By Joseph Schuman
Fired over the 'mark of the beast,' a plastics worker sues
The devil is in the details of Billy Hyatt's claims against his former employer – literally.
Hyatt, a Georgia factory worker, argues he was fired from his job at the Pliant plastics factory for refusing to wear a sticker that said "666," according to an Associated Press report. That amounts to religious persecution, says Hyatt, a devout Christian who feared that wearing "the mark of the beast" -- as it's depicted in the Book of Revelation -- would doom him to eternal damnation. Pliant, Summary Judgments readers should know, wasn't promoting devil worship but rather the number of accident-free days at the factory.
Employees got a new sticker each day that streak continued, and Hyatt started getting nervous as the mid-600s neared. On March 12, 2009, he says he told a manager he couldn't wear "666." But he was told in turn that his beliefs were ridiculous and that if he didn't don the sticker he'd be suspended from work for three days. Hyatt chose the suspension, and was then fired a few days later. So he filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which granted him the right to sue Pliant. He wants back pay and punitive damages for being forced to choose between his job and his religious beliefs. Pliant, now known as Berry Plastics, didn't return the AP's calls seeking comment and hasn't yet responded in court.
Portugal rebuffs U.S. claim on convicted murder, hijacker
Extradition is one of the more slippery areas of international law, something fugitive and convicted murderer George Wright must be grateful for today. But American officials are pretty disgusted by a Portuguese court's decision against sending him home.
Wright was convicted for the 1962 murder of a New Jersey gas station attendant during an armed robbery, and was serving a sentence of 15 years to 30 years when he broke out of prison in 1970. Wright might have stayed a local story if he hadn't hijacked Delta Air Lines Flight 841 on its way from Detroit to Miami two years later. After forcing FBI agents dressed only in bathing suits to deliver a $1 million ransom on the Miami tarmac, Wright and his four accomplices eventually got the plane to Algeria, where authorities released the self-proclaimed "revolutionaries" after a few days. The four confederates were later arrested in France, where they convinced authorities not to extradite them on the grounds they wouldn't get a fair trial at home. And after a hijacking trial in France, the two other men involved in the hijacking served five years in prison and the two women involved got three years. But Wright was busy elsewhere.
He married a Portuguese woman and later got Portuguese citizenship, which proved to be his salvation. In September, the FBI tracked him down outside of Lisbon. Portuguese authorities placed him under house arrest as the extradition process began. Wright acknowledged committing the hijacking but fought the return. And on Thursday, a Portuguese court of appeals said it wouldn't order the extradition of a Portuguese citizen. Besides, the court ruled, the statute of limitations on the crime had expired.
The U.S. State and Justice Departments said they are "extremely disappointed." Wright "is a convicted murderer guilty of an extremely serious crime which falls squarely within the terms of our bilateral extradition treaty with Portugal," the State Office of the Spokesperson added. "He is a fugitive from justice. We expect Portugal to abide by its treaty obligations in this case." Officials were mulling the possibility of another appeal and said they weren't giving up hope they'd eventually get him back.
A homicide investigation returns for Natalie Wood
A 30-year-old death is indeed a cold case for homicide authorities to reopen, but considering the victim it's an investigation likely to heat up quickly.
The homicide squad of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department is taking another look at demise of Natalie Wood, who disappeared from the yacht she shared with husband Robert Wagner during Thanksgiving weekend in 1981. "Recently Sheriff’s Homicide Investigators were contacted by persons who stated they had additional information" about the drowning was how the department explained it, according to the Daily Beast. Wood, whose dark eyes first caught hold of Summary Judgments' heart in "West Side Story," was filming "Brainstorm" at the time with Christopher Walken, who was on the yacht, off Catalina Island, with the superstar couple at the time.
