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Lawsuits aren't to blame for Ritchie problems

July 17, 2005|by GEORGE DRASTAL

Lost in the news of horror in London on Thursday was a small article about a group of Washington, D.C., citizens who saved a young woman.

She had been stabbed by a man who went violently mad from PCP, and if bystanders hadn't pounced on the man, she surely would be dead today.

No one questioned the motives of those bystanders. It's obvious that they took on great risk to themselves because they thought it was the right thing to do. This made me reflect on a situation closer to home, that looks different at first, but that really is similar.

In Cascade, two residents have brought a lawsuit to stop the sale of Fort Ritchie to a developer, in a deal they say cheats the taxpayer. That's why it seems strange that they are being criticized for asking the court to decide if, perhaps, you and I are getting beat up in this deal.

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So what is a lawsuit, really? We think of them as cases of John vs. Jack, in which each party has a personal stake in the outcome. But it's not always so. A lawsuit can be one where John witnesses Jack doing something Jon believes to be wrong, and since there can't be a cop watching every street, John raises his hand and asks a court to uphold the law. We don't hear much about those, for the same reasons we call those bystanders in D.C. heroes. It's risky, and it's easy to look the other way.

Quite a few people have signed a petition that starts with the reasonable statement that we're all dissatisfied with progress redeveloping the fort. I'd sign that too.

But the petition ends by blaming the delay on the lawsuit (and implicitly, on another earlier lawsuit based on different claims). That's wrong. Wrong, because factually there are a hundred overriding reasons why the fort has not been redeveloped. Wrong, because it is nobody else's business to say that these people are not entitled to their day in court.

Both of the people bringing suit are neighbors of mine, and I would bet my new car that they have no axe to grind, unless protecting the town they live in qualifies.

They both have jobs and families to take care of, and neither one of them did this because they think it's fun. They did it because they smelled a deal to virtually give away public land with no guarantee of any public benefits. They are holding up that smelly fish for us all to inspect, even as some others say they don't smell a thing.

Before you jump on any anti-lawsuit bandwagon, consider this: One day, a lawsuit might be the only thing that stands between you and a boss who fires you because you didn't want to go out with him on a "date." A lawsuit might be the only thing that stops a greedy developer from bulldozing your house so he can make a few (million) bucks by building a shopping mall on your land.

George Drastal of cascade is a
member of the Fort Ritchie Restoration
Advisory Board, one of the five founding
members of the Cascade Committee
and one of the original members
of the One Mountain Foundation.

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