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President Obama will sign a government funding bill even though it blocks a widely popular District initiative. By Benjamin Freed
The District is somewhere under there. Photograph via Shutterstock.

The White House's signal that President Obama will sign a massive spending bill that keeps the government from shutting down—even though it contains several unpalatable amendments from House Republicans—effectively ends the District's hopes for legalizing marijuana. The $1.1 trillion continuing resolution includes language prohibiting the District from using its own resources to enact Initiative 71, which more than 70 prercent of city voters approved last month.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said during a Thursday afternoon press conference that while Obama does not believe Congress should overrule DC's local laws, he's not going to risk a government shutdown over one city's cannabis reform.

"[T]he Administration objects to the inclusion of ideological and special interest riders in the House bill," reads a statement of administration policy released today. The one-page document mentions several amendments, although it does not call out the anti-marijuana language placed in the bill by Representative Andy Harris, a Maryland Republican who has appointed himself DC's iron-fisted drug czar.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who previously promised Initiative 71's meddlers "the fight of their lives," has said she believes there's a loophole in the referendum, which was written with the intention of not affecting the District's budget. Because the legalization of possession of up to two ounces of cannabis and home cultivation of up to six marijuana plants for adults 21 and over does not explicitly impact DC's finances, Norton believes it could be "self-enacting."

Even if Norton's theory pans out, the reluctance of congressional Democrats or the White House to put up a fight is another kick in the teeth for DC. More sobering is that District officials and marijuana activists are resigned to a situation like this.

"I like the President, but you can never say he’s an activist President," says Council member David Grosso, the lead sponsor of a DC Council bill that would have created a regulated and taxed retail mariijuana market similar to those established by Colorado and Washington state. "To protect the District of Columbia? I don’t see it happening regardless of the issue."

Harris's meddling with Initiative 71 has sparked several Capitol Hill demonstrations from its backers, but the protests appear to be in vain, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid saying the anti-marijuana language will be difficult to remove from the negotiated bill.

Obama's reluctance to jump to the defense of Initiative 71 stings a bit more than Reid's, though. Last summer, when Harris unsuccessfully attempted to block DC's marijuana decriminalization law, the White House said the President would veto a spending bill if it contained such an amendment.

"[T]he administration strongly opposes the language in the bill preventing the District from using its own local funds to carry out locally-passed marijuana policies, which again undermines the principles of states’ rights and of District home rule," an administration policy statement read then. Perhaps it should have specified that such opposition only applied when it was politically convenient.

"I’d love to be pleasantly surprised someday," says Grosso.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Posted at 02:29 PM/ET, 12/11/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
“It’s an indictment of local media in DC.” By Harry Jaffe
Photograph of Amico by Douglas Sonders.

Laura Amico arrived in DC five years ago and saw two cities: one where more than 100 people were murdered every year, most without a shred of news coverage, and another where homicide was rare but reported on as if life actually mattered.

“I found it so hard to believe,” she says. “I decided to investigate.”

Her investigation resulted in Homicide Watch D.C., a website founded with her husband, Chris, that charts the grim details behind the District’s homicide statistics—the parents executed as their infants slept nearby, the 26-year-old woman found shot at a fire scene. Its motto: “Mark every death. Remember every victim. Follow every case.”

In four years, Homicide Watch covered 435 cases, posting photos, maps, and court documents. Friends and family mourned the deceased and defendants alike in the comments section.

Two years ago, Amico won a fellowship at Harvard and she and Chris moved to Boston, running the site—which averages a half million page views a month—with the help of interns. But when she landed a job at the Boston Globe, the couple began talking to DC outlets about taking it over. “It’s a local news site,” she says. “It shouldn’t be run from Boston.”

The Amicos estimate the annual cost of operating the site at $60,000. So far, no takers. “It’s an indictment of local media in DC,” Amico says. “It sends the message that the cases don’t matter. It’s a shame that didn’t make a difference.”

But for many faceless victims and their families, it already has.

This article appears in the December 2014 issue of Washingtonian.

Posted at 11:46 AM/ET, 12/11/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
A jailhouse interview with the man whose disclosures prompted this week's damning torture report. By Natalia Megas
John Kiriakou in the documentary Silenced. Photograph courtesy AFI Docs.

In 2007, 15-year CIA veteran John Kiriakou told an ABC News reporter that his agency had waterboarded an Al Qaeda detainee, Abu Zubaydah, whom Kiriakou was involved in capturing in 2002. His revelation confirmed to the American public the CIA’s torture program and helped spur a years-long Senate investigation and a damning, 6,000-page report, the abstract of which was released this week.

Kiriakou pleaded guilty in 2012 to disclosing classified information, including the name of a fellow CIA operative, to a New York Times reporter. In early 2013, he reported to the a federal prison in Loretto, Pennsylvania, to begin serving a 30-month sentence. Kiriakou, along with supporters that include his congressman, Virginia Democrat Jim Moran, says the real point of his prosecution was to silence him and others from talking about torture. (Kiriakou case is the subject of the documentary Silenced, which screened last summer at AFI Docs.)

Kiriakou will be transferred to home confinement for the final three months of his term in February. Earlier this month, as the Senate debated releasing its report, I went to Loretto to talk to Kiriakou about his experience in prison, his feelings about the government, and his future.

