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Sharyl Attkisson blogs the Hannah Poling settlement

10 Sep

I had forgotten Sharyl Attkisson. She is a reporter for CBS news who has covered vaccines in the past, but has been silent on the issue for the past year or more.

Her recent piece shows exactly the sort of reporting that frustrated me in the past: Family to Receive $1.5M in First-Ever Vaccine-Autism Court Award

In that piece she links to her piece from 2008 on the Hannah Poling case: Vaccine Case: An Exception Or A Precedent?

Here’s a quote from that earlier piece:

While the Poling case is the first of its kind to become public, a CBS News investigation uncovered at least nine other cases as far back as 1990, where records show the court ordered the government compensated families whose children developed autism or autistic-like symptoms in children including toddlers who had been called “very smart” and “impressed” doctors with their “intelligence and curiosity” … until their vaccinations.

They were children just like Hannah Poling.

What’s still being debated is whether the Poling case is an exception … or a precedent.

So, which is it? Were there children “just like Hannah Poling” or is this the “First-Ever Vaccine-Autism Court Award”?

Actually, it is neither. This isn’t the first vaccine court award involving autism, and the other cases are not “just like Hannah Poling”.

For real information on the other nine cases, read Kathleen Seidel’s piece on Few, professional or amateur, can compare the the thoroughness of Kathleen Seidel. For example, one case (the first I read involving autism from the vaccine court) is Suel v. HHS. Young David Suel had tuberous sclerosis, a condition known to be associated with autism and epilepsy. Epilepsy occurs in about 60 to 90% of individuals with TS. Autism occurs in about 25-50%. David Suel’s case was declared to be a “table injury” wherein the seizures began within a set period after his DPT vaccination. What is notable about that is the table for DPT was later changed–when it was shown that DPT was not responsible for inducing seizure disorders. In other words, had David Suel been vaccinated, or just filed, after the change in the table, he likely would not have been awarded damages.

“They were children just like Hannah Poling”? Is tuberous sclerosis just like mitochondrial disease? (answer: not even close).

Shall we go on? In her recent piece, Ms. Attkisson states:

In 2002, Hannah’s parents filed an autism claim in federal vaccine court. Five years later, the government settled the case before trial and had it sealed

Not accurate. The court did not “settle” the case in 2007. They conceded the case, and they were in the process of completing the settlement when someone leaked the information to the press. The government did not “seal” the case–it is standard procedure to keep this information confidential until the settlement is completed.

But that doesn’t make a good story, does it?

Ms. Attkisson goes on:

In acknowledging Hannah’s injuries, the government said vaccines aggravated an unknown mitochondrial disorder Hannah had which didn’t “cause” her autism, but “resulted” in it. It’s unknown how many other children have similar undiagnosed mitochondrial disorder. All other autism “test cases” have been defeated at trial. Approximately 4,800 are awaiting disposition in federal vaccine court.

Mito-autism was a big thing for a while there. David Kirby took the story and ran with it–making a lot of mistakes along the way and propagating a lot of misinformation. It is unknown how many other children have similar disorders–but the researchers who studied cases like Hannah Poling have stated that cases such as hers are “rare”.

“All other autism “test cases” have been defeated at trial”.

What is conspicuous about the other “test cases” is that in none of them was it argued that the children were like Hannah Poling–i.e. the attorneys did not argue that a mechanism of autism through mitochondrial dysfunction aggravated by vaccines existed. In fact, one child named as a test case was pulled from that slot in order to argue that mitochondrial based case. The expert report filed for that child (since pulled from the Omnibus website) did not argue mitochondrial disorder or dysfunction at that time. In other words, the idea of a mitochondrial disorder being linked to autism was so alien from the cases being made by the attorneys for the families in the Omnibus that this child had to argue the case separately.

It is often pointed out that many autistics may have mitochondrial dysfunction. This is based largely on studies out of Portugal. It is left implied, and it is often believed that mitochondrial dysfunction means vaccine injury in these cases. This was the impression that David Kirby put forth and it was clearly wrong. First, mitochondrial disorders are a very broad spectrum. The type that Hannah Poling has is not the same as those detected in most autistics. Second, most reports of mitochondrial disorders and autism, including the Portugal studies, do not involve regression. Third, even amongst those children reported by the groups that identified Hannah Poling, regression was often idiopathic or followed fever clearly independent of vaccination.

