- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 2, 2000

Letter found guilty of assaulting the truth in GM case

The old adage "never let the facts stand in the way of a good story" could be the motto for many of America's trial lawyers. In only a few hundred words, Richard Middleton Jr., president of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, managed to get nearly all of the pertinent facts wrong in his defense of last year's staggering $4.9 billion jury verdict against General Motors (GM) in a California case ("Column unfairly attacks our jury system," Letters, March 24).

Mr. Middleton would have your readers believe a host of untruths about the case, which stemmed from an accident caused by a drunk driver. First, contrary to Mr. Middleton's assertions, the gas tank was not located outside the vehicle's frame. In fact, it was located behind the car's rear axle, well inside the frame rails. Second, it is ludicrous to suggest, as Mr. Middleton does, that GM "knew its faulty design would kill." To believe that, you'd have to believe government safety regulators also knew the car was dangerous. The truth is that the Chevrolet Malibu exceeded all federal fuel-safety standards.

Perhaps the biggest and most insidious lie is that GM "decided to risk its customers' lives for profit." In fact, money was never an issue. The 1979 Malibu was a new car, so the cost would have been the same no matter where the designers placed the fuel tank. GM's decision was the result of numerous tests that convinced engineers that the location ultimately chosen was the safest. (It also was the choice of the designers of nearly nine out of every 10 cars on the road at the time.) Juries, as Mr. Middleton says, are "the bulwark of our civil justice system." It's too bad that, too often, trial lawyers' assaults on the truth prevent jurors from carrying out their duty.

RICHARD SHAPIRO

Phoenix

Richard Shapiro is a partner at Snell & Wilmer in Phoenix and was a member of the trial team that defended General Motors in the California case.

On the right track with Metro line at the Wilson Bridge

As proposals go forward for the replacement of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, it is important that plans include a true solution to the region's No. 1 traffic nightmare: congestion. Metrorail (light or heavy) built at the Wilson Bridge crossing is the answer. Only with Metrorail will the new crossing be able to handle our 21st-century transportation needs.

Fast-track planning and construction of the proposed "Purple Line" (the proposed name for a Metro line around the Capital Beltway) at this crossing could and should start now. Under the current bridge-replacement proposal, Metrorail at this crossing is not contemplated for another 25 years, denying the region transit-oriented development, which is at the heart of smart growth. The "Purple Line" would be the best way to bring economic revitalization including upscale jobs, stores and restaurants for the residents of Prince George's County, because it would better integrate Oxon Hill into the metropolitan area.

The proposal to bring Metrorail across the Potomac between Alexandria and Oxon Hill now is a win-win solution. It would meet the needs of all stakeholders in this challenging situation. It would bring 1) transportation choices and economic redevelopment in southern Prince George's County, 2) a smaller interchange footprint in Alexandria, with greater capacity, 3) a potential access for the proposed National Harbor and 4) positive cumulative environmental benefit for the Potomac River and surrounding communities. This idea is a transportation solution for our national capital region that is worthy of being held up as a model for smart transportation planning.

Congestion is the problem, and Metro is the answer.

BONNIE BICK

Oxon Hill

Rhetoric aside, statistics align with New York mayor

Thank you for your editorial "Oliver Stone's New York?" (March 29). As a former New Yorker with a granddaughter growing up in the New York metro area, I have some interest in this topic.

The media slant, particularly outside New York, continues to focus on the transitory and sensational: cops gunning down "innocent" civilians, demagogic play of the race card, the specter of soulless centurions terrifying the populace.

It will take tireless recitation of the evidence the falling crime rate; fewer civilian complaints against police officers; New York's steady improvement in public services and safety; and the consequent boost in tourism and long-term development for New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani to stand firm against his hypocritical, grandstanding detractors.

F.J. RIEMER

Midlothian, Va.

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In your editorial "Oliver Stone's New York?" The Times clearly illustrates the bizarre interpretation of the activist crowd (all of whom, conveniently, are political opponents of New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani) that less is more, that somehow Mr. Giuliani's police force is more reckless and/or violent than that of his predecessor, Democrat David Dinkins, despite the precipitous decline in fatalities and in officers firing their weapons.

Take this analysis one step further: Compare the number of protests per fatality. Note the interesting picture painted by a low number of protests to a high incidence of fatalities under a Democrat, compared to high protest numbers but low fatalities under a Republican.

Someone else might accuse the left of requiring a certain level of violence for its political purposes.

CHRIS HORNER

Alexandria

Democrats exude confidence over fall elections

"Republicans moving ahead in congressional campaigns" (March 29) misses the forest for the trees.

After a steady yearlong political backslide, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) had hoped 2000 would bring better days. Those hopes were dashed quickly.

In January, the traditionally deep-pocketed NRCC saw the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee post more than twice as much cash on hand. Twelve top-tier Democratic candidates raised more than $400,000 last year; eight out-raised Republican incumbents. Simply put, Democrats will not lose a single House race this year because of a lack of funds.

In February, the NRCC watched its political sugar daddy, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, spend almost his entire war chest simply to win the Republican presidential nod. The Republican National Committee said it wouldn't bail out the House Republicans, either.

In March, House Republicans' dismal poll numbers translated into ballot-box losses in California's open primary. Despite heavy Republican spending and a big turnout in the Republican presidential contest, House Republicans were dealt devastating defeats from San Jose to San Diego. The Republicans' 3-1 open seat deficit the party's worst since 1958 spiked even higher. Still reeling from recruitment failures in Kentucky, Illinois, Mississippi, Colorado and Oregon, the NRCC was rejected by another candidate in Michigan's 10th District home to its "No. 1 target," Rep. David E. Bonior.

Republican rhetoric aside, House Democrats continue to have the money, the message and the momentum as we march to majority status this fall.

DAVID PLOUFFE

Executive director

Democratic Congressional Campaign

Committee

Washington

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