Thursday, May 31, 2007

Joplin Globe officials deny sexual harassment claims

In documents filed Wednesday in U. S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri. Joplin Globe officials denied a former page inserter's claim that she was sexually harassed when she worked at the newspaper.

In her petition, filed Jan. 23, Kathleen Willis claimed the Globe created a "hostile work environment" by "allowing its employees and agents to make unwanted sexual advances and contact with (Ms. Willis) and fellow female employees."

Ms. Willis says that after she complained to supervisors about the sexual harassment her employment schedule was changed and after she filed a complaint she "was threatened with the loss of her job." Ms. Willis says no action was ever taken against any of the people who were doing the harassment.

Ms. Willis said one of her fellow employees touched her and other female employees on the "breasts, waist, and rear" but even after complaints "nothing was ever done." She said that after he complaints, her supervisor told her "Someone is going to get fired and it might be you."

The three-count petition charged the Globe with creating a hostile work environment, sex discrimination, and retaliation. Ms. Willis is asking for actual damages, compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorney fees.

Tribune blog: Speaker race filled with intrigue

The battle to succeed Rod Jetton as Missouri Speaker of the House is heating up, though Jetton will hold that position until January 2009.
The Turner Report, in a post Wednesday, noted the fundraising battle between the two announced contenders, Rep. Ron Richard, R-Joplin, and Rep. Allen Icet, R-Wildwood, a battle which should see both men doing their best to connect with special interests who can provide them with funding to pass along to other representatives and to the House Republican Campaign Committee. Richard got a head start in that area by contributing $25,000 to the HRCC, thanks to a Jan. 2 fundraiser in which he received $45,000, much of it from lobbyists.

Another aspect of the Speaker race, the decision to push the vote up to this fall, is addressed in a thoroughly developed post from Jason Rosenbaum on the Columbia Tribune Political Blog. Jetton says he does not plan to leave his post early:

He added the fact that he is not running for another office - which is another deviation from a trend - could help his party.

"It is problematic when the Speaker who is term-limited and leaving is running for another office. If they're leaving to run for another office, they're usually out fundraising for themselves," Jetton said. "They're usually looking at how issues are going to affect their statewide race. And all that plays into decisions as they're made. The nice thing about me, and the things I think are helpful to the caucus, is I don’t have to worry about positioning myself on any issues for a statewide race. I don’t have to go out and raise money for my own campaign for a statewide race. My focus is how it's been in the last few years is to help lead the House in the best way possible to try to develop a path to issues that our caucus feels are important."

National Journal: GOP officials were afraid fee office scandal would hurt Talent, other Republican candidates

In a copyrighted article in the National Journal, reporter Murray Waas begins connecting the dots between the push to combat alleged voter fraud in Missouri, the firing of U. S. attorney Bud Cummins, and the fee office scandal surrounding Governor Matt Blunt's administration.

At the center of the story is Lathrop & Gage attorney and Bush operative Thor Hearne:

Last year's neck-and-neck Senate race in Missouri between Republican incumbent Jim Talent and Democratic challenger Claire McCaskill was a high-profile contest for both political parties. Democratic and Republican operatives were looking for any edge they could find in the race, which McCaskill ended up winning narrowly.

Republicans feared that an investigation of the Blunt administration by the U.S. attorney in Arkansas, Bud Cummins, could tar Blunt and hurt Talent and other GOP candidates on the ballot. Blunt himself was not up for re-election. The investigation was spurred by allegations that the Blunt administration had improperly awarded state contracts to political contributors to run privately operated bureaus where Missouri residents obtain driver's licenses and register their vehicles. Because of potential conflicts of interest, the U.S. attorneys in Missouri weren't handling the investigation.

Cummins said in an interview that a former senior Justice Department official from the Bush administration, William Mateja, repeatedly contacted him during the investigation and asked whether Blunt was implicated in the corruption probe. Cummins said he was unaware at the time that Mateja was making his calls at the behest of Hearne, whose law firm had retained Mateja on Blunt's behalf.

The article features considerable information about Hearne, including the fact, mentioned previously in this blog, that Hearne wrote the photo voter ID bill, which Sen. Delbert Scott, R-Lowry City, has tried to pass for the past two legislative sessions.

Appeals court upholds conviction in 2003 Joplin murder

The Missouri Southern District Court of Appeals today upheld the murder conviction of William R. Hartman, 65, Joplin.

The following description of the crime was included in the opinion:

On February 4, 2003, Defendant and his wife, Sherry Hartman, entertained several friends at their home in Joplin, drinking and eating dinner together. Their guests included the victim, Alfred Smith ("Smitty"), Curtis Downton, and John Adams and his girlfriend, Tina Schacht. At some point in the evening, Defendant, Smitty and Downton began fighting. Smitty was yelling loudly, and Defendant and Downton pushed him out of the house. They then pushed Smitty off of the porch and into the street, where the three men continued to fight. When the men reached the other side of the street, Defendant "slew" Smitty into a ditch. Defendant then crushed Smitty’s face with a rock. Defendant and Downton left Smitty lying in the ditch and returned to Defendant’s house.
The next morning around 6 a.m., Adams woke up and left his house, which was near Defendant’s house, to walk to work. As Adams walked by the ditch across from Defendant’s house, he saw a body lying in the ditch. He ran to his landlord’s house, told him about the body, and asked him to call 9-1-1. The men walked back over to the ditch and looked at the body; Adams then realized that it was Smitty.
Paramedics arrived at the scene and attached a cardiac monitor to Smitty to see if there was any cardiac activity; there was none. Sergeant Michael Hobson was the first officer to respond to the scene around 7:20 a.m. Smitty’s body was lying face-up in the ditch with his face swollen and bloody. Sergeant Hobson recognized the victim as Alfred "Smitty" Smith. He then called in some other officers and secured the crime scene.
The pathologist who performed the autopsy determined that Smitty died as a result of severe blunt-force trauma to the face that caused a subdural hematoma. His injuries were consistent with being hit at least twice in the head. In the pathologist’s opinion, the two rocks found at the scene lying on either side of Smitty’s head could have caused his death if used with enough force. Red stains on the rocks were later determined to be human blood.

Hartman did not claim innocence in his appeal, but said hearsay testimony was improperly allowed, and photo enlargements prejudiced the jury,

Blunt to visit Anderson for sprinkler bill signing

With all of the traveling Governor Matt Blunt has done in recent days to sign bills, it should come as no surprise that he plans to come to Anderson 10 a.m. Friday to sign Rep. Kevin Wilson's bill mandating sprinkler systems for group homes into law.

While I rarely see anything positive about these purely political multiple signing stops, this one should be an exception. The signing will take place at the location of the Anderson Guest House where a November 2006 fire took 11 lives and provided the impetus for the Wilson bill.

Though changes in the bill have made it less effective than it should have been, it is still an important step to protecting people who have no way of protecting themselves. For this bill to be signed into law only a few months after the fire is a sign that our elected representatives do spend time working on meaningful legislation.

McClatchy report: Griffin to leave U. S. attorney position tomorrow

Karl Rove buddy Tim Griffin, who replaced fired U. S. attorney Bud Cummins in Arkansas, will resign effective tomorrow, according to a report from McClatchy Newspapers' Washington Bureau. (Thanks to Heartland Diary of Betty B for pointing me to this article.)

Cummins, of course, was fired not too long after he began an investigation into Governor Matt Blunt's awarding of fee offices, including a number connected to associates and relatives of Sixth District Congressman Sam Graves:

Griffin at one point might have stayed on through the remainder of Bush's term. But when it was revealed that he was installed using a change to the USA Patriot Act that took away the Senate's power to reject him, Griffin said he would stay on only until a permanent replacement was nominated. As of Wednesday, it was unclear who that nominee would be. The Justice Department notified Congress that Griffin's first assistant, Jane W. Duke, would serve as acting U.S. attorney.

Snarling Marmot weighs in on anonymous blogging

Springfield News-Leader Editorial Page Editor Tony Messenger's recent criticism of anonymous blogging continues to reverberate throughout the blogosphere.
The latest to weigh in is one of the top bloggers in southwest Missouri, the Snarling Marmot:

Blogs are not newspapers. While I will submit that those of us in the blogosphere are providing some form of information, in most cases we aren't being paid for it we’re PAYING to do it. And like any enterprising business owner, we will blog and identify as we see fit. Anyone who is reading a blog without that knowledge in the back of his or her mind probably isn't playing with a full deck.

If Tony Messenger's purpose was to start a discussion on the topic of anonymous blogging (and I'm sure that played a big part in his post), then he certainly has succeeded.

More fun for Simpson, AG aide fired after national background check

If former Joplin Globe Editor Edgar Simpson was looking for a new job with plenty of challenges when he left Missouri to take a post as chief of staff to newly-elected Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann, he should be a happy man.

