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A federal appeals court on Friday temporarily blocked an order that all California prison workers must be vaccinated against the coronavirus or have a religious or medical exemption.

A panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted a request for a stay of September’s lower court order pending an appeal. It also sped up the hearing process by setting a Dec. 13 deadline for opening briefs.

The vaccination mandate was supposed to have taken effect by Jan. 12 but the appellate court stay blocks enforcement until sometime in March, when the appeal hearing will be scheduled.

The judge who issued the vaccination mandate followed the recommendation of a court-appointed receiver who was chosen to manage the state prison health care system after a federal judge in 2005 found that California failed to provide adequate medical care to prisoners.

In addition to requiring COVID-19 shots for prison workers, U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar required vaccinations or exemptions for inmates who want in-person visits or who work outside prisons, including inmate firefighters.

The stay “puts both the prison staff and the incarcerated population at greater risk of infection,” said Don Specter, director of the nonprofit Prison Law Office, which represents inmates in a long-running lawsuit over medical conditions in state prisons.

The mandate was opposed by the state’s prison agency and Gov. Gavin Newsom, even though his administration previously had ordered vaccinations or testing for all state employees, including correctional employees.

The politically powerful California Correctional Peace Officers Association had argued that the mandate could create staff shortages if employees refuse to comply.

Messages to the governor’s office and corrections officials seeking comment on Friday’s stay weren’t immediately returned.


A Louisiana man has pleaded guilty in an airline baggage scam that resulted in more than $300,000 in fraudulent claims, federal prosecutors said.

Pernell Anthony Jones, Jr., 31, of Kenner, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and mail fraud, U.S. Attorney Duane A. Evans said in a news release Tuesday. For each count, Jones faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan set sentencing for Feb. 24, 2022.

According to court documents, beginning in 2015, Jones flew on several airlines using false identities. When he arrived at the destination airport, Jones then falsely claimed that his baggage was lost and requested reimbursement to compensate him for his loss.

Through the scheme, Jones submitted more than 180 false claims for lost luggage, requesting over $550,000 in reimbursement, Evans’ office said. In total, the airlines paid over $300,000 in fraudulent claims, authorities said.

On April 7, 2018, Jones was arrested at Dallas Love Airport while trying to go through screening with 36 fake driver’s licenses and 47 credit cards under fictitious names, the news release said.

He was arrested again in March 2020 while trying to pick up a reimbursement check at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. Law enforcement later searched his home and found 34 fraudulent driver’s licenses, 21 fake work ID cards and a number of fraudulent airline employee badges with his photograph, prosecutors said.


The Mississippi Court of Appeals has upheld the 2020 conviction of a former pastor on statutory rape and sexual battery involving two 14-year-old girls.

The Rev. Troy Anthony Piccaluga, 52, was convicted March 5, 2020, on the charges and sentenced by Circuit Judge Toni Walker Terrett to 50 years in prison.

Piccaluga appealed the verdict, claiming the trial judge erred by denying his motion to suppress a portion of his recorded interview with law enforcement, by allowing “repeated instances of improper prosecutorial comment,” by allowing the use of a transcript of a recorded telephone call and by permitting a lay witness to give improper opinion testimony.

The judges, in a ruling dated Tuesday, found no reversible error and affirmed the verdict, The Vicksburg Post reported.

“We appreciate the ruling of the court,” District Attorney Ricky Smith said. “We had two young victims who were victimized by Piccaluga and had to wait until today to make sure that the case was finally concluded. They can rest easy now that the case has been affirmed by the court.”

Piccaluga is serving his sentence at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility in Meridian. His scheduled release date is in September 2069.

Piccaluga, then 48 and former pastor of the Eagle Lake and Redwood United Methodist churches, was arrested March 30, 2018, at his home by Warren County sheriff’s deputies after an investigation into a complaint about a girl between the ages of 14 and 16 having a sexual relationship with an older man. The second victim was discovered during the initial investigation and he was charged with two counts of statutory rape and one count of sexual battery.

At the trial, the jury was unable to reach a verdict on one of the rape counts.


The police union in St. Paul, Minnesota is suing the city in an effort to halt a mandate that requires city employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of the year.

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter announced the requirement for nearly 4,000 workers last month, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported. But the St. Paul Police Federation has resisted, suggesting that unvaccinated employees be allowed to continue working if they wear masks and take regular tests for the virus. It filed the lawsuit Tuesday in the Minnesota court system.

