Legally Speaking: "Do As I Say, Not As I Do"

John G. Browning Jun. 7, 2007, 4:00am

On a daily basis, people invest a great deal of trust in the judgment of lawyers and doctors. But, what happens when the judgment those same professionals exercise in their own turns out to be, well, not so good?

In the past week, there have been high profile instances where the very people who advise others everyday about their health and well being or who protect individuals from the negligence of others have made colossal errors in judgment.

The first and most widely publicized of these instances involves someone who could've become the 21st century's answer to Typhoid Mary, Andrew Speaker.

Until his identity was revealed, Speaker was known only as the mystery man who � despite learning that he had a rare and highly drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis � reportedly took six plane flights in two weeks as he traveled across Europe for his wedding and honeymoon.

Then, to avoid U.S. "no fly" restrictions, he flew to Montreal and drove across our border, where a border agent identified him from an alert but let him enter the U.S. anyway because "he didn't look sick" (and you received your medical degree from where, Mr. Border Patrolman?).

Of course, when Speaker's identity became public, we learned that 31-year-old Andrew Speaker is an Atlanta attorney specializing in plaintiff's personal injury law. That's right � in an ironic twist befitting a Hollywood screenwriter � the person who knowingly and recklessly endangered the lives of countless people as he traveled with a deadly communicable disease is the very same guy who sues people and companies for a living, accusing them of negligent, thoughtless, reckless behavior that puts others at risk.

To top things off, Speaker's new father-in-law, Bob Cooksey, happens to be a microbiologist working for the Centers for Disease Control, where he researches tuberculosis among other diseases.

Speaker learned he had TB in January, but it wasn't until May that doctors realized his strain, known as XDR-TB, was highly resistant to drugs. Nevertheless, Speaker boarded a May 12 Air France flight to Paris, and returned from Europe 12 days later on a flight from Prague to Canada. Health officials have contacted at least 74 of the 310 U.S. citizens who were on the flight to Paris with Speaker, including the 26 who sat right in the five-row area around him and are considered at greatest risk.

Doctors say they told Speaker not to travel. While Speaker acknowledges that the CDC and other health organizations warned him not to travel, he claims that they never "ordered" him not to go. When reached in Rome by doctors from the CDC and explicitly told not to take a commercial flight back, Speaker says he felt "abandoned" and was afraid of dying in Europe if he didn't get back for specialized treatment at a clinic in Denver.

In an interview with Diane Sawyer, Speaker apologized for putting others at risk, saying "I'm very sorry for any grief or pain that I have caused anyone ... I hope they understand, based on what I was told I didn't think I was making that gamble." Speaker says that what happened was a result of confusion, panic, and a desire to stay alive, and that "in hindsight, maybe it wasn't the best decision."

Speaker is now under quarantine at the National Jewish Hospital in Denver for up to two months, and speaking only through a face mask. Hopefully, no one exposed to the young lawyer will exhibit any symptoms. But, if anyone does, one wonders how Speaker will feel when the shoe is on the other foot, when a lawyer arguing to a jury about a defendant's reckless and utter disregard for the wellbeing of others is talking about him?

In another instance of questionable judgment, an Ivy League-educated pediatrician on trial in a medical malpractice case decided that he knew better than those around him, so he decided to share his thoughts by blogging - during the trial itself.

Dr. Robert P. Lindeman, a graduate of Yale and Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons, is a pediatrician in the Boston area who is board-certified in pediatrics and pediatric pulmonary medicine. He was sued for medical malpractice by the parents of Jaymes Binns, a boy who died less than six weeks after Dr. Lindeman allegedly failed to diagnose Jaymes' diabetes.

Dr. Lindeman also happened to write a blog, in which he referred to himself as only "Flea" and spoke out against medical malpractice suits in general and his pending lawsuit in particular.

Even before the trial began, "Flea" talked about the case and his defensive strategy. He described what he was told by a jury consultant on how to act during cross-examination, and how juries frequently base verdicts on their view of a doctor's character. As much of a "cocky bastard" that he might appear in the blogosphere, Dr. Lindeman was determined to come across as the caring dedicated professional he considers himself to be.

However, during the trial itself, his Internet alter ego continued to rail against the lawsuit. "Flea" ridiculed both the plaintiff's case and plaintiff's lawyer, Elizabeth Mulvey, to the point of giving her an unflattering nickname and questioning her sexual proclivities. He also accused members of the jury of dozing off during testimony, and continued to reveal the defense's strategy.

Unfortunately for Dr. Lindeman, Ms. Mulvey had been following "Flea's" unvarnished views of lawyers, jurors, and the trial process. In a Perry Mason moment for the Internet age, Mulvey asked Dr. Lindeman during the middle of cross-examination if he had a blog and if he was, in fact, "Flea."

Before the jury could be regaled with what Lindeman/Flea really thought of them, the case was temporarily adjourned. The next morning, it was announced that the case had settled. While neither Dr. Lindeman nor his lawyer had any comment, insiders in the Boston legal community describe the settlement as "substantial."

As a society we've grown accustomed to seeing questionable judgment from people in the public eye, from pop stars who emerge from rehab only to be arrested for DWI to professional athletes getting in legal trouble for their off the field activities.

If you told me that Paris Hilton refused to let a little ol' thing like tuberculosis interfere with her jet-setting, party hopping lifestyle, I probably wouldn't be shocked. But when people, who arguably ought to know better, like doctors and lawyers who advise others for a living, make these mistakes, it means something more. It becomes a case of "do as I say, not as I do."

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