2001-12-01 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

By Howard Schwach

I am getting tired of living in a litigious society. Here I am, 62 years of age, and I sometimes believe that I am the only person left in American who has never sued anybody. Perhaps that is an overstatement, but it sometimes feels that way.

Being a columnist, of course, I have been sued a few times, most notably for $43 million by a lawyer who did not like what I said about her. She finally dropped her suit when the realization struck that it would cost her lots of money to pursue a suit she could not possibly win against a person who had little money to pay her with in the first place.

Other, more famous would-be politicians have threatened suit, but never carried through.

The point I am trying to make here is that Americans are suing each other at a dizzying rate and something has to be done about it before the only people who have any money are the lawyers. What a revolting development, if you know what I mean.

A couple of things brought out this tirade. First of all, I overheard a person (I don’t know if he is a lawyer or not, but he certainly should be disbarred if he is one) tell another person who lives in Belle Harbor that she should call American Airlines and tell them that she was not in the crash area, but nearby, and that she can’t sleep because every time a plane files over she begins to cry.

While the person who was giving the advice knew that wasn’t true, he advised that she "could get a couple of thousand bucks from the airline, because it would not pay for them to defend the suit."

I don’t know if the person followed through on her bogus suit against the airline, but I have no doubt that somebody with even less reason to sue will in fact do so.

There is a recent school-related suit that gripes me as well.

It is a common practice, often called "peer grading," for teachers to pass out student test papers and allow other students to grade each other’s papers. I have done it many times myself over the years. Johnny gets Sue’s paper, Tom gets Johnny’s and Peter gets Tom’s. You know how it works.

When the papers are graded, each student is asked in turn to read the name of the student and his or her grade on the test.

It is common practice, but it might not be for long. The United States Supreme Court will soon take a look at the constitutionality of the practice.

That’s right, The Supreme Court. One wonders if they have anything better to do.

How did the highest court in the land get involved with grading papers?

Seems that Krista Falvo of Owasso, Oklahoma, sued her local school board in 1998. She said that the practice of peer grading violated her child’s rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. She (or, rather, her lawyer) said that peer grading violated her son’s constitutional right to privacy. She added that her son was called names such as "stupid" and "dummy" by his peers after his grades were read in class. Cruelty is what kids do best at that age, but does suing the school relieve the pressure on her kid? Probably not.

A lower court agreed with the mother, saying that the teacher has no permission to disclose the student’s grades to anybody but the student and his or her parent.

I’ve got a question. How do you post honor roll lists, have an honor society or give academic awards without telling the world that some have done well academically and some have not?

Here in New York City we have been living for years with two court decisions made by non-educators that have all but virtually destroyed New York City’s ability to educate its students.

The first was the Lora decision that said that there were too many minority students in special education programs and specifically in 600 schools. Isaac Lora’s advocates won the case and now there are no 600 schools for hard case students. These students now run wild in the schools, ruining education for everybody else. Lora, by the way, eventually wound up either dead or in prison. I don’t remember any longer which it was, but it hardly seems to matter. The second case was the case of Jose P. That case drove the entire Bilingual Education program, the most racist and destructive program ever devised by a mortal judge.

Thousands of young Hispanic lives have been destroyed because that decision, which set up a program whereby Hispanic kids (and others as well) were forced to learn in their "home language" rather than in English.

Are all lawsuits like those above? Of course not. There are legitimate reasons to sue because wrongs are often done.

The great majority of law suits today, however, are frivolous or fraudulent.

How do we end those suits? Make the one who filed the suit pay all costs for both sides should that person lose.

Now, there is no sanction for filing a suit and losing.

There are those who say such a rule would have a chilling effect on lawsuits.

I say that would be wonderful to behold.

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