I do not expect Ms. Attkisson to present the following (quality) information, so I will repeat it here:

Here are the answers to some questions posted to mitochondrial medicine experts and their answers:

When asked, to respond to the position: ‘‘I view the risk of vaccination in known metabolic disease patients to generally be outweighed by the risk of the infectious diseases being vaccinated against”

63.2% strongly agreed
31.1% agreed
0.9% disagreed
and 0.9% strongly disagreed.

Asked about the opinion that the risk of vaccination in metabolic disease was ‘‘greater than the risk of the infectious diseases being vaccinated against”

52.9% strongly disagreed
40% disagreed
3.5% agreed
and none strongly agreed

Another example of the workings of the vaccine court

4 Aug

This doesn’t involve the autism cases. Instead it is about the Hepatitis B omnibus proceeding which is also ongoing. It does involve some familiar names: Clifford Shoemaker (attorney), Dr. Mark Geier and his son David Geier. It does give us some insight into the billing practices of these gentlemen.

As background I’ll note that Clifford Shoemaker subpoenaed blogger Kathleen Seidel of He ended up being sanctioned for that action.

Dr. Mark Geier has been a frequent consultant to Mr. Shoemaker’s cases in the vaccine court. Ms. Seidel has covered some of the cases before where Dr. Geier has participated.

David Geier has so far not been compensated as a consultant to the Court.

In a recent case, Quinton O. Riggins, Jr. v. Secretary of HHS, we can see some of the decision processes involved in awarding fees to attorneys and consultants in the Court.

The application was for a total of $221,211.34:

On April 1, 2008, petitioner’s counsel, Clifford Shoemaker, filed an Application for Attorneys’ Fees and Costs (hereinafter referenced to as Petitioner’s Application), requesting a total of $221,211.34 in attorneys’ fees and costs. Counsel requests $16,592.16 in fees and costs related to the above-captioned matter, and $204,619.18 in fees and costs related to the “general hepatitis B proceedings.”

Of this, about $96k was paid:

Accordingly, petitioner is entitled to the following award for fees and costs for efforts in the Riggins case and for efforts on the hepatitis B cases in general: $95,801.72 for attorney’s fees and costs to be paid by check payable to petitioner and petitioner’s counsel; and $528.25 in petitioner’s costs to be paid by check payable to petitioner. The Clerk shall enter judgment accordingly.

The analysis of the application is lengthy. I will quote some sections below.

In regards to Mark and David Geier:

“Petitioner’s counsel requests $110,386.73 in costs related to S&A’s general hepatitis B work, of which counsel has earmarked $97,443.43 as costs (for fees and expenses) owed to Dr. Mark Geier and his son, David Geier.”

In the end, Dr. Mark Geier was paid $10,000 and David Geier was not compensated.

In denying payment to David Geier, who holds a bachelors degree, the Special Master noted:

“In summary, the undersigned finds the costs for David Geier’s efforts to be obviously unreasonable as Mr. Geier is not qualified to address the medical issues involved in the Program and his work was duplicative of the efforts by Dr. Geier. Thus, the undersigned denies the request for costs for David Geier in its entirety.”

In regards to Dr. Mark Geier:

However, Dr. Geier’s qualifications as an expert, testimony in the Program, and credentials, have been subject of considerable criticism over the years by the court. The undersigned questioned his expertise as far back as 1991. Daly v.Sec’y of HHS, No. 90-590V, 1991 WL 154573, at *7 (Cl. Ct. Spec. Mstr. July 26, 1991) (“[T]his court is inclined to not allow Dr. Geier to testify before it on issues of Table injuries. Dr. Geier clearly lacks the expertise to evaluate the symptomatology of the Table injuries and render an opinion thereon.”). More recently, in a published Order, my colleague, Special Master Vowell, addressed this criticism, as well as her concerns regarding petitioners utilizing medical articles authored by Dr. Geier, as follows:

I found that the articles authored by Dr. Geier unpersuasive and not scientifically sound, based on my prior reading of the articles and critiques of them. I am also aware that Dr. Geier is trained as a geneticist and obstetrician, not an immunologist, epidemiologist, or rheumatologist, and that my fellow special masters and several other judges have opined unfavorably on his qualifications and testimony as an expert.

It appears that since the Court has found that Dr. Geier is not qualified as an “expert”, he was retained as a “consultant”. However, he appears to have acted in ways overstepping the bounds of “counsultant”.

