Court Roundup

Pennsylvania

Fed court nixes Allegheny forest drilling appeal

ERIE, Pa. (AP) -- The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has refused to reconsider a ruling last year that ended a ban on drilling in the Allegheny National Forest in northwestern Pennsylvania.

The appeals court ruled in September that the U.S. Forest Service only controls surface rights, not the mineral rights below the forests lands. The court says the mineral rights are privately owned, and those owners should enjoy reasonable access to the surface to drill for oil and gas.

The Bradford Era reports Tuesday that the court refused to reconsider the appeal by environmental groups who argue that the Forest Service's "sovereign police powers" over forest lands are different and more important than those of other surface property owners.

The drillers sued to overturn a ban implemented in 2009 so the Forest Service could study environmental impacts.

Alabama

Judge says no acquittals in gambling case

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- A federal judge has refused to acquit the seven defendants in Alabama's gambling corruption case.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson issued an order Tuesday denying the seven defendants' requests for acquittals. The defendants' lawyers had contended there was a lack of evidence against their clients. The judge gave no explanation for his decision. It clears the way for the seven to be retried in Montgomery starting Jan. 30.

A jury could not resolve all the charges against the seven when their first trial ended in August. The seven are casino owner Milton McGregor, casino lobbyist Tom Coker, Sen. Harri Anne Smith, former Sens. Larry Means and Jim Preuitt, casino spokesman Jay Walker, and former legislative employee Ray Crosby.

North Carolina

CEO admits cheating US out of $4.5M in taxes

WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) -- The CEO of a bankrupt North Carolina corporation that ran a dozen assisted-living homes across North Carolina and South Carolina has admitted trying to cheat the federal government out of collected taxes.

Ronald Burrell of Wilmington agreed to plead guilty and is free without bond until his sentencing in April.

The chief executive of Leland-based Caremerica Adult Care Inc. pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiring to commit tax fraud after investigators accused him of trying to avoid paying the government $4.5 million in employee income and Social Security taxes.

Prosecutors say Burrell falsely filed forms with the Internal Revenue Service reporting the corporation paid its tax bill.

The StarNews of Wilmington reported Burrell has agreed to pay $4.8 million in restitution.

The company's liquidation is pending in bankruptcy court.

California

School district fights bus mishap court decision

PITTSBURG, Calif. (AP) -- A California school district is spending big to fight a small claims court victory by a mother whose 5-year-old daughter got lost after a bus driver dropped her off at the wrong stop.

A woman walking down the street in October 2010 saw the little girl and took her home. The school district says a substitute driver allowed the girl to get off the bus at the wrong stop.

Della Rocca sued Concord's Mount Diablo Unified School District for negligence and a judge ruled on Dec. 5 that the district must pay $1,000 in damages plus $85 in court fees.

The Contra Costa Times says the district has now hired a $185-an-hour Oakland law firm to appeal the ruling.

Rocca says it's a waste of taxpayer money.

New Jersey

2 Port Authority retirees sue over perks

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- Two retired Port Authority of New York and New Jersey police officers who became lawyers have filed lawsuits because the agency revoked lifetime toll and parking passes.

Thomas Westfield filed suit on behalf of himself and is seeking class-action status on behalf of more than 400 fellow Port Authority retirees.

Westfield tells The Star-Ledger of Newark he was told when he started working in 1971 that the passes were a lifetime benefit.

Michael Shuhala is suing on behalf of himself, claiming the privileges were revoked without due process. He's now a municipal court judge in Cliffside Park.

The Port Authority eliminated free toll privileges in 2010 after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie criticized toll-payer funded perks.

Colorado

Authorities want woman to give up password

DENVER (AP) -- Federal prosecutors are asking a judge to force a woman to give them her computer password as part of an investigation in a bank fraud case.

Ramona Fricosu and Scott Whatcott were indicted in 2010 on charges of bank fraud after prosecutors alleged they ran a mortgage scam in the Colorado Springs area for people facing foreclosure.

Prosecutors say allowing criminal defendants to beat search warrants by encrypting their computers would make it impossible to obtain evidence.

According to the Denver Post, civil-liberties groups across the country are opposing the government. They're calling it a test of rights against self-incrimination in a digital world.

North Carolina

Brothers jailed for months over land dispute

BEAUFORT, N.C. (AP) -- An attorney is asking a judge to release two North Carolina brothers locked in a coastal county's jail for nine months for refusing to abandon waterfront property in their family for a century.

The Charlotte Observer reported Wednesday that Melvin Davis and Licurtis Reels have been held in contempt of court for refusing to demolish or move their houses and agree never to return.

Attorney Terry Richardson of Wilmington says jailing the brothers is designed to force them to surrender their family's ownership rights.

Their Beaufort County property has been tied up in court since an ancestor died more than 40 years ago without a will. His brother claimed the land and the brothers say they didn't know their lawyer signed away ownership rights.

Published: Thu, Jan 5, 2012

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