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LEAD STORY: In an era of tight education budgets, one category of Texas school spending seems unrestrained, according to a May Houston Chronicle story: high school football stadiums. More than 20 new or planned facilities ("gridiron cathedrals") resemble those of professional teams, with luxury suites, plush locker rooms and weight rooms. The $20 million stadium in Denton, Texas, which includes a $900,000, three-story scoreboard with instant replay, is barely better than the state-of-the-art fields in Waco, Southlake and Mesquite, but may not hold up to the $27 million facility in Round Rock. Critics bemoan the terribly misplaced priorities, but defenders say the stadiums may eventually pay for themselves and that construction bonds are more accessible than the tax money necessary to raise teacher salaries.

The Litigious Society: Russian "astrologist" Marina Bai has filed a lawsuit in the Presnensky District Court in Moscow against the U.S. government's NASA, claiming that her business will be ruined if the agency is allowed, as planned, to crash a rocket into the Temple 1 comet July 4 to see what can be learned from the experience. Bai said the collision will "interfere with the natural life of the universe," which will in turn harm her "system of spiritual values," and she seeks 8.7 billion rubles (about $311 million, which is the reported cost of the entire mission).Rhonda Nichols, 40, filed a lawsuit in April against a Lowe's Home Improvement store in Alton, Ill., seeking a minimum of $50,000 for injuries she says she suffered when a bird about the size of a pigeon flew against the back of her head while she was shopping in the store's outdoor gardening department. According to the lawsuit, the bird caused injuries to her head, brain, neck, muscles, bones, nerves, discs and ligaments, and led to the loss of neurological functions and cognitive skills. Said a Lowe's assistant manager, "It's an outside garden area. What are we supposed to do?"

The courts of Madison County, Ill. (near St. Louis), have a reputation in the legal community as friendly to plaintiffs who sue companies, and thus attorneys are eager to find lawsuits to file there. (Nichols' lawsuit against Lowe's, above, is an example.) In 2002, lawyer Emert Wyss conceived a Madison County lawsuit on behalf of a client against a mortgage company for collecting what he thought were bogus fees on real estate transactions. Wyss' litigation stimulus (he received a referral fee and was part of the lawsuit) proved too clever: The litigation team strategically added a local title company as co-defendant, only to discover that the title company is owned by Wyss. Thus, in a rush to litigate in Madison County, Wyss had actually sparked a lawsuit against himself. (He eventually withdrew from the team.)

Recurring Themes: Computer repairman Dennis Avner of Guatay, Calif., is perhaps the world's most extreme variation of a "furrie" (a person who adopts the persona of an animal). Avner has tiger-stripe tattoos covering most of his body, dental implants sharpened to points to resemble tiger teeth, and metal-stud implants around his mouth to hold his long, plastic whiskers. He has had ear and lip surgery to make his head more catlike. He told the San Diego Union-Tribune in May that Guatay folks are mostly tolerant of him but that he nonetheless has decided to relocate to Washington.

Finer Points of Law: 1) In April, a federal appeals court, following an in-depth hearing, turned down a challenge by the J.M. Smucker Co., which had unsuccessfully tried to patent its frozen Uncrustables sandwiches by claiming they are legally unique because the edges of the bread are pinched together to hold the peanut butter and jelly in. (The U.S. Patent Office had apparently realized that most mothers routinely make PB&J sandwiches in a similar manner.) 2) And in April, an arbitrator ruled that Painesville, Ohio, police officer Stuart Underwood could not be fired for having sex while on duty because he was on break at the time and kept his radio on to listen for emergency calls.

Least Competent Criminals: 1) A man who decided to wear a Pluto dog mask to rob a Gordon's Mini Market in Cranberry, Pa. (near Pittsburgh), was unsuccessful and forced to flee empty-handed when the clerk could not bring himself to stop laughing at the disguise (March). 2) KPRC-TV in Houston reported in April that kidnappers broke into Nora Montoya's home, duct-taped her, ready to take her away, but apparently got scared and left a note at the scene demanding $2,000, promising to come back later to pick it up (but they didn't).

© 2005 CHUCK SHEPHERD

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