Jim Moran recently asked President Obama to pardon you, calling you an “American hero.”

Moran has gone out on a limb. He’s really done right by me. He has really been there through the whole nightmare.

What do you think was misunderstood about your case?

The most important issue is my case wasn’t about leaking [the name of a CIA operative]. It was about torture. CIA never forgave me for telling the American people that torture was part of official US government policy.

Do you think the Obama’s administration’s record is better than Bush’s?

Obama’s intelligence policy is essentially an extension of the Bush administration, but bloodier. Especially the use of drones ... I’m disappointed because the administration has turned its back on human rights. Obama has surrounded himself with true hawks.

You’ve just finished writing a new book, Doing Time Like A Spy: How the CIA Taught Me to Survive and Thrive in Prison. Can you give us a sneak peek?

Admit nothing, deny everything, make counter accusations. If calm is not to your benefit, chaos is your friend. And don’t trust anyone.

How has that helped you survive prison?

I’ve “survived and thrived” here based on my wits, by forming strategic alliances, by relying on myself, by trusting nobody. They made me appear more “seasoned,” more commanding of respect.

What challenges do you face coming out?

The biggest challenge will be finding permanent work. I recognize I’m controversial. Some companies dislike controversy. I’ll have to find a place that will fit both of us.

What do you want to do?

I’d like to sit at a desk at a think tank, think the big thoughts and write provocative articles and books. I think I can do more good with writing and speaking. I hope to speak a lot about prison reform.

What kinds of changes do you envision?

Europe makes good use of house arrests [especially for non-violent crimes]. First-time, non-violent offenders get no second chances in the US. You do hard time from the first moment. Nothing’s correctional about it.

What are your living arrangements like?

We live in open cubicles—10-by-16 made for four. There are 250 people in my unit and we have ten sinks, 11 showers, six toilets, six telephones. We stand in line for everything. Everyone is sick all the time. Overcrowding leads to short tempers and increased violence. There’s no legal effort to depopulate federal prisons.

How do the other inmates treat you?

At first, they stayed away. Thought I was a hit man.

If a movie were made about you, what would it be about?

It would focus on the fact that I’m a regular guy doing decidedly irregular things, who found himself in historic situations. If it happened to me, it could happen to anybody.

How so?

Americans didn’t understand that after 9/11 the national security state would be permanent in our lives. Certainly, reasonable people can agree to disagree on the civil liberties that we should or should not give up to remain safe. But the government has imposed a regime where we’ve lost our liberties without debate, and we’re not supposed to complain about it. Indeed, you risk an Espionage Act charge if you do.

Natalia Megas is a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications in the United States and abroad. Find her on Twitter at @NataliaMegas.

Posted at 09:46 AM/ET, 12/11/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The team is the first college basketball squad to join the protest about police conduct. By Benjamin Freed
Photograph courtesy Georgetown University.

Every member of the Georgetown men's basketball team wore a T-shirt reading "I can't breathe," during warm-ups before Wednesday night's game against Kansas, making the Hoyas the first college basketball team to join the on-court protests against the police killing of an unarmed black man in Staten Island, New York.

"I can't breathe" is the last statement made by Eric Garner, a 42-year-old who died July 17 after a New York police officer placed him in a chokehold. A coroner later determined he died due to neck compression and classified it as a homicide. Garner has been the subject of nationwide protests, including several in Washington, since last week when a grand jury declined to charge the police officer who subdued him.

The demonstrations spread to NBA courts last weekend when players including Derrick Rose, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, and the entire Los Angeles Lakers roster started wearing warm-up shirts featuring reading "I can't breathe."

Georgetown coach John Thompson III said after last night's 75-70 loss to Kansas that he and his players had been talking about it for a while.

"The emotions and feelings in the locker room are all over the place," Thompson told ESPN. "Emotions [range] from fear, to frustration, to confusion, to anger. And the reasons why every individual wanted to wear it is all over the place too. Which is probably pretty consistent with the emotions across the country right now"

Posted at 08:35 AM/ET, 12/11/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The merger was supposed to boost Corcoran students. Instead, they feel snubbed. By Benjamin Freed
Photograph via Flickr user SBC9.

The Corcoran School of Art and Design is nearly finished with its first semester under the aegis of George Washington University. While university administrators spin confidently about the merger, the Corcoran's students say it's been a bumpy—and in a few cases, financially ruinous—experience, with some students reporting difficulty in obtaining student loans, finding unexpected fees on their semesterly bills, and feeling a larger sense of being overlooked by their new university.

Kara Frame, a second-year graduate student studying new media and photojournalism, says she had a "WTF" moment when scanning her bill for the spring 2015 semester and noticing a "Corcoran Legacy General Fee" of $200. While Frame says the Corcoran levied a similar fee when it was still an independent institution, it was only paid once per academic year, instead of every semester. But more pressing on Frame's finances is the $12,000 in personal debt she accrued this year when she charged the tuition for her summer classes to her American Express card because, she says, the Corcoran's financial aid office neglected to make itself available for graduate students before the summer session began this past May.

"I’m getting calls from this debt collector," she says. "Well, I sure as hell don’t have it."

