Chief judge on U.S. patent court steps down from lead role

The top U.S. class="mandelbrot_refrag">patent court's chief judge stepped down from his leadership role on Friday, admitting he had raised questions about his judicial ethics by sending an email praising a lawyer who appears before the court.

Judge Randall Rader will remain on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, but he will be replaced as chief judge by Judge Sharon Prost at the end of May, the court said on its website.

Rader said in an open letter posted on the court website that he had "engaged in conduct that crossed lines established for the purposes of maintaining a judicial process whose integrity must remain beyond question."

 
 
 

On Thursday, The Wall Street Journal first reported on an email Rader sent to Edward Reines, a lawyer at law firm Weil Gotshal & Manges, praising his work. Reines represents class="mandelbrot_refrag">software company class="mandelbrot_refrag">Microsoft Corp and medical technology group class="mandelbrot_refrag">Medtronic Inc respectively, in two cases before the court, according to the court's docket.

Rader later recused himself from the two cases as a result of his email, a move made public via court orders. His role as chief judge, which is a mainly administrative role, was due to end in 2017.

Although Rader did not mention Reines by name in Friday's letter, he wrote that he regretted sending an email that praised an attorney who had argued before the court. The email "constituted a breach of the ethical obligations not to lend the prestige of the judicial office to advance the private interests of others," Rader wrote.

Reines could not be reached for comment.

One of the cases was a class="mandelbrot_refrag">patent appeal in which DataTern Inc accused class="mandelbrot_refrag">Microsoft and German rival SAP AG of patent infringement. The case was decided by a three-judge panel including Rader on April 4, partially in favor of Microsoft and SAP. Rader wrote a dissenting opinion.

On May 5, the court reissued its decision, but excluded Rader's dissent, noting he had been recused from the case.

Rader also recused himself from a patent dispute between Medtronic and rival class="mandelbrot_refrag">Edwards Lifesciences Corp.

The federal circuit, which has exclusive jurisdiction over patent appeals, has become increasingly important in recent years due to high-stakes litigation over technology patents.

Rader was appointed to the court by President George H.W. Bush in 1990 and became chief judge in 2010.

(Editing by Howard Goller, Kevin Drawbaugh and Grant McCool)

Kerry to testify in June before U.S. House panel on Benghazi

Secretary of State John Kerry has agreed to testify on June 12 before a House committee investigating the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, class="mandelbrot_refrag">Libya, resolving a contentious dispute with Republicans in Congress.

_0">

Kerry had been subpoenaed to testify on May 29, but the State Department said prior commitments would prevent his appearance. Kerry offered two other dates and the House of Representatives Oversight Committee accepted his offer to appear on June 12.

In a letter to the committee, the State Department said if Kerry testifies before the Oversight panel, it should remove any need for him to appear before a House Select Committee that was formed recently to look into the Benghazi incident.

 
 
 

Four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were killed in the attack.

House Republicans have launched multiple investigations into the Obama administration's handling of diplomatic security in the run-up to the September 11, 2012, attack and the steps it took in the aftermath.

Republicans have accused the Obama administration of playing down the role of al Qaeda-linked militants in the assault.

They said admitting the militant group's role would have undermined the Obama administration's contention ahead of the November 2012 presidential election that it had the Islamist group on its heels.

Democrats say Republicans are pursuing the issue for political purposes, including keeping the spotlight on Hillary Clinton, Obama's secretary of state at the time of the Benghazi attack. Clinton, a Democrat, is weighing a 2016 run for president.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner has insisted that the Select Committee will conduct a "serious, fact-based inquiry."

(Reporting by Mark Hosenball; Writing by Eric Beech; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Gunna Dickson)

U.S. Republicans map campaign attack plan on veterans scandal

Republicans who hope to wrest control of the U.S. Senate from Democrats see medical care delays for veterans as a potent line of attack and are devising ways to keep the issue in the news in the months leading up to the November congressional elections.

They are planning a long summer of investigations and hearings on problems at the Veterans Affairs agency to highlight what they say is a pattern of mismanagement in President class="mandelbrot_refrag">Barack Obama's administration.

Republicans have tread lightly so far to avoid appearing callous in exploiting an issue involving allegations that veterans died while waiting for VA care. But lawmakers, aides and campaign strategists in the party say they are now ready to go on the offensive, attacking Obama for his slow response to the scandal.

 
 
 

They say the VA care delays and alleged cover-ups are another blunder for Obama, equal to the botched roll out of his class="mandelbrot_refrag">healthcare reform law last year, the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, class="mandelbrot_refrag">Libya and the targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service.

"This is part of a larger theme that we've been saying for a year now, that voters don't trust the government," said Brook Hougesen, spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "Just as Obamacare called into question Democrats' accountability, this does the same."

The scandal is national in scope and focuses on a group that is revered by lawmakers and voters regardless of party. The 21 million U.S. veterans make up a sizeable political constituency on their own and nearly 9 million use VA health care.

The VA Inspector General now is investigating 26 locations across the United States, which aides and strategists say will provide a drum beat of news from local media that will fuel voter outrage in battleground states.

Paul Sracic, who heads the political science department at Youngstown State University in Ohio, said the scandal is dangerous for Democrats because it allows Republicans to link outrage over the VA health care problems to voter discontent over the "Obamacare" reforms.

"If Republicans were writing a script for the summer they couldn't have made up a better story," said Sracic. "The last thing Democrats want is to be still talking about this after Labor Day."

Democrats say they are focused on a strong response to fixing the VA problems. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi on Thursday said Congress should consider a broad restructuring of the way Veterans Affairs provides medical care.

The issue could be particularly potent in areas like North Carolina, a state that is home to several military bases and many veterans. It also has VA facilities in Durham embroiled in the scandal.

Republicans need six additional seats to control the Senate and North Carolina's Democratic senator, Kay Hagan, is one of Republicans' top targets.

"This will cost the Democrats the Senate," predicted Larry Sheehan, a Republican political strategist in North Carolina, who expected deep-pocketed political action committees to take the lead on class="mandelbrot_refrag">advertising linking Democrats to allegations of VA mismanagement, Obamacare and other Obama troubles.

"Of course they'll be airing ads on this. They practically write themselves," said Larry Sabato, who heads the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.