At the time Wood's death was declared an accident, law-enforcement officials said Walken and Wagner had been arguing on the yacht after a dinner ashore when Wood went to the bathroom. Officials believed she had gone on deck, tried to reattach a dinghy that was loose, and slipped overboard. Dennis Davern, captain of the boat, and Wood's sister Lana Wood told authorities they thought Wood and Wagner also had been quarreling. Davern and Lana Wood, who co-authored a book about Wood's death, asked the department last year to reopen the case. And though they haven't accused anyone of committing a crime, and the sheriff's department didn't name the source of the new information, they seem to be it.
The unwelcome mats at N.Y. Family Courts
Every unhappy family court in New York City might be unhappy in its own way, but how's the public to know? The New York Times' William Glaberson schlepped around to dozens of family courtrooms around town, and despite a 1997 law mandating openness the guards stopped him from entering nearly every one.
That law came into force at a time when the Family Courts traditionally had been closed to the public, worsening what critics considered a chaotic atmosphere for the lawyers, social-agency representatives and judges who practiced there. That secrecy hid some controversial ways of handling the children and adults whose fates were determined by a system starved of resources. And it contrasted with the general legal principal in New York State and elsewhere in the country that court sittings should be public. So in 1997, the state's chief judge announced that "the Family Court is open to the public," with the only exceptions ordered on a case-by-case basis if particular incidents of domestic abuse, child neglect or juvenile misbehavior warranted privacy.
When Glaberson toured one Family Court in Staten Island, he noted a sign declaring "The court is open to the public." Still, three officers questioned him before he was allowed in, and almost everywhere else Glaberson went, he was stopped by court officers at courtroom doors, often with armed hostility. "You don't just walk in," he was told at one courtroom, and "not allowed, not in Family Court," he heard at another. In one week alone, the Timesman visited 40 courtrooms in the five boroughs and was allowed into just five, some of which had no cases under way.
The administrative judge of the New York City Family Courts, Edwina G. Richardson-Mendelson, tells the Times she was troubled to hear about the closed courtrooms and would review the situation, adding that the rules shouldn't be ignored. But Fordham Law School Professor Leah Hill, an expert on the Family Courts, says for the most part that they are just as unaccountable now as the were before the 1997 law. "There hasn’t really been a public discourse about what goes on in Family Court," Hill says, "and part of the reason is that it is a closed institution."
10,000 Lakes, and One Redistricting Battle
Minnesota may be the land of 10,000 lakes, but it is home
to one giant redistricting battle, according to this report at ProPublica. Redistricting, that once-a-decade ritual, is big
political business: national party representation can rise and
fall on the size and location of certain Congressional
districts. So it's no surprise that these battles have gotten
nastier over the years.
In Minnesota, the current battle turns on who can weigh in
on an unfolding legal drama in the state. Minnesota's
legislators and governor couldn't agree on a plan, so a
redistricting scheme will be decided by a court-appointed
panel. But nothing is easy in the courts, as we know.
The rub? The deadline by which public participants could
weigh in with their plans was in October, before the panel
announced the criteria by which it would decide the
redistricting. Political parties have until November 18,
however, to submit their plans.
Common Cause Minnesota, which says it wants to encourage
more voter participation, says that's cutting off the public
from the political process, and has filed a request to submit a
so-called friend-of-the-court brief with a map based on citizen
input. If Common Cause's brief is accepted, the move will
effectively allow citizens to offer suggestions past the
Common Cause's tactic has some people calling foul. "Common
Cause wants to come in after everyone else has shot their wad,"
ProPublica quotes a lawyer for Minnesota Republicans as saying.
Specifically, Republicans have objected in court to Common
Cause's attempt to use a friend-of-the-court brief to
accomplish what they say should have been done earlier through
the public comment process.
Mike Dean, head of Common Cause Minnesota, says it couldn't
have submitted its map before the panel's criteria were
"I wanted to give people a chance to amend their maps in
light of the new criteria," he tells ProPublica.
Some people involved in judging the redistricting maps
don't seem to think it's a fair fight. "Let's face it,"
ProPublica quotes Larry Jacobs, of the University of Minnesota,
one of four judges, "the insiders have all the cards, and the
people on the outside have pea shooters."
(additional reporting by Carlyn Kolker)
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