While Frame says the Corcoran College (now School, under GW's auspices), was already lurching to an administrative halt before the court order, she and her fellow 550 Corcoran students are having a "bumpy and rough" time in the GW community. Besides the now-twice-yearly legacy fee, Frame says lab fees have jumped from $450 per academic year to $700. There's also a library fee of $25 per semester, she says.

That Corcoran students are paying more than what they expected to when they matriculated appears discredit the merger's stipulation that students' costs would remain what the Corcoran announced in April, when it set tuition for the 2014-15 academic year at $31,858 for undergraduates and $1,404 per credit hour for Frame's new media graduate program. (Other graduate tracks charge $1,258 per credit hour.)

Screenshot from Kara Frame's bill for the spring 2015 semester.

The former Corcoran organization, effectively broke after 145 years, announced in February the plan to divvy up its museum and art school between the National Gallery of Art and GW. The arrangement went forward in August after a DC Superior Court judge ruled against Save the Corcoran, a group of students, staff, and faculty who tried to block the institution's dissolution. The verdict came down just one week before the start of classes, leaving GW to integrate 370 students, 21 faculty, and 28 staff from Corcoran on the fly.

Still, Corcoran legacy students say the process is far messier than it needs to be. Frame's new-media classmate, Caroline Lacey, says Corcoran students have no reliable point-of-contact to speak with about their concerns—a condition caused by GW's higher-ups not putting any Corcoran employee into an administrative, dean-like position within the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. Instead, Alan Wade, a theater professor, is serving as the Corcoran program's interim director.

"Symbolically, it says a lot to us about the way we are being integrated," Lacey tells Washingtonian. "It's critical for us to have someone in that position who understands the culture and climate of our small community. It feels like we're in this on our own, totally rogue."

Candace Smith, GW's assistant vice president for media relations, acknowledges the crunched window between the court ruling and the start of the academic calendar, but says the university has been forthcoming with the Corcoran bunch, including an invitation to freshman orientation. She also defends the merger as one that will be ultimately beneficial to the Corcoran program.

"They’re still in a small school, but it’s part of a large university," Smith says. "They have access to all these other programs. And, hey, we’re like a top university in the country, too."

However prestigious GW is, it's being lumped into a school with 25,000 other students that also has Corcoran students worried about their program's future.

"The thing with GW is that the problem they had with us in the first place, they were concerned Corcoran students wouldn't have to pay for the same things," says Lacey Irvin, a first-year graphic design student. "We're not required to take those BS liberal-arts requirement things."

Irvin feels GW is trying to churn through the current crop of Corcoran students as quickly as possible, and the school does have an obvious financial advantage to graduate them in a timely fashion. Corcoran tuition is nearly $17,000 less than the university's regular undergraduate rate of $48,700, which makes GW one of most expensive four-year colleges in the country. Current Corcoran students will pay Corcoran rates, adjusted annually, but none of the documentation on GW's admissions website suggests future applicants won't pay the full freight.

"It seems like GW isn't interested in the legacy students," Irvin says. "We're the ones who are going to be a burden on them."

Like Frame, Irvin has also had some billing problems. The student accounts office told her November 24 that she had overpaid by $840. Anticipating a refund, Irvin went Christmas shopping. But last Wednesday, the office called back, saying it had made a clerical error on her spring 2015 bill and that she actually owes an additional $1,500.

Frame says the basic problem is an absence of transparency, something that gnaws at her while she finishes up her thesis project, a documentary and photo collection about the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder on the marriages of veterans of the wars in Vietnam and Afghanistan.

"It’s upsetting we’re dealing with this when we should be focusing on finals," Frame says.

To Caroline Lacey, the first semester's unpleasantness can be summed up in GW's athletic mascot:

"All of it brings a new meaning to 'Colonials,' because that's exactly what's happening."

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Posted at 11:36 AM/ET, 12/10/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Activists say Democrats caved to Republican demands to block a ballot referendum approved by 70 percent of DC voters. By Benjamin Freed
Photograph via Shutterstock.

UPDATE, 4:50 PM: The revised rumor about the fate of Initiative 71 is that the continuing resolution Congress needs to pass will not overturn the referendum, but that it will contain language preventing the District government from creating a taxed and regulated retail marijuana market similar to Colorado and Washington state.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said at a Tuesday afternoon press conference that the final form of the bill is still being shaped, but she is clearly concerned about what might be afoot.

"I am not here to speak about rumors that I hope are not true," she said. "I continue to speak with House and Senate Democratic leaders and the White House about Republican efforts to interfere with DC’s local laws, although most of our leaders are not in the negotiations and have seen no language."

But DC Council member David Grosso, the lead sponsor of city legislation that would establish a retail pot scheme, is ready for a fight.

"Once again, it’s Congress meddling in DC’s business where they have no business doing it," says Grosso. "They don’t know what’s best for the people of the District of Columbia. I thought we had moved to a new place on the war on drugs and realized it’s a complete failure."

Grosso says that if Hill Democrats wind up caving to Republican demands about DC marijuana sales, he'll look to the White House to make good on its statements supporting local marijuana reforms, even if it means grinding the federal government to a halt over a conservative policy rider that only targets the District.

"I’d appreciate if it the President would for once stand up for the people of the District of Columbia and [say] 'no,'" Grosso says. "I think a shutdown of the government is completely okay if it protects the District of Columbia."

