Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Medical Jurisprudence: Not as dull as you might think

We have just received a transcript from another oral history interview collected by the history of medicine in Oregon documentary project. The interview of Thomas E. Cooney, J.D., by Paul Frisch, JD, was conducted in June of 2005. Cooney is a senior partner in the legal firm of Cooney & Crew, general counsel to the Oregon Medical Association.

Cooney discusses notable cases and trends in Oregon medical law, including legislation on physician-assisted suicide, pharmaceutical regulation, malpractice, and universal healthcare. He also touches on town-gown relations between OHSU and "downtown" practitioners, outlines some of the differences between rural and urban practices, and gives his views on the changing nature of the physician-patient relationship. Here, he gives listeners some idea of why he went into law, and not medicine:

Frisch: Well you did such a good job with that. I’d like you to tell us
about your success in picking juries, especially women.


Cooney: There was a time when as young lawyers we were taught that we were not sensitive enough to the body English that the jurors were trying to, body language, rather than body English, were trying to communicate to us. And in fact, they had
seminars on that subject that in order to be an effective trial lawyer you were supposed to be able to read all that stuff.

So I went to one of those seminars. And one of the things they talked about was that women tended to be more expressive than men, and you would question them, and you had to be alert to that. So, being smart and young and thinking I knew everything, I had a case to try, and I thought I’ll try this out. And as we drew the jury from the panel, they would walk from the rear of the courtroom to the front, and we would watch them and try to analyze what they were trying to tell us.
And this one lady, who was obviously eight and a half months pregnant, went to the jury box and sat down, and the plaintiff’s counsel started to question her. And never once mentioned the fact that she was pregnant. So I seized the opportunity, because I knew that this would give her something to tell me about. And I said, “Ma’am, when’s the baby due?” And she paused, and everybody looked at her and kind of smiled. And she looked down at me and said, “Mr. Cooney, I’m not pregnant. I’m just fat.” And you could have killed me right then, and I would have been thankful. But as things worked out, she was the forewoman of the jury and found in our favor. And called me afterwards and she said, “We felt, and I felt, that you were so humiliated by that stupid question that you asked that we couldn’t do anything but find in your favor.” And I’m sure that the lawyers’ roles don’t pay that much, and it’s really the clients’ case. But that was an experience that taught me to keep my mouth shut a little bit more.


Complete transcripts of interviews are available; contact OHSU Historical Collections & Archives directly for more information.

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