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Steve's thoughts on court story

This was my favorite story to report on. With court stories, if you do enough research, you can often find that perfect human element to give the story some emotion. Flipping through more than a hundred civil suits in the Hennepin County District Court House was rough. The majority of the suits I paged through dealt with angry creditors who had not yet received their money from either poor or stubborn citizens ¾ nothing newsworthy in the least. Having to decipher legal jargon made it that much harder to find a story. As with any court document, the incident is written in a format that won’t make sense to you unless you have some background in law. When I first saw the court document that I would eventually write about, I didn’t know what the problem was. The front page just showed who was suing who. I noticed one person was bringing a legal suit against several large clothing companies. I thought to myself, ‘why would anyone sue a clothing company?’ After paging through 20 pages of legal jiberish, something caught my eye. I noticed one of the charges was listed as negligence for manufacturing flammable clothing. As I read a little further, I saw that someone had actually been burned when his ‘outdoor clothing’ caught fire. A burn victim was by far the best thing I had come across. When the receptionist at the desk printed out a copy of the document for me, she told me it would be $5. After paying out the ass for parking, I only had two bucks left on me. I though I was screwed, but with my smooth demeanor and a little sweet talkin’, I walked out of the building without paying a cent for the case documents.

After thoroughly going through the case report, I contacted the attorneys for the plaintiff. Apparently, lawyers can be buy folk and a little hard to track down. After several attempts at reaching the lawyers and not just their secretary, I finally caught the lead attorney in-between meetings. After drilling him on some of the essential details of the story, I found out that the plaintiff was a 7-year-old boy and the “outdoor clothes? were his pajamas. It was a sad story, but I felt as if I had struck gold. One thing that I had to understand was why the child was suing his parents. It was the father’s lighter that ended up burning young Austin, but I couldn’t believe that a boy would simply sue his parents. The attorney, Paul, explained to me through a long wind of lawyer speak that bringing charges against the parents, as well as the other corporations, Austin and his family would stand a better chance at winning the case. It was difficult to phrase it simply in the story, but as I put it:

“As a legal strategy, Austin’s attorneys are bringing charges against parents Amy and Blayne so they can have some control over which tactics the defense’s attorneys might use against them in the case. Strandness explained the goal is to make Amy and Blayne appear less at fault to the jury.?

I still think it could have been explained better, but I think I managed to get the idea across.

The path I took with the story was to tell how the corporations allegedly at fault manufactured clothing that was not in compliance with fire safety standards. With a little digging, I was able to find annual reports from Consumer Product Safety Commission. The report was full of great stuff. It gave me my statistics on the yearly total of children burned from their clothing catching fire, clothing which did not pass the flammability tests subjected to its fabrics. I thought it was a great tangent to go off on and probably the most logical one.

The perfect addition to my story would have been pictures to go along with it. If I would have met Austin, I would have liked to get a shot of him playing with his burn scars visible. Although some papers might find that in poor taste, I think it would really show readers the negative effects of buying cheap clothes that don’t meet safety standards. A second picture I would love to have is the one police must have taken of the pajamas, which caught fire. The photo of the charred and tattered remains of child’s clothing would send a strong message to parents everywhere to make sure this doesn’t happen to their kids.