Original post follows.

The omnibus spending bill that needs to be passed by Thursday night in order to avoid a government shutdown is said to contain language blocking the ballot referendum District voters approved last month legalizing the possession and home cultivation of marijuana. Even though more than 70 percent of voters on November 4 said "yes" to Initiative 71, House Republicans have moved to block it from taking effect.

The bill's language is not public yet, but marijuana reformers say Senate Democrats assented to including the House's anti-marijuana language, which was first offered by Representative Andy Harris, a Maryland Republican who frequently pairs his anti-marijuana activism with his medical degree, according to the Washington Post.

Initiative 71's backers are racing to determine whether the reported bill language is for real, and promising to raise hell if it is. Adam Eidinger, who led the DC Cannabis Campaign, says Democratic leaders are caving on marijuana legalization without actually testing whether it's a dealbreaker for their Republican colleagues.

"If Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi think they would shut down the government to overturn our election, they would never do that," Eidinger tells Washingtonian just after meeting with a Reid staffer. "What are they worried about? They can easily keep the government open, without threatening this issue, but they’re letting them threaten it."

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton promised a swift defense of Initiative 71 moments after the election was called on November 4, promising that anyone who tried to block it would get the "fight of their lives." As of now, her office is officially uncertain about whether the anti-pot language is in the spending bill, but say her staff is in "constant contact" with other members of Congress and with the White House. President Obama said in July he would veto attempts to overturn DC's then-new marijuana decriminalization law. Harris attempted to block decriminalization in an appropriations bill over the summer, but the Senate did not match his language.

Eidinger hears it's a done deal.

"Norton’s office confirmed the language is in," he says.

Norton's office will not confirm to Washingtonian if it told Eidinger that. But if Initiative 71 is getting the congressional kibosh, Eidinger suggests his response will be on a global scale.

"Every major international news network covered this," he says. "What I’m saying is if you overturn an election in the nation’s capital, you can count on 1 billion people worldwide learning about this."

And while the reported language taking down Initiative 71 originates with Republicans like Harris, Eidinger says he will not spare Democrats if it turns out they agreed to include it without putting up a fight, even though DC's medical marijuana program and decriminalization law, which removed criminal penalties for possession of up to one ounce of pot, will remain intact. Cannabis reformers don't find the status quo an acceptable compromise, with no obvious political benefit for anyone.

"It’s a lose-lose for the Democrats, because they will have sold out an election in DC and they will have demoralized their own base," Eidinger says. "Because they are a party that doesn’t stand for shit."

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Posted at 12:37 PM/ET, 12/09/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The US Olympic Committee is expected to make its choice in the next two weeks. By Benjamin Freed
One of these cities will be submitted to the International Olympic Committee. Image via US Olympic Committee.

Consider yourself warned: The push to bring the Summer Olympics to Washington is kicking into high gear this week as organizers of the bid anticipate the United States Olympic Committee's decision for a 2024 bid city, pitting us against Boston, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Officially, the USOC has said it does not plan to make its pick until early 2015, but members of the Washington bid's steering committee have told Washingtonian they expect a decision in the next two weeks.

Despite the Olympics' singular ability to turn even the most progressive city activists into outraged NIMBYs, the bid's boosters are promising Washington a ton of stuff besides two weeks of international sport. Improved transportation between Washington and Baltimore! Finally tearing down RFK Stadium and erecting an Olympic stadium in its place! (With a post-Games tenant waiting in the wings.) New housing from an Olympic village that would be built in Southeast DC!

Washington's bid for the 2024 Olympics is being modeled on the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, with the DC group seeing similarities between the investment of London's East End and the potential effects of building Olympic housing and venues east of the Anacostia River. One critical detail where the Washington vision diverges from the London experience is on cost: Local Olympic hopefuls say hosting the Games here will cost between $4 billion and $5 billion; London's expenses, including significant infrastructure improvements, eventually topped $14 billion.

"This is a catalytic event for Ward 7 and Ward 8," says Jim Dinegar, the chief executive of the Greater Washington Board of Trade and one of the bid's organizers. Wizards and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, who's also the vice chairman of Washington 2024, even said "Washington, DC, needs the Olympics more than the Olympics need Washington, DC."

And don't think the Olympics would just be DC's burden. There are a lot of potential venues in the suburbs, including, perhaps, gymnastics at the University of Maryland, swimming in Arlington, equestrian sports in Fauquier County, and sailing in Annapolis.

So expect a lot of Olympic boosting over the next few weeks. Heck, the Washington 2024 group even made this new video featuring scads of local notables, national politicians, and ordinary residents endorsing the Olympic bid. The phrase "this town" is uttered no fewer than seven times. (Somebody should notify Mark Leibovich.) If you're pro-Olympics, you'll probably just join the #ThisTown gaggle unironically. But if you're against it, here's a list of folks you can blame in case Washington does get the bid:

  • Virginia Senator Tim Kaine
  • DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton
  • Virginia Senator Mark Warner
  • Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson
  • Maryland Representative Elijah Cummings
  • Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich
  • Washington Wizards guard John Wall
  • Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal
  • Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean
  • Proof chef Haidar Karoum
  • DC Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser
  • Former Senator Bob Dole
  • Ben's Chil Bowl proprietor Nizam Ali

If we missed anyone, feel free to point out their names in the comments.

