Friday, February 25, 2011
Orthodox Jew to get new trial after missing court for holiday
Maryland's highest court on Thursday ruled in favor of an Orthodox Jewish plaintiff who missed part of a medical malpractice trial because it was scheduled during a two-day Jewish holiday.
The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that the trial court "abused its discretion by denying plaintiff's motions to suspend trial for two days," according to the opinion released this week.
Attorney Thomas J. Macke argued the Montgomery County Circuit Court judges became more concerned with efficiency, trampling client Alexander Neustadter's religious freedom.
Neustadter had testified that he wanted a breathing tube reinserted in the airway of his ill 91-year-old father and Holocaust survivor Israel Neustadter, but the doctors decided against re-intubating. An expert witness for Holy Cross Hospital of Silver Spring told jurors that not re-intubating Israel Neustadter met the standard of care because the patient would not benefit.
Neustadter missed the opportunity to challenge the statements because of his observance of Shavuot. He lost the case.
Although Circuit Court Judge Louise Scrivener agreed that courts must reasonably accommodate religious worship, she said, a month's notice to alter the tight court schedule was too late, citing a crowded docket, shortage of judges and related concerns.
The Court of Special Appeals upheld the verdict, and Neustadter asked the Court of Appeals to hear the case.
Michelle R. Mitchell, the hospital's attorney, said Neustadter and his lawyer realized soon after the trial date was chosen that it would conflict with Neustadter's strict religious observance. He said Neustadter's attorney immediately told the defendants' lawyers, but the conflict was not broached with Scrivener until about a month before trial, Mitchell said. Efforts to switch the order of witnesses failed.
The case will be retried in Montgomery County Circuit Court.
Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox Jewish organization that submitted a brief to the court in support of Neustadter, hailed the ruling as an affirmation of the right of an individual to miss court on a religious holiday.
"The court's ruling has affirmed the important principle that freedom of religion mandates that an individual's religious observance be accommodated — in the workplace, in academic institutions, and yes, even in the courtrooms of our country," Agudath Israel attorney Abba Cohen said in a prepared statement.