Court Roundup

Washington, D.C.

Court imposes limits on class actions

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court has made it harder for consumers who want to dispute their contracts for cell phones, cable television and other services to band together to make their claims.

The court, in a 5-4 ruling Wednesday, invalidated a California law that kept consumers out of contractually-obligated arbitration with businesses.

A California couple sued over being charged around $30 in sales tax for what they were told was a free cell phone by wireless provider AT&T Mobility.

The agreement between AT&T and Liza and Vincent Concepcion called for all disputes to be settled by arbitration and prohibited class-action lawsuits. A federal appeals court said that is unenforceable under California law. But the high court's conservative-leaning justices ruled that the Federal Arbitration Act trumps the state law and overturned the decision.

Indiana

Judge rejects plea for nose doc who hid in Italy

HAMMOND, Ind. (AP) -- A former northwestern Indiana surgeon who was captured on a mountain in Italy after more than five years on the run has withdrawn his guilty plea on federal health care fraud charges after a judge told him he was rejecting a plea deal.

U.S. District Judge Philip Simon told Mark Weinberger on Wednesday that he could not accept a plea agreement that called for Weinberger to serve four years in prison because he was not confident it took into account the scope of his crime.

Weinberger pleaded guilty in October to 22 counts of billing insurers and patients for procedures he didn't perform. Simon questioned federal prosecutors' decision to focus on just 22 cases when there were at least dozens more.

Former patients had urged Simon to reject the agreement.

Washington

Parents plead not guilty to caging 2 boys

VANCOUVER, Wash. (AP) -- A Washington state couple accused of keeping two autistic boys in a caged room have pleaded not guilty to criminal mistreatment and unlawful imprisonment charges.

Thirty-year-old John Eckhart and his 26-year-old girlfriend, Alayna Higdon, were arrested after the boys -- ages 5 and 7 -- were found April 12 in a Vancouver apartment room with a cage-like door.

Eckhart and Higdon both entered not guilty pleas Wednesday morning at an arraignment hearing in Clark County Superior Court in Vancouver.

The boys are in state foster care, pending a custody hearing. The biological mother, Jona Bronson, of Tillamook, Ore., is seeking long-term placement.

New York

Musicians sue Broadway musical 'Baby, It's You!'

NEW YORK (AP) -- Producers of the Broadway musical "Baby, It's You!" face a lawsuit by several musicians -- including Beverly Lee of The Shirelles, Dionne Warwick and Chuck Jackson -- who allege that the show uses their names and likenesses without permission.

Producers did not immediately return calls for comment Wednesday.

The show traces the career of record executive Florence Greenberg, who discovered several acts at the dawn of rock 'n' roll. It features actors portraying The Shirelles, Warwick and Jackson, as well as some of their more famous songs.

Besides Lee, Warwick and Jackson, the lawsuit also includes two now-dead members of The Shirelles -- Doris Coley Jackson and Addie Harris Jackson. The filing Wednesday in New York State Supreme Court seeks unspecified damages.

California

Cold-case suspect asks to represent self

SAN RAFAEL, Calif. (AP) -- A Nevada man charged with killing four women whose bodies were found across Northern California between the 1970s and 1990s is asking to represent himself in court.

Joseph Naso (NAY'-so) is also being investigated in cold cases around the country. Investigators are looking into whether his victims were linked by having matching initials for their first and last names.

In his second Marin County court appearance, Naso told the judge Wednesday morning that he wanted to act as his own lawyer. The 77-year-old was shackled and wearing a red-striped jail outfit as he also asked to review the evidence against him before entering a plea.

Judge Andrew Sweet took the matter under consideration and planned to issue a decision later in the day.

Iowa

Court overturns woman's manslaughter conviction

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- The Iowa Court of Appeals has reversed an involuntary manslaughter conviction for a woman who was driving a car that crashed, killing one of her passengers.

The court ruled Wednesday that there isn't sufficient evidence to support the conviction.

Andrea LaForge and two passengers were leaving a Des Moines bar in February 2007 when her car spun out of control, left the road and flipped several times.

A jury found her guilty of involuntary manslaughter by careless driving.

The court found the crash was caused by poor judgment and poor road conditions but there was not substantial evidence to find LaForge guilty of careless driving.

LaForge's attorney, Robert Rehkemper, says she is relieved by the court's decision. A telephone message left for prosecutors wasn't immediately returned.

Published: Thu, Apr 28, 2011

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