As reported in the May 4 Turner Report, Simpson had to deal with Dann's decision to buy a $40,000 SUV for the attorney general's office from a campaign contributor, when he could have bought one through the state's purchasing system for slightly less than $26,000.

An article in today's edition of the Warren Tribune-Chronicle, the paper Simpson once served as editor, reveals Dann's driver has been fired after a conviction surfaced during a national background check:

Ed Simpson, chief of policy and administration, said the Attorney General's Office now plans to "institute a new policy of using national background checks for all new hires."

The more extensive searches will apply to all employees hired after Dann took office on Jan. 8, according to a statement released Wednesday evening.

"Marc’s administration is committed to the highest level of integrity. The purpose of the background checks is to reveal potential problems. The system works, and we have taken appropriate action," Simpson wrote.

Interestingly, the attorney general's office pointedly refused to reveal any information about the driver's conviction. The Tribune-Chronicle has filed a freedom of information request. Edgar Simpson, the editor, would be proud.

Update, June 1- The driver had been convicted of involuntary manslaughter, according to an article in the Youngstown Vindicator:

Records obtained Thursday by The Vindicator from the Mercer County Clerk of Courts show that Nelson, then 25, was arrested Sept. 6, 1975, on felony charges of criminal homicide and voluntary manslaughter.

The charges were related to the death of John M. Smith, 25, of West Middlesex, Pa., in the home of a Greenville, Pa., woman.

A Pennsylvania State Police report states Smith died of a gunshot wound to his neck. The woman told police in 1975 that Nelson was angry and forced his way into her home through a window. Police say when they arrived, Nelson had blood on his hands.

Nelson agreed to a plea bargain March 5, 1976, and was convicted of a misdemeanor count of involuntary manslaughter. He was sentenced to serve 11 1/2 months to 23 months. Nelson spent March 5, 1976, to June 28, 1976, at the Mercer County Jail. He was then transferred to a halfway house in Sharon, staying there until Dec. 15, 1976.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Lobbyists' money playing key role in Speaker race

While it seems to have been overlooked by most of the state media, the $25,000 donated March 1 by Rep. Ron Richard to the Missouri House Republican Campaign Committee was a major coup in his quest to replace Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, as speaker of the house.

Statesmanship is an added plus, but these days, on both the state and national levels, the quality that is most prized is the ability to raise big bucks for party candidates and on that basis Richard made a clean first strike.

With Joplin CPA Nick Myers as his campaign treasurer, and new rules allowing unlimited campaign contributions, Richard garnered more than $48,000 in contributions since the 30 days after the election report.

More than $45,000 of that amount, as I noted in the April 14 Turner Report, came from a Jan. 2 fundraiser at a swank Jefferson City eating establishment:

That amount included more than $11,000 from lobbyists, bundled with money from their clients, $7,500 from seven Missouri Bankers Association regional political action committees, $2,550 from casino interests, and more than $5,300 from out-of-state interests.

Among the lobbyists dropping big bucks in Richard's collection plate were:

Election Day Enterprises- Election Days Enterprises is the political consulting firm owned by lobbyist and former State Representative Jewell Patek, $1,275

Mark Rhoads- Rhoads is the lobbyist for Harrah's Entertainment and Blue Cross Blue Shield, $1,000 from Rhoads, $325 from Blue Cross Blue Shield, $1,275 from Harrah's

Penman & Winton Consulting Group, Inc.- The lobbying firm, which represents AT*t, chipped in with $500

John Bardgett- The man considered by some to be Missouri's most powerful lobbyist kicked in with $1,275, while his client Missouri Cable PAC donated $2,000. The lobbying firm of Bardgett & Associates also contributed $1,275.

Roy Cagle- The lobbyist and former state representative from Joplin, who represents the Missouri Finance Institute, contributed $500.

Harness and Associates- Lobbyist Kathryn Harness' firm, which represents Northport Health Services and the Missouri Beer Wholesalers, among other clients, donated $200

The Giddens and Russell Group- The lobbying firm, which represents Altria. gave $1,000, with Altria adding

Michael Reid- Reid, who represents the Missouri School Boards Association, contributed $500.

Harry Gallagher- Though Gallagher's name was nowhere to be seen on the campaign disclosure form, the lobbying powerhouse delivered three of his clients, the aforementioned Missouri Insurance Coalition, R. J. Reynolds, which contributed $1,000 and $500 from Competitive Enterprise Growth PAC, which is the front of Texas-based beer and liquor distributor Glazer's.

Out of state interests contributing to Richard, in addition to R. J. Reynolds, Competitive Enterprise Growth, and Harrah's were:

Specialty Finance Corporation, Spartanburg, N. C., $1,000; Keith and Cathy Burdick, Jenks, Okla., $500, Brundage Management Company, San Antonio, Texas, $500; Longview Communications, Reston, Va., $100; Community Loans of America, Atlanta, Ga., $500; Comcast, Southfield, Mich., $1,000.

Others giving to Richard included:

MBA (Missouri Bankers Association) Truman Region PAC $1,200; MBA Ozark Region PAC, $1,200; MBA Gateway Region PAC, $1,200; MBA State PAC, $1,200; MBA Mark Twain PAC, $1,200; MBA River Heritage Region PAC $1,200; MBA Capitol Region PAC, $300; Land Trust No. 125 LLC, O'Fallon, $1,250; Dealers Interested in Government, Jefferson City, $200; The Missouri Gaming Company, Riverside, $1,275; Missouri Health Care Association PAC, Jefferson City, $1,275; CNS Corporation, Kansas City, $1,000; Missouri Hospital Association Southwest District PAC, Jefferson City, $650; Missouri Podiatry PAC, Jefferson City, $200; Freeman Physicians Group, Joplin, $1,275; Gary and Suzanne Duncan, Joplin, $1,275; Elect Nodler Committee, Joplin, $500; Christopher and Barbara Doering, Chesterfield, $500; The Swan Group, Columbia, $500; Havenwood LLC, O'Fallon, $1,250; Citizens for Jay Wasson, Nixa, $1,275; Missouri Forest Products PAC, Jefferson City, $300; Missouri Association of Municipal Utilities, $500; MOSFA PAC, Inc., Jefferson City, $500; New Wave Communications, Sikeston, $100; District One Missouri Health Care Association, Jefferson City, $1,275; Missouri Health Care Association PAC, Jefferson City, $1,275; Realtors PAC of Missouri, Columbia, $1,275; Home Building Industry PAC, St. Louis, $1,200; Missouri Chamber PAC, Jefferson City, $1,275; Empire District Electric Company, Joplin, $1,275; Suddenlink Missouri PAC, DePrees, $300; Missouri Optometric PAC, Jefferson City, $1,275; Missouri Association of Insurance Agents, Jefferson City, $1,000

Richard did considerably better than his opponent for the spaker position, Rep. Allen Icet, who did not contribute a cent to any party or candidate committees during the first quarter, according to his disclosure report. In fact, of the $20,000 spent by his campaign, $8,671.09 went to Keller and Associates, a Jefferson City fundraising outfit.

Still, Icet was able to rake in $7,700 in donations from lobbyists or donations that can be linked to lobbyists, more than a third of the $20,800 he received during the reporting period. These include:

-$6,150 from various clients of the powerhouse lobbying firm of Gamble & Schlemeier, the firm represents Missouri Health Care Association, Missouri Hospital Association and Ameristar Casinos, among a host of other clients. The contributions were credited to Emergency Medicine, Residential Care Facility PAC, Missouri Pharmacy PAC and Missouri Physicians Assistant. Most of those contributions came from the address for Gamble & Schlemeier. Icet received $3,500 from Missouri Health Care Association.

-$300 from Brent Evans, lobbyist for Missouri Hospital Association

-$325 from Brent Hemphill & Associates, lobbyists for AT&T, Penn National Gaming, and Argosy Gaming.

-$325 from Sherry Doctorian, lobbyist for Armstrong Teasdale and St. Louis University, among a number of clients.

-$325 from Patek & Associates, the firm operated by former State Rep. Jewell Patek, whose 32 clients include Sprint Nextel, Southeast Missouri State University, National Strategies, Inc., and Kansas City Power and Light.

-$325 from Election Day Enterprises, a consulting firm operated by Patek.

It should be interesting to see what the July disclosure reports show.

Appeals court orders new trial in McDonald County obscenity case

In an opinion issued today, the Missouri Southern District Court of Appeals ordered a new trial for the owner of an adult business in McDonald County.