In Arkansas, Democratic Senator Mark Pryor is another top Republican target in the fight for Senate control. Pryor has no military experience, while his opponent, Representative Tom Cotton, is an class="mandelbrot_refrag">Iraq and class="mandelbrot_refrag">Afghanistan veteran, a resume which may give him an extra boost with the VA controversy.

In addition to trying to capture the Senate, Republicans want to boost their numbers in the House of Representatives, which they dominate.

_0">

The Republican strategy includes pursuing a separate investigation by the House Veterans Affairs Committee and hearings that highlight the administration's failings on veterans' medical care, a senior House Republican aide said.

_1">

House Speaker John Boehner said on Thursday he lacked confidence in the VA inspector general's abilities and said the House would work "forthrightly" on its own to get to the bottom of the allegations.

_2">

OBAMA THE TARGET

_3">

Thus far, Republicans have been able to voice outrage and concern for veterans while standing back and watching the scandal unfold in the news media, party aides said.

_4">

Doctors first came forward last month in Phoenix with allegations that they were ordered to mask long waiting times with a secret appointment list.

_5">

As reports of similar schemes elsewhere surfaced last week, the White House repeatedly voiced support for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki before sending a top Obama adviser, Rob Nabors, to look into problems at the agency.

_6">

When Obama on Wednesday broke his silence on the VA allegations, voicing his own anger and sidestepping a question about whether Shinseki would step down, it gave Republicans the green light to accuse him of ignoring evidence of VA care problems for years and doing too little to solve the problem once the scandal blew up.

_7">

Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, the top Republican on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said he did not believe the criticism would politicize the plight of veterans.

_8">

"This is about incompetence. This is about ignorance," Burr said.

_9">

The VA's inspector general's report on the Phoenix allegations is due in August, when re-election campaigns are starting up.

_10">

(Additional reporting by Gabriel Debenedetti; Editing by Caren Bohan and Peter Henderson)

_11">

Behind major U.S. case against shareholder suits, a tale of two professors

For two months last summer, Stanford Law School professor Joseph Grundfest locked himself away in his home office in California's Portola Valley. Grundfest's house overlooks the Santa Cruz Mountains, but his attention was fixed on the piles of paper - mostly U.S. Supreme Court opinions and Congressional reports from the 1930s - stacked on his desk and the surrounding floor. Grundfest researched and wrote for weeks with monastic obsessiveness, speaking to hardly anyone but his research assistants and his wife, who made sure he was eating.

When he emerged in August, Grundfest - an influential former Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission who now sits on the board of the private equity firm KKR & Co - had in hand a 78-page paper larded with more than 400 footnotes. His aim was nothing less than to destroy securities fraud class action lawsuits by shareholders, which have been the bane of many businesses in the U.S. since the Supreme Court endorsed the cases 26 years ago.

Grundfest sent the draft around to several other law professors, including the University of Michigan's Adam Pritchard, another favorite of pro-business groups. Pritchard read Grundfest's paper with a sense of familiarity: Five years earlier, in a study for the Cato Institute, he had pinpointed the same obscure provision of a 1934 securities law as the means to curtail big settlements in securities fraud class actions. He sent Grundfest an email: "I see you've put a new twist on things."

 
 
 

The intellectual jousting match between Grundfest and Pritchard is no longer just academic. Any day now, in the case Halliburton Co v. Erica P. John Fund, the Supreme Court will decide the future of securities fraud class actions, litigation that has generated more than $80 billion in settlements and untold billions more in legal fees. Grundfest and Pritchard filed competing friend-of-the court briefs, both supporting Halliburton but advocating different rationales for curtailing shareholder cases.

The court may, of course, decide to make no change, but if the justices do rein in securities fraud litigation, it's widely expected that they will lean on arguments advanced by Pritchard or Grundfest.

But which one?

BEGINNING WITH "BASIC"

The foundation of securities fraud class actions is a 1988 Supreme Court decision in the case Basic v. Levinson. It applied to fraud litigation a then-voguish economic theory, the efficient capital class="mandelbrot_refrag">markets hypothesis, which posits that share prices reflect all publicly available information. The court said that when a broadly-traded corporation publicly misrepresents the truth, it perpetrates a "fraud on the market" - so individual shareholders need not show that they relied on corporate misstatements.

The Basic ruling led to an explosion of shareholder class actions. The number of filings tripled between 1988 and 1991, according to Georgetown University law professor Donald Langevoort, prompting such an outcry from corporate defendants that Congress rewrote the rules for shareholder class actions twice in the 1990s. Even after those reforms, the boom in securities fraud suits continued, resulting in six of the 10 biggest settlements in class action history.

Proponents of the cases argue that they return money to deceived shareholders and provide a necessary private complement to the SEC's regulatory enforcement. Detractors claim the suits don't actually benefit shareholders, just their lawyers. For decades, pro-business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have railed against shareholder class actions, both in Congress and in briefs at the Supreme Court. But in 25 years of litigation challenges, corporate defendants managed only to restrain securities fraud class actions, not to eliminate them.

Basic v. Levinson seemed to be irreversible - until Justice Antonin Scalia suggested otherwise at oral arguments in November 2012 in Amgen v. Connecticut Retirement Plans. "Maybe we shouldn't have this fraud-on-the-market theory," Scalia said. "Maybe we should overrule Basic."

TWO LINES OF ATTACK

Scalia's comment was apparently prompted by a friend-of-the-court brief submitted by Pritchard and two other law professors - the only brief in the Amgen case explicitly to call on the justices to reverse Basic.

Pritchard has been critiquing the Basic decision since he was a student editor at the Virginia Law Review in 1991. In his Cato paper, Pritchard pioneered a theory based on Justice Byron White's dissent in the Basic case. He focused on the one provision of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the law governing securities fraud) that specifically addresses private shareholder suits. That provision, Section 18, requires investors to prove they relied on corporate misrepresentations. Pritchard argued that Section 18 severely restricts the damages shareholders can collect in fraud class actions.

Along with other law professors, Pritchard also questioned the economic underpinnings of "fraud on the market" doctrine, arguing that it's based on an overly simplistic view of share prices. Pritchard, Yale Law School professor Jonathan Macey and University of Chicago professor Todd Henderson first pitched that argument to the Supreme Court in a 2011 friend-of-the-court brief. They proposed that investors should be required to show that corporate misrepresentations distorted share prices by offering evidence of a market correction when the truth was revealed. Such "price impact" studies usually are submitted in the late stage of a case, when investors show how much they were damaged, but the professors said trial judges should require them before allowing investors to sue as a class.