Remember, though, even if you're screaming against the Olympics, the upcoming decision only determines which US city will vie against other cities around the globe, with the International Olympic Committee awarding the 2024 Games in 2017.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Social media image by Flickr user yaokcool.

Posted at 10:22 AM/ET, 12/09/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Personal-injury lawyers netted some big paydays for plaintiffs this year. Here's a look at the top 25 in our area. By Marisa M. Kashino, Caroline Cunningham, Emma Foehringer Merchant
Photo-illustration by Miles Donovan.

No. 1 — $9.5 million

Court: Prince George’s County

Case: Derrick and Yalonda Gregg v. Wang K. Koon, MD, et al.

Plaintiff’s lawyers: Giles Manley and Jason Penn of Janet, Jenner & Suggs (Pikesville, Maryland).

Defense lawyer: John Penhallegon of Cornblatt, Bennett, Penhallegon & Roberson (Towson, Maryland).

This medical-malpractice case reads like every parent’s worst nightmare. In December 2005, the plaintiffs brought their two-week-old daughter, Desirae, to Laurel Regional Hospital. The baby hadn’t been eating and seemed short of breath. The hospital ran blood tests, then discharged her and directed the parents to follow up with their pediatrician. Desirae subsequently developed meningitis and suffered permanent brain damage, resulting in cerebral palsy. The parents sued Maryland Provo-I Medical Services, the employer of Laurel’s emergency-room doctor, and the ER nurse. They argued that the hospital had delayed sharing Desirae’s bloodwork results, which showed a bacterial infection requiring immediate treatment, and that the delay caused her cerebral palsy. A jury awarded the family $9.5 million, ultimately reduced to $7.15 million because of a statutory limit on damages.

No. 2 — $5.75 million

Court: Fairfax County

Case: Bruce McLaughlin v. Shevlin Smith

Plaintiff’s lawyer: Thomas Plofchan Jr. of Westlake Legal Group (Potomac Falls).

Defense lawyers: David Hudgins and Reese Pearson of Hudgins Law Firm (Alexandria) and Joshua Hoffman of Franklin & Prokopik (Herndon).

Talk about a messy—and tragic—breakup. In 1996, plaintiff Bruce McLaughlin and his wife began divorce proceedings and a contentious custody battle. One son alleged he’d been sexually molested by McLaughlin, who was later charged with molesting all four of his kids and sentenced to 13 years in prison. McLaughlin’s case was reexamined in 2000, and an investigator determined that at least one child was coached by his mother and that none of the children had any actual memories of abuse. McLaughlin was exonerated and hired the firm Shevlin Smith to sue his trial attorneys for failing to defend him adequately. But Shevlin Smith made a critical oversight, so McLaughlin filed this legal-malpractice suit against the firm—and this time the jury was on McLaughlin’s side.

No. 3 — $3.3 million

Court: Prince George’s County

Case: Colleen Bowen et al. v. Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission et al.

Plaintiff’s lawyer: Timothy Maloney of Joseph Greenwald & Laake (Greenbelt).

Defense lawyers: Kenneth Thompson and Todd James Horn of Venable (Baltimore).

The plaintiffs sued their former employer for age discrimination after their positions in the IT department were terminated.

No. 4 — $2.475 million

Court: Arlington County

Case: Barbara Decker, personal representative of the estate of Jill T. Decker, deceased, v. Virginia Hospital Center

Plaintiff’s lawyers: William Artz and Andrew Waghorn of William E. Artz (Arlington).

Defense lawyers: Richard Nagle and Heather E. Zaug of Hancock, Daniel, Johnson & Nagle (Fairfax).

After Jill Decker died following wrist surgery at Virginia Hospital Center, her estate sued for medical malpractice and wrongful death.

No. 5 — $1.5 million

Court: Loudoun County

Case: David Brandon v. Michael Cummings

Plaintiff’s lawyers: Steven M. Frei and Matthew Perushek of Sickels Frei Mims (Fairfax).

Defense lawyer: Alicia Lehnes Summers of Michael L. Davis & Associates (Alexandria).

The defendant rear-ended the plaintiff, who said he sustained injuries that caused memory loss and fatigue.

No. 6 — $963,504

Court: Prince George’s County

Case: Melissa Satterfield v. Sara Coe

Plaintiff’s lawyers: Laura Zois and Ronald Miller Jr. of Miller & Zois (Glen Burnie).

Defense lawyer: Thomas McManus of Sasscer, Clagett & Bucher (Upper Marlboro).

The plaintiff fractured her ankle after the defendant’s car collided with her SUV. Satterfield argued that the injury ended her career as a hairdresser. Because of a statutory cap, the award was eventually reduced to $776,504.09.

No. 7 — $749,250

Court: Howard County

Case: Jane Doe v. Joseph Caudill

Plaintiff’s lawyers: Jane Santoni and Victoria Chihos of Williams & Santoni (Towson).

Defense lawyer: Steven Shemenski of James E. Crawford Jr. & Associates (Baltimore).

