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Tilting at Windmills

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January 13, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

BREAKING OUT....From Thoreau at Unqualified Offerings:

Not news: Prisoner breaks out of jail, later caught.

News: Prisoner makes second escape attempt.

Blogworthy: He's suing the jail because he hurt himself during the second escape attempt, and he thinks they should have made it harder for him to escape his cell and reach the roof, from which he fell while trying to climb down a makeshift ladder.

Now, don't get me wrong. This is plainly a frivolous lawsuit and should be condemned by all right thinking people. But Jesus. Click the link and read the story. You have to admit, the guy's got a point.

Kevin Drum 6:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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Comments

Interesting tidbit from the very end of the article:

"... Gomez filed suit after officials asked the court to order Gomez to pay back $64,000 in medical expenses."

The Gomez suit is ridiculous on a number of levels, but so is suing an _inmate_ for the cost of treating his own injuries incurred while trying to escape.

Tit for tat?

Posted by: Frivolity Times Two on January 13, 2008 at 6:51 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know if Kevin was joking or not when he said the case had merit. But if we consider the substance of the case, it is a very good justification for tort reform. Frivolous cases as grievous as these should not be allowed their day in court.

Posted by: ex-liberal on January 13, 2008 at 7:20 PM | PERMALINK

You have to wonder whether the Club for Growth put him up to it.

Posted by: Nancy Irving on January 13, 2008 at 7:29 PM | PERMALINK

Frivolous cases as grievous as these should not be allowed their day in court.

Isn't that what a court does? Decide what's frivolous?

Conservatives seem to like freedom as long as everyone behaves the way they like.

Posted by: craigie on January 13, 2008 at 7:51 PM | PERMALINK

Oh ex-liberal...I am still waiting for an answer to my question.

How many deferments did you ask for and receive during the Vitnam war??

Posted by: Isle of Lucy on January 13, 2008 at 8:09 PM | PERMALINK

I have voted for McGovern, Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton, Gore, and Kerry, so I'm not a conservative. Gomez's suit is every bit as frivolous as those filed by burglars against homeowners when they've injured themselves robbing the homes.

That doesn't mean that the prison was well or fairly run, and if Gomez wants to sue for the abuse and beatings he was alleging, fine. However, anyone who thinks the suit in question has a particle of merit fits one definition of a stereotype liberal: someone so broadminded they can't take their own side in an argument.

Posted by: bluestatedon on January 13, 2008 at 8:20 PM | PERMALINK

Isle of Lucy >"...How many deferments did you ask for and receive during the Vitnam war??"

Well ya gotta think that maybe he doesn`t have enough fingers and toes to count that high.

"History can save your ass." - William Gibson

Posted by: daCascadian on January 13, 2008 at 8:22 PM | PERMALINK

He noted that Gomez filed suit after officials asked the court to order Gomez to pay back $64,000 in medical expenses.


How is an inmate to payback 64,000 in expenses.

You see people, it costs the state to keep you in jail. And in order to pay this expense he would have to be kept in jail longer, which the state would pay.

Its a no-win catch 22 as I see it.

Posted by: Ya Know.... on January 13, 2008 at 8:23 PM | PERMALINK

It would be interesting if the escapee's attorneys somehow claim entrapment on the part of the jailers in "allowing" him to escape.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on January 13, 2008 at 8:28 PM | PERMALINK

A couple of thoughts.

Was the suit filed pro se?

Remember, prisoners have lots of free time, and sometimes access to a library, and always access to other prisoners who have filed other pro se actions. It is often free entertainmant to file suit since since it doesn't cost the prisoner anything but his time (see above) and he might (as in this case) get lots of attention.

A colleague early in his career accepted a U. S. District Court appointment (at $20.00 per hour) to represent a prisoner in a federal matter, and after the case ended the prisoner filed a malpractice action against my friend. Neither action cost him anything, and he got lots of attention. Pro se habeas actions have always been a problem for the federal courts.

On the other hand, if the tort suit was filed by an attorney, and it is in fact frivolous, then the defendant has an obvious remedy: Something called Rule 11 which keeps a lawyer from suing somebody just for the hell of it. A Rule 11 action can be very painful to a lazy attorney.

Olin

Posted by: Walter Olin on January 13, 2008 at 8:42 PM | PERMALINK

Ex-Liberal said: "I don't know if Kevin was joking or not when he said the case had merit"

What Kevin _actually_ said:

This is plainly a frivolous lawsuit and should be condemned by all right thinking people.

