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FILE - In this July 20, 2018, file photo, a duck boat sits idle in the parking lot of Ride the Ducks, an amphibious tour operator in Branson, Mo. A lawsuit seeking $100 million in damages was filed Sunday, July 29, against the owners and operators of a duck boat that sank July 19. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

FILE - In this July 20, 2018, file photo, a duck boat sits idle in the parking lot of Ride the Ducks, an amphibious tour operator in Branson, Mo. A lawsuit seeking $100 million in damages was filed Sunday, July 29, against the owners and operators of a duck boat that sank July 19. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

FILE - In this July 23, 2018, file photo, the duck boat that sank in Table Rock Lake in Branson, Mo., is raised. A lawsuit seeking $100 million in damages was filed Sunday, July 29, against the owners and operators of the duck boat that sank July 19. (Nathan Papes/The Springfield News-Leader via AP, File)

Lawsuit filed in fatal duck boat sinking seeks $100 million


Associated Press

Monday, July 30

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The owners and operators of a tourist boat that sank this month in Missouri, killing 17 people, put profits over people’s safety when they decided to put the Ride the Ducks boat on a lake despite design problems and warnings of severe weather, a lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit filed Sunday in U.S. District Court in Kansas City seeks $100 million in damages on behalf of two of nine members of an Indiana family who died when the tourist boat sank July 19 at Table Rock Lake near Branson. Others killed were from Arkansas, Illinois and Missouri.

“This tragedy was the predictable and predicted result of decades of unacceptable, greed-driven, and willful ignorance of safety by the Duck Boat industry in the face of specific and repeated warnings that their Duck Boats are death traps for passengers and pose grave danger to the public on water and on land,” the lawsuit alleges.

Ripley Entertainment Inc., Ride the Ducks International, Ride the Ducks of Branson, the Herschend Family Entertainment Corp., and Amphibious Vehicle Manufacturing are named in the lawsuit, which was filed by a team led by a Philadelphia-based legal firm that has litigated previous lawsuits involving duck boats. The legal team planned a news conference Monday morning.

A spokeswoman for Ripley Entertainment did not return a phone call and email Monday morning seeking comment.

The lawsuit says the boat operators violated the company’s own policies by putting the boat into the water despite the weather warnings. It also says the captain violated protocol by not telling passengers to put on life jackets when the water got rough and instead lowering plastic side curtains, “thus further entrapping passengers in the soon-to-sink vessel.”

The lawsuit cites an August 2017 report from private inspector Steve Paul , who looked at two dozen of the duck boats. The report warned Ripley Entertainment that the vessels’ engines — and pumps that remove water from their hulls — were susceptible to failing in bad weather. It also accuses the defendants of ignoring warnings the National Transportation Safety Board issued in 2000 that the vehicles, which are designed to operate on land and water, should be upgraded to ensure the boats remain upright and floating in bad weather.

The 2000 recommendation from The NTSB was issued after a duck boat sank May 1, 1999, on Lake Hamilton in Arkansas, killing 13 people.

When Robert McDowell, then-president of Ride the Ducks Branson, responded that upgrades would require significant costs, NTSB Chairman Jim Hall said the recommendations were made because the agency believed “immediate action was necessary to avoid additional loss of life.” The lawsuit says the defendants ignored the warnings.

It also alleges McDowell designed and developed the stretch duck boats, including the Stretch Duck O7 that sank, despite having no engineering training.

The National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the area including Table Rock Lake about 30 minutes before the boat went onto the lake with 31 people on board.

The NTSB said Friday that a preliminary review of video and audio recordings from the boat showed that the lake changed from calm to dangerous in a matter of minutes. The agency emphasized it had not drawn any conclusions on what caused the boat to sink.

The captain, who operated the boat on the water, survived and has acknowledged he was aware of the weather warnings before the trip, according to the NTSB. Another crew member who operated the boat on land was among those who died.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the estates of Ervin Coleman, 76, and Maxwell Ly, 2. Maxwell was identified by authorities as Maxwell Coleman after the boat sank.

The lawsuit accuses Ripley Entertainment and the other defendants of negligence, product liability, outrageous conduct, wrongful death, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and violating the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act.

