PANEL CHOSEN TO REVIEW JUDGE OVER OBAMA EMAIL : HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The chief judge of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has appointed a special committee to investigate misconduct allegations against a federal judge who forwarded an email with a racist joke involving bestiality and President Barack Obama's mother.
Chief Judge Alex Kozinski appointed a five-judge panel on March 23 to investigate U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull's conduct.
Cebull is among those who had sought the review from the appellate court.
Cebull has said he forwarded the email to a few friends because he is "not a fan" of the president. Critics say he should resign.
Kozinski appointed himself, two circuit judges and two district judges to the panel. Circuit Judge M. Margaret McKeown will preside over the case.
ODWALLA CHOCOLATE PROTEIN DRINK RECALLED: ATLANTA (AP) — Odwalla Inc. says it is voluntarily recalling its Odwalla Chocolate Protein Monster beverage because four customers who have peanut allergies experienced severe allergic reactions after drinking it.
A news release Thursday from the Coca-Cola-owned company says it is recalling 12-ounce and 32-ounce bottles, with "enjoy by" dates prior to and including May 23, 2012. They were distributed nationwide.
The 12-ounce bottles are also available in variety packs sold at Costco stores.
The company says people who have an allergy or severe sensitivity to peanuts and/or tree nuts may run the risk of a serious or life-threatening reaction if they consume the drink.
Odwalla says it's working with the FDA to investigate the cause of these allergic reactions since the drink contains no peanut or tree nut ingredients.
ANOTHER FINALIST SLICED FROM 'AMERICAN IDOL' : LOS ANGELES (AP) — "American Idol" viewers apparently didn't like Deandre Brackensick.
The falsetto-powered 17-year-old student from San Jose, Calif., impressed the "Idol" judges with DeBarge's "I Like It" on Wednesday's 1980s-themed installment, but he wasn't rescued by the panel Thursday after receiving the fewest viewer votes.
Jennifer Lopez told Brackensick that she was outvoted by Steven Tyler and Randy Jackson to use the judges' one-time-only ability to save him from dismissal.
"I only get one vote," said Lopez. "I'm sorry. We're not saving you tonight."
Before his last-chance performance of Stevie Wonder's "Master Blaster," Brackensick was joined in the show's bottom three by rockin' 28-year-old teacher Elise Testone, of Charleston, S.C., and booming 18-year-old vocalist Hollie Cavanagh of McKinney, Texas. Testone and Cavanagh seemed more likely to be eliminated after receiving the judges' harshest criticism on Wednesday.
PANETTA HAS PAID $17,000 FOR COMMUTING TO CALIF. : WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has commuted on military aircraft to his home in northern California more than two dozen times since he took over the Pentagon in July, paying about $630 per trip for a roundtrip flight that costs the Pentagon about $32,000.
The totals detailed by defense officials lay out his reimbursements for the first time, showing he paid the Treasury about $17,000 for the 27 personal trips. Based on fuel and other operating expenses for his Air Force plane, those same trips cost the government as much as $860,000.
As Pentagon chief, Panetta is required to travel on military planes because they have the secure communications equipment he needs to stay in contact with the president and other top civilian and military leaders.
His bill for the travel is calculated according to reimbursement formulas dictated by longstanding federal policies using what a full-fare coach trip would cost. And the Pentagon says it costs about $3,200 per flight hour to operate the small plane he usually uses for the 10-hour round trip.
MORE SEX CHARGES FILED AGAINST SCHOOL COUNSELOR : SALINAS, (AP) — A former Salinas High School counselor accused of recording students having sex in his school office is facing more than two dozen additional charges.
Prosecutors submitted an amended complaint on Wednesday that increases the total number of charges against 34-year-old Gilbert Olivares to 53. The charges include lewd acts upon a child and manufacturing pornography, and many stem from the same alleged incidents.
Authorities say Olivares filmed students having sex between August 2010 and October 2011 using a hidden cellphone while he was out of the office.
He is accused of making more than a dozen videos of at least eight male and female teens.
Olivares is also accused of groping or touching 3 teenage boys.
He pleaded not guilty to the new charges on Wednesday.
DESPITE OUTBURST, RUSSIAN ARMS DEALER AVOIDS LIFE : NEW YORK (AP) — A federal prosecutor was only two minutes into an argument urging a harsh prison sentence for Viktor Bout, when the notorious arms dealer dubbed the Merchant of Death made it clear he had heard enough.
"It's a lie!" Bout blurted out in English — a rare show of raw defiance for a defendant facing a possible life term on Thursday in federal court in Manhattan.
Minutes earlier, through a Russian interpreter, the ex-Soviet military officer also scolded agents who helped capture him.
"Let God forgive you," he said, while pointing at them. "You will answer to him, not me."
Despite the outburst and insistence that he was framed, Bout escaped with the mandatory minimum 25 years in prison in a case that demonstrated the U.S. government's determination to bring him to justice.
The way federal agents went about capturing Bout — an elaborate sting that lured him to Thailand — appeared to play in his favor at sentencing in federal court in Manhattan on Thursday.