Laurence Tribe's case against the Social Safeway: Top legal scholar stuck in elevator
Not even the most creative legal scholar would call what happened last weekend at the Social Safeway "false imprisonment," but at the time, it almost felt like that for Laurence Tribe.
The famed constitutional law professor and his girlfriend spent a miserable 13 minutes trapped in a hot elevator at the posh Georgetown grocery mecca, a situation they fear could put others at risk. It happened late Sunday morning, when Tribe and Elizabeth Westling headed into the store. They walked into the elevator at ground level, hit the button to go up, and -- nothing.
As the compartment heated up, they hit the emergency button. A dispatcher responded, Westling told our colleague, Lisa Rein. "She put us on hold, then we got a dial tone."
It got hotter. No signal on their cellphones. They banged on the door. Someone identifying himself as a firefighter shouted back and said a rescue squad was on the way. "We were getting short of air," said Tribe, 68.
Finally, he forced the doors open. Once out, they blocked the entrance with shopping carts: "There was a continuing peril for the public." But the firefighter left before they could file a report. A manager, apologizing, said she didn't hear the alarm.
In this town, you really don't want to tick off a lawyer. Especially one who has argued 30-some cases before the Supreme Court. Tribe, who took leave from Harvard to work at the Justice Department under his prize pupil, President Barack Obama, said he's not feeling very litigious ("I don't think it's our style") -- but he's dismayed by Safeway's reaction: A risk manager called, promising an investigation and some free wine.
"They need to be publicly accountable," Tribe said.
What happened? Craig Muckle, a public affairs manager for Safeway, told Rein that the lubricant in the elevator motor probably got too hot, gumming up the system. The store will install an oil cooler -- and also scold the off-site monitoring service for not responding faster. As for Tribe and Westling, Safeway "is trying to figure out what kind of resolution is appropriate," he said. "We could have offered some steaks or a gift card. . . . We'd like to keep them at Safeway." (Just not, presumably, by force.)
The Reliable Source
July 23, 2010; 1:05 AM ET
Categories: 44: Obama's Washington
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