Randy, Evi Quaid plead not guilty in fraud case
Areas of Focus | 2009/12/28 04:48
Randy and Evi Quaid finally appeared in court Tuesday and pleaded not guilty to felony charges of defrauding an innkeeper.

The couple skipped previous court hearings without explanation after being accused of using an invalid credit card to defraud San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito of more than $10,000.

Their attorney Robert Sanger did not immediately return a call seeking comment. He has said the Quaids repaid the ranch and hoped to resolve the case.

It appeared the Quaids had forfeited a total of $40,000 in bail when they failed to appear for a hearing last week.

But a judge allowed that money to stand as bail Tuesday and freed the two defendants, prosecutor Lee Carter said.



Kansas gov to propose tobacco tax increase in 2010
Legal Topics | 2009/12/24 04:51
Gov. Mark Parkinson will propose increasing Kansas' tobacco taxes next year, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.

The Democratic governor's plan is likely to face strong opposition in the Republican-controlled Legislature, although the Senate's top leader said he'd support the idea.

Parkinson spokeswoman Beth Martino said the governor hasn't settled on how much of an increase he'll propose. But she hinted that he's considering asking legislators to bring Kansas' cigarette tax up to the national average.

Kansas' cigarette tax is 79 cents a pack. The national average for states and the District of Columbia is $1.34 a pack, according to the Washington-based group Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.



Pa. teens plead not guilty to hate crime charge
Areas of Focus | 2009/12/24 04:49
A federal judge denied bail Tuesday for two Pennsylvania teens who pleaded not guilty to a hate crime charge in the death of a Mexican immigrant, noting that one defendant is accused of kicking the victim in the head "as if you were kicking a field goal."

Brandon Piekarsky, 18, and Derrick Donchak, 19, were charged in the July 2008 beating death of 25-year-old Luis Ramirez in the town of Shenandoah. A separate indictment charges three police officers with obstructing the investigation into Ramirez's death.

Judge Malachy Mannion ruled that Piekarsky and Donchak should remain locked up pending trial, calling them dangers to the community. He set a March trial date.

A Schuylkill County jury acquitted the teens in May of the most serious state charges against them — including third-degree murder in Piekarsky's case — angering Hispanic leaders and civil-rights groups. Gov. Ed Rendell then asked the Justice Department to pursue civil rights charges.

Mannion noted that it is extremely rare for the federal government to pursue charges in a case already decided in state court.



TVA coal ash spill has hundreds suing for damages
Areas of Focus | 2009/12/23 04:52
Hundreds of people sued the Tennessee Valley Authority for damages before a one-year deadline to file personal injury claims related to the utility's huge coal ash spill at Kingston.

Court clerks said 20 more federal lawsuits were filed in Knoxville on the final day before the Monday deadline, most of them seeking damages for multiple plaintiffs.

TVA has filed motions that contend the nation's largest public utility was providing a government service and is immune from such damage claims.

An attorney with clients seeking damages in 28 lawsuits, John Agee of Clinton, said Tuesday that instead of a court fight, some sort of administrative agency should be set up to deal with the claims. They stem from the Dec. 22, 2008 spill and TVA's continuing cleanup at the coal-fired plant about 40 miles west of Knoxville.



Lingle: Use hotel tax money for state budget
Legal Topics | 2009/12/23 04:51
Faced with a $1.2 billion budget gap, Gov. Linda Lingle on Monday proposed the state take about $100 million in hotel taxes from Hawaii's four counties next year and delay the payment of some personal and corporate income tax refunds.

The governor's supplemental budget for the 2011 fiscal year that begins July 1 does not call for wholesale layoffs or an increase in the number of furlough days state workers are already taking.

It does call for a big increase in the tax that insurance salespersons pay on their commissions and the elimination of dozens of positions in agencies that focus on mosquito control, adult mental health, family health and agricultural statistics.

But her proposal to swipe roughly between $99 million and $111 million in county hotel taxes in each of the next three fiscal years is likely to face opposition from the state's counties, which rely on the tourism-driven assessment.

Honolulu County, where the bulk of the state's tourists visit, would lose almost $45 million in the 2011 fiscal year; Maui would lose nearly $23 million; the Big Island, $18.6 million; and Kauai, $14.5 million. The Legislature must approve the transfer.



Pittsburgh won't tax tuition; nonprofits to donate
Legal Topics | 2009/12/22 04:52
Pittsburgh officials shelved an idea for a first-of-its-kind tax on college tuition after two universities and a nonprofit health insurer agreed on Monday to make large contributions to the city.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl hopes the contributions from the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University or Highmark Inc. will serve as a catalyst to get other nonprofits to help the city financially.

Ravenstahl had called for the 1 percent tuition tax on the city's 65,000 college students as a way of getting money to help pay for some $15 million a year for the city's pension obligations.

Nonprofits are exempt from most taxes, but represent many of Pittsburgh's major employers and hold about one-third of the city's property value.

Neither the mayor nor the three institutions would disclose how much they would give, but Ravenstahl said he was optimistic the money would help resolve the city's long-standing financial problems.



Citadel Broadcasting: court grants 1st-day motions
Areas of Focus | 2009/12/22 04:46
Citadel Broadcasting Corp. said Monday that the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York has granted all of its first-day motions — including allowing the company access to over $36 million in cash it has on hand and cash it brings in from daily operations to pay workers and vendors.

Citadel, the nation's third-largest radio broadcasting company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Sunday in a move meant to restructure its heavy debt load. In court documents, the Las Vegas-based company listed its total assets as of Oct. 30 at $1.4 billion and total debt at $2.46 billion.

The company has an agreement with more than 60 percent of its senior secured lenders as part of a pre-negotiated financial restructuring that will eliminate $1.4 billion of its debt.

Citadel said Monday that having access to the funds will let it keep satisfying financial obligations as it restructures its business. The company received court approval to pay wages, salaries, health benefits and other obligations it has to employees as it restructures. The court is allowing it to keep honoring current customer programs as well, Citadel said.

Citadel owns and operates 224 radio stations and produces radio programing for 4,000 station affiliates and 8,500 program affiliates.



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