National Round Up

Wisconsin: Surrogate moms win insurance battle in court
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Insurance companies may not deny coverage to surrogate mothers, the Wisconsin Supreme Court unanimously ruled Friday.

The decision overturns a lower court’s ruling that said Mercycare Insurance Co. and MercyCare HMO of Janesville did not have to provide benefits to two surrogate mothers who were denied coverage during their pregnancies.

The company had a policy of covering pregnant women, excluding surrogate mothers who act as “gestational carriers” for others’ babies.
Insurance companies may not make routine maternity services unavailable to surrogate mothers based solely on the reasons or methods of becoming pregnant, the Supreme Court said.

The court’s ruling affirms an earlier opinion by the Wisconsin Insurance Commissioner that the HMO could not legally withhold coverage under its 2002 policy.

The two surrogate mothers involved in the legal battle are not identified by name in court records. Combined, they incurred more than $35,000 in medical bills during their pregnancies in 2003 and 2004, according to the court opinion.

Matt Duchemin, the attorney for the insurance company, did not immediately return a message seeking comment. A spokesman for the attorney general’s office, which argued the case on behalf of the insurance commissioner, did not immediately return a message.

Nebraska: High court revives lawsuit against school
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A Nebraska Supreme Court ruling will allow the family of a boy who was sexually assaulted by an intruder at his school to argue that school officials should have done more to protect him.

A ruling released Friday revived the family’s lawsuit against the Lincoln school district. The court said that Lancaster County District Court should examine the facts of the assault to determine whether the district did enough to protect the boy.

Previously, a district judge had ruled the school district wasn’t responsible, because the assault couldn’t be foreseen.

The case involves a 2005 incident in which a kindergartner was sexually assaulted by a stranger in Arnold Elementary. Thirty-two-year-old Joseph Siems is serving 20 to 30 years in prison for the assault.

North Carolina: Airport ends newspaper-box legal battle
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina airport’s managers are ending their six-year legal battle to keep newspaper vending boxes off airport property.

The News & Observer of Raleigh reported Friday the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority said it will install news racks, but not in the concourses where travelers wait for their flights and where publishers most want to have the machines.

The Raleigh newspaper’s top executive says boxes should treated like the movie DVD vending machines the airport installed on the secure passenger concourses.

The airport spent more than $500,000 in its fight that ended with defeat this week in a federal appeals court.

The News & Observer, The Durham Herald Co., The New York Times Co. and Gannett Co. sued the airport in 2004.

Mississippi: Burns turns to Barbour to delay execution
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Attorneys for death row inmate Joseph Daniel Burns, now scheduled for execution on July 21, will ask Gov. Haley Barbour for help in getting Burns a mental examination.

“Joseph Burns has a history of head injuries. He began using drugs at the age of ten. Both of these factors are know to cause brain damage. No court has ever allowed a mental health expert to test Joseph for brain damage,” his attorney, Glenn S. Swartzfager, director of the Office of Capital Post Conviction Counsel, said in a statement.

“The Mississippi Supreme Court denied this request even though we were not asking for funds to pay for the expert psychologist. The State of Mississippi should not execute a prisoner without determining if he has any physical or psychological condition which would call for mercy, especially when it comes at no monetary cost to the courts.”

Swartzfager says Barbour will be asked to delay Burns’ execution and allow time of the mental examination, the results of which will be used in a clemency petition that also will be submitted to Barbour.

Burns, now 42, was convicted in 1996 of the stabbing death of Tupelo motel manager Floyd Melvin McBride two years earlier.

Burns has asked the Supreme Court for a mental evaluation “for purposes of filing a meaningful clemency petition with the governor, as well as additional legal proceedings should they be warranted.”

In Wednesday’s order denying a mental evaluation, Justice Michael K. Randolph wrote for the court that Burns’ clemency issues should be taken up with the Office of Governor. He also said Burns had failed to prove his constitutional rights to be violated without the evaluation.

However, two justices — James Graves and Jim Kitchens — said they would grant Burns access to a psychologist because such an expert cannot examine death row inmates without a court order. They also said granting access to Burns would not infringe upon the executive branch’s power to grant or deny a pardon or clemency.

Pennsylvania: Lawyer charged after brawl at courthouse
SCRANTON, Pa. (AP) — An attorney has been charged with assault after authorities say he repeatedly punched his opposing counsel during an argument in a northeastern Pennsylvania courthouse.

Police say 46-year-old Michael Rauch threw three roundhouse punches at Scranton attorney John Fisher at the Lackawanna County Courthouse in Scranton last week.

The two had been on opposite sides of a civil lawsuit involving a 2003 car crash.

Rauch, of Cherry Hill, N.J., was charged with simple assault, harassment and disorderly conduct.

Court papers say Rauch told sheriff’s deputies that he had told Fisher to leave him alone but that he continued to harass him.

Rauch spent the morning in a holding cell and later left the courthouse on $10,000 unsecured bail. He could not immediately be reached by The Associated Press on Friday.

Fisher is declining comment.


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