Robert Crump, owner of Midnight Video, was convicted in 2006 on three misdemeanor counts of promoting obscenity, based on a number of controlled buys by a member of the Southwest Missouri Drug Task Force at the request of the McDonald County prosecuting attorney:

A jury trial was held on June 15 and 16, 2006. As previously set out, Appellant was convicted of all three counts of promoting obscenity in the second degree.
Appellant raises three points of trial court error. Appellant's second point relied on is dispositive. It asserts the trial court erred in overruling Appellant's motion to dismiss the information filed against him "because the information was defective in that the affidavit of probable cause as required by Rule 21.04, failed to state facts to support a finding of probable cause to believe a crime was committed because it failed to state any facts describing the contents of the videos."
The State concedes the trial court erred in overruling Appellant's motion to dismiss the information and joins Appellant in requesting our reversal of Appellant's conviction and remand for a new trial. The State recites that it "has thoroughly researched [the second point] and both parties after full consideration . . . agree that the case law is clear and convincing beyond any doubt that that point is meritorious and Appellant's conviction should be reversed. Neither party contends this point of error was harmless." The State also asserts "[t]hat Appellant's point II is so convincing it renders the other two points moot and neither party wants to cause this Honorable Court to be required to review the six hours of sexually explicit 'adult' material under point III." Appellant's second point relied on has merit. We reverse the judgment and sentence of the trial court and remand the matter for a new trial pursuant to the stipulation of the parties.

Natural Disaster to perform at Carthage Relay for Life

Our band, Natural Disaster, is the opening act for the annual Carthage Relay for Life for the American Cancer Society this Friday.
We are scheduled to be on stage from a little after 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
I hope to see some of you there.

Prosecution rests in Black trial

The prosecution rested its case today in the fraud trial of former Hollinger International CEO Conrad Black.
Black is charged with looting Hollinger of millions of dollars while selling off its assets, including its American newspapers, two of which were The Carthage Press and the Neosho Daily News.
The prosecution dropped a money laundering charge against Black.
The defense will begin presenting its case Thursday.

PubDef considers westward move

With the demise of the free KC Buzz Blog, Antonio French of PubDef is considering a westward expansion into coverage of Kansas City politics.

If French follows through with this plan and does the same thing for the Kansas City area that his blog does for St. Louis, I would wager no one will miss KC Buzz Blog (does anyone really miss it anyway) and the Kansas City Star's pay-for-view Prime Buzz might meet an early demise.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Bearden's ties to health care industry extend to campaign contributions

House Speaker Pro Tem Carl Bearden, R-St. Charles, was attacked by Missouri Democrats today for pushing legislation favorable to nursing homes while pulling down a paycheck from the industry's chief lobbying group, the Missouri Health Care Association.
In their news release, Democrats provided a link to Bearden's disclosure form filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission, which indicates he is not only on the payroll of MHCA, but also works for Associated Industries of Missouri, the same firm that employs Rep. Steve Hunter, R-Joplin, as a membership recruiter, and for the lobbying firm DK Governmental Solutions, whose client list includes numerous St. Charles area interests.

Why is this important? According to the Democrats' press release:

During the 2007 legislative session, Bearden aided the nursing home lobby in getting a nine percent increase in their daily Medicaid provider rate, which will cost taxpayers roughly $30 million next fiscal year. Nine percent was more than twice what most other health care providers received in the state budget passed earlier this month.

But there is more to Carl Bearden's relationship with the Missouri Health Care Association than is mentioned in the Democratic Party's news release.

An examination of campaign finance documents filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission indicates Bearden receives his pay from Missouri Health Care Association in more than one way.
In the first quarter disclosure form filed in April, Bearden received $100 from lobbyist Harvey Tettlebaum, whose clients include MHCA.

A total of $1,750 in contributions came from clients of powerhouse lobbyist William Gamble, who added Missouri Health Care Association to his client list in October 2006. Bearden's disclosure form shows $500 from the Emergency Medicine PAC, $750 from the Missouri Pharmacy PAC, and $500 from the Missouri Physician Assistant Committee, all Gamble clients.

Missouri Health Care Association's disclosure form, filed with the Ethics Commission, shows it contributed $650 to the Bearden campaign on March 1. No such contribution is shown on Bearden's campaign documents.

Another example of the organization's generosity to Bearden can be seen in the 30 days after the primary election report, filed Sept. 5, 2006. Bearden's contribution list included then-maximum $325 contributions from MHCA District 1, MHCA District 2, MHCA lobbyist Scott Swain, and MHCA Executive Director Jon Dolan.

Supreme Court orders third trial for convicted Joplin murderer

The Missouri Supreme Court today ordered yet a third capital murder trial for Gary Black, who has been convicted twice in the racially motivated 1998 murder of Missouri Southern student-athlete Jason Johnson.

In the opinion, the justices ruled that Black should have been permitted to act as his own attorney, a request that was denied by Jasper County Circuit Court Judge Jon Dermott:

The record here leaves no doubt that Black asserted his right both unequivocally and in a timely manner. At least five times, beginning more than a year before the retrial began, Black made clear to the trial court that he did not want an attorney to represent him, with at least three of his written requests citing Faretta for the proposition that his right to represent himself was fundamental. After the trial court clearly rejected Black's unequivocal and timely assertion of his right to represent himself, he was not required to make further fruitless motions or forgo cooperation with defense counsel to preserve the issue for appeal. The record also fails to establish that Black's waiver of counsel was not intelligent and knowing. As such, the trial court erred in refusing to honor Black's requests to represent himself simply because it believed his attorneys could do better.

The opinion includes the following exchange between Black and Judge Dermott:

COURT: . . . Mr. Black, it appears to me that assigned counsel are working diligently on your behalf. They have the benefit of law degrees and experience in criminal cases. It seems to the Court that you're much better served by having counsel than not having counsel. And so for that reason I'm going to overrule the motion. If you want to retain counsel of your choosing, why the Court would permit you to do that. But in the absence of retained counsel, the Court thinks you're better served by having capable counsel. The Court will make a docket entry simply overruling that motion.

MR. BLACK: In other words, you don't think I'm qualified to represent myself, Your Honor?

COURT: That's true. I think you're less qualified than your attorney. As far as I know you have not been to law school and have not defended criminal cases, you're not licensed to practice law, and so I would assume that assigned counsel is more capable than you of representing you.

The following background on the case is taken from the Sept. 22, 2005, Turner Report:

It wasn't the first time Jason Johnson had heard the names. When you're African-American and live in southwest Missouri, the unfortunate fact of life is there are going to be times when you're going to be called every vile racial epithet in the book. But this time was different. This was the last time anyone would ever call Jason Johnson by that evil name, that six-letter word that starts with the letter n.
The fountain of red spurting from his throat spelled the end of the line for Jason. In a few moments, he would pass out due to lack of oxygen. After he was rushed to Freeman Hospital, it was determined quickly that he had suffered brain damage. Within a couple of days, Jason Johnson, a student at Missouri Southern State College, was dead. He had drowned in his own blood, the victim of a fatal stabbing. The man who stabbed him, Gary Black, 44, Joplin, was arrested shortly afterward in Oklahoma. An officer attempted to give him the Miranda warning. Black snarled, "F--- the Miranda warning. You tell that m-----f----- Dankelson (Jasper County Prosecuting Attorney Dean Dankelson) that I never attempted to kill anybody. The people I've attempted to kill, I've killed. Remember that, remember that." He pointedly added, "Cops, too."
Gary Black was no stranger to crime long before he ever met Jason Johnson. At the age of 21 in 1976, he robbed a Newton County man and shot him in the back. He was sentenced to prison where he did not make any friends.
At the sentencing phase of his trial in Jasper County Circuit Court, a Department of Corrections official noted that Black had committed assault five times during his decade-long prison stay. Black received a new three-year lease on life in November 2001 when the Missouri Supreme Court stayed his execution. Now his attorneys are throwing everything into their appeal and hoping that something sticks.
The details of Black's crime are laid out in documents filed with the Missouri Supreme Court. The road to Gary Black's execution began Oct. 2, 1998, in Joplin. Jason Johnson finished his work at a store at Northpark Mall in the later afternoon and joined his friends, Andrew Martin and Mark Wolfe, at Garfield's for a few beers. They left at 9:30 p.m. and stopped at a convenience store, according to the court records. Johnson bought some more beer and some tobacco. He stood in line with a woman named Tammy Lawson, Gary Black's girlfriend. It was that fateful coincidence that ended up costing Johnson his life. Court records indicate that Ms. Lawson went to Black's car and told him that Johnson had said something "perverted" to her while they were standing in line. She pointed him out as he left the store. Johnson opened the passenger-side door on Martin's pickup and they drove away, followed by Wolfe in his Camaro, and though they didn't know it, by Black and Ms. Lawson.
Johnson, Martin, and Wolfe were headed toward the Dolphin Club. When Martin stopped at the light at 5th and Joplin, Black pulled alongside him in the right lane. The cars stopped in front of the club. Black and Johnson shouted at each other. Martin testified at Black's trial that Black leaped out of his car, reached through the passenger window of Martin's pickup, and stabbed Johnson in the neck, severing his jugular vein and nearly severing his carotid artery. Before he left his car he told Ms. Lawson he was going to "hurt that n-----." As he walked away after stabbing Johnson, he said, "One n----- down."Johnson was able to get out of the pickup and came at Black with a 40-ounce beer bottle. He managed to throw it at him. Black got back into his car and drove away. Blood was flowing everywhere. Bystanders did what they could to help Johnson, using towels and clothing to attempt to stay the flow. Paramedics arrived and did what they could, but it was too little, too late. Black had effectively executed Jason Johnson.
At the trial, prosecutors convinced the jury that the murder was premeditated. By following Johnson, then killing him, Black had shown cool reflection. It was the first time in nearly four decades that a Jasper County jury had handed out a death sentence.

