National Roundup

PENNSYLVANIA

Court rejects law that aided NRA gun challenges

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - A Pennsylvania appellate court is striking down a law designed to make it easier for organizations like the National Rifle Association to challenge local firearms ordinances in court.

Commonwealth Court ruled Thursday that the procedure lawmakers used to enact the law violated the state constitution.

Under the law, gun owners no longer had to show they were harmed by an ordinance to challenge it, and it let "membership organizations" like the NRA sue on behalf of any Pennsylvania member.

The provision was merged in last year's legislative session with a bill whose intent was to establish criminal penalties for theft of secondary metals, such as wires or cables.

The judges say it violated constitutional requirements that bills can't be altered to change their original purpose and must be confined to one subject.


WEST VIRGINIA

Prosecutors can stay on case of chemical spill

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - A judge has ruled that federal prosecutors do not face conflicts of interest that warrant removing them from a chemical spill case.

In Charleston federal court Wednesday, Judge Thomas Johnston denied a motion by ex-Freedom Industries officials Gary Southern and Dennis Farrell to have U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin's office recused. The two defendants contended that some prosecutors have conflicts because they were victims of the spill.

The January 2014 Freedom spill spurred a tap-water ban for 300,000 people for days.

Johnston wrote that any harm suffered by members of the U.S. attorney's office doesn't undermine his confidence in the prosecution.

Southern and Farrell have pleaded not guilty to pollution charges. Southern also pleaded not guilty to fraud in Freedom's bankruptcy case.

Both are slated for an October trial.


MINNESOTA

Charges against archdiocese may risk payouts

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Lawyers for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis are warning that criminal charges against the corporation could jeopardize insurance coverage that's being counted on to pay some claims of victims of clergy abuse.

The archdiocese faces multiple counts for allegedly failing to protect victims from a former St. Paul priest.

Archdiocese insurers were already questioning whether they were liable to cover abuse claims.

Now the insurers' case is stronger because the charges allege the archdiocese knew about problems and didn't protect kids, University of Minnesota law professor Christopher Soper told Minnesota Public Radio News. Most insurance policies don't cover intentional or criminal acts, he said.

Insurers often fight coverage on such cases because the financial stakes are high.

From 2004 to 2014, the Catholic diocese in the U.S. and other entities reported that more than $2.7 billion was incurred in sex abuse costs, including settlements, victim therapy, offender support and attorney fees, according to surveys conducted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. About 32 percent of those costs were covered by insurance.

Abuse victims of the Twin Cities archdiocese have until Aug. 3 to file claims in bankruptcy court. So far, roughly 100 claims have been filed.

The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in January due to concerns that it wouldn't be able to compensate the victims, and a judge ordered all parties into mediation. The archdiocese is banking on the insurance coverage to compensate abuse victims, after reporting about $27 million in net assets as of May 31.

Last November, the archdiocese sued insurance companies covering it from the 1940s through the 1980s in an effort to resolve the carriers' obligations to cover clergy sexual abuse claims.


PENNSYLVANIA

Police: Robber flashed owner before theft

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. (AP) - Police say a Pennsylvania robbery suspect has diversified his criminal portfolio by exposing himself to a shop owner before taking cash and a women's outfit from a clothing store.

Richland Township police Detective Kevin Gaudlip says Tuesday's heist at the King and Queen Shoppe near Johnstown "was more than just your typical robbery."

Police say the man walked into the store and exposed himself. The befuddled store owner nonetheless helped him look for women's clothing, but when she tried to ring up the transaction, he pushed her and demanded money.

Police say the man took a large skirt and a purple lace-trimmed blazer. They believe the items might have been intended as a gift.


IOWA

State: lawyer's bill to defend man too costly

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - A Waukon lawyer wants the state to pay more than $50,000 for her work in defending a man who faced drug charges.

The Des Moines Register reports that Mary Jane White was appointed by the court to represent Matthew Florek.

Florek had faced decades in prison over accusations that he was a pseudoephedrine buyer for local meth cooks. But he only spent six months in a county jail after White negotiated a plea deal for him.

She charged the state $50,678 for 800 hours of work and expenses in the case that she called complicated. State Public Defender Adam Gregg said the fee was too costly for a drug case. He told her that his office would pay her $21,940.

White seeks the full amount and has gone to court over the matter.


TENNESSEE

Federal judge steps out of case against state rep.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Chief U.S. District Judge Tom Varlan has recused himself from the tax fraud conspiracy case against state Rep. Joe Armstrong of Knoxville.

Multiple news outlets report that Varlan did not give a reason on Wednesday for his recusal. Varlan served as law director for the city of Knoxville for several years.

The 58-year-old Armstrong pleaded not guilty to federal fraud and tax evasion charges last week in connection to an increase in the state's cigarette tax.

The June 16 indictment accuses Armstrong of devising a scheme beginning in 2006 to profit from the cigarette tax hike planned by then-Gov. Phil Bredesen.

The lawsuit says Armstrong failed to report more than $318,000 in income.

Published: Fri, Jun 26, 2015

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