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Finer points of the law: In April, a New York appeals court ruled that Leon Caldwell was entitled to a $50,000 state worker-compensation death benefit on behalf of his son, Kenneth, who died at age 30 at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, even though Leon had abandoned Kenneth shortly after birth and had seen him only twice since. The court said that Leon "met the legal definition of a parent" -- but ordered him to pay Kenneth's mother her long-overdue $20,000 in child support.

Huh?: House of Lords member Norman Tebbit told a radio interviewer in May that homosexuality in Britain is "intimately connected" to the rise in obesity. (His explanation: The breakdown of the family means fewer family meals and more fast-food meals.) And Florida state legislative candidate Ed Heeney told a Palm Beach County political meeting in May that homosexuality has made it difficult for him to enjoy his pastime of billiards. (His explanation: "You have a situation where the lesbian community is buying restaurants and bars (and, presumably, removing the pool tables).")

Lawyer at work: In May, Anchorage, Alaska, public defender Leslie Hiebert, representing murder defendant Kenneth Padgett, explained why Padgett's having stuck his mother's corpse between two walls of her mobile home and sealing up the space as a tomb, was not evidence that he had killed her. Hiebert told the jury that Padgett was just trying to help her. She died of natural causes, Hiebert said, but "really loved her trailer" and "would not have a problem" with her remains being buried there. (Padgett was convicted.)

Not my fault: James Samuel Steward suffered severe brain damage in May 1998 after he took an overdose of methadone that someone had smuggled into jail for him while he was an inmate in Goulburn, Australia. In May 2004, Steward's parents filed a lawsuit on his behalf (because he is now unable to care for himself), claiming that it is the government's fault that their son got tempted in that it did not smuggle-proof the jail. The Stewards are asking the equivalent of $2.7 million.

Compelling explanations: In April, the Alaska Court of Appeals upheld the legality of a police traffic stop of a car that an officer believed was the same about which a report of occupants fighting had just been called in. The officer said he saw, through the rear window (according to an Anchorage Daily News report) that "the woman in the passenger seat was facing the driver (while the car was stopped for a red light), her left leg on top of the driver's seat, wrapped around his head rest," followed by the man's moving to "lean over" the passenger. That the activity was sex, instead of fighting, was irrelevant, said the court, because either one creates a traffic-safety problem.

Mr. Angel Jones, 27, was convicted of aggravated assault against his girlfriend for biting off most of her nose in a rage; he admitted the nose was in his mouth, but said that due to her using weight-loss medication, her nose had become brittle, and that it just fell off (Toronto, May). And Maurice Williams, 24, was charged with perjury after he told a judge that he was not "Williams," even though "Williams" was tattooed on his back. Said Maurice, "I can't see what's on my back. If there's some tattoos on my back, somebody's been bothering me when I'm asleep" (Muncie, Ind., May).

Questionable judgments: Streator, Ill., school Superintendent Bill Mattingly apologized in January after an investigation found that he called a black basketball player at Streator High into his office and ordered him to start passing the ball more often to "white kids," including Mattingly's son. And in March, Andy Schmeltzer, baseball coach at Hirschi High School (Wichita Falls, Texas), was placed on leave after he took a bat into a teacher's room, asked her to change some grades, and then slammed the bat down on a desk, for emphasis.

Undignified deaths: A 46-year-old South African soldier, part of an African Union peacekeeping force in Bujumbura, Burundi, was killed in May when a large, rotting tree fell over onto the portable toilet he was using. And a 45-year-old television cameraman was struck and killed by a car at a dangerous Omaha, Neb., intersection while he was working on a story about how dangerous the intersection is (June).

(C)2004 CHUCK SHEPHERD

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