CRIME CITY

Stand Your Wallet

Behind the opposition to Stand Your Ground are lawyers with their hands out

Posted

If I hear more twaddle about Stand Your 
 Ground, I'm gonna hurl. It's a single sentence 
 in Florida's self-defense law that says, when attacked, you have no duty to retreat, but can shoot, stab, bludgeon, punch, kick or bite to 
save your life. Many states already have, or are adopting, similar language.

The notoriety of the phrase derives from ignorance, willful and otherwise. Stand Your Ground sets the boundary for the area in which self-defense may lawfully occur. It was not applicable in the Trayvon Martin shooting, since George Zimmerman was not standing but, according to two eyewitnesses, flat on his back. It was equally inapplicable in the prosecution of Michael Dunn, who will spend the rest of his life in prison precisely because he did not stand his ground, but instead charged Jordan Davis, killed him, then fired into a retreating vehicle. Florida law denies self-defense claims to aggressors.

So why the uproar to change the law? A peek behind the political curtain will suffice. During Stand Your Ground appearances in the capitol rotundas of Tallahassee, Columbus, Ohio and Springfield, Ill., the weeping families of the dead stood front and center before the cameras. On either side, however, were the real players, the plaintiff's bar. Conspicuously absent were prosecutors, defense attorneys and police.

Civil attorneys are not parties to prosecutions, so what's their interest? It's the second part of the Stand Your Ground law, which in Florida says: "A person who uses force as permitted … is justified in using such force and is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action."

In Stand Your Ground states, you can't sue anyone for wrongful death and civil damages who is found to have acted in self-defense. Likewise, it's nearly impossible to sue someone acquitted on the basis of self-defense.

After a loved one is killed, it's customary to call a personal injury lawyer before you call an undertaker. There's no criticism here. It's what people do. Violent death is a tragedy; it's also a business opportunity.

Let's do some market research. In Jacksonville, between 80 and 90 guys get whacked each year. A percentage of these are insured. Frequently, someone else, such as a building owner, is insured and will be sued pro forma. Liability limits for individuals are generally $100,000 and up; building policies often top $1 million. Punch some calculator keys and you can see that Jacksonville murders could potentially generate millions in awards, of which 40 percent on average goes to attorneys.

Nice business if you can get it.

In state capitals, injury attorneys speak for justice, but they lobby for money. Florida has a short, two-year statute of limitation on wrongful death claims, so in self-defense cases there's often an unholy rush, accompanied by a media hullabaloo, to pressure insurance companies to cut the check before a judge grants immunity, or a jury acquits, or the clock runs out, and the prize vanishes.

Trayvon Martin's parents received approximately $600,000, and their attorneys $400,000, from the insurer of the Twin Lakes condominium where Martin died. Had the insurance company held out until after the verdict, it would have paid nothing. If George Zimmerman receives the anticipated $5 to 10 million from his lawsuit against NBCUniversal, which doctored 911 tapes to make him appear racist, Trayvon's parents will get zip. Zimmerman was acquitted. He's got legal Teflon under the Kevlar he's wearing these days.

When personal injury attorneys, along with Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, parachuted into Tallahassee to hondle (that's a portmanteau of "hoodwink" and "handle") Gov. Rick Scott for a quick deletion of the immunity clause, he hondled them right back by appointing a blue ribbon commission and funding its months-long tour of Sunshine State. The commission — stacked, critics complained, with Stand Your Ground supporters — found, as expected, no enthusiasm for change. The only recommendation in the official report was to strengthen the law by extending self-defense lawsuit immunity to third parties.

Fascinating, is it not? If this language passes into law, bosses, landlords, lessees, friends, lovers and those inconveniently proximate to a self-defender cannot be sued for the misfortune of being insured.

Bet you didn't read that in your daily news.

To comprehend Stand Your Ground, ignore the show and look for the dough. After the media dim their lights and strike their tents, what remains is the dark struggle for money and power, with claws unsheathed and freshly sharpened, in the half-lights and shadows

Of Crime City.

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