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A Titanic Trial

Caryn Tamber//October 20, 2009

A Titanic Trial

By Caryn Tamber

//October 20, 2009

I wrote a story for today’s paper on a Court of Appeals opinion concerning a medical malpractice case. The main issue was whether the expert witness spent too much of his professional life as, well, an expert witness. (The Court of Appeals said that yes, he did, and was therefore properly disqualified from testifying in the case.)

In the course of writing the story, I rediscovered this gem from 2007, when the case went to trial. It’s a story from The (Erstwhile) Examiner, and it deals with the clash between two high-profile, ego-rific “titan”  litigators: Steve Snyder and Billy Murphy. Snyder represented the plaintiffs (on appeal, the case was handled by Snyder’s one-time partner Andy Slutkin) and Murphy was one of the lawyers for the doctor and the hospital.

The article’s worth a look in case you missed it the first time around, and even if you caught it then but want to relive the magic. This thing got ugly. Some highlights:

“After Mr. Snyder found out, for the first time today, that I was being retained by the University of Maryland to be in this case, frankly he lost his cool,” Murphy told Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Lynn Stewart, according to a transcript of the proceedings. “What he said to me was, in a voice loud enough for the defendant to hear … he said, ‘I’m going to tear him apart.’ And then he turned around and literally screamed at Dr. Zoarski, ‘I’m coming after you! I’m going to get you!’ And he said it several times.”

At one point, Snyder told Murphy in open court that he didn’t like him anymore. Eventually, the judge got beyond frustrated:

Finally, Judge Stewart had had enough.

“This is it. Last warning to everybody,” she said. “No finger-pointing, children. No stomping your feet. No screaming. No yelling. No dancing around. No calling names. No throwing sticks and stones. No putting gum in each other’s hair.”

Oooh, and let’s not forget what happened when the race card was played:

Snyder took particular offense to Murphy’s late appearance in the case, because Murphy and several members of his team are African-American, as was the judge and several jurors.

“I think it’s racially motivated,” he told the judge.

After hearing that, Murphy replied sarcastically to Snyder’s comment in court: “We’re just some colored lawyers. We’re not trying to hurt nobody.”

I wish I’d been there. Sounds like a journalist’s dream trial. But here’s the best part: After the trial ended in a defense summary judgment, Snyder told the Examiner reporter:

“Billy Murphy can take no comfort in the victory,” he says. “It will be very short-lived. I have no doubt that it will be reversed. In fact, I will quit law if it doesn’t get reversed.”

I’ve put a call in to Snyder to see if he wants to make good on that threat. No word yet.


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