Baltimore's incredibly corrupt settlement of the Freddie Gray case

Baltimore City approved a $6.4-million liability settlement for the family of Freddie Gray, a young West Baltimore drug dealer who died on the way to jail after police arrested him last April.  His death set off days of rioting and unrest in Baltimore and resulted in the controversial arrest and charging of six police officers involved in his detention and transport.  Gray suffered severe spinal cord injuries during his ride to jail for reasons yet to be determined, was rendered unconscious, and remained on life support for about a week before he expired.  

Maryland, like many states, has limits on liability in cases when municipalities are involved, and for pain and suffering in general.  In Gray's case, the liability limits for Baltimore City are usually capped at $400,000, for claims by the estate for the expenses and suffering of the decedent, and also for the pain and suffering of survivors, such as dependents or parents.  The city can ask for a waiver of such liability limits (which it evidently did in Gray's case) for egregious situations where the damages far exceed the liability limits.  But such situations envision cases of unquestioned liability, combined with shocking damages, such as a young person injured and subject to a long life of medical dependency and physical and mental suffering, conditions that don't pertain at all in Gray's case.   

Since 2011, the city has settled over 120 cases of alleged police brutality, with only six settled for over $200,000.  None has come close to the Gray settlement.   Baltimore officials cite settlements of similar cases by other Democrat-run jurisdictions in California and New York as justification for the massive payout.  In this view, the payout is essentially extortion money paid to the family to calm the local populace so that they will not engage in further rioting. 

Paying such extortion money – especially before the criminal cases of the accused police officers have been decided – is both foolish and despicable.  But though distasteful, at least Democrat officials can argue that the settlement is possibly in the public interest, if the cost of the settlement is substantially less than the economic and social cost of further rioting.   

However, in the incredibly corrupt Democrat-run city of Baltimore, this view can be regarded only as extremely charitable.  What really is going on here is a massive payout to Gray's attorneys, led by Billy Murphy, the effective leader of the plaintiff's liability bar in Baltimore, who stands (with other members of his team) to clip 30-40% of the settlement money for nothing more than a few hours of easy bargaining with the friendly mayor's office.  The plaintiff's bar in Baltimore (and Maryland in general) is totally in the pocket of the state's Democrat politicians, who favor the ambulance-chasing lawyers by holding back limits on liability exposure and damage recovery in return for enormous campaign contributions. 

Finally, the payout mollifies the unruly elements of West Baltimore not because they really give a crap about Freddie Gray or his family, but because they also largely bank on the corrupt liability system endemic in the city.  They, like the plaintiffs' bar, rely on that system for pocket money and the occasional windfall from all manner of injury, real and imagined, from lead paint to bus accidents to police misconduct cases.  Like a casino that values winners because it keeps the losers complacent and ever hopeful, city officials know that while only the Gray family, their attorneys, and hangers on will immediately profit from the settlement, much of the rest of West Baltimore, particularly those potential rioters whose real interest is not "justice," but free stuff, will see the settlement as a sign that this system remains robust and can promise a lucky "victim" a lottery-size payout. 

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