National Roundup

Civil suit rights suit in homicide case will proceed

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A federal judge has allowed an amended civil rights lawsuit filed by a man exonerated in a 1980 sexual assault and strangulation to proceed.
It’s the third time Ralph Armstrong has filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Madison. Armstrong was convicted in the death of University of Wisconsin-Madison student Charise Kamps — a conviction that was overturned in 2009.
The State Journal says Judge Barbara Crabb has allowed Strong’s latest lawsuit to go forward on claims that prosecutors lost evidence that could have benefited him at trial in 1980 and that prosecutors, police and crime lab employees destroyed DNA evidence before he was to be re-tried.
Crabb won’t allow Armstrong to pursue other claims, including witness tampering and suppression of an alleged confession by Armstrong’s brother.

New Jersey
Businesses are fined by town for leaving lights on

PARAMUS, N.J. (AP) — Businesses in a northern New Jersey town are getting tickets when they leave their sign lights on.
Paramus has a quality of life ordinance that fines businesses $200 or more, plus $33 in court costs, if their signs don’t go dark after 11 p.m.
Mayor Richard LaBarbiera tells The Record newspaper the town isn’t trying to torture business owners. But the mayor says many residents live adjacent to the stores and the lights disturb them.
Business owner said D.J. Billard said he had no idea his sign was on until after he got fined. He says merchants should be allowed to pay the fine online or by mail instead of having to spend hours waiting in court.
All stores must close by 11 p.m. in Paramus.

New York
Pair accused in scheme to drug  and abuse minors

NEW YORK (AP) — A New York City couple is accused of planning a baby-sitting business as a cover to sexually abusing minors.
FBI agents and NYPD detectives arrested the couple Tuesday night in a hotel in Jersey City, N.J.
Bebars Baslan and Kristen Henry were charged with sexual abuse.
Prosecutors say they allegedly planned to drug children and sexually abuse them.
They pleaded not guilty to the charges at their arraignment in Brooklyn federal court. They’re being held without bail.
Baslan’s attorney told NY1 his client “is presumed innocent of the charges and we’ll wait until our day in court.”

Couple accused of locking boy in room for months

NEWARK, Del. (AP) — A Delaware couple has been indicted for allegedly locking their 12-year-old son in his room for three months.
Police in New Castle County arrested 41-year-old Robert Hohn III and 39-year-old Shannon Watterson in late November after the malnourished and barefoot boy escaped to a neighbor’s home. A New Castle County grand jury indicted the couple Monday.
Hohn, the boy’s father, and Watterson, his stepmother, are facing one count each of felony first-degree child abuse, endangering the welfare of a child and conspiracy as well as unlawful imprisonment and eight counts of misdemeanor endangering the welfare of a child.
Police say the boy had been locked in his room from September to late November and allowed to leave only when he had to use the bathroom.

Judge orders temporary ban on part of PIP law

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A Tallahassee judge has signaled that changes to Florida’s Personal Injury Protection law may be unconstitutional and ordered a temporary ban on enforcing some of its parts.
Circuit Judge Terry Lewis suspended parts of PIP that require a finding of emergency medical condition and prohibit payments to acupuncturists, massage therapists and chiropractors. He said the law violates the right of access to the courts found in the Florida Constitution.
Lewis signed the order last Friday but it was released Wednesday. The state’s Office of Insurance Regulation said it is appealing, and any appeal acts as a hold on Lewis’ order.
Lawmakers passed PIP — or no-fault — coverage in the early 1970s to ensure that anyone hurt in an automobile wreck could obtain medical treatment without delay, while waiting for a case to be resolved.
Lewis’ order granting in part a motion for temporary injunction says “(t)he fundamental right to seek redress for injuries received at the hands of another is a cornerstone of our legal system,” and free access to the courts and the administration of justice is enshrined in the state constitution.
Over the years, however, state and federal lawmakers have “tinkered with these fundamental principles,” said Lewis, adding the PIP law is an “example of this experiment with socialism and the trend away from those libertarian principles of individual liberty and personal responsibility.”
Lewis quickly noted he was using “the popular, if somewhat inaccurate meaning” of socialism: “Any law that intrudes significantly into the free market arena with government mandates, e.g. socialized medicine.”
The PIP law was a trade-off that provided a “reasonable alternative” to the courts, Lewis wrote.
“The question raised in this case ... is whether the revised no-fault law passes beyond these ‘outer limits of constitutional tolerance,’” he said, quoting another judge. “I conclude that it does ... (It) now severely limits what can be recovered.”
The law provides that a driver’s insurance company pay up to $10,000 to cover medical bills and lost wages after an accident, no matter who’s at fault. All Florida drivers are required to carry PIP insurance.
Over the years, however, authorities have voiced concern that Florida has become a leading state for staged accidents, especially in the Tampa and Miami-Dade metropolitan areas, by those intent on filing bogus PIP claims.
Last year, Gov. Rick Scott made an overhaul bill (HB 119) a cornerstone of his legislative agenda, saying it would help tamp down millions of dollars in PIP fraud. Acupuncture practitioners, massage therapists and chiropractors — angry at being cut out of PIP payments — eventually filed suit.
The changes also limited coverage for medical treatment to $2,500 if an injured person could not show an emergency medical condition.
Henry’s attorney declined to comment.