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6/05/05 from:


Pets, new bone of contention in US courts

Wed May 25, 9:03 AM ET

WASHINGTON (AFP) - From shared custody battles to financial awards counted in tens of thousands of dollars after an operating-table death, pet owners are multiplying US civil trials on behalf of cats, dogs and even canaries.

Earlier this month, a Seattle, Washington court said a cat devoured by a dog was worth 45,480 dollars to Paula Roemer, 71. The retiree sued her neighbor over the death of her companion of 12 years, Yofi, a black-and-white, short-haired tom cat.

The amount set a new record, over the 39,000 dollars awarded in February in California to the owner of a Labrador mix that died shortly after a veterinarian incorrectly diagnosed its disease.

The court ordered reimbursement of 9,000 dollars in medical expenses and a payment of 30,000 for the sentimental value of the dog.

In Seattle, Yofi's sentimental value also brought 30,000 dollars, atop 15,000 dollars for the emotional distress of Roemer. The 480 dollars covered the cost of cremation, said Roemer's attorney, Adam Karp.

"This is the largest (compensation) I have ever heard of involving a household cat and the highest when you consider the actual value of the animal," said Karp, who teaches animal law at two law schools.

Courts do not limit awards to acts of violence or medical errors. They also decide custody disputes of couples over the care of a house pet. Decisions have been handed down in Maryland, Texas and New York, as well as in California.

A two-year-old Boxer named Marley is proving a bone of contention in the state of Washington. Ashley Wilson sued her former boyfriend, Todd Templeton, when he rejected shared custody.

Karp, her attorney, won the case this month.

"My client got the dog, we just won," he told AFP.

Animal protection law is an area so important that about 40 universities have proposed specially tailored courses on the subject. In at least 25 of the 50 US states, an animal may be named beneficiary of a trust fund created by its owner to meet its needs should its owner pass away.

"Previously, many people were embarrassed to bring such a case because they thought people would consider them foolish, overly sentimental or they thought nobody would listen to them," Karp said.

"Often they would have trouble finding an attorney that wouldn't laugh at their case.

"Over the years, American courts have realized that we share our lives with dogs and cats," said Karp, who has handled a hundred cases.

However, no large award for the death of an animal has so far been upheld on appeal, said lawyer Richard Cupp, who teaches at Pepperdine University in California.

"If we started allowing larger damages for the death of a pet, we would end up hurting animals more that helping them," because veterinarians' insurance costs would rise, he said, and because veterinarians would practice what he called defensive medicine, as doctors do.

"Doctors perform all kind of expensive tests that don't really need to be performed because they are so afraid of being sued for malpractice," he said.

Steven Wise, a lawyer in Boston, Massachusetts, said that vets should be responsible for their errors when they bill thousands of dollars to care for an animal. The animal-rights author said veterinarians benefit financially from an owner's emotional attachment to an animal.

"The reason someone spends 500 dollars on a cat who has a market value of 10 dollars is that this person does not care about the market value," said the author of "Rattling the Cage."

In the United States, animal health care is an 18-billion-dollar industry, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.



Animals Are Being Seen as More Than Property, Ruling Says


Mary Ann Anzalone testified that since her cat Blackie was mauled to death, she has cried constantly, lost sleep, suffered headaches, gained weight and endured recurring nightmares. But no matter how deep a person’s suffering over the loss of a pet, most courts allow the aggrieved owner to recover monetary damages only for an animal’s property value.

However, in an unusual ruling, the Illinois Appellate Court this month said Anzalone may be able to claim compensation for the sentimental value of her cat.

A rottweiler killed Blackie in June 2002 at the Kragness Animal Hospital in Chicago after the dog pushed through a door left ajar and into the exercise room occupied by the cat.

A Cook County Circuit Court dismissed Anzalone’s suit for $100,000 on the ground that she failed to specify her damages. A three-judge appellate panel reversed, saying Anzalone should be able to argue for damages based on Blackie’s value to her rather than the pet’s fair market value. Anzalone v. Kragness, No. 1-04-1647 (March 7).

