Thursday, June 30, 2011

Body Found in Public Pool Went Undetected for Days

Body Found in Public Pool Went Undetected for Days

Body found in public pool had been there for days, authorities say.
Body found in public pool had been there for days, authorities say. (WCVB via CNN)

FALL RIVER, Mass. -- Authorities say the body of a woman who died in a Massachusetts public pool went undetected for days as swimmers continued to use the pool before the victim was found floating.

The body of Marie Joseph, 36, was discovered by teenagers Tuesday evening in the Vietnam Veterans Swimming Pool in Fall River, Massachusetts, according to Bristol County district attorney's spokesman Gregg Miliote.

Joseph had gone to the pool on Sunday with a 9-year-old neighbor and his family. She collided with the boy while the pair careened down a pool slide, Miliote said.

After the collision, the boy surfaced but the woman did not, he said.

It was not clear Thursday what happened after the collision or whether the boy and his family sought Joseph's whereabouts when they left the pool.

Authorities continued to investigate the cause of death Thursday.

The pool -- which is 12 feet deep at its deepest --- was described as "cloudy" by a health inspector who examined the pool Tuesday, according to the mayor of Fall River, William Flanagan.

A decomposing body can take a couple of days before it becomes buoyant, Miliote added.

"It is in many respects disturbing and unreal," said Massachusetts Conservation and recreation Commissioner Ed Lambert.

The lifeguards and managers of the swimming pool, along with the three health inspectors involved, have been placed on administrative leave, authorities said.

Twenty-four state pools have also been closed pending further investigation, according to Lambert.

Authorities say the swimmers who used the pool during the two days are not considered to be at risk for health problems.

Meanwhile, a host of Massachusetts state and municipal agencies are conducting independent investigations over the incident.

Indiana schools to stop teaching cursive writing

Indiana schools to stop teaching cursive writing

Starting this fall, schools in Indiana won't have to teach kids how to write in cursive.

Until now, kids started learning cursive handwriting in 2nd grade; but state education officials say computers and web books have made cursive a relic of the past; so it won't be required any more.

Local school districts can still teach it if they want; but the state says it's more important to teach kids good keyboard skills.

Minn. - It wasn't 103 again, it just felt hotter

It wasn't 103 again, it just felt hotter
  • Article by: KELLY SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 30, 2011 - 6:35 PM
Thursday didn't have the highest temperatures this summer, but it felt like the hottest so far thanks to tropical humidity.
The temperature hit 93 at 4 p.m. Coupled with a sticky 73-degree dew point, it spurred the heat index to 108 degrees in the Twin Cities. The air was relatively dry, with dew points in the 40s and 50s, on 103-degree June 7.
For good measure Thursday night, temperatures were expected to remain in the 80s.
What about Friday?
"It's not going to be any better," said Dan Luna, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's Chanhassen office. "Is 101 worse than 100? Neither are very pleasant."
Temperatures Friday are expected to stay in the 90s with a heat index continuing to soar above 100 degrees. An excessive heat warning is in effect until 8 p.m. Friday.
Six construction workers in Shakopee were treated at St. Francis Regional Medical Center for heat-related issues, but only one was admitted. Other metro area hospitals reported few patients if any treated for heat illness Thursday. Unlike early June, no roads buckled in the heat.
Could it be stickier than it was Thursday? The metro area has hit 80-degree dew points for a total of 20 hours in history since 1945.
"It doesn't look like we'll come anywhere close to that" on Friday, Assistant State Climatologist Greg Spoden said.
Record sweating rights go to Red Wing, which had a heat index reach a record 125 degrees on July 30, 1999 -- 97-degree temperature and 84-degree dew point.
Those who enjoy, or detest, humidity can look ahead to late July, which often ushers in the summer's highest dew points.
"We still have plenty of sticky days ahead of us," Spoden said.

Royal Couple Arrives in Canada, Will Head to CA Next Week

Royal Couple Arrives in Canada, Will Head to CA Next Week

William and Catherine in Canada
Britain's Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, arrive at the National War Memorial in Ottawa June 30, 2011. (Reuters)
OTTAWA -- White cowboy hats, an emergency helicopter landing and a flight over the fictional home of Anne of Green Gables await Prince William and his new bride Kate in Canada on their first official trip overseas.

The potential future king and queen of Britain and Canada began their Canadian tour in Ottawa on Thursday afternoon, a trip designed in part to strengthen bonds between the monarchy and Canadians, whose head of state is Queen Elizabeth.

"Welcome to Canada, honeymoon capital of the Commonwealth," quipped Governor General David Johnston, the queen's representative in Canada, as he received the royal couple at Rideau Hall, his official home.

Prince William drew a sentimental "awwww" from the crowd in front of Rideau Hall when he told them: "Before we were married, we had a longing to come here together."

He spoke briefly in French, but was clearly a bit embarrassed, adding in English: "It will improve as we go on."

Kate, who did not make a speech, wore a navy lace Cecile scoop-backed dress, designed by Canadian Erdem Moralioglu.

Earlier the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge placed a wreath at the National War Memorial, and stopped to chat and shake hands with veterans and some of the thousands of spectators who came out to see them in downtown Ottawa.

A record-breaking crowd was expected to welcome them at Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill on Friday.

The couple will tour seven cities in four provinces and one territory before heading to California on July 8. Prince William, a search-and-rescue helicopter pilot in Wales, will co-pilot a Sea King helicopter making a training emergency landing on water in Prince Edward Island.

They will sail in a frigate from Montreal to Quebec City, take a bush plane to isolated Blatchford Lake in the Northwest Territories, not far from the Arctic Circle, and be presented with ceremonial white cowboy hats ahead of the Calgary Stampede rodeo.


Marilyn Job, 58, got to the National War Memorial six hours before William and Kate laid a wreath there, snagging a prime spot next to the red carpet.

"The monarchy is an important function of Canada," she said, describing it as critical for the couple to rekindle affection for the institution. "It will die otherwise."

Prince William is far more popular in Canada than his father, Prince Charles, next in line to the throne, and the couple's glamorous April 29 wedding only added to the appeal.

"They'll do the right thing and they'll stay together," said Kelly Webster, 42, who shook hands with Prince Charles when he and Princess Diana visited Ottawa in 1983.

Standing next to Webster at Rideau Hall was Mary Aubrey, 21, holding a clutch of royal wedding and engagement books. "I've been a royal nut since the engagement," she said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement he was sure the tour would forge an enduring relationship between Canada and the couple, "one of deep affection and loyalty," as shown with Queen Elizabeth since her first tour in 1951.


Yet a good section of the Canadian population cannot see why there should be a Canadian royal family. Depending on how questions are framed, up to half of respondents say Canada should abandon the monarchy once the queen dies.

The anti-monarchist strain is strongest in French-speaking Quebec, where many still see Britain's triumph over France in Quebec in 1759 as a raw wound. The Quebec Network of Resistance will demonstrate against the royal visit in Quebec City.