Former Anheuser-Busch Beer Farm Near Cooperstown Hall of Fame

Top Ten Real Estate News

July 25, 2018

Attention baseball and beer fans! Grab your caps, the sunscreen and the cooler and head out to the annual National Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in historic Cooperstown, New York from July 27th to 30th. Much anticipated by fans, it’s where this year’s newest members: Jack Morris, Alan Trammell, Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Chipper Jones and Jim Thome will be inducted.

The Hall of Fame is located in one of America’s most picturesque small towns, a good choice for year-round living or to visit for an entertaining weekend getaway any time of year. In addition to the Abner Doubleday invented baseball here story and the longtime home of James Fenimore Cooper, the Anheuser-Busch beer family once owned a 600-acre farm in Cooperstown that supplied the hops to all their breweries. Cooperstown was once the hops capital of the United States and the Anheuser family was very involved in the Cooperstown community, sometimes driving their famous Clydesdales through town. Surrounded by mountains and lakes, it’s the perfect scenic setting for the many festivals held throughout the year and foodies will delight in exploring the clever Cooperstown Beverage Trail to explore the many distilleries, vineyards and restaurants. Art galleries, theaters, museums, watersports, hiking and scenic road trips are convenient to explore from any of the many hotels, B&Bs or cabins in the area. For baseball fans or anyone who has fallen in love with the area and wishes they never had to leave, that possibility now exists with an historic farm where the original Anheuser-Busch farm was located.

Now for sale is part of the original Anheuser-Busch hops farm, an 18-acre country estate that borders Lake Otsego with stunning views of the water from most every room. Named “Farmlands” by the architect, the open and lushly landscaped acreage includes a 12,000-square-foot Federal-style stone main house that was recently added, a massive red barn, tennis courts, a private pond, mature apple trees and gardens.

The six-bedroom, seven-bath mansion is sited perfectly for the panoramic lake views and was designed by the architect to take full advantage of the location. Though recently built, the size of the rooms, large fireplaces and detailed moldings are like stepping back in time into a grand manor house. The foyer opens to a suspended curved stairwell and marble fireplace that leads to the formal living room and paneled office, both with lake views. The bedroom suites, divided among the three levels, are large and airy with seating areas around the fireplace while the basement houses a large game room, gym, walk-in fireproof safe, large laundry, and custom wine cellar.

Part of the original Anheuser-Busch hops farm, Farmlands, is priced at $7 million. The listing agent is Mary Diehl Gibson of Keller-Williams Luxury Homes International, Saratoga Springs, New York.

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Zimbabwe opposition cries foul in vote, pointing to delays


Associated Press

Monday, July 30

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader on Monday said reported voting delays were a “deliberate attempt” to undermine his supporters in the country’s first election without former leader Robert Mugabe on the ballot.

The allegations by Nelson Chamisa, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change party, intensified concerns about management of the election and the prospect of a dispute over its outcome.

The voting turnout was high and, in a break from the past, peaceful.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a former deputy president, has promised a credible vote that he hopes will bring international legitimacy and investment to this southern African country, though a seriously flawed process could signal more stagnation.

Mugabe, 94, ruled Zimbabwe from independence in 1980 until his resignation in November under military pressure and many people are anxious for change.

The opposition was concerned about delays at polling stations in urban areas, where support for the opposition has traditionally been strong, while the ruling ZANU-PF party has dominated many rural areas in past elections marred by violence and irregularities.

“There seems to be a deliberate attempt to suppress and frustrate” urban voters through “unnecessary delays,” Chamisa said on Twitter. He acknowledged that there was a “good turnout.”

Long lines formed outside many polling stations in Harare, the capital, and elsewhere. Anyone in line as of the 7 p.m. closing time could still vote, though opposition parties were concerned that their supporters could drift away if forced to wait for hours.

Some observers welcomed Zimbabwe’s freer political environment but cited worries about bias in state media, a lack of transparency in ballot printing and reports of intimidation by pro-government traditional leaders who are supposed to stay neutral.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, accused of engineering flawed election wins for Mugabe in the past, has said this vote will be free and fair.

