Friday, January 02, 2009

Lawyer Finds News Comments Akin To Jury Consultant Surveys


The Cool Justice Report
Jan. 2, 2009

EDITOR'S NOTE: This column is available for reprint courtesy of The Cool Justice Report,

Accessing the news online provides a new perspective, particularly with stories reporting on my cases. Every online news source also provides a "Comments" section. Anonymous bloggers can post comments and engage in dialogue with fellow bloggers.

If you have not experienced this go online and scroll down after a news story. There you can register with a fictitious screen name (a sort of nom d'internet) and post any reasonable comment. Each site suggests that it is monitored to prevent profane comments although the liberal use of asterisks seems to get the point across when one wants to curse in blogese. The comments run the spectrum from pithy and insightful, to crass and comical.

My first experience with the blogosphere came last year, following the arrest of a client, the owner of a pool company charged with manslaughter in the drowning death of a child in a Greenwich pool. The case received widespread national coverage. In reading through one account I noticed that there were more than 50 comments posted on the site. As I read them, I became fascinated with the observations of the bloggers.

The executive had been charged because the pool had been installed without two safety devices mandated by a little known recent change in the state building code. An engineer and the town building inspector had approved the pool permit application. The pool had undergone three inspections before the town issued a certificate of occupancy. In addition, the building inspector, and others in the industry acknowledged that the code changes were unheralded and largely unknown.

The online comments that followed were insightful. Bloggers uniformly reflected a sense of injustice in singling out the pool executive. I began to follow the blogs with each successive news story. They read as if we had hired a jury consultant to do a nationwide attitude survey. Of course, I immediately became a fan of the nameless Internet bloggers; that is, until the next major news piece about another case of mine.

Last week a Bridgeport jury returned a verdict of about $198,000 for a client who was the victim of dental malpractice. She had consulted a Stamford dentist to replace a missing upper front tooth with a permanent bridge. Without telling her, the dentist anesthetized her and proceeded to pull her three other front teeth. He commissioned a temporary bridge but when it arrived he remarked that they looked like horse teeth and would not cement it in. Eventually, he told the patient he could not provide her the promised bridge and she was forced to embark on an expensive and complex dental reconstruction.

An article in the Connecticut Post made the wire services and spawned an Internet version of the childhood game of "telephone." The story morphed into a tale that the dentist put her out, promising a Hollywood smile, and she awoke to find he had given her horse teeth. The bloggers were merciless. At last count I read over 250 posts, with every possible variation of a Mr. Ed pun. The comments were largely mean spirited, without concern that this woman had suffered a tremendous indignity.

Providing an online voice for the public is a great service. However, expressing such opinions should be done in a reasonable fashion. Anonymity empowers some to make comments they would never make if their names appeared in print. Still, can't wait to read what the bloggers and commenters have to say about future articles about court cases.

Bridgeport attorney Richard Meehan Jr. was the lead defense counsel for former Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim's corruption trial. Meehan is certified as a criminal trial specialist by the National Board of Trial Advocacy since 1994 and serves on the organizations Board of Examiners. He is a Charter Fellow, Litigation Counsel of America -- Trial Lawyer Honorary Society. Meehan has also obtained multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements in complex medical and dental malpractice and personal injury litigation. He is a past president of the Greater Bridgeport Bar Association and appears regularly on Court TV. Website,

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  • 1 comment:

    a rose is a rose said...

    i knew about the pool exec. i didn't hear or read about the dentist case. that is a horror

    over the last couple of years i have been drawn to reading the comments on news stories. two in particular the last week or two

    the colin mcenroe firing by wtic. most comments were decent enough until this morning. i believe it was in the courant, but i can't swear by it. it was a new story. the comments were mean and vicious and ugly. no need for that. really. i can see not liking him, but it went beyond that

    the second story was about the very young teen aged girl in nyc. she is alleged to have murdered or helped to murder at least two men. the comments were vile. just vile (ny post or ny daily news) AND racist.

    i'm not even going to get into the ones i read about barack obama throughout the campaign.

    i'm not a saint and i shoot my mouth off from time to time but i try not to be cruel or uncaring.