But the anti-monarchist feeling seems less strong than in Australia, which held an unsuccessful 1999 referendum on abolishing the monarchy.

Ipsos pollster John Wright said that while Canadians are divided on the monarchy, few would want to endure the required constitutional battle and likely referendum to make any change.

"The fact is, Canadians would rather have the royals up to the cottage for a beer on a sunny weekend during an occasional visit than have to experience water boarding by political debate for years on end," he told Reuters.

The tradition of royal tours to Canada extends back 225 years to 1786, when another Prince William made the first royal trip to Canada. He later became King William IV.

Minnesota Braces for Government Shutdown

Minnesota Braces for Government Shutdown

CHICAGO — With only hours remaining before most Minnesota services will shut down if the state does not approve a new budget, political leaders met behind closed doors on Thursday but emerged again with no deal on a spending plan and no signs of a resolution in sight.
And so, on the eve of a holiday weekend, Minnesotans were bracing for the possibility that the state’s parks and the Minnesota Zoo will be closed, hunting and fishing licenses will not be issued, and the state’s lottery system and racetracks will shut down. By Thursday afternoon, workers were already closing the state’s 84 major rest areas along highways. Thousands of state workers were preparing to be sent home without pay, and contractors were getting ready to walk away from a hundred road construction projects that are underway.
While the budget year begins on Friday in many states, Minnesota was one of several that had yet to seal a deal by Thursday afternoon, but was one of the few in the nation making immediate preparations for a shutdown. The last such standoff in Minnesota came under an entirely different set of leaders in 2005, but involved the shutdown of far fewer services and lasted a matter of days.
Since early this year, the politicians in St. Paul have been locked in a battle over how to solve budget woes under a divided government. Republicans, who took control of both chambers of the Legislature last fall, urged sharp cuts and a cap on spending to the $34 billion that the state expected to take in over the next two years. Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat elected in the fall, called for collecting more in income taxes from the highest earners to solve an anticipated $5 billion deficit and to spare cuts in services to the most vulnerable.
For days, even as leaders on both sides have met under what the governor’s spokeswoman described as a “cone of silence,” no progress has been reported.
“It’s a very sad day for Minnesota,” said Lawrence R. Jacobs, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota, which is not expected to close. “It’s a state that had a well-earned reputation for being well governed where, at the end of the day, politics were done in a fair and efficient manner. And it’s now on the cusp of ungovernability. There’s a new ethic here that compromise is weakness.”
The list of state services expected to close is lengthy: all sorts of state offices, including dispatchers in the twin cities who monitor traffic jams and accidents and try to keep rush hours moving along. Certain crucial services will stay open, like state patrol work, prison operations, courts and schools.
Some Minnesotans said some sort of deal still seemed possible. Some observers have suggested that Republican leaders might agree to some sort of increased revenue — though not the $1.8 billion that Mr. Dayton has sought and not from a permanent income tax increase. But even a different source of revenue and a smaller amount might have trouble clearing the full Legislature; some among the new crop of Republican lawmakers promised while campaigning last year to cut spending in the state and to hold the line on any new revenues.

What operations will be open, closed

  • Updated: June 30, 2011 - 9:48 AM
Based on Wednesday's ruling by Judge Kathleen Gearin, here is what would be open and closed during a state shutdown.


Would remain open at all levels.


State Driver and Vehicle Services Division would be closed, but deputy registrars could renew license plates. Driver's license exams would not be available.


People will be able to renew licenses at driver's license agent offices. Driver tests would not be available.


State funding for K-12 schools would continue, but the state Education Department would largely be closed.


Medical Assistance, MinnesotaCare, food stamps, welfare benefits, child support payments, county child protection services, refugee assistance, supplemental aid and some services for disabled people would continue. Child-care assistance, services for the deaf, Senior and Disability linkage lines, criminal background checks and food shelf distributions would stop.


Would close.


Would not be issued. DNR officers would continue enforcement.


Veterans homes would stay open, along with critical assistance programs. Tuition reimbursement claims would stop and veterans' outreach claims offices would close.


Would remain open.


Would close.


State Patrol would stay on. The state's prison system would keep 3,600 of its 4,200 employees, including most of those who deal directly with offenders. Local police will likely be unaffected, since the state will still send local government aid.


Canterbury Park and Running Aces would close.


Would close.


Would remain open.


Taxes would be collected, but no refund checks would go out. Tax Court would be closed.


Most state-funded road construction projects would stop, except for emergency repairs. Twin Cities buses and rail lines would continue operating. South-metro bus lines would keep operating.


Would be paid.


Would remain open


Would close to the public.
Acting as the shutdown "special master" former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Kathleen Blatz will start hearings Friday morning to sort through funding requests.
While the hearings will be in the Minnesota Judicial Center, they will not be court proceedings. Blatz will be seated at an table, not a formal judge's bench, with a representative from the governor's office and one from the attorney general's on either side of her. Seated at a table in front of her: the petitioner who wants to plead that their program should be funded.
Although she was just appointed by Ramsey County District Court Chief Justice Kathleen Gearin just Wednesday to sort through the requests, Blatz already has a full case load.
Already dozens of parties -- from social service agencies to horsemen -- have  filed court documents asking for funding.
Each group will get 20 minutes before Blatz to make a case.
She will start the hearings 8 am Friday and continue at 8 am July 5, after the holiday weekend. That schedule means that even petitioners who may eventually get funding will have to do without Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
Unlike 2005, when a special master was appointed to sort through that shutdown, Blatz has a very limited charge, according to the task set for her by Gearin, but a lot larger scope.
Six years ago, the Legislature passed and the governor signed a handful of budget bills, meaning much of what state government does already had properly appropriated funds. This time around only the tiny agriculture budget bill is law, leaving eight other areas of government -- from transportation to administration -- unfunded.
Already that's given rise to several separate lawsuits as race tracks and zoos, which would close to the public based on Gearin's order, plead for permission to stay in operation during a shutdown. The Supreme Court Thursday ruled that all those cases should be consolidated in Ramsey County.
Gearin has already told them "no" once even though she said she recognized that closure could cause them harm. Ultimately, Gearin wrote, "those concerns need to be recognized and resolved by actions of the executive and legislative branches, not the judicial branch."
Gearin separately appointed Blatz to play the role of special master to deal with the myriad of requests coming in.
"A special master creates an orderly process to resolve requests for, or objections to, funding, thereby preventing the necessity for multiple individual lawsuits," Gearin wrote in her decision appointing Blatz.
That Blatz was appointed at all was a compromise of sorts. Attorney General Lori Swanson asked Gearin to appoint a special master but appoint someone else. Gov. Mark Dayton asked Gearin to appoint Blatz as a mediator. Gearin took a little from both of their suggestions in her decision.
Blatz, a Republican, has seen compromise from all angles herself. She's a former Minnesota House member, who, when she first took office in 1979 was the youngest female lawmaker ever sworn in. She was 24 years old.
While in the Legislature, she went to law school, graduating cum laude from the University of Minnesota Law School.

