Stephen Nohlgren, Times Staff Writer

Stephen Nohlgren

Stephen writes about the Tampa Bay Rays' quest for a new baseball stadium, aging and other topics.

Phone: (727) 893-8442, or toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 8442

Email: nohlgren@tampabay.com

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  1. Pinellas judge: New process may be needed to screen jurors

    Civil

    ST. PETERSBURG — Jurors who withhold information about their own legal history have always messed up trials. If a juror withholds important facts that bias them, the losing side sometimes finds out and gets a new trial.

    Now, online searches let lawyers learn about jurors with ease and root out biases before trials begin. Maybe, a Pinellas judge has declared, it's time to change the rules....

  2. St. Petersburg looks to refinance Tropicana Field debt

    Local Government

    Just as residents use low interest rates to refinance their homes, the city of St. Petersburg hopes to shift debt on Tropicana Field to save a little bundle.

    "The details are not completely set,'' finance director Anne Fritz said Friday, "but we hope to save over $1 million."

    The Trop, built in 1986, has been financed and refinanced over the years through several long-term bond issues. The smallest, which runs through 2026, is covered by a $2 million annual payment to St. Petersburg from the state of Florida. That's the debt the city hopes to refinance....

    Tropicana Field, built in 1986, has been financed and refinanced over the years through several long-term bond issues.
  3. Florida is epicenter of fight against Big Tobacco

    Civil

    Two decades ago, a husband-wife team of Miami lawyers took a David and Goliath swipe at Big Tobacco, filing a class-action suit on behalf of 500,000 Floridians.

    "Every family member, every fellow trial lawyer told us we would go down the tubes,'' says Stanley Rosenblatt. But he had questioned industry CEOs before and "I had developed a real distaste for them,'' he says. "I didn't like what they had done to the American people, and I thought we would have some fun.''...

    Laura Zeller, a smoker who took on the tobacco companies, died in 2012 before she could get her day in court. “Engle plaintiffs” often started smoking before health dangers were well known.
  4. U.S. Supreme Court sides against Big Tobacco in Florida litigation

    Civil

    The U.S. Supreme Court denied a tobacco industry appeal Monday in Florida litigation that stretches back almost two decades.

    With billions of dollars potentially at stake, hundreds of Florida smokers and their families can still press forward with lawsuits over cancer, emphysema and other maladies.

    According to one Wall Street analyst, Florida litigation is one of Big Tobacco's two largest areas of legal exposure....

    The Supreme Court on Monday turned away appeals from cigarette manufacturers of more than $70 million in court judgments to Florida smokers. The justices did not comment in rejecting the companies’ complaints.
  5. Top U.S. drug official: Marijuana can be harmful

    Health

    As Floridians consider whether to legalize medical marijuana, stories of potential benefits to patients abound. Chemicals found in pot clearly can alter important physiological mechanisms.

    What's less clear is risk.

    Pretty much any FDA-approved medicine carries measurable risk — witness scary disclaimers in pharmaceutical ads.

    But marijuana comes in strains with widely different chemical contents. Users can puff it, or eat it. They can imbibe heavily or lightly. Controlled, scientific studies weighing benefits against risks don't exist....

    Nora Volkow outlines pot’s downside in a medical journal article.
  6. Jennifer Orsi named Tampa Bay Times managing editor

    Business

    A woman who grew up in Pinellas County avidly reading her hometown newspaper will now lead its day-to-day operations.

    Jennifer Orsi, 47, was named managing editor of the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday, the first woman in the newspaper's 130-year history to take complete charge of the daily report, both in print and on the Web.

    Orsi rose through the ranks of the news operation since her first internship in 1986, most recently overseeing the metro and business report. She succeeds Mike Wilson, who left in December....

    Amy Hollyfield will direct political and business news.
  7. How would medical marijuana be sold — and controlled?

    Elections

    Four years ago in Colorado, pot trounced latte in a head-to-head storefront count. Starbucks had 209 franchises in the state. Denver alone had 390 medical marijuana dispensaries operating with no regulations.

    Los Angeles once had about 1,000 storefront dispensaries unrecognized by state law. A loose system allowed people to stroll in, tell a doctor they couldn't sleep, and stroll out with bud....

