November 29, 2012
By MIKE SCHNEIDER Associated Press
Attorneys for Florida A&M University on Wednesday asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the family of a drum major who died last year after being hazed by fellow band members, claiming Robert Champion was a willing participant in the ritual.
University attorney Richard Mitchell said Champion wasn't forced to board a bus parked outside an Orlando hotel where the hazing took place. He was an adult able to make his own decisions at age 26, and he had risen through the ranks of the famed Marching 100 band without taking part in hazing until that fateful night in November 2011, Mitchell said.
Champion’s willingness to take part in an illegal act gives the university immunity from the wrongful death lawsuit, Mitchell said.
“Robert Champion knew exactly what he was doing,” he said. “If Mr. Champion had not gotten on that bus, he would not have been hazed.”
Circuit Judge Walter Komanski didn't immediately issue a ruling.
Champion’s parents filed a lawsuit contending university officials did not take action to stop hazing even though a school dean had proposed suspending the Marching 100 band just days before their son died. The lawsuit also alleges that school officials fell short in enforcing anti-hazing policies.
An attorney for Champion’s family asked the judge to allow a jury to decide who was responsible for Champion’s death.
“A jury needs to decide how to allocate responsibility for the death of Mr. Champion,” said lawyer Kenneth Bell. “Please allow that to be heard.”
Champion’s parents, Robert and Pamela Champion of Decatur, Ga., rejected a $300,000 settlement offer from the university earlier this month. An attorney for the family, Chris Chestnut, said no further talks are taking place.
Ten FAMU band members face felony hazing charges in the case, while two others face misdemeanor counts. They have pleaded not guilty. Hazing that involves bodily harm is a third-degree felony in Florida.
“This is a commonsense case. It’s complex but common sense,” Chestnut said after the hearing. “There is a clear history of hazing at FAMU.”
Champion’s parents also are suing the bus company that operated the bus on which the hazing took place, as well as its driver. An attorney for the bus driver said her duty to protect the students ended when she dropped them off at the hotel.
An attorney for the bus company told the judge that Champion’s participation relieved them of liability.
“It is not an issue of whether he was a participant in hazing,” said Dick Ford, an attorney for Fabulous Coach Lines. “He certainly was a participant in hazing.”
November 29, 2012
By JULIE PACE and
President Barack Obama will host his former political rival Mitt Romney for a private lunch at the White House Thursday, their first meeting since the election.
Obama promised in his victory speech earlier this month to engage with Romney following their bitter campaign and consider the Republican’s ideas.
“In the weeks ahead, I also look forward to sitting down with Gov. Romney to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward,” Obama said at the time.
Obama aides said they reached out to Romney’s team shortly before Thanksgiving to start working on a date for the meeting. The two men will meet in the White House’s private dining room, with no press coverage expected.
In the days after his loss, Romney told top donors that the president was re-elected because of the “gifts” Obama provided to blacks, Hispanics and young voters, all of which are core Obama constituencies.
“The president’s campaign, if you will, focused on giving targeted groups a big gift,” Romney said.
Many Republican officials, eager to move on quickly after the loss, disputed Romney’s comments and urged the party to focus on being more inclusive.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama was looking forward to having a “useful discussion” with his former competitor. But he said there was no formal agenda for the lunch.
While in Washington, Romney will also meet with his former running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, according to a Romney campaign aide. Ryan is back on Capitol Hill, where he’s involved in negotiations to avert a series of automatic tax increases and deep spending cuts that have come to be known as the “fiscal cliff.”
Much of that debate centers on expiring tax cuts first passed by George W. Bush. Obama and Romney differed sharply during the campaign over what to do with the cuts, with the Republican pushing for them to be extended for all income earners and the president running on a pledge to let the cuts expire for families making more than $250,000 a year.
The White House sees Obama’s victory as a signal that Americans support his tax proposals.
Obama and Romney’s sit-down Thursday will likely be their most extensive private meeting ever. The two men had only a handful of brief exchanges before the 2012 election.
Even after their political fates became intertwined, their interactions were largely confined to the three presidential debates.
Romney has virtually disappeared from politics following his loss in the Nov. 6 election. He's spent the last three weeks largely in seclusion at his family's southern California home. He has made no public appearances, drawing media attention only after being photographed at Disneyland in addition to stops at the movies and the gym with his wife, Ann.
Former aides confirm that Romney is expected to move into an office at the Boston-area venture capital firm Solamere Capital. The firm was founded by his oldest son, Tagg Romney, and Spencer Zwick, who served as his presidential campaign’s national finance chairman.
It’s unclear what role, if any, Romney will play at the firm. Former aides said Romney was subletting office space from Solamere.
November 29, 2012
By MIKE SCHNEIDER Associated Press
George Zimmerman plans to step up fundraising to pay for his expenses while he awaits trial for fatally shooting 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
The former neighborhood watch leader’s attorney said Wednesday that Zimmerman plans to launch the New George Zimmerman Defense Fund next month.
Donors will receive “thank you” cards individually signed by Zimmerman.
Attorney Mark O’Mara said an existing fund has raised $140,000 since last May, but the money it is running a bit low.
Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and claims the shooting was self-defense under the state’s “stand your ground” law.
A trial is set for June, but a “stand your ground hearing” could be held by April.
November 22, 2012
A spokesman for a rebel group in Congo believed to be backed by neighboring Rwanda confirmed that his fighters have entered Goma and have taken the city's international airport. The assault was punctuated by heavy gunfire.
Col. Vianney Kazarama, spokesman for the M23 rebel movement, told The Associated Press by telephone that the rebels are now fighting for control of the rest of Goma. “We already took the airport,” Kazarama said Tuesday. “We are now inside the city of Goma.”
Goma was last threatened by rebels in 2008 when fighters stopped just short of the provincial capital. The United Nations has said that if Goma were to fall a humanitarian catastrophe would result. The rebels are opposed by Congolese government forces backed by U.N. peacekeeping troops and their attack helicopters.