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High court rules Va. man, not town in Maine, rightful owne of rare copy of Declaration of Independence

 

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A rare 1776 copy of the Declaration of Independence belongs to a Virginia technology entrepreneur, not the state of Maine, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled Friday.

Richard Adams Jr. of Fairfax County purchased the document from a London book dealer in 2001 for $475,000. But the state of Maine claimed it belongs to the town of Wiscasset, where it was kept by the town clerk in 1776.

Virginia's high court said that a lower court did not err in its ruling in Adams' favor because Maine didn't prove the document was ever an official town record and that Adams had superior title to the print.

Adams' attorney, Robert K. Richardson, has argued that Wiscasset's town clerk copied the text of the Declaration of Independence into the town's record books on Nov. 10, 1776. It's that transcription, not the document upon which it was based, that is the official town record, Richardson said.

"The fact that the print was not made by an authorized public officer and was not intended to be the official memorial of the Declaration precluded the print from qualifying as a 'public record' under common law," the court said in its ruling.

Adams, who gained fame when he founded UUNet Technologies Inc., the first commercial Internet service provider, sued to establish title to the document after learning that Maine was trying to get it back. His attorney told the high court last month there's no evidence the document was ever an official record kept by the town of Wiscasset and that Adams is the rightful owner.

Maine Assistant Attorney General Thomas Knowlton argued that Wiscasset never gave up ownership of the document, which is one of about 250 copies printed in 1776 and distributed to towns throughout Massachusetts to be read to residents. Maine was part of Massachusetts at the time.

Maine state archivist David Cheever said he found it "incredible" that the state's rights were trumped by a private collector. Maine contended the document never should have been sold because of a state law which presumes that public documents remain public property unless ownership is expressly relinquished by the government.

"To us, it's a public document. It was then. It is now," Cheever said.

Knowlton said the state strongly disagrees with the decision, but acknowledged that it is the end of the road. There are no federal issues that could be pursued to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"The unfortunate result is a public record that we believe rightfully belongs to the people of Maine is now in the hands of a private collector in Virginia," Knowlton said.

Adams' attorney was in court all day Friday and unavailable for comment.

Whether it was an official record or not, the document apparently was retained by Solomon Holbrook, Wiscasset's town clerk from 1885 until his death in 1929. An estate auctioneer found it in a box of papers in the attic of Holbrook's daughter's home after she died in 1994.

Knowlton said town clerks in those days worked out of their homes — a likely explanation for why the document remained with the family instead of being passed along to the new clerk. Holbrook also was a jeweler.

The document changed hands a couple of times before Adams bought it. Cheever said officials became aware of the print's existence after receiving an anonymous tip and decided to try to get it back because of its historical significance.

Cheever said only 11 of the approximately 250 copies printed by Ezekiel Russell in Salem, Mass., are known to still exist. One that originally belonged to the town of North Yarmouth also was obtained by a private collector but eventually was returned, Cheever said.

 

Citigroup reaches aid deal with government

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. government will exchange up to $25 billion in emergency bailout money it provided Citigroup Inc. for as much as a 36 percent equity stake in the struggling bank, greatly increasing the risks to taxpayers as voter unhappiness about the broader bailout program rises.

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President Obama: US combat in Iraq to end by Aug. 31, 2010

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (AP) — President Barack Obama drew a firm finish line in the Iraq war Friday, six years after the invasion he opposed and six weeks into his presidency. Obama said he will withdraw combat forces within 18 months. "Let me say this as plainly as I can," he said. "By August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end."

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Conservative leader Jim Dobson resigns as chairman of Focus on the Family

DENVER (AP) — Conservative evangelical leader James Dobson has resigned as chairman of Focus on the Family but will continue to play a prominent role at the organization he founded more than three decades ago.

Dobson notified the board of his decision Wednesday, and the 950 employees of the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based ministry were informed Friday morning at a monthly worship service, said Jim Daly, the group's president and chief executive officer.

Dobson, 72, will continue to host Focus on the Family's flagship radio program, write a monthly newsletter and speak out on moral issues, Daly said.

Dobson's resignation as board chairman "lessens his administrative burden" and is the latest step in a succession plan, the group said. Dobson began relinquishing control six years ago by stepping down as president and CEO.

"One of the common errors of founder-presidents is to hold to the reins of leadership too long, thereby preventing the next generation from being prepared for executive authority," Dobson said in a statement. "... Though letting go is difficult after three decades of intensive labor, it is the wise thing to do."

While Focus on the Family emphasizes that it devotes most of its resources to offering parenting and marriage advice, it is best known for promoting conservative moral stands in politics.

Dobson, a child psychologist and author, has gotten more involved in politics in recent years. He endorsed Republican John McCain last year after initially saying he would not, and also sharply criticized Democratic candidate Barack Obama.

On political matters, Dobson "will continue to speak out as he always has — a private citizen and not a representative of the organization he founded," said Gary Schneeberger, a Focus on the Family spokesman. He said the nonprofit ministry and Focus on the Family Action — an affiliate set up under a different section of the tax code that permits more political activity — will continue to be active on public policy.

Dobson has a devoted following. His radio broadcast reaches an estimated 1.5 million U.S. listeners daily. Yet critics say his influence is waning, pointing to evangelicals pushing to broaden the movement's agenda beyond abortion, gay marriage and other issues Dobson views as most vital.

"In the short term, in the near term, Dr. Dobson will stay committed to the issues close to his heart," Daly said in an interview. "He'll continue to speak out on those topics."

Daly said there is no timetable for Dobson to leave the radio program, and the group will "look for the next voice for the next generation" while Dobson remains on the air.

That will likely mean not one person behind the microphone but several speaking on their respective areas of expertise, Daly said. The organization, anticipating a post-Dobson era, for several years has tried out different voices on the broadcast and in giving media interviews on hot-button social issues.

At the same time, Focus officials have acknowledged difficulties in raising money from younger families critical to its future. The economy also has hurt. Last fall Focus on the Family eliminated more than 200 staff positions, its largest employee cutbacks ever.


Daly said the group is now "right on track" with a revised annual budget of $138 million.

Dobson's wife, Shirley, also resigned from the Focus board. The new board chairman is retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Patrick P. Caruana, a longtime board member and a former executive with defense contractor Northrup Grumman.

"I don't see any dramatic departure from what Focus stands for," Caruana said of Dobson's leaving the board. "There are obviously younger people the ministry would like to reach, and we're on track to do that."

Officials: Obama sets Aug. 2010 as Iraq end date

 WASHINGTON (AP) — A "substantial" number of the roughly 100,000 U.S. combat troops to be pulled out of Iraq by Aug. 31, 2010, will remain in the war zone through at least the end of this year to ensure national elections there go smoothly, senior Obama administration officials say.

That pacing suggests that although Obama's promised withdrawal will start soon, it will be backloaded, with larger numbers of troops returning later in the 18-month time frame.

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