Lawyer Shortage Is Hurting

Poor Defendants, Court Says

BOSTON -- Massachusetts's highest court ruled Wednesday that a shortage of defense lawyers caused by low pay is violating the constitutional rights of some poor defendants, and said cases must be dismissed against suspects who go without a lawyer for more than 45 days.

Ruling in a dispute over pay for private lawyers who represent indigent people, the Supreme Judicial Court also ruled that criminal defendants cannot be held in jail for more than seven days without a lawyer.

The ruling is expected to trigger the release on bail of at least 20 defendants in Hampden County. An undetermined number of additional defendants are also likely to have the charges against them dropped, at least temporarily, said William J. Leahy, chief counsel for the Committee for Public Counsel Services, which provides lawyers for people who cannot afford them.

In its unanimous decision, the court noted that the $30-per-hour pay for lawyers who represent the indigent in district court has barely changed over the past two decades and is among the lowest in the country.

First U.S. Punch-Card Voting

Trial Is Postponed to Nov. 1

CLEVELAND -- The nation's first trial challenging punch-card voting was postponed, removing the possibility of a ruling before the presidential election.

The American Civil Liberties Union had wanted a federal judge to declare Ohio's punch-card system unconstitutional, even if there was no hope of getting the system changed before November.

But U.S. District Judge David D. Dowd suspended the proceedings until Nov. 1 -- one day before the presidential election -- to allow the ACLU time to examine an expert report the state filed last Friday.

* A Pennsylvania meat company voluntarily recalled 170,000 pounds of hamburger patties that contained Canadian beef products prohibited under safeguards against mad cow disease, the U.S. Agriculture Department said. The department said the recalled products from Quaker Maid Meats Inc., a privately owned business, were allowed into the United States after a Canadian meat inspector improperly labeled a shipment of 41,000 pounds of beef. The beef was later used by Quaker Maid to produce 170,000 pounds of hamburger.

* CONCORD, N.H. -- The former director of the New Hampshire Republican Party pleaded guilty to jamming Democratic phone banks on Election Day 2002. Chuck McGee was accused of arranging to have hundreds of hang-up calls made to phone lines that were installed to help voters get rides to the polls. Among the contests decided that day was the close Senate race in which Republican Rep. John E. Sununu beat Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen. McGee pleaded guilty to conspiring to make anonymous calls with the intent to annoy or harass. The offense carries as many as five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He will be sentenced Oct. 29.

* TOMS RIVER, N.J. -- A naked body unearthed from a shallow grave was identified as that of 16-year-old Brittney Gregory. Jack Fuller, 38, a friend of Brittney's father, has been charged with murder in the case and jailed on $1 million bail.

-- From News Services