In the instant matter, the undersigned finds it was reasonable (and appropriate) for counsel to consult with Dr. Geier in a limited manner regarding the hepatitis B claims. Those efforts would entail Dr. Geier performing an initial review of the counsel’s hepatitis B claims and some initial research regarding vaccine injuries resulting from hepatitis B vaccine. Dr. Geier would then educate counsel as to the nature of the issues and the types of experts required. However, once Dr. Geier performed an initial review of these claims for counsel, and once counsel began reaching out to doctors who would ultimately serve as experts in S&A’s hepatitis B claims, it was no longer reasonable for Dr. Geier to be billing hours and incurring costs in S&A’s general hepatitis B efforts. Dr. Geier at this point was moving well beyond the role of a consultant.14 Thus by the beginning of 2002, when Mr. Shoemaker began to meet with experts15 to assist in the prosecution of the hepatitis B claims, Dr. Geier’s work on behalf of S&A’s general hepatitis B efforts was no longer needed and should have concluded.

Because of this, Dr. Geier was compensated at a reasonable amount for his consulting activities.

The undersigned notes an award of $10,000.00 represents an almost 90% reduction of the invoice submitted by the Geiers in this matter. The award of $10,000.00 is reasonable for Dr. Geier’s consultant efforts, and thus should not be viewed as a “reduction,” but viewed as reasonable compensation for Dr. Geier’s role as a consultant. The time not compensated is time largely spent by Dr. Geier duplicating the efforts of the experts, duplicating his own work, or performing work as an expert (work he is not qualified to perform). Stated another way, once experts were identified and became involved, Dr. Geier’s role as a consultant ended.

Mr. Shoemaker requested $221,211.34 in fees and costs:

On April 1, 2008, petitioner’s counsel, Clifford Shoemaker, filed an Application for Attorneys’ Fees and Costs (hereinafter referenced to as Petitioner’s Application), requesting a total of $221,211.34 in attorneys’ fees and costs. Counsel requests $16,592.16 in fees and costs related to the above-captioned matter, and $204,619.18 in fees and costs related to the “general hepatitis B proceedings.”

The court found that $64,254.45 was reasonable.

Here is an example of a charge that was denied:

The 5/30/2006 entry bills 0.5 hours to “[r]eview excel chart and update information; transfer information needed for SC to laptop,” P. App at 18. The “transfer information needed for SC to laptop” entry was explained by counsel asconstituting mere seconds and thus not administrative overhead. P Resp at 2, fn 1. However, counsel failed to address the remainder of the entry and identify what excel chart he was updating and how that activity was relevant to Mr. Riggins’ case. However, far more egregiously, counsel has billed for this exact same activity on precisely the same date twice before in two separate hepatitis B cases.

Trips to France and Italy were also excluded:

Another extreme example of counsel’s error in billing judgment is the request by counsel for fees and costs billed by Dr. Mark Geier and David Geier for trips to France and Italy in the summer of 2005 and winter of 2006 respectively, and for Mr. Shoemaker to travel to France with the Geiers in the summer of 2005. These requests represent a complete abdication of billing judgment.

Dr. Geier and Mr. Geier together billed a total of over $20,000.00, P App at 62-63, to travel along with Mr. Shoemaker to France and meet with various doctors and lawyers to discuss adverse events following the hepatitis B vaccination. Dr. Geier, in his affidavit, and counsel in Petitioner’s Sur-Reply, allege it was necessary to travel to France to discuss the doctors’ and lawyers’ experiences and research relating to adverse reactions stemming from the hepatitis B vaccination, and that this information could only be obtained in “face-to-face” discussions. In addition, Dr. Geier and Mr. Geier together billed $23,690.00 to travel to Italy to attend the 5th International Conference of Autoimmunity. Petitioner argues in Petitioner’s Response that the Geiers were invited to present their research at the conference by Dr. Shoenfeld, a leading expert in autoimmunity, and that at the conference they were able to secure Dr. Shoenfeld’s services as an expert in counsel’s cases. Petitioner further alleges the Geiers were able to discuss autoimmune disorders with experts at the conference and further “expedite the prosecution of various hepatitis b cases.” P Resp at 12.


Additionally, the Geiers provided absolutely no supporting documentation, such as receipts, to evidence the $9,399.68, see P App at 60, they allege they incurred in costs for airline tickets, other transportation costs, parking, hotel, “daily expenses,” food, and conference fees during these trips. P App at 61-62. By itself, this failure justifies not awarding these costs.

