Let’s Levy An Annoyance Tax

This column has previously been devoted to the vexing problem of questionably qualified experts. I expounded in a witty and appealing fashion about medical specialists who might cross the borders of their expertise, for instance, having an anesthesiologist give a good-faith opinion about podiatry, or a dentist assess the standard of care owed by a neurosurgeon. I wish to discuss another type of distressingly unqualified experts.

A recent conversation with one such individual caused me to break out of my usual pattern of dealing with frustration by invading the office candy bowls and acquiring anything that vaguely resembled chocolate. I was in such need of nutritional narcosis by the time I finished the call that I headed straight for the mashed potatoes.

The subject of our conversation was a forthcoming trial. The individual in question has never, to the best of my knowledge, been to law school, although she has been in plenty of courtrooms, albeit as a spectator. This gives her the necessary cachet to tell me how to try my case. There is a descriptive sound bite for this: “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.”

The case in question has been pending for approximately 35 years. The person evaluating my trial strategy has been involved in the case for a scant 20 minutes, but no matter.

It went like this:

MS. BUMBLETHORPE: Why can’t you make the jury think the way we do here at Impecunious Mutual Insurance?

AMY: I’ll do the best I can, but really, what they conclude is out of my control.

MS. BUMBLETHORPE: Didn’t you prepare your witness?

AMY: I met with him four times, and he still wasn’t very credible.

MS. BUMBLETHORPE: Don’t you think you should accuse the plaintiff’s attorney of fraud? After all, wasn’t the plaintiff completely disabled even before the unfortunate occurrence which forms the basis of this lawsuit?

AMY: I could do that, but I might have to surrender my license and think about alternative careers. (Mumbling) Maybe I could join the rodeo. It might be less dangerous to my health.

MS. BUMBLETHORPE: What’s that? I think it would be a good idea to set up a mock operating room right in the courtroom so everyone could see that this incident just didn’t happen. We could get one of the jurors to play the role of the plaintiff!

AMY: I’ll try to work on that.

MS. BUMBLETHORPE: Just remember, we are paying your bill.

After I hung up, but before the potatoes set in, I dutifully completed my timesheet: “Telephone call from Felicia Bumblethorpe of Impecunious Mutual Insurance berating counsel needlessly regarding trial strategy…………………………………1.7

It occurred to me that acceding to Ms. Bumblethorpe’s requests might constitute a hostile work environment. Perhaps I was entitled to compensation. Litigation would be lengthy. There must be a more direct means of, shall we say, getting even. By the second helping, I had devised a plan. It was simple. It has been used successfully by governments everywhere.

My plan is to impose an annoyance tax. The mill rate would be determined by a panel of accountants, consisting of one numerically challenged Hartford attorney, depending upon the following factors:

• The length of the conversation

• Tone of voice of the involved person(s)

• Whether the annoyance took place in person or on the telephone

• The degree of unsubstantiated expertise demonstrated by the perpetrator(s)

• The quantity of mashed potatoes required to recover.

Although disclosure of the imposition of the annoyance tax might serve as a deterrent, I suspect that it would be better if it were just quietly slipped into the bills, as an extra six minutes here or there. There is more than one way to “ride the bull.”

Amy F. Goodusky, a former paralegal, rock ‘n’ roll singer and horseback riding instructor, is of counsel at O’Brien, Tansky & Young in Hartford.