Wednesday, February 19, 2014

CASE NO. 12-X-XX588-X, Part 4

As Artist smiled goodbye, the rest of us were in a bit of a tizzy. It was four o'clock;  it was Friday--Valentines Eve, fer crissake. Make love, not verdicts! No one, though, wanted to come back to this decision after the three day weekend. But it was either/or, so over Cellphone’s fluttery disclaimers, she was scrummed into leadership with seemly reluctance.

Forbidden to speak about the substance of the trial until this moment, I was shocked that not everyone shared my opinion: even with prior conditions and inconsistencies, Plaintiff’s lower back had clearly been damaged or “lit up” by the accident. She deserved some major compensation. I imagined her using the award for therapeutic guidance, materials and treatment, down--and way down--the line. 

Pretty clear...on the the third or fourth reading
So, it was a surprise to hear Cellphone jump in with her nurse-ly opinion that Plaintiff’s problems were clearly either pre-existing or degenerative. "And besides that, she didn't follow doctors' orders!"

In the confusion of pent-up emotion that followed I was taken aback to hear Banker, Dog Trainer, Stiff, and Chaplain--especially Chaplain--give Cellphone their support.

Plaintiff's posse was back on its heels until Seldom Talked, introducing herself as I-am-also-a-nurse, pushed back with contradictory clinical insight. Fireplug, speaking from a yogic-body awareness perspective likewise supported Plaintiff’s claim. I offered my own dimly illuminating tale of lumbar woe, and Curly Blonde plus Shy Woman skirted a little behind Plaintiff as well, enough so that everyone pretty much agreed that at least the low back pain was a result of the crash.

Clear as mud...Short shrift was given to clarifying many pages of
But, could we agree on a sum for the non-economic damages of this pain before six o'clock? What should that figure be? After several false starts we each threw out a number in the thousands: a cluster of 50s, a scattering up to 100, with a leap to two of us at 150. 

Since it only took ten to agree, we eliminated the outliers and our initial “average” turned out to be 74K. Not long after this revelation, Mario the Bailiff checked in to ask if we’d be able to reach our verdict tonight. Yes, we confidently replied. What followed, though, was a period of venting to which, with hindsight, I wish I’d given more respect. But I was looking forward to lobster dinner and a romantic evening, so pushed us to get back to a mathematical task that had become disconnected from the gritty of the case.

Could ten of us could agree on 75? No, too low. Ninety was too high. At this point, in an aside to me, Seldom Talked said her first thought had been 200K. One more poll, though, gave us our sum. At 5:10PM we twelve jurors filed back into the courtroom. Cellphone handed our verdict to the clerk. Because we felt it was too low, Fireplug and I were the only ones not joining in the opinion, which was “Damages for the plaintiff in the sum of $85,000.”

It was quick and it was dirty, and this glib recounting offers little more than lip service to justice. The heart of the case will always lie in the body and mind of Marilee, our Plaintiff. I wonder how, after this long, expensive, disappointing, and ultimately sad chapter, she can continue the story of her recovery.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

CASE NO. 12-X-XX588-X, Part 3

I'm middle background, the rest are male impersonators.
Our thirteenth juror was a sweet, doll-like woman. She was always well-dressed in a nice figure, with a skirt over leggings tucked into low boots that had a bit of flash. Well-cut platinum hair. Before deliberations could begin, though, she--as alternate--had to leave. I was sorry to see her go. 

During jury selection she'd mentioned she was an Artist. I’d asked about her work, and enjoyed our conversation. Always occupying the jury room chair to my right, she’d been a quiet, friendly presence all week, and would only return if one of us was unable to continue.

Another juror I’d chatted up was the Dog Trainer from Arizona. We’d shared, and shared again, our affection for border collies and the Grand Canyon. The Chaplain and I discussed elder care and good places to go for lunch. With the Renegade--the only other man in the group--I’d exchanged knowing nods and nonsensical small talk.

Renegade dressed down, like a biker but more raggedy. Born in Viet Nam, he grew up in Texas, and was now an unemployed Boeing engineer. He had a scruffier beard than my own and bad teeth. Renegade liked to joke around, but his English was so iffy you couldn't be sure you were catching his drift.

By odd coincidence one of the jurors was this same court’s regular Reporter. Her butchness was well turned-out, but her demeanor was initially so forbidding, I was put off. After a couple of days, though, she warmed up, and during our deliberations would become the soul of good-natured calmness. On the very end of the table, lanky Banker’s droll humor and easy-to-listen-to laugh were another plus.  

