My definition of whistle-blower? A plaintiff

Lawyer friends tell me that the plaintiffs who bring test cases, the suits that change laws–overturning discriminatory statutes, for instance–are often cranky, obsessional people (not debonair dinner guests at all),and the same is often true of whistle-blowers, who try, sometimes without success, to alert the world to grand-scale larcenous behavior. – David Denby, “Chasing Madoff,” The New Yorker, Sept 5, 2011

Not necessarily, Mr. Denby.

Last week news of one lawsuit got its NYT ink on my fingers — a lawsuit with a story that lays out what it means to be a whistle-blower.

My old pal Jim Dwyer, in the About New York column, tells the horrid tale of a “police officer who had accurately reported wrongdoing by his supervisors…” and who was dragged into a psychiatric unit of a city hospital “on the orders of his police bosses.”

It’s a stinking story and you’ll want to read it, especially if you are or are contemplating becoming a plaintiff.

I hope Officer Adrian Schoolcraft’s experience is on the extreme end for whistle-blowers. But how often do we read about the bad acts inflicted upon whistle-blowers by the people upon whom they’re blowing the whistle? It takes a great deal of integrity and strength to come through such an assault. Officer Schoolcraft has; and now he’s filed a federal lawsuit against the City of New York.

Jim connects Officer Schoolcraft’s case, pointing out how he was shackled to a hospital bed for six days, to the case of Abner Louima, who was also shackled to a hospital bed after being assaulted by police officers. (I worked on Abner’s ultimately successful federal lawsuit against the City and, particularly, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association.) Jim goes on to describe the politics underlying these two assaults.

Specifically without suggesting that we’re all equal in the wrongs inflicted upon us, I’d say that any plaintiff is a whistle-blower. Our complaints itemize the bad acts done to us by the people we’re accusing.

Most of us are lucky: we are not, unlike Officer Schoolcraft and Abner Louima, assaulted, badly injured and shackled to a hospital bed. (Nor do we, unlike Officer Schoolcraft, get a $7185 bill from the hospital that collaborated in depriving us of our basic human rights.)

A lot of us plaintiffs can be profoundly grateful. We get to feel mildly heroic without suffering such serious injury.

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