“We need peace and we need everyone to be comfortable to go out and exercise their right to vote without fear,” said Priscilla Chigumba, a judge who chairs the commission. She said she was confident that voting at most of the country’s nearly 11,000 polling stations would be completed by closing time.

About 5.5 million people were registered to vote in an election viewed by many as an opportunity to move beyond decades of political and economic paralysis.

A record of more than 20 presidential candidates and nearly 130 political parties were participating. If no presidential candidate wins 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will be held Sept. 8.

“I want to do this and get on with my business. I am not leaving anything to chance. This is my future,” said Emerina Akenda, a first-time voter.

The main contenders were the 75-year-old Mnangagwa, who took over after Mugabe stepped down, and 40-year-old Chamisa, a lawyer and pastor who became head of the main opposition party a few months ago after the death of its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai.

After voting in the central city of Kwekwe, where bystanders were silent and grim-faced, Mnangagwa said he was committed to a Zimbabwe in which people have the “freedom to express their views, negative or positive.”

Piercing whistles and cheers greeted Chamisa as he voted outside Harare. He said he hoped voting in rural areas would be fair.

Despite Mugabe’s troubled legacy, dozens of cheering Zimbabweans gathered outside the polling station in the capital where he voted. Struggling to walk, Mugabe raised his fist to acknowledge them. He had his finger inked and was assisted by his wife into the booth.

Mugabe on Sunday said Chamisa was the only viable candidate and rejected Mnangagwa and the ruling party, saying: “I cannot vote for those who have tormented me.”

Chigumba, the electoral commission chief, said police had been informed about two presidential candidates who might have violated the law by campaigning after the cutoff time. She didn’t name them, but they likely were Chamisa and Mnangagwa. Both issued public statements on Sunday.

Even though Monday was a public holiday, some government offices were open so that those who had lost identity cards could get replacements and then cast their ballots.

Inside polling stations, voters were given three ballot papers: one for their presidential pick, another for member of parliament and a third for local councilor. Polling officers helped voters put each ballot paper in the right box.

“We need change because we have suffered a lot here,” said 65-year-old Mable Mafaro while voting in Harare. “We have suffered a lot. That’s all.”

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Attorney General DeWine Files Consumer Protection Action Against Medina Contractor for Failure to Deliver

(CLEVELAND)—Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine today announced a consumer protection lawsuit against the operators of Ashley Contractors LLC, a home improvement and construction company accused of failing to deliver promised services to northeast Ohio consumers.

The lawsuit seeks reimbursement for consumers and an injunction to prevent any further violations of Ohio’s Consumer Sales Practices Act.

Consumers complained that they paid Ashley Contractors thousands of dollars for home remodeling projects they never received. After making deposits for kitchen, bath, or basement renovations, consumers said Ashley Contractors either did no work or did only partial, shoddy work. Reported consumer losses total more than $82,000.

The Attorney General’s lawsuit, filed in the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, accuses Ashley Nihiser and Brian Stepp, both doing business as Ashley Contractors LLC, of failing to deliver promised services and performing shoddy work. The company, which was registered in 2015, dissolved in 2017.

“Many contractors do great work, but there are some operators who take a customer’s money and do little or none of the work they were paid to do,” Attorney General DeWine said. “We’re taking this action to protect consumers.”

Attorney General DeWine offered consumers the following recommendations to help avoid home improvement scams:

Research home-improvement contractors carefully before hiring them. Check for complaints filed by other consumers, review business filings with the Ohio Secretary of State, conduct internet searches, check court websites for legal action, and talk to past customers to learn about their experiences with a contractor.

Get multiple estimates. For a large job, consider getting estimates from several different companies.

Be wary of requests for large down payments. It’s reasonable for a contractor to require a down payment, but be skeptical if you’re asked to make a large down payment (such as half or more of the total cost) before any work begins. If possible, pay in increments as the work is completed.

Consumers who suspect an unfair or deceptive sales practice should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at or 800-282-0515.

