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News Briefs

Senate Approves Bush Plan To Curb Class-Action Litigation


Handing President Bush a significant victory, the Senate overwhelmingly approved a measure on Thursday that would sharply limit the ability of people to file class-action lawsuits against companies.

The measure, adopted 72-26, now heads to the House of Representatives, where Republican leaders say it will be approved next week and sent to the White House for Bush’s signature.

The measure would prohibit state courts from hearing many kinds of cases that they now consider, transferring them to federal courts. Experts say that the practical impact of the legislation will be that many cases will not be able to be brought, since federal judges have been constrained by a series of legal precedents from considering large class actions that involve varying laws of different states.

The legislation also makes it more difficult for class-action lawsuits to be settled by payments of coupons for goods and services instead of cash by the defendants, a practice that has been heavily criticized by Democrats and Republicans.

The measure will not affect pending cases.

Lawyer Convicted of Aiding Terrorism


Lynne F. Stewart, an outspoken lawyer known for aggressively defending a long list of unpopular clients, was convicted Thursday by a federal jury in Manhattan of aiding Islamic terrorism by smuggling messages out of jail from a terrorist client.

In a startlingly sweeping verdict, Stewart was convicted on all five counts of providing material aid to terrorism and of lying to the government when she pledged to obey federal gag rules imposed on her client, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman. Her two co-defendants, Ahmed Abdel Sattar and Mohamed Yousry, were also convicted of all the charges against them.

The verdict was a major victory for Justice Department prosecutors in one of the country’s most important terror cases since the Sept. 11 attacks. Stewart’s April 2002 indictment was announced in Washington by John Ashcroft, then the attorney general, and the verdict was hailed Thursday by his successor, Alberto R. Gonzales.

The convictions “send a clear, unmistakable message that this department will pursue both those who carry out acts of terrorism and those who assist them with their murderous goals,” Gonzales said.

After an exhausting trial that lasted more than seven months, the jurors announced their verdict after 12 days of deliberations that spanned four weeks. In recent days the jurors asked for dozens of government exhibits that went to the question of whether Stewart intended to help the sheik’s terrorist followers. One juror complained to the judge at one point of being harshly treated by another juror.

Microsoft and Pfizer File Lawsuits Against Sources of Viagra Spam


Microsoft Corp. and drug company Pfizer Inc. are taking aim at those seemingly endless advertisements for fake Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs that constantly flood the in-boxes of virtually all men who use e-mail.

The two companies on Thursday announced they had filed 17 lawsuits against online pharmacies they say sent hundreds of millions of unwanted e-mail ads, or spam, to users of Microsoft’s Hotmail e-mail program last year alone.

“If you’ve ever received unwanted spam, you’ve probably received spam about Viagra,” said Microsoft attorney Aaron Kornblum.

According to some industry estimates, one out of every four pieces of e-mail spam are advertisements for fake Viagra or similar drugs.

The lawsuits specifically target what Microsoft and Pfizer characterize as “international spam rings,” run by the companies or individuals behind the Web sites cndpharmacy.com and myepharmacydirect.com, Ezydrugstore.com and others.

Additionally, Viagra maker Pfizer took legal action alleging trademark violations against companies or individuals operating 10 Web sites with names such as www.viagrastories.com, www.cheapviagrastore.com and www.viagra.com.ua.

Senator Says U.S. Tried to Sway Canada on Hyperactivity Drug


Officials at the Food and Drug Administration asked Canadian regulators to refrain from suspending the use of the hyperactivity drug Adderall XR, because the FDA could not handle another “drug safety crisis,” according to Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, who said Thursday that he based his claims on reports from whistle-blowers in the FDA.

Dr. Robert Peterson, director general of the therapeutic products directorate at Health Canada, said through a spokeswoman that the reports “are untrue.”

Brad Stone, a spokesman for the FDA, said, “We believe the Canadian response is the correct one.”

Canadian health officials, citing 20 deaths among patients taking Adderall XR, announced Wednesday night that they were suspending sales of the hyperactivity drug indefinitely. The FDA is allowing the drug’s sales to continue in the United States, saying there is little evidence that Adderall XR caused the deaths.

Grassley, who has been investigating the FDA for about a year, demanded in a letter written Thursday that the FDA answer questions about any discussions with the Canadians over the drug.

Dr. Robert Temple, director of the FDA office of medical affairs, said that its Adderall decision was not influenced by the controversies swirling around the agency. “It’s still our job to get as close as we can to the right answer and not panic and do things for the wrong reasons,” Temple said.