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Fear in a petri dish of gray goo As publicity stunts go, May mailings addressed from the Florida College of Emergency Physicians to state lawmakers rank with the hand grenades that a Los Angeles litigation firm once mailed to potential clients. Each of the Florida boxes contained a petri dish of gray goo, studded with bluish-greenish “growths” and the message, “If these were SARS cultures, where would you go?” The smaller print recommended that lawmakers pass legislation that would immunize emergency-room physicians from suits so the docs would not be forced to close up shop. Some legislative staffs thought it was cute-”It sticks if you throw it against the wall,” was one reported comment-while poorer sports labeled it bioterrorism and called in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Like Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges (the litigation firm with the hand grenades), the emergency physicians’ group was publicly contrite while at the same time offering a scapegoat. Spokesman Dr. David Siegel, head of government affairs for the group, told the Associated Press: “We take responsibility-our material was in it. But we never saw it before it went out. It’s a total screwup, on so many levels.” Siegel said the mailings were sent by Jacksonville, Fla., tort reform supporter Marty Gottlieb, who runs offices for a number of emergency-room physicians-and who had been discussing with leaders of the group how to lobby lawmakers when they return on June 16 for a special session on medical malpractice insurance rates and tort reform. Spoiler of quilt confesses his guilt After 28 halcyon years, a crime wave struck last fall’s International Quilt Festival. First off, two quilts were stolen as the show was being set up in a Houston convention center, something that’s never happened before, according to festival director Karey Bresenhan. Then, on the closing day, 54,000 visitors later, a quilting machine manufacturer with a grudge destroyed the Elvis-themed central panel of a third quilt by tossing bleach on it. A fourth quilt was slightly damaged in the backsplash. While the thefts remain unsolved, this month bleach-thrower Daniel G. Puckett apologized to quilt artist Arlene Blackburn and cut a deal. Indicted on a felony charge of criminal mischief, he pleaded guilty in return for six months in state prison. Blackburn, whose studio is in Memphis, Tenn., says she would have liked to have seen Puckett serve at least 18 months. That’s how long she says it took her to plan and complete the defaced quilt, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Elvis,” formerly valued at $6,500. Puckett “lost it,” she said, because she successfully sued him when his quilting machine malfunctioned. A very late search Jose Cervantes, 67, bought a formerly impounded car at a U.S. marshal’s auction, and what happened next gives new meaning to the warning “Buyer beware.” After getting the car in July, Cervantes was trying to drive across the border in October when U.S. Customs discovered what the marshals had missed: 119 pounds of marijuana hidden under the bumpers. Although he had no priors and explained that he had just gotten the car, Cervantes spent 3 1/2 months in jail on charges of trying to import drugs-until the government figured out that he had been driving around with the pot since the auction and moved to dismiss all charges. Cervantes sued for false arrest, false imprisonment and negligence. The trial court threw it all out, but on June 2, a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel reinstated his suit for negligence. Judge Kim Wardlaw termed the government’s defense “last-ditch, far-fetched . . . [and] so far off the mark as to be embarrassing,” and recorded in a footnote that the panel had urged settlement.

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