News In Brief

A major study of US capital-punishment cases found that two of three convictions were overturned on appeal, a finding its lead author said indicated a "broken system." Columbia University law Prof. James Liebman's examination of thousands of appeals between 1973 and 1995 also showed only 5 percent of death sentences were carried out. While opponents hailed the findings as further evidence of the need to overhaul the process, supporters argued that high reversal rates merely confirm the ability of the system to detect error. The study, which blamed the reversals mostly on ineffective defense and on withholding evidence, did not make claims of wrongful execution.

The Energy Department and Environmental Protection Agency were to meet with refiners supplying reformulated gasoline to Chicago and Milwaukee to discuss why prices at the pump have shot up across the Midwest. In Chicago, the average price for a gallon of self-serve regular was $2.13 - the first time on record that a city's overall average price has topped $2, industry analyst Trilby Lundberg said. Seventeen metropolitan areas in the US - including Chicago - were required by June 1 to start using gasolines blended with ethanol to help preserve air quality.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that workers can win job-bias lawsuits without direct evidence of an employer's illegal intent. At issue was how far a Mississippi man had to go in 1995 in proving that age discrimination cost him his supervisory job at a manufacturing plant. Writing for the court, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor concluded that a federal appeals court wrongly relied on "the premise that a plaintiff must always introduce additional, independent evidence of discrimination."

The high court also ruled unanimously that federal law does not allow patients to sue health-maintenance organizations for giving physicians financial bonuses to hold down the costs of treatment. Such pay incentives are the way Congress intended HMOs to work, said the justices, who barred a 1992 lawsuit by an Illinois woman. She had blamed a health problem on inadequate care. But the decision leaves open the possibility of lawsuits in state court.

Just days after winning a major round against Microsoft, the Justice Department was set to open arguments against Visa and MasterCard. The lawsuit, filed in 1998, accuses the credit-card companies of violating antitrust law by limiting competition. Both firms deny the allegations and accuse rival American Express of maneuvering to force industry changes in its favor.

Opening a new chapter in ocean exploration, President Clinton was to announce three undersea explorations. The federal government, working with marine research institutions, will examine the Davidson Sea-mount off central California, the Hudson River Canyon off New York and New Jersey, and deep reefs off Florida's Gulf of Mexico coast. Although oceans cover 70 percent of the planet, scientists estimate that more than 90 percent of the underwater world remains unexplored.

In what its director calls a "cruel irony," the Department of Housing and Urban Development was to release a report detailing a surge in housing costs caused in part by a booming economy. Strong job growth in cities has led to an acute shortage of affordable housing, Secretary Andrew Cuomo said. The report, to be presented at the US Conference of Mayors in Seattle, noted that home and rental costs have increased faster than the rate of inflation.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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