News Briefing Oct. 10-16, 2014

News Briefing Oct. 10-16, 2014

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Methodist dispute settled

Bishop Peggy A. Johnson of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church has announced that 36 pastors who officiated at a same-sex wedding in Philadelphia last year won’t be disciplined.

Several complaints were filed against the pastors, who officiated at the wedding to show their support for the Rev. Frank Schaefer.

Schaefer is facing discipline for officiating at his son’s same-sex wedding in 2006.

In a statement released last week, Johnson said she was “pleased” that both sides have agreed to settle their differences through private discussions. But she also warned that similar acts in the future could bring “swift” discipline.

Schaefer is ministering to a university community in California as his case winds through the Methodist Church’s internal discipline system.

Judge allows same-sex bens case to continue

On Sept. 18, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Robert J. Colville ruled that a gay man may continue to seek damages from his employer for allegedly refusing to provide workplace benefits to his same-sex partner.

Bradley A. Ankney says the Allegheny Intermediate Unit violated civil-rights laws when it refused to provide health-care coverage to his male partner for about two years prior to their marriage.

AIU is an educational-services provider located near Pittsburgh, and Ankney works there as a math teacher.

In August, AIU asked Colville to dismiss Ankney’s lawsuit as moot, because Ankney’s partner currently receives health-care coverage and other benefits from AIU.

But in his Sept. 18 ruling, Colville said Ankney may continue to seek damages for the time period prior to July 2014 — when AIU began recognizing the couple’s union.

Samuel J. Cordes, an attorney for Ankney, expressed satisfaction with Colville’s ruling.

“AIU is on the wrong side of history, and it’s on the wrong side of the law,” Cordes told PGN. “We’re going to start doing discovery and get cued up for trial.”

Linda B. Hippert, AIU’s executive director, declined to comment.

Ankney is seeking more than $35,000 in damages from AIU, according to court records.

Hearing set in bullying case

A hearing has been set in the case of Thomas Vandergrift, a Philadelphia gay man who claims his nephew was subjected to extensive anti-LGBT bullying while a student at the Pennsauken School District in New Jersey.

Vandergrift also contends that Pennsauken school-district officials falsely accused him of child molestation.

His suit, filed in December 2012, remains pending in federal court in Camden.

Recently, Pennsauken school-district officials asked for Vandergrift’s mental-health records.

Vandergrift’s attorneys objected to the request, stating that Vandergrift’s mental-health records are irrelevant to the case.

But if his mental-health records must be released, Vandergrift’s attorneys requested that safeguards be implemented to ensure his privacy.

A hearing on the dispute has been scheduled for 2 p.m. Oct. 30 in Courtroom 3C of the U.S. Courthouse in Camden.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Joel Schneider is scheduled to preside.

Brief due this month in Milano case

The state Supreme Court has extended the deadline for Bucks County prosecutors to file a brief in opposition to a new trial for Richard R. Laird, who was convicted of murdering Anthony Milano.

In 1988, Laird and Frank R. Chester were convicted of first-degree murder in the grisly slashing death of Milano, who was gay.

Shortly before Milano was killed, he was seen exiting a Bristol Township tavern with Laird and Chester.

Laird has had two jury trials in the case, and both times he’s been sentenced to death.

He’s seeking a third trial, partly on the basis that his father sexually molested him and that he suffered traumatic brain injuries as a youth. Laird also claims he was improperly represented in his previous trial.

On Sept. 16, the court said prosecutors will have until Oct. 24 to file their brief in opposition to a new trial for Laird.

Meanwhile, Chester and Laird remain on death row in Pennsylvania state prisons.

Chester’s request for a new trial remains pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

— Timothy Cwiek

City Council committee to look at hate-crimes bill

Legislation expanding the punishment for hate crimes in Philadelphia has been referred to the Committee on Public Safety, which will meet to discuss the bill later this month.

The bill was introduced Sept. 25 by Councilmembers Blondell Reynolds Brown and Jim Kenney in response to the recent gay-bashing incident in Philly.

Under the proposed legislation, the punishment for hate crimes against LGBT individuals would be set at a maximum of 90 days in jail and up to a $2,000 fine.

Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., chair of the committee, has scheduled the body to meet at 1 p.m. Oct. 29.

Fundraiser for animal shelter

The Camden County Animal Shelter will host its first annual Pledge-a-Paw dog walk and event from noon-4 p.m. Oct. 12 at Camden County College in Blackwood, N.J.

The event seeks to raise $60,000 to benefit its work on behalf of the cats and dogs CCAS cares for every day.

Participants can pledge a 1-mile dog walk to help raise funds and awareness for the organization.

Pledge-a-Paw is presented by the Camden County Board of Freeholders and will include food, music, canine-agility demonstrations, pet games and contests.

Local businesses and area shelters will also be attending.

To register, visit or call Monica Municiello at 856-401-1300 ext. 104.

CCAS is an open-admissions shelter that has been fighting to reduce the stray/unwanted animal population within Camden County. 

— Ryan Kasley



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