The following year, Pritchard and Henderson filed a similar brief in the Amgen case, another challenge to a shareholder class action. When the Supreme Court came out with its Amgen opinion in February 2013, four justices bought in. "Recent evidence suggests that may rest on a faulty economic premise," wrote Justice Samuel Alito. "In light of this development, reconsideration of the Basic presumption may be appropriate."

_0">

A SHOT AT HISTORY

_1">

Those were the words that sent Grundfest into seclusion last summer, to put on paper an idea he'd been mulling for several years. The Supreme Court's invitation to revisit Basic was a chance to make class="mandelbrot_refrag">business history - even if curtailing the cases would cost him the fees he occasionally earns as an expert for defendants.

_2">

Grundfest's thesis went even further than Pritchard's. In broad terms, his paper argued that Basic can't override the language of Section 18. Investors, he said, can't recover money damages at all without showing they relied on corporate misstatements.

_3">

In its details, Grundfest's approach offered features to win over the Supreme Court's conservatives. It was grounded in the text of the 1934 law, which is the preferred approach of Justices Scalia and Clarence Thomas. It would allow the court to avoid an economic debate on the efficient capital class="mandelbrot_refrag">markets hypothesis. And its most subtle advantage was that the Supreme Court wouldn't have to overturn Basic altogether, which would make it more palatable for a court traditionalist like Chief Justice John Roberts to support.

_4">

Grundfest was itching to test the theory in a live case. He asked one of the lawyers to whom he'd sent a draft, George Conway of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, whether Wachtell had any candidates. Conway, a corporate defense lawyer who has dabbled in conservative politics, said he'd be on the lookout.

_5">

Less than a month later, the perfect opportunity appeared: Halliburton petitioned the Supreme Court to review an appeals court's decision allowing shareholders to proceed with a class action over decade-old claims that the oil-services giant underestimated its asbestos liability. Grundfest and Conway, who volunteered his time, honed the professor's 78-page paper into a brief urging the Supreme Court to take Halliburton's case. Grundfest, also working without pay on this project, jumped on the phone and the computer to rally support for his filing.

_6">

"It was a labor of love," said Conway in an email. Added Grundfest: "Totally pro bono, not a nickel from anywhere."

_7">

Grundfest ultimately recruited a dozen other professors and former SEC officials to sign the brief, which described the 1988 precedent as "the most powerful engine of civil liability ever established in American law."

_8">

One of the few professors who declined Grundfest's invitation was Pritchard. He had his own ideas.

_9">

RALLYING SUPPORT

_10">

Last November, the court voted to hear Halliburton's appeal. The justices do not announce their votes or reasoning, so it's impossible to know whether the Grundfest brief influenced their decision. But it influenced Halliburton. After the justices agreed to take the case, Halliburton's lawyers at Baker Botts adopted the Section 18 argument and cited Grundfest's paper in the company's brief.

_11">

Grundfest made a new round of calls to law professors and former SEC officials to garner support for a brief reiterating support for Halliburton. In addition, he and Conway urged a friend, a former lawyer for the Senate Banking Committee, to organize a brief arguing that Congress didn't mean to endorse Basic when it failed to overturn the ruling in reforming securities litigation.

_12">

Pritchard, meanwhile, revised the brief from the Amgen case to add his own Section 18 argument, then looked around for co-signers. Chicago's Henderson said he'd join, even though he'd also signed Grundfest's filing. No one else agreed to join the brief.

_13">

On the other side, a group of 18 law professors banded together in a friend-of-the-court brief arguing for the status quo. One of them was Georgetown's Langevoort, who said the Basic decision simply gives "the person who has been hurt the right to sue." He was unmoved by the briefs from Grundfest and Pritchard. "Nothing in defendants' arguments denies that there is substantial harm from companies' lies," he said.

_14">

A GAME OF BINGO

_15">

Grundfest and his wife flew to Washington, D.C., for the March 5 oral arguments in the Halliburton case. The night before the hearing, they had dinner with Conway and a couple of other friends and speculated about the questions the court would ask.

_0">

"We should make Bingo cards!" Grundfest said. Later that night, he did. On plain white paper labeled "Halliburton Bingo," the squares included "Section 18(a)," "Justice White," and "Lerach," a reference to the former plaintiffs lawyer Bill Lerach, who was convicted of criminal conspiracy for his role in a kickback scheme, and whose tactics prompted Congress to reform private securities litigation. Grundfest also included himself and Pritchard — in separate squares. The next morning, he handed the Bingo cards out to friends.

_1">

Pritchard skipped the arguments and took his kids to Disney World.

_2">

COMPROMISE SOLUTION

_3">

Halliburton lawyer Aaron Streett led off the company's argument with an oblique reference to Section 18. But then, several minutes into his presentation, the argument took a turn. Justice Anthony Kennedy asked, "Would you address briefly the position taken by the law professors, I call it the midway position, that says there should be an event study?"

_4">

Justice Kennedy and other justices kept coming back to "the law professors' position," meaning Pritchard and Henderson, not Grundfest. The price impact argument had stolen the court's attention.

_5">

David Boies, who represented the shareholders suing Halliburton, emphasized that price impact studies are complex, expensive and time-consuming. But a lawyer for the government, which argued in support of the shareholders, conceded that the consequence of requiring such studies would not be dramatic.

_6">

The buzz outside of the courtroom after oral argument was all about the brief that had inspired so much interest from the justices. A cluster of shareholder lawyers standing in the Supreme Court lobby expressed relief that the justices seemed inclined to compromise instead of erasing their class="mandelbrot_refrag">business. None would talk on the record, but one plaintiffs lawyer said that if the Halliburton decision ended up requiring shareholders to show market impact, "We can live with that."

_7">

After the argument, Grundfest called Pritchard. "He said, 'good for you,'" Pritchard said.

_8">

Weeks later, as he waited for the Supreme Court's opinion, Pritchard declined to hazard a guess about the outcome, predicting only that Chief Justice Roberts will be the swing vote. Grundfest, meanwhile, was still hoping his ideas will influence the court. He said he could envision a three-way split in which the three most liberal justices ruled to leave Basic untouched, the three most conservative voted to overturn it and the three in the middle opted to leave Basic intact and add a price-impact test. That would mean a victory for Pritchard and corporate defendants—even if it's not all that Grundfest, Halliburton and the broader business lobby had hoped for.

