EU court: Ryanair won't have to pay back subsidy
Areas of Focus | 2008/12/16 18:20
Budget airline Ryanair may no longer have to pay back a euro4.5 million ($6.16 million) subsidy to the Belgian state after a court ruled Thursday against an EU order to refund the sum.

The European Union's appeals court said antitrust regulators made mistakes when they ordered Ryanair to pay back the public money it got to help it run flights from Charleroi airport in the southern Belgium region of Wallonia.

The EU Court of First Instance said the European Commission should have looked at whether the money from Belgian state companies could be seen as a normal market investment — and not state help.

Charleroi was granting the airline up to 90 percent of its costs over 15 years in a deal the Irish airline has mimicked with small airports across Europe.

Ryanair said the court ruling backed the airport's business model of attracting business with low charges for favored airlines. It called on regulators to drop similar subsidy investigations at eight other airports that Ryanair uses.

Ryanair Holdings PLC, Europe's largest low-cost carrier, triggered a revolution in air travel by offering bargain fares that saw millions more Europeans take to the skies — even if that meant an hour-long trip from a regional airport to their city destination.



States increasingly put criminal records online
Legal Topics | 2008/12/15 18:23
Worried your daughter's new boyfriend might have a nefarious past? Want to know whether the job applicant in front of you has a rap sheet?

Finding out can be a mouse click away, thanks to the growing crop of searchable online databases run directly by states. Vermont launched its service Monday, and now about 20 states have some form of them.

The Web sites provide a valuable and timesaving service to would-be employers and businesses by allowing them to look up criminal convictions without having to submit written requests and wait for the responses. And they're popular: Last month alone, Florida's site performed 38,755 record checks.

But the Internet debut of information historically kept in courthouses in paper files can magnify the harm of clerical errors, expose states to liability for mistakes and spell new headaches for people who've long since done their time, only to have information about their crime bared anew.



Lawyers: US to release 3 Gitmo detainees to Bosnia
Areas of Focus | 2008/12/15 18:22
The U.S. is preparing to send three Guantanamo prisoners to Bosnia in the first detainee transfer ordered by a federal judge, attorneys for the men said Tuesday.

A judge in Washington ruled last month that the government's case was not strong enough to continue holding the men. The order came in the first hearing on the Bush administration's evidence for keeping prisoners at the U.S. Navy base in eastern Cuba as "enemy combatants."

"These will be the first three men who will be sent home by an order from a federal judge, and that is a vindication for our legal system," said Rob Kirsch, an attorney for the men. He said U.S. and Bosnian officials have told the prisoners' lawyers about the upcoming transfer.

Military officials declined to comment. The Pentagon typically does not discuss detainee transfers until they are completed, citing security concerns.

The three prisoners are Algerians who immigrated to Bosnia before they were detained in 2001 on suspicion of plotting to bomb the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo. They have been held at Guantanamo since January 2002.

In his order last month, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon said the government's evidence linking five Algerians to al-Qaida was not credible as it came from a single, unidentified source. He urged the Justice Department not to appeal because it could delay the men's release.



Minn. panel rules on more disputed Senate votes
Areas of Focus | 2008/12/15 18:21
The Canvassing Board in Minnesota's U.S. Senate recount is off to a fast start in its second day of awarding challenged ballots to the candidates.

The board got off to a halting start Tuesday, but in less than an hour Wednesday it dispatched almost 50 ballots

As of late Tuesday, incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman was 264 votes ahead of Democratic rival Al Franken.

The board hopes to finish by Friday, but it still has more than 1,000 challenges to consider unless the campaigns pull back a lot more.

The Senate recount also comes before the Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday. Coleman wants the high court to stop counties and the canvassing board from including improperly rejected absentee ballots in the recount tally.



Oklahoma files appeal in poultry litter case
Headline Legal News | 2008/12/14 18:22
Oklahoma is again hoping to stop 13 Arkansas-based poultry companies from disposing of bird waste in the Illinois River watershed.

The state's 61-page appeal of an earlier judge's ruling was filed late Monday with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

Oklahoma had tried to get an injunction to halt a practice thousands of farmers have employed for decades in the 1 million-acre watershed, which occupies parts of Arkansas and Oklahoma: Taking the ammonia-reeking chicken waste — clumped bird droppings, bedding and feathers — and spreading it on their land as a low-cost fertilizer.

The injunction also could have led to similar environmental lawsuits nationwide against the industry, which produced more than 48 billion pounds of chicken in 2006.

But in September, U.S. District Judge Gregory K. Frizzell ruled that Oklahoma "has not yet met its burden of proving that bacteria in the waters" are "caused by the application of poultry litter rather than by other sources, including cattle manure and human septic systems."

Charlie Price, spokesman for Attorney General Drew Edmondson, said that ruling "contained several troubling, and we believe inaccurate, legal interpretations that we feel compelled to present to the higher court."



Financially 'struggling' gov had big legal bills
Legal Topics | 2008/12/12 17:25
Rod Blagojevich is the third-highest-paid governor in the country, but you wouldn't know it from conversations recorded by federal authorities.

He is heard on six weeks of recordings saying he is "struggling" financially, even though he makes $177,412 a year and his household income has averaged $344,000 annually for the past five years. He allegedly says he feels he is "stuck" as governor and imagines making as much as $300,000 as the head of a group pushing organized labor's agenda or a not-for-profit organization.

If he could land his wife a seat on one or more corporate boards and she "picks up another $150 grand or whatever," according to the recordings, it would help him "get through" his remaining two years as governor.

Federal authorities arrested Blagojevich on Tuesday on charges that include allegedly scheming to sell an appointment to the U.S. Senate for anything from an ambassadorship to a corporate-board post for his wife.

"I want to make money," Blagojevich is quoted by authorities as saying on a federal wiretap recording, discussing whether President-elect Barack Obama would name him to a Cabinet post in exchange for who he thought was Obama's choice to take his Senate seat.



Ambulance attendants accused of molesting patients
Areas of Focus | 2008/12/11 18:24
They answer the call 24-7, often risking their own safety to rescue the sick and injured and rush them to the hospital. But some paramedics have been more predator than hero.

Over the past 18 months, at least 129 ambulance attendants across the U.S. have been accused of sex-related crimes on duty or off, an investigation by The Associated Press found. Some of them molested patients in the back of an ambulance.

"It's a dream job for a sexual predator," said Greg Kafoury, a Portland, Ore., lawyer who represents three women who were groped by a paramedic. "Everything is there: Women who are incapacitated, so they're hugely distracted. Medical cover to put your hands in places where, in any other context, a predator would be immediately recognized as such."

Across the U.S., emergency medical technicians have been accused in recent months of such crimes as rape, soliciting minors over the Internet and possession of child porn, according to an AP survey of the state agencies that oversee those professions.



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