She went on to become an assistant Hennepin County attorney and Hennepin County Judge before she was plunked from the district bench for the Minnesota Supreme Court by Republican Gov. Arne Carlson in 1996. In 1998, she became the first female Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court.
She stepped down from the bench in 2006.

Minn. braces for shutdown at midnight; Democratic gov and GOP lawmakers at odds over taxes

Gov. Mark Dayton and Tom Bakk, Senate Minority Leader, and Paul Thissen, House Minority Leader, walk down the stairs after Tuesday's final budget meeting.

ST. PAUL, Minn. - In an echo of the debate unfolding in Washington, Minnesota hurtled toward a midnight government shutdown Thursday in a dispute over taxes and spending that could force thousands of layoffs, bring road projects to a standstill and close state parks just ahead of the Fourth of July weekend.
As the deadline drew ever closer without a resolution, people rushed to get driver's and fishing licenses, and park officials began warning campers to pack their gear and leave.
Though nearly all states are having severe budget problems this year, Minnesota stood alone on the brink of a shutdown, thanks to Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton's determination to raise taxes on high-earners to close a $5 billion deficit and the Republican Legislature's refusal to go along.
Negotiations between Dayton and legislative leaders were fitful, starting and stopping with no outward signs of progress, and details were scant, since the two sides agreed to what they jokingly called "the cone of silence."
Late Thursday afternoon, GOP leaders again demanded the governor avert a shutdown by calling a special session to enact a "lights on" budget bill that would keep the state running while talks continued. Top Democrats said Dayton would not take such a step.
Republican Sen. Michelle Benson said she wasn't budging, either.
"If we don't start taking a different approach to how we manage our government, we're going to swing from one bad economic circumstance to another," Benson said. "We can't just keep throwing more money at government and hoping that makes things better."
The showdown was something of a small-stage version of the drama taking shape in Washington between President Barack Obama and the Republicans over taxes and the nation's debt ceiling.
Though many states are having budget difficulties this year, those where political power is concentrated in a single party easily passed budgets. Some of those with divided government had healthy reserves, including Alaska, Iowa and Montana; Minnesota's rainy-day accounts are drained. Others such as Louisiana and Nevada used one-time money or federal dollars to patch things together. Nevada and Missouri renewed taxes.
In New Jersey, Republican Gov. Chris Christie used the line-item veto Thursday to pare a budget from the Democratic-controlled Legislature before signing it into law, preventing a shutdown.
Only four other states — Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Tennessee — have had shutdowns in the past decade, some lasting mere hours.
A stoppage in Minnesota would halt non-emergency road construction, shut the state zoo and Capitol, and stop child-care assistance for the poor. More than 40 state boards and agencies would go dark. Critical services, including the State Patrol, prisons, disaster response and federally funded health, welfare and food stamp programs, would not be affected.
State park officials told campers to strike their tents well before the deadline, even though there was still a chance of a deal. They said it would be too difficult to herd campers out in the middle of the night if talks failed.
In Afton State Park, near St. Paul, Rick Miller of Elko-New Market pushed up a camping trip with his 7-year-old son, Jack, to beat the shutdown. Miller originally hoped they could spend Thursday and Friday nights in the park on the picturesque St. Croix River, but he booked a campsite for Wednesday night.
"With the shutdown we decided we better come and get it in," he said. "We don't know how long it will be before we can get back into a state park." He added: "It's too bad they can't just get the job done."
A small group of protesters paraded before reporters clustered outside Dayton's office on Thursday afternoon, chanting and waving signs to support the governor's position. "You say cut back, we say fight back!" they yelled. One woman carried a handmade sign that read: "GOV DAYTON DON'T BACK DOWN!"
Dayton is Minnesota's first Democratic governor in 20 years, and Republicans are running the entire Legislature for the first time in 38 years.
The governor has proposed raising taxes on couples earning more than $300,000 and individuals making more than $180,000. Republicans have opposed any new taxes or new revenue sources, arguing instead that the state should rely on spending cuts, including deeper reductions in health and welfare spending than Dayton is willing to accept.
Some GOP moderates have talked of breaking the impasse with other means of raising revenue, such as eliminating tax breaks or authorizing a casino. Dayton has said he is open to such ideas.
Rank-and-file Republicans gathered at the Capitol on Thursday, more than a month after their regular session ended. Members of the large Republican freshman class, whose election victories in November helped the party take control of the Legislature for the first time in decades, held tight to their message that a total two-year state budget of $34 billion is big enough.

"I personally think the Republicans will probably be more damaged than the governor" by a shutdown, said freshman Rep. Mike LeMieur, R-Little Falls, who toppled an incumbent Democrat in November. "The fact is that we're all up for re-election again next year, and he's not up for three years."
Associated Press reporters Amy Forliti and Patrick Condon contributed to this report. Forliti reported from Afton, Minn.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

News Corp. Sells MySpace to Specific Media for $35 Million

June 29, 2011, 2:31 pm

News Corp. Sells MySpace to Specific Media for $35 Million

2:35 p.m. | Updated MySpace, the long-suffering Web site that was bought by the News Corporation six years ago for $580 million, was sold on Wednesday to the advertising targeting firm Specific Media for roughly $35 million.
The News Corp., which is controlled by Rupert Murdoch, had been trying since last winter to rid itself of the unprofitable site. In preparation for the change in ownership, many of MySpace’s roughly 400 employees were dismissed on Wednesday. Mike Jones, the Web site’s chief executive, said in an internal memorandum that he would depart in the next two months.
The sale closes a complex chapter in the history of the Internet and of News Corp., which was widely envied by other media companies when it bagged MySpace in 2005. At that time MySpace was the world’s fastest-growing social network, with 20 million unique visitors each month in the United States. That figure that soon soared to 70 million, but the network could not keep pace with Facebook, which overtook MySpace two years ago.
As users fled MySpace, so too did advertisers. The market research firm eMarketer estimates that the site will earn about $183 million in worldwide ad revenues this year, down from $605 million at its peak, when the site introduced many Web users and many advertisers to the concept of social networking.