LCV Action Fund Endorses Danny O’Connor for Congress

July 25, 2018

Washington, D.C. – The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) Action Fund, which works to elect candidates who will support sound environmental policies, announced today its endorsement of Danny O’Connor for Congress in Ohio’s 12th Congressional District. In addition, LCV will mobilize its members in the district in support of O’Connor’s campaign.

“Danny O’Connor is committed to growing Ohio’s clean energy economy,” said LCV Action Fund Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Tiernan Sittenfeld. “We need voices like his in Congress who will provide the leadership we need to tackle dangerous climate change and who will fight for lands and waters for all. We are thrilled to endorse his campaign.”

“Danny O’Connor values our community here in Central Ohio and we have high expectations for him in Congress,” said Ohio Environmental Council Action Fund President Heather Taylor-Miesle. “We believe he has what it takes to bring voters together on the environmental issues that matter most to Ohioans including creating new jobs in renewable energy and finding innovative ways to fight climate change.”

“This election isn’t just about how we win the next few years, it’s about winning the next few decades, and that’s why I’m proud to be endorsed by the League of Conservation Voters Action Fund,” said Danny O’Connor. “Together, we’re going to create good jobs, grow our green economy and protect Ohio for future generations.”

LCV Action Fund staff will be supporting O’Connor’s campaign on the ground in the lead up to election day. Staff will work out of the campaign’s offices and focus on recruiting LCV members to volunteer and will help with get-out-the-vote efforts.

Danny O’Connor was born and raised in Sidney, Ohio. Between undergraduate and law school, O’Connor spent a year in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps as a legal advocate helping veterans, immigrants, and families stricken by poverty. After graduating law school, he worked in the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office before starting a law practice. In 2016, O’Connor was elected Franklin County Recorder. In Congress, he will work to combat climate change and create clean energy jobs in Ohio.

About LCV Action Fund

The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) Action Fund, the connected federal political action committee (PAC) of the League of Conservation Voters, works to elect candidates who will implement sound environmental laws and policies, and defeat those who stand in the way of progress. Since the 1994 election cycle, LCVAF has helped elect and re-elect 74 U.S. senators and 331 members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Over the last several years, our efforts have also helped elevate climate change and clean energy as critical issues in key elections.

Paid for by the League of Conservation Voters Action Fund and authorized by O’Connor for Congress.

Harvey Weinstein’s insurers balk at paying his legal bills


Associated Press

Sunday, July 29

NEW YORK (AP) — Harvey Weinstein is locked in a messy battle with insurance companies over his steadily mounting legal bills.

The insurance giant Chubb and other carriers that wrote liability policies for Weinstein and his film company are arguing in court that they shouldn’t have to pay for his defense against allegations of rape and sexual harassment.

The policies, they have written in court filings, specifically excluded coverage for “such blatantly egregious and intentionally harmful acts.”

“Mr. Weinstein has nevertheless repeatedly attempted to foist his defense of these lawsuits upon the plaintiff insurers,” lawyers for the companies wrote.

Weinstein’s legal team, which denies that he assaulted any of his dozens of female accusers, has shot back that the insurers are trying to weasel out of their obligations and have unfairly sided with the accusers.

In court papers, they said Weinstein and his company had paid the insurers a fortune in premiums during the past 25 years. At times, they have been indignant in claiming that he is entitled to millions of dollars in coverage.

“Mr. Weinstein has been left in an untenable position, and his patience has run out,” they wrote in one court filing.

Weinstein has countersued Chubb and its affiliates, accusing the companies of breach of contract and bad faith.

Weinstein, 66, has pleaded not guilty to attacking three women and is out on $1 million bail. A new count added this month, predatory sexual assault, carries a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum of 25 year to life.

By the insurance companies’ latest count, Weinstein and the Weinstein Co. are facing 18 lawsuits and other claims filed just since last year.

They include a suit by the New York attorney general accusing the company of failing to protect employees from sexual harassment and others by actresses Kadian Noble and Dominique Huett alleging sexual assault.

It’s unclear how much the legal firestorm is costing Weinstein.

To fight the charges, Weinstein hired Ben Brafman, one of New York City’s most prominent defense attorneys. His team also includes private investigators trying to turn up evidence that backs his claims that the encounters with the alleged victims were consensual.

