Mr. Finch Objects

John J. Hopkins Nov. 26, 2004, 1:17am

John Hopkins

”In our country, the courts are the great equalizer.. Now, I am no idealist, but this a living, breathing reality..”

That line from the impassioned, yet ultimately unsuccessful closing argument of Atichus Finch, the lawyer-hero of the novel and movie “To Kill a Mockingbird," is being sorely tested here in Madison County.

If he were here today, I am quite sure that Mr. Finch would object most strenuously to the current turn of events, as they are anything but equal.

Contrary to the op-ed piece by the Illinois Civil Justice mouthpiece Ed Murnane (This Was More Than A Referendum On Medical Malpractice Reform--11/13/04), the Maag-Karmeier race was NOT a referendum on medical malpractice. Not even close, although I do agree that Judge Karmeier is a good and decent man, who is up to the task of serving on the Supreme Court.

Like many others, I only hope he resorts back to his pre-election decency when he arrives in Springfield. I believe he will.

But I do not believe that the election was anything more than an exercise in power using fear tactics to con voters into a judicial solution to an exaggerated and trumped up deal to begin with, playing on the awesome power of the physician – patient relationship to drive home a political agenda, a fact from which Murnane hides not, but indeed, shamelessly brags.

There was no mandate, no statement, just the personal rejection of Gordon Maag, and the selection of Lloyd Karmeier, nothing more nothing less.

If indeed it was a widespread indictment of the judicial system in Southern Illinois, Judges Matoesian, Donovan, LeChien, and Hopkins would be unemployed. All were retained.

The calls now in the wake of the Supreme Court election for massive tort reform are misplaced, unfair and wholly inappropriate. It is not the solution to any problem, but only paves the way to a contempt for the power of the Law as the arbitrator of dispute in society.

The mass hysteria surrounding the exodus of some doctors has been seized upon by those who wish to see an already privileged class obtain immunity before the Courts.

It is that to which the fictional Mr. Finch objects.

Review the present and existing situation. As stated in the previous column, by a ratio of 9 to 1, medical defendants win most jury trials--hardly a level playing field.

Secondly, unlike any other type and kind of professional defendant, (lawyer, accountant, architect, etc.) a suit against a medical defendant must have an attached "Certificate of Merit", stating that the case has been reviewed by another doctor and that malpractice was found.

This is already the law in Illinois.

Thirdly, medical defendants again unlike anybody else, have the right to pay a judgment in periodic installments, rather than one lump sum.

Medical defendants, no matter terrible the injury, or how grossly negligent the conduct cannot be sued for punitive damages, according to the law as it stands now.

Unlike the steel, construction or airline industries, when there is an accident at a hospital it is called an “incident.”

The on-the–scene, contempory investigation at hospital is outside the reach of a patient, their families or attorneys. It is shielded by an iron-clad privilege called the Medical Studies Act.

Perhaps if these reports were available and full disclosure required, there might be fewer of the “frivolous“ lawsuits that seem to be such a bother.

In short, in the wave of public hysteria, the medical profession is making a brazen attempt to increase their already privileged status before the court.

It is this inequity to which Mr. Finch objects on principled not personal grounds, as he, as I, is fond of and has great respect for his personal physician.

We would just hate to see the system tilted any further.

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