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Originally published September 14, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 14, 2007 at 2:09 AM

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David Postman

Trial lawyers complain insurance industry's ads are "slanderous"

Excerpts from his blog, Postman on Politics The trial attorneys funding their Referendum 67 campaign say the insurance industry's ads making...

Seattle Times chief political reporter

Excerpts from his blog, Postman on Politics

The trial attorneys funding their Referendum 67 campaign say the insurance industry's ads making fun of lawyers are "slanderous, uncivil and reckless."

Karen Koehler, president of the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association, wrote a letter last week to the Washington State Bar Association (WSBA), with copies sent to members of the state Supreme Court, complaining about TV spots featuring the fictional law firm of Sooem Settle & Kashin.

The Reject 67 campaign, which wants to repeal a new state law that allows judges to award triple damages in some insurance cases, has used the parody in two different TV spots.

One ad portrays two people preparing a TV spot for the fictional law firm that promises "I'll sue for you." The other depicts the lawyers scheming about how they'll use the new law to file suits and "make a killing."

"These ads are an affront to all lawyers," Koehler wrote. "They are causing irreparable damage to the efforts of the WSBA to instill public confidence in the bar. They are slanderous, uncivil, and reckless."

When the trial attorneys say "slanderous," it's a threat of litigation, says Dana Childers, the spokeswoman for the Reject 67 campaign.

"It is amazing that the trial lawyers don't see the irony of threatening to sue someone who criticizes them for filing too many frivolous lawsuits," Childers said. "But that's in fact what their letter says."

The letter asks the bar association to publicly condemn the ads and to request that the Reject 67 campaign stop running them.

The bar association has so far taken no action on the letter, said association spokeswoman Judy Berrett.

The insurance industry has donated an astounding $7.7 million to the Reject 67 campaign. The Approve 67 campaign has raised $752,706, mostly from trial attorneys.

Candidate's course raised Sept. 11 questions

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Seattle City Council candidate Joe Szwaja taught a high-school class that asked if the United States helped plan the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon.

Szwaja teaches history at Seattle's Nova High School, an alternative public school. The senior class he offered was called "September 11/Iraq War: What happened, why did it happen, and where do we go from here?"

According to the course description, the class asked provocative questions:

"Did the attacks take place in the manner reported by the major U.S. news media? Were Osama bin Laden and his followers indeed responsible for these brutal murders? Did the U.S. government do all they reasonably could to avert the attacks, or did the U.S. bungle its sincere attempts to stop this incidence of terrorism? On the other hand, was the U.S. government itself part of planning the attacks or at least involved in them in some way, perhaps in making sure nothing was done to avert them?"

The course was brought to reporters' attention by Cathy Allen, a political consultant working for Szwaja's opponent, incumbent Jean Godden. That suggests Godden takes Szwaja's candidacy seriously.

Szwaja told Times City Hall reporter Bob Young that he does not believe the U.S. government was involved in planning the attacks or making sure they weren't stopped.

"I want to teach students to think about important questions, and I go out of my way to provide different perspectives," Szwaja said.

Is it irresponsible, though, to suggest to students that the U.S. was part of the attacks?

"The main thing I try to do is teach classes that engage students from a variety of perspectives. I pride myself on that," he said. "A big part of the class is fact-checking. My goal is not to tell students what happened. My goal is to teach them to think carefully, systematically and pursue answers for themselves."

This material has been edited for print publication.

David Postman is The Seattle Times' chief political reporter. Reach him at 360-236-8267 or at dpostman@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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