The Insider

If It Were Up to the Jury ...
State District Judge Carolyn Garcia and medical malpractice specialist Caroline Baker had the opportunity to get to know each other much better last November when Garcia presided over the trial of a lawsuit in which Baker represented the defendant hospital. Now Baker is seeking the Republican nomination to challenge Garcia for her 151st District Court bench in November. If that happens -- Baker must first get by fellow Republican Richard Paquette in the upcoming party primary -- then Garcia's ideal campaign ad might feature some of the jurors who watched Baker defend Parkway Hospital against the malpractice suit filed by Lisa Lee, a 43-year-old Korean-American.

Lee's attorneys charged that an obstetrics nurse treated the pregnant Lee with an intravenous drug, Pitocin, that caused the woman's uterus to rupture during delivery and left her infant severely brain-damaged. At issue was whether Lee's doctor had left verbal orders giving the nurses leeway to treat Lee with Pitocin, or whether one newly hired nurse had initiated use of the labor-inducing drug without doctors' orders.

Not only did Baker, a niece of former Secretary of State James Baker, come out on the short end of the suit -- the jury returned a $16 million judgment in favor of Lee -- she also finished a distant second in the 151st Court Miss Congeniality contest. According to a blurb from Uncle Jim on his niece's campaign literature, Caroline Baker "is a truly caring and compassionate person." But try telling that to the jurors in the Lee trial. "I did not like Caroline Baker at all," explains Wanda West. "She was just a ... well, you wouldn't want me to say the word. Most of the jurors, we did not like her at all." Likewise, jurors Douglas Colston and Linda Floyd say they'll definitely be voting for Garcia.

Garcia also found that the deportment of Baker and her co-counsel left something to be desired. The judge says she customarily warns attorneys in chambers of conduct she finds unbecoming. If the behavior continues, she calls the lawyers to the bench for conferences. "A third time, I will call you down in front of the jury. All three happened in this case. The conduct was certainly not always admirable and the demeanor was difficult," says Garcia.

Baker took over the representation of Parkway just three weeks before the trial, and one source of friction with Garcia may have been the judge's refusal to disallow all discovery evidence, including videotaped depositions, compiled before Baker signed on. The defendants appealed Garcia's decision as far as the state Supreme Court, but lost.

Not surprisingly, Baker maintains she was nothing less than a model lawyer during the trial. "I can't imagine anybody would say that I acted any way but incredibly polite and deferential to the judge," avers the former Princeton cheerleader, who says her decision to run for the job predated the trial. "It was something that had been decided long before, and I'm sure she was aware of it while I was in her courtroom."

Wayne's War
And what a week it was for Wayne Dolcefino, who had more highs and lows than an average Ed Brandon weather map. First, the Channel 13 reporter was heard loudly crowing over the dismissal of a misdemeanor charge filed against him last year by Donna Kresch, a 24-year-old woman who claimed that Dolcefino had groped her against her will after she had accompanied him home from a Greenbriar-area bar. Her complaint to police resulted in Dolcefino's arrest and overnight stay in jail. But Kresch, who apparently doesn't like formal engagements, failed to show up for a court date earlier this month, and the charge was tossed. Dolcefino always denied Kresch's accusation, but he now concedes that he learned a lesson from the episode. Henceforth, he cheerfully vows, he'll think twice before taking a stranger home.

Following that salutary legal development, Dolcefino scored with his biting expose of the poor work habits of some of the judges at the Harris County Courthouse. That was all plenty of reason to celebrate, which apparently was what Dolcefino and a buddy were doing shortly after his series on the non-working judiciary had concluded. But a Houston police officer ended the celebration a few hours later on the morning of February 9 when he pulled Dolcefino over for running a stop sign outside another Greenbriar-area joint, the Vapor Room, which Dolcefino and his friend had just vacated. The cop reported smelling alcohol and cited Dolcefino for DWI. Although he refused to take a Breathalyzer, Dolcefino denies he had tanked up past the legal limit and claims he passed his field sobriety test with flying colors. However, a media source who viewed the police videotape of the test says it wasn't nearly so conclusive.

Dolcefino didn't let his latest stay at Hotel Riesner keep him from turning up the next day as the emcee for Galveston's Mardi Gras parade, where he was decked out as an angel in a gold-threaded white tuxedo and deluxe gold wings. Perhaps he will wear that same costume when he appears for arraignment on February 16 before County Court-at-Law Judge Diane Bull. She, mercifully for the Undercover Man, was not one of the judges he skewered in his series on the reposing judiciary.

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