Column: Can’t get what you want? Time to call a lawyer

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 10, 2002

Lamenting our litigious country is way too easy. For most people, lawyers are about as easy to bash as journalists; both professions have jobs that are public enough and controversial enough that almost everybody joins in the fun once in a while and takes a few shots.

I don’t want to resort to a hackneyed premise, and I don’t want to make generalizations about lawyers. I don’t want to tell lawyer jokes. And I usually don’t like shooting fish in a barrel, going for an obvious topic.

But it has struck me lately just how much people in our culture rely on the lawsuit or the threat of a lawsuit &045; as a way to settle grievances (which is no problem), to get what they want when denied through other means (which is kind of annoying) or to just plain vent anger or lay blame on somebody for their misery (which is bad).

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I’ve noticed this since I’ve started working with newspapers. Nobody has ever filed a suit against a paper I’ve worked for. But, oh boy, as soon as somebody gets mad about something, it’s the first threat they trot out. People seem to consider it the ultimate trump card. I end up waiting for them to use the &uot;S&uot; word. &uot;You won’t give me what I want?&uot; they seem to say. &uot;Alright, then I’ll sue you! Now what are you going to do, tough guy?&uot; Never mind that they have no grounds for it.

Speaking of no grounds, did you hear about this high-school cheerleader in the Twin Cities? She was caught smoking and drinking and, in accordance with the school’s policy, she was penalized and booted out of athletics for a while. As an additional punishment, she was banned from being captain of the squad. Makes sense, right?

But the parents and the girl seem to think the ban is supposed to be for one year only, and the school is banning her for two. So, they saw their chance, and they jumped right in with a lawsuit to force the school to let her be the captain of the cheerleading team.

The suit claim this punishment does serious harm to the girl because not having &uot;captain of the cheerleading squad&uot; on the resume can hurt her chances to get into a good college.

What does the kid learn? What do her classmates learn? That if something doesn’t go well for you, be as big a pain in the butt as you can until you get what you think you’re entitled to.

It was a good play by the family, because what college would turn the girl down now? They’ll get sued if they do.

Don’t get me wrong. If you’ve got a legitimate legal matter and you can’t solve it another way, the courts are their for a reason. But when we start talking about chubby guys suing McDonald’s because they fed him 10,000 Quarter Pounders with Cheese, it’s gone too far. When we get kids suing his school because they wouldn’t let him wear a Green Bay Packers jersey, it’s gone too far. Dare I say, when people are going to court to avoid having their kids hear the Pledge of Allegiance, we’re just wasting lots of people’s time.

I guess it could be worse; instead of settling our disputes with lawyers and lawsuits, we could be doing it violently. Like that gang of thugs in Chicago who, after a hit-and-run accident, pulled two guys out of the offending car and beat them to death with rocks and sticks &045; the closest thing to a biblical-style stoning you’ll see. Maybe court would have been the best place to solve that one.

Or, is being stoned to death a better fate than dealing with a lawyer?

Oh, wait, I wasn’t going to tell lawyer jokes. Sorry.

Just to clarify …

There seems to have been some confusion over that Power 96 hot-dog-eating and chocolate-milk-drinking contest at the county fair last week.

The reporter who covered the story used a little of her dry sense of humor when she wrote about the contest, and she probably shouldn’t have. People seemed to read her article and get the wrong impression of the event.

So, to clarify, from everybody I’ve talked to, and everybody Power 96 has talked to, it seems the people watching and participating in the event had a good time and harbored no bad feelings about the contests. We didn’t’ mean to convey the wrong impression.

&045;Dylan Belden

Dylan Belden is the Tribune’s managing editor. His column appears Sundays.