Police departments around the U.S. are running up against pockets of vaccine resistance that some fear could leave law enforcement shorthanded and undermine public safety.

The St. Paul police union’s lawsuit argues that the vaccine requirement amounts to a new condition for employment that was not negotiated with the union. It is asking a judge to halt the mandate until the union and city negotiate an agreement.

“We are not anti-vaccine, nor are we conspiracy theorists — we are reasonable and dedicated public servants who believe in personal choice,” the union said in a statement.

The mayor’s office said it planned to move forward with the mandate unless a judge orders to halts it.


A federal judge has ordered two lawyers who filed a class action lawsuit alleging the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump to pay more than $180,000 in attorney’s fees for defendants Dominion Voting Systems, Facebook and others, saying the lawsuit was intended to manipulate “gullible members of the public” and helped spur the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

The now-dismissed suit relied on baseless conspiracy theories spread by the former president and his supporters. It named elected officials in four swing states, Facebook and Denver-based Dominion, whose election machines were at the center of some of the most fevered speculation.

U.S. Magistrate Judge N. Reid Neureiter ruled in August that attorneys Gary D. Fielder and Ernest J. Walker should pay penalties. Neureiter’s Monday order, first reported by Colorado Politics, awarded individual fees — but he stayed the awards pending an appeal of the dismissed lawsuit to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

The penalties included $62,930 to Dominion and $50,000 to Facebook, which the suit alleged censored conservative voices leading up to the election.

Neureiter scolded the attorneys, saying they’d appealed for public donations to hire legal experts for their case though none were hired, and that the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol was promoted by the lies it repeated.

He said the suit repeated “unverified and uninvestigated defamatory rumors that strike at the heart of our democratic system and were used by others to foment a violent insurrection that threatened our system of government.”

Repeated audits and recounts found no significant fraud in the presidential election. Trump’s own administration said the election was clean. Still, Trump and his allies filed dozens of suits. Ultimately they lost more than 50 of the election lawsuits.

Fielder and Walker were not connected with other Trump lawyers. They argued in court that they were trying to protect democracy.

Telephone messages and emails seeking comment from Fielder and Walker on Wednesday were not immediately returned.


The only person convicted in the 2007 murder of British student Meredith Kercher was freed Tuesday after serving most of his 16-year prison sentence, his lawyer said.

Attorney Fabrizio Ballarini said Rudy Guede’s planned Jan. 4 release had been moved up a few weeks by a judge and he was freed on Tuesday. He will continue to work in the library at the Viterbo-based Center for Criminology Studies, Ballarini said in an email.

Guede had already been granted permission to leave prison during the day to work at the center while he served his sentence for the 2007 murder of 21-year-old Kercher.

The case in the university city of Perugia gained international notoriety after Kercher’s American roommate, Amanda Knox, and Knox’s then-boyfriend were placed under suspicion. Both were initially convicted, but Italy’s highest court threw out the convictions in 2015 after a series of flip-flop decisions.

Guede was originally convicted in a fast-track trial procedure. He has denied killing Kercher.


A few days after Tunisia’s president froze parliament and took on sweeping powers in July, a dozen men in unmarked vehicles and civilian clothes barged into politician Yassine Ayari’s family home overnight and took him away in his pajamas.

“These men weren’t wearing uniforms and they didn’t have a warrant,” Ayari told The Associated Press. “It was violent. My 4-year-old son still has nightmares about it.”

A 40-year-old computer engineer-turned-corruption fighter, Ayari will stand trial again in a military court on Monday, accused of insulting the presidency and defaming the army. It is the latest in a series of trials that shine a light on Tunisia’s use of military courts to push through convictions against civilians. Rights groups say the practice has accelerated since President Kais Saied’s seizure of power in July, and warn that its use further threatens hard-won freedoms amid Tunisia’s democratic backsliding.

The charges Ayari faces relate to Facebook posts in which he criticized Saied, calling him a “pharaoh” and his measures a “military coup.” Ayari intends to remain silent in court to protest the whole judicial process, according to his lawyer, Malek Ben Amor.

Amnesty International is warning of an “alarming increase” in Tunisian military courts targeting civilians: In the past three months, it says, 10 civilians have been investigated or prosecuted by military tribunals, while four civilians are facing trial for criticizing the president.

That’s especially worrying because Tunisia was long considered the only democratic success story to emerge from the Arab Spring uprisings a decade ago, and was long seen as a model for the region.

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