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Blogger unmasked, court case upended

It was a Perry Mason moment updated for the Internet age.

As Ivy League-educated pediatrician Robert P. Lindeman sat on the stand in Suffolk Superior Court this month, defending himself in a malpractice suit involving the death of a 12-year-old patient, the opposing counsel startled him with a question.

Was Lindeman Flea?

Flea, jurors in the case didn't know, was the screen name for a blogger who had written often and at length about a trial remarkably similar to the one that was going on in the courtroom that day.

In his blog, Flea had ridiculed the plaintiff's case and the plaintiff's lawyer. He had revealed the defense strategy. He had accused members of the jury of dozing.

With the jury looking on in puzzlement, Lindeman admitted that he was, in fact, Flea.

The next morning, on May 15, he agreed to pay what members of Boston's tight-knit legal community describe as a substantial settlement -- case closed.

The case is a startling illustration of how blogging, already implicated in destroying friendships and ruining job prospects, could interfere in other important arenas. Lawyers in Massachusetts and elsewhere, some of whom downloaded Flea's observations and posted them on their websites, said the case has also prompted them to warn clients that blogs can come back to haunt them.

Still, Andrew C. Meyer Jr., a well known Boston personal injury lawyer who followed the case, said he had never heard of a defendant blogging during a trial.

"Most of us investigate whatever prior writings our clients might have had, so they are not exposed to their inconsistencies in their testimony," said Meyer, who has begun warning clients against the practice. "But it's impossible to do if you don't know that your client is blogging under an assumed name."

Neither Lindeman nor his lawyer, Paul R. Greenberg, would comment. Vinroy Binns, the father of Jaymes Binns, of Dorchester, who died of complications from diabetes in 2002, also declined to comment.

Elizabeth N. Mulvey, the lawyer who represented Vinroy and Deborah Binns and unmasked Lindeman as Flea, said she laughed when she read a posting at the start of the trial in which Lindeman nicknamed her Carissa Lunt, noticed that she bit her fingernails and mused, "Wonder if she's a pillow biter, too?"

But she was appalled that readers in the blogosphere who knew little or nothing about the case rallied to his defense.

The wrongful death suit alleged that Lindeman, who works at Natick Pediatrics, failed to diagnose that Jaymes Binns had diabetes on March 11, 2002, Mulvey said in a court document. Less than six weeks later, the boy died of diabetic ketoacidosis, said Mulvey, who described the condition as "diabetes gone haywire."

Lindeman, a graduate of Yale University and Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons, is board-certified in general pediatrics and pediatric pulmonary medicine, according to the Natick Pediatrics website.

In recent years, he has shared his medical views on local television news programs, on the "Manic Mommies" podcast produced by two Ashland mothers, and in magazines.

He is also the author of drfleablog, in which he calls himself Flea and identifies himself only as a pediatrician in the Northeast. A flea, he told the Globe this year, is what surgeons called pediatricians in training. The Globe's medical blog, White Coat Notes, has occasionally included links to Lindeman's blog, which he has recently taken down.

Mulvey, who said she only learned of the blog a couple weeks before the trial, said after reading scores of back postings that it was controversial yet intellectually stimulating.

Over the past year, Lindeman increasingly used it to rail against the malpractice suit.

In April, before the trial began, he wrote about meeting with an expert on juries who advised him how to act when he was cross- examined. Flea was instructed to angle his chair slightly toward the jury, keep his hands folded in his lap, and face the jury when answering questions, slowly. "Answers should be kept to no more than three sentences," he wrote.

The consultant told him juries in medical malpractice cases base verdicts almost entirely on their view of a doctor's character.

"We've said it before, and we'll say it again: If the basis of this case is that Flea is an arrogant, uncaring jerk who maliciously neglected a patient, resulting in his death, the plaintiff will not win, period," Flea wrote. "As much of a cocky bastard that Flea may appear in the blogosphere, the readers who have a personal acquaintance with the real 3-D doctor understand how such an approach cannot succeed."

Shortly before the end of his second day on the witness stand, while focusing on Lindeman's views of a pediatric textbook, Mulvey asked him whether he had a medical blog, she recalled. He said he did. Then she asked him if he was Flea. He said he was.

The exchange may have been lost on jurors, but Meyer said Mulvey had telegraphed that she was ready to share Lindeman's blog -- containing his unvarnished views of lawyers, jurors, and the legal process -- with the jury.

The next day, the case was settled.

Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at jsaltzman@globe.com.

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