"I think it’s a very good decision, which basically says that animals are not property," says Ledy VanKavage, senior director of legislative services with the ASPCA in Illinois. "The animal-human bond is evolving, and this decision is a reflection of society’s changing attitudes."

Under common law, animals are considered an item of personal property, and pet owners may recover damages only for an animal’s fair market value. This view of pets as property prevails in most jurisdictions, the court said, although legal scholars specializing in animal issues consider it outdated.

But computing damages this way does not account for instances when a pet has no fair market value. The court cited a 1987 Illinois ruling, Jankoski v. Preiser Animal Hospital, 510 N.E.2d 1084, that allows damages to be based on the value of the pet to the owner, including an element of sentimental value. Jankoski did not allow an independent cause of action for loss of companionship, however.

The ASPCA says allowing sentimental value damages in a negligence suit by a pet owner is an important step in defining animals as more than property. Illinois enacted a statute, the Humane Care for Animals Act, which provides, at least in theory, for civil damages for emotional distress. But VanKavage notes the law was written only to account for "damages for injury or death of pets subjected to intentional acts of aggravated cruelty or torture."

The law did not address negligent injury. "In fact, the ruling here was broader than the legislation," VanKavage says.

It’s not clear how much money Anzalone may be awarded. The appeals court said her claim for $100,000 is excessive, but said the lower court should not have dismissed her claim because of that.

Veterinarian Craig Kragness declined to comment, and his lawyer, Edward Rampson, did not return calls requesting comment. Anzalone’s attorney, Amy Breyer, is out of the country and could not be reached.

©2005 ABA Journa


Posted 3/14/2005 11:14 PM-Updated 3/15/2005 2:44 AM
When pets die at the vet, grieving owners call lawyers
By Laura Parker, USA TODAY
The patient had dental surgery, there were complications, and he died. Now his family members are accusing the doctor of negligence and claiming that the episode caused them emotional distress.

It's a typical medical malpractice case — except in this 3-year-old dispute, the patient was a sheepdog named Lucky.

Barry Silver, the attorney for Lucky's owners, says that when the case goes to trial this year in Broward County, Fla., he intends to ask jurors to award hundreds of thousands of dollars to the dog's owners, Adam Riff and his mother, Ellen.

If Silver is successful, Lucky's case would join a series of recent court decisions that essentially have treated animals as human under the law. In a reflection of the special place that pets have come to hold in Americans' hearts, U.S. courts are bucking centuries of legal decisions that have defined animals as property.

In recent years, courts in New York, Maryland and Texas have resolved custody disputes involving pets by deciding what's best for the pet. Judges in 25 states have administered financial trusts set up in pets' names.

And as Lucky's case indicates, there has been another turn in animal law: Courts have begun to take claims of veterinary malpractice seriously.

Since 1997, courts in Kentucky and California have awarded damages to pet owners for loss of companionship, emotional distress and other factors that go beyond the way courts have long assessed animals' worth: by their market value.

That's the standard the Riffs are challenging in their lawsuit against the Welleby Veterinary Center in Broward County.

"I loved Lucky like he was my son, my little boy," says Adam Riff, 26, an Internet marketing salesman.

So for Riff, it was painful to hear an opposing lawyer's argument to a judge, during an unsuccessful attempt to get the lawsuit dismissed, that Lucky "had depreciated" in the eight years after Riff had bought him for $300.

"Like a car," Riff says.

Veterinary malpractice cases have not involved the staggering sums that can be associated with claims against doctors who treat humans.

The largest judgment in favor of a pet owner has been $39,000, which a jury in Orange County, Calif., awarded last year to Marc Bluestone.

His mutt, Shane, died of liver failure after a misdiagnosis. In a verdict that is being appealed by the vet, the jury awarded Bluestone $30,000 for the dog's "unique value" to his owner, and $9,000 for vet bills.

Treating pets like humans

Critics of such judgments sound much like those who warn that multimillion-dollar medical malpractice verdicts for human patients are driving up the cost of health care.

Richard Cupp, a Pepperdine University law professor, says that if courts routinely start to award emotional damages to pet owners, veterinary care will cost more, leading to "more suffering" among pets because "fewer pets will get sent to the vet."