Tribune blog: Speaker nod could put Richard in line for Nodler Senate seat

Jason Rosenbaum's Columbia Tribune political blog looks into some southwest Missouri positioning for the future that will happen later this year.

Speculation has a victory for Rep. Ron Richard, R-Joplin, in the race to succeed Rod Jetton as speaker of the house could position him to replace term limited Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, in 2010.

Since the speaker vote is conducted by secret ballot, the blog also notes the real possibility that some Joplin-area representatives may cast their ballots against Richard to keep him from having a platform for three years on which to base a candidacy for the Senate:

Assuming that the Republicans keep control of the House – not a sure thing – the candidate that manages to prevail could see an immediate boost in legislative sway, name recognition and – most likely – fundraising ability. Those are characteristics that could come in handy if the next step in Richard or Icet’s political career is the state Senate.

But Icet and Richard aren’t the only state representatives who could contend for the open seats. The House delegations that encompass Nodler and Greisheimer’s Senate districts are exclusively compromised of Republican legislators. And those individuals could also want a shot to move to the Senate.

So when the members of those particular delegations step in to vote for the next Speaker, there could be a situation where Joplin lawmakers are voting for Icet and the Franklin/St. Louis County lawmakers are voting for Richard. Since the vote is by secret ballot, though, it might not be known whether this will happen.

Being the Speaker of the House, though, isn't always a stepping stone to another office. Democratic Speaker Steve Gaw and Republican Speaker Catherine Hanaway both failed in their statewide bids. Jim Kreider was defeated in his bid for state Senate.

The conflicts of interest Missourinet left out

Missourinet's story today on calls by Rep. Steve Hunter, R-Joplin, to eliminate the Second Injury Fund included an attack on State Auditor Susan Montee, with claims that Ms. Montee's recent state audit claiming the fund would be millions of dollars in the hole next year was colored by the fact that her attorney husband represents people who try to receive money from the fund:

Rep. Steve Hunter (R-Joplin) chairs the House Workforce Development Committee. Hunter says State Auditor Susan Montee failed to consider the sharp increase in awards from the fund and focused only on business contributions to it. Hunter also notes Montee's husband represents workers seeking payments from the fund. He claims that should be considered a conflict-of-interest and she should have stepped aside and allowed an independent firm to audit the fund.

Nowhere in the story does Missourinet reporter Brent Martin say a word about Hunter's conflict of interest. While serving as chairman of the House Workforce Development Committee, Hunter is also a paid recruiting chairman for Associated Industries of Missouri, a lobbying organzation for Missouri businesses, something which has been long noted in The Turner Report, including this passage from a July 15, 2005, report:

Hunter has done a 360-degree turnaround in the type of bills he has sponsored since his first term in the House.
During his first three years as a representative, Hunter did not sponsor any business legislation. Then three weeks after the end of the 2003 General Assembly, he found a new job as a membership recruiter for Associated Industries of Missouri, a powerful pro-business lobbying organization. And that is not just my term for it. As Susan Redden's Globe article noted, AIM spells out exactly what it does on its website. It represents the "interests of Missouri employers before the General Assembly, state agencies, the courts, and the public."
Financial disclosure forms filed by Hunter with the Missouri Ethics Commission indicate that he was employed by Associated Industries of Missouri in 2003 and 2004 and received at least $1,000 from it in both years. Unfortunately, all officeholders are required to state on these forms is if they received $1,000, they do not have to be specific.
It would be safe to speculate that if Steve Hunter was not the chairman of the House Workforce Development and Workplace Safety Committee he would not have been the first person AIM would have thought about hiring. That committee, of course, deals with the workers compensation legislation that AIM and Missouri businesses have been pushing and finally succeeded in passing.
Perhaps Hunter wrote every word of that bill himself. He is certainly an intelligent man. But it would not be a stretch of the imagination to believe that AIM staff could have been very helpful in constructing the pro-business legislation.
Hunter sponsored that bill as a representative for this area, then put on his other hat after the end of the legislative session and spoke at eight "Lunch and Learn" presentations put on by Associated Industries across the state, speaking as an AIM employee to explain what he had done for the organization as a legislator.
Hunter sponsored three other bills designed to cripple labor unions in the state, which did not get anywhere.

Hunter also sponsored similar legislation in the 2006 and 2007 legislative sessions.
When news organizations report on anything Steve Hunter says about business-related topics, it should be noted that his statements invariably are designed to promote Associated Industries of Missouri, especially when he is accusing someone else of having a conflict of interest.

Monday, May 28, 2007

In the Mailbox: Ruestman prevailing wage bill fails

In the latest post to his blog, In the Mailbox, Joplin Globe reporter Joe Hadsall addresses the failure of Rep. Marilyn Ruestman, R-Joplin, to get her bill to stop the requirement that school districts follow prevailing wage through the General Assembly.

In his post, Hadsall notes what both sides of the issue should explain when it is raised again during the 2008 legislative session, as Ms. Ruestman says it will be:

~ Proponents of the bill, especially school districts, should explain how contractors can build a quality product without the quality-guarantee of which construction unions boast. These are publicly-funded school buildings that will house a community's children, so the highest quality is paramount. Having trained workers is a no-brainer, but how does a school district convince its patrons that only trained employees worked on a school?

~ Opponents of the bill need to explain why prevailing wage is so important. Not every school district can raise the millions needed to build a quality building through property taxes and bonding. Smaller school districts see buildings in Arkansas and Kansas -- built by the same companies that build schools in Missouri -- and wonder why they have to pay so much more in wages.

One of the biggest problems cited with prevailing wage over the years is that southwest Missouri projects end up paying the prevailing wage for the Kansas City and St. Louis areas.

This is not a new issue. I examined the effect of prevailing wage during stories when I was at the Lamar Democrat in the 1980s and The Carthage Press during the 1990s. It was easy for school, county, and city officials to show me the effect prevailing wage had on their projects, but it did not answer my question- Why should southwest Missouri projects have to pay the prevailing wage charged in Missouri's metropolitan areas.

I can't recall the name of the official, and I no longer have the articles I wrote on the subject, but I vividly recollect the impression I had that this guy was simply going through the motions, and did not care if the figures he had were actually reflective of the area's prevailing wage.

How did he come up with the figures?

He mailed out long questionnaires for area contractors to fill out. He never got any of them back, never followed up on them, and eventually just submitted a prevailing wage from an area where the union workers had the time and inclination to fill out the paperwork.

"Why didn't you just call the contractors and ask them the questions?" I asked. The man, who obviously was ticked off that I even had the nerve to ask him such a question, replied, "That's not my job."

Prevailing wage serves an important purpose, and while I have no problem with school district building projects costing less, shouldn't our legislators find out first how much of a difference an accurate prevailing wage would make?

Otherwise, it makes it appear that this is just another attempt for our legislators to attack unions.

Next House speaker to be chosen in September

Rep. Ron Richard, R-Joplin, will find out in just a few months whether he will be the next Speaker of the House.
Richard, one of two announced candidates for the position, along with Rep. Allen Icet, R-Wildwood, has been jockeying for the position for the past several months.
Speaker Rod Jetton's plan to have the decision made early (Jetton will remain speaker throughout next year, which will be his last year due to term limits) has generated some controversy:

Traditionally, the majority caucus picks the speaker the day after the general election — in other words, the next speaker would be selected in November 2008. The newly elected representatives would travel to the Capitol for closed-door sessions where they would fill the posts of speaker, majority leader and lesser offices.

Republicans say Jetton suggested earlier this year that they instead pick the speaker in September during the Legislature's annual veto session. That way, Republicans could work together next year rather than in factions, said Rep. Steve Hobbs, R-Mexico.

"If the Republicans want to keep the majority, he thought it was important to have a speaker-designee," Hobbs said.

The plan has raised suspicions that Jetton intends to leave office early, but he has assured Republicans that he will stay in office through next year's legislative session.

But the decision to conduct the vote this year cuts out newly-elected representatives who normally are able to cast ballots, and it puts the speaker-elect under considerable pressure from other legislators seeking plum positions throughout 2008.

On the other hand, what if the Republicans choose the next Speaker of the House, then lose their majority during the November 2008 elections?

