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Winter Newsletter 2020

My Thoughts on the Election, the Orderly Transfer of Power, and the End of the COVID Crisis

“Ours is a government of laws and not of men.”

-John Adams (1774)

The law of our land is the Constitution of the United States. It establishes three branches of government: the executive branch (the President), the legislative branch (Congress), and the judicial branch (the courts). With regard to the executive branch, the Constitution provides: “The executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his office during the term of four Years.” The person elected president takes an oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Months before the election, President Trump declared that the election was “rigged” against him, and that mail-in ballots would result in tremendous fraud. In fact, he said he could only lose if the election is “rigged.” He claimed that mail-in ballots would be used to steal the election from him, and attempted to dissuade pro-Trump voters from mailing in their ballots, despite the fact that the COVID crisis might dissuade people from voting in-person. Yet in spite of these claims, the rule of law prevailed, and the votes in each state were fairly cast and accurately counted. Ironically, President Trump’s decision to dissuade voters from mailing in their ballots resulted in fewer Republican voters casting their ballots, because they were forced to stand in long lines, and in some states very cold weather.

The unsupported claims that the election was rigged have caused turmoil and chaos that upset the democratic process we are used to, and unsettled our own personal sense of wellbeing. However, in the end, the democratic and legal systems worked, and we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief. President Biden was elected, and we made history with the election of Kamala Harris as Vice President.

Similarly, the other unique stressor this season – the COVID-19 pandemic – will also soon be “moving out” of our lives, and we will have another opportunity for a collective sigh of relief. We will have a new president, and we will have vaccines!

And then it will be Spring. In April, the cherry blossoms will bloom, the daffodils and tulips will spring from the earth, and the azaleas, in all their glory, will not be far behind. The political, personal, health, and economic crises that so many of us felt will begin to feel like they are behind us.

There is so much to be grateful for in this season of Thanksgiving and the holidays that December brings. There is so much to look forward to – Inauguration Day, and the vaccines that will hopefully erase the pain of the pandemic. We wish you all a wonderful holiday season, with a new sense of optimism and excitement for the future.
Stay safe and healthy, and we look forward to seeing you back in our office for a cup of coffee, a handshake, a hug, and an opportunity for us to catch up.

P.S. Until then, please write to me at sherman@dc-law.net and let me know what you would like me to address in the next newsletter, and what information you would like us to include in our newsletter.


Celebrating a Trifecta of Accolades

We are honored to wrap up the year with a trio of accolades that reflect our firm’s reputation for excellence in the legal community and the high-quality legal service we provide our clients each day.

 

  • Washingtonian Magazine conducted their biannual survey and identified partners Ira Sherman, Joseph Cammarata and Allan Siegel as three of Washington’s top legal talents. The December 2020 edition of the magazine names all three partners as “Top Lawyers” in the D.C. metropolitan area in the category of Personal Injury Litigation.
  • Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel has also been named as one of the 2021 “Best Law Firms” by U.S. News & World ReportTo be eligible, firms must have a lawyer recognized in The Best Lawyers in America©, which only recognizes 5% of lawyers practicing in the United States. Mr. Sherman, Mr. Cammarata and Mr. Siegel have all been previously named as Best Lawyers®. The firm received a Tier 1 ranking in Plaintiff Personal Injury Litigation in Washington, DC.
  • Northern Virginia Magazine also compiles a “Top Lawyer” list. To compile its list, the magazine asks area attorneys: “If you had a close friend or relative who needed a lawyer and you couldn’t handle the case yourself, to whom would you refer them?” Ira Sherman, Joseph Cammarata and Allan Siegel all received enough votes to be included in this elite list. Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel is the only Plaintiff’s personal injury firm to have three lawyers included in the 2020 list.

District of Columbia Pays $3,500,000 to Bicyclist Injured by Negligent Police Officer

Our client was proceeding on his bicycle when a District of Columbia police officer parked his car and opened his door into traffic. District of Columbia Municipal Regulations (Rule 18-2214.4 – ENTERING AND LEAVING A VEHICLE: VEHICLE DOORS) specifically require that no one shall open a vehicle door on the side of approaching traffic unless it is safe to do so for both the individual, and moving traffic and pedestrians. Of course, one would expect a trained police officer would know and adhere to the law.

