Va. judge: Cellphone pass codes protected

State-NewsVIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) _ A judge has ruled that a criminal defendant cannot be forced give authorities the pass code to his cellphone. The Virginian Pilot reports that Virginia Beach Circuit Judge Steven Frucci issued the ruling this week in the case of David Baust, who is charged with trying to strangle his girlfriend. Prosecutors wanted to search Baust’s cellphone for a possible video of the couple’s altercation. Defense attorney James Broccoletti argued that pass codes are protected by the Fifth Amendment, which shields a defendant from self-incrimination. Frucci ruled that authorities can gain access if a phone can be opened with a fingerprint, which is akin to a DNA sample, a writing sample or an actual key. But he said a pass code requires the defendant to divulge knowledge, which is protected.

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Martinsville had highest jobless rate in September

State-NewsRICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ The city of Martinsville had the highest jobless rate in Virginia in September. The Virginia Employment Commission says the city’s seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate was 11.1 percent. That’s down from 11.4 percent in August and the same rate as a year ago. The statewide rate for September was 5.2 percent. Nationally, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate for August was 5.7 percent. Rates dropped from last year in 339 metropolitan areas, increased in 26 and were flat in seven. Arlington County and the city of Falls Church had Virginia’s lowest jobless rates with 3.7 percent in September. The Danville region had the highest unemployment rate among Virginia’s metropolitan regions at 7.2 percent. The Washington metropolitan region that includes Arlington and Alexandria had the lowest rate of 4.3 percent.

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Former Roanoke woman’s plea hearing set for fraud case

wfir-linkLYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) _ A plea hearing is set for a former Roanoke woman charged in a Smith Mountain Lake mortgage fraud scheme. Susanne Helbig’s hearing is scheduled for Thursday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Lynchburg. Helbig, who now lives in Georgia, was charged in a 15-count indictment with bank fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud, making false statements in connection with a loan and making a false statement on a tax return. The indictment claimed that in 2006 and 2007, Helbig and others submitted false and fraudulent mortgage loan applications and settlement statements in the name of straw purchasers. The losses were calculated at about $11 million.

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Education board recognizes 2 divisions, 40 schools

State-NewsRICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ The Virginia Board of Education is honoring two school divisions and 40 schools for improving the academic performance of economically disadvantaged students. The awards are based on results of Standards of Learning tests during the last two school years. West Point and Poquoson public schools were honored as Highly Distinguished Divisions for high graduation rates and for two years of full accreditation and exceeding federal objectives in English and math. Four schools in Amherst, Arlington, Franklin and Isle of Wight counties were named Highly Distinguished Schools for exceeding state and federal benchmarks two years in a row and passing English and math SOL tests at or above the 85th percentile. Thirty-six schools that passed at the 60th percentile or better also were recognized.

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Federal review to start on proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline

wfir-linkROANOKE, Va. (AP) _ Developers of a proposed interstate natural gas pipeline have moved to begin a federal review of the project. Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this week to initiate the agency’s pre-filing process.Commission spokeswoman Tamara Young-Allen tells The Roanoke Times that the process is designed to identify and resolve issues before a formal application is filed. The 300-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline is a joint venture between EQT Corp. and NextEra Energy Era Inc. It would run from Wetzel County, West Virginia, to another pipeline in Pittsylvania County. The pipeline must be approved by the commission before it could be built.Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin have expressed support for the pipeline.

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Court reviewing Va. death row isolation policy

State-NewsRICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ A lawyer for the state has asked a federal appeals court to approve Virginia’s policy of automatically holding death row inmates in solitary confinement. The Virginia Department of Corrections is appealing a judge’s ruling that automatic around-the-clock isolation violates death row inmates’ due process rights. At a hearing Tuesday, state Solicitor General Stuart Raphael told a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that it should defer to prison officials’ judgment that death row inmates are so dangerous and such big escape risks that solitary confinement is justified. An attorney for death row inmate Alfredo Prieto said solitary is so extreme that it should be done only after an individual assessment determines it is necessary. The appeals court typically rules a few weeks after hearing arguments.

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Bedford County road to close for bridge repair

VDOT-LogoSALEM, Va. (AP) _ The Virginia Department of Transportation says it will temporarily close part of a road in Bedford County to make bridge repairs. A section of Route 602 will be closed on November 5 to traffic to make repairs to the bridge over Hunting Creek. The road will be closed between the hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Weather permitting, the road is expected to reopen the following day. Motorists will need to seek alternate routes. VDOT says a walk bridge for pedestrian traffic will be in place.

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GOP’s Gillespie needles Warner in pro-Redskins ad

State-NewsRICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ Republican Senate challenger Ed Gillespie is needling Democratic Sen. Mark Warner for not being an advocate for the Washington Redskins’ team name. Gillespie’s campaign ran an ad during the team’s game Monday evening attacking Warner for not fighting legislative efforts to force a name change. Gillespie is trailing Warner in public opinion polls, and earlier this month briefly stopped buying ads. Warner also had a 4-to-1 campaign cash advantage in the most recent disclosure reports. Opponents of the name say the term Redskin is derogatory toward Native Americans. The anti-“Redskins” movement has gained momentum and has drawn political, religious and sports figures into the debate.Warner has not joined efforts by other Senate Democrats to pressure the National Football League to have its name changed.

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Virginia stops use of guardrail maker’s products

VDOT-LogoRICHMOND, Va. (AP) Virginia transportation officials plan to remove installations of a common highway-guardrail system amid safety concerns.VDOT spokeswoman Marshall Herman tells The New York Times that the agency also plans to seek reimbursement for the removal cost from the system’s manufacturer, Trinity Industry. Trinity stopped shipments of its ET-Plus guardrails last week after a Texas jury ordered it to pay at least $175 million for misleading regulators. A whistleblower says the company changed the guardrails’ design but didn’t inform regulators for several years. Virginia banned the use of Trinity’s products on after the company missed a deadline to submit plans for additional crash testing. Trinity spokesman Jeff Eller tells the newspaper that the company is moving to begin the testing requested by Virginia and the federal government.

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Virginia gas prices continue decline

AAA-LogoRICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ Virginia motorists are continuing to enjoy a drop in gasoline prices. AAA Mid-Atlantic says the average price for a gallon of gasoline was $2.81 on Tuesday. That’s 1 cent less per gallon compared to the previous week and 33 cents less compared with the same week a year ago. Average prices range from $2.70 per gallon in Richmond to $2.88 in Charlottesville. Motorists in the Norfolk area are paying on average $2.85 per gallon. The average price in Roanoke is $2.79. Nationally, gas prices average $3.03 this week.

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