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Wisconsin Supreme Court asked to rule on release of personal e-mails

Madison (AP) — The Wisconsin Supreme Court is being asked to consider whether personal e-mails sent by public employees are subject to the state’s open records law.

The case involves five employees of the Wisconsin Rapids School District. A citizen asked for e-mails they sent from their work computers over a six-week period.

The employees did not object to releasing e-mails about work but filed a lawsuit to keep personal messages private. A judge dismissed the case and ordered the e-mails made public.

The employees appealed. The Madison-based District 4 Court of Appeals asked the high court Thursday to take the case immediately because of its significance. The court has the discretion to take it or send it back.

Supreme Court: Wisconsin judge’s mom should not have been a juror

Madison (AP) — A northern Wisconsin judge erred when he let his mother be a juror in a criminal case he heard, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

Ashland County Circuit Court Judge Robert Eaton should have removed his mother from the juror pool because of the potential for bias, the court ruled. Citing the mistake, the court ordered a new trial for Mark Tody Jr., who was convicted in 2006 of working with friends to steal a vehicle.

The family relationship automatically made Eaton’s mother a biased juror and violated Tody’s constitutional right to a fair trial, Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson wrote. Jurors likely gave the mother’s opinions great weight while Tody’s lawyer might have gone easy on the judge’s rulings in front of the jury, Abrahamson wrote.

Tody’s attorney, Byron Lichstein, said the decision means judges should automatically remove their family members from jury pools. He said his research turned up one other Wisconsin case where a judge’s mother was a juror in a 1990s murder case and about 10 others nationwide.

Tody, now 22, was sentenced to three years of probation for being party to operating a vehicle without the owner’s consent. Prosecutors say he and two friends stole a vehicle from the Ashland airport. The jury rejected Tody’s claim that he was a mere bystander to the crime.

Fifth Milwaukee school closes Thursday due to swine flu concerns

Milwaukee (AP) — Concerns about swine flu has caused a Catholic school in Milwaukee to close both its campuses.

St. Anthony School reports the closure is strictly precautionary. No probable or confirmed cases have been associated with the parochial school.

Assistant Principal Holly Cerveny said the campuses will be closed Thursday and Friday, affecting about 1,050 students.

Another Catholic school, St. Adalbert School, has twice as many absences as usual. Principal Julia Hutchinson said none of their children are suspected to have the flu. But parents are being more cautious — both in keeping sick kids home and sending healthy kids to school.

The Milwaukee Health Department closed four Milwaukee public schools Wednesday.

Federal government going after employers who hire, exploit illegal workers

Washington (AP) — An Obama administration policy to go after employers who knowingly hire and exploit illegal workers is not significantly different from the Bush administration strategy, according to a copy of the guidelines, obtained by The Associated Press.

The new guidelines for immigration agents, which the Homeland Security Department calls a “renewed department-wide focus” will impose fines and criminal charges against employers who break the law.

While the priority is to go after employers, the policy states that agents will continue to arrest illegal workers. The Barack Obama policy, however, stresses that humanitarian guidelines will be followed more broadly than in the previous administration.

In 2008, Immigration and Customs Enforcement brought criminal charges against 135 employers and 968 workers.

KBR Inc.’s first-quarter profit falls 21 percent from last year’s earnings

Houston (AP) — KBR Inc.‘s first-quarter earnings dropped 21 percent from a year earlier when the engineering and construction company posted a $51 million gain from an arbitration award.

The Houston company, which does construction work for the military in Iraq and Afghanistan, topped Wall Street estimates by 5 cents per share.

KBR said net income was $77 million, down from $98 million last year.

Revenue rose 27 percent to $3.2 billion, topping analysts’ estimates of $2.92 billion.

KBR, which was split from Halliburton Co. in 2007, builds natural gas and wastewater-treatment plants, embassies, tar-sands projects and shelters for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Income for its business that provides engineering, procurement, construction and related services dropped nearly one-third to $73 million from $105 million last year. Income for first quarter 2008 included an arbitration award for a project contracted with Mexican petroleum company PEMEX.

KBR has been under scrutiny over accusations that electrical work on U.S. facilities in Iraq are unsafe following the electrocutions of service members while showering. Others have been injured or killed in electrical incidents.

KBR has said it was not responsible for any of the deaths, and safety is its top priority.

Obama’s economic adviser predicts increase in unemployment before leveling off

Washington (AP) — Unemployment will increase in the next several months, but the pace of the nation’s economic slide will moderate and level out in the second half of the year, a top Obama economic adviser told Congress on Thursday.

Christina Romer, the chairwoman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, predicted another economic contraction in the second quarter of the year and delivered a downbeat assessment about unemployment. But she said the pace of the economic decline will moderate sharply over the next several months.

Romer specifically pointed to increased consumer confidence and to signs that the housing sector appears to be reaching bottom as hopeful indicators.

Her testimony came in the wake of Wednesday’s report that that overall economic output in the U.S. declined rapidly in the first three months of this year.

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