Friday, September 11, 2009

Local Blogger Settles Dispute With Defense Department: Hey, that's me!

The "Daily Californian" just published a description of my legal battle with the Department of Defense and how it finally got settled. Go me!

Two precedences might have been set here. The first (and most unlikely) one is that reporters who have lost money because their embeds were canceled without good reason may now be able to get their out-of-pocket costs reimbursed. And a possible second precedence that this case might have set would be that if one represents oneself against the government in a lawsuit brought about by unjust actions performed by said government, there is a very high possibility that one will get creamed completely. But, on the other hand, one just might possibly be able to wear the government down and obtain a settlement based justice, sure, but also simply on being totally annoying.
PS: Here's the latest episode of "The Jane Stillwater Show," wherein I explain how to accessorize your flak jacket. Enjoy.

PPS: Here's the article from the "Daily Californian":

Jane Stillwater, 67, grandmother, traveler, and UC Berkeley alumnus, is definitely a trendsetter. She began blogging back in 2000, before most bloggers today took to the web. "I became a blogger overnight because I was so incredibly angry when George Bush stole the 2000 election," Stillwater said. "There weren't that many of us -- I expected the FBI to come to my door any second."

Despite her age, Stillwater has spent her time traveling from country to country, including North Korea and Iran. In particular, she focuses on military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. That was how she entered into a yearlong legal debate with the U.S. Department of Defense.

Stillwater applied to embed with the U.S. Army in Iraq on Jan. 18, 2008. After her request was granted, she purchased a non-refundable airplane ticket to Kuwait, from where she would then be escorted to Iraq.

Shortly after she purchased her ticket, however, Army officials informed Stillwater that her embed mission was canceled, citing numerous reasons. "They said I couldn't go over there because it was a battlefield," she said. "But why would I want to go if it wasn't a battlefield? Then they said I didn't have a large enough readership, and I said that thousands of people read my blog."

Stillwater appealed the Army's decision, and on Feb. 12, 2008, she flew to Kuwait. "Her embed appeal was still pending, giving her the impression that her embed might still be granted," a case management statement said. Upon landing, Stillwater learned that her embed request had been denied. She spent two days in the airport's Starbucks until the U.S. Embassy was able to arrange a flight home.

Stillwater decided to sue the Department of Defense for $1,780 -- the cost of the airplane ticket, 15 mocha lattes at the airport Starbucks and the pain and inconvenience she experienced while waiting -- in Alameda County's small claims court.

On Dec. 31, the United States Attorney's Office informed Stillwater that her lawsuit could only be heard in federal court.

"It could cost you up to $100,000 in legal fees," she said. "I was suing them for $1,780, so they dragged me kicking and screaming to federal court. I thought, as long as I'm here, I might as well relax and enjoy it." Stillwater then increased the amount of her lawsuit to $7,500, the maximum amount allowed [in small claims court] for alleged malicious persecution.

Before the lawsuit went to court, however, Stillwater entered into negotiations with the Department of Justice, which was representing the Department of Defense. "I made some offers, they made some offers and we came up with a resolution we were all happy with," she said.

After deciding on a reimbursement for the cost of Stillwater's original airplane ticket-a total of $1362.15-the order to dismiss was signed on Aug. 19. However, the settlement was not viewed as an admission of wrongdoing by the U.S. government.

"This ... compromise settlement shall not constitute an admission of liability or fault on the part of the United States, its agencies ... or employees, and is entered into by the parties for the purpose of compromising disputed claims and avoiding the expenses and risks of litigation," the official settlement said. Meanwhile, Stillwater reapplied for another embed mission in April [of 2009], but her request was denied once again because her lawsuit was still pending. "I don't know if I'll be able to re-embed or not, if this has screwed up my chances or not," she said. "But I think I'm going to have to go back to Iraq and Afghanistan to find out what's going on because it's pretty much a swamp right now."

Stillwater has more trips planned for the remainder of the year in an effort to create new content for her blog followers. "The last trip I'm going on is Antarctica in December," she said. "It's beautiful, silent and white, and it may be the last chance to get there before it freaking melts."

PPPS: NewsMax just announced that, "The post office doesn't work, so why would government healthcare?" The editors of NewsMax have obviously never lived in one of those foreign countries where mail delivery is spotty at best. And when can you ever remember your gas and electricity bills not being delivered on time?

But here's something that you will probably never hear NewsMax suggesting: "Let's give everyone in the U.S. a chance to opt for having MediCare BEFORE they turn 65."

However, NewsMax might be more than likely to suggest something like this: "Let's give all red-blooded Americans a chance to opt for having our mail delivered by the same price-gouging rich guys who run our health insurance companies. We'd soon be not only missing our mail but also paying five dollars a stamp. How patriotic is that!"

But on the other hand, while you sometimes CAN argue successfully with the government in court, J. Douglas Allen-Taylor tells us that arguing with the Republican Scream Machine is a true waste of time. “You can’t win at mud-wrestling with a pig. You’ll only get dirty, and, regardless of the outcome, the pig always loves it.”