Nation & World Briefs 08-12-14 N.Y. judge tells lawyersthat he will encouragesettlement of GM suits

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NEW YORK -- A federal judge told lawyers on Monday he'll encourage settlements in lawsuits brought on behalf of nearly 1,000 plaintiffs against General Motors for defective ignition switches.

U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman told dozens of lawyers at a hearing that he'll be careful not to interfere with the work of a bankruptcy judge who is deciding if the Detroit-based automaker's 2009 bankruptcy protects it from economic damages claims.

Furman said he wanted to be "sensitive about stepping on the toes" of the bankruptcy judge but planned to advance the litigation as much as possible nonetheless.

He made introductory remarks at an initial hearing after he was chosen to preside over more than 100 lawsuits that were consolidated in New York because of their common attributes.

The federal judge said he planned "to encourage settlement as much as possible" once any potential payouts were better defined after rulings by the bankruptcy court.

Fire burns over firefighters: Three trapped firefighters had to deploy their personal fire shelters as a rapid wind shift sent a Northern California wildfire burning over their location Monday, authorities said. All three survived with no serious injuries. The firefighters had created a predetermined safety zone earlier in the day and retreated there when the fire worsened about 5:30 p.m. Monday, Beaver Fire spokesman Corey Wilford said. Still, the flames burned over their location. A thunderstorm produced winds as high as 35 mph, causing extreme fire behavior.

U.S. urges speedy formation: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged Iraq's new leaders on Tuesday to work quickly to form an inclusive government and said the U.S. is prepared to offer it significant additional aid in the fight against Islamic State militants. Kerry said the U.S. "stands ready to fully support a new and inclusive Iraqi government" and called on Prime Minister-designate Haider al-Ibadi "to form a new cabinet as swiftly as possible." As that happens, he said Washington would be ready "to fully support a new and inclusive Iraqi government, particularly in its fight against ISIL," the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Chief says police killed hostage: Misty Holt-Singh, a hostage kidnapped during a Northern California bank robbery, was killed by police in an ensuing chase and shootout, likely during a final gunbattle where the lone surviving suspect used her as a human shield, authorities said Monday. The results of a preliminary ballistics report show that police in the city of Stockton fired the 10 bullets that struck Holt-Singh, 41, and all her wounds likely came during a final burst of gunfire, Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones said at a news conference.

Approves DNA-based test: The Food and Drug Administration on Monday approved the first screening test for colon cancer that uses patients' DNA to help spot potentially deadly tumors and growths. The Cologuard test from Exact Sciences detects irregular mutations in stool samples that can be an early warning sign of cancer. Patients who test positive for the mutations should undergo a colonoscopy to confirm the results. Doctors have long used stool tests to look for hidden blood that can be a warning sign of tumors and precancerous polyps.

Adding extra layers to warnings: The National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center said Monday it will add two threat levels to its weather outlooks so people aren't surprised by really bad storms on days with just a "slight risk" of tornadoes, hail or high winds. Beginning Oct. 22, forecasters can say whether slight risk days are "enhanced" or "marginal" or just plain "slight." Other categories remain, including "high" and "moderate."

Postal Service loses $2B: The U.S. Postal Service lost $2 billion this spring despite increasing its volume and charging consumers more money to send mail, officials said Monday. The loss for the spring quarter, which ended June 30, was significantly higher than the $740 million loss for the same three-month period last year. The agency blamed increases in compensation and benefit costs for the red ink and said it would be unable to make a congressionally mandated payment of $5.7 billion this September for health benefits for future retirees. The loss came despite a 2 percent increase in operating revenue compared to last spring.

Seeks volunteers to digitize objects: The Smithsonian Institution wants the public's help to digitize museum collections faster to make them available to researchers online. Today, the museum complex will begin recruiting online volunteers to transcribe artifact text to make objects searchable. The Smithsonian has been testing its online Transcription Center with 1,000 volunteers over the past year. Organizers say they completed more than 13,000 pages of transcription in much less time than it would take museum workers alone.

Roberts says lawyers should mend divide: U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, speaking at the American Bar Association's annual meeting Monday in Boston, said lawyers should play a key role in mitigating the "sharp partisan divides" that have shaken public faith in government. "Lawyers fulfill their professional calling to its fullest extent when they rise above particular partisan debates and participate as problem solvers," he said in a rare public speaking event before the ABA that focused on the historical significance of the Magna Carta, an English charter that turns 800 next year.

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