“It’s a shame that MySpace’s value has diminished so severely since the acquisition; MySpace’s pioneering of social networking (now referred to as social media) will always be revered as igniting a new medium,” Richard Rosenblatt, the chairman of MySpace at the time of the sale to News Corp., said in an e-mail message.
Instead of envy, the News Corp. bet on MySpace now provokes punchlines. Tom Freston, who was fired as the chief executive of Viacom in part for failing to buy MySpace, joked in an interview with CNBC earlier this year that “I’m still waiting for a thank you note” from the Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone.
Mr. Freston, who was in Iceland on Wednesday and was smiling at the news of an impending sale, declined to comment.
At the News Corp. on Wednesday, relief over the sale was appreciable. An advertising deal with Google helped the company to recoup what it spent on MySpace in the first place, but the site became a burden on the company’s earnings; by last year executives were calling the losses unacceptable.
The News Corp. division that houses MySpace and other digital properties has only turned a profit once in the last six years.
What doomed the site? Lee Brenner, the director of MySpace’s now-defunct “Impact” section, wrote in a blog post on Tuesday, “I’m sure most employees (former or current) will argue that it was poor management, or a need to hit revenue targets once News Corp. took over, or a bottleneck in the technology department, or lack of resources given to their division, or a poor public relations effort, etc., that set the course of MySpace’s downfall. Any number of these could be true. I suppose we’ll never know for sure. It is most likely a combination of these factors, along with a ‘low attention span’ public. It probably didn’t help to be doing business, and trying to grow, along with all of these issues, in the midst of a global economic crisis.”
MySpace has attempted to reboot itself several times, most recently as a social destination for music, movies and other media. It has not been abandoned altogether; it still has 35 million visitors a month in the U.S., according to the measurement firm ComScore. Facebook has 157 million visitors a month in the U.S.
“It’s still one of the biggest pockets of traffic on the Internet, for the price,” said a former MySpace executive who insisted on anonymity in order to maintain friendships and business relationships with News Corp.
The former executive said MySpace became something of a distraction for News Corp., a company that does “very, very well on many fronts.”
“Yet on the earnings call, you have to hear about MySpace,” the person said.
As MySpace’s traffic diminished, the staff suffered through several rounds of cuts. Those who remained had braced themselves for further cuts at the time of the sale, and on Wednesday some packed up their belongings.
“Today should be a day,” Sean Percival, a vice president at MySpace, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday morning. Two hours later, he followed up, telling his online followers that Wednesday would be his last day at the company. Seemingly referring to the site’s rise and fall, he wrote, “It was a unique moment in time and an impossible problem to solve. Was proud to be a part of it.”

Turtles On JFK Runway Prompt Flight Delays

Turtles On JFK Runway Prompt Flight Delays

Turtles On JFK Runway
Hundreds of diamond back turtles caused traffic woes at JFK Airport Wednesday after they clogged up a runway, preventing planes from taking off on time. (PORT AUTHORITY / June 29, 2011)
Travelers who were looking to fly out of John F. Kennedy Airport Wednesday morning were treated to a unique delay, when 100 turtles ambled across a runway and blocked air traffic from moving.

JetBlue first tweeted news of the delays, with the hashtag #cantmakethisup.

When airport personnel grew tired of waiting for the notoriously slow reptiles to clear the runway, Port Authority officials took matters into their own hands, physically removing the turtles from the route.

The purpotrators have since been identified as Diamondback Terrapin turtles, as opposed to the snapping turtle which was named the New York state reptile in 2006.

The turtle gathering is apparently an annual event, where they take over runway 4L. The Port Authority was forced to discontinue using 4L for the early part of the day while some reconfiguration of the runways were done.

La Toya Jackson: 'Michael Was Murdered!'

La Toya Jackson: 'Michael Was Murdered!'

La Toya says Dr. Conrad Murray "was the fall guy."

La Toya Jackson tells KTLA she believes her brother was murdered.
La Toya Jackson tells KTLA she believes her brother was murdered.  
(KTLA-TV / June 29, 2011)

LOS ANGELES (KTLA) -- La Toya Jackson, Michael Jackson's sister, insists her pop icon brother was murdered as part of "a conspiracy."

La Toya has upheld that belief ever since her brother died suddenly two years ago.

She tells KTLA her brother was targeted for murder because of his power in the music industry.

"It was pure murder," La Toya told KTLA on Wednesday. "I don't care what anyone says. This was pure murder. This was a controversy. This was all manipulated."

She says her brother knew he was being targeted and repeatedly mentioned it to her.

La Toya believes her brother's publishing rights to a catalog of songs, including works by the Beatles, motivated his alleged killers.

"He hated the fact that he had the catalog and they were going to murder him for it. So he said, 'I don't want it, it's not worth it.' And then the other part of him would say, 'No but it's mine. I bought it outright and I'm keeping it growing. This is for my children. They can't do this to me'," La Toya said.

She says she immediately went to police following her brother's death, but they would not look at other possible suspects other than Dr. Conrad Murray, Jackson's personal physician.

La Toya says her brother's death was part of "a conspiracy" by a group of individuals, including a high-powered entertainment lawyer.

"Dr. Murray was the fall guy," La Toya said.

She has her own theories on what motivated her brother's death.

"Michael had fired John Branca. He didn't want him around," she said, adding that her brother then "hired a private investigator."

"Then he found out John Branca had smuggled… $150-million off-shore of his money and he just started investigating," she added.

"I'm not blatantly saying they killed him. This was a conspiracy to do this to him."

Michael Jackson died on June 25, 2009 after authorities say he was given a lethal dose of the powerful sedative propofol.

Conrad Murray is awaiting trial on involuntary manslaughter charges in connection with Jackson's death.

La Toya Jackson is currently promoting her new book, "Starting Over."

Default not an option under U.S. Constitution

Default not an option under U.S. Constitution

Jun 28, 2011 15:57 EDT

By Reynolds Holding
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
A federal default is no option under the U.S. Constitution. Rating-agency warnings and budget-talk walkouts aside, America’s founding document probably won’t let the government stiff its creditors. That’s no reason to derail a deal on the debt ceiling. But if push comes to shove, the White House may have the greater legal leverage.
Politics drive the conceit that the debt cap is inviolate. So long as it isn’t breached, the Treasury Department, rather than Congress, can keep the power to issue debt. That’s why the Obama administration predicts economic “catastrophe” if the ceiling isn’t raised. Republicans, on the other hand, can hold an increase hostage to deep cuts in spending, healthcare and retirement obligations.
But a mere statute created the ceiling. The Constitution trumps statutes. And a clause in the Fourteenth Amendment essentially says that the feds cannot renege on debts, meaning the cap could, if it came down to a court decision, be declared unconstitutional.
There’s some doubt, because the clause has rarely been tested. It was enacted in 1868 to ensure payment of Civil War obligations, but the Supreme Court has twice confirmed that it also covers current debts backed by the United States. Government bonds qualify, and Social Security may as well, because the clause includes “debts incurred for payment of pensions.”
The language is so sweeping — public debt “shall not be questioned” — it seems to require on-time payment in full. That could be a problem if money trouble forces the Treasury Secretary to choose which obligations to cover first. During a spat over the cap in 1985, the Government Accountability Office said prioritizing payments would be OK, but it didn’t mention the Constitution.
It’s hard to believe the debt clause will come into play. Congress has raised the ceiling 10 times since 2001. But if Congress insists on forcing Uncle Sam into acting like a deadbeat, the president has a clear — if unprecedented — response. He can declare default unconstitutional and arrange to pay the nation’s debts unilaterally. That would certainly demonstrate that the United States is a better credit risk than anyone thought.

