Benchslaps, Health Care / Medicine, Legal Ethics

Justice Accuses Colleagues Of Lying And Falsifying The Record

So much for collegiality.

When a divided state Supreme Court issued its opinion, one of the dissenters went further than registering disagreement — he wrote a scathing dissent labeling the majority “untruthful” and guilty of crafting a decision “based solely upon whom they want to win or lose” without regard for the law. This is off-the-rails stuff. And the rest of his opinion only goes further.

Well, this will make for an uncomfortable elevator ride….

Justice Daniel T. Eismann of the Idaho Supreme Court is not a happy camper. On Friday, the Idaho Supreme Court handed down a decision in Nield v. Pocatello Health Services vacating the district court opinion and remanding the case. The crux of the case is that an elderly woman had a wound, it became infected, and her foot was amputated. The plaintiff’s experts said the infection was caused by shoddy treatment. The defendant’s expert said there were alternate causes. The district court tossed the plaintiff’s experts because they didn’t explain why the defendant’s expert was most likely wrong. At that point, the defendant prevailed on summary judgment.

The majority said the expert does not need to negate all alternative theories to be admissible and said the case should move forward. Justice Eismann disagreed, claiming that the plaintiff’s expert failed to even consider what the defendant’s expert was laying down and that precedent compelled the district court’s decision.

But he didn’t phrase it that way.

Perhaps the best summation of Justice Eismann’s decision comes from fellow Justice Warren Jones:

It is with some dismay and regret that I write this separate opinion solely to respond to what I consider the scurrilous and unfounded personal attacks upon the integrity and motivations of the majority in this case, which includes me. Although I feel that such personal attacks are totally inappropriate in a judicial opinion and am torn by whether such attacks even merit or justify a response, after weeks of reflection and mixed feelings, I feel compelled at least briefly to respond…. I am sad that Justice Eismann’s dissenting opinion lowers itself to personal attacks more suited to a school yard argument among teenagers than to a professional legal discourse that should be expected in a judicial opinion.

I can certainly respect the dissenting opinion of Justice Horton, even though I disagree with its conclusion. At least it is founded on a scholarly, judicial approach to a close issue on which there is room for disagreement. Bad judges might make bad law, but at least on my part that is not the situation here. Beyond what I have said I do not feel that any further discussion of personal assertions and attacks is appropriate. Indeed, I struggled a long time to consider whether I am lowering myself to the same level as Justice Eismann by even dignifying the attacks with a response. Enough said.

So what exactly was Justice Eismann saying in his diatribe against his peers? Well the whole opinion is drenched in contempt, but the highlights kick off from the first line of his dissent:

Courts decide cases in one of two ways: (a) they apply the law to the facts and thereby arrive at the result or (b) they determine the desired result and then twist the law and/or the facts to justify it.

Spoiler alert: He thinks the majority took Option B.

There is a saying that hard cases make bad law. That saying is incorrect. It is courts that make bad law in the process of deciding cases based solely upon whom they want to win or lose. A court must have the integrity to decide cases by applying the law to the facts. By applying the law to the facts in this case, the district court reached the correct result. I would affirm.

Insulting the majority’s integrity is so hardwired into the DNA of this opinion that even the point headings throw shade:

In Order to Hold Dr. Coffman’s Opinions Inadmissible, the Majority Ignores Our Prior Precedents, Adopts an Illogical Rule that an Expert’s Opinion Cannot Be Based upon Facts Already in the Record, and Assumes the Role of Being Medical Experts.

Justice Alito is willing to physically manifest his disdain for Justice Ginsburg, but at least he plays respectful on paper. Opinions like Justice Eismann’s not only leave a permanent record of insult, but undermine the court’s credibility when the public gets to look behind the curtain and see a childish temper tantrum.

At least the rest of the members of the Idaho high court coalesced around their opposition to this opinion. Even another dissenting justice, Justice Joel Horton, felt compelled to weigh in distancing himself and giving Justice Eismann a little lesson in professional behavior at the same time:

I entirely concur with the legal reasoning contained in Justice Eismann’s dissent. I write separately because I am unable — perhaps it is more accurate to say that I am unwilling — to reach Justice Eismann’s conclusion as to our colleagues’ motives… Thus, I would characterize the majority’s description of the perceived limitations of Weeks as “mistaken” or “inaccurate,” rather than suggesting that the majority is deliberately “untruthful.”

Indeed.

The full text of the various opinions appears on the next page…

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