Historic bankruptcy: Brought low by the housing bust, spiraling pension obligations, and years of bad decisions, this Central Valley community of 292,000 is about to become the nation’s largest city to seek protection under the U.S. bankruptcy code. Three months of mandatory mediation failed to generate a deal with Stockton’s creditors, and the city this week stopped making bond payments. “Bankruptcy is a terrible option until it’s the only option,” said Marc Levinson, a lawyer representing the city. Since 2009, Stockton has trimmed some $90 million in spending and eliminated 25 percent of its police officers, 30 percent of its fire department, and 40 percent of other city employees. Experts cannot predict the extent of further cuts to jobs and pensions, but anxious residents have pleaded that retirees with illnesses be allowed to keep their health insurance. “We have to protect the most vulnerable among us,” said Gary Gillis, a retired fire chief.
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Wildfire evacuation: Thousands of residents fled their homes after a raging wildfire surged into the outskirts of Colorado’s second-largest city. Propelled by 65-mile-per-hour gusts of wind, the Waldo Canyon fire doubled in size in a single day this week, sending a curtain of flame up and over a ridge above the grounds of the U.S. Air Force Academy. Some 32,000 people were affected by evacuation orders. “It’s almost surreal,” said Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper after flying over the fire. The growing blaze was considered the top priority for firefighters, but they were also battling wildfires in northern Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico, and Utah, where the remains of a woman were found in an evacuated area. Derek Arndt of the National Climatic Data Center said the region was experiencing “a superheated spike on top of a decades-long warming trend.”
Monsignor convicted: In a landmark decision, a jury last week convicted a high-ranking official of the Roman Catholic Church of endangering children by covering up the crimes of child-abusing priests to protect the church’s reputation. It was the first conviction of a high-ranking church official in the Catholic pedophile scandal. Monsignor William Lynn, a deputy to deceased Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, had made a list of 37 priests credibly accused of child molestation, and jurors found him guilty of reassigning some of them to new parishes, where they then abused at least a dozen more children. District Attorney Seth Williams said that the conviction would “change the way business is done” in the church and other institutions. Lynn faces up to seven years in prison.
Juvenile life sentences: The Supreme Court this week barred states from imposing mandatory life sentences on teenagers convicted of murder, offering a chance for freedom to some 2,000 inmates serving no-parole jail terms. “Children are constitutionally different from adults for purposes of sentencing,” said Justice Elena Kagan, who wrote the court’s 5–4 majority opinion. Kagan allowed that life sentences should not be outlawed, but said that the harsh practice should be discouraged because of what the court and society have learned in recent cases “about children’s diminished culpability and heightened capacity for change.” Judges will now have discretion to weigh mitigating factors in a juvenile murder case, such as a prisoner’s background and age at the time of the offense, and any evidence of rehabilitation. Chief Justice John Roberts led the dissent, noting that these laws were passed by 28 state legislatures. “Perhaps science and policy suggest society should show greater mercy to young killers,” said Roberts, “but that is not our decision to make.”
Mary Cheney weds: Mary Cheney, the openly gay daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, married her longtime partner, Heather Poe, last week, in a very private, media-free ceremony. The couple, who have two children, were wed in the District of Columbia, but their marriage is not recognized in Virginia, where they maintain a home. The Cheneys are the most prominent Republican family to embrace same-sex marriage, and Christian Berle, deputy director of the Log Cabin Republicans, predicted Mary’s nuptials will have “long-standing impact” on the party’s acceptance of marriage equality. He said conservatives were gaining “a new perspective’’ due to Dick Cheney’s support of gay marriage, and former Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman’s coming out as a gay man. “I am certain Mary and Heather have not given one nanosecond of consideration to the electoral season or political impact of their recent union,” said GOP strategist and family friend Mary Matalin.
Zimmerman charges: George Zimmerman passed two police lie-detector tests the day after his fatal encounter with Trayvon Martin, but the investigating detective nonetheless recommended a charge of manslaughter, Sanford police said this week. Zimmerman, 28, who is charged with second-degree murder, never identified himself to the teen as a neighborhood-watch volunteer, said Detective Chris Serino, and jumped to a “faulty conclusion as to Martin’s purpose for being in the neighborhood,” thereby causing the fatal confrontation. The detective concluded, however, that Zimmerman’s account of the fight was accurate. Serino, 45, has since been reassigned to the overnight shift as a uniformed patrolman, a move that the Sanford P.D.’s David Morgenstern said was “not a demotion.” The Martin family said Serino “got demoted because he told the truth.”
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