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Strange days trail diocese case lawyers

 (The Spokesman-Review)
Cross (The Spokesman-Review)

There he was, lying on the floor of his Portland hotel room, unsure if he could muster the strength to dial 911.

“I’m in trouble here, big trouble,” attorney Shaun Cross remembers thinking.

In the 21 months since the Spokane Catholic Diocese filed for bankruptcy, a clutch of lawyers working the case has been stricken with sudden, painful and life-threatening medical conditions.

No one is bold enough to call it a hex. But it’s safe to say the close calls have inspired a little soul-searching – and better health monitoring.

The maladies in each case required surgeries and tough-speak from doctors even stronger than the occasional admonishments from no-nonsense U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Patricia Williams.

Yet the coincidence, if that’s what it is, doesn’t seem to have touched the diocese itself.

“Everyone wearing the collar seems to be OK,” said attorney Michael Paukert with a grin.

Paukert, a partner of Cross’, had his gall bladder removed after waking up in the middle of the night with the kind of pain that makes men look upon mothers with renewed wonder and respect.

He wasn’t sure what was wrong, so he drove himself to the emergency room without waking his wife or children.

Doctors revealed that he had a gall stone the size of a golf ball basically blocking a bile duct. The gall bladder, an unessential organ, Paukert was told, would have to go.

The two Spokane attorneys acknowledged that their ailments may generate a certain amount of glee among lawyer-bashers. “I know, I know,” said Cross. “I can hear it now.”

In his case, Cross had traveled to Oregon to meet with those involved in the bankruptcy case of the Portland Archdiocese.

Two hours before he was to give a morning speech, he began to feel ill, he said. It was so bad that Cross, an aspiring politician who rarely passes up a chance to share his opinion with an audience, asked colleague Greg Arpin to take his place.

As the pain in his side worsened, Cross began to worry about more than his speaking engagement.

He called his hotel’s front desk to ask about an in-house doctor, not an unreasonable request in an upscale inn such as the Heathman. An hour passed without a visit. With the pain intolerable, he punched 911.

The paramedics who responded found Cross lying on the floor in a fetal position. They sped him to the hospital.

There, doctors discovered that his appendix had ruptured so severely that it tore holes in his intestine and injured his colon.

He was hospitalized for 12 days as doctors treated massive infections that wreaked enough havoc on his body to collapse a lung.

“I feel very fortunate to be alive,” Cross said.

He lost 17 pounds but none of his self-deprecating humor.

“All the rumors around here that I’m full of you-know-what? Well the doctors in Portland were able to confirm that,” he deadpanned.

Months after Cross fell ill, Los Angeles attorney Jim Stang found himself with a burning chest, sweating profusely.

Stang’s name is second on the shingle of a Los Angeles law firm with a reputation as one of the best in the Western United States. He was hired to represent a key creditors’ committee of abuse victims in the Spokane diocese bankruptcy.

He’s a big man, an easy 6 feet 7 inches tall and 295 pounds.

“Like most guys,” he said, “I waited a few days before saying anything to anyone.”

His wife, a nurse by training, sent him to the doctor. A blood workup revealed the symptoms. Next, a cardiologist told Stang to admit himself to the hospital – now.

Five days later he was allowed to leave. Surgeons had completed a quadruple bypass and saved his life.

“It was not a heart attack,” Stang said of his condition.

But it was a surprise. Stang doesn’t smoke and has only an occasional drink.

He does have a fondness for hard cheeses and generous dinner helpings. And he is the father of two daughters, ages 16 and 19.

Today he works with a dietitian as part of his rehabilitation program and shares this tip about dining out: Ask the wait staff to bring half your dinner to the table and box the rest to take home. Then don’t eat it until the next day.


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