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Punitive damages important part of a system of civil justice

Re: Punitive damages: a system in need of reform, by Griffin B. Bell, Oct. 16.

Former U.S. Attorney Griffin B. Bell's treatment of punitive damages as a blight upon corporate

America is wrong in its bases and conclusion. Please consider the following:

1. The civil justice system is the forum in which all non-criminal matters are decided. Civil punishment is legitimate within that system and punitive damages are the element of that punishment, where warranted. When Ford Motor Co. decided that it was cheaper to pay for civil lawsuits that would follow the death of persons in Pintos that were inadequately designed, rather than recall the cars and correct the defect, that was a business decision for which no criminal charge could be brought. Punitive damages in the civil suit ensured that human suffering is addressed as more than an economic factor.

2. Punitive damages are not a system, but only an element within the justice system to be applied where appropriate. If an individual miscalculates the interest that is owed on a loan and charges too much, the person charged is entitled to reimbursement of the overcharge; if a lending institution does the same thing, it may be subject to punitive damages because the subject of interest is so basic to lending institutions and the number of customers that may be affected and have no practical remedy is very large. Granting of punitive damages, by a jury or judge, does send a message to the industry that it must be diligent in pursuit of its otherwise proper objectives. That message is sent to all who believe that they can abuse others and not just to the defendant who has to pay the punitive damages.

3. What does Mr. Bell suggest is an "in-state" business? Doesn't Exxon have gasoline franchises in Alaska? Don't Ford, General Motors, NationsBank, SouthTrust, First Union and others have offices in every state in the Southeast? If legislation limited punitive damages against "out-of-state" businesses, then all corporations would be headquartered in small states where the local legislatures could be persuaded to limit or eliminate the recovery of punitive damages.

4. Mr. Bell presumes that all parties come to civil court on an equal basis; this is hardly the case. Our large corporations have more wealth than many countries of the world, and legal staffs to match. These companies hire the best outside counsel and are more than adequately defended in actions by individuals seeking punitive damages.

5. Punitive damages cannot be awarded unless there are actual damages; and they will not be sustained in our system unless there is evidence presented of a careless attitude by the defendant in causing an injury to another.

The civil justice system works, and punitive damages have an important part in that system. Don't try to fix it as long as it does work.

David Browder Jr., Clearwater

Bad headache ahead?

Re: As party recruiter, Graham's star rises, Oct. 15.

In the article about Bob Graham running the campaign committee that raises money for the Democratic Senate candidates, there was a statement about keeping the Democrats in control while Clinton is in office to get his legislative agenda passed. It stated that a Republican Senate would be a daily headache!

We can only "hope" that it is a full-blown migraine!

Robert E. Guthrie, Largo

Gender injustice

Re: Gender injustice in the workplace, Oct. 16, by Sharon Bond.

I compliment Sharon Bond for her column. Also, I wish to point out the loss to society when gender injustice keeps the most productive spouse from working at all. My own mother was denied employment by the public school district where she lived because her husband (my father) was employed. This occurred during the '30s Depression and into World War II. Later, when my parents moved to central Florida, my mother taught third grade for 10 years, and her classes averaged the highest scores of any third grade in the state of Florida on the Sanford-Benet reading test for every one of those 10 years. What a loss to society that she was denied employment when she could have contributed so much to the betterment of society regardless of the pay or qualifications. She possessed a bachelor's degree in remedial reading, and many of her third-grade students became doctors, lawyers and other professionals. So, there's a history of injustice that may be a forerunner of Sharon Bond's column. The answer: Hire the most productive regardless of "track" and pay them accordingly.

Paul E. Weaver, Clearwater

Heredity or environment?

Charles Murray has the social engineers going ballistic again. Last year he stated that one of the major causes of illegitimacy is welfare payments to teenage girls. Now he is proposing that IQ is related to heredity and can be predictive of success (type of job) in life.

William Raspberry's response to this discussion is contained in his Oct. 18 column, Stink bombs thrown by author threaten his credibility. For various reasons, there are many groups and professionals who have a vested interest in promoting the theory that environment is the only influence on an individual's intelligence, abilities and personality. In this regard Mr. Raspberry states, "Why is he (Murray) at such pains to deny the now widely accepted view that intelligence is more or less randomly distributed?"

In contrast, U.S. News and World Report, in a recent article that critiques and disagrees with Mr. Murray's conclusions, states, "A rough consensus now exists among researchers that 40 to 70 percent of the variability in IQ among different people is due to the genes they inherit from their parents."

I understand that this subject is very sensitive. We could debate whether it should be, but it is. The articles and books on this subject will continue. I wish that national columnists like Mr. Raspberry would do some literature searches before they write emotional and confusing articles on the subject. What will the social engineers do when scientists discover, through genetic research (now underway), a gene or series of genes that are related to IQ?

Ken Kern, Palm Harbor

A "hair-raising' interpretation

Re: Court says gay rights prohibition against law, Oct. 12.

Dissenting justice William Erickson's statement Oct. 12, "The Supreme Court of the United States has never heldthat the right to participation equally in the political process is a fundamental right," is a hair-raising interpretation of constitutional law.

The religious right/fanatic fringe of the Republican Party, wrapped in a banner of family values, is coming to sound like nothing so much as a latter-day holy crusade and grand inquisition.

"Amendment 2, which would have struck down anti-discrimination ordinances in Denver, Boulder and Aspenwas written by Colorado for Family Values founder Will Perkins and approved 54 percent to 46 percent in 1992." The high court ruled the amendment "alters the political process so that a targeted class is prohibited from obtaining legislative, executive and judicial protection or redress from discrimination, absent the concept of the majority of the electorate." If anti-discrimination legislation for the protection of minorities was left to the vote of any sort of moral majority/family values electorate, there would never have been any legislation for the protection of anyone outside the members of the frontier justice mob with their hanging rope!

H. Wm. Ohman, St. Petersburg

Enough violence

Re: X-pressline, Oct. 17.

Don't we have enough violence without the Times advocating a phone-in opinion poll from the young people in this area as to whether "Schwarzenegger could terminate Jean-Claude Van Damme with his eyes closed" or if "Van Damme could kick Arnie's butt any day of the week"? Shame on the Times and the writer of this segment, who couldn't think of a topic that would be constructive or educational.

Conrad A. Polachnik, Safety Harbor

Fed up with O.J.

I am sick and tired of reading and hearing about whether poor, multimillionaire O. J. Simpson, with his horde of high-priced, hot-shot lawyers and his endless supply of money, can get a fair trial. Unfortunately it is the people _ the slain victims and their grieving families _ who are not going to get a fair trial. Plenty of news leaks have been detrimental to the prosecution's case.

I am also tired of hearing Simpson referred to as a "hero." My definition of a hero is a man of distinguished courage, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities; a person who has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal. Now, does that sound like O. J. Simpson?

Mrs. E. Egolf, Palm Harbor

A pick-me-up

How lucky we are to have a columnist like Howard Troxler. Some days when I feel down, I just pick up the paper and read his column, and all is right with the world again. His serious humor is excellent. His column should be printed in every newspaper in our great country.

Don't stop, Howard. We all need you.

F. Grant Noerenberg, Palm Harbor

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