_9">

"It's 50-50-50," Grundfest said.

_10">

(Reporting By Alison Frankel; Editing by Amy Stevens, Martin Howell)

_11">

More frugal U.S. military forgoes Europe golf course, skeet range

The U.S. military is shedding European real estate including a golf course, skeet range and hotel, as well as facilities like a munitions storage facility, as it looks to save cash during a U.S. budget crunch, officials said on Friday.

_0">

Rear Admiral John Kirby stressed the decisions to return the sites to host nations in class="mandelbrot_refrag">Germany, class="mandelbrot_refrag">Italy and elsewhere would not affect the U.S. military's ability field personnel in Europe -- a sensitive subject as the class="mandelbrot_refrag">Ukraine crisis causes the worst stand-off between class="mandelbrot_refrag">Russia and the West since the Cold War.

"I think it's pretty self-evident that it doesn't at all change our military capability on the continent or degrade in any way our readiness to meet our security commitments there in Europe," Kirby told reporters.

 
 
 

He said the decision to turn the 21 sites to class="mandelbrot_refrag">Germany, class="mandelbrot_refrag">Italy, Denmark, class="mandelbrot_refrag">Greece, the United Kingdom and Belgium would save about $60 million a year. Still, it is only the first step in reductions that will be ordered through an ongoing look at America's military footprint in Europe, called the European Infrastructure Consolidation review.

The Pentagon is struggling to implement nearly $1 trillion in cuts to projected spending over a decade, as required by law, and had been under pressure from Congress to cut non-essential facilities abroad prior to scaling back bases and other infrastructure in the United States.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart and David Alexander; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

U.S. Republican seeks private health care for waiting veterans

The Republican congressman overseeing a U.S. House panel investigation into delays in veterans' treatment demanded on Friday that Veteran Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki allow patients to seek emergency private health care.

_0">

The VA's Inspector General's office is also investigating allegations that long waiting times were covered up at some 26 locations across the United States, including claims by VA doctors in Phoenix that 40 veterans died while waiting months for appointments.

The controversy spread as lawmakers left Washington for the Memorial Day holiday on Monday, which honors veterans. Republicans began mapping out a campaign strategy for November elections that highlights the scandal as another example of Obama administration mismanagement.

 
 
 

Representative Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, asked Shinseki in a letter to allow veterans waiting more than 30 days for an appointment to seek care from private practitioners paid for by the department.

Miller said he would introduce legislation to codify such a policy.

"Now is the time for immediate action. We simply can't afford to wait for the results of another investigation into a problem we already know exists," Miller said in a statement.

"That's why I'm calling on Secretary Shinseki to take emergency steps to ensure veterans who may have fallen victim to appointment wait time schemes or delays in care get the medical treatment they need."

A VA spokeswoman could not immediately be reached for comment on the request by Miller.

Separately, Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders said he was introducing a VA "accountability" bill that includes provisions from a House-passed measure that gives Shinseki more power to fire or demote senior VA executives for poor job performance.

In many cases under current law, such officials can only be dismissed for misconduct. But Sanders said that unlike the House version passed on Wednesday, his bill would keep some due-process protections for VA managers and would prohibit politically motivated firings.

The Sanders measure would also reverse a previously approved one-percent cut in annual cost of living adjustments for military pensions, a move that would cost $21 billion over 10 years.

Sanders said his bill will be formally introduced when the Senate returns from the Memorial Day recess the week of June 2, with a hearing scheduled for June 5.

(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Grant McCool)

With HUD choice, Obama brings Latino Castro on to national stage

President class="mandelbrot_refrag">Barack Obama elevated fast-rising Latino politician Julian Castro to the national stage on Friday, nominating the San Antonio mayor as the next secretary of housing and urban development.

The move automatically puts the 39-year-old Mexican-American in the mix of speculation about who might be the Democrats' vice presidential nominee in 2016.

Obama picked Castro to fill the position that will be left by current HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, who Obama nominated as the next White House budget director.

 
 
 

The Castro appointment is tantalizing politically because it brings a youthful Latino with star power to Washington.

Castro and his twin brother, Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro, rose from humble roots. Their grandmother worked as a maid, cook and babysitter to have enough money to help raise a family.

"To be your nominee, class="mandelbrot_refrag">President Obama, is simply a blessing to me," Castro said.

Castro has been mayor of the country's seventh largest city since 2009. He is credited with bringing new vitality to downtown San Antonio and improving areas that had been stricken with urban blight.

Democrats got their first good look at Castro when he was the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention that renominated Obama for a second term in 2012.

"They saw this young guy, pretty good speaker, not bad looking, talk about how America is the only place where his story could even be possible. And I watched and I thought, that's not bad," Obama said wryly.

Then U.S. Senator class="mandelbrot_refrag">Barack Obama had given a similar speech at the 2004 convention.

People close to Castro say he is flattered by talk that he could be on a list of potential 2016 Democratic vice presidential picks, but that he is eager to do the HUD job, which will put him into contact with city mayors that he has enjoyed working with these last years.

"He's got a lot going for him and so the buzz behind him as a potential vice presidential pick in 2016 is a real one," said Richard Perez, an associate of Castro who is CEO of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.

Castro's selection takes place at a time when Hispanics seem tied as closely as ever with Democratic politics. Obama won 71 percent of the Latino vote in 2012.

There is one school of thought that says the Castro nomination could help placate Latinos frustrated by Obama's inability to get an immigration overhaul through Congress.

Plus, Castro's rise in Texas could be limited as the state remains overwhelmingly Republican and it may be a while before the state elects Democrats to high office.

"He could go blue in the face waiting for Texas to turn blue," said Republican strategist Ana Navarro.

_0">

And there are risks to Castro's rise, given that the HUD secretary's position is not necessarily a springboard to higher office.

_1">

"HUD has generally not been a stepping stone for successful political ambitions," said Ray Sullivan, who advised the 2012 presidential campaign of Texas' Republican governor, Rick Perry.

_2">

(Reporting By Steve Holland. Editing by Andre Grenon)

_3">

U.S. Judge allows Michigan Rep. Conyers to appear on ballot

A federal judge ruled on Friday that longtime Detroit-area Democratic U.S. Representative John Conyers should appear on an August primary ballot, saying Michigan registration rules that had disqualified him may violate his constitutional rights.