Perhaps "ex-liberal" could do with some remedial reading comprehension classes.

Posted by: Bob R. on January 14, 2008 at 12:11 AM | PERMALINK

I can tell you right now that Olbermann is going to have a lot of fun with this story.

Posted by: nepeta on January 14, 2008 at 2:44 AM | PERMALINK

Mayor Olly Perkins: It was designed to be practically escape proof.
Jason McCullough: Well, good, because I think I'm going to have to throw a couple of people in it.
Mayor Olly Perkins: There's only one thing. This new jail has sure got everything.
Fred Johnson: Even a new stove with a coffee pot already on it.
Mayor Olly Perkins: The only thing it hasn't got is iron bars for the cells.

-- Support Your Local Sheriff

Posted by: Royko on January 14, 2008 at 4:24 AM | PERMALINK

Notice how the news coverage goes. When the prisoner (counter)sues for damages due to an attractive nuisance, there's all kind of coverage. When the prison tried to get the prisoner to pay medical expenses, not so much. (And look at the language here -- the prisoner is suing, and we all know that lawsuits are bad. But the prison just "asked the court", which is perfectly deferential and OK.)

Also note, of course, that no one is even blinking at the allegations of rampant unlawful brutality at the prison -- that's just regarded as par for the course, apparently.

Posted by: paul on January 14, 2008 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

Doc,

I don't think entrapment would be the appropriate theory to raise, but if this state (California I am assuming) does recognize the theory of "attractive nuisance" then this guy's claim may not be that frivolous, at least not so frivolous as to warrant Rule 11 sanctions, as noted by one commentor above.

Posted by: bubba on January 14, 2008 at 10:33 AM | PERMALINK

Incarcerating people means assuming a custodial responsibility for their safety. Many Americans do not want to accept this institutional responsibility, however, and would prefer that not only every discontent be severly punished, but that society bear no liability, economic or moral, for the consequences of such punishment.

Posted by: Brojo on January 14, 2008 at 10:34 AM | PERMALINK

Bubba,

Arguing attractive nuisance WOULD be so frivolous as to warrant Rule 11 sanctions. Attractive nuisance (the reason swimming pools are fenced) is designed to protect children who are unable to appreciate the risks involved. Perhaps a juvenile delinquent would have a halfway decent claim (he'd still lose), but an adult inmate is no child and Gomez was intimately aware of the risks involved in breaking out of jail.

To quote the Restatement of Torts, section 339:

1. The place where the condition exists is one upon which the possessor knows or has reason to know that children are likely to trespass, and
2. The condition is one of which the possessor knows or has reason to know and which he realizes or should realize will involve an unreasonable risk of death or serious bodily harm to such children,
3. The children because of their youth do not discover the condition or realize the risk involved in intermeddling with it or in coming within the area made dangerous by it
4. The utility to the possessor of maintaining the condition and the burden of eliminating the danger are slight as compared with the risk to children involved, and
5. The possessor fails to exercise reasonable care to eliminate the danger or otherwise to protect the children

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attractive_nuisance_doctrine

Posted by: beowulf on January 14, 2008 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

Sometimes I have to poop

Posted by: Hi on January 14, 2008 at 12:16 PM | PERMALINK

Entrapment is a non-starter too. Its to protect innocent citizens from being tempted into crime. Someone who is predisposed to commit the crime cannot claim entrapment, even if the police intentionally help the defendant to break the law.
Even if Gomez has evidence the police intentionally "left the door open", he'd stil lose in court. Someone who is in jail and has already tried to break out is, I would suggest, already predisposed to commit the crime of breaking out of jail.

As an aside, in World War II, Ireland was neutral. If either Allied or German serviceman were found on Irish soil (say from a plane crash or a shipwreck), they were interned in Irish prisons. German prisoners were kept imprisoned for the duration of the war.

However, British and American prisoners were kept in jails near the Northern Ireland frontier and it seems the jailers often forgot to lock the doors at night. Only the most lethargic of Allied prisoners were still there in the morning.

Posted by: beowulf on January 14, 2008 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

Count me among those trying to figure out how they're expecting a guy who's in jail to cough up $65,000 for his medical care.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on January 14, 2008 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

If you think this guy has a case...

I grew up in a small city in Pennsylvania. It was big news when a prisoner in the county jail hung himself. How, the sheriff was asked, did the prisoner get the rope to hang himself with? The sheriff said, "Well, the lock on the cell was broken, so we tied the door shut."

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