Magazine article Medical Economics

Memo from the Editor's Guest

Magazine article Medical Economics

Memo from the Editor's Guest

Article excerpt

Hear the one about the lawyer who gave a damn?

"If all the lawyers were hanged tomorrow, and their bones sold to a mah-jongg factory, we'd be freer and safer, and our taxes would be reduced by almost half."

-H.L. Mencken

Ive been feeling guilty about how much I enjoy lawyer-bashing jokes. That's because of Peter Chavkin. In a cynical age, this valiant advocate hasn't forgotten that the pursuit of justice is why he became an attorney.

Chavkin represents a New York City internist who went to prison last year because prosecutors disagreed with his medical judgment. Eight years ago, Gerald Einaugler monitored an ailing nursing-home patient for several hours before hospitalizing her. Headline-hungry prosecutors convinced a jury that the "delay" constituted criminal neglect. The patient later died.

The case received national attention. Medical leaders worry that if legitimate treatment decisions like Einaugler's can be criminalized, then every physician is at risk. Einaugler was sentenced to serve 52 weekends at the notorious Riker's Island prison. He was freed after six weekends, largely due to Peter Chavkin's tireless efforts.

Chavkin, a 45-year-old Harvard Law grad, began representing Einaugler after the initial trial. For three years, he appealed the conviction through state and federal courts. His firm has donated thousands of hours, worth about $450,000 in legal fees.

"Jerry has been financially destroyed by this case," says Chavkin. "We believe in doing pro bono work when we can help an innocent person who gets chewed up by the legal system. It usually isn't a doctor, though. And we never expected that we'd still be fighting for so long."

In 25 years of covering courts, I've never seen an attorney work harder for a client-and a non-paying one, at that. How many lawyers would accompany a client to the prison gate on the day he surrendered?

"I just had to be there with Jerry," says Chavkin, who spent the rest of that weekend pleading his case to any reporter who would listen. …

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