    Medical marijuana is hailed by some but demonized by others. Florida voters will decide on Nov. 4 whether to legalize it.
  8. WFLA news anchor Gayle Sierens announces she'll retire next year

    The Feed

    TAMPA — Longtime WFLA-Ch. 8 news anchor Gayle Sierens announced Monday night that she will retire from the station next year.

    Her announcement marks the third local broadcasting veteran in about 10 days to announce a pending retirement. WTVT-Ch. 13 anchor John Wilson announced last month that he will retire in November. The Fox station's morning anchor, Anne Dwyer, also said she will retire this month....

    For more than 20 years, Gayle Sierens, 59, co-anchored the Ch. 8 newscast with Bob Hite, who retired seven years ago. “I’m truly excited for this next phase of my life,” Sierens said.
  9. No misuse of tax dollars in Greenlight Pinellas educational campaign, report finds

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — State investigators have found no wrongdoing in how the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority spent public money to inform voters about a mass transit referendum that will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot.

    The Greenlight Pinellas campaign proposes a 1-cent sales tax increase to build a $1.9 billion light-rail system from Clearwater to St. Petersburg and expand the bus system....

  10. Study: VA not following protocols on dispensing narcotic painkillers

    News

    With VA hospitals already under scrutiny for forgoing care and falsifying records, a new report faults the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for mishandling narcotic painkillers.

    VA medical centers routinely violated their own protocols while prescribing opioid drugs to about 450,000 veterans in 2012, the VA inspector general reported.

    Doctors failed to conduct mandatory urine screenings. Patients refilled prescriptions early with impunity. Veterans combined narcotics and other powerful drugs — and six out of 10 patients on painkillers had mental problems or a history of abusing drugs....

    Lawrence Vass, 55, of Tampa says the three-week rehabilitation program he just completed at James A. Haley VA Medical Center has dramatically improved his daily life, once ruled by crippling pain.
  11. PTA meeting ends with anti-medical marijuana pamphlets

    Elections

    ST. PETERSBURG — Parents attending a mandatory PTA meeting this month at Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle School were handed a pamphlet opposing Florida's proposed constitutional amendment on medical marijuana.

    "I was astounded. There was all this scary stuff saying how bad it was," said St. Petersburg resident Brock Murch, an amendment supporter whose son attends the school. "People should not be in the schools doing politics."...

  12. Website launches to fight medical marijuana in Florida

    Politics

    A political action committee fighting medical marijuana in Florida launched its website Thursday, including a nine-minute video laying out potential pitfalls with how the system might work.

    Grady Judd, president of the Florida Sheriff's Association, said the proposed constitutional amendment is a stalking-horse for legalizing pot and enriching dope dealers.

    He notes that Floridians with various conditions would qualify, contending that even sleeping problems or stress might do the trick....

  13. Pro-medical marijuana ballot initiative group has money edge

    Blog

    If money is going to determine the outcome of Florida’s constitutional amendment on medical marijuana, proponents continue to pile up a significant edge. Reports to the state Elections Division show that amendment sponsor United for Care pulled in $226,735 in April contributions, from 308 donors.

    The Drug Free Florida Committee, an opposing PAC funded in March with a $100,000 donation from St. Petersburg developer Mel Sembler, did not receive any April donations....

  14. Medical marijuana users tend to be young and in pain

    Medicine

    Oregon retiree Ernest Alexander damaged spinal discs decades ago when a chair collapsed and he landed on his tailbone. Now he treats his chronic back pain with a homemade concoction of coconut oil and low-grade marijuana.

    He tried prescription drugs, but needed large doses, he says. "I was hurting a lot of the time, and when I wasn't hurting, I was all doped up. I didn't like either.''

    Alexander, 64, is not alone. Pain is the engine that drives medical marijuana....

    Robert Jordan, 65, of Parrish grows medical marijuana for his wife, Cathy, 63, who says it has kept her alive with Lou Gehrig’s disease for 27 years.
  15. Sembler funds anti-medical marijuana committee

    Elections

    ST. PETERSBURG — The drive for medical marijuana in Florida has attracted prominent, organized opposition.

    St. Petersburg developer and GOP heavyweight Mel Sembler donated $100,000 last month to establish Drug Free Florida, a political action committee dedicated to defeating a constitutional amendment that would allow pot use for debilitating conditions.

    The committee is just starting to draft a budget and reach out to other donors, co-chairman Carlton Turner said Wednesday, "but we are going to be very aggressive in attacking this issue."...