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Friday, February 22, 2008

I'LL SUE YOU!

I believe that Dr. Margaret McIntyre’s primary problem was that she thought the law followed the rules of a sane society. And in any sane society Dr. McIntyre knew that a doctor, particularly a pediatrician such as herself, someone with 25 years of experience and a retired Naval Officer to boot, was outside the scope of normal civic responsibilities and authority. So of course Dr. McIntyre was offended when, last November 14th, a Federal court clerk in Norfolk, Virginia denied her an excuse from jury duty. So of course she attempted to straighten the clerk out, and was eventually ushered into the presence of Federal Court Magistrate F. Bradford Stillman, and of course she then regaled his honor with a 15 minute explanation as to why he was wrong and she was right. It was simple logic. She began with her views on better judicial use of the court’s energies. “I just can’t believe I have to come down here for jury duty and be treated like this,” she explained to the judge. “This is incredible. This is like a nightmare out of an American sitcom. You have nothing better to do than to harass an American citizen who’s done nothing.” She added, explaining to those in the courtroom, “He’s not the president. He’s a judge. He’s a federal employee who ought to be doing something important other than treating me like this.” Then she challenged the judge to put her in jail. And when he suggested that perhaps she should get herself a lawyer to deal with the contempt of court charge she was laying on her, Dr. McIntyre refused to be intimidated. She told the court, “Oh, great. So I have to spend a thousand billion dollars now again on lawyers for something I didn’t even want to do to start with.” And yet, the judge continued to refuse to see the logic of Dr. McIntyre’s position. Some people are so ill rational.
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Clearly looking for a way out of the predicament he had created for himself, Judge Stillman suggested, “Ma’am, I don’t think that we can accomplish anything more today. I’m trying to be as fair to you as I can.” But if he expected Dr. McIntyre to be too polite to continue to point out his plebian behavior, clearly he did not know Doctor Margaret McIntyre. Without hesitation she told him, “Well, you’re not talking to me like a person. I’m not in preschool, you know. I’m not a kindergartner. I don’t need to be sat down and told to sit like a dog.” She then launched into a lecture for the poor misguided judge as to the correct definition of the word “contemptuous”, at which point Judge Stillman, seeing that he was clearly losing the argument, ordered the Federal Marshals to remove her from the courtroom. Clearly, Federal Marshals are the last refuge of a petty despot. But Doctor McIntyre put them in their place at once, telling them, “Don’t touch me”, as they guided her from the courtroom.
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Unfortunately this story of the triumph of ‘pediatrical’ dignity over common non-medical degree vulgarity does not have a happy ending. After consulting with an attorney Doctor McIntyre was made aware that Judge Stillman could throw her ass in jail for 30 days and fine her up to $2,000. After which she came to the logical conclusion that, for $2,000 and 30 days of freedom, she could eat crow. And so 3 weeks later, after her PMS wore off or she sobered up or her husband apologized, she reappeared before Judge Stillman and this time let her attorney do most of the talking, offering her observations only when specifically asked for them, as when, through her tears, she told the judge, “I’m sorry.” Actually the reporter from the Virginia Beach Pilot said she “bawled” her apology. But in any case the judge ordered her to pay a mere $250 fine. Yes, it was humiliating for the doctor, but at least she gets to take out her frustrations on her patients, because they are just little kids and who listens to them, they don’t have a medical degree.
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According to their web site Rush University Medical Center is in the midst of…”a campaign to raise $300 million. Our plans are simple: to transform Rush into the medical center of choice for all of Chicago, and one of the best clinical centers in the nation…” But if you are going to be the best, besides having to raise a lot of money, you must also be a bit ruthless: and Rush has shown itself to be clearly that. Back in 1996 Mr. Robert W. Sessions, who had helped to develop one of the first pacemakers, made a pledge of $1.5 million to help build a “President’s House” for his Rush and Rush agreed to name the building after Mr. Sessions, and Mr. Sessions put the pledge in his will. So, of course, in February of 2005, when Mr. Sessions found himself a little short of breath, he checked into Rush as a patient. There the talented doctors of Rush decided he had emphysema, and began treatments. But Mr. Sessions had doubts and a couple of weeks later he got an exam at a different hospital. And the second diagnoses was not nearly as cheerful; late stage lung cancer. An angry Mr. Sessions immediately changed his will, in March of 2005, and deleted the donation to Rush shortly before he died in April, of the lung cancer which the doctors at Rush had missed entirely.
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So you can imagine the surprise of the Sessions family when Rush inquired as to how soon they could expect the check to fulfill the pledge. And perhaps you can even imagine the surprise of the Sessions family when an Appellate Court ruled that “Mr. Sessions made an irrevocable and unconditional pledge to Rush, and that Rush expended substantial funds in reliance of that pledge.” The court ordered the grieving family to pay up, all $1.5 million. Evidently, in Illinois, killing your donor is not grounds for losing the donation. You see what I mean about the ill-logic of court room logic?
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Or consider the case out of Mr. Austen Ivereigh, who was head of public affairs for Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, and an editor for the largest Catholic Newspaper in England, The Spectator, effectively making him the spokesman for the Catholic Church in England. Mr. Ivereigh has a long history of public remarks concerning abortion and what in the U.S. are called family values. But he freely admits that over the past twenty years he has impregnated two women outside of marriage, one a graduate student back in 1989 and another while in his current position. Both women told the London Daily Mail that Mr. Ivereigh “drove them to consider abortion…” with one woman (who was pregnant with twins) claiming he “…maneuvered her into a position where she had no choice but to abort her baby.” One woman had an abortion and the second suffered a miscarriage. She told the paper, “This man is a hypocrite. He can’t condemn abortion, and the women who have an abortion, but then get woman pregnant and absolve himself of any responsibility to support them or their child.” But Mr. Invereigh’s attorney told a court that he did offer to support the children and added that some women “bitterly regret having an abortion and seek to blame others for what was their decision.” And why does Mr. Invereigh have an attorney? Is he being sued for impregnating the two women? Is the church suing Mr. Ivereigh for violating a morals clause in his contract, which paid him about $90,000 a year? No, it is Mr. Ivereigh who is suing the Daily Mail because they printed the charge that he is a hypocrite.
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When the Daily Mail’s lawyers alleged in cross examination that Austen, “...acted hypocritically, contrary to the beliefs of your church, in a callous and cruel way towards both of these women”, Mr. Ivereigh replied, “I deny that.” He did agree that he had violated a central tenet of his faith in having sexual relations outside of marriage, but added, “This is one area of church teaching I have always struggled with and failed to live out. That doesn’t mean I don’t believe it.” And then, with all the apparent sense of irony of a drunken Oscar Wilde, he described his cross examination as “…eviscerating – like having your guts torn out.” As the English papers say, the case continues.
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I suppose a court somewhere might consider it libel if I were to suggest that Mr. Ivereigh is a fool, a horny bastard, a pompous jackass and a hypocrite. And if I were dragged before an English court I might even be convicted of libel for writing that. I would be bankrupt, but he would still be a hypocrite. Lady Justice is blind, but she is not supposed to be deaf. And she is not supposed to suffer from PMS. But that is, sadly, often the logic of the law.
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