Judge dismisses Pennsylvania woman's lawsuit against Bill Cosby

A U.S. federal judge on Thursday dismissed a defamation lawsuit brought by a Pennsylvania woman against Bill Cosby, which contended the comedian smeared her character when he accused her of lying in claiming he had sexually assaulted her in the 1980s.Renita Hill, 48, had claimed she was defamed her when the comedian and his representatives called her a liar and extortionist as he defended himself after she went public in 2014 with allegations of decades-old sexual misconduct.Hill, a Pittsburgh resident, sued in October over three comments made by Cosby and his representatives. The three statements in question "do not support a claim for defamation as defined by Pennsylvania law," U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab said in his dismissal ruling, court documents showed.Hill's attorneys have said Cosby mentored her when she was a young woman, and paid for her education at Temple University and Spelman College. They said he also arranged meetings in Atlantic City, New York and Denver, where he sexually assaulted her. Hill's first public accusation of sexual assault came in a 2014 interview with a Pittsburgh TV station. Her lawsuit concerned statements Cosby and his representatives made in response to that interview. Schwab said the remarks were protected under free speech rights, and that Hill did not prove the comments harmed her. More than 50 women have come forward to accuse Cosby, 78, of sexual assault. The allegations date back as far as the 1960s, making most of them too old for criminal prosecution. Hill and several other women have sued Cosby.Cosby's attorneys welcomed the judge's decision in a statement and said they hoped it would influence the outcome of other pending lawsuits. "The Court found opinionated speech by a defendant's attorney is protected and not actionable as defamatory," the attorneys said. "It is our hope that courts in other jurisdictions with similar matters will respond in like manner."The drumbeat of accusations has toppled Cosby from his cultural status as one of America's most-admired comedians. He built his career on family-friendly humor and was best known as the loving but often befuddled father in the 1980s television hit, "The Cosby Show."The only criminal charges against Cosby were filed last month, over the alleged sexual assault of Andrea Constand in 2004.Cosby, who has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, is free on $1 million bail. His lawyer has said he is not guilty and will not consider a plea bargain. (Editing by Scott Malone, Frances Kerry and David Gregorio)

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Judge dismisses Pennsylvania woman's lawsuit against Bill Cosby

A U.S. federal judge on Thursday dismissed a defamation lawsuit brought by a Pennsylvania woman against Bill Cosby, which contended the comedian smeared her character when he accused her of lying in claiming he had sexually assaulted her in the 1980s.Renita Hill, 48, had claimed she was defamed her when the comedian and his representatives called her a liar and extortionist as he defended himself after she went public in 2014 with allegations of decades-old sexual misconduct.Hill, a Pittsburgh resident, sued in October over three comments made by Cosby and his representatives. The three statements in question "do not support a claim for defamation as defined by Pennsylvania law," U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab said in his dismissal ruling, court documents showed.Hill's attorneys have said Cosby mentored her when she was a young woman, and paid for her education at Temple University and Spelman College. They said he also arranged meetings in Atlantic City, New York and Denver, where he sexually assaulted her. Hill's first public accusation of sexual assault came in a 2014 interview with a Pittsburgh TV station. Her lawsuit concerned statements Cosby and his representatives made in response to that interview. Schwab said the remarks were protected under free speech rights, and that Hill did not prove the comments harmed her. More than 50 women have come forward to accuse Cosby, 78, of sexual assault. The allegations date back as far as the 1960s, making most of them too old for criminal prosecution. Hill and several other women have sued Cosby.Cosby's attorneys welcomed the judge's decision in a statement and said they hoped it would influence the outcome of other pending lawsuits. "The Court found opinionated speech by a defendant's attorney is protected and not actionable as defamatory," the attorneys said. "It is our hope that courts in other jurisdictions with similar matters will respond in like manner."The drumbeat of accusations has toppled Cosby from his cultural status as one of America's most-admired comedians. He built his career on family-friendly humor and was best known as the loving but often befuddled father in the 1980s television hit, "The Cosby Show."The only criminal charges against Cosby were filed last month, over the alleged sexual assault of Andrea Constand in 2004.Cosby, who has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, is free on $1 million bail. His lawyer has said he is not guilty and will not consider a plea bargain. (Editing by Scott Malone, Frances Kerry and David Gregorio)