Good Times
One expensively coiffed woman spoke e-x-t-r-e-m-e-l-y clearly on her Cellphone during each of our jury room respites. In the midst of arranging care for her elderly father, she dutifully kept us apprised as the situation evolved. I occasionally retreated to the tiny men’s room to escape her self-assured loquacity.

On the other hand, the woman next to me Seldom Talked while playing a game on her phone. A short red-faced woman--call her Fireplug--had once owned a yoga studio and, like me, used our breaks to stretch. Curly Blonde and the former dental hygienist with a Stiff walk sat together down at the other end of the table usually engaged in some casual slander of their husbands.  

Shy Woman rounded out our baker’s dozen. As soon as Artist left, someone asked if any of us had ever been on a jury before and Cellphone raised her hand. 

[To be continued.]

Monday, February 17, 2014

CASE NO. 12-X-XX588-X, Part 2

Jury room window, second floor, far right. Imagine the trees
have no leaves, sky is dark grey, rain whipped by wind.
After we saw and heard all the evidence and testimony, our jury was asked to determine how much Defendant owed Plaintiff for non-economic damages suffered as result of head, neck, and lower back injuries caused nearly five years ago by the accident.

Plaintiff was a small, prettier-than-plain woman, seemingly fit but with an unhappy face. We were introduced to her through testimony from:
    • her husband--an inarticulate man preyed upon by defendant’s counsel, 
    • her neighbor and friend--who really hadn’t seen too much of P lately,
    • her mother-in-law--who lamented the loss of P’s former dynamism.
Each agreed that Plaintiff was stoic about pain, had a bad memory and fear of needles. For years she and her husband had worked long hours to build a small-town roofing and recycling business. They had two teenage boys.

Defense made much of Plaintiff’s:
    • visit to a doctor three years before the accident for bad headaches.
    • surgery on a herniated disc six months before the crash.

Plaintiff’s English-chinned counsel countered that these should be seen as small “islands of pain” not connected to the “continent of pain” following the crash, as evidenced by:
    • six pain-free months after the sciatic surgery and before the crash,
    • numerous visits over the four and a half years since the crash to doctors, neurologists, physical and occupational therapists, and chiropractors seeking relief from often excruciating head, neck and/or lower back pain.

“If that is so,” responded Defendant’s lawyer, who looked like a well-dressed jockey, “how do you explain”:
    • a half dozen or so full-range-of-motion tests on her neck during the period since the crash,
    • several many-months-long gaps between treatments,
    • spotty adherence to exercise regimens and use of prescribed medication,
    • varying self-reports of pain, as low as 2 on a scale of 1-10,
    • and the fact that Plaintiff refused emergency room treatment at the time of the accident?

Pretty much.
There were no knockouts in the bout between expert neurologists, though Gravitas for the defense, seemed to have it on points over Earnestness out of Plaintiff’s corner. 

In closing argument, Plaintiff’s counsel helpfully suggested recompense of 80K for past, and 280K for future, pain, distress, inconvenience, quality of life lost, etc. The defense opined 5-30K should cover it. At the same time we were advised that the “law has not furnished us with any fixed standards by which to measure non-economic damages.”

We had a little less than two hours to come up with a verdict, or return after the long weekend for another day at court.

[To be continued.]

Sunday, February 16, 2014

CASE NO. 12-X-XX588-X, Part 1

The past couple of nights I’ve had 3AM mental wrestling matches about the trial that just concluded, feeling that I should have been a better advocate for a more fair resolution than the one our jury reached. It's a feeling I can dismiss in the cold light of day, but it's been stealing into my dreams, waking me up, and keeping me awake.

Nobody said we had to, but we each clipped this badge
over our breast/chest whenever we were in the courtroom.
The opposing sides rested, and we began deliberations two days ago, on Friday--Valentines Day in an unfortunate twist of fate--a little after 4PM. We were told that if we didn’t reach a decision by six we’d need to return next Tuesday. Even though it was the end of a long, trying week, once our discussion began there was a general sense of “let’s try to get it over with now, if we can.” 

The issue was how much money the plaintiff would receive for injuries that may have resulted, in whole or part, when her SUV was hit by defendant’s on-coming car as he was admittedly distracted, and it drifted across the center lane. The accident took place out where suburbs are becoming rural as both parties were performing errands for their children. Good conditions, neither speeding.