S&P to deeply cut U.S. ratings if debt payment missed

Exclusive: S&P to deeply cut U.S. ratings if debt payment missed

Dan Parker of Shamokin, Pennsylvania, holds a U.S. flag outside the White House in Washington May 2, 2011. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
NEW YORK | Wed Jun 29, 2011 12:52pm EDT
(Reuters) - The United States would immediately have its top-notch credit rating slashed to "selective default" if it misses a debt payment on August 4, Standard & Poor's managing director John Chambers told Reuters.
Chambers, who is also the chairman of S&P's sovereign ratings committee, told Reuters on Tuesday that U.S. Treasury bills maturing on August 4 would be rated 'D' if the government fails to honor them. Unaffected Treasuries would be downgraded as well, but not as sharply, he said.
"If the U.S. government misses a payment, it goes to D," Chambers said. "That would happen right after August 4, when the bills mature, because they don't have a grace period."
Fears of a technical default have been rising after budget negotiations between Democrats and Republicans fell apart in Washington earlier this week. Even a brief default by the United States would immediately increase the country's borrowing costs, weighing on the fragile economic recovery and eroding the dollar's status as a reserve currency.
On August 4, the Treasury Department is due to pay off $30 billion in maturing short-term debt.
With the debt talks stalled, new ideas are surfacing such as prioritizing debt payments. But Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner warned lawmakers on Wednesday that such a move would still cause investors to shun U.S. Treasury securities.
Geithner said that because the United States now borrows roughly 40 cents of every dollar it spends, prioritizing payments with no debt limit increase would require cutting 40 percent of all government expenditures.
S&P is not the first agency to say it will downgrade the United States if a payment is missed. Rival credit rater Moody's on June 2 was the first to say it would downgrade the United States shortly after a possible ceiling-related default, but not as deeply -- to the Aa range.
Chambers insisted that the likelihood of a U.S. default is "extremely low," as S&P expects a last-minute increase to the country's debt ceiling just like it has happened for more than 70 times since the 1960s.
He also noted a default on U.S. Treasuries -- a benchmark against which all other debt is measured -- would dwarf any worries about U.S. credit ratings as global markets would crumble.
Chambers made clear, however, that S&P is more worried about the ability of the U.S. government to meaningfully cut its deficit over the next two years, with presidential elections in 2012 making a bipartisan agreement much tougher.
S&P is so far the only of the big-three credit ratings agencies to revise the outlook on the U.S. AAA credit rating to negative. It has said it sees a one-in-three chance of a downgrade within the next two years.
Moody's Investors Service and Fitch Ratings have expressed concern about the pace of budget negotiations in Washington, but still maintain a stable outlook on U.S. ratings.
Yet they have been more vocal about the risks of a "technical default" in August. Fitch said earlier this month it would cut U.S. issuer ratings to "restricted default" if the government misses a more substantial debt payment on August 15.
The U.S. Treasury reached the country's $14.3 trillion debt limit on May 16 and has been making use of extraordinary measures to keep servicing its debt since then. It will run out of alternatives to avoid a default on August 2, Geithner has said.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Google facing US antitrust probe - reports

Google facing US antitrust probe - reports

People's silhouettes in front of the Google logo  
The FTC is looking at whether Google manipulates its search results to steer users to its own sites
US federal regulators are preparing to issue court orders to Google and other companies as part of a probe into practices in Google's search engine business, US media report.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is expected to open a formal inquiry within the next several days, the Wall Street Journal said.
The FTC is looking at whether Google manipulates its search results to steer users to its own sites and services.
Google has not commented on the matter.
Google's competitors argue that the search giant, which handles roughly two out of every three internet searches in the US, has used its dominant standing in search to improperly promote its other products, like mapping, shopping and travel websites.
Multiple probes FTC officials privately debated this month whether to allow the agency's Bureau of Competitions to issue subpoenas to Google, and the FTC is now close to moving forward with handing out the court orders, The New York Times reported.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times said that attorneys-general in California, New York and Ohio have also launched antitrust investigations into Google.
The European Commission is already conducting a probes into whether Google uses its dominance to wrongfully stifle competition.
In a statement on its website,, an organization that represents several of Google's critics, like Expedia, Travelocity, Kayak and Microsoft, said: "Google's practices are deserving of full-scale investigations by US antitrust authorities."
Though the FTC probe would be the broadest federal inquiry into Google to date, the company has previously been targeted by US regulators.
Google settled charges with a US policy group in April, which claimed the company deceived users and violated its own privacy policy by automatically enrolling all Gmail users in a social network called Buzz without seeking prior permission.
The company has faced repeated other antitrust inquiries in recent years, many of which have involved proposed acquisitions.

N.J. Assembly passes landmark employee benefits overhaul

N.J. Assembly passes landmark employee benefits overhaul

Published: Thursday, June 23, 2011, 10:00 PM     Updated: Thursday, June 23, 2011, 10:00 PM

NJEA Teachers Brenda Harrower, left, and Kris Johnson, right, with Denville School, among others in the gallery stood with their back towards the Assembly as Assemblymen Declan J. O'Scanlon Jr. speaks during pension and health benefit bill debate.
TRENTON — New Jersey lawmakers tonight voted to enact a sweeping plan to cut public worker benefits after a long day of high-pitched political drama in the streets and behind closed doors.

Assembly members debate pension and health care overhaul bill 
Assembly members debate pension and health care overhaul bill After hours of discussion behind closed doors, members of the New Jersey State Assembly took to the floor to continue the discussion and share their views, both positive and negative, on the process and the bill that would dramatically change pension and health care in New Jersey for public employees. (Video by Michael Monday/The Star-Ledger) Watch video
Union members chanted outside the Statehouse and in the Assembly balcony, and dissident Democrats tried to stall with amendments and technicalities. Although they successfully convinced top lawmakers to remove a controversial provision restricting public workers’ access to out-of-state medical care, they failed to halt a historic defeat for New Jersey’s powerful unions and a political victory for Republican Gov. Chris Christie.

