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    By Times staff writers

    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 6, 2001


    CNN analyst praises Sunshine Law access

    GULFPORT -- Forget "Flori-duh." Americans are lucky the 2000 presidential election was disputed in a state like Florida, where the Sunshine Law allowed almost limitless access to vote counts and courtroom controversies, CNN legal analyst Greta Van Susteren said Saturday.

    Van Susteren, 46, in town to speak at the Stetson University College of Law commencement, spent weeks in Palm Beach and Tallahassee after the November election. As the world looked on, Florida counties counted and recounted. But the key, Van Susteren said, is that Florida law permitted people to watch the process unfold, even as flaws in the state's voting system became obvious. Florida's courts did more to ensure trust in the process than the U.S. Supreme Court did, she said.

    "You had to have an enormous amount of pride," Van Susteren said.'

    North Carolina legal group challenges Florida parents

    RALEIGH, N.C. -- A legal group intervening in the custody fight over a 7-year-old Florida girl is questioning the fitness of the girl's natural parents.

    Questions were raised Friday in a brief filed in the North Carolina Supreme Court by the private Advocates for Children's Services, an agency of Legal Services of North Carolina.

    No lawyer represented the girl, Crystal Urick, during custody hearings last week in Wake County District Court, and there are questions about the fitness of the parents, the group said.

    "Crystal's status as a minor does not deprive her of constitutional protections guaranteed to adults," the document said.

    Crystal's birth mother, Lazalia Urick of Hernando County, gave the girl to a family friend in 1994 when Crystal was an infant. Urick was 17 then, living in a van and unable to care for the baby.

    Polk County girl dies after acid burns her

    LAKELAND -- A 7-year-old Polk County girl who was splashed with a powerful acid while playing hide-and-seek Friday in her back yard has died from her injuries.

    Savannah Redfern of Kathleen, northwest of Lakeland, knocked over a 5-gallon bucket containing as little as a pint of the acid, said her father, Leon Redfern. The liquid severely burned her legs and and lower body. She died hours later at Tampa General Hospital.

    Redfern said he operates a pressure-cleaning business from the home and sometimes stores corrosive chemicals there, although he normally doesn't use hydrofluoric acid. The acid, used to brighten aluminum, was given to him by a supplier, he said. He was storing it outside his workshop. "This should have never happened," he said. "I was getting ready to have it disposed of."

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