Lawyer steps into case where stupidity left off

December 15, 1993|By MIKE ROYKO

Any dietitian could have told Ernesto Mota that he was making a serious mistake. For that matter, any short-order cook would have told him the same thing.

But some people are just going to do what they want to do. And Ernie Mota appears to be one of them.

What happened to Ernie was this:

He was pinched for drunken driving in Oak Forest, a blue-collar Chicago suburb.

When the police got him to the station, they asked him what he had in his pockets.

It turned out that he had a plastic bag bulging with cocaine.

Ernie, 32, didn't want the cops to take the cocaine because it could be evidence against him and he could wind up in prison.

So he tried to swallow it. The cops struggled to stop him, but Ernie was quick and he managed to get a lot of the cocaine into his mouth and down to his tummy.

The cops put Ernie in a cell, where his digestive system went to work. He twitched, convulsed and generally acted whacked out. That happens when you gobble down cocaine like chocolate cake.

The town's medics were called and they barely saved Ernie's life. But he's just not the same guy he was before his coke snack. He says his vision is impaired and his brain has been damaged.

Which leads to this question: Who is at fault for Ernie's physical problems?

The question is prompted by a lawsuit that a lawyer has filed on Ernie's behalf.

Ernie and his lawyer went to federal court and sued four cops and Oak Forest for $7 million, blaming the cops and the suburb for Ernie's physical problems.

They say that when Ernie gobbled the incriminating cocaine, the cops didn't get him medical help fast enough to have his stomach pumped.

And they accuse the suburb of not training their cops properly, so when someone like Ernie eats evidence, the cops don't know that it is an emergency medical problem.

The attorneys for the village describe the suit as "absurd." That's to be expected. But it also is naive. As lawyers, they should know that when one files an absurd lawsuit, it is not absurd until the jury says so.

Only recently, a robber-thug beat up a very old man in a New York subway. When the robber ran, a cop shot and wounded him. The thug collected $2 million for his pain and suffering. The old guy who was pummeled didn't even get the cost of his glasses being repaired.

So let us consider the merits of the $7 million suit of cocaine-eater Ernie Mota.

Pretend that you are on the jury.

First, there is the question of why Ernie ate all that cocaine. Did someone stuff it down his throat, which would have been an act of real nastiness?

No. Ernie decided to eat the drugs. He gulped them down on his own because he wanted to avoid being charged with possession.

This leads us to the question of basic rights. It is the right of every American to eat what he wants. Our doctors can advise us not to eat greasy burgers, pig-snout sausage and other cholesterol-squirty foods, but finally the decision is ours. You have the right to eat your own lawn. And that is the way it should be. Unless we are eating our fellow citizens, do any of us want a cop telling us what we can dine on?

So everyone agrees that Ernie made the decision to eat his own bag of cocaine. Stupid, yes, but his right, also yes. And remember, cocaine is low in calories and cholesterol. And animal-rights advocates would agree that he wasn't hurting anything cute and cuddly.

However, any nutritionist would have told him: "Ernie, sniff in moderation, but don't pig out."

So we can probably agree that Ernie should not have eaten all that cocaine.

Next question: Was Ernie deprived of proper medical treatment?

Well, he came in alive and he's still alive. All things considered, that is not a bad deal. And had he not made the conscious decision to eat his cocaine, his vision would be better and his brain would not be addled.

Which leads us to a question about the millions that he and his lawyer are asking for his damaged brain.

If I was on a jury, I'd have to ask what his brain was worth in the first place.

On the one hand, Ernie was not a model citizen. He has a history of arrests for armed robbery, kidnapping, drunken driving and drug peddling.

That is not the mark of a very good brain. Igor, the little hunchback who was Doc Frankenstein's sidekick, would have really been chewed out for bringing in Ernie's noodle.

On the other hand, Ernie was not stupid. He came here from Mexico as an illegal immigrant and remained for many years as such. That shows smarts. Had he been in Mexico, eaten his own cocaine, then sued the Mexican cops, they would have laughed and dropped him in a dry gulch.

So here we have an illegal alien with a history of robbery, drug dealing and other crimes, asking for $7 million because he chose to boil his brains by eating his own drug stash.

And a lawyer took this case.

Which leads to the key question:

What in the heck are they teaching in law schools?

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