The defendant was found guilty of kidnapping and assaulting the plaintiff in a criminal trial, but the jury deadlocked on a second-degree rape charge. The plaintiff then brought this civil action, alleging he raped her and caused her to suffer PTSD.

$550,000 (settlement)

Court: Montgomery County

Case: Jorge Mendez and Roxana Osorio, as parents of Tania Mendez, v. China Buffet Linco

Plaintiff’s lawyer: Afshin Pishevar of Pishevar & Associates (Rockville).

Defense lawyer: Eric Hitzel of Greenspan, Hitzel & Schrader (Silver Spring).

Seven-year-old Tania Mendez was dining with her parents at China Buffet in College Park in 2012. As the girl headed toward the ice-cream machine, a server carrying a vat of soup knocked into her, dumping the steaming liquid down her side. The accident caused severe burns, and Mendez had to get skin grafts. Her parents sued for medical bills totaling $30,000, plus future expenses, as well as compensation for their daughter’s pain and suffering. After months of negotiations, China Buffet agreed to settle.

No. 9 — $514,110

Court: DC Superior Court

Case: William H. Armstrong v. Karen Thompson, David Sutkus, and United States of America

Plaintiff’s lawyer: Kevin Byrnes of the Law Office of Kevin E. Byrnes (Falls Church).

Defense lawyers: Earl N. Mayfield of the Lewis Firm (Fairfax), George Elfter of Wolk & Neuman (DC), Michael Steadman Jr. of Council Baradel (Annapolis), and Robin Meriweather of the US Attorney’s Office (DC).

Ever wonder what could happen if you gave a negative review of a colleague to his potential future employer? This lawsuit shows the worst-case scenario. Armstrong, the plaintiff, was a special agent with the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) when he was offered a job at the US Department of Agriculture. But before he could start the new gig, Thompson, the defendant, who was also employed at TIGTA, sent letters to USDA alleging that Armstrong was a liability and was being investigated by their agency. USDA subsequently rescinded Armstrong’s job offer, and he sued for defamation, emotional distress, and other claims. Thompson was unable to argue successfully that she was just doing her job by sending the letters, and the jury sided with Armstrong. (The case against the other two defendants was dismissed.)

No. 10 — $463,725

Court: DC Superior Court

Case: Vicie Burgess v. Ronald L. Anderson, MD

Plaintiff’s lawyer: John Sellinger of Greenberg & Bederman (Silver Spring).

Defense lawyer: Shadonna Hale of Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker (DC).

The plaintiff sued her ophthalmologist for medical malpractice after she lost vision in her right eye following surgery.


Court: US District Court for DC

Case: Frazier Caudle, Nikeith Goins, William James, et al. v. Metropolitan Police Department, Cathy L. Lanier, and the District of Columbia

Plaintiff’s lawyers: John Relman, Jennifer Klar, Megan Cacace, and Jia Cobb of Relman, Dane & Colfax (DC).

Defense lawyers: Kerslyn Featherstone, Stephanie Litos, and Charles Coughlin of the DC Office of the Attorney General.

This case made headlines for years as it wound its way through court. The five plaintiffs, all African-American, were undercover DC police officers when, in 2005, a white lieutenant was put in charge of their unit. The plaintiffs said he treated them differently than their white counterparts, and they sent an anonymous complaint to their commander. Soon after, the department announced that everyone in the unit would have to reapply for his or her job. The white lieutenant was ultimately allowed to keep his position while the plaintiffs were removed from the unit. They sued over discrimination and retaliation. Though claims against the department and the chief were tossed out, the suit against the city continued, and a jury awarded back pay plus attorneys’ fees.

No. 12 — $306,100

Court: Calvert County

Case: Abel Bennett and Mildred Bennett v. Gorman Wink, Brandon Wink, and GEICO

Plaintiff’s lawyer: Deborah Potter of the Jaklitsch Law Group (Upper Marlboro).

Defense lawyers: Marcia Harman of John Dahut & Associates (Silver Spring) and Rotrica Neal of Allstate Staff Counsel (Greenbelt).

The 87-year-old plaintiff tore his rotator cuff during a car crash with the defendant and, because of his age, was unable to have surgery, rendering his injury permanent, he says.

No. 13 — $275,000

Court: Prince George’s County

Case: Catherine Jones v. Marlo Furniture

Plaintiff’s lawyer: John T. Everett of Chasen Boscolo (Greenbelt).

Defense lawyer: Kimberly Limbrick of Crosswhite, Limbrick & Sinclair (Baltimore).

The plaintiff sued after falling down three stairs while shopping at Marlo Furniture, hitting her face on a dresser and sustaining black eyes as well as back and knee injuries. The award was ultimately deemed excessive, and the parties reached a confidential settlement.

No. 14 — $200,000

Court: Prince William County

Case: Caroleanne Phillips v. John Doe

Plaintiff’s lawyer: Thomas Morrison, solo practitioner (Fairfax). Defense lawyer: Lewis Morris Jr. of Michael L. Davis & Associates (Alexandria).

After getting rear-ended in a hit-and-run, the plaintiff sued State Farm for damages under her uninsured-motorist policy, which allows a policyholder to be reimbursed when the offending driver is unknown. (Her award was later capped at $100,000.)

