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He must have thought tort reform had something to do with pastries.

Dr. John F. Clarke had twice been sued for malpractice, so he knew the drill. In 2000, the 64-year-old family physician suffered a stroke during a routine cyst operation conducted by Dr. Allan Sandel and anesthesiologist Steve Mitchell. As a result, Clarke was forced into early retirement from his Fairlawn family practice. He'll also get to spend his golden years in a wheelchair.

So despite the medical industry's uproar over the fictitious rise in malpractice payouts, Clarke decided to do what any decent American would do: sue their asses off. Sandel agreed to a settlement. But Clarke took Mitchell to court, asserting that poorly administered laughing gas lay at the root of his injuries. It was a true family affair: nine relatives, including his wife, Mary Jo, sued for relief alongside him. Mitchell countered that the stroke was "unavoidable."

Unfortunately for Clarke, he discovered what statistics have long borne out: Runaway juries are a myth perpetuated by the insurance industry to explain away soaring premiums. Last month, a jury voted seven to one in favor of Mitchell. Four years later, the cyst remains in Clarke's neck.

Not completely worthless
In a year when Ralph Nader barely registered at the ballot box, the third parties are proving that they still serve a vital purpose by doing what the Democratic Party is too candy-assed to do for itself.

With questions lingering around Ohio's election results, John Kerry rolled over faster than a speeding SUV. Into the breach stepped an unlikely partnership of the Greens and the Libertarians -- a fringe party Dream Team.

"What we have in common is the fact that we are discriminated against by what is essentially a two-party system, so we both have a vested interest in opening up the electoral process," says Greens spokesman Blair Bobier.

State law allows any presidential candidate -- even the ones you've never heard of -- to demand a recount. The two groups dialed disaffected Dems for dollars and managed to raise the $113,600 needed for the effort. Last week, they requested a recount from each of the state's 88 counties.

They shouldn't hold their breath. The recount won't begin until after the vote is certified, which won't happen until December 6, according to Secretary of State Uncle Tom Blackwell's office. That's just a week before the electoral college meets, which isn't nearly enough time to tally the ballots.

Those damn Quakers
To save themselves the hassle of funneling bribes through third-party bagmen, the Ohio House is pushing a bill that would allow corporations to donate directly to political campaigns. By law, corporations are called "persons," enabling them to sue flesh-and-blood people in court. So, according to Columbus logic, they might as well be able to buy politicians, just like everyone else.

Greg Coleridge doesn't like the idea. He works for the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker group responsible for such radical activities as fighting homelessness and sending health kits to kids in Iraq. When he testified before a House committee, he noted that since corporations can't flick lighters at Aerosmith concerts or get their asses shot off in wars, they weren't technically human.

But because sanity is barred from Capitol buildings, Coleridge's argument stunned Representative Jim Trakas (R-Independence). "If that's what the Quaker Church believes, I'm glad I'm Greek Orthodox," Trakas responded.

The room went silent. After a looooong pause, somebody finally asked a question and changed the subject.

"It was un-freakin'-real!" says Catherine Turcer, a lobbyist for Ohio Citizen Action, an environmental group. "I mean, what does this man say privately if he's willing to say that in public? Nobody did anything. The chair of the committee never told Trakas he was out of line, and The Plain Dealer never reported it. I couldn't believe it."

Desperate editors
Leave it to The Plain Dealer to take TV's hottest new show and turn it into Seventh Heaven.

Trying to latch on to the buzz from ABC's Desperate Housewives, the paper held a contest soliciting real-life drama from Cleveland's suburbs. Suffice to say, the contest unearthed no frothy tales of stolen moments with gardeners. Instead, readers were treated to cute sagas of kids making doo-doo in their pants during shopping trips and moms carping about sore breasts from nursing.

Punch would have been much happier if The PD had produced an ad showing Dick Feagler dropping his towel and jumping into the arms of William Green.

Hate mail of the week
"This letter is for whatever idiot wrote 'Votes in the Machine' for First Punch, November 10th: You lost! We won! Get over it! Grow the fuck up and shut the fuck up! Write your trashy magazine and stop bellyaching over the election."

