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News Briefs

Class-Action Lawsuits Target Alleged Defects in Votomatic

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- WASHINGTON

Two class-action lawsuits aimed at reforming voting procedures were filed Tuesday challenging the longtime use of punch-card voting systems with pre-scored cards, commonly known as Votomatic systems.

One of the lawsuits, filed in Tallahassee, Fla., on behalf of the state’s voters, challenges approval of the Votomatic system by Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris and the use of the system by 15 Florida counties.

The lawsuit alleges that the Votomatic has inherent defects that render it unable to count votes accurately and that its use therefore deprives Floridians of equal voting rights under the U.S. and Florida constitutions.

It further alleges past failure to comply with Florida state law requiring that voting equipment count votes accurately.

In the second lawsuit, filed in St. Clair, Ill., voters in 28 states that use Votomatic systems have named as defendants the companies that sell products and services necessary for ongoing use of the Votomatic.

Voters allege that these companies sell and market Votomatic products and services while failing to provide notice of serious defects in the Votomatic system that render it unable to count votes accurately.

“It has been known for at least 30 years that the Votomatic is inherently defective and unable to count votes accurately,” said Washington attorney Matthew F. Pawa, a prominent class-action lawyer. “There is no excuse for its continued use.”

Confident Prosecutors Urge Dropping Lesser Lockerbie Charges

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- LONDON

Prosecutors summarizing their case in the eight-month Lockerbie trial on Tuesday urged Scottish judges to drop lesser charges and convict the two Libyan defendants of murder for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.

Attorney Alastair Campbell acknowledged that the prosecution case was circumstantial but said that the accused had been proved guilty “beyond reasonable doubt” by the evidence and testimony of more than 200 witnesses.

“Mathematical certainty is neither necessary nor achievable,” Campbell told the panel of four judges at a special high-security court in the Netherlands. Nonetheless, he insisted, “the evidence comes from a number of sources which, when taken together, provided a corroborated case both as to the commission of the crime and the identity of the perpetrators.”

The prosecution alleges that Adel Basset Ali Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah are Libyan intelligence agents who worked for Libyan Arab Airlines at Luqa Airport in Malta when they sent an unaccompanied, bomb-laden suitcase to Frankfurt, Germany, where it was transferred to London and loaded onto the New-York bound Pan Am flight. The Boeing 747 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people, most of whom were Americans.

Supreme Court Ruling Erodes Clean Water Act

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- WASHINGTON

The Supreme Court’s conservative majority Tuesday cut back on federal protection for the environment, ruling that the Clean Water Act does not reach the isolated ponds and wetlands that are home to millions of migratory birds.

In a 5-4 ruling, the court said that federal officials can protect waterways that are navigable or marshes that drain into navigable waters -- but not landlocked ponds, wetlands or mudflats.

The decision overturns the so-called “migratory bird rule” under which the Army Corps of Engineers prevented landowners from filling or polluting wetlands.

The small glacial ponds that dot the Upper Midwest are the principal breeding grounds for North American waterfowl. Until now, federal officials have had the power to prevent these so-called “prairie potholes” from being drained or destroyed.

Environmentalists condemned the ruling and said that it left vulnerable the vital habitats of ducks, geese, herons and other birds.

“The decision today puts in jeopardy perhaps a fifth of the water bodies in the United States, ranging from parts of the Everglades to the country’s most important breeding grounds for ducks,” said Tim Searchinger, senior attorney for Environmental Defense in Washington.

‘Mad Cow’ Crisis Costs Two German Ministers Their Jobs

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- BERLIN

Germany’s “mad cow” crisis felled its first victims Tuesday, as Health Minister Andrea Fischer and Agriculture Minister Karl-Heinz Funke were forced to resign for failing to halt the spread of the disease to this country after it had already killed at least 80 people across Europe.

None of the recent cases discovered here has yet been linked to illness in humans, but the shocking revelations that Germany is tainted after years of official assurances to the contrary have shaken public faith in government and in the purity of some of Germans’ favorite foods.

The departures of Fischer, a member of the environmentalist Greens party, and Funke, from Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s Social Democrats, are likely to do little to ease the near-hysteria among the public about the outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE. In fact, the resignations only spotlighted the crisis of confidence afflicting a government that had until recently been basking in popular support for bringing down double-digit unemployment and reforming ossified tax and pension systems.