Legal battle rages over whether ankles exist
Areas of Focus | 2008/03/19 18:04
For every foot, there's an ankle. Or not.

In Texas, that all depends on a legal battle between medical doctors and podiatrists, who both claim the ankle as their turf. The debate has raged to the point that the two sides disagree in court on whether the ankle actually exists.

A state appeals court recently sided with medical doctors when it determined that the state board that licenses podiatrists exceeded its authority in defining the ankle as part of the foot.

"You don't have an ankle," said Mark Hanna, a lawyer for the Texas Podiatric Medical Association. "The foot actually includes the ankle. If you took the foot off the leg, there is nothing lying there that's the ankle."

Not so, said Dr. David Teuscher, an orthopedic surgeon in Beaumont who said treating the ankle is complicated enough to require medical school training.

"If they say the ankle doesn't exist, why do they want to operate on it?" asked Teuscher, immediate past president of the Texas Orthopaedic Association. "Everyone knows what an ankle is."

The Texas State Board of Podiatric Medical Examiners bypassed the Legislature to create its ankle-is-part-of-the-foot definition in 2001. Podiatrists say they've been treating ankles for decades and accuse medical doctors of trying to limit competition. The Texas Medical Association argues podiatrists should stick to corns, calluses and diabetic foot care.

The physicians group interprets last Friday's ruling as saying the ankle and foot are separate. The podiatrists group says the ruling doesn't go that far and plans to appeal. About 900 podiatrists await the outcome.



Judges Bar Law on Violent Video Games
Areas of Focus | 2008/03/18 18:05
A federal appeals court has upheld an injunction against a Minnesota law that would have kept children under 17 from renting or buying violent video games.

A three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals said Minnesota has a compelling interest in the psychological health of children.

But the judges wrote that the state didn't have enough proof that violent video games cause psychological harm and agreed with a lower-court judge that Minnesota went too far when it passed the law two years ago.

Under the law, kids under 17 would have faced a $25 fine if they rented or bought a video game rated "M" for mature or "AO" for adults only. The law also would have required stores to put up signs warning of the fines.



Heather loses court judgment appeal
Areas of Focus | 2008/03/18 08:07

Heather Mills has failed to stop publication of a divorce judgment highly critical of her as a witness and her financial claims against Sir Paul McCartney.

Mr Justice Bennett said her evidence was "not just inconsistent and inaccurate but also less than candid".

And he ended his ruling with a word of advice for anyone who puts forward "an excessive, indeed exorbitant, claim". They have only themselves to blame if the court awards much less than what they expected, he said.

Former model Miss Mills sought an award of almost £125 million but the judge decided she should leave her marriage to the former Beatle with a total of £24.3 million.

Mr Justice Bennett had released the financial details of his ruling on Monday but gave Miss Mills a chance to appeal his decision to release the full judgment.

Two appeal judges refused her request for permission to appeal and the judgment on her private divorce battle with Sir Paul became public.

The husband's evidence, said the judge, was balanced. "He expressed himself moderately though at times with justifiable irritation, if not anger. He was consistent, accurate and honest."

The judge continued: "But I regret to have to say I cannot say the same about the wife's evidence.

"Having watched and listened to her give evidence... I am driven to the conclusion that much of her evidence, both written and oral, was not just inconsistent and inaccurate but also less than candid. Overall she was a less than impressive witness."

Mr Justice Bennett said Miss Mills, who lost part of her leg in a road accident, was a "strong-willed and determined personality" who had shown great fortitude in overcoming her disability. He added that she was a "kindly person" who is devoted to her charitable causes.



Court Will Decide Wash. Shooting Case
Areas of Focus | 2008/03/18 00:00
The Supreme Court agreed Monday to consider reinstating the murder conviction of the driver in a gang-related drive-by shooting that horrified Seattle in 1994.

