Extra Extra : May 2005

Domestic violence cases dropped despite attorney general order

Rick Brundrett of The State continued the paper's investigation in South Carolina domestic violence cases, finding that "more than a third of the most serious criminal domestic violence cases statewide have been dropped in the four years since South Carolina's attorney general ordered prosecutors not to drop any unless absolutely necessary." That amounts to nearly 4,000 charges since July 1, 2001. Another 1,400 charges were pleaded down. "Victim advocates said the high dismissal rates partly explain why the state has led the nation in recent years in the rate of women killed by men." This follows ... Read more ...

Many to blame for social programs mess

Karen Augé of The Denver Post used state records to show that "nearly every agency, contractor and department that touched the state's new $200 million computer benefits system in some way contributed to its debacle." Colorado's new system was a year late when it came online last fall, and the contractor and state officials have blamed each other for its failures.

State senator makes big bucks with bank

Craig R. McCoy, Jennifer Lin and Mario F. Cattabiani of The Philadelphia Inquirer detailed the relationship between state Sen. Vincent J. Fumo and the bank he heads, finding that "PSB Bancorp Inc. has served one man especially well: its chairman, Sen. Fumo. The bank paid Fumo $709,800 last year. For a few years, it provided him a Mercedes-Benz roadster. He also has received $950,000 in reduced-rate loans, a 'golden parachute' estimated at $4.2 million to $6.4 million if the bank is sold, and stock worth millions more." Fumo helped the bank grow from a single office ... Read more ...

N.C. judges influenced by local lawyers

Ames Alexander of The Charlotte Observer, working with database editor Ted Mellnik, investigated the relationship between lawyers and judges in the North Carolina's judicial district that is most lenient on drinking and driving. "District judges there acquitted suspects in more than 87 percent of the DWI trials in which they rendered a verdict. Statewide, the acquittal rate is 39 percent, state courts data show." One lawyer, John Nobles won 203 straight DWI trials from 2000 to mid-2004. The story also links to in-depth information on the judges, the lawyers and information on how and why the data was analyzed.

Sex offenders clustered in impoverished areas

Brady Dennis and Matthew Waite of the St. Petersburg Times mapped the locations of registered offenders to show that "9 of 10 people in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties live within a half-mile of a sex offender." Most are clustered in poor areas, and state law restricts some offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school.

Incentives pay millions, while companies fall short

Mike McAndrew and Michelle Breidenbach of The (Syracuse) Post-Standard report on how New York Governor George Pataki's administration gives millions of dollars to businesses that promise to hire people, but often don't. The Post-Standard uses the state's Freedom of Information Law to obtain financial accounts, as well as records on companies' penalties. "The newspaper's review of those records shows that in 2004, companies with active grants and loans fell short of their combined targets by at least 6,000 jobs. In all, 47 percent of the companies missed their targets."

Fund-raising costs average at state college

Lynn Campbell, Erin Jordan and Madelaine Jerousek of The Des Moines Register analyzed fund-raising costs by state universities, finding that "foundations at ISU and the University of Iowa are about average in the amount they spend on salaries, travel and other overhead to raise money for their universities." The two schools spend about 11 or 12 cents per dollar on fundraising costs compared to other Big Ten and Big 12 colleges. The University of Northern Iowa spends about 16 cents per dollar raised.

Detroit mayor spends on city's dime

M.L. Elrick and Jim Shaefer of The Detroit Free Press continues their investigation into personal expenditures made by Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick on the city's credit card. Numerous Freedom of Information Act requests uncovered expenditures including an $850 steakhouse dinner and $11,644 he spent on Super Bowl hotel rooms. On the mayor's first day on the job "the mayor charged $52.55 for Pearl Moon swimwear and $265 at the Four Seasons Spa for him and bodyguard Mike Martin". The story also includes information on how the story was orchestrated and what the law says about ... Read more ...

Review finds hundreds of deficient bridges in Utah

Lee Davidson of The Deseret Morning News used federal data to review deficient bridges in Utah. "Federal data, based on state inspections, show that 256 bridges in Utah were considered structurally deficient in 2004. Another 250 were functionally obsolete." Despite the high number of deficiencies, Utah's bridges are rated Ninth best among states, federal data shows.

Confusing stats help mask plant deaths

Lise Olsen of the Houston Chronicle continues the Chronicle's investigation into the 1995 explosion at the BP oil refinery. Olson used OSHA data to uncover why few deaths had been attributed to refineries in the past. "Increasingly, the accuracy of government safety statistics is undermined by the changing work force. These days, up to half of refinery workers are contractors, who generally get some of the most dangerous jobs." Olson also reports on how BP is the fatality leader in their industry in the United States. "BP leads the U.S. refining industry in deaths over the last decade ... Read more ...