Many expenses for Mr. Shoemaker were questioned by the Special Master. Some based on the lack of adequate justification for the costs:

Petitioner’s counsel has failed to provide adequate information for the undersigned to determined exactly what the costs represent and whether or not the costs were reasonably incurred. No receipts are provided for any of these expenses. For example, for what did counsel pay costs to Federal Express? Who traveled to Boston and stayed at the Ritz Carlton? What expert was met with in Boston? Who traveled to Florida? And what attorney was met with in Florida?

Other expenses were considered to be “overhead”

Respondent objects to five hours of time billed by counsel for “‘meeting with consultants about scanning issues’” on April 19, 2000; one hour of time billed by counsel for “‘review[ing] computer breakdowns and update computer field’” on October 8, 2002; and three hours of time billed by counsel for a “consultation with Legal Nurses Association to discuss reviewing cases and preparing chronologies” on September 19 and 21, 2001. R Opp at 17; see also R Reply at 7. Respondent objects to these billings on the basis that the billings are administrative in nature, “more properly categorized as overhead” and would benefit “all petitioners represented by [counsel’s] firm.” Id. The undersigned agrees.

The entire decision is 37 pages long, detailing the requests for reimbursments, fees and costs.

Amanda Peet and the Streisand Effect

16 Jul

I had never heard of the “Streisand Effect” until a few months ago. That’s when Clifford Shoemaker subpoenaed.

The basic idea is simple: someone tries to censor or remove some piece of information from the internet, and, instead, the actions cause the information to be much more widely spread than it would have been otherwise.

In the case of the subpoena, many (MANY) people heard about the site and, especially, some of the actions of Mr. Shoemaker, than would have happened had the subpoena not been issued.

I was reminded of this phenomenon today when I found that the Amanda Peet story has started to catch on big. Amanda Peet was quoted in Cookie Magazine with a very pro-vaccine stance. She had been scared by…

….the amount of misinformation floating around, particularly in Hollywood

So, what did she do? She asked a medical professional for advice. Dang, what a concept! She was very fortunate that her brother in law is a doctor and, even more luckily, he works at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) where Paul Offit works.

Dr. Offit knows vaccines. Not in the, “I’ve read a ton in the internet” version of “knows” vaccines. No, He researches and develops vaccines. He is also a vocal spokesperson against the idea that vaccines cause autism. That, as you can imagine, makes him very unpopular with some segments of the autism community.

So, you can imagine what happened when Amanda Peet came out pro vaccine, against the vaccine-autism connection and stated that she got information from Dr. Offit. Yes, she got the usual hate-filled reception. And make no mistake, I am not downplaying that. I would not be surprised if she, like others before her, have had to forward emails or phone calls to the authorities because they seem threatening.

But, as time goes on, the message isn’t getting quashed. picked up the story today and stated,

Now, Peet vs. McCarthy is the celebrity smackdown du jour. Sure, we’d all be better off taking our medical advice from doctors and nurses rather than celebrities. Yet, everyone from the American Academy of Pediatrics to Salon columnist Dr. Rahul Parikh has tried to reassure parents that vaccines don’t cause autism. Meanwhile, public health officials worry when public confidence in vaccinations continues to erode, in part because of high-profile celebrity advocacy, like McCarthy’s Green Our Vaccines march and rally held in Washington, D.C., in June.

And, what was that “smackdown du jour”? Looks like E! picked up the story as well.

All these web stories give the usual crowd an opportunity to add comments. The forums and comment sections for those stories are filled with people trashing Amanda Peet. I wish those people would catch a clue–have someone outside the autism community read what they write. The comments are strident, rude and, in general, really make the autism community as a whole look bad. It’s one thing to rant away in a closed yahoo group or in the comment section of the Age of Autism blog, but the public doesn’t know (and I wish they didn’t) just how mean and nasty these “advocacy” groups can be.

This story isn’t going away. Amanda Peet is now a spokesperson for Every Child By Two, a pro-vaccine organization founded by former first lady Rosalynn Carter. (as an aside–the Carters are one of the best ex-first-families the U.S. has seen).

Now that Amanda Peet has come down against the idea that vaccines cause autism, pretty much everything she says will be picked apart and analyzed. One comment that is giving a lot of ammunition to her detractors is this: “Frankly, I feel that parents who don’t vaccinate their children are parasites.”