Teachers, firefighters, police officers and other public workers unite at Statehouse to rally agains 
Teachers, firefighters, police officers and other public workers unite at Statehouse to rally against pension and benefit reform Nearly 8500 people gathered in the streets surrounding the Statehouse in Trenton to defend their stance on pension and benefit reform. Collective bargaining was the overall theme, but some delved deeper as to what exactly is important to them and their families as a bill awaits a vote in the state assembly. (Video by Vincent Velasquez / The Star-Ledger) Watch video
"Together, we’re showing New Jersey is serious about providing long-term fiscal stability for our children and grandchildren," Christie said in a statement released after the vote. "We are putting the people first and daring to touch the third rail of politics in order to bring reform to an unsustainable system."
More than 8,500 protesters, the most this year, poured into Trenton’s streets today morning with signs, speeches and their trademark inflatable rat. But most had dispersed by the time Democrats emerged from their hours-long caucus meetings where they debated the bill’s details and a separate budget proposal. The Assembly convened for a vote at about 6:15 p.m., more than five hours late, and lawmakers delivered speech after speech on the bill for nearly three hours.
"We cannot afford to put off these needed reforms for another year," said Assemblyman Lou Greenwald (D-Camden), a bill sponsor. "Kicking the can down the road and doing nothing will only require more sacrifice from taxpayers and public workers in the future."
The bill passed the Assembly 46-32 and will be sent to Christie’s desk for his signature. After the vote, protesters in the chamber shouted "Shame on you!"
Unions have blasted the bill for ending their ability to collectively bargain their medical benefits. Health care plans for 500,000 public workers would be set by a new state panel comprised of union workers and state managers, rather than at the negotiating table.
A sunset provision would allow unions to resume collective bargaining after increased health care contributions are phased in over four years.
In addition, police officers, firefighters, teachers and rank-and-file public workers would all pay more for their pensions and health benefits. The bill would also eliminate cost-of-living increases to pensions for retirees and raise the retirement age for new workers.
Supporters of the bill — including Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex) — have said the state needs to cut costs because the pension and health systems are underfunded by more than $120 billion in total.
Christie, who has staked his reputation on shrinking government costs, has called the bill an example for the rest of the country. New Jersey is one of 23 states that have asked employees to pay more for their pensions since the Wall Street financial crisis battered retirement systems in 2008, according to the Pew Center on the States.
The Assembly has been widely expected to pass the bill much like the Senate did on Monday. Democrats voting for the bill have been either from South Jersey and allied with that region’s power broker, George Norcross, or from North Jersey and tied to Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr.
Despite opposition from the majority of Democrats who control the Legislature, Sweeney and Oliver scraped together enough Democratic votes to join with Republicans to advance the bill. Assemblyman Joseph Cryan (D-Union), a union ally, called it "one of the most stunned and disheartening times" of his career.
Today’s union protest, like other recent demonstrations, did nothing to stop the bill. But it did highlight the growing fissures in the state Democratic Party, which has struggled to counter Christie.
While Sweeney and Oliver were inside the Statehouse pushing the bill, the chairman of the state party, Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), was rallying protesters with two-dozen other Democrats. "I represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," he said.
Bob Master, a leader in the Communications Workers of America, said Democrats should not be "collaborating" with the right-wing Christie administration. Protesters drove down State Street in a hearse carrying the "soul of the Democratic Party."
Later, on the Assembly floor, Republicans heaped praise on Oliver while her Democratic colleagues condemned the bill.
Assemblyman Joseph Malone (R-Burlington) said Oliver showed courage to stand against her party, saying "I’ll remember your actions for the rest of my life."
Sweeney, who has urged cuts to public worker benefits for years, said the legislation would help save the state’s overburdened retirement system.
"Nobody is talking about how we protected 800,000 people’s pensions," he said today. "I don’t apologize for that."
The state Treasury estimated today’s bill would save $3 billion in health benefits over the next 10 years and $120 billion in pension costs over 30 years. Much of the pension savings are from the controversial elimination of the cost-of-living adjustments for retirees, which unions have threatened to challenge in court.
Over the years, lawmakers and local leaders from both parties have offered increased benefits to public employees, often in exchange for political support. But even as benefits improved, the state and municipalities failed to meet its financial obligations. Since 2004, the state has not made $15.11 billion in required payments to the pension funds, while the municipalities have skipped $1.9 billion. Public employees, meanwhile, have fully paid their required contributions.
As a result, the state has a $54 billion shortfall in its pension system, among the highest in the nation. New Jersey’s health benefit system is in even worse shape than the pension fund and is the most poorly funded in the nation at $66.8 billion in the hole, according to the Pew Center on the States.
By Chris Megerian and Jarrett Renshaw/Statehouse Bureau
Christopher Baxter, Megan DeMarco, Ginger Gibson and Salvador Rizzo contributed to this report.
Previous Coverage:
NJ unions rally in Trenton, Assembly votes on pension and health benefit overhaul - live coverage
N.J. public workers to stage large protest over pension and health insurance reform
Effort to cut N.J. public worker benefits advances despite 'revolutionary' opposition
Health and pension overhaul clears N.J. Assembly Budget Committee
N.J. Senate approves pension, health care reform bill 
TO BRIGHT COLLEGE STUDENTS WHO ARE CONSIDERING BECOMING NEW JERSEY TEACHERS: Please reconsider. Teaching in New Jersey is no longer attractive.
Your raises each year will be small, due to the 2% property tax cap. Your raises will not be enough for you to stay ahead of inflation. You could be nearing age 50 by the time you reach the top of your school's salary scale.
You will no longer have good benefits. You will have to pay up to 30% of your health care premiums, which will cost you thousands every year. There is nothing keeping the insurance companies from jacking up these premiums every year.
You will have to pay more into the state's pension fund. Currently teachers pay 5.5% of salary into the fund, but in a few years you will have to pay 7.5%.
At age 55, after you've taught for 33 years, you may be ready to retire. The retirement age is now 65, however, and you will pay a 30% penalty in your pension if you retire at 55. You probably won't be able to afford this penalty, so you will have to keep teaching for years beyond when you wanted to retire.
When you finally complete your 43-year teaching career, at age 65, you may not be able to collect your pension. The pension fund has been ignored and mismanaged for 17 years and the money may not be there for you.
If you do get your pension, you will see no cost-of-living increases in retirement.
Teaching in New Jersey is no longer attractive.
Bottom line: Seek a job in the private sector if possible.
If you must be a teacher, teach in another state.
For 10 years they robbed, or in the words of our esteemed governor, "They stole" the pension funds of billions of dollars and spent the money on things they should not have by law. They gave our towns "Pension Holidays" and allowed them to skip their required payments for their employees, in an effort to lower property taxes. Now they decalre the pension system is unsustainable and needs a major overhaul or it will fail. Our governor grandstands throughout the state and he gets the public to buy into his b.s. that the public worker is to blame for all of the State's fiscal woes and they buy it, hook, line and sinker. If you had just kept your hands out of the cookie jar and made your legally required payments into the system this would have never happened. But all of you teacher, firemen, cop and public worker haters keep believing the b.s. they're feeding you.
This is the truth not like the fairy tale the governor and his buddies have been reading to you.

