- The Washington Times - Friday, April 21, 2000

Dealing with lawyers

Austrian Ambassador Peter Moser is trying to make his countrymen understand that American lawyers pose a serious threat with class-action lawsuits that make claims that many Austrians consider "outrageous" and "bizarre."

Mr. Moser even found himself the target of a lawyer's anger after Austria's Profil magazine inaccurately portrayed him as trivializing a class-action suit against Austria on behalf of Holocaust victims.

The magazine quoted Mr. Moser as saying, "If you drink bad coffee and find yourself a good lawyer … instant millionaire."

He was referring to a 1996 lawsuit in which a New Mexico woman won $2.7 million from McDonald's after she spilled hot coffee on herself.

Mr. Moser told Embassy Row Thursday that he used that lawsuit as an example of the serious nature of American litigation, not to belittle the Holocaust compensation suit filed last week by New York lawyer Edward Fagan. He is suing Austria for $18 billion on behalf of Holocaust victims.

The ambassador, also a lawyer, said Austria has no tradition of class-action or product-liability lawsuits, so he tried to explain the significance of the two related legal tools in the magazine interview. But Profil quoted him only on the remark he made about the coffee, he said.

Austrian leaders have denounced Mr. Fagan's lawsuit as "bizarre" and "outrageous." The compensation demanded would equal about 10 percent of Austria's gross domestic product.

"My message was, 'You have to take this seriously,' " Mr. Moser said. "I tried to explain to [Austrians] that even a spilled cup of coffee can make you a millionaire."

Mr. Moser said he also discussed how "product-liability has fine-tuned the class-action suit." He reviewed the legal actions taken against the automotive, tobacco and gun industries.

Mr. Moser is also trying to make Americans understand that Austria is taking action to compensate Holocaust victims.

Among other actions, Austria established a compensation fund in 1995, extended citizenship to Austrians forced into exile during the war and contributed $26 million to Jewish groups for social services, primarily in Israel.

Where's the laptop?

The chairman of a Senate subcommittee that oversees State Department matters says he is "appalled" by the latest breach of security that resulted in the disappearance of a laptop computer with top-secret information.

Sen. Rod Grams, Minnesota Republican, wrote Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright this week to complain that the State Department is becoming a "soft target for foreign intelligence services."

New York Republican Benjamin A. Gilman, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, has also written to Mrs. Albright about the missing computer.

State Department spokesman James P. Rubin Thursday said Mrs. Albright "has been deeply troubled by a series of security lapses" and ordered a "top-to-bottom review of State Department security procedures."

The disappearance of the computer earlier this month from the Bureau of Intelligence and Research displays the "same abysmal laxity in [security] procedures" that allowed a Russian spy last year to listen to conversations with an eavesdropping device planted in a State Department conference room, Mr. Grams said in his letter.

"I hope this is a case of a thief stealing the hardware with no intent to use our government's most sensitive intelligence information," wrote Mr. Grams, chairman of the Foreign Relations subcommittee on international operations.

"If the laptop computer was not taken by a foreign agent, that is due to luck, not diligence," he said.

Praising Taiwan

U.S. Ambassador to China Joseph Prueher is praising Taiwan's new president for trying to establish better relations with the communist mainland government.

"I think Chen Shui-bian has done a good job of reaching out to China and being very cautious," Adm. Prueher told the Agence France-Presse news agency.

Mr. Chen is due to be inaugurated on May 20.

Adm. Prueher also defended President Clinton's decision to postpone the sale of four naval destroyers to Taiwan.

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