Andrew Dys

Scales of justice tip in favor of rich

Donald Trump freely admits he has used the law to his advantage.

The billionaire developer’s companies have gone through bankruptcies, from which he emerged – riches intact – to continue to walk streets paved with gold.

Trump believes in the law, and the law is his pal.

Ida Lord of York – whose left arm hangs limp, who has to drag her left leg when she walks, whose face is contorted – had to learn all over again how to walk and talk and smile and eat after being shot during a 2007-2008 crime spree. The criminal who put the bullet in Lord’s brain – leaving her with brain damage and unable to work – is now serving seven consecutive life terms in prison.

Lord believes in the law, but last week, the law was no friend to her.

A judge threw out her civil lawsuit seeking money from the check-cashing company where she was shot. She claimed the Rock Hill business should have hired a security guard amid the monthslong shooting spree that gripped York County in fear. The judge said she had not presented enough evidence for the jury to decide.

The attorneys and judge operated legally within the legal system.

But Ida Lord left a courthouse Tuesday as a victim yet again. The law weighs a ton, and the scales of justice clanked down against her.

“I won’t give up; I will keep fighting,” she said as she left court.

Phillip Watts – convicted of shooting four people while robbing seven businesses – also is still fighting, against the seven life sentences in prison. He’s using any legal claim he can find to appeal in any court. He has that right.

Unlike Lord, though, taxpayers are footing the bill for his appeals. That’s right, we’re paying his lawyers, but we’re not paying the lawyers for the woman whose life he destroyed.

Still, Lord has no choice but to use the legal system to continue her fight. She fights or she starves.

The law apparently has little place for Ida Lord’s hunger at age 50 after bullets took away her ability to support herself through work.

Before she was shot, this mother of three and grandmother of 10 worked as a home health hospice nursing aide. She bathed and fed people who were dying, so they might leave for heaven with a little less suffering.

On Earth, Lord suffers still.

She will never own a restaurant, as she had dreamed of. Her brain and her body are damaged for life. The question remains: Will anybody ever be required to help her?

Nobody knows.

After Lord testified Tuesday to how her life has been ruined, just minutes before judgement was given in favor of the check-cashing business, one of Lord’s lawyers, named Art Aiken, helped her into a chair at the defense table. That came after her other lawyer, Robert Reeves, had helped her off the witness stand.

On the stand, Lord had spoken about how her life was taken away.

Aiken put his arm around Lord. He told her, “You hit it out of the park.”

Lord smiled as she always does, in spite of her injuries and her poverty.

Aiken patted Lord on the back and kissed Lord on the cheek.

Ida Lord smiled. She was beaming.

Then Aiken’s face dropped a minute later when the case was over. He even walked out of the courtroom for a minute.

Ida Lord sat there wondering what had happened.

What had happened was she had lost.

An appeal is expected, but not guaranteed. The suit was dismissed once before. Lord and her lawyers appealed then. The S.C. Supreme Court ordered a trial that never finished. It could happen again.

It appeared from court testimony before the trial abruptly ended Tuesday that there was legitimate question on whether Cash on the Spot should have hired a guard while Watts was running loose shooting people. Lord and her lawyers say yes, the business says no. The business claims and so far is legally right that Watts was all over York County and nobody but Watts could have known where he would strike next.

An appeal could take years. Lord has already been left waiting for seven years and eight months.

The first of those years and months she was recovering from her many surgeries that initially were so severe it was a miracle she survived the ordeal. A doctor testified in the trial through video that most people shot like her die and are buried with as many flowers as the poor can afford.

Lord survived and fought. Her brain was left exposed for months. She wore a helmet to keep her brain in her head. She was in a wheelchair before she was able to get back on her feet.

After Lord, through her lawyers, filed the lawsuit against the business in 2009, the store’s insurance company, which at that time was named USF, in short order filed a lawsuit of its own – against the check-cashing business and against Lord.

The lawsuit claimed the insurance company had no duty to pay anybody.

The reason was simple: Watts was in the middle of a crime when Lord was shot. The insurance company that has been in business since 1843 could use what is called the “assault and battery exclusion” to say simply: ‘We will pay nothing.’

It was filed by a Charleston law firm that proudly defends insurance companies in lawsuits and has at least 75 lawyers. At the time Lord was sued she was still in adult day care, trying to regain her ability to use words.

The lawsuit was served on Lord, court documents show, delivered to Lord’s son at her federally subsidized apartment in York where Lord lived after the shooting took her income. Lord, when she was sued, was using a walker and in rehabilitation.

Still, the huge insurance company sued her.

It may never be known if Lord ever saw that summons.

But it was served, all legal, by all accounts. The law was not broken in a lawsuit filed against a woman with brain damage.

The insurance giant, and its army of lawyers, then filed a court document saying Lord was in “default” because she had not responded to the lawsuit in the required 20 days. The legal motion was exquisite in its legal language.

“Upon my best information and belief, the aforesaid Defendant Ida Lord is not incompetent,” the legal document reads.

Ida Lord in those days was receiving therapy to help her walk and talk.

Soon afterward, the insurance giant’s lawyers demanded the original case be dismissed, as the law was clear that under the assault and battery exclusion, Lord was owed nothing, and neither was the business, Cash on the Spot.

The insurance company was right: A federal judge ordered that the insurance company under the law owed nobody, including Ida Lord, who had brain damage and had never responded to the suit and was “in default.”

Aiken said after court Tuesday he and Reeves confirmed the lawsuit by the insurance company was served on Lord, not them, and that service was legal. But Aiken said he never knew there was a suit until it was too late to do anything to try to stop it.

All that was left was Lord’s lawsuit against the check-cashing business, which also does not want to pay. That lawsuit died Tuesday.

Ida Lord lives, though.

The only other times Ida Lord had been in the courthouse in York were when Watts was being sent to prison for shooting her and others, and when he tried one of his many appeals. When it was criminal court she was rolled in by wheelchair, with a helmet on her head.

Around that time, the insurance giant and their lawyers were suing her.

Thursday, two days after her case was dismissed, Ida Lord was asked how she felt.

“Great!” she said.

Where her joy comes from is a place not found in most people.

Lord said she will not give up on getting better or her hope for justice.

“I have come too far,” she said.

Lord said in court Tuesday before her case was thrown out that she has long forgiven Phillip Watts, who caused all this suffering.

She forgives, the courts rule for insurance companies and the rich, and Ida Lord wonders if she will have enough money to eat.

Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065