He also fears the movement to treat pets more like humans under the law could lead to an avalanche of far-fetched animal rights lawsuits, such as claims on behalf of beef cattle headed for slaughter or monkeys used in medical research.

The emergence of veterinary malpractice lawsuits is driven not just by Americans' deep emotional bonds with their pets but also by advances in veterinary medicine that have raised expectations that pets will live longer.

The USA's 64 million pet owners now spend more than $18 billion a year on pet health care, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, which says that the owner of a typical American dog will spend $11,500 on the animal during its lifetime — half of it on medical care. Pet hospitals now have specialists such as cardiologists, neurologists and oncologists.

Steve Wise, a Boston lawyer who has taught animal law at Harvard Law School, notes that veterinarians who help to foster the attachment between owner and pet also benefit financially from it.

"For a vet to charge $1,000 to do a procedure on a dog who has a market value of $10, the only reason anyone would consider paying it is, they don't care what the market value is," Wise says.

Duane Flemming, a veterinarian, lawyer and past president of the American Veterinary Medical Law Association, says vets who promote the emotional bond between owner and pet are hard-pressed to go to court and claim the animal had little value.

"It's a hypocrisy to say, 'Spend more money on animals because they are worth more,' and then not be willing to award more when there's a loss," he says.

Flemming, who practices in Concord, Calif., is an ophthalmologist who says he once performed eye surgery on a one-legged duck.

"You used to go to the vet and get a bill for $20," he says. "Now you go ... and you've got an $18,000 bill. If your dog died, the only possible explanation is that someone did something wrong."

In Houston, Fritz the (late) Persian cat was a patient at an animal hospital that has so many specialists it has an entire wing for aviary care.

"They run out with a gurney and put the animal on" it, says Jeffrey Dorrell, a Houston lawyer who is suing Gulf Coast Veterinary Internists on Fritz's behalf. "It's almost theater. They deliberately raise expectations with the magnificence of their facility."

Fritz was diagnosed with pancreatitis and a cancerous mass in late 2002, the lawsuit says. Gulf Coast vets wanted to treat the pancreatitis first. Two months and many procedures later — including a failed effort to help Fritz gain weight — the tab topped $7,800, the lawsuit says. Then Fritz's owner, Jennifer Beegle, was told to take him home to die.

'Nothing to do' with fee

"The case has nothing to do with what they charged us, although my father is a retired physician, and I will tell you, you pay more to have an MRI done for your animal than what would be charged at the very finest hospital for a human being," she says.

Beegle is seeking a refund of her vet fees. At Gulf Coast, she says, "I saw grown men sobbing and pulling out three and four credit cards. Luckily, my parents had a $50,000 limit on their card. That was the first thing I was asked: What was the limit on my credit card?"

But Beegle, 36, says she would have paid more to save Fritz. She also says she wishes someone would have told her upfront that Fritz should have been put to sleep. "If he was not able to be saved, I never would have put him through this," she says. "I am suing them because he suffered. He had feelings. They will not profit off my cat's pain."

Gulf Coast's attorney, David Knight, says his clients dispute nearly all of Beegle's allegations. He says the conversation about the credit card limit never occurred.

Knight also says the vets who treated Fritz gave "appropriate care under the circumstances, consistent with the appropriate standards of care."

Dorrell, who plans to begin taking depositions this month, says he expects the case to be just as complex as a human malpractice case.

There are other parallels between veterinary malpractice and malpractice cases involving human patients.

Like doctors who treat people, vets express concern that lawsuits will drive up the cost of their malpractice insurance. So far, though, the price of vets' insurance has been stable for a decade, usually at less than $200 a month.

The parallels have not been lost on Dan Bachi, the lawyer representing vets Jeffrey Sands and John Willie in the Florida case involving Lucky the sheepdog.

"If society is at a point where we need to limit damages to people, should we as a society be awarding money for the loss of pets?" Bachi asks.

"And where do you draw the line? Is it dogs, cats? Is it horses? Is it frogs? Is it my pet snake?"

