‘What do you have when …’

Dear Editor,

  That’s the opening of an old lawyers joke. It goes, “What do you have when you have 1,000 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?” and the punch line is “A good start”. It always gets a good laugh right up until you need one. Then it becomes a whole different ball game.

  I spent a lot of time in court when I was an engineer doing expert witness work for a variety of lawyers. Some were really good at what they did and others would have been better off learning the phrase “Do you want fries with that?” but in the end justice prevailed more often than not.

  We need one of the good ones here now. A pit bull, attack dog, serial killer personal injury guy. One of those guys you see on late night TV getting billion dollar judgments from the cigarette industry.

  In this newspaper yesterday [Monday – Ed.] was the story of Mr. Buncamper’s alleged corruption that made everybody downwind from the dump sick for years. According to the paper, he got bought and paid for to hire a company that allowed the dump to burn unchecked for years which, for all intents and purposes, made a lot of people very sick, probably led to some elderly dying well before their time and God help you if you were trying to sell your house during those periods when the air wasn’t fit to breathe.

  In the law, or at least in the States, his actions would be seen as the proximate cause of these illnesses, deaths, and loss of property values. That “proximate cause” thing is one of those terms I heard in court over and over. The other words I heard all the time were “he knew or should have known” and “held to a higher standard”.

  The “knew or should have known” thing is the linchpin of most negligence cases where someone’s actions cause some harm or injury that could have been prevented if that person had acted responsibly. It implies that a professional would certainly be aware that a failure to do his job properly would result in the direct cause of that harm. And that’s where the “higher standard” comes in. A professional is expected to know better. He can’t claim ignorance as an amateur might. Because he is a professional, the law holds him to a higher standard.

  If the judge in the Buncamper case comes back with a guilty verdict then, in simple words, the court is saying that his actions were both negligent and the direct proximate cause of all the injury and harm done to hundreds of people all those years for the sake of making some fast Yankee dollars under the table.

  In the States there would already be pit bull, serial killer, bottom-feeding lawyers licking their lips and canvassing those affected neighborhoods for clients. The eight-figure damage claims would already be written up and summons ready to serve warm from the word-processor even before the judge’s verdict was cool to the touch. The lawyers here seem to have more class than that but we can only hope.

  If the verdict is, in fact, “guilty” then justice needs to be served here in a manner that finally sends the message to the community and the Dutch and to anyone else that cares at all about this country. He needs to go to prison and he needs to be made to pay serious damages to all those he hurt and betrayed for all those years. No compromise.

  Where is a good lawyer when you need him (or her)?

Steven Johnson