Conyers' bid for re-election had suffered a blow on Friday when state officials said errors in his nominating petitions left the 85-year-old politician without enough valid signatures to appear on the primary ballot.

He had been required to submit at least 1,000 valid signatures. But he fell short after hundreds of signatures were thrown out because they were gathered by people who were not registered voters in the state.

 
 
 

In ordering him onto the ballot, U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Leitman granted a preliminary injunction against a Michigan law requiring that petition circulators be registered state voters, saying the measure burdened Conyers' free speech and assembly rights.

"The state's interest in combating election fraud is compelling, but the state may protect that interest through less restrictive means," Leitman wrote.

Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson had argued that the law helps combat election fraud because it would have the contact information of a registered voter if questions arose regarding the validity of signatures, court documents show.

Conyers is one of America's most prominent black politicians and is a former chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee. He ranks second in seniority behind fellow Michigan Representative John Dingell, who is retiring this year.

His district is solidly Democratic. President class="mandelbrot_refrag">Barack Obama won 85 percent of the vote in the district in his 2012 re-election, according to Democratic Party records.

Officials in the Michigan Secretary of State's office were not immediately available for comment, nor were Conyers' campaign staff.

(Reporting by David Bailey in Minneapolis, Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Grant McCool)

U.S. Republican seeks private health care for waiting veterans

The Republican congressman overseeing a U.S. House panel investigation into delays in veterans' treatment demanded on Friday that Veteran Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki allow patients to seek emergency private health care.

The VA's Inspector General's office is also investigating allegations that long waiting times were covered up at some 26 locations across the United States, including claims by VA doctors in Phoenix that 40 veterans died while waiting months for appointments.

The controversy spread as lawmakers left Washington for the Memorial Day holiday on Monday, which honors veterans. Republicans began mapping out a campaign strategy for November elections that highlights the scandal as another example of Obama administration mismanagement.

 
 
 

Representative Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, asked Shinseki in a letter to allow veterans waiting more than 30 days for an appointment to seek care from private practitioners paid for by the department.

Miller said he would introduce legislation to codify such a policy.

"Now is the time for immediate action. We simply can't afford to wait for the results of another investigation into a problem we already know exists," Miller said in a statement.

"That's why I'm calling on Secretary Shinseki to take emergency steps to ensure veterans who may have fallen victim to appointment wait time schemes or delays in care get the medical treatment they need."

A VA spokesman said in a statement that its health care division has redoubled its efforts to ensure that veterans have timely access to care at Shinseki's request.

"Each of our facilities is either enhancing their clinic capacity to help Veterans get care sooner, or where we cannot increase capacity, increasing the care we acquire in the community through non-VA care," the agency said in an emailed statement.

"Each of our facilities is reaching out to Veterans to coordinate the acceleration of their care."

Separately, Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders said he was introducing a VA "accountability" bill that includes provisions from a House-passed measure that gives Shinseki more power to fire or demote senior VA executives for poor job performance.

In many cases under current law, such officials can only be dismissed for misconduct. But Sanders said that unlike the House version passed on Wednesday, his bill would keep some due-process protections for VA managers and would prohibit politically motivated firings.

The Sanders measure would also reverse a previously approved one-percent cut in annual cost of living adjustments for military pensions, a move that would cost $21 billion over 10 years.

Sanders said his bill will be formally introduced when the Senate returns from the Memorial Day recess the week of June 2, with a hearing scheduled for June 5.

(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Grant McCool & Kim Coghill)

Boy Scouts leader Gates won't press gay adult membership issue

Former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday he would not press during his term as Boy Scouts of America president for an end to the group's ban on gay adult leaders for fear of causing permanent damage to the century old organization.

Gates, who helped end the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that barred gays from serving openly in the U.S. military while he was defense secretary, said he strongly supported the Boy Scouts vote last year to lift its ban on gay youth members.

He also said he personally supported going further, but would oppose efforts to reopen the issue in his two years as president. His selection had fueled speculation that Gates would seek to end the ban on gay adult scout leaders.

 
 
 

"Given the strong feelings - the passion - involved on both sides of this matter, I believe strongly that to reopen the membership issue or try to take last year's decision to the next step would irreparably fracture and perhaps even provoke a formal, permanent split in this movement ...," Gates said in the text of a speech to the annual meeting in Nashville, Tennessee.

Gates, a former CIA director, was defense secretary when the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy was repealed in 2010.

"This is where we are at as a movement" Gates said in an interview. "Unlike the Pentagon or the CIA, I can't just give an order and everyone salutes and does what I say."

Gay rights activists criticized Gates' remarks.

"This is a cop out, and it tarnishes the legacy Mr. Gates has built as a leader who bridged cultural and political divides and led the military - and now the Boy Scouts - into the 21st century, said Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout and executive director of Scouts for Equality.

Jennifer Tyrrell, an Ohio mother who was ousted as a leader of her son's Cub Scouts pack because she is a lesbian, said fairness cannot wait.

Gates, who took over as president this week, said he wants the Boy Scouts to focus on recruiting and fundraising at a local level. The Boy Scouts have acknowledged membership declines, but have about 2.6 million youth members and one million adult leaders.

The vote last May to allow openly gay scouts starting on January 1 drew criticism from conservatives who opposed the change and from gay rights groups who said it did not go far enough.

Some parents pulled their boys from the Boy Scouts after the vote and a group of conservatives formed a break-away start-up, Trail Life USA, which condemns sexual activity outside marriage between a man and woman as "sinful before God."

Some major sponsors have pulled funding from the scouts to protest policies seen as discriminatory, including class="mandelbrot_refrag">Lockheed Martin Corp and class="mandelbrot_refrag">Intel Corp.

(Reporting by Marice Richter in Dallas; Editing by David Bailey, Kim Coghill and Ron Popeski)

Republican star Mia Love gets second chance to make political history

Utah's Mia Love, a Republican darling who could become the first conservative black woman elected to U.S. Congress, is getting a second, and likely better, chance to make history after narrowly losing to a popular incumbent Democrat in 2012.

Love, 39, is a Mormon mother of three who is upending stereotypes about the state and its predominant faith. She locked up her party's nomination to vie for an open seat in Utah's 4th District at a state convention last month with an overwhelming 78 percent of the vote.