Other big cases

Courts have seriously considered veterinary malpractice cases only in the past few years. Besides the $39,000 judgment awarded to Bluestone in Orange County, two decisions stand out:

• In 1997, a Kentucky jury awarded $15,000 to the owner of a German shepherd, Sheba, who bled to death after surgery. The jury was instructed that the dog could have an intrinsic value beyond its market value, much like an heirloom.

• In 2000, a judge in Costa Mesa, Calif., awarded almost $28,000 in general and other damages to a woman whose Rottweiler, Lonnie, had to have its teeth capped after a bungled dental surgery.

Bluestone may hold the record for an award in a vet malpractice case, but he has spent more than $350,000 taking it to court.

"Any sane attorney would not take veterinary malpractice cases," Silver says. "You spend a long time and a lot of money, and you get nothing back." He says he supports animal rights and takes such cases in order to represent "those who can't speak for themselves."

Bachi says the case is "a significant endeavor financially and emotionally" for the vets.

So why don't the warring parties in Lucky's case find a way to settle?

"These doctors worked hard to save this animal," Bachi says. "They feel victimized by this. They feel falsely accused."

The vets want a jury to decide whether their work fell below accepted standards of care. They say Lucky died from a pre-existing condition that went undiagnosed.

Adam Riff says he has spent $10,000 on the case. His lawsuit alleges that Willie was "defensive and indignant" when the Riffs asked him what went wrong with the anesthesia. Riff says that rather than continue to treat Lucky — who was in an oxygen tent after the dental surgery — Willie sent the Riffs and Lucky to an animal emergency center because it was closing time at Welleby, "and the next day was (Willie's) day off."

Riff says that "if he had just told us what happened and said, 'I'm sorry, forgive me, it was an accident,' we wouldn't be doing this."

While this certainly 'sounds' real good, the fact is that veterinarians are currently not legally liable for the damage that they cause . . . given the date of the below item (9/15/02), there's not been very much  progress made on behalf of the ANIMALS, but only on "slicker" cover-ups by both veterinarians and the drug companies to avoid  any accountability, responsibility and/or liability for the damage/death they are directly responsible for causing.

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way it's animals are treated.            -- Mohandas Gandhi

For a veterinarian to know when something has "gone wrong", whether it's a mistake, an unexpected/unanticipated reaction and/or outcome, and then to continue to lie, deny and/or cover it up, for themselves, to themselves or on behalf of a 'colleague', is totally unacceptable.  "Mistakes" can and do happen, but how one deals with the results is the true mark of the real caliber of a person, irrespective of their profession or lack of one.

Date:  9/15/2002

The human-animal bond: 

A legal liability for veterinarians?

As a society's values change, so do its laws. The bond between humans and animals continues to intensify, which has led to a trend to afford these valued creatures greater legal protections. Attorney Douglas C. Jack says this evolution in animal abuse and cruelty laws will have serious implications for the practice of veterinary medicine in the coming years.

The lecture was one in a series about the law and veterinary medicine offered July 15 during the AVMA Annual Convention in Nashville.

Jack, a member of the American Veterinary Medical Law Association, explained that abuse laws in America and Canada currently recognize animals as property dependent on people for basic care. Criminal offenses against animals are categorized either as misdemeanors or as felonies, with felonies carrying stiffer penalties than misdemeanors. Animal abuse in most jurisdictions is classified as a misdemeanor, Jack pointed out.

But efforts are under way in a number of state legislatures and city councils to change this. Civil and criminal codes pertaining to animals "are evolving as we speak," Jack said, adding that some cities, such as Boulder, Colo., have amended their ordinances to redefine pet owners as "pet guardians" to codify the special relationship people share with their pets.

Many states have attempted to toughen their animal abuse laws by imposing greater fines and longer imprisonment terms.  Fifteen states, according to Jack, now characterize animal abuse and cruelty as felonies for persons found to have intentionally caused injury or death to an animal.

In addition, courts are recognizing that people can suffer emotional distress as a result of negligence or cruelty that causes the death of a pet, and are awarding higher damages.  Tennessee and Maryland have placed caps on damages that can be recovered from the loss of a pet.  But these capped awards can still be costly.  For instance, a law pending in the Michigan legislature has a $250,000.00 limit.