Official English bill just another grandstanding move

Today's Springfield News-Leader features an editorial on the General Assembly's decision to put an issue on the ballot requiring that English be the official language of all Missouri business.
The editorial points out two notable things about the bill, which was supported by every senator and representative in the Joplin area:

It allows us to say that we're so afraid of immigrants of a different color, and we're so ignorant of existing state law and how the state conducts its business, that we'll make an unnecessary change to our constitution because it makes us feel better. It allows us to say that the constitution of the state of Missouri is a meaningless piece of paper that is about one thing: making statements.

Especially when you consider that English was made the official language of the state of Missouri in 1998.

Sadly, this was not the only piece of legislation employed for that purpose. Consider the so-called Castle Doctrine law, as offered by Sen. Jack Goodman, R-Mount Vernon, and Rep. Marilyn Ruestman, R-Joplin. Even though Missouri already allows people to protect themselves when they are in danger, our local legislators unanimously approved this unnecessary law.

Again, the major reason appears to be to make a statement to a certain segment of the voting public that our legislators, no matter how much real good it may be doing, are looking out for their interests.

They are also doing that by hiding behind vague generalities. Ms. Ruestman, for instance, has said numerous times that she proposed her version of the Castle Doctrine bill at the request of numerous constituents, So far, I have not heard of anyone who claims to have asked Ms. Ruestman to file this bill. On the contrary, the bill, just like the earlier concealed weapon legislation passed by the legislature (after it was defeated at the polls by Missourians), appears to have come directly from the National Rifle Association playbook, with both being initiatives started by a female NRA leader from Florida.

Both Ms. Ruestman and Goodman claim the bill was necessary to prevent frivolous lawsuits from intruders who are shot by law-abiding citizens. Neither provided any specific examples of such lawsuits. In fact, Goodman even said that none existed in southwest Missouri.

Missourians already have the right to protect themselves under the current law, so why was this legislation necessary? Apparently to send a message to potential voters that Ms. Ruestman, Goodman, and other legislators who voted for the bill are on the side of all gun-carrying voters.

It's a shame that our legislators spend so much time touting bills that are actually political statements, and less time passing bills that could improve our lives and correct wrongs that actually exist.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Representative pleads guilty to DWI

Rep, Ray Salva, D-Independence, pleaded guilty to DWI charges Friday in Cole County Circuit Court.
Salva was ordered to pay a $500 fine and court costs.

Salva, 59, was arrested Feb. 21 by the Cole County Sheriff's Department. News accounts indicate he was returning from an event at the capitol when he was stopped.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Marble blasts minimum wage increase

That man of the people, former Rep. Gary Marble, R-Neosho, blasted Missouri voters' decision to approve a minimum wage hike.

In a column published in today's Cape Girardeau Southeast Missourian, Marble, now head of the business lobbying group, Associated Industries of Missouri:

I really don't like to say I told you so, but I did.

Congress is expected to send a bill to the president's desk that would raise the federal minimum wage to $7.25 by 2009. The repercussions of this could force all of Missouri's businesses to raise their prices, and many may have to close their doors.

Last year, Missouri voters raised the state's minimum wage to $6.50 per hour from $5.15. What many voters may not have realized, though, is that they also cast a vote for the minimum wage to go up every year according to the Consumer Price Index.

I am tired of this attitude that Missourians are not smart enough to know what they are voting on and therefore need the help of public-minded (and oh so unbiased) citizens like Marble and members of our state legislature. We didn't know what we were doing when we voted down concealed weapons, so the legislature simply tossed out the voters' opinion and passed the law anyway. We wanted stem cell research, so some legislators fought to overturn that, as well. The same thing happened with the minimum wage law.

There was a fix that needed to be made with the law, but it is not the one to which Marble is referring. The legislature needed to correct the problem with how firefighters and police officers are paid, but it failed to do so, because some pro-business legislators wanted to take advantage of that problem to save businesses a few dollars.

Marble did not hesitate to draw on some Missourians' fear of illegal workers by noting that they are prime recipients of the minimum wage increase:

For those of you who might be worried about illegal immigrants being hired at below minimum wage, rest assured those workers have a watchdog in Washington.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., the new head of the U.S. House immigration subcommittee, recently said that she believes "minimum wage laws apply to people who are here legally and also apply to people who are here illegally. To the extent that the minimum wage is raised -- which I support -- it would include everybody who is working here."

So who won't get a raise? Unfortunately, the workers who will be hit the hardest are the more experienced and trained. Those men and women are the ones who will be sending their hard-earned raises down to the mandated increases for entry-level workers.

And, yes, they have the opportunity and privilege of enjoying the increased cost of living that always accompanies artificially increasing the cost of goods sold.

If everyone had worked together as requested by these lawmakers rather than pointing fingers and placing blame, we would not be standing on the precipice of having the highest minimum-wage standard in the United States.

During the 2006 election, Associated Industries of Missouri led the Save Our States' Jobs coalition in an effort to defeat the ballot initiative that would raise Missouri's minimum wage annually. We warned you what would happen if the measure was approved.

What we cautioned is about to take place.

I hate to say I told you so, but I did.

What Marble does not mention is that the same scare tactics being used by his organization in 2006 (and this year) have been used for decades every time a minimum wage increase has been suggested. And on not one occasion has the sky fallen.

KC Buzz Blog discontinued

You can't blame a newspaper for trying to make money, but I am hoping the Kansas City Star falls flat on its face with its latest move. The newspaper discontinued its KC Buzz Blog Friday with the following announcement:

We’re discontinuing KC Buzz Blog, effective today.

We’d like to thank all who read the blog over the last year. And thanks also to those who participated by leaving comments, especially those whose comments were thoughtful and pushed the political dialogue along.

The success of KC Buzz Blog led us to experiment with creating the subscription-only political web site, Prime Buzz. Besides providing early access to news, it offers a host of other special features, from legislative calendars to e-mailed executive summaries of political news. Given limited time and resources, that’s where we need to focus our efforts for now.

If you were a fan of KC Buzz Blog, please consider a 14-day free trial of Prime Buzz. Just go to (We’ll be moving our blog rolls over to Prime Buzz.)

Maybe I am wrong, but I see the whole conceit of the Prime Buzz site coming back to haunt the Star. Many articles have been held back from the newspaper and its website for days and sometimes never make it after appearing on the pay site.

One of the features of the Star's Prime Buzz, which I discovered during my trial run, was a rundown of items running in various blogs across the state, including this one. And while I have no problem with the Star (or anyone else) using information from this blog (as long as they give credit, which the Star has done), it does seem strange, that one of the selling points of this pay-for-view site is its collection of information from blogs whose writers do not charge anyone to read their content.

I also question the reach of Prime Buzz. On the occasions when an item from The Turner Report has been mentioned in Prime Buzz, it usually receives only six or seven hits.

And while the Star does offer decent political coverage, the Buzz Blog and Prime Buzz are less effective than the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Political Fix, which itself is less effective than Jason Rosenbaum's Columbia Tribune Political Blog or David Catanese's KY3 Political Blog. The collection of blog entries provided by Prime Buzz is not nearly as well done as what the Springfield News-Leader has done since its makeover.

So I will be removing the link to the Buzz Blog in a few days. It had been a shell of its original self since Prime Buzz was created anyway.

Romney's misguided beliefs about campaign financing

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the star to which Missouri Governor Matt Blunt and other state officials have hitched their wagons, has attacked the McCain-Feingold campaign financing reform, a position that was criticized in an editorial in today's Washington Post:

The original intent of McCain-Feingold was to reduce the role of money and special interests in our political system. But on this too it has been a failure," Mr. Romney wrote. "Political spending has been driven into secret corners and more power and influence has been handed to hidden special interests."

No doubt, the current campaign finance system is flawed; no doubt, some spending has been shifted into areas exempt from disclosure. But if Mr. Romney thinks the system was less corrupt when lawmakers were able to phone up special interests and ask them for seven-figure checks, he is wrong. If he thinks the system was less corrupt when corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals could spend unlimited amounts on campaign commercials barely disguised as issue advertising, he is wrong about that as well.

As I noted in the April 28 Turner Report, Romney may be critical of McCain-Feingold, but he has certainly shown no qualms about using the Blunt template (both father and son) for raising campaign money- much of the $21 million the media swooned over during his first disclosure report came from lobbyists and special interests:

An examination of Federal Election Commission documents indicates most of Gov. Romney's big contributors were lobbyists or lobbyists' spouses. A quick check of contributions from the Washington, D. C. and Virginia areas alone, showed contributions from 28 lobbyists, who gave $71,500. He received more than $10,000 from Missouri lobbyists and their spouses, including Andrew Blunt, Tony Feather, and Harvey Tettlebaum. Feather, of course, has signed on with Gov. Romney's campaign.

