Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Zobel sues Greene County sheriff

One of the problems with the American judicial system which should be addressed at the federal and state levels is the deluge of frivolous lawsuits that have made the legal system a nightmare.
One such case was filed in Greene County Circuit Court Friday when William Zobel, Republic, filed a lawsuit seeking a restraining order to keep his confiscated horses from being sold. Zobel is currently awaiting trial on 38 counts of animal abuse for his treatment of those horses. While awaiting the final outcome of the legal proceedings, the Carthage Humane Society has had to foot the bill for the care and feeding of 28 of those animals.
Meanwhile we continue to have one frivolous lawsuit after another filed by people such as Martin Lindstedt, who continues to fight these lawsuits even while awaiting trial in Newton County Circuit Court on felony statutory sodomy charges.
Taxpayers have to foot the bill for the time spent dealing with Lindstedt's lawsuits, as well as for the defense of the people who are targets or who have been targets of his legal actions, such as Governor Matt Blunt, Jasper County officials, city of Granby officials, and Missouri Southern State University officials.
I speak from experience about the damaging effects of these frivolous lawsuits. When Terry Reed sued me for $750 million in 1998 it was obvious right from the beginning that the suit had no merit. He was also suing the Kansas City Star, KMBZ Radio in Kansas City, Jasper County commissioners, Jasper County Sheriff Bill Pierce, State Representative Mark Elliott and others, all for similarly outrageous amounts.
The Carthage Press, the newspaper I worked for at the time, was also a defendant in the case and had to spend $10,000 of its money before the deductible on the libel insurance kicked in.
Reed's cause against me was thrown out by the judge, who pointed out that the column I wrote about Reed's ill-fated far right-wing American Heritage Festival, in which I said, "They were here on Friday, they were here on Saturday and those nuts were sprinkled on our Sunday, as well," was constitutionally-protected opinion. Reed had only entered that line and a couple of others, including my opening sentence that a "blanket of white descended on Carthage over the weekend," in his lawsuit and left out the portions of the column which specifically noted that I was referring to some of those who attended the event and not to Reed.
Still, I had the threat of that lawsuit hanging over my head for about 10 months before it was thrown out, something that should have taken place right at the beginning. The Press was out $10,000 and I am sure its libel insurance premiums went up after that since that is the way the insurance business operates.
We have a large number of lawsuits filed because lawyers know that no matter how weak their case is, they have an excellent chance to get a settlement simply because it costs so much to pay for the legal help to go to trial.
The actions taken by the Missouri General Assembly this year had some merit, but they were the wrong actions. Putting a cap on jury awards is not the solution and only serves to hurt people who have legitimate lawsuits.
The best option, though it has some flaws, is the English system. If you lose, you pay the costs for the other side. It is hard to believe Terry Reed would have filed his lawsuit if he knew he would have to pay for the costs if he lost or if the judge threw the case out of court. It might also prevent people like William Zobel from wasting the taxpayers' money.

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