Play Nice or Else

Plus: Unripe Banana Case

"This is really something we see quite a bit," French says. Someone says something or protests something that's viewed as racist or sexist or homophobic or whatever. Outrage ensues. A task force is formed to look into the matter. The task force finds racists or sexists or homophobes on campus. Free speech is restricted.

I tell French that Chancellor Jackson says the task force won't infringe upon any First Amendment rights.

French says where there's a task force, there's future impediments to free speech.

Chancellor Lee Jackson says UNT is all for free speech. Then why does it need a task force?
Chancellor Lee Jackson says UNT is all for free speech. Then why does it need a task force?
Workers at a banana plantation in Costa Rica say they were made sterile by a banned pesticide.
Charles E. Ames
Workers at a banana plantation in Costa Rica say they were made sterile by a banned pesticide.

"Why does a school have to apologize for the free speech of its students?" he asks. --Paul Kix Unripe Banana Case The civil trial scheduled to begin last week pitting Dole against 370 of its former workers from Costa Rica has been pushed back to mid-October--a relative blink of an eye in a case that has seen more than a decade of legal wrangling. The case, featured last week in the Dallas Observer article "Fruit of the Poison Tree," was initially filed in 1993 by Dallas lawyer Fred Misko on behalf of workers claiming they were sterilized by the pesticide DBCP. The chemical was used on Costa Rica's banana plantations until 1979.

Initially, nine "bellwether plaintiffs" were randomly picked to spearhead the case in Dallas' 116th District Court. Of those, Misko dropped four when doubts emerged about their validity, and when he informed Judge Robert Frost last week that he would be passing on a fifth, the judge suggested that a new group be selected. "The judge is a smart guy, and he was very persuasive," Misko said.

Even the five bellwether cases that jurors were to have heard had legal complications, such as uncertain exposure levels to the chemical or children born since exposure. In one case, the Costa Rican government had paid plaintiff Adelicio Vargas in the 1980s for his sterilization. Dole argued that when Vargas sought more compensation by joining the suit in 1993 he had exceeded the statute of limitations, a claim that led Misko to exclude Vargas from the trial, leaving just four of the original nine.

Dole lawyer Terry Murphy said the decision lays bare the weaknesses of the workers' claims, adding that Dole has made payments to roughly 50 of the 26,000 workers from around the world who have sued over DBCP claims. "If the guy was really hurt on our watch, then we always look at it really carefully," Murphy said. "These were our employees, after all."

On April 18 the court will randomly select a new group of cases from the client pool, as it did with the first set. Though the original five bellwethers won't be tried this time, they will remain plaintiffs in the case--at least for now. "We're going to go over [our client list] very carefully and see if we can eliminate some of the problems that we have discovered over the last several months," Misko said.

On the other side, the mood was understandably lighter. When asked what the Dole team would do in the interim, Murphy laughed and said: "Go play golf!" --Rick Kennedy

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