Sometimes the little folks win
Seattle Times staff columnist
It's common wisdom that the rich and powerful get their way with the world. And little folks often get the shaft.
But here are two hopeful reminders that the balance can be tilted back the other way. Last week, a member of Seattle's establishment — a judge on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals — tried to wriggle out of paying for clear-cutting part of a city park to improve his view.
Judge Jerome Farris went to court to say that the infamous 2002 logging of Mount Baker's Colman Park was not his fault.
He told a jury that his Vietnamese gardener mistakenly clear-cut nearly an acre of the park. Farris says he told the gardener to trim the trees, not to cut more than a hundred of them to the stumps.
Farris sued his homeowner's insurer to get it to pay the $500,000 restoration bill.
But then the gardener, Duc Huynh, took the stand and told a different story. He said Farris ordered him to cut down the trees. After Huynh had felled 50 of them, Farris inspected the clear-cut and, Huynh says, told him to keep on chain sawing.
In the end, the jury had to decide whom to believe. The well-connected senior judge? Or the unknown gardener?
"They believed the gardener," said Tom Lether, an attorney for Farmers.
"They basically felt the judge knew what was going on out there all along."
The jury found Monday that the logging was no mistake, so Farris gets no coverage. He must pay the city himself (the bill's now 10 months past due.)
Or Farris could appeal — to the very court where he once served as chief judge, the Washington Court of Appeals.
He ought not to. It's way past time for this judge to pay up, to "make the city whole," as he pledged when he signed the $500,000 settlement that he's since shirked paying.
From the start, the story of Judge Lumberjack has been about privilege. About how the powerful can usually get away with anything — even an act as audacious as logging a city park to better your view.
Now 12 citizens on a jury have told him the jig is up. A judge, of all people, ought to respect that.
The other story is about one of the so-called little folks. Remember Ethel Adams, the passer-by who was nearly killed in a road-rage wreck last spring?
She was in the news in October after her insurance company — Farmers again — said she wasn't technically in an accident because the driver caused the wreck on purpose.
A public outcry, and a few threats from the state insurance commissioner, prompted the company to backtrack.
I learned yesterday that Farmers just paid Adams the maximum $2 million — money she's using to try to walk again. Also, the driver, Mike Testa, sent Adams an apology from his prison cell.
It's easy to cynically dismiss our system of politics, business and justice as rigged. But here are two unrelated cases where, in the end, the people had a say. The people said no to the powerful judge, and yes to the powerless victim.
It hardly means everything is fair and right in the world. But every little bit helps.
Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or email@example.com.
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