Mounting a defense on multiple fronts “can be enormously complex and expensive,” said Los Angele-based attorney Thomas Mesereau.

Mesereau, who helped Michael Jackson win acquittal in his 2005 child molestation trial and was on the legal team for Bill Cosby when he was convicted in his second sexual-assault trial, said that how the insurance feud turns out hinges on what constitutes criminal versus negligent behavior. If Weinstein acted criminally, the insurers probably don’t have to pay for his defense.

“The question about where one begins and the other ends can be fuzzy,” he said.

The insurance companies went to federal court this year to ask for a judgment finding they have no duty to pay to defend the rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment claims against Weinstein.

One carrier that had promised to provide Weinstein with $300,000 in “crisis assistance” benefits in the event he faced a situation involving “significant adverse regional or national media coverage” has balked at paying up.

Weinstein had a policy with another company, National Union, that offered $10 million for legal defense including criminal investigations, his lawyers said in court papers. They want the court to force the company to pay up, plus damages for withholding the money. Settlement talks are ongoing.

Separately, an insurance company that covers the Walt Disney Co. has filed a suit in New York also seeking to avoid paying for Weinstein’s defense. Weinstein ran the Miramax studio for Disney from 1993 to 2005.

New report from Sen. Rob Portman finds bad information on federal spending website

Federal agencies have done an awful job complying with a 2014 law that was supposed to make information on the money they spend publicly accessible on the website, a new Senate report has found.

The report from the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations chaired by Ohio GOP Sen. Rob Portman determined that a significant portion of federal agency data on that website is incorrect, or not reported at all, and said the website hasn’t achieved its legislative mandate to be user-friendly with accurate, consistent and reliable data on government spending.

For example, 25 inspector general’s reports reviewed by Portman’s subcommittee found more than half the data submitted to the website during the second quarter of 2017 – about $239 billion worth – was inaccurate.

Although the Treasury Department was responsible for ensuring that all agencies submit accurate spending data, almost 98 percent of the Treasury Department’s own data was inaccurate.

The report recommends that the Treasury Department improve the website’s quality, and establish clear definitions for agencies and their inspector generals to follow when reviewing compliance with the DATA Act, which requires publication of the spending information. Portman co-authored the DATA Act with Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner.

“The goal of the DATA Act was to empower the American public and policymakers with timely and accurate information on how taxpayer money is spent in order to improve transparency and help identify and eliminate government waste,” said a statement from Portman. “It is troubling that most federal agencies failed to comply with this law, and more than half of all the spending data federal agencies submitted was inaccurate. Going forward, this report underscores the importance of requiring federal agencies to submit timely and reliable spending data so that the public and policymakers have a clear understanding of how taxpayer dollars are spent.”

(New report from Sen. Rob Portman finds bad information on federal spending website. Sabrina Eaton. Cleveland Plain Dealer. July, 24, 2018.)

FILE – In this July 20, 2018, file photo, a duck boat sits idle in the parking lot of Ride the Ducks, an amphibious tour operator in Branson, Mo. A lawsuit seeking $100 million in damages was filed Sunday, July 29, against the owners and operators of a duck boat that sank July 19. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File) – In this July 20, 2018, file photo, a duck boat sits idle in the parking lot of Ride the Ducks, an amphibious tour operator in Branson, Mo. A lawsuit seeking $100 million in damages was filed Sunday, July 29, against the owners and operators of a duck boat that sank July 19. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

FILE – In this July 23, 2018, file photo, the duck boat that sank in Table Rock Lake in Branson, Mo., is raised. A lawsuit seeking $100 million in damages was filed Sunday, July 29, against the owners and operators of the duck boat that sank July 19. (Nathan Papes/The Springfield News-Leader via AP, File) – In this July 23, 2018, file photo, the duck boat that sank in Table Rock Lake in Branson, Mo., is raised. A lawsuit seeking $100 million in damages was filed Sunday, July 29, against the owners and operators of the duck boat that sank July 19. (Nathan Papes/The Springfield News-Leader via AP, File)

Staff & Wire Reports