Former judge says wife’s lesbian affair led him to take kickbacks
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. A former Roane County judge who pleaded guilty to extortion charges says his wife’s affair with a woman made him distraught and led him to take kickbacks from two driving schools where he sent traffic offenders.
Thomas Austin, 58, a general sessions judge since 1978, who pleaded guilty in March to three counts of extortion, claims his second wife’s affair drove him to force the kickbacks from men he helped pick to head up a traffic school and probation office.
Austin’s wife acknowledged during marital counseling last year to having a yearlong involvement with the woman, according to a memorandum filed by Austin’s attorney Greg Isaacs.
Isaacs said Austin sought medical help for depression and he began drinking heavily despite earlier struggles with alcohol: “All of the charges that are included in this indictment occurred after this difficult and tumultuous period in Mr. Austin’s personal life.”
Austin, who resigned after his arrest in January, faces up to 20 years in prison on the three federal charges and is set to be sentenced Sept. 7. Prosecutors say about four years behind bars is most likely.
Isaacs and Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Atchley have both filed memorandums with U.S. District Judge Thomas Phillips prior to the sentencing hearing.
Isaacs says Austin’s admitted extortion was a temporary lapse of judgment in an otherwise stellar career of public service.
Atchley counters, however, that an FBI probe shows Austin used his power to line his own pockets for nearly a decade.
Austin has admitted taking roughly $14,000 in kickbacks in a six-month period in 2005. He was accused of using his position as judge to extort a portion of proceeds from two driving schools in Roane County and a private probation firm.
An affidavit alleges that Austin had been extorting kickbacks for a decade and collected as much as $100,000.
Senate candidate expresses regret over anti-gay columns he wrote in college
U.S. Senate candidate Stephen Laffey of Rhode Island said he regrets that he wrote columns denigrating gays when he was a college student.
Laffey, the mayor of Cranston, acknowledged writing the columns in a story published Aug. 26 in the Providence Journal.
The paper reported that it received copies of the columns anonymously in the mail earlier in the week.
Laffey, 44, running a closely watched race against moderate Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee, said whoever sent the articles wanted to smear him before the Sept. 12 primary. He called the writings “sophomoric political satire” and said they do not represent his views.
“Do I regret some of these things? Sure,” he said. “But at the time, we were just having fun. We thought it was funny.”
The Republican candidate wrote them in 1983 and 1984 while studying at Bowdoin College in Maine. The articles appeared in a paper published by campus Republicans.
In one column, Laffey said he has never seen a happy gay person.
“This is not to say there aren’t any; I simply haven’t seen one in my lifetime. Maybe they are all in the closet,” he wrote. “All the homosexuals I’ve seen are sickly and decrepit, their eyes devoid of life.”
In another column he wrote that pop music was turning the children of America into sissies, and criticized the singer Boy George, referring to him as “it.”
“It wears girl’s clothes and puts on makeup,” he wrote. “When I hear it sing, “‘Do you really want to hurt me, do you really want to make me cry,’ I say to myself, YES, I want to punch your lights out, pal, and break your ribs.”
Polls have shown Laffey and Chafee running neck-and-neck in a race that has gained national attention.
The winner of the Republican primary will likely face Democratic former Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse in the November election.
Harris in hot water over comments denying separation of church and state
U.S. Congress-woman Katherine Harris of Florida told a religious journal that separation of church and state is “a lie” and God and America’s founding fathers did not intend the country to be “a nation of secular laws.”
The Republican candidate for U.S. Senate also said that if Christians are not elected, politicians will “legislate sin,” including abortion and gay marriage.
Harris made the comments in the Florida Baptist Witness, the weekly journal of the Florida Baptist State Convention, which interviewed political candidates and asked them about religion and their positions on issues.
Separation of church and state is “a lie we have been told,” Harris said in the interview, saying separating religion and politics is “wrong because God is the one who chooses our rulers.”
“If you’re not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin,” Harris said.
Her comments drew criticism, including some from fellow Republicans who called them offensive and not representative of the party.
Harris’ campaign released a statement Aug. 26 saying she had been “speaking to a Christian audience, addressing a common misperception that people of faith should not be actively involved in government.”
The comments reflected “her deep grounding in Judeo-Christian values,” the statement said, adding that Harris had previously supported pro-Israel legislation and legislation recognizing the Holocaust.
Rainbow Festival organizers in Sacramento prepare for protests from evangelicals
Sacramento’s gay and lesbian Rainbow Festival celebrates its 20th anniversary this weekend, but organizers are concerned the event will be picketed by Slavic evangelical Christians, whose anti-gay protests around the capital have increased in size and intensity recently, according to a report published Wednesday in the Santa Rosa Democrat.
Michael Johnson, the festival’s executive director, said organizers had met with Sacramento Police Chief Albert Najera last week to strategize, and that they had “taken steps necessary for our patrons to be safe.”
A spokesman for Bethany Slavic Missionary Church, the area’s largest congregation of Slavic Christians, said he was not aware of any plans to mount a protest at the festival, the Press Democrat reported.
U.S. soldiers use “‘South Park’ movie to “‘entertain’ deposed Iraqi leader Hussein
U.S. Marines guarding deposed Iraqi president Saddam Hussein have been using repeated screenings of the movie “South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut” to taunt Hussein, according to a report published this week in Australia’s Daily Telegraph newspaper.
Hussein, now on trial in Iraq on charges of mass murder for killing ethnic Kurds in his own country, is lampooned in the film as a gay nymphomaniac in love with Satan.
