Nation briefs 01/28/03

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Sept. 11 commission convenes, names director

WASHINGTON -- An independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks convened for the first time Monday, out of public view, to grapple with logistics and meet with some victims' relatives.

The 10-member commission named Philip Zelikow, currently the head of a nonprofit foundation's task force on national security, as its executive director.

Former New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean, the chairman of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks, said significant progress was made in its first meeting. The commission's next meeting, also a private session, will be held Feb. 12.

After their executive meeting, the commissioners spent about 90 minutes with some relatives of those killed in the attacks.

Existing-home sales set record in 2002

WASHINGTON -- Home buyers took advantage of some of the lowest mortgage rates in decades and catapulted sales of previously owned homes in 2002 to the highest level on record.

The housing market thrived even as the American economy, knocked back by the 2001 recession, struggled all last year to regain a solid footing and suffered through uneven growth. The lure of low mortgage rates proved irresistible to many people, who opted to make big-ticket financial commitments despite the muddled economic environment.

Previously owned homes sold at an annual rate of 5.56 million in 2002, shattering the record of 5.30 million reached in 2001, the National Association of Realtors reported Monday.

NYPD absolves itself of misconduct in jogger case

NEW YORK -- The Police Department asserted Monday that it acted properly in its handling of the racially charged Central Park jogger case and said the five defendants were "most likely" guilty.

The department's report came nearly six weeks after a judge threw out the convictions of five black and Hispanic males in the 1989 rape and near-fatal beating of a 28-year-old white woman who was jogging in the park at night.

The case of the five, who ranged in age from 14 to 16 at the time, riveted a city that was rife with racial tensions and fears of random lawlessness.

The police department report recommends improved facilities for the questioning of juvenile suspects, but otherwise defends the department's conduct and says evidence implicates the original suspects.

Doctors skip work over rising insurance costs

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- More than 800 doctors in Florida, and a dozen more in Mississippi, stayed off the job Monday to protest rising malpractice insurance costs.

Organizers of the protest in the Palm Beach County area said the doctors were staying off the job to attend a two-day conference looking at the problem.

Palm Beach hospitals prepared for the absence by adding to their emergency room staff and rescheduling elective surgeries. No problems had been reported Monday.

Complaints about higher insurance rates, driven in part by jury awards for malpractice, are being heard from doctors around the country.

About two dozen surgeons walked off the job in West Virginia earlier this month. Doctors in New Jersey are considering a similar protest in February.

Cameras barred from hearings of sniper suspect

FAIRFAX, Va. -- Cameras will not be permitted in the courtroom for the case of 17-year-old sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo, a judge decided Monday.

Virginia law allows cameras in the courtroom at the discretion of the judge. Circuit Judge Jane Roush decided she will not permit them.

Malvo will be in Roush's court today to set a date for his murder trial.

Malvo's alleged accomplice, John Allen Muhammad, is scheduled to go on trial in Prince William County in October. The judge there has ruled against allowing TV cameras, but he is permitting a still camera.

The two have been accused of shooting 19 people, killing 13 and wounding six in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.-- From wire reports

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