They laughed at local attorney Michael Abelson when he had his client hypnotized recently to try to get her to recall what happened in a head-on collision a year ago last September.
But Abelson says the opposing lawyers weren't laughing last week when he settled the case for his client, Sharon Dobbins, of 630 Hamilton St. NE., for $ 95,000 -- after winning a jury trial in U.S. District Court here based on Dobbins' testimony.
Although hypnosis is often used in criminal cases to enhance the memories of victims and witnesses, it is much less used, or needed, in civil cases. Abelson said this apparently was a first, at least in this area.
In this case, Abelson said, Dobbins and the other driver, Brian Koslow, formerly of Potomac, were both knocked out and injured severely. Neither could remember who swerved over the center line as they were driving home from work on Missouri Avenue NW.
The debris was evenly scattered, Abelson said, and while the police charged Koslow based on their initial inspection of the debris, Abelson didn't think a case could be won on that alone.
No witnesses came forward. A nurse who was driving in front of Koslow stopped when she heard the crash, but she could not tell who crossed the line.
Abelson called Dr. Mel Gravitz, a local expert in hypnosis, and started to explain. "When I started telling him about the accident, he cut me off," Abelson said. "He didn't want to know anything about it," so as not to influence Dobbins' recollections during hyponosis.
During the session, which was videotaped, Dobbins said she "saw" Koslow's car cross the divider. She also saw a young woman with dark brown hair driving a blue car near Koslow's.
"We never asked the nurse what color her car was," Abelson said. Turns out, it was blue. Her hair, however, is light brown.
Koslow's attorneys, Raymond Yost and David LaCavita, argued that hypnotically enhanced memory is not necessarily accurate. Abelson said the experts agree that hypnosis is no guarantee of the truth, that people can be convinced they are telling the truth and can lie and fool the hypnotist. "It should be corroborated with other facts," Abelson said. "Which, in this case, it was."
Judge Gerhard Gesell allowed Dobbins to testify. To do otherwise would have been to deny her right to testify merely because she had been hypnotized. However, Gesell did not permit Abelson to use the tape of the session, and he allowed Koslow's attorneys to challenge her testimony, pointing out that she had testified earlier that she could not recall. The jury decided Koslow was at fault.
"They called it 'Abelson's Magic Show,'" Abelson laughed last week -- on his way to the bank.
D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge H. Carl Moultrie I returned home on Friday following a five day hospital stay for emergency eye surgery. His office reports that the surgery, to correct a painful muscle problem in one eye, was successful. Moultrie is expected to return to work possibly as early as this week, but it is not clear when he will be back on the bench. Judge Robert A. Shuker is taking care of Moultrie's cases in the meantime.
The trauma of waiting is over for those who took the D.C. bar exam last July. The results were mailed Friday and a list of those who passed will be posted at the D.C. Court of Appeals offices today.
The trauma for 78 test-takers in Vermont, however, is far from over, because one of the essay graders in the test there misunderstood the system and reversed the grading, giving the highest marks to those who flunked and the lowest to those who did best.
The mistake was discovered when one of the failing candidates asked to have an essay reviewed and found that one of his answers matched the perfect model for the question.
It's not clear how many questions the confused examiner corrected. It's not even clear whether the July test was the only time the mistake had been made, since the graders this year have all graded tests before.
The Vermont Board of Bar Examiners is trying to figure out whether some new lawyers should not be practicing while others who flunked the test should be.
"This is a real mess," Vermont Law School Dean Thomas Debevoise told the Associated Press last week. "And who knows how many years it's been going on."
But state Supreme Court Chief Justice Albert Barney Jr. said he doubted any new lawyers would have their licenses revoked. "We will try to do whatever is fair for both those who passed and those who didn't," he said.
George Mendelson and Michael Lubin, two former Justice Department lawyers now in private practice, finally received their merit awards -- held up for four months after they questioned the propriety of a meeting between Associate Attorney General Rudolph Giuliani and lawyers for McDonnell Douglas Corp.
They got their awards for their work on the company's overseas bribery case, all right, but not with the pomp and circumstance common to federal agency awards ceremonies.
In fact, there was no ceremony at all. A colleague discovered the awards in a plain brown paper envelope sitting on the floor one morning outside their new offices.
Alexia Morrison, chief of the felony trial division in the U.S. attorney's office in D.C. Superior Court and lead prosecutor of Michael Halberstam's murderer, Bernard Welch, is leaving soon to be chief litigation counsel for the Securities and Exchange Commission. This comes as good news to her husband, Superior Court Judge Robert Shuker, who has been unable to hear felonies on a regular basis because of his wife's job.
Former Watergate prosecutor Richard BenVeniste, more recently a partner in Melrod, Redman & Gartlan, has left that firm to go into practice with Bill Shernoff, head of the California Trial Lawyers Association, a specialist in taking on insurance companies on the West Coast. BenVeniste will go after stingy insurance companies on the East Coast, something he says Easterners have been slow to do.