Obiter Dicta

Rear Guard

  • Print

Nancy Ruhling has a full workday ahead of her. The Pulitzer Prize-winning Newsday journalist might start out by spell-checking the TV and movie listings. She could follow that up by editing some recipes and an advice column.

Before she can call it a day, though, Ruhling will have to perform another of her principal duties—checking incoming comics for unsightly “butt cracks.” And if she finds one, it is her responsibility to erase it or white it out.

Ruhling maintains the seeming fall from grace stems partially from a 2002 buyout—or early retirement—that was offered to Ruhling and certain other employees. She refused it and was immediately transferred to a less-demanding position.

Ruhling filed a $60 million lawsuit against News­day and parent company Trib­une Co. in June in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn. The suit alleges employment-based discrimination, retaliation, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Her complaint states that she was having problems as far back as 1984, when she reported having been sexually harassed by her supervisor. Since that time, says the complaint, Ruhling has been overlooked for assignments and promotions, and excluded from events and meetings. “In essence, she’s doing low-level clerks’ duties,” says Ruhling’s attorney, Louis D. Stober Jr. “We find it reprehensible that a major employer in this day and age would engage in such conduct.”

A spokesperson for News­day declined to comment.

So, has Ruhling actually found any butt cracks in the comics so far?

Not that he knows of, says Stober, “But she’s on the lookout with her magnifying glass poised at the ready.”


Judge Lets Peers Deal With Jittery Juror After Unsanctioned Absence

A sentence of solitary confinement was handed down recently in a trial in Kansas City, Mo., but it had nothing to do with the defendant. Barbara Sparkman, 54, of Indepen­dence, was an alternate juror in a murder trial but didn’t relish the thought of having to look at those icky crime scene and autopsy photos.

So, the night before the trial, she left a message at the courthouse saying she wouldn’t be able to attend the trial be cause she had suffered a stress-related asthma attack and her mother was in a nursing home.

Circuit Court Judge Thomas Clark tried to contact Sparkman, to no avail. Not wanting to start the trial without her—that would give the defendant grounds for an appeal—he sent dep­uties to bring her to court.

Clark let Spark­ man’s fellow jurors determine her fate, giv­ing them four options: 1) Do nothing. 2) Jail her for contempt for a day or two. 3) Make her serve jury duty the next week. 4) Make her sit alone in the jury assembly room for the duration of the trial. They chose the fourth option. “I usually got there at 9 a.m. and stayed until 4:30 p.m.,” Spark­man says of the seven-day trial, “but a couple of times the jury left early so the judge came down and told me I could leave, too.”

Sparkman says she feels the judge was sorry he had to take such measures, but that she probably left him no choice.

“He didn’t know what else to do to get me down there.”

Stories by The Kansas City Star, New York Post; Research by Mark Hansen.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.