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Five works from Gurlitt art trove were looted by Nazis, task force finds

BERLIN A task force set up by the German government to determine the ownership history of more than 1,500 art works discovered in 2012 has found that only five were wrongfully taken from Jews, drawing criticism from Jewish groups.German tax inspectors discovered the art collection, which included works by Matisse and Picasso, during a raid on the Munich home of Cornelius Gurlitt. Hi father, an art dealer, had sold what Hitler dismissed as "degenerate" art.After two years of research, the head of the task force, Ingeborg Berggreen-Merkel, presented the final report on Thursday.She said that only five pieces had been confirmed as stolen Nazi art, although 499 were determined to have a questionable history. Of the five, four were returned to heirs of their owners, including Max Liebermann's "Two Riders on a Beach" and Henri Matisse's "Seated Woman".The announcement drew sharp criticism from Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress. He issued a statement on Thursday calling the results "meager and not satisfactory". Lauder said he "expected Germany to do better, given that time is running out", and accused the task force of poor management of its work.Jewish groups have been pressing the German government to move quickly, since many of the heirs of the Nazi victims are advanced in age. Accused of carrying out her work without sufficient transparency, Berggreen-Merkel said a dispute over the validity of the will of Gurlitt, who died in May 2014 at the age of 81, had made it difficult for the task force to be more forthcoming.In the will, Gurlitt designated the Bern Art Museum in Switzerland as sole heir to his collection. A cousin is challenging that claim, arguing that Gurlitt wasn't in good psychological health when he wrote his will. A court decision on the validity of the will is due in February. Culture Minister Monika Gruetters has announced Germany is setting up a Lost Art Foundation in the eastern city of Magdeburg, which will continue research into Gurlitt's artwork. (Reporting by Tina Bellon; Editing by Noah Barkin, Larry King)

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Five works from Gurlitt art trove were looted by Nazis, task force finds

BERLIN A task force set up by the German government to determine the ownership history of more than 1,500 art works discovered in 2012 has found that only five were wrongfully taken from Jews, drawing criticism from Jewish groups.German tax inspectors discovered the art collection, which included works by Matisse and Picasso, during a raid on the Munich home of Cornelius Gurlitt. Hi father, an art dealer, had sold what Hitler dismissed as "degenerate" art.After two years of research, the head of the task force, Ingeborg Berggreen-Merkel, presented the final report on Thursday.She said that only five pieces had been confirmed as stolen Nazi art, although 499 were determined to have a questionable history. Of the five, four were returned to heirs of their owners, including Max Liebermann's "Two Riders on a Beach" and Henri Matisse's "Seated Woman".The announcement drew sharp criticism from Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress. He issued a statement on Thursday calling the results "meager and not satisfactory". Lauder said he "expected Germany to do better, given that time is running out", and accused the task force of poor management of its work.Jewish groups have been pressing the German government to move quickly, since many of the heirs of the Nazi victims are advanced in age. Accused of carrying out her work without sufficient transparency, Berggreen-Merkel said a dispute over the validity of the will of Gurlitt, who died in May 2014 at the age of 81, had made it difficult for the task force to be more forthcoming.In the will, Gurlitt designated the Bern Art Museum in Switzerland as sole heir to his collection. A cousin is challenging that claim, arguing that Gurlitt wasn't in good psychological health when he wrote his will. A court decision on the validity of the will is due in February. Culture Minister Monika Gruetters has announced Germany is setting up a Lost Art Foundation in the eastern city of Magdeburg, which will continue research into Gurlitt's artwork. (Reporting by Tina Bellon; Editing by Noah Barkin, Larry King)