Unfortunately, the District of Columbia did not initially accept responsibility for the actions of its police officer. They claimed that the officer did not act unreasonably, even though that he violated the law.  The City even went as far as hiring an accident reconstructionist in an attempt to claim that the vehicle had a “blind spot” to excuse the officer’s failure to check for bicyclists before opening his car door into traffic.

Our client was thrown from his bicycle and suffered severe and permanent injuries, including multiple facial and nasal fractures, a traumatic brain injury, and fractures of his teeth.   The brain injury caused debilitating headaches, and cognitive problems, which interfered with our client’s ability to successfully pursue his career.  However, the District of Columbia retained medical experts to dispute the seriousness of our client’s injuries.

Partner Allan Siegel litigated the case in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. He took the deposition (sworn testimony) of each expert hired by the District of Columbia, and demonstrated to opposing counsel that these experts’ opinions would not hold up in court, when subject to the rigors of cross examination.

The District of Columbia ultimately agreed to settled the case for $3,500,000.


Settlement of Rear-End Crash Case for $1,375,000

Partner Joseph Cammarata successfully won a settlement of a rear-end car crash involving a client traveling in a Lyft vehicle that was hit by a delivery truck in Washington, D.C.

Our client, age 46, who had already had problems with his neck and back that pre-dated the collision, suffered new injuries to his neck and back requiring surgery.  In addition, our client suffered a traumatic brain injury with a resulting seizure disorder, requiring lifetime care.  Further, our client, who had undergone psychiatric therapy for 12 years before the collision, suffered a worsening of his psychiatric condition due to the crash.

Mr. Cammarata filed suit in the D.C. Superior Court.  After Mr. Cammarata engaged in extensive fact-finding and developed the client’s claim for damages, the delivery company agreed to mediate the case.  At mediation, the case was successfully settled, with the delivery company agreeing to pay $1,375,000.

 


Cancel the Cap: An Initiative to Help Victims of Medical Malpractice Obtain Complete Justice

Partner Joseph Cammarata is spearheading an effort to change the law in Virginia, to hold negligent medical providers fully accountable for the harm they cause their patients.

In July 2019, Mr. Cammarata was successful in obtaining a $35.6 million verdict in a medical malpractice case in Virginia, on behalf of a client who was injured during spinal surgery.  While operating, the surgeon negligently cut an artery, causing our client to lose oxygen to her brain for approximately 23 minutes.  She was resuscitated, but now requires lifetime 24-hour care.  At trial, we presented to the jury evidence of out-of-pocket and future lifetime expenses and losses totaling $9.3 million.

Unfortunately, due to Virginia’s current law, which puts a “cap” on the amount of money a victim of medical malpractice can recover, our client’s recovery was limited to $2.2 million. 

As a result of this travesty of justice, Mr. Cammarata has taken steps to eliminate the cap in Virginia.  He is involved in drafting legislation that will be introduced in the January 2021 legislative session in Virginia.  Mr. Cammarata has already obtained bipartisan support for the legislation.

The legislation would permit any victim of medical malpractice to obtain all damages awarded by a jury.  This would remove the special legal protection that medical providers currently enjoy against complete accountability for the harm they cause to the victims of their negligence.

Eliminating the cap on damages will allow seriously injured persons to be fully compensated by wrongdoers.  It will ensure that these persons, who may face exorbitant medical expenses for the rest of their lives, don’t have to rely upon government programs paid for by taxpayers, and it will stop the practice of placing arbitrary limits on the value of human life.

 


Presidential Immunity Attorney

Partner Cammarata Speaks to Media About Trump Lawsuit

“We’re all equal before the bar of justice, and the president is no different.”

 Do alleged defamatory statements made by a President of the United States to distract from purely private misconduct benefit the people of the United States? Attorney Joseph Cammarata, a prominent legal expert who won a landmark case on presidential immunity, said he couldn’t imagine anyone thinking such a thing.

Cammarata weighed in on the Justice Department’s claim that President Trump was acting in an official capacity, and therefore protected against the lawsuit when he disparaged a New York writer in response to her allegation that he raped her more than 20 years ago. 

“In our country, we don’t have kings, we don’t have royalty and we don’t have people who get a special privilege or pass because of their position, power or money,” said the personal injury attorney and partner with Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel.

“We’re all equal before the bar of justice, and the president is no different. When he acts in a way to protect himself for his own personal well being and not that of the United States, he should not be shielded for his wrongdoing.”

