Stephanie Mencimer

Stephanie Mencimer

Reporter

Stephanie works in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. A Utah native and graduate of a crappy public university not worth mentioning, she has spent several years hanging out with angry white people who occasionally don tricorne hats and come to lunch meetings heavily armed.

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Stephanie covers legal affairs and domestic policy in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. She is the author of Blocking the Courthouse Door: How the Republican Party and Its Corporate Allies Are Taking Away Your Right to Sue. A contributing editor of the Washington Monthly, a former investigative reporter at the Washington Post, and a senior writer at the Washington City Paper, she was nominated for a National Magazine Award in 2004 for a Washington Monthly article about myths surrounding the medical malpractice system. In 2000, she won the Harry Chapin Media award for reporting on poverty and hunger, and her 2010 story in Mother Jones of the collapse of the welfare system in Georgia and elsewhere won a Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.

Coffee Beanery Foes Lose House

Back in March, we ran a story about Deborah Williams and Richard Welshans, a Maryland couple who alleged that they’d been defrauded by the Coffee Beanery, a national coffee franchiser.  They tried to sue to recover some of the more than $1 million they lost after opening a Coffee Beanery cafe, alleging that the company had failed to disclose the fact that most of their franchises failed within three years rather than netted $250,000 in profits, as the company officials had promised. Instead, the couple landed in mandatory arbitration hell. A private arbitrator, hired by Coffee Beanery, ruled against them and ordered them to pay Coffee Beanery more than $100,000, which included the opposing counsels’ lunch tab during the hearing.

The couple fought the decision all the way through the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which earlier this year overturned the arbitrator’s decision, paving the way for Williams and Welshans to sue the Coffee Beanery in Maryland civil court. But Welshans and Wiliams might have had a much happier ending to their story if they’d been able to access the civil justice system from the beginning, and had their complaint heard in a real court of law, with a real judge and a real jury. Instead, the failure of their franchise plus the arbitration and expensive legal battle sent them into bankruptcy. Now, they are about to lose their house. Last week, Deborah wrote to me saying that their lovely waterfront Annapolis home was going into foreclosure and they had 45 days to leave the premises. In an email she writes:

We now have nothing left to lose. We thought that if by a miracle, we should win our appeal we would finally achieve Justice. But even that was not to be. We are the first franchisee in the State of Maryland to be denied the protection of Maryland Law. I'm crying as I write this, because for the first time I realize our backs are broken and there seems to be nothing left for us. We don't know where we will go. Renting will be almost impossible, I still have not been able to find a job, and then there is the bankruptcy. As you can imagine, any landlord would determine us a high risk.

No Health Care For Registered Republicans?

The GOP seems to have no end of nutty criticism of the Democrats’ health care plans. First they had the entirely fictional “death panels.” Now, they're claiming that a reformed health care system might discriminate against Republicans. Last week, the ever-entertaining Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, mailed out a push-poll disguised as a health care "survey." Among the questions on the survey was this one:

"It has been suggested that the government could use voter registration to determine a person's political affiliation, prompting fears that GOP voters might be discriminated against for medical treatment in a Democrat-imposed health care rationing system. Does this possibility concern you?"

While it's hard to imagine that Steele will get much traction with this sort of thing, in this climate, it seems Republicans are banking on the public’s willingness to believe just about any conspiracy theory they put out there to kill off health care reform. Again.

The Unsung (And Singing) Ted Kennedy

Back in March, Sen. Ted Kennedy’s family and friends organized a private 77th birthday gala for him, appropriately held at the Kennedy Center in DC. It was a star-studded affair. Bill Cosby was master of ceremonies, and all of Kennedy's favorite Irish tenors and Broadway crooners showed up to serenade him. (Apparently, Kennedy was such a huge fan of show tunes and Irish music that his wife gave him singing lessons a few years back so he could better belt out Wild Irish Rose, a video of which was presented during the event.) President Obama made a surprise appearance as the grand finale.

I was there as part of the community gospel choir doing some back up numbers and performing the big rousing patriotic tribute to Kennedy at the end. The man who organized the choir and composed the tribute to Kennedy was the incredibly talented young African-American minister Rev. Nolan Williams, the music minister of the Metropolitan Baptist Church in DC. Kennedy and his wife Vicki had befriended Williams a few years ago after Kennedy asked Williams to accompany him on his regular visits to Walter Reed Army Medical Center to help bolster the spirits of the wounded troops.

Williams told us during one choir practice that he and Kennedy had been making these visits for several years, which was one reason Kennedy’s family had tapped Williams to choreograph the big gospel production at Kennedy's birthday party. What I found touching about the story was that Williams said Kennedy's visits to Walter Reed were never publicized. The country's most famous senator regularly went to the run-down military hospital without the cameras to show his support for the people who had fought in a war he never supported. It was an authentic expression of patriotism and seemed to say a lot about who Kennedy was and why he will be so so sorely missed in American political life.

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