Naked City

Beyond City Limits

As predicted, Farmers Insurance has taken its ongoing battle with "Mold Queen" Melinda Ballard to the Texas Supreme Court. Farmers' brief, filed on April 22, challenges the 3rd Court of Appeals' award of $4 million in damages to Ballard, even though the appeals court had dramatically cut Ballard's original $32 million judgment in her suit alleging Farmers mishandled water-damage claims for her now-decaying Dripping Springs mansion. In an e-mail to members of her consumer group, Policyholders of America, Ballard blasted the insurance giant: "That Farmers would appeal ... only confirms what many of us knew all along: They don't pay even for actual damages covered by the policy," she wrote. For more on Ballard and Farmers, see "The 'Mold Queen' Fights Back," March 21. -- Jordan Smith

On April 15 the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay of execution to Texas inmate Kenneth Wayne Morris, two hours before his scheduled execution for a 1991 Houston burglary-murder, based on last year's U.S. Supreme Court ruling barring the execution of the mentally retarded. Morris' lawyers have reportedly argued their client is retarded, though he has no medical history indicating retardation and has never been given an IQ test. The 5th Circuit says it stayed the execution so that Morris' lawyers can file additional claims in federal district court. -- J.S.

Relax! It's just a little leak of cooling fluid out of South Texas Project 1, Austinites' very own nuclear reactor. So says the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which reassured Texans that, while they've never seen a leak like the one at STP 1 before, there's no cause for alarm about the safety of the long-troubled Bay City power plant. STP 1 remains shutdown while plant officials research the problem; the nuke's other reactor remains online. On those rare occasions when it's not beset by crisis, the STP supplies Austin with about 15% of its power. -- M.C.M.

The Dept. of Public Safety's annual marijuana eradication program kicks off this week. Each year, DPS narcotics investigators, joined by the fearless G-men of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and members of the Texas Army National Guard, traverse the state by air and land, killing marijuana plants as they go. In 2002 the team eradicated 416,000 plants -- only 48,995 of which were actually being cultivated by growers -- resulting in 161 arrests. The remaining 367,005 were naturally growing weeds. -- J.S.

Speaking of that naturally growing plant, on April 16 the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked implementation of a DEA ban on the sale of food products that contain hemp seeds or oil. The DEA had already been blocked once by the San Francisco-based court in October 2001 but tried to get around that ruling through bureaucratic sleight of hand that led the Hemp Industries Association and several major hemp food companies to cry foul. The court is reviewing the hemp industry's challenge to the rule, and its decision to block the DEA from implementing its hemp rules suggests the industry is poised to prevail once and for all. For more info, go to www.votehemp.com. -- J.S.

According to the Drug Reform Coordination Network, a CIA-sponsored radio station in Kuwait has been filling Iraqi airwaves with a rap parody that links Saddam Hussein's woes to smoking marijuana. Rapped to the tune of Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise," Saddam reportedly knows his dictatin' days are done. "Smoking weed and getting high. I know the devil is by my side," the song reportedly goes, "My days are finished and I will die -- all I need is chili fries." -- J.S.

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