Static: Wednesday, January 9, 2003
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Settling Accounts

In the final analysis, it may be only a Pyrrhic victory — Tom and Randy Charles are, after all, still gravely ill from lead poisoning with no hope of recovery. (“Poisoned Lives,” Oct. 17-23, 2002). The brothers have been sick since they were exposed to deadly lead dust in 1999 during the remodeling of a room at the Carswell women’s prison hospital.

But their long battle to force the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to take responsibility for the former construction workers’ severe health problems ended last week with some small measure of justice.

Just as their case was about to be played out in federal court, the government agreed to settle. The deal, worked out by their union attorney, Mark Williams, and signed last week, gives the men a lump sum payment. A gag order prevents the men from disclosing the amount, but under the settlement, the government agreed to change the status of the brothers — both fired by the bureau for abusing their medical leave when they became too ill to work — to “medical retirement.” They will receive a monthly check equaling about 80 percent of their regular pay and have full family medical coverage for the rest of their lives. “As soon as the paperwork’s done, we’re going to start seeing our doctor again,” Tom Charles said. The men and Tom’s wife, Judy, who is also suffering from the effects of the lead due to her exposure from Tom’s clothes, have had no medical coverage since the bureau terminated the brothers two years ago.

While the feds admitted no guilt, lawyers for the Charles family say that such a turnaround from an intransigent bureaucracy — which has adamantly denied for years that the men’s lead poisoning was job-related — is largely unheard of. The reason? According to attorney Mike Ware, it was tenacious Tom Charles, who refused to go gentle into that good night, and “the Weekly story.” Ware, who was handling the Charles family’s federal case, said he’s convinced that Fort Worth Weekly’s exposure of government wrongdoing “made the difference.”

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