Those contributing to the Romney campaign include:

-Elliott Stanton Berke, former general counsel for Tom DeLay, $2,300. Berke's wife also contributed $2,300.

-Gregg Hartley, former chief of staff to Roy Blunt, $2,300. Hartley's wife also chipped in with $2,300.

-Mark Isakowitz, Isakowitz of the lobbying firm of Fierce & Isakowitz, served as host for a Tom DeLay fundraiser on Nov. 17, 2005. His firm has major nationwide clients, but also represents the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, the Joplin Coalition, and Greene County. Isakowitz gave $2,300.

-Craig Fuller, former chief of staff to Vice President George H. W. Bush, now a powerful lobbyist with the Fuller Group, $2,100

-Andrew Maloney, former chief of staff for Tom DeLay, now a lobbyist, $2,300

-Roy Coffee, not the sheriff of the same name from "Bonanza," but a lobbyist with ties to disgraced former Congressman Bob Ney, $2,300

-Jim Murray of DCI Group LLC, a firm associated with Missouri lobbyist Tony Feather. DCI boasts of supplying third-party support for issues, which means creating basically fictitious grass roots group to support legislation wanted by powerful special interests. Murray gave $2,300.

-Lobbyists from the powerful Patton Boggs firm contributed $16,400.

Imagine how much money Romney might have received from these lobbyists if there was no McCain-Feingold in place.

Former Hollinger CEO lived like royalty

Though his wealth was based on owning newspapers that promoted small town values, former Hollinger International CEO Conrad Black lived the life of a king, according to information revealed in his federal trial for fraud and racketeering:

As chairman of Hollinger International, Conrad Black lived a lifestyle so lavish that he needed two Park Avenue apartments -- one for him and one for his servants.

His wife, Barbara Amiel Black, had five closets for her evening gowns, $500 shoes and $7,000 handbags in their London townhouse. His chauffeur had a corporate American Express card he used to shop for the couple.

Among the other revelations in the trial:

The Blacks cut other deals for themselves, prosecutors say. Most of their routine living expenses were charged to Hollinger. Prosecutors intend to show e-mails from Amiel Black to her husband, asking him to pay her bills, and that he ordered Hollinger to pay many of them. In one case, she charged the company "$2,057 for a T. Anthony Ltd. leather briefcase," which prosecutors say her husband approved as a business expense, according to court documents.

Amiel Black invited a Vogue magazine photographer and writer in August 2002 to peek into her London closets, showing off separate storage rooms for day clothes, evening wear, sweaters, shirts and furs. "I have an extravagance that knows no bounds" Amiel Black told Vogue.

About two weeks after the London trip, prosecutors say, Black defrauded Hollinger by ordering the company to cover most of the cost of a surprise birthday dinner party he threw for his wife on Dec. 4, 2000.

Eighty guests gathered in the private room at La Grenouille, a French restaurant on Manhattan's Upper East Side, where they dined on "Beluga caviar, lobster ceviche and 69 bottles of fine wine," according to the Breeden report. The affair cost $62,000, and Black decided Hollinger should pay $42,870, prosecutors say.

Hollinger International's former U. S. newspaper unit, American Publishing, at one time owned The Carthage Press and the Neosho Daily News.

Court document levels charges at Wal-Mart CEO

Forget about everyday low prices; at Wal-Mart, it's just everyday low and it's getting lower all the time.
Fired executive Julie Roehm, in documents filed Friday in U. S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, fired off a laundry list of allegations against company CEO Lee Scott.

H. Lee Scott, the current President and Chief Executive Officer of Wal-Mart, initiated (at a time when Mr.Scott was the Vice-President of Merchandising) an association with entrepreneur Irwin Jacobs, allowing Mr. Jacobs' business, Jacobs Trading Company (JTC), the exclusive right to purchase unsold Wal-Mart merchandise. Jacobs Trading Company is one of several privately-held companies owned by Mr. Jacobs. Upon information and belief, Mr. Jacobs also owns or owned interests in approximately 12 boat manufacturing companies, and as part and parcel of Mr. Scott's relationship with him, over the span of several years, Mr. Scott has purchased from Mr. Jacobs' companies a number of yachts at preferential prices. Upon information and belief, Mr. Scott also was also able to purchase, through his relationship with Mr. Jacobs, a large pink diamond for his wife at a preferential price.

In the filing, Ms. Roehm claims Scott's relationship with Jacobs also extends to Jacobs' employment of Scott's son:

Mr. Scott’s son, Eric S. Scott, who initially was employed by Wal-Mart as a buyer, ultimately left Wal-Mart for employment with Jacobs Trading Company. Wal-Mart has chosen to ignore the fact that Mr. Scott's circumstances create "[t]he appearance of conflict [which] may be just as damaging to Wal-Mart’s reputation as an actual conflict."

Ms. Roehm, who was fired following allegations that she accepted gifts from an advertising agency that deals with Wal-Mart. She was in charge of marketing and communications. Company officials also claimed Ms. Roehm had an affair with someone who worked for her.

In the court document, Ms. Roehm noted that a former official who had a well-known affair with a subordinate was never penalized for it:

Robert Rhoads was variously a Vice President and Senior Vice President, General Counsel, and Corporate Secretary for Wal-Mart from 1988 through 2002. Mr. Rhoads had an affair with Lauren Beamon, a subordinate employee in the Wal-Mart legal department. Mr. Rhodes paid for her apartment and college tuition, divorced his wife, and subsequently married Ms. Beamon. Mr. Rhoads was not subject to "immediate termination," even though it was known that he and Ms. Beamon had married and that he had been her supervisor at Wal-Mart.

Ms. Roehm was fired on Dec. 4, 2006.

While Wal-Mart professes to espouse small town values, it appears that small town might be Peyton Place.

Friday, May 25, 2007

O'Sullivan officials deny Litter Box allegations

In documents filed May 17 in U. S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, O'Sullivan Industries, company officials denied breach of contract claims made by a South Carolina company in a lawsuit filed last month.

The claims were made by Out of Sight Litter Box which said O'Sullivan officials entered into a licensing agreement with the company on May 1, 2006, giving O'Sullivan "the exclusive right and license to use Plaintiff’s Existing Patent to make, have made, distribute, market, and sell throughout North America, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom (the “Territory”) products that incorporated the inventions disclosed in Plaintiff’s Existing Patent."

According to the contract:

"Defendants were to pay Plaintiff at least certain minimum royalties, to wit: for the Contract Year ending April 30, 2007, $50,000.00, for the Contract Year ending April 30, 2008, $150,000.00, for the Contract Year ending April 30, 2009 and every Contract Year thereafter, $300,000.00. (as applicable, the Minimum Royalty or Minimum Royalties)."

The lawsuit says O'Sullivan Industries failed to make, license, or distribute any of its products, and failed to pay the minimum quarterly royalty fees.

Out of Sight Litter Box is asking for actual damages and punitive damages and is requesting a jury trial.

Discovery can begin July 11 in Cox lawsuit

Now that the federal government has dropped its request that actions in a wrongful dismissal case against CoxHealth be delayed, the discovery process can begin.
In a notice filed today in U. S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, Judge Gary A. Fenner wrote:

This Court’s decision to stay discovery was based largely on the Government’s belief that the breadth of discovery in the present case could interfere with the criminal investigation. Any interference with an important criminal investigation would in turn harm the public's interest in effective law enforcement. However, the Government no longer maintains that a stay is necessary to protect its investigation. In fact, the Government does not oppose lifting the stay and supports permitting Plaintiffs to move forward with their civil case to prevent additional
prejudice. While the concerns the Government initially raised in support of a stay are not entirely extinguished at this point, the Court is satisfied that resuming discovery in this case will not unduly impair the criminal investigation or the public’s interests.

The stay on the discovery process will be lifted as of July 11, according to the ruling. Roger Cochran and Dennis Morris claim they were fired from their positions at Cox because they had uncovered fraud in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement. The government asked for the stay in the civil suit while the case was being investigated by a federal grand jury.

The lawsuit and the grand jury investigation were first revealed in the June 8, 2005, Turner Report.

Post editorial: Lobbying bill was a start, but more work is needed

The House of Representatives, despite steadfast behind-the-scenes opposition, finally came around and voted for two reform measures Thursday, but more work needs to be done, according to an editorial in today's Washington Post:

In addition, the work of the House will not be complete until a credible ethics process is in place, one that includes an independent office to assess and investigate allegations of unethical conduct. A Pelosi-appointed task force is expected to come up with a proposal soon. That will be the Democratic majority's next test.

House shines light on lobbyists' activity

The U. S. House of Representatives, by a 382 to 37 vote Thursday, passed a bill which will reveal the role lobbyists play in raising money for political candidates.
Among those voting for the legislation was Seventh District Congressman Roy Blunt, one of those who has been most successful with using lobbyists to raise money for his own political campaign and for his Rely on Your Beliefs PAC, and Fourth District Congressman Ike Skelton.
The rest of Missouri's legislative contingent also voted for the bill, with the exception of Jo Ann Emerson, who was not present for the vote.

