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GAY MARRIAGE-UTAH

Judges hearing gay marriage case appear divided

DENVER (AP) — Judges on a federal appeals court panel appeared sharply divided in their questions to attorneys at a hearing over whether to uphold a lower court's ruling that struck down Utah's gay marriage ban.

The swing vote in the case appears to be Judge Jerome Holmes, who had pointed questions for both sides. He compared Utah's same-sex marriage ban to Virginia's ban on interracial marriages that was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1967.

But Holmes also challenged the plaintiff's attorneys to explain why the state's voters should be prevented from defining marriage the way they want.

Utah's lawyer said the state has the authority to define marriage in a traditional way even though other states have defined it differently.

The plaintiffs' lawyers argued that Utah's gay-marriage ban clearly singled out gays for unequal treatment, which is forbidden by the Constitution.

NSA SURVEILLANCE-GOVERNMENT LEAKS

Ex-NSA exec says spy programs violate Constitution

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A former National Security Agency senior executive targeted in a government leak investigation says the country's sweeping secret surveillance programs are violating Americans' constitutional rights.

Thomas Drake spoke Thursday in Salt Lake City at the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics.

He said the NSA's $1.7 billion data storage facility outside of Salt Lake City is a symbol of extraordinarily secretive agency.

Drake started working for the NSA in 2001 and blew the whistle on what he saw as a wasteful and invasive program at the agency. He was later prosecuted for keeping classified information. Most of the charges were dropped before trial in 2011, and he was sentenced to one year of probation and community service.

Drake speaks regularly around the country about his experiences.

HEALTH INSURANCE-CHILDREN

Report: More Utah kids have health insurance

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A new report shows more kids in Utah have health insurance, but the trend doesn't extend to the state's Hispanic children.

Recently compiled data from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation show the percentage of Utah children with health insurance climbed about two-and-a-half percentage points from 2008 to 2012.

The report says about 9 in 10 Utah kids are insured but a quarter of Hispanic children are not.

Senior researcher at Voices for Utah Children Lincoln Nehring tells the Deseret News Utah has work to do when it comes to health coverage among minority populations.

The report finds that nationwide, only Nebraska has a higher likelihood of a Hispanic children being uninsured.

Researchers say they expect overall figures to improve under the Affordable Care Act.

ATTORNEY GENERAL

Former Utah chief deputy A.G. placed on leave

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A former top deputy Utah attorney general has been placed on administrative leave Wednesday after a search warrant seeking his iPhone was unsealed.

Kirk Torgensen worked for former attorneys general Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow.

Newly released documents show authorities in January seized his iPhone to investigate possible crimes of bribery, witness tampering and retaliation, as well as obstructing justice.

The Deseret News reports Torgensen did not have a permanent post in current Attorney General Sean Reyes' office.

He told investigators in January he would show them his correspondence with Shurtleff, but said he didn't want to give them access to messages he sent to his mom and wife.

Swallow resigned after investigations and accusations of wrongdoing but maintains innocence.

Neither he nor Shurtleff has been charged with any crimes.

GAY MARRIAGE-ADOPTION

State intervenes to halt same-sex adoptions

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Utah Attorney General is asking a state appeals court to block two adoptions recently approved for same-sex couples.

The state argues judges erred in granting requests by two couples to add a partner as a legal parent. In each case, only one of the partners has legal custody of a child they are raising together.

The couples are among more than 1,000 gay and lesbian partners who married after a federal judge overturned Utah's same-sex marriage ban Dec. 20. Those weddings stopped Jan. 6 when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay, leading Gov. Gary Herbert to put a hold off on any new benefits for the couples until the courts resolve the issue.

Kimberly and Amber Leary, whose adoption request was recently approved, are outraged by the actions.

DISTRICT ATTORNEY STEPS DOWN

Utah's US Attorney says he is leaving the office

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — United States Attorney for the state of Utah David Barlow has announced he will step down sometime this summer after about three years in the post.

Barlow said in a statement Thursday he is leaving for family reasons but did give further details on why he is vacating the office.

He said he will return to private practice at Chicago law firm Sidley Austin.

Barlow earned a political science degree at BYU and a law degree at Yale.

He was nominated for the position by President Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2011.

Barlow took the job after Utah went nearly two years without a presidentially appointed U.S. attorney following the resignation of Brett Tolman.

TRIBUNE LAYOFFS

Salt Lake Tribune announces more layoffs

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Salt Lake Tribune is cutting eight positions in the latest round of layoffs at the state's largest newspaper.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports Editor and Publisher Terry Orme announced Thursday that the layoffs include seven full-time staffers and one part-timer.

Orme said Digital First Media, which runs the newspaper for owner MediaNewsGroup, called on the newspaper to cut its budget by 10 percent.

The announcement come seven months after three of the Tribune's top leaders stepped down and 17 full-time staffers were let go.

In October, terms of a 6-decade-old joint operating agreement between the Tribune and the Deseret News were significantly altered giving the Deseret News 70 percent of profits. The old profit split was 58 percent for the Tribune and 42 percent for the Deseret News.

REFINERY FIRE-UTAH

Feds: pipe tear caused 2009 oil refinery blast

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Federal investigators say a 2009 explosion at a northern Utah oil refinery that damaged a cluster of homes but caused no injuries began with a corroded pipe that went years without proper inspection.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board Thursday afternoon released findings of a report by an outside consulting group into the fire at Silver Eagle Refinery in Woods Cross.

It found that a ten-inch reactor pipe tore and ignited after it began gushing hydrogen, launching a fireball toward a nearby neighborhood.

The board, which does not have the authority to issue violations, says the pipe was not properly inspected as it wore thin over years.

The facility makes paraffin wax often used to shellac supermarket apples.

It did not immediately return phone messages Thursday from the Associated Press.

TEACHER-STUDENT RELATIONSHIP-SENTENCING

Ex-teacher sentenced in relationship with teen

FARMINGTON, Utah (AP) — A former teacher and basketball coach from Kaysville has been sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison for a sexual relationship with his former student.

Thirty-four-year-old Stephen Paul Niedzwiecki on Thursday was ordered to concurrent sentences for two counts of unlawful sexual activity with a minor and two counts of unlawful sexual activity with a 16- or 17-year-old. He originally faced counts of forcible sodomy, attempted rape and forcible sexual abuse.

The 17-year-old victim told police the sexual abuse began in 2011, after she finished ninth grade at Jefferson Academy in Kaysville. She said the abuse continued until the fall of 2012.

Prosecutors have said they settled on reduced charges because Niedzwiecki was no longer the girl's teacher at the time the relationship turned sexual.

MURDER-ATTEMPTED SUICIDE

Man, 78, sentenced to prison in wife's 2011 death

DUCHESNE, Utah (AP) — A 78-year-old Duchesne man has been ordered to prison in his elderly wife's 2011 stabbing death.

Charles Edward Dodd had pleaded guilty but mentally ill to a murder charge and was sentenced this week to 15 years to life in prison.

A friend was tipped off to the killing after receiving a package from Dodd with a suicide note and $7,000 for burial expenses.

Dodd's 82-year-old wife, Mary Ratliff, was found dead in the couple's home Aug. 13, 2011. Dodd was unconscious in the same room with a puncture wound in his chest.

Dodd told police his wife was in constant pain and the couple discussed "ending it."

Prosecutors said Dodd was competent enough to deal with family finances, and argued the death couldn't be called a mercy killing.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

The Associated Press

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