Stephanie Mencimer

Stephanie Mencimer is a Washington Monthly contributing editor.

Recent Articles

Class-Action Warfare

During the second presidential debate last year, audience member Norma-Jean Laurent posed a tough question for Democratic challenger John Kerry. Laurent noted that Kerry had bemoaned the rising cost of health care for Americans. So how, she wanted to know, could he reconcile this campaign plank with his choice of a running mate who had made millions of dollars successfully suing medical professionals? The question presented Kerry with a tremendous opportunity for a spirited defense of that great bedrock of American democracy, the civil-justice system. He could have championed his faith in the good sense of American voters who serve on juries and who know a frivolous lawsuit when they see one, without needing the heavy hand of Washington to tell them what to do. He might even have braved a response suggesting that it's the doctors who commit malpractice who drive up health costs rather than the lawyers who represent their victims. Instead, Kerry simply said, “John Edwards and I support...

Backlog or Backfire?

When supporters of “class-action reform,” which passed in the Senate last week, talk about the alleged horrors of class-action litigation, they frequently hold up the tiny, impoverished, and mostly black Jefferson County, Mississippi, as Exhibit A. “Reformers” allege that current state laws allow plaintiffs' lawyers to “forum shop” for a friendly court, such as Jefferson County, where the itty-bitty courthouse doesn't even posses a computerized docketing system -- yet where Circuit Court Judge Lamar Pickard has presided over a number of multimillion-dollar, mass lawsuits filed against some of the nation's biggest corporations. The American Tort Reform Association has dubbed the court a “judicial hellhole.” The new class-action bill would circumvent Pickard, a former member of the Mississippi Trial Lawyers Association board of governors, and push most mass torts to the federal district court level. In Pickard's county, this might mean suits would go before a judge like Charles...

Insurance Impunity

One day in 1973, 65-year-old Elmer Norman went to his doctor for some hearing tests and a prescription for antibiotics to treat an ear infection. But when Norman submitted the bills to Colonial Penn Franklin, his health insurer, the company denied his $48 claim, arguing, among other things, that the prescription drug he'd received wasn't actually a prescription drug and therefore wasn't covered. Incensed, Norman contacted William Shernoff, the famous California trial attorney who'd won a landmark lawsuit against an insurance company a few years earlier. Blind in one eye and mostly deaf -- he wore a homemade hearing aid made from big stereo headphones and a microphone connected to a box on his belt -- Norman eventually persuaded Shernoff to take his $48 case. During the litigation, Shernoff discovered that Colonial Penn had duped about 100,000 seniors into believing they were getting a "new and improved plan" when, in fact, it actually cut coverage to save more than $4 million annually...

Endless Campaign

As Democrats continue to examine the wreckage of November's midterm elections and calculate just how badly Republicans outspent them (by a ratio of 5-to-3), they might want to take a closer look at the role of Gov. George W. Bush. Yes, that's Gov. Bush, not President Bush. Over the past year, not only did the president barnstorm the country campaigning for critical Republican candidates, he also lent the support of his Texas gubernatorial campaign committee, which has been running strong since he was elected governor of Texas in 1998. The Governor Bush Committee gave the Republican National Committee (RNC) $1.7 million between December 31, 2001, and July 2002, according to campaign-finance reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission . In late 2001, Gov. Bush's committee also tossed a quarter-million bucks to the Republican Governor's Association, and spread its largesse to many candidates running for statewide office in Texas as well. The Associated Republicans of Texas got $500,...

Children Left Behind

I n early October, Nakia Burgess had just gotten a job as a transcriber in Atlanta. She had already lost two other jobs because of her inability to secure reliable and affordable child care for her 3-year-old daughter, Asan'te, who had Down syndrome. So when the temp agency she had signed up with sent her out for a new assignment, Burgess was desperate to hang on to the position. But on her second day, her child-care arrangement fell through. She took Asan'te to work with her and left the girl in the car on the company's parking deck. Burgess came out periodically to check on the child, but after only 90 minutes, Asan'te was unconscious. The temperature that day had risen to 85 degrees, and it was even higher inside the car. When Asan'te reached the hospital, her temperature registered 108 and she was pronounced dead from hyperthermia. The story provoked gasps of horror in the Atlanta area, where Burgess was charged with murder even as she drew sympathy from thousands of working...