Monday, November 14, 2005

How Not to Resolve a Dispute Over Your Airline Seat

Dr. Kenneth Goodrich was trying to fly home to Pennsylvania from Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport when he got into a dispute about his boarding pass (perhaps concerning a seat assignment).  He left the plane after raising a bit of a ruckus, and then when he was informed that his checked luggage would be waiting for him in Scranton when he would not be on the plane, he responded by asserting that they may be explosives in the suitcase.  Not a good idea, as summarized in the press release (here) issued by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Georgia:

KENNETH GOODRICH, M.D., 52, of Towanda, Pennsylvania, has been indicted by a federal grand jury on a charge of False Information and Hoaxes (a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1038), in connection with a false bomb threat at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. According to Nahmias and the documents and information presented in court:

On June 26, 2005, GOODRICH, a medical doctor, had boarded an Atlantic Southeast Airlines (ASA) aircraft destined for Scranton, Pennsylvania. GOODRICH was asked by airline officials to exit the plane to resolve a boarding pass issue. GOODRICH became aggravated and initially refused to leave the aircraft before ultimately agreeing to do so. After discovering that his luggage would remain on the aircraft for his pick-up in Scranton, GOODRICH is alleged to have made a threat, while on or near the plane, that his luggage might contain explosives. The flight was delayed as a result, as law enforcement was called to respond and the aircraft’s passengers were ordered to de-plane. Subsequent inspection of GOODRICH’s luggage revealed his threat to have been false.

The service on airlines these days may be straight out of the Soviet Union, but mentioning explosives near a plane is sure to make things even worse than any delay at the airport. (ph)

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This is yet another example of the improper use of law enforcement tools supposedly in the name of national security. I am Dr. Goodrich's attorney. He has been indicted under a statute that apparently has never before been used. There are serious questions concerning the facial validity of this statute, see our pleadings in U.S. v. Goodrich, 1:05-CR-000496-CAP in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. This statute, passed with virtually no debate or legislative history, was part of the massive bill that re-organized the Nation's security agencies. This legislation was entitled the "Anti-Hoax Act", and was designed to cover people who do stupid things such as call in bomb threats to airports, even though other statutes (such as 18 U.S.C. section 35) already cover such activities. Here is what happened to Dr.Goodrich. Like many travelers, he booked his own trip on line. His return flight from Atlanta to Scranton, PA. was on a Delta connector. The doctor got to the Atlanta airport, gave his identification and bags to a skycap, who placed the doctor's name into the computer which then spit out the usual boarding pass. The skycap gave Dr. Goodrich a claim check for his bags, and the doctor then proceeded through TSA security with his identification and boarding pass. He got to the flight, went to his seat, only to discover that a man with an almost identical name was sitting in the seat. It turns out that like many travelers, Dr. Goodrich had put in the wrong date for his return flight. In fact, the airline computer system had Goodrich returning to Pennslyvania 24 hours later. Despite this, the same computer syatem had printed out a boarding pass, had accepted luggage from the doctor and that luggage had been stored into the hold of the plane.
Eventually, airline personnel figured out why there were two people assigned to the same seat with almost the exact same names, and they asked Dr. Goodrich to leave. He wanted his bags removd from the flight, in part because the keys to the vehicle he had left at the airport parking lot in Pennsylvania were inside the luggage. The airline refused. According to the pleadings filed in U.S. District Court, the doctor said he had studied bioterrorism and there "COULD be things in his bags that COULD blow up." Even accepting the government's version, which will be disputed at trial, the doctor never said the luggage DID contain anything that was dangerous, he never threatened anyone. He was arrested, spent a day in custody and release on bond.
We tried to convince the government that while this was obviously a regrettable incident, he had no criminal intent and his apology should have been sufficient to resolve the situation. Instead, the government chose to use this brand new law in a situation far from what it was intended to cover. The airline obviously bears some level of responsiblity, its mistake leading TSA to allow someone into the airport and then on to a plane with luggage when that person was not even supposed to be on the flight.
Like many travelers, I am both appreciative of and repelled by the security measures involved in airline travel. The increasingly poor service on all airlines has only made it worse. However, by virtue of this case against a respected member of the medical field, the government is now threatening all of us with jail time if we have the temerity to speak up about almost anything. The government trumpets this case as somehow making all of us safer when we travel, when in fact it is yet another example of prosecutorial power running amok.
I would be interested if any readers have similar experiences or know of similar cases. For the next day or two, I can be reached online at "". After a couple of days, my email will be ""

Posted by: Paul Kish | Feb 15, 2006 7:56:06 AM

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