-- Anonymous Republican

Greenbacks stolen
Thieves recently broke into the Lake Erie Nature & Science Center in Bay Village and swiped money from a donation box. Also missing: one gopher tortoise.

Investigators are guarded. "To tell you the truth, I don't know the difference between one turtle or another, except small or big," says Metroparks Sergeant Ernie Oergel. A Nature Center employee characterized the turtle as a 12-pounder (i.e., big) who lived a simple life. Five other turtles shared a habitat with the missing tortoise. They did not respond to interview requests.

No rest for the shills
When it comes to investigating deadly contamination in Middlefield, the trail of ineptitude has widened to an eight-lane freeway. First, the Ohio EPA ignored its own reports that Carlisle Engineered Products had dumped cancer-causing PCBs in the ground around its Middlefield factory ("While the EPA Slept," November 15, 2001). After 10 years of foot-dragging, the state agency's powers were usurped by the U.S. EPA, which took control of the investigation in 1995.

For a while, things improved. The agency sent in researchers and tried to keep residents up-to-date. Now, both agencies are backpedaling.

The feds told residents that it could be another two years before they release results from their most recent studies. Residents fought back with a raft of e-mails and phone calls, so the agency agreed to attend a public meeting.

But instead of holding it in the evening, when working people could show, the government stiffs held it at 1 p.m. on a Thursday. In attendance were three representatives from the U.S. EPA, two journalists, and a grand total of four citizens. "I thought it was a waste of taxpayer dollars to have three people fly in from Chicago to talk to four community members," says Ron Duncan, who's been trying to get the agencies to do their jobs for a decade. "We invited them to come to the city council meeting that night . . . but they refused."

The Ohio EPA, which has the testicular matter of a very small rodent, won't discuss the issue. It's rebuffed Scene's interview requests for three years, due to our ongoing coverage of its follies. "We're not doing any interviews with Scene magazine," says spokeswoman Linda Oros. Punch countered with groveling and extended weeping, but she remained adamant.

Unfortunately, her agency's incompetence appears to be contagious. After the meeting, The Willoughby News-Herald reported that soil samples found PCB levels up to 89 parts per million. The Maple Leaf, a Geauga County weekly, ran a headline reading "U.S. EPA says Carlyle PCBs not a danger."

Both papers were wrong. The federal EPA actually found PCB levels 10 times higher than its results from a year ago. In layman's terms: If you made a dirt ball from soil around Carlyle, you could sell it to the Syrians as a weapon of mass destruction. "The reason we're out there is because we feel the PCB levels are above our regulatory threshold, and they do need to be cleaned up," says U.S. EPA spokeswoman Bri Brill.

Never forget 8-03
If you build a two-story replica of the World Trade Center out of milk crates and shrubbery, you'd better call it art or people will think you're crazy. As a tribute to those who lost their lives, William Hamilton erected his Trade Center on the front lawn of his Euclid home. The towers are constructed from Army-surplus milk crates, each packed with soil and shrubs. "I counted them the other day," Hamilton says proudly. "There were 2,162 plants exactly."

It took awhile to prefect the stress dynamics. This is Hamilton's third installation, and there were casualties along the way. "August 3rd, 2004 was my September 11th, because that's when it fell," he says, reflecting back upon that tragic day. "The strangest thing I noticed was the ant colony that was living underneath." He watched the ants scurry away from the towers, a microcosm of the larger event. "Nature kind of had a flashback."

Photos of his work can be seen at Cleveland State's Art Gallery through December 10.

19 strikes again!
Last week, a shocking Channel 19 exposé revealed that -- gasp! -- workers at the County Auditor's office drink beer on the job. Auditor Frank Russo promptly fired them.

The revelations prompted a similar investigation at Scene. Channel 19's hidden camera caught longtime reporter Thomas Francis ordering a Michelob Ultra at the Winking Lizard, which led to his dismissal. The paper issued a terse, one-sentence statement: "Simply put, there is no place at Scene for guys who drink low-carb beer."

Security guards escorted Francis from the building. "I wanted a beer buzz without the carb guilt," said Francis, shortly before the guards threw him down a flight of stairs.

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