No. 15 — $120,000

Court: DC Superior Court

Case: Elizabeth Whitlock v. Kamaljit Sethi, MD, and Washington Nephrology Associates

Plaintiff’s lawyer: John Sellinger of Greenberg & Bederman (Silver Spring).

Defense lawyers: Crystal Deese, Benjamin Salsbury, and Larry McAfee of Gleason, Flynn, Emig, Fogleman (Rockville).

Whitlock sued her doctor and his practice for prescribing a high dose of prednisone that she said resulted in infection and kidney failure.

No. 16 — $106,739

Court: Prince George’s County

Case: Alan Harrison v. Jaime Esposito, Dominique Powell, and State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company

Plaintiff’s lawyer: Michael Robinett of Simeone & Miller (DC).

Defense lawyer: William Flood III of Council Baradel (Annapolis).

The plaintiff sued after he was rear-ended and suffered permanent lower-back injuries.


Court: DC Superior Court

Case: Jacqueline Wright v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

Plaintiff’s lawyer: Michael Robinett of Simeone & Miller (DC).

Defense lawyer: Michael Guss of WMATA in-house counsel (DC).

A metro station that was allegedly too messy led to this verdict against WMATA. Wright, the plaintiff, went into the Fort Totten stop in February 2010 and stepped onto some netting that was meant to keep out birds but had fallen down eight days earlier. She claimed the netting made her slip and fall, resulting in a meniscus tear in her knee and a shoulder injury. Wright sued WMATA for putting passengers at risk by not picking up the netting and by failing to warn pedestrians. The agency argued that Wright simply neglected to watch her step, but the jury disagreed.

No. 18 — $75,000 (settlement)

Court: Fairfax County

Case: Shahnaz Khan v. Brian Hennessy

Plaintiff’s lawyer: Justin Beall of Koonz McKenney Johnson Depaolis & Lightfoot (Fairfax).

Defense lawyer: Jay Richard Goldman of Allstate Insurance (Chantilly).

Khan was driving on the Dulles Toll Road in heavy traffic when she was rear-ended by Hennessy. She sued for damages related to a rotator-cuff tear caused by the accident.

No. 19 — $68,380

Court: Howard County

Case: Gerard Butler, Shawna Fleming, and Tyler Butler v. Taylor Anne Cummings

Plaintiff’s lawyer: Nicholas Parr of the Law Office of Steven H. Heisler (Baltimore).

Defense lawyers: Linda Ham and Laverne Largie of the Law Offices of Jonathan P. Stebenne (Baltimore).

Plaintiffs were broadsided by the defendant’s vehicle. All of them claimed the collision caused neck and back injuries, and Gerard Butler said he suffered a mild traumatic brain injury.

No. 20 — $50,000 (settlement)

Court: US District Court for Maryland

Case: Amit Sharma v. Howard County; Ken Ulman, Howard County executive; et al.

Plaintiff’s lawyer: Morris Fischer, Morris E. Fischer Labor & Employment Law Firm (Silver Spring).

Defense lawyers: Gary Kuc and David Reid Moore of Howard County Office of Law (Ellicott City).

The plaintiff was a civil engineer for Howard County who claimed he was terminated for taking approved leave for a medical condition.

No. 21 — $35,150

Court: Howard County

Case: Patrick Snell v. Pradip Purushottam Amin

Plaintiff’s lawyer: Michael Silverman, solo practitioner (Columbia).

Defense lawyer: Thomas Basham of H. Barritt Peterson, Jr. & Associates (Towson).

Snell was rear-ended by the defendant’s vehicle and said he sustained neck and back injuries.

No. 22 — $30,169

Court: Howard County

Case: Peter Asaad v. Shelly Ann Schaal

Plaintiff’s lawyers: John Hermina and George Hermina of the Hermina Law Group (Laurel).

Defense lawyer: Clifford Robinson of H. Barritt Peterson, Jr. & Associates (Towson).

Asaad claimed his knee was injured after a car accident with the defendant.

No. 23 — $30,000

Court: US District Court of Maryland

Case: Aieda McCallum v. Archstone Communities

Plaintiff’s lawyers: Richard Salzman and Susan Huhta of Heller, Huron, Chertkof & Salzman (DC) and Matthew Handley of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs (DC).

Defense lawyers: Nancy Delogu and Jennifer Thomas of Littler (DC).

Archstone, a property-management company, fired McCallum, a leasing agent, after she revealed she was pregnant, and she sued for discrimination.

No. 24 — $29,761

Court: Montgomery County

Case: Getachew Demissie v. John Franklin Ghee and Carlos Pompilio Sibrian

Plaintiff’s lawyer: Timothy Capurso of Gordon Feinblatt (Baltimore).

Defense lawyers: Matthew Goodman of Simmons, Fields & Fanshaw (Timonium, Maryland) and Tracy D. Scott of Leftwich & Ludaway (DC).

The plaintiff sued over injuries brought on by a collision with the defendants’ cars.

No. 25 — $28,816

Court: Prince George’s County

Case: Shirley Williams v. Garry Savoy

Plaintiff’s lawyer: Norman Schneider of Kamerow Law Firm (Alexandria).

Defense lawyer: Alexander Williams III of Timothy Smith & Associates (Greenbelt).

Williams claimed back, head, and knee pain after the BMW she was riding in was rear-ended by the defendant’s minivan.

