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Out on a limb

Local editorials

State arguments against a damage suit leave something to be desired

It's not every day this newspaper finds itself in agreement with radio talk-show host Lars Larson, but we can't help but side with him on this one.

Yes, Lars, the Oregon Department of Transportation has some serious explaining to do about the tree that destroyed a studio on Zoe Barclay's Ashland property. They're explaining, all right, but we don't buy it.

It seems Barclay told state officials repeatedly for three years that a cottonwood tree on ODOT right of way along Interstate 5 was weak and needed to be removed. ODOT finally examined the tree in October 2001 and planned to take it down that December. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other ideas.

A windstorm in November 2001 toppled the tree onto a studio on Barclay's adjoining property. Now she's suing the state for damages.

It's the state's response to that suit that got Larson fired up, and we can't blame him.

— State attorneys argue that Barclay assumed the risks associated with falling trees by moving to or purchasing property where she did. Furthermore, the state argues that Barclay is at fault because she failed to move the building or its contents.


Let's make it clear that we are not out to bash the state attorneys making these arguments. They're just doing their job ' defending their client, the state, against a lawsuit.

But it's this kind of case and these kinds of arguments that give government a bad name. If Barclay were suing a private landowner under the same circumstances, would the defendant pay an attorney to draw up such ludicrous arguments?

No, he'd probably settle the case quietly, because it would be cheaper in the long run, especially if he went to trial and lost.

But the state doesn't have to weigh those considerations. The Justice Department pays its staff attorneys whether they work on this case or on another one.

From the state's point of view, defending against the suit on the chance it may win and save the entire judgment makes sense.

It's the arguments that don't.

Giving something back

One could hardly blame Tom Sweeney if he held a healthy dislike for hospitals.

The Medford police officer experienced the tragic death of both of his infant daughters at Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland from a rare metabolic disorder. They had been rushed to the hospital at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, but to no avail.

Some might have sunk into the depths of despair at the loss. But Sweeney and his wife, Jaymey, decided to give something back to the hospital, working through Cops for Kids, a police organization that raises money for the hospital.

Tom Sweeney discovered Cops for Kids in 1999 and introduced the fund-raising program to the Medford police and later to the Jackson County Sheriff's Department. Over the past three years the two agencies have raised &

36;5,000 for the children's hospital.

Sweeney is getting the fund-raising effort under way for this year. It will include penny drives at Roosevelt and possibly Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln elementary schools.

Sweeney received an outstanding achievement award this year from the department for his work with Cops for Kids and for the Children's Miracle Network, which he previously organized at the department.

It's people like Tom Sweeney who make this community a great place to live.