Simpson case offers reminder: Take domestic abuse seriously

In the cause of forcing judicial, legislative and law enforcement officials to take domestic violence seriously, Judith Wolfer, a lobbyist for the House of Ruth, performed an important public service by coming forward during John Arnick's judicial confirmation hearing last year. She recounted how, during a dinner discussion of a domestic-violence bill, the state delegate uttered vulgar generalizations about women in general and battered wives in particular. The subsequent protests threw the General Assembly into turmoil. Arnick, who maintained he could not recall making the statements, was forced to withdraw from the bench. Just in case anyone forgets why such fuss was made -- and why men who show such sexist colors should not even be considered for judgeships -- I offer two good reasons: O.J. Simpson and the judge who gave him a slap on the wrist for spousal battery in 1989.

'Lifelong trauma'


Anonymous fax received regarding the Simpson case, worth reprinting here:

"I grew up in an environment where every other night my father was drunk and every other night our house was a war zone. My father's abuse ranged from beating my mother, or beating me and my brothers, to destroying any physical object that was within his reach. No one, who has not lived through such an experience, can understand truly the pain and lifelong trauma that this kind of abuse creates in children. I have struggled all my life with my anger. I know that if I were a male, I would have killed my father -- I had often fantasized about it -- or I would be where my brother is now: In prison for murder. All children are tabula rasas, and fathers who vent their anger on those most vulnerable, their families, are not just destroying their children's lives, but could possibly be destroying the lives of their grandchildren or someone else's child, so far-reaching is abuse."


AIDS 'handling' fee

Three and a half years after Frederick Petrich first complained about the practice, the state has taken action against a Harford County funeral establishment that charged "special handling fees" for bodies infected with the AIDS virus. In a report issued this month, the state Board of Morticians found that the Lassahn Funeral Home of Kingsville discriminated against clients by charging extra for handling bodies infected with HIV. Petrich had complained that, when he attempted to make funeral arrangements in late 1990 for a terminally ill friend, Lassahn included a $450 "handling charge" in its estimate of fees. The fees were unnecessary and charging them constituted an act of discrimination under state law, the board found. "It is manifest that but for the disclosure of the imminent cause of death of Mr. Petrich's friend, Lassahn would not have added a $450 handling charge to the bill," the board concluded.

At a hearing before the board, an expert on AIDS testified that the virus could not survive outside a living cell, that the virus could not live past 48 hours of its victim's death and could not survive the embalming process. As far back as 1986, morticians were instructed to treat "everyone as though he/she were HIV-positive," the board said. "From January 1988 to January 1992, if AIDS was mentioned or on the death certificate, additional charges were imposed [by Lassahn]," the board said. "These charges reflected significant and unnecessary expenses for clothing and chemicals that were not essential or reasonable for the protection of the staff. If no mention was made or no indication was made on the death certificate that the deceased had AIDS, extra charges were not imposed on the customer."

Last year, in an effort to make sure all funeral establishments were up to speed on laws pertaining to AIDS cases, the Maryland attorney general's office advised the board with this opinion: "Since morticians are required to employ universal precautions with all bodies, there is no rational basis for charging higher 'handling' fee to family or friends of the deceased because the body was HIV-positive. . . . We do recognize that adopting universal precautions may ultimately increase a mortician's cost of doing business. We are not suggesting that this increase in operating costs may not be passed on to the consumer. However, increased costs associated with universal precautions should be passed on to the universe of consumers, not to the small subset of consumers seeking services for those known to be infected with HIV."

The morticians board called Lassahn's policy "irrational, arbitrary and discriminatory." The establishment was placed on probation for one year, during which it must file monthly reports on its handling of any AIDS cases. Ronald C. Lassahn, one of the owners, was reprimanded and, in an unusual move, ordered to work 40 hours as a volunteer for an AIDS-related service organization. While the board noted that other clients might have been charged the additional fees, it did not stipulate that those clients be reimbursed. Lassahn, which denies ever violating state law, plans an appeal.

Petrich was generally pleased with the results -- even though he had to wait 3 1/2 years to get them.

We're looking for one-liners that answer, at least in part, the question: What is Baltimore? The best of the bunch will be included in the next collection, to be published this summer. Check out the original version of "What Is Baltimore?" on Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. Using a push-button phone, enter the four-digit code 6230.