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U.S. lawmakers chastise officials at all levels over Flint crisis

WASHINGTON U.S. lawmakers criticized environmental officials at a hearing on Wednesday for not acting sooner when they saw a report that drinking water in Flint, Michigan was polluted with dangerously high levels of lead."I never thought this could happen in America," and in a state, "surrounded by fresh water of the Great Lakes," Brenda Lawrence, a Democrat of Michigan, said at a House Oversight panel examining the water crisis in Flint, a city of 100,000.The panel issued subpoenas to officials who did not show up to testify about water found to have lead levels that hamper brain development and cause other health problems. Thousands of children are believed to have ingested the polluted water in Flint, a mostly African American and Latino suburb near Detroit.Lawrence asked Keith Creagh, head of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, why his agency did not act on a report by a federal Environmental Protection Agency expert that showed the water was polluted. She did not get a clear answer."We all share responsibility in the Flint water crisis, whether it is the city the state or the federal government, we all let the citizens of Flint down," said Creagh, who took the job last month.Marc Edwards, a water engineer who first raised the issue of Flint's lead contamination, told the panel the EPA broke laws by not notifying the public about a report of tainted water. "If it's not criminal, I don't know what is."EPA water official Joel Beauvais said he did not know why his agency did not tell the public.Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the committee, complained that the Republican-led panel did not invite Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, a Republican, to testify at the hearing. Representative Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania criticized Snyder and his hand-picked emergency managers for Flint who were responsible for switching the source of Flint's tap water from Detroit's system to the Flint River, a dumping area, in April 2014.Flint is grappling with the health and political fallout over the switch after the more corrosive river water leached lead from old pipes into the system."He got caught red handed poisoning the children of Flint," Cartwright, a Democrat, said of Snyder. "There's no two ways about it. That's the headline here."A Snyder spokesman responded in an email: "It's unfortunate when people who are not working toward a solution inject partisan politics and incendiary rhetoric into an emergency that can best be addressed by people working together."Snyder will ask state lawmakers in his next budget proposal to approve a $30 million water payment relief plan for Flint residents to keep their water service on and reimburse them for lead-contaminated water they cannot drink, his office said. A busload of Flint residents traveled to Washington to attend the hearing. "We're serious about making sure that the people responsible for this manmade disaster are held accountable," said Bernadel Jefferson, a bishop.Lawmakers also slammed the EPA for not sending Administrator Gina McCarthy to Flint until this week, even though the agency has known about the crisis for months. An EPA spokeswoman said the agency had formed a Flint task force last October, and has had a team there for weeks.The head of the oversight panel, Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah, a Republican, said he subpoenaed EPA's Susan Hedman to appear at a deposition in Washington later this month.Hedman, who announced last month that she would resign on Feb. 1, had played down the memo by the EPA's Miguel del Toral that said tests had shown high levels of lead, telling Flint and Michigan administrators it was only a draft report. The EPA has agreed to provide all of Hedman's emails by the end of the week, Chaffetz said. Chaffetz said his panel had also issued a second subpoena to Darnell Earley, who was Flint's state-appointed emergency manager when the city switched from Detroit's system.A. Scott Bolden, Earley's lawyer, said his client has not been given enough time to respond to the initial subpoena, which was served last night. Bolden said Earley is "not hiding anywhere" and will honor a subpoena issued with a reasonable response time.Earley only implemented the plan to change the city's water source that others had put in place before he started, Bolden said. "There was nothing put before him by the environmental folks, the water testers or anyone connected to ensuring the quality of the water to suggest in any way that a water disaster was looming."Political fallout over the crisis could also hold up a wide-ranging bill on energy. Democrats in the Senate threatened to block a bipartisan energy bill if it fails to include immediate aid for Flint. Federal authorities including the FBI have started a criminal probe into the contamination. (Additional reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit and Richard Cowan in Washington; Editing by Grant McCool and Richard Chang)

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