Lobbyists have an incentive to help raise millions for politicians since this kind of support obviously opens the door for them with the politicians and enables them to shape legislation in ways that serve their clients:

The measure goes to the heart of how Washington does business by uncovering a hidden practice that sprang up as an unintended consequence of restrictions imposed by campaign finance laws. Because those laws cap individual contributions — now $2,300 per campaign — candidates have been turning to well-connected lobbyists to bundle stacks of checks to make up the millions they need to run their campaigns.

Washington lobbyists hoping for access to lawmakers have the greatest incentive to shoulder such fund-raising burdens. But previous election rules required campaigns to disclose only their individual contributors, not the intermediaries who may have bundled them.

The proposed new rule could expose the heavy reliance of many in Congress on Washington lobbyists to raise money for their campaigns.

Also on Thursday, Congress passed the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007. The vote was

Extends from one to two years the ban on former senior and very senior executive personnel, former Members of Congress, legislative branch officers and employees, and such individuals who represent foreign entities from making lobbying contacts with any officer or employee of the entity in which such person served before his or her tenure terminated.

Requires public disclosure by Members of Congress and congressional staff of employment negotiations.

Subjects to fines and penalties a Member of Congress or a congressional employee who wrongfully influences, on a partisan basis, an entity's employment decisions or practices.

Amends the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 (LDA) to require: (1) quarterly instead of semiannual filing of lobbying disclosures reports; (2) electronic filing; (3) disclosure of registered lobbyist contributions; (4) disclosure by registered lobbyists of all past executive and congressional employment; and (5) maintenance of certain lobbying disclosure information in an electronic data base, available to the public free of charge over the Internet.

Amends the LDA to prohibit a registered lobbyist from making a gift or providing travel to a Member, officer, or employee of Congress, unless the gift or travel may be accepted under the rules of the House of Representatives or the Senate.

Revises criteria, with regard to disclosure requirements, for determining a coalition or association of groups that retain a person to conduct lobbying activities.

Makes amendments made by this Act inapplicable to political committee activities described in the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971.

Amends the LDA to increase the penalty for failure to comply with lobbying disclosure requirements.

Amends the Rules of the House to require a Member of the House to prohibit all of his or her staff from having any official contact with the Member's spouse if such individual is a registered lobbyist or is employed or retained by a registered lobbyist to influence legislation.

Requires the Clerk of the House to: (1) post certain travel and financial disclosure reports on the public Internet site of the Clerk's Office; and (2) maintain such information for at least six years after receiving such information.

Six of Missouri's nine House members voted among the 396 to 22 majority. Congressman William Clay voted against the bill, Kenny Hulshof voted "present" and Rep. Emerson was absent.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Nexstar stock price continues upward

Nexstar Broadcasting stock, less than a year ago selling for less than four dollars a share, came within two cents of $15 at the end of trading Wednesday.
The company, which owns KSNF in Joplin and KSFX in Springfield and is de facto owner of KODE in Joplin and KOLR in Springfield, closed at $14.98 per share, up from $14.78 Tuesday.
Company officials announced last week they are exploring the possibility of a sale.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

More on the anonymity debate

Antonio French of PubDef has an interesting take on the anonymous blogging controversy started earlier this week by an editorial from the Springfield News-Leader's Tony Messenger:

As someone who attaches his name to everything he writes and then often gets attacked for those words, I can definitely see the attraction in hiding one's identity. Without the protection of a large news organization, telling truth to power can be damaging to one's livelihood.

But however varied the individual reasons are for blogging anonymously, the reason that we blog in the first place is the same; because the mainstream media have failed and continues to fail everyday.

Missouri's political bloggers fill a void and no matter how the mainstream media may try to copy us, they will never be able to do exactly what it is we do.

Today's information consumers are the most savvy ever. They can judge for themselves the credibility of their news sources. And increasingly, more and more readers on the Web are relying on blogs for their news than on large newspapers that, sure enough, attach bylines to each and every boring, out-of-touch, and shallow news story they print.

Just because you sign your name to it, it doesn't make it suck any less.

Testimony: Voting rights had nothing to do with Graves' firing

The truth behind the departure of Todd Graves as a U. S. attorney from Missouri is more elusive than ever, following testimony today by former Department of Justice official Monica Goodling.

Ms. Goodling indicated Graves was under investigation by the Inspector General:

Monica Goodling, who resigned last month as the Justice Department's White House liaison, did not specify what Graves was being investigated for in her testimony to the House Judiciary Committee.

"My memory of the reason why I was thinking that Mr. Graves had been asked to leave related more to the fact that he was under investigation by the inspector general," Goodling said.

Graves, in a telephone interview, called Goodling's testimony "outrageous," though he disclosed for the first time that the department's inspector general was, in fact, investigating the circumstances surrounding an employee who had been terminated from Graves' office in 2005.

Of course, Graves has his own version of how everything went down:

Graves, who resigned from his post in March 2006, has said he disagreed with senior Justice Department officials over his refusal to sign off on a voter fraud case in Missouri.

But Goodling told lawmakers she does not believe any disputes over the voter fraud case played any part in Graves being forced out.

Goodling also told lawmakers that the move to replace Graves should not be lumped into the investigation of eight other chief prosecutors forced from office.

While Graves said he cannot be sure what investigation Goodling is referring to, he dismissed any suggestion the employment inquiry was the reason he was asked to resign.

"As part of that termination process, a vague allegation was made against me that I had inappropriately attended a political fundraiser," Graves said. "The allegation was frivolous, false and vague, but we recognized that it might become a 'whistleblower' issue in what we considered was imminent litigation over the termination."

AP: Sprinkler bill may not affect 60 percent of homes

Life-saving legislation appears to have taken a backseat to financial considerations.
Associated Press reports Rep. Kevin Wilson's sprinkler bill, which was passed by the legislature during its final week in session, will not apply to more than 60 percent of group homes:

The legislation, passed overwhelmingly last week, excludes existing residential care and assisted living facilities with 20 or fewer residents from having to retrofit their buildings for sprinklers.

About half of Missouri’s facilities — 310 of the 616 — currently lack sprinkler systems. The bill’s exemption means that just 120 of those would be forced to install sprinklers, according to Department of Health and Senior Services figures provided to The Associated Press.

The measure was stronger when it was initially passed in the House, but took a beating when the Senate got hold of it:

The fire alarm provisions prevailed in the Legislature. But cost concerns led senators to add the sprinkler system exemption. Few were aware, at the time, exactly how large of an exemption it was.

GateHouse Media to partner with Yahoo

Yahoo recruitment advertising will soon be featured on the websites of The Carthage Press and the Neosho Daily News, thanks to an agreement announced today by GateHouse Media and Yahoo officials:

GateHouse Media, Inc. (NYSE: GHS) announced today that it has partnered with Yahoo! HotJobs as part of a larger local media consortium to provide recruitment advertising services to its daily and more than 160 weekly newspapers nationwide. The addition of GateHouse to the consortium of newspapers significantly expands the number of local newspapers that have teamed with Yahoo! to advance this leading recruitment brand, and it brings the first participating weeklies to the network.

"We are very pleased to be partners with Yahoo! HotJobs in what we see as the fast-growing online employment space," said GateHouse Media CEO Mike Reed. "We feel it is important to bring state-of-the-art technology and a strong brand name to the employers we serve in each of our local markets across the country. This relationship is designed to help us do just that, as well as ensure our consumers have the most comprehensive job selection tools, enabling them to find fulfilling career opportunities in the markets where they work and live.

"We believe this alliance will put GateHouse in a position to significantly enhance online audience and revenue opportunities, and we are excited to get this program rolled out," Reed added. "We are committed to maximizing our online business and to providing all of our products nationwide with best-of-breed Internet solutions. Yahoo! HotJobs, with its cutting edge recruitment and search technologies, leads the field in this area."

Despite 2007 loss, Shields still pushing loss limit repeal

When a politician accepts sizable cash donations from special interests it does not necessarily mean that politician has sold his vote, but it is a part of the record the public has every right to know...and one that more often than not remains uncovered by the media.

The same fact happened today when Bob Priddy of Missourinet reported on Sen. Charlie Shields' comments concerning the state legislature's failure to approve his bill to repeal loss limits at gambling casinos:

He says it's a tough loss because Kansas City casinos will soon face aggressive competition from a new casino just across the state line. By January he thinks the legislature will have had more chance to gauge the impact that casino will have on Missouri's operators. He doesn't know if the information will change anything but lawmakers will at least have a better grasp on the situation.

But the impact might become obvious well before the new Kansas casino is built because the Kansas legislature is allowing more gambling at the Woodlands dog track. Hundreds of slot machines soon will be installed at the track, which is in Kansas City, Kansas.

