Broward Schools tries to limit questioning of its employees in shooting lawsuit

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The Broward School district has moved to clamp down on having its employees questioned in a civil suit filed by a Parkland father related to the February 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

On Monday, an attorney for the school system asked a Broward Circuit Court judge to cancel the depositions of seven school officials, including three assistant principals who worked at the school.

“This lawsuit should not be a fishing expedition allowing the plaintiffs and their counsel to depose any of the thousands of district employees,” wrote the lawyer, Eugene K. Pettis.

Pettis also asked the judge to narrowly focus any questioning of employees, bar the media from attending, and prevent participants from sharing testimony with journalists.

“Much of the questioning appears calculated to harassing the witness, detracting from the pending litigation, and generating media attention which, in and of itself, could be seen as an effort to taint the local jury pool.”

The court motion is the latest effort by the school district to carefully control what information is made public about the school shooting that injured 34 people, killing 17 of them.

The suit was filed by Andrew Pollack and Shara Kaplan, the parents of Meadow Pollack, who died on the school’s third floor. She was a senior.

— Sun Sentinel

Baltimore mayor to take leave of absence in midst of ‘Healthy Holly’ book controversy

BALTIMORE — Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, facing a call by Gov. Larry Hogan for a criminal investigation into the book deal that paid her hundreds of thousands of dollars, announced Monday that she will take an indefinite leave of absence because of her health.

The Democratic mayor’s office issued a statement Monday saying she had been advised by her doctors to take time to recover from a bout of pneumonia that hospitalized her for five days last week.

“With the mayor’s health deteriorating, she feels as though she is unable to fulfill her obligations as mayor of Baltimore city,” the statement read in part. “To that end, Mayor Pugh will be taking an indefinite leave of absence to recuperate from this serious illness.”

The statement did not address the scandal over the books — a series she authored featuring a young girl named Healthy Holly aimed at promoting exercise and good diet — that has quickly overtaken the mayor. A no-bid deal with the University of Maryland Medical System was first reported by The Baltimore Sun last month.

City Solicitor Andre Davis confirmed Pugh’s leave was to start at midnight Monday and that the mayor would continue to be paid her $185,000 annual salary.

Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, also a Democrat, will take over temporarily as mayor. Young said in an interview that he was “heartbroken” by the mayor’s deteriorating health and that his first aim was to ensure stability in the city he will now lead.

— Baltimore Sun

Homicides and shootings in Chicago down sharply in year’s first quarter

CHICAGO — In a promising start to 2019, homicides and shootings have dropped sharply over the first three months, Chicago police say, continuing a decline since 2016, when violence hit levels not seen since the 1990s.

Homicides plummeted 38 percent through March 24, the latest department statistics show, as most of the city’s 22 patrol districts reported declines, including in the South and West Side neighborhoods that traditionally struggle with violence, poverty and other social ills. Shooting incidents fell by 19 percent.

Arguably, the biggest improvement took place in the Calumet District on the Far South Side, which had seen a single homicide and only 10 shooting incidents through March 24, though a shooting a day later left a 33-year-old woman dead and her husband and 1-year-old son wounded. The district had 11 homicides and 23 shooting incidents in the year-earlier period.

Calumet District Cmdr. Joel Howard, who was named to the post last summer, knows the true test will come as the weather — and the violence — heats up in coming weeks.

Howard has found that much of the violence stems from disputes over social media that, he said, can often be discovered before trouble erupts if police make inroads with the community.

“More times than not, the neighborhood knows more about what’s going on than we do,” Howard told the Tribune in a telephone interview.

— Chicago Tribune

Pentagon delaying delivery of F-35s used to train Turkish pilots, officials say

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is delaying delivery of two F-35 fighter jets intended to help train Turkish pilots at an Arizona base because of Turkey’s plan to buy a Russian missile defense system, according to U.S. defense officials.

The advanced fighters, built by Lockheed Martin Corp., were to join two F-35s previously delivered to Luke Air Force Base for pilot training before the planes were supposed to be sent to Turkey.

The U.S. has vigorously protested Turkey’s plan to buy the S-400 defense system from Moscow, with Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan calling it “incompatible” with the sale to Turkey of the F-35. The U.S. has sought to persuade Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to buy the U.S. Patriot defense system instead.

Turkey, a member of NATO, is a crucial participant in the U.S.-led program to build the F-35, the U.S.’s costliest weapons system.

— Bloomberg News

Facing mass protests, Algeria’s president agrees to resign

BEIRUT — Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika will resign before the end of his fourth term, state media said Monday, the latest in a series of moves aimed at mollifying millions of Algerians who have protested his rule in recent weeks.

The ailing 82-year-old will step down before April 28, the official Algeria Press Service reported, citing a statement from the president’s office. Bouteflika had announced last month that he would seek a fifth term, but when that met with immediate and massive protests, he backed down.

Monday’s statement followed a wide-scale government reshuffle the day before that replaced 21 of the Cabinet’s 27 ministers, state TV reported.

Bouteflika will make “important decisions … in order to ensure the continuity of the functioning of the state institutions during the transition period,” the statement read.

The president has ruled the country for almost 20 years but was so incapacitated by a stroke in 2013 that he has not spoken publicly since; in rare appearances he is never seen without a wheelchair and seems barely able to register what is before him.

Many believe the real power in the country lies with a cabal of military and business elites, known as “Le Pouvoir,” or the Power, which includes the president’s younger brother, Said Bouteflika, and Lt. Gen. Ahmed Gaid Salah, the 79-year-old army chief.

When Bouteflika announced he would run for a fifth term in elections set for April 18, tens of thousands of people across the social spectrum flooded city streets nationwide in protest. Bouteflika had been too ill to announce his candidacy and had to have an official confirm he was still alive.

— Los Angeles Times