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Pauline Lerner

Legal and financial hassles (continued)

February 6, 2006 at 1:40 AM

[This is continued from 2.3.06]

My budding career as a freelance science writer has hit a big snag -- a $1500 snag to be precise.

Congress enacted a law and charged the government agency NIH with implementing it. NIH formed a committee of scientific experts and hired a contract firm (herein called “C”) to facilitate their work. The experts spoke to each other on periodic conference calls and then convened for an in-person meeting with sessions for the whole group and breakout sessions for subcommittees. C hired me to sit in on the meetings of one subcommittee, listen, tape the proceedings, take notes, and write a detailed summary of the scientific discussion. The discussions were interesting, and everything went smoothly except that the tape recorder didn’t work well, and the tapes were almost completely blank. (Remember President Nixon and the 18 minute gap in his tapes?) I did my work, submitted an invoice, and naively expected to be paid according to the contract I had signed with C.

Several weeks after the completion of the project, someone from C (called herein “Ms. C”) called me and told me that the quality of my work was terrible and they weren’t going to pay me for it. I was outraged and insulted and said so. My work was actually very good. Ms. C said that my document had been sent to the chairperson of the appropriate subcommittee for review, and the chairperson said that my work was totally unacceptable. C had to do it over from scratch. I asked Ms. C how her company rewrote the document, since I was the only person from C at the subcommittee meeting, and Ms. C said that they used the tapes. I asked her why they didn’t call me to revise my document, and she said that they didn’t have time to call me since they were pushing the deadline. I know that I didn’t return the tapes until several weeks after the deadline, and the tapes were almost completely blank. I told her that I would take the company to small claims court if they didn’t pay me soon. I have not heard from them.

I’ve been doing my research on the Internet. The court pages suggest sending a letter return receipt to the party who owes the money. They warn that even if the plaintiff (me) wins the case, the defendant may not pay. They advise negotiating, and there is a mediation service which will have representatives at court on the morning of the trial. I was glad to learn that I can request the judge to subpoena witnesses. I will send C a letter, return receipt, telling them that I am bringing charges and calling the subcommittee chairperson as a witness. Maybe this will give me some leverage, since C really, really does not want to antagonize their client. (Haha, as Linda L would say)

I hadn’t realize that many v.commies have done freelance work and are in a very good position to give me advice. I appreciate the advice you’ve already given me, and I’d like some more.

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