How do you say “Sue!” in Spanish?
October 1, 2009

The day of the funeral, we just watched Anais Cruz from a distance, cried for her, hurt for her, as she walked into the service.  I wanted to take the cameras away, to allow her the privacy she deserves as she deals with the profound and bottomless grief of losing a child.  But the school yard stabbing at Coral Gables High that killed her son is legitimate and important news.

So now when notice came into the newsroom that Anais Cruz would be speaking in public for the first (and only) time, of course we’re covering that.  But when the cameras arrive, Cruz is seated in a law firm’s conference room, flanked by personal injury attorneys who announce “Lawsuit”.

Lawsuit?       

Yes, lawsuit.  The accusation is negligence:  “The School board has not provided safe premises for kids to learn and be on their property,” said the lawyer.  

No one mentioned suing the boy who decided to bring a switchblade to school.  No one mentioned suing a society that allows kids to marinate in a culture of violence until the thought of stabbing a school rival is an actual viable option. 

I have some questions.  How did Anais Cruz decide to sue?   This is a citizen of Cuba, who sent (or at least allowed) her son to live in South Florida, to be looked after by his abuela, be educated in the public school system.  Miami-Dade’s school superintendent and a U.S. congresswoman paved the way for her trip to South Florida, helped obtain her emergency humanitarian visa. She can stay as long as she needs, as long as it takes for the trial of the teen accused of killing her son.

How did she know which lawyer to hire?  As it happens, the firm representing her has, for years, called newsrooms with some regularity.  They announce lawsuits they’ve filed and multi-million dollar judgments they’ve won for their victim clients.  (They do not call news conferences when those judgments are overturned by higher courts, but that’s a subject for another time).

And we show up, we cover those announcements, because generally the stories are compelling and important to the public interest.  There have been faulty pool drains, broken locks, crimes at businesses without security.  The hurt, the wounded, the scarred, the wronged – the lawyers have them there to speak, coach them about what to say, how to say it.  We as human beings naturally react with support, with a desire to see justice done. 

“Justice” is the always the press conference focus.  And you know big justice has been done when it’s calculated by a multi-million dollar jury award (and a multi-million dollar lawyers’ fee).

The day Anais Cruz arrived from Cuba, news crews were at Miami International Airport, where she fell into the arms of her family, a gut-wrenching scene of a mother who will never get to see her son grow up, never hug him again.  Some of the more jaded reporters were already asking “Will she defect?”  Not even the most jaded thought to ask, “Will she sue?”

Cruise Control
June 19, 2008

This is a story you did not see on our newscast tonight. 

 

See whether you would have made the same judgment call:

 

This much we know to be true: a woman from Jacksonville has filed a lawsuit against a cruise line.  She alleges a fellow passenger raped her on the ship, alleges lack of security, and wants the cruise line to pay.

 

We know about the lawsuit because the attorney (who you’ve likely seen in one of her countless national television appearances) called a news conference to announce it. She brought in the woman, who was clearly on an emotional bubble, yet willing to go public. 

 

The attorney read a statement:  woman on the cruise with a friend; they’re in the disco; she orders a glass of water from the bar, she gulps it and realizes immediately it’s something other than water; friend had gone to the bathroom; a fellow cruise passenger at the disco offers to help find her; instead, he gets the woman alone, becomes forceful and assaults her.

 

The woman then read from a short statement (after news crews waited for the attorney to move her chair in up close to the woman and put her arm around her, thereby ensuring she would be in the camera shot).   The woman read about her emotional and physical pain; how her marriage has suffered; how her emotional state has confused her children; how she is financially crushed under the medical bills.

 

Questions, anyone?  Yes, plenty.

 

The woman cannot say what she drank, but she knew it didn’t taste like water.  She says she positively identified the offending passenger.  She said ship security came to her cabin after the incident.  What, if any contact did she have with the male passenger prior to the incident?  The attorney does not allow that answer.  She ends the news conference.  Just like that.

 

Another attorney, an expert on cruise ship crime, talks more broadly about lack of security on ships, statistically high numbers of crimes, lack of prosecutions, cover-ups.

 

So, does the story of the lawsuit air?

 

The attorney seems confident it will.  After all, she called a news conference.  We showed up.

 

Cruise ship crime and passenger safety are certainly legitimate concerns and deserves attention and action.   Alleged sex crime on a cruise ship is certainly what they call a sexy news story.   

 

I explained to the attorney I felt it would be unfair to air allegations against a cruise line without more vetting, details, facts and events that can be corroborated.   

 

I received a lecture about the hundreds of news conferences she has conducted, her work advocating for women.  “Fine, don’t air it,” she said.

 

By late in the afternoon, I learn there are no charges filed against that male passenger, no arrests.  The FBI will only acknowledge a “complaint”.

 

The cruise line says the woman did not report the incident while she was on the ship.  (Didn’t the woman say ship security came to her cabin after?)

 

The bigger question: Why call the cameras to make an allegation public?  Why not see the case through, then call in the cameras for the outcome, after facts, evidence and rulings are issued?

 

Maybe bad publicity is good for settlement chances?