The seat became available when Jim Matheson retired after seven terms in Congress as the heavily conservative state's lone Democrat in Washington. Two years ago, the politically savvy son of a beloved Utah governor beat Love by fewer than 800 votes.

If Love wins this time, she would become an unlikely champion in Washington of staunchly conservative views - limited government, fiscal discipline and state's rights. The daughter of Haitian immigrants is pro-life, pro-gun and holds a concealed weapons permit.

She also supports Utah's effort to reclaim public land from federal agency controls, a hot issue in the U.S. West among conservatives, and has said she would vote against regulations she believes would restrict economic development.

"I love the story of David and Goliath, because in that story, David runs toward Goliath. He ran toward a seemingly impossible challenge," Love said during a testy debate this week with her opponent, Doug Owens, a Democrat and first-time candidate.

"That's the type of confidence we need to have as we take on the Goliaths of our debt, out-of-control spending, Obamacare and that Godzilla we call the federal government," she said.

In November, Love will face Owens in a conservative district created after the 2010 Census that encompasses parts of Democratic-leaning Salt Lake City, then runs south along the Wasatch Front into parts of rural Utah that are typically Republican strongholds.

Her competitor, a 50-year-old attorney, is the son of former Utah U.S. Representative Wayne Owens, also a Democrat.

WAR CHEST

Despite her 2012 loss, Love has never left the political scene. The former mayor of Saratoga Springs has continued to speak at state and local Republican and community events, and has been tapped as a conservative commentator by numerous conservative national media programs.

Federal Election Commission records show that, as of April 6, Love had amassed a campaign war chest of more than $2 million. The 2012 Love-Matheson contest, with candidates chalking up more than $10 million in spending, was the most expensive House race in Utah's history.

Her exposure and experience should put Love in a stronger position than previously, said Chris Karpowitz, associate director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University.

But Love, who was named one of the Republican party's "Young Guns" to watch and given a speaking slot at the 2012 national convention, appears to have toned down some of the Tea Party-style rhetoric, he said.

"She is in a good position in the sense that she has run already, so people know her name," Karpowitz said. "And she seems to be running a campaign that is a little more focused on the kind of voters that Jim Matheson traditionally won."

A spokeswoman for Love did not respond to questions about how the 2014 campaign would differ from her earlier run.

_0">

Owens, viewed as the underdog, told Reuters by email that he believes voters have tired of partisan rancor and extreme viewpoints.

_1">

"I will beat Mia Love the same way that Jim Matheson did," said Owens, a self-described pragmatist. "By focusing on the issues that are important to Utahns and not on national partisan ideology."

_2">

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Gunna Dickson)

_3">

Obama pledges to uphold 'sacred trust' with U.S. veterans

At the end of a week rocked by allegations of mismanagement and cover-ups at the Department of Veterans Affairs, President class="mandelbrot_refrag">Barack Obama used his weekly address on Saturday to vow again to make sure veterans get the necessary medical care.

_0">

"Let's keep working to make sure that our country upholds our sacred trust to all who've served," Obama said in his address, which aired on Memorial Day holiday weekend, when Americans honor their war dead.

"In recent weeks, we've seen again how much more our nation has to do to make sure all our veterans get the care they deserve," he said.

 
 
 

The VA said on Saturday it is taking steps nationally and locally to ensure veterans receive timely care, including providing access to private facilities when necessary.

"Each of our facilities is either enhancing their clinic capacity to help veterans get care sooner, or where we cannot increase capacity, increasing the care we acquire in the community through non-VA care," the agency said in a statement.

Obama responded personally this week to a growing furor that veterans had suffered long delays in receiving healthcare, making clear that Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki's job could be on the line.

Shinseki is slated to give Obama the preliminary results of a review of the scope of the problems next week. Obama has assigned Rob Nabors, one of his top aides, to conduct his own look into what happened. Nabors' review is due next month.

The agency's inspector general, an independent watchdog, is also investigating the allegations. Its review is due in August.

Republican lawmakers are planning investigations and have criticized Obama for being slow to respond.

"Now that we've ended the war in class="mandelbrot_refrag">Iraq, and as our war in class="mandelbrot_refrag">Afghanistan ends as well, we have to work even harder as a nation to make sure all our veterans get the benefits and opportunities they've earned," Obama said.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Additional reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Peter Cooney and Steve Orlofsky)

Obama to lay out defense of foreign policy in West Point speech

Stung by criticism, President class="mandelbrot_refrag">Barack Obama will use a speech on Wednesday to launch a sweeping defense of his approach to foreign policy, one that he will say is reliant on multilateral diplomacy instead of military interventions.

Obama is to deliver the commencement address at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, the first in a series of speeches that he and top advisers will use to explain U.S. foreign policy in the aftermath of conflicts in class="mandelbrot_refrag">Iraq and class="mandelbrot_refrag">Afghanistan and lay out a broad vision for the rest of his presidency.

The president has come under withering fire in recent months for what his critics say is a passive approach to foreign policy, one that has allowed Russian President Vladimir Putin to flex his muscle in class="mandelbrot_refrag">Ukraine, and left the Syrian civil war to fester and class="mandelbrot_refrag">China to threaten its neighbors in the South China Sea.

 
 
 

Shortly after a trip to Asia late in April during which he strongly defended his incremental approach, he directed aides to frame a speech to explain his foreign policy and how he plans to handle world hot spots during his remaining two-and-a-half years in office.

"You will hear the president discuss how the United States will use all the class="mandelbrot_refrag">tools in our arsenal without over-reaching," a White House official said on Saturday. "He will lay out why the right policy is one that is both interventionist and internationalist, but not isolationist or unilateral."

Obama, determined not to repeat what he views as the mistakes of his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush - U.S. involvement in wars in class="mandelbrot_refrag">Iraq and class="mandelbrot_refrag">Afghanistan - has leaned heavily on diplomatic activity instead of military force.

In the case of class="mandelbrot_refrag">Ukraine, he has ordered sanctions against some of Putin's inner circle and businesses associated with the Kremlin power structure but has made clear he will not threaten military force for Moscow's seizure of Crimea.

The fear among some in Washington is that Obama's handling of class="mandelbrot_refrag">Russia will prompt China to flex its muscles in the South China Sea, where tensions have already been rising over such actions as the placement of a Chinese oil rig in waters claimed by Vietnam.

