America's Dysfunctional Legal System

By David J. Stewart

The Seattle Times published a really great article on March 5, 2006 titled The Cases Your Judges Are Hiding From You, in which the article states:

Hiding harm

When something goes wrong a product fails, a doctor is negligent, a company cheats its customers or investors lawsuits often follow, generating court files crammed with evidence accumulated by each side.

But by sealing records, judges can conceal that evidence. Many also sign sweeping protective orders that allow the parties to dictate which records the public can see. Many permit the parties to settle secretly, even in cases involving public hazards.

Examples abound nationally of dangers hidden by such steps. Tire treads that separate. Car fuel tanks that explode. Priests who molest children. Heart valves, painkillers and birth-control devices linked to dozens or even hundreds of deaths.

Litigation has become a system of secrecy. A defendant, accused of wrongdoing, wants records produced during a lawsuit to stay between the parties. The plaintiff goes along to pave the way for settlement. The judge signs off because it's the easy thing to do. When the case is settled, the parties sign a confidentiality agreement. You ask the plaintiff about the lawsuit, and he says he can't talk.

One result is that patterns with products and with people can get obscured.

Take the case of LaVar Riniker, a Bellevue dentist with an unusual practice. He treated some patients' backaches or hip problems by changing the shape of their jaws, state records show.

In 1996, Riniker's lawyer wanted a malpractice lawsuit against his client sealed. The plaintiff joined in, and a judge signed off. Two months later, the lawyer wanted a second lawsuit against Riniker sealed. The plaintiff went along, and so did a court commissioner. In 1998, the lawyer showed up again with secrecy request No. 3. But this time, a judge said no. Judge LeRoy McCullough knew the law and said sealing the whole file would be improper. He did, however, allow the settlement terms to remain confidential.

In 2000, the state refused to renew Riniker's dental license, finding he was incompetent. By then, Riniker had been sued for malpractice at least 16 times, court records show. Most of those lawsuits involved some level of secrecy either the whole file was sealed, or the case was resolved confidentially.

Riniker was, of course, an individual dentist. You probably never went to him. But other sealed lawsuits have alleged malpractice at such medical institutions as Group Health, Swedish, Virginia Mason and Harborview.

Lazy sealing practices have allowed some people to play the courts for a fool.

Michael Cassini, a convicted con man, scammed more than $4 million from banks by pretending to be a Microsoft millionaire. One way he covered his tracks was by changing his name and, with the help of Preston Gates & Ellis, a prestigious law firm, getting a King County judge to seal the court file.

Seth Warshavsky became rich in the 1990s selling pornography on the Internet. He was profiled extensively the "Bill Gates of Porn," some stories called him but proved an elusive figure. That's because the courts kept allowing him to erase his history.

According to King County court records and newspaper reports, Warshavsky managed to seal: one civil suit in which he was accused of overbilling thousands of customer credit cards; a second civil suit accusing him of choking his former girlfriend; and criminal files in adult and juvenile court listing such priors as theft and trying to sell a stolen laptop.

Warshavsky couldn't be reached for comment. Some reports say he fled to Thailand several years ago.

SOURCE: The Seattle Times: The cases your judges are hiding from you

It is tragic how Americans are exploited by greedy, corrupt and dishonest lawyers/judges. Sadly, the court system protects criminals that need to be exposed; while simultaneously harassing and harming parents who fail to administer dangerous drugs to their children, treating the parents as criminals. So while mom and dad are being financially ravished by a ruthless and coldhearted legal system in an attempt to defend themselves against THE LAW; criminals like the jerks at Enron walk away untouched.

Special Treatment for Judges, Lawyers and Professionals

It is sickening how the wealthy and affluent escape justice by manipulating loopholes in the system, and then cover their tracts by paying judges to seal their cases to prevent public disclosure...

Judges and commissioners have sealed at least 58 cases where a fellow lawyer is a party, usually as a defendant. Leading firms, prominent lawyers, judges all have had files about them sealed.

The courts have sealed cases where the person being sued was a licensed professional for example, a doctor, psychologist or counselor who was subsequently disciplined by the state. Those lawsuits might have served as a warning, had they not been concealed from the public.

And the courts have sealed one case after another at the request of the rich and influential, including leaders in real estate, advertising, banking, medicine, software development, the Internet, general business and sports.

The 420 cases that we found represent but a sliver of all the sealed records in our courthouses.

SOURCE: The Seattle Times: The cases your judges are hiding from you

It is injustice! The public has a right to know about potential perverts, criminals and dangerous products.

Politicians Escape Justice

When the License For Bribe scandal went public in Illinois after a tragic highway accident, governor George Ryan escaped prison, while other members of his staff were being sentenced to prison.

The corruption scandal that led to Ryan's downfall began over a decade earlier as a federal investigation into a deadly crash in Wisconsin that killed six children. The investigation revealed a scheme inside Ryan's secretary of state's office in which unqualified truck drivers obtained licenses through bribes. As the AP wrote: "The probe expanded over the next eight years into a wide-ranging corruption investigation that eventually reached Ryan in the governor's office."

SOURCE: George Ryan

A Baptist pastor lost 6 of his children one day in a flaming inferno when his van struck a mud flap that fell off of a semi-trailer which was being operated by an illegal immigrant. It took over a decade to finally bring George Ryan to spend some time in a Club-fed prison with minimum security. He should have been doused with gasoline and set on fire like those innocent 6 children were burned alive. Where is justice?

If that weren't bad enough, Illinois' next governor, Rod Blagojevich, was even worse. No wonder Illinois has been nicknamed, The Cut-throat state.

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