Thursday, September 25, 2014

Stewart: Still not in the clear

The lawyers will always stay well fed. In a nation that salutes the legal brief as often, and with as much fervor, as it salutes the flag, that's as mortal a lock as a misbehaving politician saying "Mistakes were made."

Mistakes were made, the night Kevin Ward Jr. died on some back-country circle of dirt in upstate New York. But no grand jury in a just world could have seen in those mistakes criminal negligence on the part of Tony Stewart, the man who struck Ward with a sprint car. And so Stewart will not be charged with any crime in the matter.

It was a racing deal -- an inordinately tragic one, to be sure -- and the law will consider it as such. And that is as it should be.

But accidents do not just happen in the places where the lawyers feed, and so Stewart is likely not off anyone's hook just yet. The Ward family's statement that this wasn't the end of things virtually guarantees that at some point a civil lawsuit will be coming down the wind.

 And, listen, you can't blame the Wards. Their son is dead, and someone must be to blame. That their son was behaving recklessly -- a driver in a black firesuit on a dimly-lit dirt track getting out of his car and standing in the middle of the backstretch while race cars swept past -- is irrelevant. He's dead and Tony Stewart was the instrument of his death, and so Tony Stewart must be held to account.

Even if there's no real accounting to be done here.

Accidents may be a fiction in Litigation World, but they are, elsewhere, exceedingly real. I've watched the available video of the accident a dozen times, and I have to say, had I been on that grand jury, I wouldn't have returned an indictment either. I simply don't see anything that indicates intent or even recklessness (an interesting concept, given that this was, after all, a racetrack) on the part of Stewart. It was, yes, a tragic accident.

And so the only issue I have with what got handed down yesterday is the judgment that Ward had enough marijuana in his bloodstream to significantly impair his judgment. This smacked of a smear tactic to me, because I don't know how anyone can definitely say whether or not Ward's judgment was impaired enough to compel him to leave his race car. And in any case, I'm not aware that  marijuana has a reputation for enhancing that sort of aggression, anyway.

Maybe it does, I don't know. I'm just saying I'm not aware of it.

In any case, that revelation certainly didn't hurt Stewart's chances with the grand jury. Although I doubt he's taking much comfort in that today -- or, for that matter, in his exoneration by the system.

Because, as ever, lawyers gotta eat. They do indeed.


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