f/k/a . . . the archives

February 5, 2005

cookie curmudgeon

Filed under: — David Giacalone @ 3:18 pm

 


                                                                                   originally posted as the cookie curmudgeon checks in (Feb. 5, 2005)


Somebody needs to register a cautionary dissent to the tongue-clucking that is going on over the  chipCookies

$930 judgment entered this week against two young Colorado women who wanted to surprise their

neighbors with fresh-baked cookies.  (see Walter and Fedster; Denver Post story; ABCNews/

GMA)  In case you missed it, their gesture of neighborliness triggered a serious anxiety attack in

one lucky beneficiary, Wanita Renea Young, 49, and she sued the pair in small claims court for medical

bills.  For more background, read the full account given in their local newspaper, Durango Herald, “


 

I guess it’s up to skepticalEsq to try to bring a little balance to the story. 

 

First, these weren’t 12-year-olds.  The incident happened last July and Taylor Ostergaard and Lindsey Jo Zellitti are now both 18. 

 

Second, the deliveries were made after dark, with Lindsey and Taylor reaching the Young residence at 10:30 PM.

 

Third, no one appears to dispute Mrs. Young’s version of what happend last July (per the Durango Herald):


She lives off of County Road 214 in a rural area on the mesa south of Durango and was in the basement of her house watching television with her 86-year-old mother and 19-year-old daughter about 10:20 p.m. when the incident took place.

“We heard this horrible banging on the door, like someone was trying to break it down,” Young said Friday. “I ran upstairs and called out ‘Who’s there?’ three or four times. But no one answered me and when I looked out the window, there weren’t any vehicles in sight. But I could see the silhouette of someone on the other side of the window. I got really scared and called the sheriff’s department.” 


According to documents filed with the court, the girls had parked about 500 feet away from Young’s home, shielding their car behind a grove of trees.


A statement by Taylor Ostergaard included in court documents said the girls “knocked on the door three times loudly, left the plate of cookies on the step and ran away. (We) wanted someone to hear the door and find the cookies so an animal wouldn’t eat them before morning.”


Fourth, Wanita Young is apparently neither a madwoman nor misanthrope. She’s a cashier at Wal-Mart and has been director of the Durango Food Bank since 1990.   Explaining her anxiety, Young told the Herald that, after finding the plate of cookies and a note saying  “Have a great night. Love, The T and L Club” :



“I had no idea what the note meant,” Young said. “Fifteen years ago, I was assaulted by one of my neighbors as I was taking my children to meet the school bus, and I wondered if somehow the incident was connected to that.


“After the deputies looked around, they weren’t sure what had gone on and said that it might be a good idea if I took my mother and daughter and stayed in a motel that night,” Young said. “My husband was out of town, so I decided to spend the night in Farmington at my sister’s house. Driving down there, I was throwing up and feeling a lot of pressure in my chest. I thought I might be having a heart attack.”


The next morning, Young went to the emergency room at Mercy Medical Center, incurring more than $1,400 in hospital bills for what doctors eventually diagnosed as an anxiety attack.


Fifth, The young bakers wrote a letter of apology and it appears that the parents of one of the young women offered to pay Young’s out-of-pocket medical costs, if she signed an indemnification agreement.  Young was advised not to sign it, and instead filed in small claims court.   Mrs. Young is quoted saying  ”All I wanted was for those girls to admit that they used poor judgment and apologize in person. If they had done that, I wouldn’t have even asked for the money. I just hope they learned a lesson.”  According to the Herald, ”on the advice of an attorney, they opted not to meet with her in person.” 


Sixth,   Taylor told Good Morning America, “We think outside the box a little more than usual,” said Ostergaard. “We just wanted to do something nice for other people, [to] let them know other people care about them even though they didn’t know who it was.”


My reactions to all of this?  



  • Good intentions are not sufficient reasons to do things in an irresponsible — or simply unthoughtful — manner.  Stop and think about the situation from the recipient’s point of view.
  • Unexpected gestures of kindness can be very nice, but the way they are done has a lot to do with how the recipient might react and whether the surprise will be pleasant or not.  [Note: A lot of people do not want cookies, and many more don't need them.]
  • Kids: Most people do not expect to have unannounced guests after 9 PM — people at the door usually bring bad news or are bad news.  When approaching the home of strangers at a time when you are not expected, it is both polite and reasonable to knock in a manner that will not startle the residents; furthermore, if you are asked to identify yourself, please do so, as failing to identify yourself tends to scare and worry the person at the door.  Trying to be anonymous when doing a good deed may make you feel more saintly, but running away in the dark after disturbing the people inside a house is simply stupid.

  • The entire Cookie Caper would make a great lesson for parents to teach their children  –  (1) do random acts of kindness, but (2) think through how to do them so that the recipients will be pleasantly surprised.


bakerHat  Do those who mock this case and want to cuddle the baking duo have suggestions about what the justice system did wrong here?  Do they doubt that the cookie-delivery incident caused Young’s anxiety attack and that her medical expenses were reasonable?   Do they think the girls acted with reasonable care?  That they are too young to understand that they did something good in an irresponsible manner?  Do they doubt that an in-person apology would have ended all this without a day in court?



