Disabled plaintiffs may be kept from courtroom, judges...


November 28, 2001

Disabled plaintiffs may be kept from courtroom, judges say

A divided Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that a person so disabled that he cannot understand court proceedings in his own civil case may be barred from the courtroom during the part of the trial in which jurors decide liability because his presence could prejudice the jury.

In a 5-2 ruling, the state's highest court set five conditions, saying that taken together they make a severely disabled person akin to an exhibit and that a judge must weigh that person's presence in the courtroom against the defendant's right to a fair trial.

The ruling stems from an Anne Arundel County Circuit Court case in which a 20-year-old man who had been in a vegetative state from age 11 was kept from the courtroom during his medical malpractice trial against North Arundel Hospital and three doctors.

The man, who was born disabled, was 11 when he became ill and was treated at North Arundel Hospital, then at University Hospital, from which he emerged in a vegetative state. The case was settled with University Hospital and other defendants for about $1.5 million.

Two dissenting judges said that the majority ruling could send a message that disabled litigants have a lower legal status.

Parent group supports midyear curriculum shift

A group of Anne Arundel County parents asked the state school board yesterday to proceed with a plan to change the county's middle school curriculum in the middle of the school year.

In September, the State Board of Education said all county middle school students must be taking physical education, fine arts and health education by the second semester this school year. About 8,500 children are not taking those state-required courses.

The county school board has asked that implementation of the state order be delayed until next fall.

In an 11-page memo filed yesterday, the parent group, the Coalition for Balanced Excellence in Education, said the county was not making a full effort to comply with the state requirements. The parents asked the state to step in and help the county revise its middle school program.

The state board is expected to make a decision next week.

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