Jack believes the writing is on the wall however, and veterinarians will find themselves confronted with increased levels of exposure to liability. "I think we're on a course for increased liability for pets," he said.

Jack cited the growing consensus that animals are a "special" form of property as a cause of this shift in the legal culture. Indeed, numerous surveys show many pet owners think of their animals as children. Also, society is increasingly viewing animals as sentient beings capable of feeling pain that should, therefore, be treated humanely. And finally, the health care and law enforcement professions recognize the link between cruelty to animals and domestic violence and more heinous crimes.

As these laws evolve, so, too, will the rold of veterinarians.  "Your role in society has changed," Jack said, adding that he sees the new roles as expert witness, whistle-blower, investigator, teacher, and offender or co-conspirator.

Without a doubt, the public will continue to express outrage at incidents where animals are treated inhumanely. Prosecutors will more readily call on veterinarians to testify as expert witnesses in animal abuse trials. One of the problems, however, is the lack of objective guidelines for identifying qualifying injuries sustained as a result of abuse.  Such standards were developed to aid in the recognition of battered children, Jack said, and the veterinary profession would benefit greatly from its own criteria.

Regarding the whistle-blower role, Jack expects that, as the link between animal and domestic violence become more prominent, states will start passing laws requiring veterinarians to report suspected animal abuse to child welfare services.  Minnesota and West Virginia already have such laws on the books, he said.

Jack encouraged the AVMA and state veterinary medical associations to lobby for immunity from civil liability for erroneously reporting clients as possible abusers. Massachusetts already has such a law on the books exempting veterinarians from civil or criminal liability when reports are made in good faith.

Law enforcement officials may call on practitioners to assist investigations of animal abuse, again underscoring the need for the creation of objective abuse standards. Relatedly, practitioners must keep accurate, detailed, and legible patient records with no editorial comments, because the records will almost certainly be part of any investigation, Jack added.

Veterinarians, Jack said, may also be expected to educate clients who are failing to adequately look after basic needs of the animals they own.

Finally, veterinarians may find themselves under investigation for either their own conduct or for failing to report animal abuse. Each year there are numerous allegations of animal abuse in a clinical setting, Jack noted, and certain animal rights groups are increasingly scrutinizing veterinarians' methods. Also, failing to report cases of abuse could lead prosecutors to file criminal charges against veterinarians themselves.


Date: 12/08/04
NWI Times (NorthWest Indiana)

E.C. ordered to stop paying legal fees for officials

EAST CHICAGO: Taxpayers won't have to pay charges incurred in public corruption cases until full hearing


This story ran on on Wednesday, December 8, 2004 12:21 AM CST

EAST CHICAGO -- A judge on Tuesday ordered Mayor Robert Pastrick to stop using city money to pay lawyers defending him and other local officials against public corruption allegations.

George Pabey, who is expected to win the mayor's office in a special election later this month, won a temporary restraining order to protect city taxpayers from any further expenditure of legal fees. A small army of defense lawyers has generated the fees defending Pastrick and others against a civil racketeering lawsuit and seven city officials against criminal charges.

Carmen Fernandez, an East Chicago lawyer representing Pabey, estimated the city has paid close to $2 million in such fees and more bills are expected between today and Dec. 28, when voters will elect a new mayor.

"Pastrick and (Timothy) Raykovich told me they weren't going to make any more payments, but we found out that wasn't true," Fernandez said.

Neither Pastrick nor city spokeswoman Myrna Maldonado could be reached late Tuesday for comment.

Lake Superior Court Judge William E. Davis signed a preliminary injunction Tuesday, stopping payments until a Dec. 16 hearing in his court in East Chicago.

The City Council passed an ordinance in June 2002 authorizing the payment of legal expenses incurred by elected officials accused of wrongdoing.

Since then, the U.S. attorney's office charged the following officials with misappropriation of federal money in the city's sidewalk fraud scandal: City Councilmen Frank Kollintzas, Joe De La Cruz, Randall "Blue" Artis and Adrian Santos; City Controller Edwardo Maldonado; City Parks Superintendent Jose Valdez; and former City Engineer Pedro Porras.