Trump defamation suit

Former Elle magazine columnist E. Jean Carroll filed a defamation lawsuit against Trump in New York state court last year after he denied her claim in a book that he raped her at the Bergdorf Goodman department store in Manhattan during the 1990s. Trump accused Carroll of many things, including lying to sell books and being involved in a political conspiracy. Trump also said he would not have attacked her because “she’s not my type,” according to the suit.

The lawsuit was brought against Trump personally in a New York state court, but the Justice Department had it moved to federal court, claiming Trump’s statements were made in the course of his employment as President of the United States; therefore, the United States should be substituted as the defendant in the lawsuit. 

If the Justice Department is successful and the United States is substituted as the defendant, it is likely Carroll’s lawsuit will be dismissed because a claim for defamation cannot be brought against the United States.

“Another attempt to shield a president from personal responsibility.”

A key issue in the current case, Cammarata said, is whether Trump’s “vile, vicious” comments about Carroll would further the interests of the country or only serve his personal interests. 

The lawsuit should be allowed to move forward because the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously established in 1997’s Clinton v. Jones that a sitting president does not have immunity under federal civil law for incidents that took place unrelated to his official duties. Cammarata represented Paula Jones, a former Arkansas state employee who had filed a sexual harassment case against then-President Bill Clinton claiming he had propositioned her while governor in 1991.

“The action by the Department of Justice is a novel tactic — another attempt to shield a president from personal responsibility for private misconduct,” he said. 

In the case of Clinton v. Jones, the Supreme Court ruled the president did not have immunity and should stand and be held accountable for private misconduct that took place before he took office. 

“That ruling applied to President Clinton in 1997 and should apply to President Trump today,” Cammarata said.

The Justice Department’s position was to be the subject of a hearing scheduled for Oct. 21 in New York before the U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan; however, a travel ban kept the Justice Department attorney from appearing in court.

Before the scheduled hearing, Cammarata spoke with Bloomberg reporter Erik Larson about why he thinks the case should fail in court. (Read the article: DOJ Lawyer Blocked by Travel Ban in Trump Defamation Suit.)

Championing the rights of victims

In addition to the Jones case against Clinton, Cammarata represented seven women who claimed they were sexually abused and/or assaulted by comedian Bill Cosby and women who brought a class-action lawsuit after being secretly videotaped participating in a spiritual bathing ritual at a synagogue in Washington.

The Trump defamation case is of particular interest to Cammarata because it involves presidential immunity and sexual assault — two areas where he’s faced formidable, powerful opponents and won.

“I’ve been championing the rights of victims of discrimination and civil rights abuses for more than 30 years and will continue to watch this case closely,” he said. “I expect that the court will reject the president’s attempts to derail this litigation and will hold him personally accountable for the wrongdoing.”


Update on Regional Court Operating Status

The global pandemic forced every court in the region to, in one way or another, restrict operations in order to combat the dangers of spreading COVID-19.  The courts canceled non-emergency hearings and trials, and extended various deadlines and statutes of limitations (the time limits to file lawsuits) through the Fall.  By September, most courts had implemented procedures to begin the slow process of reopening to the public, albeit with many restrictions.  A few courts had even resumed holding jury trials.  However, now that the nation is in the midst of an explosion of new infections, the courts have been forced to respond again by restricting public access and by canceling jury trials well into the next Spring.

Though the interim outlook may appear bleak, there are still positive developments to share.  One is that, in response to the pandemic, the courts have implemented robust procedures to conduct hearings and non-jury trials remotely.  Although jury trials have been canceled, most courts continue to hold civil bench trials (trials decided by judges, not juries) throughout the Winter.  This is excellent news for individuals with small civil actions in the District Courts of Maryland and Virginia.  The backlog of hearings and trials remains an onerous obstacle for the courts to contend with. However, being able to conduct these proceedings remotely is a positive development for everyone trying to seek justice.  

With the promise of three highly effective vaccines being released within the next few months, we are hopeful that the courts will ultimately return to normal operations, as will the rest of our society.  As your attorneys, we continue to track the many orders and updated operating procedures being issued by each of the various courts.  We are always available to answer any questions you have regarding how court operations may affect your case and your health and safety. 

The courts may have closed, but Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel is always available to best serve our clients’ needs.

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