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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Stella Awards - The Escapist Mentality

As some of you may know I am a great proponent of tort reform. Frivolous lawsuits just irritate me beyond belief. So I subscribed to the Stella Awards News letter, and occasionally I like to publish some of the better ones (I would just provide a link, but these stories do not appear online). This one is great because it involves two of my favorite subjects, stupid criminals, and an idiotic lawsuit. Well, I’ll let Randy Casdsingham tell the rest of the story.

by Randy Cassingham

Scott Bolton had bad luck in cell mates. Accused of stealing several all-terrain vehicles, Bolton was awaiting trial at the Luzerne County Correctional Facility in Pennsylvania in October 2003. His cell mate, Hugo Selenski, was awaiting trial on homicide charges -- the sort of charge any inmate would want to escape from.

And Selenski did just that, climbing down a rope fashioned of sheets tied together. Selenski, Bolton claims, beat him to near unconsciousness in order to stuff his body through the cell block window. That, Bolton says, caused him to fall several storeys to the ground, leaving him comatose for several weeks, confined to a wheelchair for life, and with damage to his brain, spinal cord, nerves and internal organs.

Bolton was found and rushed to the hospital by air ambulance, and he survived.
Selenski escaped, but turned himself in three days later.

Bolton filed suit over the escape attempt in U.S. District Court -- for "civil rights" violations. His suit names Selenski as the primary defendant, but murder suspects aren't exactly typically flush with cash. So the suit also names Warden Gene Fischi and Deputy Warden Rowland Roberts, eight guards, two County Prison Board members, and three County Commissioners.

"You've got to be kidding me," says Warden Fischi. "I guess it's like the old saying: If someone robs your house and slips on a roller skate going out, they're going to sue you."

Fischi paints a very different portrait of what happened. He says Bolton was a willing participant in the escape, and was climbing down the makeshift rope when he lost his grip and fell. And why did he lose his grip? Apparently Bolton wasn't moving fast enough for his co-conspirator, so Selenski pushed him, another inmate says. (Tip: always let the alleged murderer go first!)

The county commissioners are particularly perplexed at being named in the suit, which Bolton filed without the aid of an attorney.

"It's very hard to be responsible for something that occurred three months before we took office," says Commissioner Todd Vonderheid. "Somebody is incarcerated because they broke the law, then agrees to be a party to an escape, then is dumb enough to act as a human mattress for
[Selenski], and they're not responsible for their actions? It's repulsive. Is no one responsible for themselves in this society?" Call it escapism from reality.

The amusing part of the whole case is the basis for Bolton's lawsuit: he says his injuries are due
to the prison guards' failure to patrol the cell block, and therefore to discover that the window to the cell Bolton and Selenski shared had been pried open, and only that allowed Selenski to "viciously assault" him to "near unconsciousness" and then push him from their cell window, as if
anyone trying to escape a murder rap would take the time to do that on his way out.

And, of course, those would be the same "failures" the escapees had relied on to escape in the first place. So he counts on these guards not to do their jobs to the letter, then blames them when they behave as he expected and things turn sour.

His suit seeks a minimum of $1,000 for attorney fees (even though he doesn't have an attorney), plus payment of all past and future medical bills, plus $10,000 in compensatory damages,
plus $25,000 in punitive damages, all court costs, plus "any and all other relief" that the jury
sees "fit, necessary or required."

Commissioner Vonderheid has something to say about Bolton not using an attorney for his suit: "Maybe if he hired a lawyer he would know who to sue." Maybe, but it's not likely Bolton wants to sue the person who is actually responsible for the injuries he sustained during his commission
of a crime: himself.

Bolton, who has now been moved to a state prison, has since initiated a second lawsuit against the Luzerne County Correctional Facility in Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas, the details
of which are sketchy. It's also not clear whether he was charged in connection with the botched escape. If not, perhaps we can expect yet another lawsuit for that failure. As an inmate, he has all the time in the world to create problems for other people; just because he's in prison -- or a wheelchair -- doesn't mean he can't continue to find victims to taunt.

1) "Man Hurt in Escape Sues Selenski", Times Leader, 29 September 2005

2) Lawsuit Filing, Scott Allen Bolton v. Hugo Selensky, et al., U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania (3:CV 05-1947), 27 September 2005 (PDF scan, 460K)

That Reminds me of a saying... A man who acts as his own attorney has a fool for a client.

Check out Randy’s Website for more details and to sign up for the newsletter yourself.

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