But Shields admits it's going to be hard getting legislators from eastern Missouri to vote for ending loss limits. He says casinos in Illinois do not provide the kind of competition for St. Louis boats that the Kansas casino will provide on the western side.

In the April 28 Turner Report, I noted that casino interests have poured money into Shields' campaign coffers:

During 2006, Shields received $3,350 in direct campaign contributions from casino interests and an additional $1,795 from lobbyists representing casinos.

That may not sound like much, considering some of the figures that have been tossed about on this blog over the last three years, but Shields represents the 34th Senatorial District and the 34th Republican Senatorial District Committee has been swimming in casino cash.

Missouri Ethics Commission documents show casino interests poured more than $70,000 into the committee, which made numerous contributions into Shields' campaign fund.

Included in that total was $55,700 from Ameristar Casinos, $10,000 from Harrah's, $3,725 from Isle of Capri and $1,275 from Penn National Gaming.

While I have no reason to question Shields' sincerity in pressing his bill, it is important to note the money the gambling interests are supplying to his campaign. The media should be providing this information, but far too often they don't.

House Democrats prefer business as usual

House Democrats, as noted in a post earlier this week, do not appear to appreciate the need for reforming the way they do business.
Though they took over the majority with indictments of the Republicans and the "culture of corruption," many are saying, they were already in office, and they didn't make any such campaign promises. An article in today's New York Times spells out the problem:

Others say they do not see the point of doing more. “I didn't make any of those campaign promises,” said Representative Michael E. Capuano, a Massachusetts Democrat who questions the bundling disclosure proposal and also opposed the extension of the so-called “revolving door” ban on lobbying by former members.

"I made a career change 20 years ago to be a full-time elected official," Mr. Capuano said, explaining his position. "I am no longer qualified to be a tax attorney. It is like saying to people, 'Please, come into public service, give it your all, and when you are done you are completely unqualified for anything else.' "

Others grumbled that Mr. Van Hollen, whose Democratic campaign committee duns each member for contributions, was pushing a measure that would make it harder to tap the easiest sources of such money — lobbyists.

"We have dues that we are supposed to raise of several hundred thousand dollars, and in the same breath we are informed that this is something we will have to vote for," Representative James P. Moran, Democrat of Virginia, said. "I don’t know what we are supposed to do, except cold call all the people in the phone book in our districts."

For some reason, I am not filled with sympathy.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

High prices for television stations encourage Nexstar Broadcasting in sales approach

Television stations are going for record prices and that appears to be the reason why Nexstar Broadcasting is exploring sales possibilities, according to an article in today's Fort Wayne Indiana Journal Gazette:

Private equity firms are snapping up broadcast companies at high prices, and that likely encouraged Nexstar and Lin TV to explore sale opportunities, Standard & Poor’s analyst Michael Altberg said. Providence Equity Partners Inc. agreed last month to pay Clear Channel Communications Inc. about $1.2 billion for its 56 TV stations. Oak Hill Capital Partners bought nine TV stations from the New York Times Company for $575 million earlier this month. Broadcasting is a mature industry with fairly flat revenues, but the cash flow still makes the business attractive, Altberg said.

Lin TV was a logical seller in a consolidating industry, Bear Stearns equity research analyst Victor Miller wrote in a research report on its announcement. Nexstar’s decision to consider a sale was more surprising because the company is believed to have bid on Clear Channel Communications’ TV portfolio, he said.

"This is a significant change for (Nexstar)," Miller wrote in the report. “We believed that the company would continue its consolidation march …" 

Nexstar Broadcasting owns KSNF in Joplin and KSFX in Springfield, and is de facto owner of KODE in Joplin and KOLR in Springfield.

Court: Cox lawsuit gets the green light

Two fired employees have been given the green light to pursue their lawsuit against CoxHealth, according to an article in today's Springfield News-Leader:

For 20 months, a civil case over the alleged wrongful terminations of two CoxHealth employees has been largely on hold due to an overlapping federal criminal investigation of activities at Cox.
Now for the first time, federal prosecutors no longer object to letting the civil case proceed.

In a May 18 court document, they also said the government is "diligently pursuing its investigation of Cox." The U.S. attorney's office has said in the past it is investigating allegations of fraudulent Medicare billing practices, among other things.

The grand jury investigation, and the federal lawsuit, were first revealed in the June 8, 2005 Turner Report.

Federal government wants plea agreements kept secret

The old saying goes that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. I would say when it comes to the U. S. government, secrecy fits that description much better. Time and time again, on all levels of government from local to national, we see government officials attempt to bury information that could possibly prove embarrassing.

The information the U. S. Justice Department is trying to hide is not being done to spare embarrassment, but it is just as dangerous to the requirements of a free and open society.

According to an article in today's New York Times, some lowlifes are going through federal court filings and finding information about government informants then selling it.

Naturally, instead of simply removing information that could lead to the uncovering of an informant's identity, government officials would like to remove all plea agreements from court filings:

Federal prosecutors are furious, and the Justice Department has begun urging the federal courts to make fundamental changes in public access to electronic court files by removing all plea agreements from them — whether involving cooperating witnesses or not.

“We are witnessing the rise of a new cottage industry engaged in republishing court filings about cooperators on Web sites such as for the clear purpose of witness intimidation, retaliation and harassment,” a Justice Department official wrote in a December letter to the Judicial Conference of the United States, the administrative and policy-making body of the federal court system.

“The posting of sensitive witness information,” the letter continued, “poses a grave risk of harm to cooperating witnesses and defendants.”

In one case described in the letter, a witness in Philadelphia was moved and the F.B.I. was asked to investigate after material from was mailed to his neighbors and posted on utility poles and cars in the area.

The federal court in Miami has provisionally adopted the department’s recommendation to remove plea agreements from electronic files, and other courts are considering it and experimenting with alternative approaches.

While safety concerns must be taken into consideration, it is not surprising that the current U. S. Justice Department is pushing for more secrecy. Secrecy has been the hallmark of the attorney general, and of the Bush Administration as a whole. It should not be that difficult to remove information about recognizable witnesses and informants from court files. After all, time is already being taken to remove the birthdates of all accused criminals, something which would seem to be far less important.

The biggest danger to a free society is when our elected officials and the bureaucrats in government opt for secrecy as a first refuge.

Can Bush's reputation be rehabilitated?

Considering the 360 degree turnaround some have done on the legacy of former U. S. Attorney General John Ashcroft during the past several days, columnist Jonah Goldberg in the Los Angeles Times questions whether the reputation of President George W. Bush, currently in tatters due to the Iraq situation, might go through a similar rehabilitation:

Full disclosure: My wife was formerly a senior aide and speechwriter for both Ashcroft and Gonzales, so I always took a particularly keen interest in both attorneys general. It is nice to see conventional wisdom come around to my long-standing and oft-stated view that Gonzales is a subpar hack and Ashcroft a man of integrity. Don't get me wrong; I don't think I'd much like to have a beer with either of them (certainly not with Ashcroft because I hate to drink alone). But, as my wife, Jessica Gavora, puts it, "The one thing you always knew about John Ashcroft was that he's not for sale."

Of course, Ashcroft's rehab is a byproduct of partisan opportunism. Gonzales is trailing blood in shark-infested political waters, and, by telling this story, Comey has thrown the flailing AG an anchor instead of a life preserver.

Still, there are some interesting lessons here. First, the attacks on Ashcroft were always grotesquely unfair. As a presidential candidate, Howard Dean — who often decries how Republicans question the patriotism of Democrats — saw nothing wrong with flatly asserting that Ashcroft was "not a patriot. He's a direct descendant of Joseph McCarthy." A second lesson is that the Christian scare that has been spooking liberals often amounts to mass paranoia. In 2001, USA Today's former Supreme Court reporter asked, sincerely, "Can a deeply religious person be attorney general?" The bigotry of the question should be self-evident, and so should the answer. In almost every way, Ashcroft was the Bush administration's most exemplary Cabinet official. An undisputed hawk on the war on terror, he was nonetheless immune to the groupthink that has plagued the Bush White House. From the sound of it, that independence improved administration policymaking.

It also improved Bush politically. In his first term, Ashcroft was the face of the Christian right in the Bush administration, serving as a valuable lightning rod, making Bush seem, and perhaps be, more reasonable. In his second term, Bush picked Gonzales, a quintessential yes man, to replace Ashcroft's useful contrary voice. This only reinforced the bunker mentality that has so ill-served the White House.

While I am not quite ready to bestow Man of the Year honors on Ashcroft, Goldberg's column does make some valid points. As for the restoration of President Bush's tarnished image, the passage of time does not seem to do have much for Lyndon B. Johnson, and President Bush does not even have the long laundry list of domestic accomplishments that took place during the Johnson presidency.