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Legal Speak

The Unsung Heroes

Published April 29, 2008 1:16 PM by Tony DeWitt

This week I would like to take a moment to say hello to some people who do not know me or the local legal professionals where they work. These are the thousands of facility operators, managers, administrators, nurses and clinicians who operate nursing facilities that not only comply with the law, but go beyond the minimum standards imposed by the local state and federal regulations. They are the unsung heroes you don't see on the local news. 

"Man bites dog" - that makes news. "Facility reduces falls by 90%" - that usually doesn't make news. And that's an oversight that should be corrected.

Readers of this blog find numerous citations to the hundreds of bad things that go on in nursing homes. Residents are sexually assaulted, have their belongings stolen, and their bank accounts emptied. These stories make the news. These stories draw the attention of the media because they are so bad. So when someone talks to me about why I write about these terrible events I usually say it is because those are the stories that provide the best lessons in the law. Sure, it may rub some salt into a wound, but the illustrations are helpful to those who want to do the right thing. It is the truth of what I do.

But recently the shoe, so to speak, has been placed back on the other foot. I have recently been forced to watch a group of trial attorneys in Mississippi plead guilty to bribing a judge. It is a sad affair, a noteworthy trial attorney who forced big tobacco to the settlement table brought down by the stupid actions of the lawyer he hired. The media makes it sound as though judicial bribery is a common occurrence, and also that it only occurs with plaintiff's lawyers. I can assure you it is both rare and an equal opportunity offender when it occurs. 

No one spends three years getting a law degree only to throw it out the window by trying to bribe a judge. But with the media, perception is often reality, and so the reality for lawyers in the recent days has been that we are assumed to be driven by financial gain, motivated by greed, assume that ethics is an optional course in law school, and are generally bent on bringing down civilization as we know it.

Yet, for every lawyer that is accused of wrongdoing, there are hundreds more in the bar who are working to achieve social justice. Like the nurses and administrators who do their best for facility residents, these lawyers spend their own time and often their own money trying to help people with legal problems. 

On a regular basis, lawyers donate their time to people who cannot pay. Recently, a gentlemen had trouble with a collection agency who had sued him on a debt that was eight years old. The debt was barred by the statute of limitations, but the lawyers on the other side had left these dates off the petition so as to get a default judgment by the Court. The young man was a state employee making barely more than minimum wage. He did not have the $2000 retainer our firm requires on routine matters. So I undertook his cause without charge. I did that because it was the right thing to do, and I am far from alone in doing that.

In Cole County, Missouri alone, every year lawyers for the Legal Care project donate thousands of hours to help the indigent. Every day members of the legal profession do charitable work by representing civic associations (ballet companies, theatre groups, alumni associations, etc.) for free.

But, how would the general public know that? Unless they were members of the associations, or were married to members of the bar, they'd be uninformed because most of the time lawyers do not talk about what they do for free.

So, it occurred to me that I was guilty, with respect to nursing facilities, of always talking about the bad facilities that give bad care, and not the fine facilities that provide better patient care than anyone else in the region. And there may be some terrific lessons to be learned from those stories too.

You see, I know you're out there. I would love to hear about the facilities that exceed the standards from the people doing that exceptional work. And I will reflect their stories here. Contact me off line at and I will pass along those who are out there leading the pack.



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About this Blog

    A.L. "Tony" DeWitt, RRT, CRT, JD, FAARC
    Occupation: Attorney
    Setting: Jefferson City, Mo.
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