On Syria, Obama backed away from a threat to use military force over the use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians by the Syrian government. While a deal struck with Russia is leading to the disarming of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile, the three-year-old Syrian civil war rages on and President Bashar al-Assad remains in power.

Obama will emphasize that Syria remains a counter-terrorism threat as a haven for militant groups. U.S. officials have debated whether to supply heavier weapons and increase covert aid to Syrian rebels.

"We do see Syria as a counter-terrorism challenge. However, the right policy approach continues to be strengthening the moderate opposition, which offers an alternative to both the brutal Assad regime, and the more extremist elements within the opposition," the White House official said.

The official said Obama will say the United States is the only nation capable of galvanizing global action and why "we need to put that to use in an international system that is sustainable and enduring, and that can address challenges from traditional ones, like maritime and trade issues, to emerging ones, like climate change."

(Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Senator to renew gun control push after California shooting spree

Senator Richard Blumenthal said on Sunday he wanted to revive gun control legislation rejected by Congress in the wake of the 2012 Newtown, Connecticut, school massacre, saying it could have helped prevent this weekend's deadly California shooting spree.

_0">

Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, said on CBS's "Face the Nation" program the legislation, which failed last year, could be revised to emphasize the mental condition of potential gun buyers.

"Obviously, not every kind of gun violence is going to be prevented by laws out of Washington," he said.

 
 
 

"But at least we can make a start and I am going to urge that we bring back those bills, maybe reconfigure them, center on mental health, which is a point where we can agree that we need more resources to make the country healthier and to make sure that these kinds of horrific, insane, mad occurrences are stopped.

"And the Congress will be complicit if we fail in that," he said.

On Friday night a 22-year-old college student identified as Elliot Rodger allegedly stabbed three people to death in his apartment in Santa Barbara, California, and then drove through the city and fatally shot three others with handguns he had legally bought. He later killed himself.

A YouTube video and a lengthy "manifesto" Rodger left behind were filled with rage and plans for "slaughtering" women because he felt they had rejected him.

Rodger had been visited by Santa Barbara authorities last month after a family member expressed concerns about him. Santa Barbara Sheriff Bill Brown said Rodger was courteous to the deputies and did not meet the criteria for legal intervention.

U.S. President class="mandelbrot_refrag">Barack Obama made gun control a priority shortly after Adam Lanza, 20, killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown with an assault-style rifle and two handguns in December 2012.

The Newtown massacre, coming on top of other mass shootings, set off an intense national debate about gun violence. But a few months later the Senate defeated Obama's proposals to restrict sales of certain types of guns and require greater background checks.

Gun-rights groups, a powerful national political force, opposed the measures, saying they would infringe on Americans' constitutional rights.

Blumenthal said the defeated legislation could have given authorities in Santa Barbara a better chance to intervene in Rodger's case before the killings and would provide for "professionals trained in diagnosing and detecting this kind of derangement."

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence ranks California as the state with the strongest gun control measures, requiring background checks for all firearms sales, regardless of the type of gun or where it was purchased.

(Reporting by Bill Trott and Lisa Lambert; Editing by Jim Loney and Paul Simao)

Anti-Obama author D'Souza pleads guilty to campaign finance violation

Conservative author and filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza pleaded guilty on Tuesday to a campaign class="mandelbrot_refrag">finance law violation, avoiding a trial that had been expected to begin the same day in a Manhattan federal court.

D'Souza, known for his biting criticism of President class="mandelbrot_refrag">Barack Obama, pleaded guilty to one criminal count of making illegal contributions in the names of others. A second count concerning the making of false statements is expected to be dismissed once he is sentenced.

The plea came four months after Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara charged D'Souza with using "straw donors" to give funds in 2012 to Republican Wendy Long's U.S. Senate campaign in New York. Long, who met D'Souza while they were students in the 1980s, lost to Democratic incumbent Kirsten Gillibrand.

 
 
 

"I knew that causing a campaign contribution to be made in the name of another was wrong and something the law forbids," D'Souza, 53, told U.S. District Judge Berman on Tuesday. "I deeply regret my conduct."

Prosecutors said D'Souza asked two friends and their spouses to contribute $10,000 each to Long's campaign and then reimbursed them. At the time, campaign class="mandelbrot_refrag">finance regulations limited individual donations to a maximum of $5,000 during an election cycle.

One of the friends was Denise Joseph, who was engaged to D'Souza while he was still married to another woman. D'Souza resigned as president of King's College, a small Christian school in New York City, after the media revealed his relationship with Joseph in 2012.

The criminal case against D'Souza prompted an outcry among some conservatives who accused the government of selectively prosecuting him because of his political views.

The Indian-born D'Souza wrote the 2010 bestseller "The Roots of Obama's Rage" and co-directed a 2012 film, "2016: Obama's America," which painted a bleak picture of the nation's future if the Democratic president was reelected.

Bharara is an Obama appointee.

Earlier this year, four Republican senators asked FBI Director James Comey to explain how investigators came to focus on D'Souza. The Washington Times, a right-leaning newspaper, on Monday published an editorial accusing the Justice Department of selective prosecution.

In a previous court filing, D'Souza's lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, said his client was singled out for his criticism of Obama.

Berman, however, ruled D'Souza was not entitled to seek government evidence that could have bolstered that argument, saying there was no sign D’Souza had been targeted.

Lawyers for both sides agreed that under advisory federal sentencing guidelines, D'Souza faces between 10 and 16 months in prison. Brafman, however, indicated he would ask Berman not to impose prison time, telling reporters D'Souza is a "fundamentally honorable man" who had committed an "isolated instance of wrongdoing."

D'Souza, who was a policy adviser for President Ronald Reagan and has worked with conservative institutions such as the American Enterprise Institute, declined to comment.

The case is U.S. v. D'Souza, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 14-cr-00034.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by James Dalgleish and Paul Simao)

Two men in plot to kill singer Joss Stone have jail terms cut

Two men found guilty of plotting to murder and rob British singer Joss Stone because they were angered by her links to the British royal family had their jail terms cut on Tuesday by an appeal court.

_0">

Kevin Liverpool and Junior Bradshaw were jailed in April 2013 after a court heard of their plan to behead the Grammy Award-winning singer before throwing her body in a river near her rural home in southwest England.

