Friday, February 27, 2004

Few cases better illustrate how our legal system sometimes stands justice on its head like the case of Tony and Matt Geckle — small-business owners now being sued by the estate of a man they killed as he was attempting to rob them.

Their story is as follows: Sometime after closing on Friday night, March 16 and Saturday night, March 17, 2001, thieves broke into Back River Supply’s Glyndon plant, owned by the Geckle brothers. They made off with equipment, including saws, a laser and a fax machine. Most ominously, they took a gun.

Matt and Tony called the police and filled out the requisite reports. On March 18, they tried to install a security camera, but could not get it to work. Matt (who told the Baltimore Sun he was worried that the burglars would steal the company computers, which were needed to operate the plant) decided that he would stay over on Sunday night to drive off the burglars if they decided to come back for a third evening in a row. Tony reluctantly agreed, and the pair brought their rifles with them.

Early on the morning of March 19, the burglars returned. Tony, armed and standing guard, ordered them to stop, but says the intruders ran toward him in the darkness. He fired, hitting all three burglars; one, Jonathan Steinbach, 24, died of his wounds. A Baltimore County grand jury heard the case and decided against indicting the Geckle brothers.

That should have been the end of it. Unfortunately, Steinbach’s estate has filed a lawsuit demanding $13 million from the Geckles and Back River Supply. The lawsuit contends that the burglar’s 4-year-old child has suffered because of his father’s death. While this is undoubtedly true, it is absurd to claim that the Geckles or their company are responsible for this; the fault lies with Steinbach, who chose the wrong line of work.

In Annapolis, Del. Carmen Amedori, Carroll County Republican, has introduced legislation that would effectively make frivolous lawsuits by intruders like Steinbach and his associates impossible. This is a sensible way to ensure that businessmen like the Geckle brothers do not become targets of such legal harassment in the future.

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