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Across the Nation: Couple’s pet squirrel attacked, injured contractor

Lawsuit: Couple’s pet squirrel attacked, injured contractor
CHESAPEAKE, Va. — A contractor is suing a Virginia couple for $90,000 for injuries he says were caused when their pet squirrel attacked them all.

The Virginian-Pilot reported Monday Daniel Felice says he was doing contract work this summer when Deborah and Paul Desjardin’s squirrel bit and scratched his leg and hand.

The lawsuit says the couple was keeping the animal as a pet.

Paul Desjardin says they never had a pet squirrel, and that the animal lived outside in their neighborhood, but never indoors with them.

Under city code, residents are not allowed to keep wild animals without a permit.

Paul Desjardin says their insurance company is handling the lawsuit, which was filed this month.

Felice’s lawyer could not be reached for comment.


West Virginia Supreme Court to have female majority

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia will become one of 11 states that will have a majority of women on their high courts in 2017.

The West Virginia Supreme Court will have a female majority for the first time when Beth Walker takes the bench Jan. 1.

Walker, who will join Justices Margaret Workman and Robin Davis, was sworn into office Dec. 5. She’ll be the 77th justice and only the third woman.

“I’m really honored, there’s no doubt about it,” Walker said.

Chief Justice Menis Ketchum and Justice Allen Loughry also make up the five-member court.

Walker, a Morgantown attorney, defeated her four male opponents, including incumbent Justice Brent Benjamin, during the state’s first nonpartisan judicial election in May.

The court’s five justices hear appeals from the state’s circuit courts, including criminal convictions affirmed on appeal from magistrate court and appeals from administrative agencies.

Other states with a female majority are Arkansas, California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Tennessee, Washington and Wisconsin.

Walker worked for the law firm of Bowles Rice McDavid Graff & Love in Charleston for 22 years, concentrating on labor and employment law and mediation.

After moving to Morgantown in 2011, she became associate general counsel for the West Virginia United Health System.

A native of Huron, Ohio, she has a law degree from Ohio State University.

Walker said she hopes the female majority on the court will inspire young women.

“You can do anything you set out to do,” she said.


N.Y. governor vetoes payments for defending poor

ALBANY, NEW YORK — Defending poor people accused of crimes will remain largely a county-by-county expense in New York, after Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed a proposal for the state to foot the bill.

The Democratic governor nixed the measure Saturday night, saying it went too far in shifting the costs of providing lawyers for people who can’t afford them.

“I cannot increase the taxes of every taxpayer in this state to fund existing and future legal defense work in counties” that goes beyond criminal cases, he wrote.

Cuomo said he’d work with lawmakers on a new plan this year. But public defenders and other supporters of the legislation said the governor had spurned legislation that would have helped ensure New Yorkers have equal access to justice.

“He has rejected a groundbreaking and bipartisan fix to our deeply flawed public defense system,” said Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which had sued the state over the issue.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in 1963 that state courts were required to provide legal counsel to criminal defendants who could not afford to hire an attorney on their own. But New York and other states have grappled with the implications of that guarantee in recent years.

Multiple states, including New York, have left the funding of indigent defense to counties. The NYCLU and defense lawyers say the county-paid framework has led to a problematic, patchwork system.

“In many areas of New York, low-income defendants can get short shrift, because their lawyers, due to crushing caseloads, don’t have the time or resources to meet meaningfully with their clients, investigate charges and develop an adequate defense,” said Jonathan E. Gradess, the executive director of the New York State Defenders Association.

As some of New York’s chief judges raised concerns in recent years about indigent defense, the state took some steps to try to address it. Then a 2014 settlement between the Cuomo administration and the NYCLU required improvements — including a promise that all poor defendants would have lawyers at their first court appearances — in Suffolk, Washington, Ontario, Onondaga and Schuyler counties.

The now-vetoed legislation aimed to build on the settlement by gradually transferring responsibility for paying for public defenders from local counties to the state.

Cuomo said he supported that goal, but he argued the legislation went too far by including legal services in family court and other settings besides criminal defense, with no mechanism to pay the ultimately $800-million-a-year cost.

One of the measure’s sponsors, state Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, said she was committed to working with the governor and others to address the issue.

“We want to get this right for the sake of all New Yorkers,” the Albany Democrat said in a statement.

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