Republicans walk out of budget talks over taxes

Republicans walk out of budget talks over taxes

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) speaks at the Faith & Freedom Conference and Strategy Briefing in Washington, June 3, 2011. REUTERS/Molly Riley
WASHINGTON | Thu Jun 23, 2011 6:44pm EDT
(Reuters) - Republicans walked out of budget talks on Thursday, setting up a showdown between President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner over how to extend U.S. borrowing and avoid a looming debt default.
Vice President Joe Biden and a handful of lawmakers had been working on a budget-cutting deal that would allow Congress to sign off on continued borrowing, but Republicans quit unexpectedly after saying the group had reached an impasse over tax increases sought by Democrats.
"It is time for the president to speak clearly and resolve the tax issue," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who had represented House Republicans in the talks. Republican Senator Jon Kyl also pulled out.
An agreement would give lawmakers political cover to raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling before August 2, when the Treasury Department has said it will run out of money to pay the country's bills.
Default could occur if Congress does not act by then, which could push the United States back into recession and send markets plunging around the globe.
Obama will now probably have to hammer out a deal with Boehner, the top Republican in Washington, and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid -- the same trio that took the government to the brink of a shutdown in an earlier budget battle this spring.
"I think it's in the hands of the speaker and the president, and sadly, probably me," Reid said at a news conference. No initial meeting has been set, he said.
Biden said his group has always intended to hand the baton to Obama and Boehner.
"The next phase is in the hands of those leaders, who need to determine the scope of an agreement that can tackle the problem and attract bipartisan support," he said in a statement.
Boehner said talks could resume if Democrats took tax hikes off the table, but they showed no sign of backing off.
So far, the possibility of default has not affected bond markets as investors focus on other news and assume Washington will ultimately strike a deal -- probably at the last minute.
"This is going to look ugly for the next few weeks," said Greg Valliere, a political analyst for investors at Potomac Research Group.
Obama and Boehner have tried to establish a personal rapport since this spring's budget battle. The two golfed together on Saturday and met at the White House on Wednesday.
Cantor, who was building a similar bond with Biden, gave no indication after Wednesday's session that talks had hit a wall.
His withdrawal caught Democrats by surprise, coming as Obama met with House Democratic leaders at the White House before the afternoon's scheduled negotiating session.
"It appears that Cantor has obviously had enough of these negotiations and Kyl followed suit, but there has been progress made. It's not as if nothing has happened," Reid said.
Negotiators had reached tentative agreement on more than $2 trillion in cuts covering wide swaths of the federal budget, according to an aide familiar with the talks, affecting health programs, annual spending, benefits like farm subsidies and tuition aid, and automatic limits on future spending.
But Democrats would not relent on taxes, the aide said.
Republicans have said from the outset that any tax increases will not pass the House. Democrats saw an opening, though, after many Senate Republicans supported a move to repeal a tax break for ethanol last week over the objections of anti-tax activists.
In recent sessions, Democrats had pressed to close a wide range of tax breaks, from oil and gas subsidies to breaks that benefit wealthy individuals.
Republicans may not have enough votes to pass a deal through the House in any case, as many newly elected conservatives feel little urge to compromise.
That means Boehner may have to rely on Democratic votes, and Democrats will insist that tax increases be part of the deal, one lawmaker said.
"I think we walk away unless there's some revenue raisers," Democratic Representative Allyson Schwartz said at a breakfast event hosted by Third Way, a centrist think tank.
Cantor and Boehner may need to allow a debt-ceiling vote to fail before they can craft a compromise, budget expert Stan Collender said. That could provide a jolt to markets akin to the failed bank bailout vote of 2008, which caused the Dow Jones Industrial Average to drop 800 points.
"There may need to be a negative market reaction to that vote to get Republicans to move from their current position," said Collender, a budget analyst with Qorvis Communications.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad warned that those sorts of tactics could lead to hundreds of billions of dollars in additional interest costs for the government to reflect the additional uncertainty of investing in U.S. debt.
One Democratic aide said Cantor recognized that tax increases would ultimately have to be part of any deal but that he did not want to be the one to say so.
"Cantor just threw Boehner under the bus," the aide said.
(Additional reporting by Kim Dixon and Donna Smith in Washington and Laura MacInnis in Fort Drum, N.Y.; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Supreme Court blocks huge class-action suit against Wal-Mart

Supreme Court blocks huge class-action suit against Wal-Mart

The ruling in the suit, filed on behalf of as many as 1.5 million female employees, may all but end big class-action cases that seek money from employers for discrimination.

Wal-Mart lawsuit
Betty Dukes was one of the plaintiffs in the discrimination suit against
The Supreme Court ruled for Wal-Mart, saying that the suit didn't merit 
class-action status that could have involved up to 1.5 million current 
and former female employees.  
(Larry Downing, Reuters / June 20, 2011)

Women and minorities who think they are underpaid will find it nearly impossible to band together to sue employers for discrimination under a Supreme Court ruling against 1.5 million female Wal-Mart employees in the most important job-bias case in a decade.

Only if there is proof a company has a policy of paying less to women or minorities can the employees get together in a class-action suit, the court said in an opinion Monday by Justice Antonin Scalia. Statistics showing that a company's female workers earn far less and get fewer promotions than men will not suffice, the court said.

The decision is the latest in a series of major rulings favoring business under the stewardship of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

Columbia University law professor John Coffee said the Wal-Mart ruling all but sounded the death knell for class-action suits that seek money from employers for discrimination. "This significantly changes the balance between employers and employees. And it largely eliminates the monetary threat facing big employers," he said. Lawsuits are expensive to bring, "and if there is no money relief at the end of the road, there is no incentive to bring the suit," he said.

The suit against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has been seen as a key test of whether civil rights lawyers, armed with computer-generated data on wages, could force the nation's largest employer to stand trial and face billions of dollars in potential liability. Had they won against Wal-Mart, other similar suits against nationwide retailers were in the offing.

Though the justices all agreed that the employees had no right to group damages, that unanimity masked a fundamental split largely along gender lines over the extent of discrimination at Wal-Mart and the amount of proof required to proceed with a class action.

Speaking for a 5-4 conservative majority in the central holding, Scalia said the class-action claim and others like it were doomed without "convincing proof of a companywide discriminatory pay and promotion policy."

Pointing to a provision of the federal rules of civil procedure requiring a class action to have "questions of law or fact common to the class," Scalia said this suit did not get to first base.

He said Wal-Mart had 3,400 stores spread across the nation and left it up to store managers to decide on pay levels and promotions.

"In a company of Wal-Mart's size and geographical scope, it is quite unbelievable that all managers would exercise their discretion in a common way without some common direction," Scalia said. "Significant proof that Wal-Mart operates under a general policy of discrimination is entirely absent here."

Roberts and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. agreed with Scalia in Wal-Mart vs. Dukes.

Scalia said the suit was flawed for another reason. A single class-action claim that supposedly speaks for a huge number of people does not entitle all of them to "an individualized award of monetary damages," he said.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Stephen G. Breyer, agreed that Wal-Mart could not be forced to pay damages to all the women without individual hearings, but they argued forcefully that there was substantial evidence of discrimination and that the case should have been allowed to proceed.

Ginsburg, who specialized in cases involving gender discrimination before joining the court, pointed to data obtained from Wal-Mart that painted a portrait of a "company culture" that was biased against women. For example, while women hold about 70% of the hourly jobs, they make up only 33% of the management employees.