Read the comments and how many people try to make it sound like Amanda Peet is calling autism parents “parasites”. (Hint, she didn’t).

Let’s take a quick look at that term, parasite.

a person who receives support, advantage, or the like, from another or others without giving any useful or proper return, as one who lives on the hospitality of others.

Now, let’s take a look at what Dr. Sears, one of the people often quoted by vaccine rejectionists, has to say about the MMR vaccine:

“I also warn them not to share their fears with other neighbors, because if too many people avoid the MMR, we’ll likely see the diseases increase significantly.”

So, he appears to this reader to be telling parents who don’t give the MMR vaccination to their children to keep mum, or the herd immunity will be compromised and the advantage to those parents will be lost.

Sweet. That doesn’t sound like “receiving advantage” without giving anything useful in return, does it?

Don’t get me wrong. For people with real reasons to avoid some or all vaccines (one regular commenter on this blog comes to mind). But, “I am scared of MMR causing autism so I am not going to vaccinate my kid, but I’ll hide in the herd immunity” doesn’t sit very well.

Also, where is the compassion for those who really need the protection of herd immunity? Where is the “Consider that your neighbor’s kids could use the advantage of your child’s immunity”?

But, to bring this back to where we started: Amanda Peet has hit the scene. She has jumped in with both feet, and appears to be staying for a while. A lot of voices appear to be trying to shout her down. Instead, they just seem to be giving Amada Peet’s message more coverage.

Poling vs HHS – Something is definitely beginning to smell

30 Apr

Back in March I wrote a post highlighting my suspicion that we weren’t getting the whole story regarding the Poling’s. They had – at that time – failed to give permission to Dr Andrew Zimmerman to discuss the case, despite the fact that he was deply involved in the treatment abd diagnosis of Hannah Poling. He has still – to the best of my knowledge – not been given permission by the Poling’s to speak.

I also blogged Jon Poling’s own words on the subject of document release:

The HHS expert documents that led to this concession and accompanying court documents remain sealed, though our family has already permitted release of Hannah’s records to those representing the almost 5, 000 other autistic children awaiting their day in vaccine court.

and pointed out the strange incompatability with what the _court_ said:

in the case that is the subject of the media reports, if the parties who supplied documents and information in the case provide their written consent, we may then be able to appropriately disclose documents in the case.

where it is made crystal clear that the Poling’s had not in fact provided written consent to release their documents.

Further documentation from the courts has now been released which touches on this issue in more detail.

I want to thank M who can choose to name themselves further if they feel like it for helping explain these and for highlighting them in the first place.

The basic gist of this document is that *the Poling’s do not want all the information to be released* despite their oft-repeated claim to the contrary. What information do they not want released – and why?

Respondent points out in the filed Sur-Reply to Petitioners’ Motion for Complete Transparency of Proceedings (R’s Sur-Reply) that while petitioners “did undertake initial steps
necessary to permit discussion of their case before the Special Masters presiding in the Omnibus
Autism Proceeding and before representatives of the Petitioners’ Steering Committee[,] *[i]n fact,
it is respondent who first approached and asked for petitioners’ consent to permit the Secretary of
Health and Human Services to disclose medical information regarding this case* in order for the
Secretary to address inaccurate statements that were being made publicly concerning respondent’s position in this case.”

Now _this_ is a bombshell. It was _not_ the Poling’s who first wanted to release documents, it was HHS. They asked for the Poling’s consent to permit HHS to disclose medical information in order to ‘address innaccurate statements that were being made publicly’.

Well, well.

And there’s more. HHS had also heard aboout the press conference the Poling’s intended to hold:

Having received no response from petitioners, respondent contacted petitioners’ counsel to inquire about the proposed consent form and to “inquire whether press reports were true that petitioners were planning press conference for the following day.” Petitioners’ counsel replied to respondent, and represented during a status conference in this case, that the reports of a planned press conference were not true…….and two days later they held a press conference and appeared in
nationally televised and print interviews discussing the case.

So they lied about the press conference too. Petitioners Counsel is, of course, one Clifford Shoemaker.

What is going on here? Granted there are pre-conditions HHS also wanted placed upon the release of information but why won’t the Poling’s let key medical details that would ‘address innaccurate statements that were being made publicly’ be released right now? Why do they claim that they are asking for complete disclosure when it is clear they are not? Why did their counsel blatantly lie about the press conference?

This is very much an example to me of the ‘muddying of the waters’ that John Shoffner talked about recently.