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.

Eat Burger, Waive Right to Sue

| Thu Jan. 31, 2008 1:07 PM EST

whataburger-photo-shop.jpgMandatory arbitration agreements forcing people to give up their rights to sue are now standard fare in everything from cell phone contracts to Hooters' employment agreements. But the owner of an East Texas Whataburger has apparently taken arbitration mania to a new level. Every public entrance to the burger franchise displays a sign informing people that simply setting foot on the premises means that they are giving up their right to sue the company for any reason, even if, for instance, they get a little e coli along with their fries. Instead, customers will be forced to arbitrate their claims before the American Mediation Association, an organization that seems to consist of three lawyers in Dallas hired by the Whataburger (part of a 58-year-old fast food chain deemed a "Texas treasure" by the state legislature).

Attorney Dan Sorey spotted the sign in early January while in Kilgore investigating the scene of a motorcycle crash for a case. The Whataburger offered an ideal vantage point to study the intersection where the crash happened. Sorey says when he went in, he told a befuddled cashier that he didn't think that the arbitration notice was enforceable, that anyway he wasn't agreeing to it, and, "I need a taquito and a coffee." He says he sat down, watched some traffic, and ate his taquito. "I didn't choke, I didn't burn myself, and I didn't sue 'em," he reports. Sadly, while we suspect there is a good story behind the signs, the Whataburger franchise owner did not respond to requests for an interview. We'll just have to assume that the signs are the product of one too many late-night talk-show jokes about McDonalds' coffee lawsuits.

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They Can Sell Cigarettes, So Why Not Pot?

| Wed Jan. 30, 2008 12:52 PM EST

In one of those "only in California" stories, the AP reports that a creative owner of a nutrition center in Los Angeles has installed a 24-hour vending machine to distribute medical marijuana to the chronically ill.

"Convenient access, lower prices, safety, anonymity," inventor and owner Vincent Mehdizadeh said, extolling the benefits of the machine.

 

Naturally, the feds are going to bust him...

Edwards v. Dellinger: Gossip Over The Next AG

| Mon Jan. 28, 2008 11:00 AM EST

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Since Jonathan has waded into the gossip mill over the future attorney general, I thought I'd chime in with some other, equally unsourced gossip along those lines. With rumors flying that Obama would pick John Edwards as his AG, conventional wisdom among liberal lawyers in the know is that Hillary Clinton would tap former acting Solicitor General Walter Dellinger III for the post.

Personally, I see this as far more plausible than Obama selecting Edwards, despite what Bob Novak says. After all, Edwards has never been a prosecutor, which is a basic pre-req for anyone hoping to get confirmed by the Senate. Also, the AGs job is an administrative position. Edwards is, despite his recent transformation, a plaintiffs lawyer, and good plaintiffs lawyers tend to suck big time at desk jobs. The things that make them good in a courtroom—willingness to take big risks and an unwillingness to compromise—often make them terrible at running things. (See A Civil Action.)

A Black Box for Botox?

| Thu Jan. 24, 2008 10:51 AM EST

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In a move likely to be protested by TV anchorwomen and medi-spas everywhere, the consumer group Public Citizen has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to place a black box warning label on Botox indicating that the popular anti-wrinkle treatment can be deadly. The FDA has received reports of at least 16 Botox-related deaths, including four in children under 18, as well as 180 cases of serious adverse reactions to the drug.

The adverse reactions are much worse than a few laugh lines. The botulism toxin, which smooths wrinkles by relaxing muscles, occasionally migrates far beyond the creased brow. Botox can paralyze the respiratory muscles or cause difficulty in swallowing, a problem that leads to food and liquids lodging in the lungs and causing life-threatening pneumonia.

European regulators have already widely publicized the risk, but the FDA has been slow to react, leaving Americans blissfully ignorant about the perils of vanity and doctors free to administer the drug for all sorts of unapproved uses. (The only cosmetic use of Botox approved by the FDA is for smoothing wrinkles between the eyebrows.) While the new FDA data are striking, didn't we all sort of know, deep down, that paralyzing your face with a deadly poison was probably a bad idea? Here's hoping that Public Citizen helps make wrinkles fashionable again.


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