Posted at 01:54 PM/ET, 12/08/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
There are a lot of similarities between the HBO show and what just went down at the New Republic, and it's probably not a coincidence. By Benjamin Freed
B.J. Novak on The Newsroom. Photograph courtesy of HBO.

There's always been a lot of overlap between Journalism Twitter—sometimes pithy, but mostly navel-gazing tweets about the news industry from its practicioners—and people who watch (or hate-watch) HBO's The Newsroom. But for the past four days, the Aaron Sorkin series's plot about its fictional cable news channel's new owner, a young tech billionaire played by B.J. Novak, turned startlingly realistic with the unraveling of the New Republic over owner Chris Hughes's plans to turn the magazine into a "vertically integrated digital media company."

Sunday's episode showed us life at ACN under the regime of Novak's Lucas Pruitt, who has turned technophobic ACN into a vertically integreated digital media company now dominated by a group of recently hired bloggers who developed a celebrity-stalking app reminiscent of Gawker, circa 2007. (It also includes another unfortunately timed subplot about college-campus rape in which a news producer dismisses the word of a rape victim on the grounds her attacker was never formally charged.)

Sorkin's reference might be hoary for the digital age, but the similarities between his villain and Hughes are easy to spot. In his first appearance, Pruitt tells network president Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) he's "into disruption" and wants to turn ACN from a hard-news television network into a company that depends on crowd-sourcing and citizen journalism for its content. Hughes, upon buying the New Republic in 2012, invested part of his considerable Facebook fortune in building the magazine a new website, a new Penn Quarter office, and a bulked-up editorial staff to fulfill "the demand for long-form quality journalism," he said at the time.

Just two and a half years later, though, Hughes is charting this new course. In a Washington Post op-ed today, Hughes writes that the new New Republic—which won't come out in print again until February—will try to ape digital-native enterprises like Politico and Vox. These changes will be overseen by incoming editor Gabriel Snyder and chief executive officer Guy Vidra, who reportedly doesn't like to read anything longer than 500 words. Vidra also announced after his September hiring that his plan was to "break shit," a Silicon Valley refrain not unsurprising to hear from the Yahoo! News veteran. With last week's defenestrations of editor Franklin Foer and literary editor Leon Wieseltier, followed by a staff exodus, Vidra's pledge appears to have manifested itself.

But the onscreen disintegration of a fictional news channel aligning with the New Republic's upheaval might not be that coincidental, considering Wieseltier is one of Sorkin's paid consultants from the real-life journalism world. Wieseltier did not respond to an e-mail inquiry about whether Novak's character is inspired by his dealings with Hughes or Vidra, but the timing can't be written off. For as much as Hughes and Vidra have said they respect the New Republic's existing brand of deep-diving, essayistic journalism, their statements in the past few days drip with tech-company jargon.

"The bottom line is it’s impossible to scale print to grow our audience in order to be successful," Vidra told the New Republic's remaining staff on Friday. "It means a print piece, a piece that is long-form, travels across all sorts of platforms. We have the ability and the resources to create meaningful engagement that stems from that, so if you’re creating a long-form piece you create data visualizations that go alongside with that, create video pieces that travel with it."

For his part, Hughes has been likening the coming overhaul to a "fight" for the New Republic's soul. "We will build, we will grow, and we will succeed," he told his thinned-out staff on Friday via a Skype video link from New York. "It will only happen with your help. And I need it, but more importantly, this institution that’s been around for 100 fucking years needs it."

Novak's character is a more blatant villain who would twirl his moustache if he had any facial hair—last night's Newsroom episode ends with him killing Charlie with a heart attack-inducing tirade—than the baby-faced Hughes. Hughes hasn't racked up an actual body count, but he shares that pugilistic thirst for disruption.

Posted at 12:38 PM/ET, 12/08/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
A recap of our whiskey and fine spirits festival at Union Market's Maurice Electric Warehouse.
Photograph by Andrew Propp.

On Wednesday, December 3, guests celebrated with Washingtonian at On The Rocks, our annual whiskey and fine spirits festival, held at Union Market’s Maurice Electric Warehouse. Party-goers enjoyed spirits from Heaven Hill Distilleries, A. Smith Bowman Distillery, Lyon Distilling Company, Virginia Distillery Company, Bulleit, Beam Suntory, George Dickel Distillery, Van Gogh Imports, and more. Windows Catering provided delectable fare, including a mac and cheese bar, a slider station, fried chicken bites, and shrimp skewers.

Presenting sponsor Bentley wowed guests with its luxurious vehicles, allowing them to experience the cars from the driver's seat and pose for photos. This event would not have been possible without Bentley and our other valued partners Amaryllis, Windows Catering, Digital Lightning, MyDeejay, and Social Light.

Click through the slideshow for more photos from the event.

Participating Spirits: A.Smith Bowman Distillery, Angel's Envy, Beam Suntory, Bulleit, Catoctin Creek Distillery, George Dickel Distillery, Green Hat Gin, Heaven Hill, Lyon Distilling Company, Papa's Pilar Rum, Top of the Hill Distillery, Van Gogh Imports, Virginia Distillery Company, and WhistlePig.

Posted at 03:14 PM/ET, 12/05/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()