The court will hear arguments in the fall in the case of Cesar Sarausad II. He was convicted for his role as the driver in the shooting in which Melissa Fernandes, 16, was killed and Brent Mason, 17, was wounded outside a Seattle high school on March 23, 1994.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco overturned the conviction because of faulty jury instructions.

In his instructions to the jury, Judge Larry A. Jordan said Sarausad could be convicted of murder regardless of whether he knew of any plan for a killing. The appeals panel ruled that the jury should have been told Sarausad could be convicted of murder only if he knew what was being planned.

The state of Washington asked the Supreme Court to reinstate the conviction, which had been upheld by state appeals courts.



Court to Take Up Voting Rights Suit
Areas of Focus | 2008/03/17 23:59

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court said on Monday it would decide a potentially important voting rights case and whether crime lab reports can be used as trial evidence without the testimony of analysts who prepared them.

In a case from North Carolina, the high court agreed to decide whether the federal voting-rights law applied to districts where a racial minority group constituted less than half the population.

The federal voting-rights law, first adopted in 1965 and considered a landmark in civil rights legislation, is designed to protect the rights of minorities.

In the case, the state of North Carolina appealed and said the issue had been left unresolved by the Supreme Court in five previous opinions over a 20-year period through 2006.

Attorneys for the state said the case likely would be the last opportunity for the Supreme Court to decide the issue before the redrawing of legislative boundaries that will occur after the 2010 Census.

The case involved a district for the North Carolina House of Representatives in which black voters make up less than 50 percent of the population but still have been numerous enough to elect a black candidate in the past, with limited support from white voters.

The district was redrawn and reduced the population of blacks over voting age to 39 percent. The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled the voting rights law does not apply to districts where a minority group accounted for less than half the population.



Palo Alto loses legal battle over police brutality
Areas of Focus | 2008/03/14 10:27

The city of Palo Alto on Wednesday lost an 11-year legal battle over whether police officers violated a man's civil rights and now faces the prospect of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to finally settle the case.

The California Supreme Court turned down the city's request to review and overturn lower court rulings in Schmidlin vs. City of Palo Alto, the civil case in which Michael Schmidlin successfully contended police used excessive force when they arrested him March 29, 1997, on suspicion of public drunkenness.

Unless the city appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court, it could pay $24,000 plus interest to Schmidlin and at least $300,000 in legal fees to his lawyer, Mark Martel. That figure might swell to more than $500,000, said Martel, who will spend the next month or so calculating the exact cost.

City Attorney Gary Baum expressed disappointment when reached for comment Wednesday evening. "We did not feel the elements of excessive force had been met," he said. "Obviously, the (6th District) Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court disagreed with us."

The appeals court in December upheld a 2003 jury verdict against the three police officers Tim Martin, David Trujillo and Burt Milliken accused of excessive force. The officers said they believed Schmidlin was drunk and alleged he "displayed an uncooperative and resistive attitude toward complying" with their demands, according to court



MasterCard "welcomes" dismissal of antitrust suit
Areas of Focus | 2008/03/13 21:40

MasterCard International said on Thursday it welcomed a U.S. appeals court's dismissal of an antitrust lawsuit by a group of merchants claiming that the company, Visa USA and three banks had conspired to set fees charged to businesses for credit card sales.

The ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholds a San Francisco federal judge's 2005 dismissal of the case led by hair salon operator Sheri Kendall and James Maser, who operated a restaurant in Alameda County.

MasterCard General Counsel Noah Hanft said in a statement that the company "welcomed" the appellate ruling on March 7.

"No U.S. court has found interchange to be illegal," he said, referring to the fees charged among card association member banks.

The plaintiffs' attorney, Richard Archer, had no comment on the ruling.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the merchants had failed to present facts to support claims of a conspiracy among the credit card companies and Bank of America Corp, Wells Fargo & Co and U.S. Bancorp.

The merchants had accused the card associations of fixing prices on "merchant discount fees," which are transaction fees between merchants and banks, and interchange fees.

The court dismissed the case without leave to amend, which means the merchants cannot refile the case.



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