The government alleges they took part in a scheme to spend $24 million in public money on private driveways, patios and walkways to curry favor with voters prior to the 1999 East Chicago municipal election.

The Indiana attorney general filed a civil racketeering suit in August seeking monetary damages from the following people: Pastrick, James Fife and Timothy Raykovich, Pastrick's special assistants; Edwardo Maldonado; Kimberly Anderson, deputy controller; George Weems, finance director; and Frank Miskowski, vice president of the Board of Public Works. Kollintzas, Santos, De La Cruz, Valdez and Porras also were named as defendants.

Although Porras isn't billing the city for his legal expenses, others have. Fernandez said the bills for Kollintzas's defense team alone approach $1 million.

She said she will argue Dec. 16 those payments are illegal because the ordinance stipulates the city doesn't have to pay if the official eventually is found guilty of the wrongdoing.

Porras, Santos and Valdez pleaded guilty earlier this fall to fraud and conspiracy charges. A jury convicted Kollintzas, De La Cruz and Maldonado of misappropriation of funds. They plan lengthy appeals.

it's not corruption, it's just BIDNESS!

Good government is no substitute for self-government.
Mahatma Gandhi (1869 - 1948)

and therein lies the problem!


Advocacy Groups Blur Media Lines

Some Push Agendas By Producing Movies, Owning Newspapers

By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 6, 2004; Page A01

The Madison County Record, an Illinois weekly newspaper launched in September that bills itself as the county's legal journal, reports on one subject: the state courts in southern Illinois. A recent front page carried an assortment of stories about lawsuits against businesses. In one, a woman sought $15,000 in damages for breaking her nose at a haunted house. In another, a woman sued a restaurant for $50,000 after she hurt her teeth on a chicken breast.

Nowhere was it reported that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce created the Record as a weapon in its multimillion-dollar campaign against lawyers who file those kinds of suits.

"We wanted to educate [the people] that their county is the laughingstock of the country" because of the large number of lawsuits filed there, said Stanton D. Anderson, chief legal officer for the chamber, which is a part owner of the Record.

The chamber is one of a growing number of advocacy groups that blur the distinction between legitimate media and propaganda to promote their causes. One group has produced a made-for-TV thriller, intended for a cable network, to dramatize the danger of unprotected nuclear materials. Two lobbying consultancies have set up Web sites on politics and government that direct readers to position papers from pressure groups. The National Rifle Association, which already has a national radio show, is thinking about buying its own radio stations.

Communications scholars cringe at the notion that lobbying groups are obscuring or playing down their participation in publications and programs that push a narrow point of view. "People judge communication by its source so when you deny people full knowledge of that source of information they are losing something important about evaluating the message," said Kathleen Hall Jamison, dean of the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication.

Geneva Overholser of the University of Missouri's journalism school's Washington bureau said anything less than thorough disclosure "is deceitful and imbalanced." Otherwise, she said, citizens "don't have enough information to judge" publications or broadcasts.

Anderson said he didn't agonize over ethics when he was thrashing around last spring for a new way to bring attention to the increasing burden class action lawsuits place on companies. He was focused instead on his frustration that Madison Country's court system plays host to more class action lawsuit filings than any other country in the nation -- 106 last year alone.

His brainstorm: buy a newspaper to spotlight the county's courts. Purchasing an existing publication proved too pricey even for the chamber's Institute for Legal Reform, which spent $40 million this year to battle trial lawyers. So he and Thomas J. Donohue, the chamber's president, decided to start a newspaper from scratch.

Through a common acquaintance, Anderson met Brian Timpone, 32, co-owner of a small chain of community newspapers in Illinois. Over the summer, Timpone agreed to become the Record's publisher with the chamber as his silent benefactor. The chamber has poured about $200,000 into the 6,000-circulation broadsheet and expects to invest more, Anderson said.

