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September 28, 2012

Herman: Frequent-flier points lawsuit is over, finally

From: Austin American-Statesman - Sep 28, 2012

By Ken Herman
American-Statesman Staff

Sometimes the planets align and all is right in the world (or as right as it ever gets anymore), and the right judge winds up hearing the right lawsuit.

Such a wondrous thing happened Friday when the woman who once wanted the frequent-flier miles accumulated when the Texas School for the Deaf bought plane tickets to fly her daughter home on weekends encountered U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks.

Sparks, it’s fair to say, has a reputation. His courtroom is not a venue for nonsense. You get a feel for this by perusing the “Fact Sheet for Judge Sam Sparks” on the court’s website.

Does Sparks allow lawyers to file motions in excess of limits set by local rules?

“The court has never failed to allow counsel to file pleadings with a number of pages in excess of that stated in the local rules; however, the court reserves its right not to read more than 11 pages on any pleading.”

And there’s this answer to “When does the court find that sanctions are appropriate?”

“The internet has insufficient space to answer this question.”

And this: Q. “Any pet peeves?” A. “Of course not.”

So, that was kind of the background as attorney Karen Dalglish Seal of San Antonio, representing Tiffany Henderson-Cogdell and her daughter, identified as Debria G., and attorney Leonard Schwartz of the Texas School for the Deaf met at the lectern Friday. The occasion was a hearing on the tangle of motions and countermotions and counter-countermotions birthed by this case – which evolved into a fight about the fight about the frequent-flier miles the family no longer claims.

(FYI, all TSD students go home, at state expense, on weekends. TSD uses the frequent-flier points to help defray the cost.)

Characteristically, it didn’t take long for Sparks to tip off how he felt about this particular lawsuit. He opened with, “This case has gotten out of hand” and proceeded to blame Seal for getting it there.

He ran through a litany of TSD motions, including one to dismiss the lawsuit, to which Seal had filed no responses. “You didn’t even show up in depositions,” he told her. “What in the world are you doing filing this lawsuit in my court and hiding behind a tree … ?”

Seal tried some explanations. Sparks responded with “I could dismiss (the lawsuit) right now.” And then he did.

The hearing, which lasted maybe 15 minutes, continued with Sparks telling Seal he couldn’t, from her filings, tell what the lawsuit (in which the family claimed it was due damages) was about at this point.

Schwartz then unsuccessfully tried to keep alive TSD’s attempts to collect fees for what it’s spent defending against the suit. “Sometimes,” Sparks told Schwartz, “what the lawyers think should happen doesn’t.”

Moments later, Sparks reminded Schwartz of this unhappy fact of life: “The world is not perfect, Mr. Schwartz.”

On this day, however, the coupling of lawsuit and judge was.

Afterward, Seal told me, “I think the judge wanted to get rid of the case.”

You think? And in this case, I think the judge spoke for a grateful nation.

Let’s end on a positive note, one Seal made to me as Debria G. sat with her family outside the courtroom after Sparks got rid of the case.

“A child that needs an education is graduating this year,” she told me, referring to Debria.

Perfect, indeed. We wish her well.

© 2012 Cox Media Group.