  • Their parents and their lawyer should have insisted the girls head over to the Young home and apologize. 

Suggesting that this episode means no one should act kindly toward neighbors or strangers, or that doing so in a thought-full, thought-through manner raises unacceptable risks of being sued, is simply asinine.  Almost any case can be made to sound like a miscarriage of justice, or a symbol of what’s wrong with our society or legal system, if you leave out enough facts.   I have little hope for the main-stream media, but I wish my weblawg colleagues would try a little harder to present cases in a fair manner. 


 



“the rice cake man
is next door!”
the child announces






my child’s rice cakes
my child’s rice cakes…
all in a row
stomping and singing
on rice cake and jelly…
katydid!






scarecrows standing–
a house without rice cakes
can’t be found

 

 



updateone-breath pundit   (Feb. 12, 2005)




  If you’re still absolutely certain that Wanita Renea Young was absolutely wrong to

go to court after the infamous Durango Cookie Caper, I hope you’ll read this ABC report on her

Good Morning America appearance today, and this hometown article “Two sides to every cookie,”

Durango Herald, Feb. 12, 200).  I hope our cookie curmudgeon post earlier this week softened

you up a little.    This being America, it’s not at all surprising that Mrs.Young and her family have

been the target of hate mail, harassing phone calls and even death threats. while the recklessly-

thoughtful young ladies are celebrities and still getting donations to pay their court damages. 




  • Here’s just one of many interesting facts from the articles: “Young said her home is in an

    extremely rural area, and Ostergaard and Zellitti had to climb over two fences, walk

    through a pasture filled with livestock and crawl across an open ditch to get to her home. 

    Once there, Young said the girls went to a secluded back door and knocked.”



  • As a mediator, who worked hard for years to solve disputes without litigation, I would have

    much preferred that both sides of the Cookie Dispute work this out — perhaps using the Small

    Claims mediation services available in Colorado.  However, having served as a lawyer for

    hundreds of children, and having lived with a few, I know far too well that young people

    often do very stupid things with very good intent.  The girls here — and remember they are

    18 years old — have yet to show that they understand in any way that their judgment was

    very poor.  Good intentions are not enough; acting with common sense and awareness of

    the needs and feelings of others is also necessary.  Like Mrs. Young, I’m sorry that Taylor

    and Lindsey have learned the wrong lesson, thanks to people with axes to grind or with no

    patience for hearing all the circumstances. 






“tinyredcheck”  By the way, how many people do you know who would readily eat home-

baked cookies left anonymously on their porch?  At Halloween, most Americans

don’t let their kids eat cookies when they know which house they came from.

update: The following related posting was made at the Crime & Federalism weblog on Feb. 9, 2005:

 



pleading, cookies, small claims

David Giacalone

Some commentors and pundits have wondered what cause of action Wanita Renea Young used when suing the Durango Cookie Duo in their local small claims court.  (prior post here)  My research suggests that Mrs. Young did not have to state a particular cause of action in Colorado’s informal “people’s court,” where lawyers are not allowed.


Thus the Colorado small claims complaint form merely says:



PLAINTIFF(S)’S CLAIM



The Defendant(s) owe(s) me $________________, which includes penalties, plus interest and costs allowed by law, and/or should be ordered to return property, perform a contract or set aside a contract or comply with a restrictive covenant for the following reasons.  (If seeking return of property, please describe the property being requested).



_____________________________________________________________

[5 lines provided]


Note: The combined value of money, property, specific performance or cost to remedy a covenant violation cannot exceed $7,500.00.



And, the Small Claims Handbook states:




The fifth section asks for a description of the plaintiff’s claim; for example, the amount of money/property you want to recover. You need to explain the basic facts of your case. This does not have to be detailed. For example, “I left my shirt with Jones Company to be cleaned, but they ruined it. It was a brand-new shirt.”   You will have your chance to present more detail at your trial.



The California Complaint form in Small Claims court is similarly simple:




The Plaintiff claims the Defendant owes $______________ (Explain below)


a. Why does the Defendant owe the Plaintiff money? ______________________________


b. When did this happen?

c. How did you calculate the money owed to you?

   __  Check here if you need more space.

I have the New York State Small Claims form in front of me (actual hardcopy), and it says



Amount of Claim $ __________


___  RENT DUE


___ [separate lines for each of the following types of claim: Rent Due, Return of Security Deposit, Auto Accident, Non-Payment for Good Delivered and/or Services Provided, Defective Goods Received or Services Rendered]


____ Other – (Include date of incident and BRIEF description  __________  _____________________________________________________ [3 lines given]


This informal method of pleading makes sense in a court that offers access to non-lawyers.  It becomes the judge’s duty to decide whether the facts fit a known cause of action, and whether various types of damages are appropriate.  Therefore, Mrs. Young did not have to name a cause of action, nor be aware of the criteria for non-economic or punitive damages.  The judge would take evidence and decide whether she has proven her case with regard to the various amounts she claims that defendant “owes” to her.



  • By the way, Colorado’s small claims court system received the third highest score in the nation in HALT’s 2004 Small Claims Report Card.

February 9, 2005 in Life | Permalink |

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