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Man pleads guilty to sea cucumber smuggling charge
Press Release | 2014/03/10 14:07
Federal prosecutors in San Diego say a man has pleaded guilty to charges he smuggled 100 pounds of dried sea cucumber into the United States from Mexico.

Sea cucumbers are leathery-skinned marine animals used in some folk medicine practices.

United States Attorney Laura E. Duffy says Cheng Zhuo Liu (chuhng joo-oh lee-oo), a resident of Chula Vista, admitted to tucking the sea cucumbers into the spare tire area of his car before crossing the border last October.

According to the US attorney's office, their market value was between $5,000 and $10,000.

The particular species Liu had is protected under international trade rules, and requires a permit for import.



California court: Drivers can read cellphone maps
Press Release | 2014/03/05 14:35
Drivers in California can legally read a map on their hand-held cellphones while behind the wheel, a state appeals court ruled Thursday.

The 5th District Court of Appeal reversed the case of a Fresno man who was ticketed in January 2012 for looking at a map on his iPhone 4 while stuck in traffic. The driver, Steven Spriggs, challenged the $165 fine.

But Spriggs said he's no champion of those who think they can get away with cruising down the road while staring at their phone or engaging in other such dangerous behavior. Spriggs would like the law that ensnared him to be rewritten so officers can do their job unencumbered.

"We're distracted all the time," he said. "If our distractions cause us to drive erratically, we should be arrested for driving erratically."

It's personal for Spriggs, whose son suffered a broken leg from a driver who was chatting on a cellphone. Spriggs said he uses a hands-free device to talk and drive.

The incident that ensnared Spriggs happened when he was stopped by roadwork. He had grabbed his cellphone to find an alternate route when a California Highway Patrol officer on a motorcycle spotted him and wrote the ticket.

Spriggs first challenged the case in traffic court, where he lost, and then appealed it himself to a three-judge panel in Fresno County Superior Court, where he lost a second time.



Moscow court sends 7 to prison for protest rally
Press Release | 2014/02/24 14:55
A Russian court handed down prison sentences Monday of up to four years for seven people who took part in a 2012 protest against Vladimir Putin. An eighth defendant received a suspended sentence.

Hundreds of their supporters gathered outside the courthouse to condemn the trial and the Kremlin's crackdown on opposition. Police detained about 200 of them, accusing them of violating public order.

Among those detained were members of the punk band Pussy Riot who had spent nearly two years in prison as punishment for their own anti-Putin protest.

The defendants sentenced Monday were among 28 people rounded up after the May 6, 2012, protest on the eve of Putin's inauguration for a third presidential term. The rally turned violent after police restricted access to Bolotnaya Square, across the river from the Kremlin, where the protesters had permission to gather.

The eight defendants were found guilty last week, but sentencing was postponed until Monday. All have been in custody for nearly two years except for Anastasia Dukhanina, 20, who was under house arrest. She was given a suspended sentence.


Farmer pleads guilty in pot growing scheme
Press Release | 2014/02/10 14:40
A Northern California farmer renowned nationally for his heirloom tomatoes has pleaded guilty to leasing out his greenhouses for growing marijuana.

Sixty-four-year-old Thomas Jopson of Sutter County pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manufacture at least 50 marijuana plants, three years after 2,168 marijuana plants were seized from the ranch of Thomas and David Jopson in Rio Oso.

The Sacramento Bee reports that an Oakland medical marijuana entrepreneur, Yan Ebyam, faces trial March 3 for allegedly setting up marijuana cultivations at the ranch and at a wholesale florist greenhouse in Sacramento County.

U.S. District Judge United States John A. Mendez ordered Thomas Jopson to appear for sentencing June 24. According to statements in court, David Jopson is expected to plead guilty on Feb. 18.


Australian court rules ANZ Bank late fees too high
Press Release | 2014/02/06 16:06
One of Australia's largest banks faces a multimillion dollar payout to thousands of customers after a judge ruled on Wednesday that late payment fees it charged on credit cards were exorbitant.

ANZ Banking Group Ltd. partially lost a class action law suit in the Australian Federal Court brought by more than 43,000 customers who claimed they had been charged excessive fees for years. In some cases the fees were 70 times the cost to the bank of administering late payments.

Justice Michelle Gordon ruled that the bank had been illegally imposing penalties for late payments on credit cards.

She agreed with lead plaintiff Lucio Paciocco's argument that the fees were "extravagant, exorbitant and unconscionable," and represented a breach of contract.

But she also ruled in ANZ's favor by dismissing claims that other types of bank fees were illegal penalties.

It was not clear how much the bank would have to pay back customers who had been charged too much over six years. Lawyers for the bank and customers have until next week to agree on a proposal for repaying customers that the court can rule on.


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