Finally, Some Order in the Court
The New Orleans criminal justice system, practically paralyzed after Hurricane Katrina, is inching its way to recovery. The Orleans Parish Criminal District Court welcomed jurors back last week for the first time since Katrina ravaged the city and flooded the courthouse. For the past nine months, local judges held hearings in the federal courthouse, but the lingering effects of Katrina had made jury trials impossible. Despite millions spent on repairs, the recovery is far from over. Judges now face a backlog of thousands of cases, often with evidence destroyed and witnesses scattered. The local public defender's office--which represents about 85 percent of the city's defendants--has hired several new attorneys but is still a fraction of its prehurricane size. "At least it's a start," said Chris Maurice, an investigator with the public defender. "We just got the phones working again."
Declaring a Major--in High School
Florida's teenagers need to grow up. At least that seems to be the thinking behind the education bill Gov. Jeb Bush signed last week in Davie. The A++ Plan, a follow-up to his A+ Plan of seven years ago, requires that incoming high school students declare a major starting in 2007. Supporters say the plan will keep students interested and allow them to try potential careers. "You've got kids who wander aimlessly for 13 years. It's like an eternal childhood, and they don't have to think about the future," said Cheri Pierson Yecke, Florida's chancellor for K-12 public schools. Majors will range from car repair to history. Democratic critics of the plan claim the changes won't help raise Florida's low high school graduation rate. And Melissa Gleissner, a Southwest Ranches, Fla., mother of children going into third, sixth, and ninth grades next year, said she did not think her children should face the pressure of choosing a major. "How are you telling a ninth grader, 'You should know what you want to do'?" she asked.
Standing Firm in the Desert
When Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona vetoed a controversial immigration package, State Republican Rep. Russell Pearce found the date fitting. "It's perfect; 6/6/6, the devil rises up again," Pearce said. Whether you believe Napolitano is an angel or the devil down in Phoenix, it's hard to argue with Pearce's use of the word again. The governor has vetoed 115 bills since taking office in 2003, breaking a state record. None of her vetoes have been overturned. This year, she has averaged one veto about every five days. The latest bill would have penalized employers who hire illegal immigrants and made it a crime for those immigrants to be in Arizona. In a letter to legislators, Napolitano said she vetoed the bill because most state law enforcement officials opposed it and because it was too lenient, allowing employers to escape punishment if they fired an illegal immigrant within 10 business days of being caught. She called the measure "weak and ineffective." State Republicans say they will use her immigration vetoes against her in this fall's gubernatorial election, but polls give Napolitano a large lead over any of her prospective Republican rivals.
New Rules for Blue Devils
Duke University is giving its beleaguered lacrosse team a second chance. Two months after he canceled the season amid allegations that three players raped a woman at a team party, Duke President Richard Brodhead said the team would be welcomed back next season--with conditions. There will be tighter supervision from administrators and new standards of behavior for the team, which has a reputation for partying. A new conduct code, written by the players, prohibits underage drinking, disorderly conduct, and harassment. But it has been a rocky road. Days before Brodhead's announcement in Durham, N.C., a player was suspended from the team after he was charged with driving while impaired and marijuana possession. "I'm making a gamble," Brodhead acknowledged. Meanwhile, legal maneuvering over the earlier charges continued; defense lawyers alleged that medical evidence did not support the rape charge and said that a woman who was with the alleged victim at the party questioned the validity of her accusation.
A Real Education in South Florida
South Florida, it seems, has always had more than its share of the bizarre, the macabre, the just plain wacky. So perhaps the students taking the summer criminology course at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale shouldn't have been surprised at what they discovered on their field trip last week. For a couple of decades now, teacher Sue Messenger has planted fake knives and cardboard skeletons at mock crime scenes in Holiday Park to give those eager students a feel for real crime-scene investigation. But this time, the scene got a little too real when the students discovered the body of a 45-year-old homeless man. A real investigation by the police showed no signs of foul play. As for the kids, "they kind of went into shock and disbelief," Messenger told a local television station. "I mean ... what are the odds that we would be out here?"
With Scott Michels, Will Sullivan and Associated Press
This story appears in the June 19, 2006 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.