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News Briefs

U.S. Endorses Plan to Help Reduce Haze at National Parks in West

LOS ANGELES TIMES

In an effort to clear away a veil of haze from the West’s premier national parks, the Bush administration announced on Thursday it intends to approve plans to slash emissions from power plants and other sources.

At a meeting in Salt Lake City sponsored by the Western Governors Association, U.S. Environmental Protection Administrator Christie Whitman endorsed a pollution-control plan formulated by a partnership of nine states, Indian tribes and environmental groups over the past decade. The plan aims to cut pollutants that obscure visibility at many national parks and wilderness areas.

“I believe the plan that the partnership has presented is an innovative approach to improving air quality, and EPA shares goals of protecting some of America’s most treasured national parks and wilderness areas,” Whitman said.

Among the celebrated landscapes expected to benefit from the plan are the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona and Bryce and Canyonlands national parks in Utah. Smoke from power plants, smelters and factories dotting the West is a major source of haze that dramatically impairs visibility and rains acids on fragile ecosystems.

Judge Promises Swift Decision As HP Trial Wraps Up

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- WILMINGTON, DELAWARE

The courtroom battle to block Hewlett-Packard Co.’s acquisition of Compaq Computer Corp. came to an end Thursday without a knockout blow by either side.

Chancellor William Chandler III of Delaware’s Chancery Court has ordered each side to submit final briefs by midnight Friday. Chandler said he expects to rule quickly, although the volume of materials presented in the three-day trial suggests to some experts that the opinion may take several days or longer.

Legal experts say the company will almost certainly appeal to the Supreme Court of Delaware if dissident HP director Walter Hewlett prevails in his lawsuit to void the merger vote.

Final certification of the proxy vote to confirm the merger is expected at any time. HP hopes to launch the merged company May 7. It will conduct a regularly scheduled shareholder meeting Friday; Hewlett’s term on the HP board also ends Friday, as HP board members failed to renominate him.

Hewlett’s suit claims that HP officials misrepresented key data about the merger’s benefits and hid financial weaknesses from shareholders and from its own board. It alleges that HP Chief Executive Carly Fiorina and others used threats and promises of new business to coerce institutional shareholders, including Deutsche Bank, to support the merger.

Global Fund Awards $616M To Fight Scourges

THE WASHINGTON POST

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Thursday awarded $616 million to programs in more than 40 countries to pay for prevention and treatment of those three scourges of the world’s poor.

The awards will consume a substantial amount of the $2 billion currently in the fund. Because the money will pay for many programs that will put AIDS patients on anti-retroviral therapy, Thursday’s event may be the start of a long-term financial commitment.

The grants, the first to be made by the nearly year-old fund, finance programs for two years, with additional support contingent on the programs’ performance. Award recipients range from a South African AIDS program with a five-year budget of $93 million to a two-year project in Panama with a budget of $570,000. A second round of grants will be awarded in November.

The multi-year awards, and the size of the initial outlay, means the Global Fund will have to raise a lot more money for an indefinite period if it wants to keep dozens of newly formed, grass-roots programs from folding. Such an outcome was viewed as unlikely by many advocates, who viewed Thursday’s events as the start of a new era.

Court Makes It Easier to Commit Repeat Sex Offenders

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- SAN FRANCISCO

The California Supreme Court made it tougher Thursday for serial sex offenders to win release from state mental hospitals.

The state court, acting in the case of serial rapist Patrick Ghilotti, established a legal standard that will allow judges to keep sexually violent predators locked up if two state-appointed mental health experts determine the inmate presents a “substantial danger” to society.

This will permit the state to commit offenders who are deemed to have less than a 50 percent chance of attacking again, the court ruled. Defense attorneys had argued that offenders should be released from state hospitals unless they were more likely than not to rape or molest again.

At issue was the meaning of a 1996 California law that allows the state to commit repeat sex offenders after their prison terms if the felons are “likely” to commit sexual violence again.

The ruling will affect hundreds of sex criminals who have been locked up in California mental hospitals. It also will give the state a second chance to keep Ghilotti confined to Atascadero State Hospital.

Ghilotti, 46, was set to be freed in Marin County last December after three mental health experts found he was not “likely” to reoffend. A Marin County judge and a Court of Appeal refused to stop his release, but the state Supreme Court intervened.

In its 5-2 ruling, the court said Marin County Superior Court Judge John S. Graham should again review Ghilotti’s case to determine whether his psychological evaluators complied with its new “substantial danger” standard.