Saturday, December 4, 2004
This (so-far-unpublished) letter to the editor of The Clarion-Ledger about an Eric Stringfellow column came around this week in the mayor's weekly newsletter:
[verbatim from here]The letter below is from the City of Jackson's Attorney, Terry Wallace. He wrote this letter to the editor of the Clarion Ledger in response to a column written by Eric Stringfellow. We thought we would share this because it contains information that you will never read in the paper or see on TV.
November 30, 2004
Attn: David Hampton, Editor
Post Office Box 40
Jackson, Mississippi 39205
Dear Mr. Hampton:
The column appearing in the Sunday, November 14, 2004, editorial of the Clarion-Ledger by Eric Stringfellow was incorrect and intentionally misleading. The Office of the City Attorney handles over 3,000 administrative and transactional matters per year, and performs a variety of functions in the representation of the City of Jackson, Mayor, City Council, and city departments and boards. The Legal Department also manages an active litigation docket of nearly 200 cases on a constant basis, and has prevailed in a vast majority of these cases. Defending lawsuits, which comprises a major portion of our work, results in an average of over thirty (30) closed cases each year. These closed cases account for numerous victories and settlements, as well as a few losses.
Mr. Stringfellow appears to base his distorted opinion solely on the number of cases where the City received inflated adverse verdicts that the Clarion-Ledger chose to write about. Based on this narrow focus, Mr. Stringfellow has grossly misjudged the quality of the Jackson Legal Department and totally misrepresented the facts. In reading his column, one is left with the impression that the City Legal Department has handled only five or six cases for the seven-year period covering 1998-2004 (the period from which Stringfellow drew his case list) and lost all of them. This is simply not true.
There was absolutely no effort made to seek the total number of cases handled, or successfully defended by the Legal Department, before writing his highly critical and defamatory statements about the City Attorney and the legal staff. Otherwise, Mr. Stringfellow would have realized that his statement that the City loses more cases is false and unfounded.
Likewise, there was absolutely no attempt by Mr. Stringfellow to conduct basic follow-up inquiries in order to obtain the final results in many instances. For example, Mr. Stringfellow cites a $1.5 million wrongful arrest verdict in 2002. However, he failed to mention that this verdict was reduced to $15,000 after appropriate post-trial motions submitted by the City, and is set for retrial on damages pending further appeal. In another case, Mr. Stringfellow refers to a $250,000 judgment and pointedly states that the City failed to timely file an appeal. This case arose out of an accident where the plaintiff suffered serious and costly injuries at the Sonny Guy Municipal Golf Course. Again, he failed to mention that the case was, in fact, appealed, and that the parties reached a settlement while the case was pending appeal at the Mississippi State Supreme Court.
When Mr. Stringfellow finally credits the Legal Department for prevailing in a case (when the City Attorney presented the Court with a convincing post-trial motion which resulted in a reversal of the verdict), he reports that the savings was only $150,000, when it actually amounted to a savings of $650,000. Additionally, in an effort to establish his "trend" of losses, Mr. Stringfellow referred to a $1.1 million award to an apartment complex caused by erosion of a nearby creek. However, he failed to point out that the case stemmed from a 1998 judgment that was paid the next year while the case was pending appeal. The final decision from the Mississippi State Supreme Court in 2003, brought the appeal of that case to a close.
Further, Mr. Stringfellow's report on the Urban Developers' verdict of $415,000 (not exactly the $450,000 that he reported) misstated the facts of the case wherein the jury completely exonerated Mayor Harvey Johnson, Jr. of any wrongdoing. The jury did not specify any particular set of facts that led to its verdict. Therefore, the City certainly plans to appeal the jury's verdict and we expect to be as successful on this appeal as with many of the others that Mr. Stringfellow neglected to report.
Yet, the most notable omission by Mr. Stringfellow centers around his failure to report cases where the City's Legal Department has been successful. Had he simply consulted with some of his fellow Clarion-Ledger reporters (one of whom received a list of the City's closed cases for portions of 2002-2003), he would have known that the City indeed successfully defends the vast majority of its cases. In his malicious and inciteful opinion, Mr. Stringfellow fails to prescribe any objective standard by which the City Attorney or the Legal Department is being measured. There is no municipal or county legal department compared, nor any private civil defense law firm referenced. More importantly, we are not informed of whether Stringfellow's self ascribed standard is measured by the number of total cases successfully defended, or the amount of dollars sought and awarded.
In any event, the City is ahead by both accounts. A great measure of the quality of our success is evident by the fact that the City was allowed to reduce the total amount of funds reserved in its tort claims account in 2003, much to the credit of the litigation "success rate" of the City Legal Department. The City's Legal Department has completed its defense of the City in about 225 cases which were closed between 1998-2004. From these cases, the City was sued for amounts totaling over $388,066,821.00 ($9,388,066,821.00 if we include a $9 billion lawsuit filed by one plaintiff). As a result of the Legal Department's conservative case management approach, the City of Jackson has paid out less than one percent (1%) of the demanded amounts.
cc: Mayor Harvey Johnson, Jr.
Dr. Leslie McLemore, President of the City Council
Sadly, it doesn't seem like Eric's one to let facts get in the way of a good story.
i hereby call for the impeachment of eric stringfellow.
I should emphasize that we printed the city's letter verbatim because it went out with their weekly newsletter. We're not taking a side in that one, as we don't have full information, yet. However, on the Morgan Quitno column, you know our take on that presentation of information.
Stringfellow's main crime is writing boring and preachy columns.
Now, he has had a few good columns lately. I just don't understand what it is about the CL that causes otherwise good writers suddenly go brain dead. Orley's had a few moments of rampant Liberalism/Ledgeritius as well recently. Could this be an editorial policy from Up High?
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