National Roundup

California
Judge refuses to toss gay veteran’s suit over DOMA

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A lawsuit brought by a lesbian Army veteran and her wife over the denial of disability benefits can move forward over the objections of the Department of Justice, a federal judge in California ruled Monday.
U.S. District Judge Consuelo Marshall refused to dismiss Tracey Cooper-Harris’ challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act and to two other laws that make same-sex spouses of military veterans ineligible for benefits available to straight spouses. Marshall did not explain her reasoning in court, but said she would issue a written ruling at a later date.
The Justice Department under President Obama has refused to defend the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, and argued that the U.S. Supreme Court should strike it down as unconstitutional when it hears arguments in another lawsuit next month.
But the department had asked for Cooper-Harris’ case to be tossed out on the grounds that veterans’ claims can only be heard by an administrative Board of Veterans’ Appeals.
Cooper-Harris suffers from multiple sclerosis and receives disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. She and her wife, Maggie Cooper-Harris, got married in California during the brief period in 2008 when same-sex unions were legal in the state.
Citing the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the government from recognizing same-sex marriages, and veterans’ benefits laws that define a spouse as a person of the opposite sex, the VA denied the couple’s application for additional money and benefits that married veterans are entitled to receive.
In the case of the couple, they would receive about $150 more a month in disability payments, and Maggie Cooper-Harris would be eligible for about $1,200 a month in survivor’s benefits if her wife died, said Southern Poverty Law Center deputy legal director Christine Sun, who is representing the couple.
Even though the Supreme Court is set to examine the Defense of Marriage Act, the justices could end up issuing a narrow decision that does not settle the question of whether the act is constitutional, in which case it would remain important for Cooper-Harris’ case to remain active, Sun said. Marshall has scheduled the next hearing for April 1.
“The significance of the court’s ruling today is it vindicates the right of Tracie and Maggie Cooper-Harris to go forward to have their day in court,” she said.

Minnesota
Former inmate says jail was negligent in care

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A former jail inmate is suing Hennepin County, saying it failed to provide adequate mental health care while he was incarcerated.
Police brought Michael Schuler to the psychiatric unit of Hennepin County Medical Center where he was kept in restraints last March. After he was discharged, he was booked into the jail because he missed a court date while hospitalized.
Schuler’s attorney, William Lubov, says Schuler was so disturbed he began to mutilate himself while behind bars. Lubov says Schuler used a pencil to stab his eyes, cause irreparable damage to one of them.
Sheriff Rich Stanek tells KMSP-TV he can’t talk about Schuler’s case because of the pending lawsuit. But, Schuler in the past has been outspoken about using the county jail as holding cells for the mentally ill.

Tennessee
Snake handler loses serpents before court

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A snake-handling Kentucky preacher has gone back home from a Tennessee courtroom without his venomous serpents.
The Knoxville News Sentinel reported Jamie Coots pleaded guilty to illegally having poisonous snakes that were confiscated after a traffic stop in Knox County, Tenn., on Jan. 31.
Prosecutors agreed to drop charges of transporting the snakes and wildlife officials agreed to give back the boxes Coots was using to carry the snakes from Alabama to his Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name Church in Middlesboro, Ky.
Coots will be on unsupervised probation for a year.
The three rattlesnakes and two copperheads found in his car were taken to a zoo in Sevierville, Tenn.
Coots’ attorney said his client legally bought the snakes in Alabama and could legally possess them in Kentucky.

Indiana
Jury acquits teen  in fatal beating of homeless man

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) — A southwestern Indiana jury has acquitted a teenager of murder and robbery charges in the death of a homeless man whose body was found dumped in the Ohio River.
But the Vanderburgh Circuit Court jury was unable to reach a verdict Monday on an obstruction of justice charge filed against 18-year-old William Hurt in Marcus Golike’s killing. The Evansville Courier & Press reports prosecutors must now decide whether to dismiss that charge or retry Hurt on the obstruction charge.
The 54-year-old Golike was a homeless man and friend of Hurt’s family who had recently been released from prison when police said he was beaten, strangled and his body dumped in the Ohio River last June.
Golike’s body was found June 17 by campers along the river in Kentucky.

Wisconsin
Justices hear case for therapy records release

RACINE, Wis. (AP) — The defense attorney for a SC Johnson heir is pressing the Wisconsin Supreme Court for the medical records of a teenager the billionaire executive is accused of sexually assaulting.
The justices heard arguments Monday from Mark Richards, the attorney for Samuel Curtis Johnson. The Racine executive has pleaded not guilty to molesting the 18-year-old for three years, beginning when she was 12.
Richards says the defense is seeking the records to determine whether the teen ever reported sexual abuse allegations during therapy. The Racine Journal Times says Richards contends two therapists who met with the girl never reported abuse, which they are mandated by law to do.
The criminal case against Johnson is on hold while the constitutional issues are resolved.

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