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Extra points from a lead-paint hearing

A few leftover items in my notebook from my story in Tuesday’s paper about a Baltimore judge ordering a new trial on damages in the lead paint case of Starlena Stevenson:

– I misquoted plaintiffs’ lawyer Robert J. Leonard when trying to provide some context for Judge Stephen J. Sfekas’ ruling. Leonard said a judge ordering a new trial is unusual but not unprecedented, citing a case where his own firm, The Law Offices of Peter T. Nicholl, sought and received a new trial.

– Much of Sfekas’ decision to grant a new trial stemmed from allowing the testimony of an expert whose opinions on the witness stand were inconsistent with the opinions he had offered during discovery or deposition. Leonard said in court that the defense could have called its own vocational expert but did not. He also said Maryland appellate courts upheld a circuit court judge’s ruling that allowed a witness to watch testimony and revise his opinions based on what he heard in court.

The trial judge in that case? Sfekas’ father, the late Judge James S. Sfekas. The younger Sfekas, smiling, asked Leonard for the case citation.

– Sfekas said he was influenced by the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling that threw out a $3.4 million award to a victim of child pornography. The court said the restitution should be proportional to the offender’s actions. In Stevenson’s case, Sfekas said while the landlord should be held liable, Stevenson also suffered from depression and lived in 10 different homes and attended nine different schools while growing up, all of which could have contributed to her condition.

“This will require some analysis to the degree of injury she had,” Sfekas said.

– Leonard tried the case with Scott E. Nevin, and several of their colleagues from the Nicholl law firm were in court Monday. But also at the hearing were two people that looked familiar but I couldn’t place until Leonard told me their names — it was Saul Kerpelman and Brian Brown of Kerpelman’s eponymous law firm, which also handles lead-paint cases.

Sfekas said he has only handled a few lead-paint cases while on the bench, so Kerpelman and Brown essentially were scouting the judge should one of their cases come before Sfekas.

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