For four mind-numbing  days we heard this sad story told in excruciating and conflicting detail. We listened to the parsing and re-parsing of voluminous, inconclusive medical records. For elusive reasons, the two opposing expert witnesses, not surprisingly, disagreed. 

There were long moments during the trial when the only sound was the rustling of pages as one of the lawyers searched through his notes. Defense counsel made numerous objections and highlighted every report that might possibly--possibly!--cast doubt on any aspect of the plaintiff’s claims. Her counsel bloviated shamelessly, casting himself as a plain-spoken advocate for all of us regular folk, whom he vastly misunderstood.

In the courtroom we were the audience, expected to behave, of course, with decorum. Stifle sneezes and yawns. Don’t talk, even whisper, barely move. Morning and afternoon breaks, and many waiting minutes before, and a little after, were spent crowded in the narrow jury room. There wasn't much opportunity to cut loose there, either.

Forbidden to talk about the drama that most obviously united us, we shared hobbies and vocations, mild family dramas, told how tall our kids are, any topic--really--for good natured small talk that ignored an immense elephant in the room. We were a pretty congenial bunch. Ten women and two men. Mario the Bailiff was our lifeline to the court, and we took his irony for comic relief.

[To be continued.]

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Peyote Desert

Yarn fixed on resin applied to foot-square board
Showing off our recently hung print from a local artist made me think of the art we have acquired in Mexico. My favorite works are by Huichol Indian artists from mountainous areas of Jalisco and Nayarit. Their art has a profoundly religious base. 

Huichol return annually to central Mexico to collect peyote for their ceremonies. This yarn "painting" by Cecilio Canillo Bonilla likely represents that mountainous desert region of origin--peyote cactus in foreground. Above and in the background are two shaman’s healing wands, each hung with a pair of eagle feathers. Corn silk rises in the center, just below the sun, centered in what--incongruously--appears to be a night sky.

There is a holy trinity in the Huichol faith. Corn is sustenance, and represents “meaningful work or activity in the present”*. Peyote is revered as “a means of release or escape into a world beyond time and space”*The trio is complete with Deer, not only Lord of the Animals, but the one who brought farming to the people. Deer is shown in the middle of the gourd bowl, below. 

Nowadays, most Huichol art in Yelapa is sold at Cafe Bahia. The artist/vendor humps down every couple of weeks or so from his mountain village by bus to Puerto Vallarta, and then water taxi to Yelapa. He is a small golden-brown man, immaculately--strikingly--dressed in white cotton, camisa and pantalones both beautifully and amply embroidered. What is most notable, though, is a broad-brimmed hat adorned with hanging feathers, more embroidery, a woven beadwork band, red fabric puffballs. 
A sleeping deer with peyote buttons

To show this amazing finery, a few weeks ago I took a picture of the artist, Alesandro, from whom I had purchased this beaded calabasa bowl. Still in Yelapa, while editing on iPhoto, I noticed he was not looking into the lens. I thought of the allegedly primitive people who are said to believe that a camera will steal your soul. Back at my desk in the States, I can no longer find his three images. Now they're some pixel specks lost in an almost infinite digital abyss. 

Stay strong, Huichol man!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Two Farmers

Shapes of differently colored or patterned pieces of
paper are printed and appear to be assembled like a
collage into a seamless whole
To soften our recent landing seventy degrees of coldness away from Mexico, we are pleased to have just hung a multicolored linoleum block print by local artist Mimi Williams. This is an expensive--for our budget--acquisition, but it gives a lot of joy. 

We saw Mimi's fall show at the local library, and every visit were drawn to its two dozen prints. As it came time for the show to end, we agreed to Christmas gift ourselves the one we liked best. Deciding was difficult. We chose this one, entitled “Two Farmers Hit the High Notes.” 

This is what I like and how I feel about the work: First, I see the harmony of shapes, lines and colors. When someone says, "Farmer," I think of a man, but these are both women. Their hands are either raised in praise, or sunk into bringing music from that rock of a piano. A long line of canning jars connects earth to industry. A windmill--its powering vanes are like sunrays. There is a constancy of hillside cows, and a periwinkle streak opens to the heavens. Outdoor spaciousness abounds.

For us, the piece has a wholesome, uplifting, expansive quality. My ears can almost imagine the farmers' high notes carrying over the Palouse hills of eastern Washington. 

Thank you, Mimi, for this fine work of art!