National Round Up

Texas: $100M punitive verdict against BP set aside

HOUSTON (AP) — A $100 million jury award against BP PLC over a 2007 refinery leak at its Texas City plant has been rejected.

A federal judge in Houston on Tuesday set aside the punitive judgment of $10 million apiece for 10 contract workers who said they were injured.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Hoyt agreed with the jury’s finding that London-based BP was responsible for the leak, but found no intent to cause harm.

Actual damages awarded per worker range from about $6,000 to more than $244,000

The release happened at the same refinery where a 2005 explosion killed 15 people and injured 170.

BP spokesman Scott Dean said the company agrees with the judge’s decision to set aside punitive damages.

Attorney Tony Buzbee, representing workers, says he will ask the judge to reconsider before a formal appeal is filed.

Washington: Appeals court: OT laws don’t cover seminarians

SEATTLE (AP) — The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that seminarians are not covered by overtime laws.

The appeals court on Tuesday upheld a lower court ruling in the case of Cesar Rosas, a Catholic seminarian in Mexico who was assigned to a ministry training program in Washington state.

He sued the Corporation of the Catholic Archbishop of Seattle, saying that during his training he performed maintenance work for the church and assisted with Mass. He contends he should be compensated according to Washington’s minimum wage law for what he says were multiple overtime hours.

The appeals court agreed with the District Court’s decision that the claim fit within the “ministerial exception” to employment laws on issues such as compensation. The judges note that the First

Amendment requires such an exception, on grounds that such laws might interfere with religious institutions’ employment decisions concerning their ministers.

California: Jury awards VirnetX $106M in Microsoft dispute

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A jury has awarded communications company VirnetX Holding nearly $106 million after determining Microsoft violated two of its patents.

The verdict came Tuesday after a weeklong trial in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.

Lawyers for VirnetX, which is based in Scotts Valley, say the $105.75 million verdict was $71.75 million for infringing one patent, and $34 million for infringing another.

The patents cover ways to establish virtual private network, or VPN, connections, which are used to protect Internet and other data traffic from snoops. The traffic is generally encrypted, or scrambled so outsiders can’t decipher it.

Microsoft says it is disappointed by the jury’s verdict and that it believes it didn’t infringe the patents. It says it will appeal.

California: Judge approves settlement in deadly jet crash

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A judge approved a multimillion-dollar legal settlement this week involving the wife and young son of former Blink 182 drummer Travis Barker’s assistant, who was killed in a 2008 plane crash in South Carolina.

The settlement with Learjet Inc., Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and other companies involved in the ownership, operation and making of the jet will pay for college for Chris Baker’s 3-year-old son and establish an annuity giving him more than $17 million over his lifetime.

It also will pay Baker’s widow more than $7.6 million.

Otilia Baker and her son attended the brief hearing before Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mary Strobel.

Strobel said the settlement was in the best interest of the youngster, who rested his chin on a chair while his mother and their attorney, Brian Panish, spoke with the judge.

“It’s a very sad case, but we’re glad they were able to avoid a trial and receive full compensation,” Panish said after the hearing.

Baker was killed in a plane crash in Columbia, South Carolina, in September 2008. The crash killed four people and left Barker, the drummer, and celebrity disc jockey DJ AM seriously injured. DJ AM later died of a drug overdose.

Barker and the estate of DJ AM have settled their cases involving the crash for undisclosed terms. The details of the settlement with Baker’s family required a judge’s approval because it involved a child.

Federal investigators have yet to determine the cause of the crash but said the plane’s reverse thrusters — devices on the back of jet engines that divert their thrust forward to help slow the plane or force it backward — were not in the right position.

The pilots were trying to abort takeoff at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport when the accident happened.

Pennsylvania: Ex-ACORN worker pleads no contest in forgery case

PITTSBURGH (AP) — A former western Pennsylvania Acorn worker has pleaded no contest to charges stemming from allegations that voter registration group’s workers forged, illegally solicited or illegally filled out voter registration cards for the 2008 general election.

Twenty-year-old Eric Jones, of Forest Hills, pleaded no contest Tuesday in Allegheny County Court to forgery, unsworn falsification, obstruction and interference with the function of the board of elections. Other charges, including dealing in quotas, were dropped.

Jones was sentenced to two years probation and agreed to cooperate in any voter fraud investigation.

California: Court approves cyber-bullying suit by teenager

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A California appeals court says threatening anti-gay Internet posts sent to a 15-year-old Los Angeles boy’s Web site are not protected free speech.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled in a 2-1 decision this week that the boy can sue schoolmates for the threats. The court says the violent threats convey harmful intent.

Six students and their parents are being sued for hate crimes, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

It’s believed to be the first California case to examine the boundaries between free expression and cyber-bullying.

The plaintiff set up a Web site in 2005 to promote his music and film career, but fellow students believed wrongly that the boy was gay and threatened violence.

Prosecutors charged seven ACORN workers in May. ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, has denied using quotas.