing is set for Dec. 8.



Calif. high court asked to hear gay marriage cases
Legal Topics | 2008/11/17 23:07
The state attorney general and sponsors of the ballot initiative that banned same-sex marriage in California urged its Supreme Court to hear a series of lawsuits seeking to overturn the ban, saying the matter is too urgent to be unsettled.

"The petitions raise issues of statewide importance, implicating not only California's marriage laws but also the initiative process and the Constitution itself," Attorney General Jerry Brown argued in his filing.

"This court can provide certainty and finality in this matter," he said.

Proposition 8, which passed with 52 percent of the vote earlier this month, overturned the high court's May decision legalizing gay marriage in California. The measure inserts language into the constitution limiting marriage to one man and one woman.

Gay and civil rights groups, the city of San Francisco and other plaintiffs have asked the court to void the measure on the grounds that voters did not have the authority to make, what they say, is a fundamental constitutional change.



US appeals court hears arguments in ND hemp case
Legal Topics | 2008/11/13 23:09
An attorney for two North Dakota farmers argued they should be able to grow industrial hemp under state regulations without fear of federal criminal prosecution.

Attorney Joe Sandler told a panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday that his clients' lawsuit against the federal Drug Enforcement Administration should move forward so that the farmers might have a chance to use their state permits to grow hemp for seeds and oil. The lawsuit was dismissed in U.S. District Court.

At the heart of the dispute is whether the farmers — state Rep. David Monson and Wayne Hauge — can cultivate hemp under North Dakota laws without violating the federal Controlled Substances Act.

Hemp is related to the illegal drug marijuana, and under the federal law, parts of an industrial hemp plant are considered controlled substances.

Sandler argued that while hemp plants might fall under the federal law, the law doesn't apply because the parts of the plant that could be considered a drug would never leave the farms. He also underlined the differences between marijuana and the crop the farmers want to grow, saying the judge who dismissed the case incorrectly treated marijuana and hemp as the same thing.

Industrial hemp is legally grown in several countries, including Canada, and the U.S. imports many products made from hemp seed, oil and fiber. The plant has much lower concentrations of the psychoactive chemical THC found in marijuana plants.

Melissa Patterson, a Justice Department attorney, told the appeals panel that Congress does have the power to regulate the crop in this case and that Congress has determined through the Controlled Substances Act that the plants, whether used for drugs or not, should be restricted.



Wisconsin court says 1985 killer should be freed
Areas of Focus | 2008/11/13 23:08
A Wisconsin appeals court ruled Thursday that a man who killed a Catholic priest and two others in a church 23 years ago should be released from a mental hospital.

Bryan Stanley had claimed to be a prophet sent to cleanse St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Onalaska when he gunned down parish priest John Rossiter, lay minister Ferdinand Roth Sr. and church custodian William Hammes in 1985. He was angry the priest was allowing girls to give Scripture readings during Mass.

Stanley, who suffered from psychosis, was found not guilty by reason of mental disease and was committed indefinitely to Mendota, a state psychiatric hospital in Madison.

The District 4 Court of Appeals said state lawyers failed to prove that releasing Stanley, 53, would present a danger to himself or the public. The decision overturns a ruling by a La Crosse County judge who had denied Stanley's request for release.

Ferdinand Roth Jr., a retired police supervisor in La Crosse, Wis. and son of one of the victims, blasted the decision. He recalled that Stanley testified at a hearing last year there was not a 100 percent guarantee he would always take his medicine.



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