A federal law that made it illegal to advise people how to shed assets to qualify for Medicaid is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.
The 1997 law was intended to prevent financially secure people from giving away or hiding assets in order to qualify for taxpayer-funded Medicaid benefits.
The New York State Bar Association argued in court that the statute prevented citizens from seeking advice on how to undertake a legal act and "struck at the heart" of free speech and attorney-client privilege.
"This is a tremendous victory, not just for lawyers and other professional advisers, but more importantly for middle-class Americans," said Bar Association president James Moore.
District Judge Thomas McAvoy barred the federal government from enforcing what the Bar Association and other critics dubbed the "Granny's Adviser Goes to Jail" law.
Even Attorney General Janet Reno said the gag law is "plainly unconstitutional." In a March 11 letter to House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Vice President Al Gore, Reno said she would not enforce the law or defend its constitutionality.
Texans bid farewell
to hot, deadly summer
DALLAS _ Many years from now, folks in Texas will be telling their grandchildren about the summer of 1998, when the heat seemed to bake the Lone Star State to a hard enamel finish.
This was one of the hottest, deadliest and costliest summers in Texas history. And it's not necessarily over just because the calendar says it's fall as of today.
Just how hot was it?
Fifty-one times _ more than seven weeks in all _ afternoon highs reached or exceeded 100 degrees. Dallas-Fort Worth endured its hottest May-August on record. Overall temperatures averaged 85.9 degrees, exceeding the 85.6 average in 1980.
At least 131 people died of the heat in Texas, including 51 illegal immigrants near the Mexican border. About 100 died of the heat in 1980, excluding illegal immigrants.
The drought of 1998 went down as the costliest since the seven-year dry stretch of the 1950s, with agricultural losses estimated this time at more than $2.1-billion.
suspects held without bail
MIAMI _ A judge ordered three members of an alleged Cuban spy ring held without bail Tuesday until their arraignment on espionage charges.
Seven others believed to be members of the largest Cuban spy ring uncovered in the United States since Fidel Castro took power also have been denied bail since their arrest this month.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Dube denied bail Tuesday for Joseph Santos and his wife, Amarylis, who are charged with spying for the Cuban government, infiltrating anti-Castro groups and manipulating U.S. media and political groups.
The magistrate also denied bail for Antonio Guerrero of Big Pine Key, who worked as a public works employee at Boca Chica Naval Air Station, the southernmost military installation in the continental United States. Prosecutors said Guerrero kept the ring informed of comings and goings of military aircraft.
to study frog deaths
WASHINGTON _ The federal government, an environmental group and a children's television show joined forces Tuesday to recruit children to help find out what is killing the nation's frogs.
They set up a Web site devoted to the search and hope to commission thousands of schoolchildren as a nationwide "frog force" to try to save the amphibians.
Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt said numerous studies show that frogs are dying in alarming numbers. Others are turning up with gross deformities.
Frogs are considered a "sentinel species," succumbing early to threats that may later affect humans. Because of their permeable skin and because they live both on the land and in the water, chemicals and pathogens can affect them easily.
The new Web site, http://www.frogweb.gov, is interactive. It gives information about frogs and invites users to enter details about dead or deformed amphibians they might see.
Elsewhere . . .
+ NEW YORK _ The curtain went up Tuesday on an off-Broadway play about a gay Christlike figure that infuriated religious groups and sparked death threats months before it even opened. Dozens of bearded men in sandals and robes, some carrying crosses, held a prayer vigil outside the theater as Terrence McNally's Corpus Christi debuted to a full house.
+ GREENSBORO, Pa. _ The parents of two young boys who locked themselves in a car trunk and suffocated were charged Tuesday with involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment. Carl Wright, 26, and Sherry Wright, 22, were charged because of a lack of supervision when their children died Aug. 2 and for previous incidents, state Trooper Jeffrey Cermak said.
+ EUGENE, Ore. _ A federal judge on Tuesday rejected the latest challenge to Oregon's assisted-suicide law. U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan ruled that opponents who sought to renew a lawsuit that was struck down once did not have legal standing to do so.