The Star-Ledger reports today that a settlement has been reached for the blind Morristown, NJ woman who was hit by a car two years ago. Chistina Brino was walking her seeing eye dog when she was hit by a Morris county employee driving a county-issued car. The employee, a former assistant prosecutor, made a right hand turn outside of the county courthouse, of all places, when he struck Brino, fracturing her kneecap and dislocating her knee. The dog was uninjured.
This news hits close to home for lawyer.com, which is located in Morris County. The Seeing Eye, the oldest guide dog training center in the world, is headquartered in Morristown, and their dogs come primarily from a breeding center in nearby Chester. It’s not uncommon to encounter the young dogs in training around Morristown. Being a small city, the dogs learn all they need about crossing streets and the danger of traffic. In fact, there’s a statue of a Seeing Eye dog and trainer in the middle of the main thoroughfare. So, a 20-year county prosecutor must have been aware of the abundance of training dogs in the city, which makes this accident all the more unfortunate.
The First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech to all people, even if you don’t agree with what they’re saying. The town of South Hadley in Massachusetts learned that the hard way, as they have paid out a large sum of money for attempting to silence a critic at a public school board meeting in April, 2010. Luke Gelinas was at the meeting to read a prepared statement in which he criticized the school board’s inaction regarding the bullying of a student — inaction which may have led to the student’s suicide. According to the Boston Globe, Gelinas was interrupted by school board member Edward Boisselle, who told him “you’re done” and explicitly said “this is not your First Amendment right”. In fact, it was not only Gelinas’s right to speak at a meeting with public officials, but I would also argue that it is Boisselle’s duty to uphold that right. Gelinas was escorted out of the meeting, but wasn’t finished. He filed a complaint and has waged a two-year legal battle to affirm his rights. Today, via a settlement of $75,000, he has been vindicated.
What kind of country would we be if all detractors and critics and informed intellectuals were silenced by those in power and led out of the room for holding an unpopular opinion? Well, we’d be 18th-century Britain. This is exactly the reason the Declaration of Independence was written. “Taxation without representation”, a popular phrase at the time, was really more about how the British government refused to listen to the needs of the colonists. The Americans were, to draw a parallel to this case, told to leave and that they did not have the right to speak freely in Parliament. In response, they waged a revolution, built a new country, and the rest is history. While I’m not about to recommend breaking ties with South Hadley and forming a new city, I will posit this case as a reminder that the Bill of Rights is a document crafted to protect the people of the US from their government, and this is precisely why.
Some quirky news out of Kansas City today. The Kansas City Business Journal blog reports that Dickinson Theatres Inc. has settled a suit with the promise to pay $1.5 million in popcorn coupons. You read that correctly. The lawsuit concerned Dickinson Theatres’ non-compliance with a law requiring companies to truncate debit and credit card information on receipts. It’s unclear to whom the coupons are going, most likely one each for every debit and credit card customer affected from a certain time period. I doubt the three named plaintiffs in the suit would find much use for $500,000 worth of popcorn, but you never know. I know what I’d do: build a swimming pool entirely filled with golden, buttery popcorn and dive into it Scrooge McDuck-style.
Charlotte Church received $951,000 dollars and an apology from the former newspaper News of the World in the latest of civil settlements to come from the widespread phone hacking scandal, USA Today reports. Church alleged that the tabloid hacked into her family’s voicemail, illegally gathering private information that was used in 33 articles about the singer’s family. More than 60 other celebrities have won large settlements from the company, which has been scampering to settle every lawsuit against them as quickly as possible. As part of these agreements, News Corp admits to no wrongdoing. However, criminal investigations into the company, which also owns the Fox network of companies and many other newspapers and outlets, are still ongoing.
It will be interesting to see how these criminal investigations play out. While the court documents and settlements all declare no wrongdoing and make no legal decisions against New Corp., the determination to brush these settlements under the rug is certainly suspect. When 60 people claim evidence against a company and that company chooses every time to pay those people money instead of fight the evidence, it makes one wonder what will come to light once a real criminal trial is underway. After all, News Corp. may be reasoning that any information admitted to the public record during a trial may be damning in a future criminal case and that settlement money is mere drop in the bucket compared to the many others that may come forward based on that information. Considering that they have been suspected of destroying evidence related to the phone hacking, perhaps they are just buying more time with these settlements.
Check out the Wall Street Journal for a list of legal news to watch this week. Of note to us here at the Settlements blog is the news that the Deepwater Horizon trial was delayed by a week for settlement talks. Last week, MOEX settled with the US government and five states for $90 million concerning its 10% stake in the doomed oil rig. The company paid part in civil penalties and agreed to drop its suits against BP and other partners. Earlier in the year, they settled with BP to the tune of $1 billion. The trial that has been set back will be enormously complicated and most likely involve monstrous fines for the oil company. Some 75 million pages of court documents have been created already in what was one of the biggest environmental catastrophes in all history. We’ll be looking out for news of this trial, which will certainly be a landmark case.