The chamber hopes the Record's influence will spread beyond Madison County and help push tort reform nationally. Anderson distributes the Record to interested companies and business trade associations. Timpone sells subscriptions to law firms and companies across the nation -- some of which have cases pending in the county. The Record is also online (

Neither Anderson nor Timpone see any need for the paper to disclose in its pages that the chamber is an owner. Timpone said the chamber doesn't dictate the paper's news content and he defends the stories he runs as genuine news. He said he chose not to divulge the Record's connection to the chamber in print because "I was afraid we'd be prejudged. I thought, 'Let people judge us by our actions.' "

At the same time, Anderson doesn't conceal his pleasure at the newspaper's obsession with reporting about the filing of seemingly frivolous class action and other lawsuits. The Record even maintains a running tally of class action filings on its front page. The Record "has a point of view," conceded Anderson, who keeps a framed copy of his editorial in the Record's inaugural edition on his office wall.

Timpone admitted: "I'm a biased guy. I'm a Republican."

Depending on how well the Record performs, Anderson said, the chamber plans to launch similar newspapers in counties that the pro-business lobby considers to be problems, particularly in West Virginia.

The National Threat Initiative (NTI) is trying a different medium to get out its message: TV drama. With the MacArthur Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation, the three-year-old advocacy group co-founded by former senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) has bankrolled a one-hour movie tentatively titled "Out of the Barn." It stars former senator Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), a professional actor, as a U.S. president who confronts terrorists armed with a purloined nuclear device -- precisely the kind of scenario that the NTI pushes to prevent.

The program is fictional but was designed to open viewers' eyes to what the NTI sees as the very real danger posed by unsecured nuclear materials. An NTI official said it was Nunn's idea to make the cause more gripping by creating a drama. The show was written and directed by Ben Goddard, the media consultant who pioneered the use of commercials as a lobbying tool with "Harry and Louise." His groundbreaking TV ads were instrumental in killing President Bill Clinton's health care plan in 1994.

Long-form dramas that promote real-life issues, Goddard said, could well become the next rage in TV lobbying. "Out of the Barn," he said, is "my new Harry and Louise." NTI is negotiating with a cable network to run the program early next year, Goddard said.

At the moment, the film notes briefly in its credits that it was paid for by NTI and the foundations. However, the network that might air the show is considering adding interviews with Nunn and other NTI supporters, Goddard said. Another version of the show to be distributed free and through video stores will also include conversations with Nunn and Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), who is on NTI's board.

On the Internet, has been attracting a growing number of people who care about government and politics. This year it drew 169,000 page views a day on average, up from just 62,000 last year, according to Mark West, a senior vice president of Fairfax-based Capitol Advantage LLC, which runs the Web site. The site offers information about legislation, lawmakers and the White House. Readers can also use to e-mail federal, state and local elected officials.

At the same time, the Web site subtly provides a forum for Capitol Advantage's hundreds of lobbying clients, which range from AARP, the senior citizens' lobby, to the American Bankers Association. Under the heading "Issues and Action," readers can click on topics ranging from agriculture to women's issues. They then see a long list of action alerts written by lobbying groups and designed to persuade voters to contact government officials.

The site was established as a public service, West said. But it also "is a way of allowing advocacy groups to reach a broader audience than they'd otherwise be able to reach." It apparently has worked. The "alerts" were read more than half a million times this year, West said.

Another consultant wants to lure an even larger audience. District-based Issue Dynamics Inc. (IDI) recently formed, which bills itself as "your one source for political and public policy news." As a come-on to general-interest readers, the site carries news articles as well as "action alerts." IDI President Samuel A. Simon calls a combination "promotion-public service" because "it can benefit a lot of people and, obviously, there's commercial interest for us."

The National Rifle Association believes more lobbying groups will mimic traditional media formats or buy them outright to disseminate their viewpoints. If the NRA buys radio stations it won't bother to label them with its name. "We wouldn't need to any more than NBC needs a disclaimer that it's General Electric-produced or than ABC needs a disclaimer saying it's Disney-produced," said Wayne LaPierre Jr., the NRA's executive director.

"I hope everybody gets into the media business and, I think, many interest groups will," LaPierre said. "We have as much right to be at the table delivering news and information to the American public as anyone else does."

May my beloved partner ROMI rest in peace  - no matter wherever her bits and pieces/frozen carcass may be held hostage.

                                                        [what's in YOUR "urn" ?]

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