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 the last year 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.

Supreme Court Overturns Exxon Valdez Verdict

| Wed Jun. 25, 2008 9:59 AM EDT

Exxon today has proven the benefits of the endless appeal. After spending hundreds of millions of dollars fighting the $5 billion punitive damage award handed down by an Alaska jury in 1994 for its role in the massive oil spill in Prince William Sound, Exxon today landed a major victory at the Supreme Court. In a 5-3 ruling, with Alito sitting out, the court overturned a lower court decision that had reduced the verdict to $2.5 billion, and sent the case back saying that the punitive damage award was excessive and should not exceed about $500 million, the same as the compensatory damages.

The decision strikes yet another blow against what is essentially the capital punishment of the civil justice system, in a long-running campaign by Exxon and other big companies to try to abolish these sorts of awards entirely. Punitive damages are the extra damages added to a jury verdict to punish especially egregious conduct by a civil defendant. As the former West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Richard Neely once wrote, punitive damage awards aren't given out for innocent mistakes, but are generally reserved for "really stupid defendants, really mean defendants, and really stupid defendants who could have caused a great deal of harm by their actions but who actually caused minimal harm." Punitive damages put the real teeth in the legal system, and serve as an ad-hoc form of regulation by standing as a potential deterrent to all sorts of egregious behavior. That, of course, is why business really hates them.

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A Right-to-Lifer and the GOP's Nursing Home Dilemma

| Fri Jun. 13, 2008 11:27 AM EDT

Connor_sm.jpgWhen Ken Connor was on Capitol Hill earlier this week, it was clear that people in his party deeply wish that he would go back to worrying about the unborn. The conservative Christian Republican trial lawyer had come to Washington to testify in support of a bill that would ban the use of mandatory binding arbitration clauses in nursing home contracts. Most nursing homes today, as a condition of admission, require vulnerable elderly people and their families to waive their right to sue a facility in the event of a dispute. Instead, they must take any complaints about medical malpractice or abuse to a private arbitrator, chosen and paid by the nursing home, in secret proceedings where any awards are much lower than they would be from a jury. The arbitration agreements are often buried in a stack of complicated paperwork, where in some cases, they have been signed by blind people and those suffering from Alzheimer's.

The nursing home arbitration bill is one of nearly a dozen Democratic-backed measures introduced in Congress over the past year that would ban mandatory arbitration in everything from new car contracts to meatpacking company agreements. With the backing of the powerful AARP, it's also the most likely of the lot to pass, and thus, pave the way for Congress to ban mandatory arbitration altogether. After all, if Congress deems the practice unconscionable for seniors, businesses will have a tough time arguing that it still ought to be forced on everyone else. That's why Republicans really, really don't want to vote for the nursing home bill, and one reason Connor's advocacy is making them squirm.

What If the Stimulus Bankrupts the Government?

| Wed Jun. 11, 2008 2:52 PM EDT

Dear IRS,

I am writing to ask whether I may return my 2007 stimulus payment of $89.43. I read today that this payment has contributed to a record-breaking federal budget deficit for the month of May—a whopping $166 billion—and feel that it is my patriotic duty to return my windfall to keep the bankers in Dubai from foreclosing on major American landmarks. I can survive without it, and certainly wouldn't feel good about spending the extra money knowing that my kids will still be paying interest on it well into their old age. Besides, eighty bucks won't do much for this rotten economy so you might as well keep it where it could do some good. Maybe you can use it to catch some tax cheats.

Thanks.

Even Utah Not Thrilled to See Bush

| Mon Jun. 2, 2008 10:33 AM EDT

Boy, did I get an earful from my mother this weekend! Not because I haven't come to visit lately, but because the president has. My parents live in Park City, Utah, which last week played host for a few hours to George W. Bush. When I spoke to my mom on Saturday, she was still fuming that Bush had some nerve coming to her town, mucking up traffic, forcing kids to stay out of school, scaring people with helicopters, and then sticking the local taxpayers with $30,000 in security costs, all so Bush can raise money for John McCain, who is afraid to be seen in public with him. What really irked my mom was that just two days after Memorial Day, not a second of Bush's visit involved paying a brief sympathy call to one of the many families in Utah who've lost loved ones in Iraq. Instead, Bush spent his time at the vacation manse of Mitt Romney, chatting up people who'd paid $35,000 a piece to get in the door.

My mom, admittedly a huge Hillary Clinton supporter, was practically spitting as she described how Bush and his enormous entourage that included no fewer than five military helicopters not only failed to meet a single non-donating peon during his visit, but also occupied 80 rooms at the exclusive Stein Erikson Lodge in Deer Valley, where suites even in the off-season will set you back $600 a night. The lodge is the most expensive, swanky resort in all of Park City, with twice-daily maid service, European spa offerings, four-star restaurants, and access to many mountain bike trails.

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