"The plaintiffs' evidence, including class members' tales of their own experiences, suggests that gender bias suffused Wal-Mart's company culture," Ginsburg wrote. "Among illustrations, senior management often refer to female associates as 'little Janie Qs,' " she said.

Giving male managers a free hand to make decisions on pay and promotions can, and apparently did, lead to discrimination, she said. "Managers, like all humankind, may be prey to the biases of which they are unaware," she wrote.

The decision did not absolve Wal-Mart of the allegations that it had shortchanged its female employees. Rather, the justices decided only that the suit did not fit within the rules for class-action claims. Individuals will still be free to file discrimination suits.

Liberals reacted with outrage to the decision, while business groups heaved a sigh of relief.

Nan Aron, president of the liberal Alliance for Justice, called the decision "another in a long series of cases where the conservative majority has … erected a wall of privilege and protection around big business."

This is "tantamount to closing the courthouse door on millions of women who cannot vindicate their rights one person at a time," said Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce applauded the court for ruling that "bet-the-business blockbuster class actions" were unfair and were "completely inconsistent with federal law," said Robin Conrad, lawyer and vice president for the chamber.

She said anti-discrimination law was based on the idea that individuals bring a claim of mistreatment. Business lawyers portrayed huge class-action claims as a scheme to enrich plaintiffs' lawyers at the expense of employers.

Class-action discrimination claims were a product of the civil rights era of the 1960s. In the early years, many suits accused employers, such as trucking firms, construction companies or police departments, of refusing to hire or promote blacks. Often, these cases resulted in an agreement to change the hiring practices.

In recent decades, federal courts — with the exception of the U.S. appeals courts in San Francisco and New York — have frowned on class-action claims that seek money on behalf of a large group of employees who say they were victims of discrimination.

Times staff writer Salvador Rodriguez in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

Wal-Mart Case Is a Blow for Big Cases and Their Lawyers

With the dismissal of a sex-discrimination lawsuit brought on behalf of 1.5 million women who have worked at Wal-Mart, the Supreme Court on Monday significantly tightened the rules for how a large group of individuals can join together to sue a company for alleged harm done to them.
Larry Downing/Reuters
Protesters rallied outside the court in March. The justices came down on the side of Wal-Mart.
Room for Debate

A Death Blow to Class Action?

By siding with Wal-Mart, the Supreme Court has signaled that it wants job bias disputes handled in the workplace, not the courts.
The court’s decision will not just make it harder to bring big, ambitious employment class-action cases asserting discrimination based on sex, race or other factors, legal experts said. In the majority opinion, the court set higher barriers for bringing several types of nationwide class actions against a large company with many branches.
In its majority opinion, the court essentially said that if lawyers brought a nationwide class action against an employer, they would have to offer strong evidence of a nationwide practice or policy that hurt the class. In the Wal-Mart case, the court wrote that the plaintiffs had not demonstrated that Wal-Mart had any nationwide policies or practices that discriminated against women. The opinion, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, noted that Wal-Mart’s official corporate policy opposed discrimination, while the company gave the managers at its more than 3,400 stores considerable discretion over pay and promotions.
“In a company of Wal-Mart’s size and geographical scope, it is quite unbelievable that all managers would exercise their discretion in a common way without some common direction,” Justice Scalia wrote.
Heidi Li Feldman, a professor at Georgetown Law Center, said similar reasoning might make it tougher for plaintiffs to bring a class action against a mortgage lender accusing it of having a nationwide policy of defrauding borrowers. “A big mortgage broker might say, ‘At the national level, we have policies to abide by all of the rules and regulations that are applicable, and we delegate a lot of discretion to our branches,’ ” she said.
The ruling was widely hailed by business groups, some of which filed amicus briefs urging the court to limit class actions.
“We applaud the Supreme Court for affirming that mega-class actions such as this one are completely inconsistent with federal law,” said Robin S. Conrad, executive vice president of the United States Chamber of Commerce’s National Chamber Litigation Center. “Too often the class-action device is twisted and abused to force businesses to choose between settling meritless lawsuits or potentially facing financial ruin.”
The ruling will push plaintiffs’ lawyers into filing fewer huge class actions and more cases on behalf of individuals or smaller groups, lawyers said. That will raise costs and give lawyers less incentive to take on class actions and other complex litigation. The Wal-Mart case, for example, has stretched for a decade, with lawyers and the legal foundation that brought the case expecting to receive some portion of the back pay for 1.5 million current and former Wal-Mart employees if they eventually won the case in court or reached a settlement.
The Supreme Court decision “strikes a blow to those who face discrimination in the workplace to be able to join together and hold companies, especially large companies, accountable for the full range of discrimination they may be responsible for,” said Marcia D. Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center.
In his opinion, Justice Scalia said it was unacceptable to allow employment discrimination lawsuits to proceed as huge class actions when monetary awards would be based on a broad formula per plaintiff, without having an individual assessment of how much each plaintiff had suffered.
He wrote that to allow that to happen in the Wal-Mart case, the largest employment class action in American history, would have been hugely unfair to Wal-Mart because it might have had to pay out damages without many of the plaintiffs demonstrating how much they were injured.
Paul Grossman, a lawyer in Los Angeles for the Paul Hastings firm who represents many employers, including Wal-Mart, in employment lawsuits, said employers were seeing many unmeritorious class-action cases. “Now you need a real class action with similarly situated people where common issues predominate,” he said.
Joseph Sellers, one of the top lawyers for the women in the Wal-Mart case, said that as a result of the ruling, there would be more class actions at the store or regional level, where it might not be hard to show that local managers had engaged in sex or age discrimination.
He said the court’s ruling would hurt not just the plaintiffs, but also Wal-Mart, because “this case will be splintered into many cases that may take longer and be harder to resolve.”
Moreover, he said, Wal-Mart and other companies facing these more localized class actions might face “checkered” legal standards “where in one jurisdiction the conduct may be ruled lawful, and in another jurisdiction it may be ruled unlawful.”
Several experts said the ruling would have little effect on securities fraud cases because a misrepresentation by a corporate executive is commonly seen as injuring a company’s whole class of shareholders. Nonetheless, the ruling could make it somewhat harder to bring such securities cases and other class actions by tightening the definition of when there is a common question of law or fact.
John C. Coffee Jr., a professor at the Columbia University School of Law, said one far-reaching aspect of the ruling was that it would greatly discourage lawyers from filing class actions because the court essentially prevented lawyers from adding a claim for back pay or other financial compensation onto a class claim seeking an injunction against conduct, like a company’s discriminating against women in promotions. Under federal law, the standards to gain class-action status when seeking injunctive relief are considerably lower than for back-pay claims.
The Second and Ninth Circuit Courts of Appeal had long allowed plaintiffs to do such “bootstrapping” in injunction cases to achieve class-action status for their claims for back pay. Class actions for injunctive relief are less lucrative to plaintiffs and their lawyers than class actions that also seek back pay.