The pair had a deep hatred for Stone because she had performed at a charity event organized by Princes William and Harry and she had attended the 2011 wedding of William and the Duchess of Cambridge, formerly Kate Middleton.

 
 
 

Liverpool, then 35, was jailed for life with a minimum term of 10 years and eight months but the three Court of Appeal judges reduced his minimum term to 6-1/2 years on Tuesday, a court spokesman said.

Bradshaw, then 32, received an 18-year jail sentence which was reduced to 10 years.

The two men, both from Manchester in northern England, had denied the charges. Court documents did not list the reason for the reduction in their sentences.

The court had heard they were arrested near Stone's home in June 2011 with an arsenal of weapons after neighbours reported them as acting suspiciously.

(Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith; editing by Stephen Addison)

Casey Kasem's daughter wins new rights to care for him: report

A judge on Tuesday ruled a daughter of Casey Kasem can travel to Washington state, where the ailing radio personality is believed to be staying, and make medical decisions on his behalf, City News Service reported.

_0">

The decision by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Daniel Murphy in favor of Kasem's daughter, Kerri Kasem, expands on powers she had been given last week when Murphy named her as the 82-year-old radio DJ's temporary conservator, according to City News Service.

Kasem, who is known for his weekly top 40 countdown show and for being the voice of Shaggy on the "Scooby-Doo" cartoons, was located in Kitsap County, Washington state, last week after attorneys for Kerri Kasem reported they did not know where he had been taken.

 
 
 

Kasem suffers from a form of dementia called Lewy body disease, and his children have been involved in a legal tussle with their stepmother, Jean Kasem, over visitation and caretaking for the radio personality.

Murphy, in his ruling on Tuesday, gave Kerri Kasem the power to travel to Washington state and make medical decisions on her father's behalf and he ruled that Jean Kasem must cooperate, according to City News Service.

The judge also said Kerri Kasem, who also has a radio career, can hire a private investigator to assist her in dealing with the situation but the investigators must be unarmed, City News Service reported.

An attorney for Kerri Kasem did not return calls.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Paul McCartney expected to make full recovery from illness

Former Beatle Paul McCartney, who canceled a series of concerts in class="mandelbrot_refrag">Japan and class="mandelbrot_refrag">South Korea, is expected to make a full recovery after being treated in a Tokyo hospital for a viral infection, a spokeswoman for the British musician said on Thursday.

_0">

McCartney, 71, postponed two shows in Tokyo earlier this week due to illness, and on Thursday canceled more concerts due to take place in class="mandelbrot_refrag">Japan this week and class="mandelbrot_refrag">South Korea next week.

"Since contracting a virus last week that led to the postponement of tour dates, Paul received successful medical treatment at a hospital in Tokyo," according to a statement issued by his spokeswoman Perri Cohen.

 
 
 

"He will make a complete recovery and has been ordered to take a few days rest. Paul has been extremely moved by all the messages and well wishes he has received from fans all over the world," she added.

No other details were immediately available.

McCartney, who rarely cancels concerts, said in a statement this week that he hated to disappoint his fans. He came to Japan after a South American tour.

McCartney and drummer Ringo Starr are the two surviving members of the Beatles, which broke up in 1970.

A native of Liverpool who largely taught himself how to play, McCartney has been known for a long and versatile musical life that included a stint with the band "Wings" after the Beatles, followed by a flourishing solo career.

(Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith in London and Elaine Lies in Tokyo Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

A Minute With: Emma Thompson on comedy, bathing suits and success

For Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson, donning a bathing suit on the French Riviera alongside Pierce Brosnan in the British romantic comedy "The Love Punch" was too good to pass up.

The film, directed by Joel Hopkins and opening on Friday in the United States, follows divorced suburban London couple Kate and Richard as they attempt a diamond heist in class="mandelbrot_refrag">France after their pension fund goes bust.

Thompson, 55, known for roles in period dramas "Howards End" and "Sense and Sensibility," spoke about her work in comedy, her early influences and success.

 
 
 

Q: What drew you to "The Love Punch"?

A: The opportunity to appear in a bathing costume has been something sadly missing from my CV. I said to my agent, "Please, God, get me something where I can get into a bathing costume." And this is what came up.

Also, I've worked with the director before and I like him very much, and the idea of a heist movie set as it were in the Home Counties (suburban London) of England with a very witty notion, and then it turned out to be Pierce, which was not so shabby.

Q: You have appeared in period bathing costumes in films?

A: That's right. I still only appear in period bathing costumes in real life. I wear those very, very long Victorian draw things in various shades of navy. (Laughs)

Q: "The Love Punch" is decidedly British with its sense of middle-class and middle-aged humor. Do you think some of that might be lost on foreign audiences?

A: If Americans can adore and enjoy Monty Python, they can deal with a bit of mangled French. God knows the most extraordinary bit of Python is mangled French, isn't it? In the "Holy Grail," you know? So I don't think there's any problem with that at all. A lot of very American humor goes down very well over here, and very, very British humor goes down very well across the pond.

Q: Do you have a preference for drama or comedy?

A: I'm British and I like being funny, so it's what I grew up with. I was a comedian until I was 27, so it's natural to me to want to stretch those muscles. I had just done 'Saving Mr. class="mandelbrot_refrag">Banks,' and that's quite sad. I do an awful lot of work that is sometimes very emotional. It's nice to do something that is designed to make people happy from start to finish.

Q: Did you look up to anyone when you were a comedian?

A: Lily Tomlin. For me, her writing in "The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe" was some of the greatest I'd ever come across. I really wanted to be her, and I did character comedy. Lenny Bruce I loved, just his way of talking about the world and his unflinching sort of way of speaking.

Q: How do you define success?

A: If you're spurred by the desire to be successful, then I would strongly recommend you don't go into this class="mandelbrot_refrag">business. If that's what spurs you, then blood will flow. What spurs me is a curious and mysterious resonance inside a story that makes me think, "Oh, I want to do that." I want to be part of that story. I want to tell that story.

_0">

Success is nice and necessary if you're going to have a long-term career. You have to have a fair degree of success, otherwise you just don't get the opportunities ... I would say success is useful. It is very useful in ... that you get the chance to choose from a slightly wider variety of projects.

_1">

I feel incredibly fortunate because I've got so many choices. I think there aren't many women of 55 who can say that.

_2">

_3">

(Reporting by Eric Kelsey; Editing by Toni Reinhold)

_4">