By Dan Olmsted
Gary Golkiewicz, chief special master of federal vaccine court when the key rulings denying a link between autism and vaccines were issued, has stepped down from that post, replaced by a judge who – perhaps ominously -- seems to believe in moving cases through the court on as fast a track as possible.
The court gave no reason for the change. Golkiewicz was in charge of the court from October 1988 – the year it was created by Congress – until April 8. His replacement is Sandra Dee Lord, who became a special master in vaccine court only last July. She was previously an administrative law judge for the Social Security Administration in Raleigh, N.C.
Here is the press release: “Chief Judge Emily C. Hewitt of the United States Court of Federal Claims (USCFC) announces the USCFC’s appointment on April 8, 2010 of Special Master Sandra D. (Dee) Lord to the position of Chief Special Master of the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (Vaccine Program), located within the USCFC by the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act, codified at 42 U.S.C. §§ 300aa-1 to -34. Chief Special Master Lord succeeds to the position held by former Chief Special Master Gary Golkiewicz, who continues his service to the Vaccine Program as Special Master.”
In an e-mail to interested parties, Lord wrote: “As the newly-appointed Chief Special Master, I would like to extend my greetings and share with you my excitement about the Office of Special Masters. My goal is to continue our office's tradition of objective and compassionate decision-making. I am pleased to have this opportunity to recognize Gary Golkiewicz, who will continue his service as a Special Master, for the more than 20 years of service he provided as Chief. The considerable achievements of the Office of Special Masters are due in large measure to Gary's skill, vision and effort.”
She added: “My colleagues and I look forward to working with you to ensure prompt and fair adjudication for injured petitioners and their families under the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.”
Autism parents and their attorneys who’ve dealt with the vaccine court would take issue with the idea that the process has ever been “objective and dispassionate,” as the three special masters who issued a total of six rulings in the MMR and thimerosal omnibus cases, while oozing pity for the families left to deal with autistic children with no money, were snarky and condescending, suggesting parents were duped by ridiculously bogus scientific theories and greedy lawyers. Yet government lawyers conceded one case before it was even heard – stipulating that Hannah Poling’s autism and seizure disorders were caused by vaccinations. And, it turns out, a number of other rulings over the years awarded compensation to children for what were actually symptoms of autism by any other name.
But with the MMR and thimerosal decisions handed down, the vaccine court masters have at least temporarily shut down the more than 5,000 parents who went to the court alleging vaccines did in fact cause their child’s autism. The remaining avenue – allowing the cases to be heard in regular courts – is the subject of a hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court this fall. If that goes against autism families, the government will effectively have blocked every avenue of judicial review.
Except, that is, for new cases filed in vaccine court. Some strategists in the parent community believe that the only continuing recourse will be to keep bombarding the court with new cases in hopes that as the science linking autism and vaccines grows stronger, and pressures to recognize the truth build, families will finally prevail. That is why Lord’s comment about “prompt” adjudication of cases sent shudders through the vaccine court bar – moving new cases along as fast as possible would be yet another way to prevent a critical mass from drawing public attention.
No one I talked to believes Golkiewicz cheerfully relinquished his “chief” title to spend more time tying fly-fishing lures, or whatever, and I’ve heard he’s looking for other opportunities outside the court. (Would John Roberts ask President Obama to please make him an Associate Justice because he’s tired of being Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States?) The problem is, if Golkiewicz was in fact pushed out, it could reflect either of two opposing options: He might have seen too much in the 22 years since the court was created – years that, not coincidentally because they immunized vaccine manufacturers and led to the current flood of childhood shots, also saw the rise of the autism epidemic.
Alternatively, he might have gotten in hot water for letting the three special masters in the autism omnibus proceeding run amok, doing their business with a little too much relish; the tone of the rulings, especially by Judges Hastings and Vowell, were pretty personal. Vowell’s were the worst, positing that, as in Alice in Wonderland, you’d have to believe “six impossible things before breakfast” to accept the petitioners’ argument that vaccines caused autism (actually, the six impossible things to believe were the vaccine court rulings themselves).
If you want to watch the families’ lawyers take apart the tone and logic of the rulings, read the appeal of the Cedillo case HERE. As our Legal Affairs Editor Kent Heckenlively wrote last year, “Normally I don’t recommend legal briefs to people to read, but the Cedillo appeal is something different. The lawyers have done an excellent job of detailing the prejudice against the vaccine-autism theory and the changing of the standards of evidence in the Vaccine Court itself. If you want to clearly understand the strength of the Cedillo case and how appalling the decision by Special Master Hastings was you need to set aside no more than 20-30 minutes to read this appeal.”
The appeal is powerful, elegant and eloquent and manages in its spare time to poke a little fun at Hastings, the worst writer by far of the three judges (and that’s saying something). He falls back on the old trick of bad writers everywhere of excessive italicization to make a point. Thus, in reciting a long list of assertions by Hastings, the appeal notes “italics in original” to the point of absurdity:
[Hastings wrote] that autism is genetic “and the only non-genetic factors. . .are factors that influence development during the early prenatal period” (Dec. 88) (emphasis in original); that Michelle had “symptoms of autism prior to her MMR vaccination” (Dec. 127) (emphasis in original); that Michelle “did not experience an abrupt onset of autism symptoms shortly after her MMR vaccination” (Dec. 127) (emphasis in original); that epidemiology rejects the theory that the MMR vaccine can cause autism (Dec. 88); that Michelle “failed completely” to show MMR vaccine can cause autism (Dec. 126) (emphasis in original); that it is “extremely unlikely that the MMR vaccine can contribute to the causation of autism” (Dec. 126) (emphasis in original); … and that “‘autistic enterocolitis’. . .is not a medically recognized disease category” (Dec. 142) (emphasis in original).
The problem – beside the fact that Hastings is utterly wrong -- is that if you italicize every other word, it starts to sound like you’re screaming about something that you think is so obvious – like the preposterous idea that vaccines cause autism – that you might as well italicize everything and end every sentence with five exclamation marks about what idiots these people are!!!!!
Anyway, Gary is gone and now we’re dealing with the new boss. This is going to be fun!!!!!
Dan Olmsted is Editor of Age of Autism.
(Here's the song that inspired Dan's headline.)