Jewish World Review March 10, 2003/ 6 Adar II 5763


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Consumer Reports

Scummy Trial Lawyers Part XXXII | It would be quite possible to fill a newspaper column each week with the latest travesties of trial lawyers. One of the most cynical potential lawsuits-it was inevitable-involves the sad case of 23-year-old Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler, who died on Feb. 17 of heatstroke, leaving behind a pregnant widow. Bechler, an overweight young man struggling to make the team who used an over-the-counter diet supplement containing ephedra, had a medical history, according to medical examiner Joshua Perper, that included an enlarged heart, slight hypertension, a liver abnormality and borderline high blood pressure. The bottle of Xenadrine RFA-1 which was found in Bechler's locker afterwards has on its label a warning that consumers should consult a physician before using the product "if [y]ou are at risk, or have a family history of, or are being treated for heart disease, high blood pressure, recurrent headaches, liver, thyroid or psychiatric disease."

Enter White Plains, NY, attorney David Meiselman, who last week, according to the Washington Post, said he planned to file suit against Cytodyne Technologies, the manufacturer of the herbal supplement Bechler used. Meiselman, who didn't reveal if he was working on a pro-bono basis on behalf of Mrs. Bechler-fat chance-said: "Our position very clearly is that Steve Bechler is dead, and that ephedra killed him. We intend to get this product off the market shelves and put the manufacturer out of business... I am all for free enterprise, but a company that knowingly sells a product that kills people is no longer entrepreneurial, but predatory." This man ought to be disbarred. Like any number of legal drugs that are advertised nightly on tv that state the possible consequences of using the product, Xenadrine RFA-I also complied with FDA regulations by posting potential side effects on its bottle of tablets. Meiselman, who hasn't yet put a dollar amount on the possible lawsuit, also said he "has not considered whether he believes the Orioles are also liable for Bechler's death, saying the team has 'handled everything in the way we would want it to be handled.'"

It would be ironic if this New York lawyer, involving himself in an accidental death that occurred in Florida, did include the Orioles in litigation, since the team's owner, Peter Angelos, has made a fortune in the very same line of work. The Baltimore Sun's Mike Preston has Meiselman's number. He wrote on Feb. 28: "We live in a finger-pointing world. People want to blame McDonald's because they are obese. Lung cancer victims sue tobacco companies because they couldn't break the habit. A coal miner wins a multimillion-dollar suit against his company despite working there 20 years and knowing the risk of developing black lung disease. "Sometimes, we just need to look in the mirror.

"Since Bechler, 23, collapsed on an Orioles practice field on Feb. 16 and died of heatstroke the next morning, we've heard about possible litigation against Major League Baseball, the players union and even the Orioles, but none of them is to blame. Bechler's death should be linked to Bechler himself."


Despite the recent "downsizing" of large media companies, there's little doubt that the majority of newspapers and magazines could trim their editorial staffs by 33 percent and no one would be the wiser. You have to wonder why the New York Times, for example, has so many errors in its pages every day when the newsroom's roster is larger than the armed forces of Cameroon. Similarly, as I've noted before, it's a joke when you read a 300-word blurb in Time or Newsweek, and at the bottom, four reporters are given credit for either writing, researching or reporting the story.

Last Friday, the New York Post's Keith Kelly ran an hilarious item about a fellow named George Peper who left Time, Inc.'s Golf Magazine last year and wound up as an editor-at-large for the rival Links. Peper's first piece at his new position begins with what has to be construed as a sour-grapes shot at his former publication: "[A]lthough I loved working at Golf Magazine all those years, I had absolutely no affinity for the publication... I edited Golf Magazine, but I didn't read it. It just didn't stir me. This magazine [Links] does." But then the truth serum really kicks in, as Peper says the only complaint about his current job is his title. "I've just left a company," he writes, "Time Inc., that's really big on Editors-at-Large. At any moment, skulking up and down the corridors of Time, People, Money, Sports Illustrated, and Fortune are half a dozen of these characters. Generally, they're long-in-the-tooth types who've lost the hop on their editorial fastballs. Whether out of benevolence or fear of litigation, the company keeps them around, forgotten but not gone. They earn humongous salaries and do relatively little. It's a great gig, if you can stand the blank wall."

My friend Richard Parsons, CEO of AOLTimeWarner, has more serious problems to keep him awake at night, but he might clip Peper's note from Links, and keep it in his wallet for ammo the next time an editor at his company-who doesn't pay the bills-lobbies for extra staff, which will occur once the economy rebounds. In fact, a mass house-cleaning at the conglomerate's magazines would probably go a long way in reassuring investors that Parsons is serious about trimming the fat, both literally and figuratively, at his bloated organization.

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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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