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What the County's Talking About This Week 

Judge tosses another Molski suit, sort of

Citing a confusing mix of disability laws, a federal judge has dismissed part of a lawsuit filed by paraplegic litigant Jarek Molski against a Santa Barbara County eatery.

Molski, who has filed more than 380 lawsuits in federal court against a host of restaurants, bowling alleys, and wineries, sued the Hitching Post 1 restaurant in Casmalia in 2003, alleging it had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA.

The Hitching Post's lawyers argued that anything involving money in the case should be tried in state, not federal, court, and U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson agreed: he tossed out that part of Molski's case, while still agreeing to review the restaurant's alleged ADA violations.

That's probably going to severely limit the amount of money Molski will get in this case: The ADA, a federal law, can only be used to force a business to become more disability-friendly - it's a California law that allows Molski to collect damages.

Molski has used a wheelchair ever since a 1988 accident on I-5 left him paralyzed from the waist down. He currently lives in Woodland Hills, near Los Angeles.

After Molski filed hundreds of ADA lawsuits around the southern half of the state, a federal judge accused him of running a "scheme of systematic extortion," and blocked him from filing ADA suits in federal court without first getting permission from a judge.

Since then, Molski's switched to county courts: In January he filed against Paso Robles' Peachy Canyon Winery; in March, he sued Mandarin Touch restaurant in Solvang.

-Abraham Hyatt



Pot-brownie baker faces felony charge

As the U.S. Supreme Court delivered its ruling against the legitimacy of medical marijuana on Monday (see page 8), local law enforcement wasted no time in cracking down on high-profile pot proponents right here in San Luis Obispo.

Following the much-publicized April 20 pot brownie incident at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center, the SLO District Attorney's office proceeded to file charges Monday against 29-year-old Morro Bay resident Arthur Wayne Bethel. Bethel is scheduled to appear in court on June 20, and if found guilty, he could face up to five years in state prison for one felony charge of food tampering with a dangerous substance.

What began as a practical joke in recognition of 4-20 - national stoner's day - turned out to be a recipe for near disaster when 11 Sierra Vista employees became the unknowing victims of Bethel's alleged THC-tainted tomfoolery.

After consuming the peanut butter cannabis confections, nurses on the hospital's medical/surgical floor soon began reeling from the psychotropic effects, including but not limited to dizziness, difficulty concentrating, and acute cottonmouth.

As their symptoms grew more intense, impaired hospital employees were sent home or to the emergency room for evaluation. An investigation by the SLO Police Department - including urine tests and a laboratory examination of leftover brownie crumbs - confirmed the presence of marijuana.

-Jeff Hornaday

Man calls 911 during robbery, cops bust him for marijuana plants

Sheriff's Deputies inadvertently found an indoor marijuana-growing operation after responding to an emergency call in Atascadero. The response to the home invasion occurred May 31 when an Atascadero man called 911 because three men armed with a handgun and two knives entered his home, robbing him and six others of cash and personal property.

One shot was fired during the robbery, said Sergeant Ron Hastie of the SLO Sheriff's Department.

The burglary suspects fled on foot before deputies arrived. But in the search for suspects, deputies found 60 marijuana plants and growing equipment. Early the next day, Sheriff's Narcotics Detectives returned to the house with a warrant to seize the plants. They estimated the confiscated grass to have a street value in excess of $3,000.

Detectives arrested Scott Adams, 18, and Graham Kerr, 20, for cultivating marijuana and possession for sales.

The sheriff's department said they are still seeking resident Andre Adams, 19, for questioning. Sheriff's detectives arrested John Wayne Gilliland, 24, for his involvement in the robbery, charging him with assault with a deadly weapon. Detectives are still investigating.

-John Peabody



ASH flu outbreak under control

Officials at Atascadero State Hospital (ASH) are declaring an end to an influenza outbreak that infected 111 people at the hospital and forced staff to isolate certain housing units to control the spread of the virus, said Barrie Hafler, ASH spokeswoman. The outbreak was declared May 13.

"We feel like we've ratcheted it down and we're cautiously optimistic," said Hafler.

Ash officials worked with the California Department of Health Services to develop a plan that involved limiting patient movement and group activities to end the spread of the Influenza A outbreak.

-John Peabody



Money approved for airport improvements

On June 7, County Board of Supervisors approved $130,000 in funding for the San Luis Obispo County Airport terminal.

Money for the capital project will be spent improving the interior of the terminal. Post-9/11 security requirements required the installation of large-bag-screening machines, which take up a lot of space. That, coupled with a 15 percent increase in boarding over the last couple of years, has crowded the space in the terminal.

According to a county document, the improvements will help alleviate congestion in the terminal by relocating the check-in counters. A new terminal is currently in the early planning stage and is scheduled for completion in 2010.

-John Peabody



Land Conservancy reaches fund-raising goal

The Land Conservancy recently reached its goal of raising $30,000 to secure a purchase option on an 18-acre piece of property on San Luis Obispo Creek. More than 200 families, businesses, and individuals donated money.

The property is located south of San Luis Bay Drive and east of Highway 101. It's part of the San Luis Obispo floodplain and part of the proposed Bob Jones City to Sea Trail, a bike trail that will lead from SLO to Avila Beach.

"The level of support says a lot about the community in which we live and value placed on conservation of our resources," said Land Conservancy Executive Director Brian Stark in a press release. ³

-John Peabody


This week's News was compiled and reported on by staff writers Abraham Hyatt, Jeff Hornaday, and John Peabody.

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