The animated film was banned in Iraq when it was released seven years ago.
Police department’s use of anti-gay psychologist prompts inquiry
Minneapolis interim police chief Tim Dolan has ordered an inquiry into his department’s use of psychologist Michael A. Campion, who has been tied to a group that opposes LGBT civil rights and gay marriage and endorses the ex-gay movement, according to a report published this week by 365Gay.com
Campion has been used by the Minneapolis Police Department for more than a year to screen prospective police officers. Campion also has worked for departments in more than 100 cities over the past 30 years.
His involvement with the Illinois Family Institute was brought to Dolan’s attention at a recent meeting with the Police Community Relations Council when it was learned that Campion had made negative comments about single parents.
The Illinois Family Institute is the main backer of a group that is in federal court trying to get a referendum to push the legislature to set in motion a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
In 2003 nine people who were denied jobs with the Springfield, Ill., Fire Department sued the city claiming they were unfairly disqualified by either background checks or Campion’s psychological evaluation.
A judge dismissed the suit, but Springfield City Council declined renew to Campion’s contract.
High-profile professor to leave university over domestic partner benefits
Rob Carpick, associate professor of engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has announced he will leave the school at the end of the year to work for the University of Pennsylvania because the Pennsylvania school offers domestic partner benefits and UW-M does not.
Carpick is a promising researcher who has received $3.4 million in grants from the National Science Foundation, branches of the U.S. military and private companies since 2000.
Tucson mayor, wife announce opposition to anti-gay-marriage ballot initiative
Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup and his wife, Beth Walkup, have announced their opposition to Proposition 107, an initiative on the November ballot in Arizona that would, opponents say, cause cities such as Tucson and Phoenix to lose domestic partner benefits they already offer to same- and opposite-sex unmarried couples.
“Tucson has a strong history of local governance. We decided that we wanted a domestic partner registry for those people who need it. What we don’t need is a group in Phoenix dictating to us how to operate our affairs,” Mayor Walkup said.
His wife added, “I’ve been in the business community for years in Tucson, and I don’t think we should look favorably on an initiative that could undermine business choices about which benefits to offer to our employees. Further, we should be wary of any initiative which has proven in other states to lead to long, drawn-out court battles, thus potentially making it more difficult to do business in Arizona.”
In 2003, Tucson became the first municipality in Arizona to offer a domestic partner registry. By June this year, 438 couples have registered. Three of those couples were unmarried retired couples who are among the 10 couples that have filed a lawsuit against Proposition 107.
Proposition 107 would prohibit the state or any of its political subdivisions from creating or recognizing any legal status similar to marriage for unmarried couples.
Kyrsten Sinema, chair of Arizona Together, a coalition formed to oppose Proposition 107, said that the Walkups join Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon and Peter Likins, former president of the University of Arizona, in opposing the initiative.
Gay executive, former Giuliani aide found murdered in his own bed
Martin Barreto, 49, a prominent gay public relations executive in New York and a former aide to then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani, was found strangled to death Aug. 21 in his bed in his Greenwich Village apartment.
News reports said the doorman and superintendent of the building found Barreto naked, with KY jelly and a condom next to his body, after Barreto’s business partner became worried when he failed to answer his phone or arrive at work.
Police said they were looking for two unidentified men seen at the apartment the previous Saturday night.
California Senate passes bill addressing “‘panic defense’ in criminal trials
The California Senate passed the “Gwen Araujo Justice for Victims Act” on Wednesday, sending the measure to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for his consideration.
The bill, authored by Assemblymember Sally Lieber, a Democrat and sponsored by Equality California, directs the Office of Emergency Services to create training materials for district attorneys on the use of bias-motivated defense strategies in criminal trials.
The measure also requires the Judicial Council to adopt a jury instruction telling jurors not to consider bias against people because of sexual orientation, gender identity or other factors in rendering a verdict.
The bill was named in honor of Gwen Araujo, a transgender teen murdered in Newark, Calif., in 2002. Araujo was beaten to death by four men she met at a party who had discovered she was transgender.
Womyn’s Music Festival organizers continue to insist trans women should not attend
Organizers of Camp Trans, an annual gathering of people dedicated to promoting inclusion of all women at women-only events, last week celebrated the end of what they saw as an “anachronistic, divisive policy” that prohibited transgender women from attending the annual Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival after an openly transgender woman was allowed to purchase a ticket.
The celebration was short-lived, however, as management of We Want the Music Company, the corporation that runs the music festival, later issued a press release affirming their belief that transgender women should not attend the event.
Lisa Vogel, spokeswoman for We Want the Music Company, said in a written press release that the festival box office will now sell tickets to transgender woman ending a 15-year-old ban on such ticket sales but that the only people welcome at the event are “womyn who were born as and have lived their entire life experience as womyn.”
Vogel added, “If a transwoman purchased a ticket, it represents nothing more than that woman choosing to disrespect the stated intention of this festival.”
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said it is “just sad to see this company continuing to police the validity of women’s identities and experiences . We expect better of those who should know the pain of oppression.”
California Legislature approves bias-free curriculum measure
The California Legislature on Tuesday passed the Bias-Free Curriculum Act, authored by lesbian Senator Sheila Kuhl, that would extend existing laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, sex, disability, nationality and religion in textbooks, instructional materials and school-sponsored activities to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
The measure was sponsored by Equality California.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, August 25, 2006.