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December 10 -- "Halliburton Shares Plunge on Verdict".   The market clipped $3.8 billion off the giant oil field service company's share valuation after Peter Angelos got a $30 million jury award against it.  "The ruling is the fourth significant asbestos ruling against Halliburton since late October, according to Merrill Lynch ... Over the last 25 years, Halliburton has settled 194,000 asbestos claims, the company said.  The average payment was about $200, according to Allen Brooks, executive director at CIBC World Markets.  As of Sept. 30, the company faced 146,000 open asbestos claims and 182,000 more from a former subsidiary called Harbison-Walker."  (David Koenig, AP/Yahoo, Dec. 7; Neela Banerjee, "Halliburton Battered as Asbestos Verdict Stirs Deep Anxieties", New York Times, Dec. 8).  Federal-Mogul, the big auto parts maker, became the latest large bankruptcy to result from asbestos litigation with a filing two months ago (Joe Miller, "Asbestos suits hurt Fed-Mogul",  Detroit News, Oct. 2). 

"In late October, a Mississippi jury ordered three firms, including oil-services giant Halliburton and manufacturer 3M, to pay six plaintiffs $25 million apiece. ...What made jaws drop was that the plaintiffs weren't even sick–their X-rays just showed they stood an increased chance of getting sick.  'Most of these guys have not missed a day of work in their lives,' their lawyer said. ... To unearth new clients for lawyers, screening firms advertise in towns with many aging industrial workers or park X-ray vans near union halls. To get a free X-ray, workers must often sign forms giving law firms 40 percent of any recovery.  One solicitation reads: 'Find out if YOU have MILLION DOLLAR LUNGS!'"  ("Looking for some million-dollar lungs", U.S. News, Dec. 17). 

Some say asbestos defendants should try to avoid angering juries by paying claims without a fight, but an attorney for power plant maker Babcock & Wilcox said an uncritical approach to claims had proved too expensive for his now-bankrupt client: "In the past, you literally filled out a form in five minutes that stated the claimant had a note from the doctor saying he was coughing and had other symptoms and showed that he worked at the site.  It took five to 10 minutes to fill out the form that would routinely lead to checks for thousands of dollars." (Terry Brennan, "Firms Wary of Challenging Asbestos Claims", The Deal, Nov. 13).  And battling continues in a case (see Feb. 12-13) in which B&W and other asbestos defendants have attempted to turn the tables on leading plaintiff's firms, arguing that they have violated racketeering laws by coaching clients' testimony and by threatening retaliation against companies that seek a legislative solution to the litigation morass.  (Mark Hamblett, "Asbestos Companies Bring RICO Suit Against Plaintiffs' Firms", New York Law Journal, Sept. 6).  This spring defendant law firms won a court order prohibiting the plaintiff companies from questioning their former, as well as their current, employees without counsel being present -- i.e., even if the former employees are eager to spill the beans they will not be allowed to do so except in the presence of someone representing their former employer.  That certainly should put a chill on whistleblowing (Mark Hamblett, "Employees of Law Firms Charged With Racketeering Shielded From Interviews Without Counsel", New York Law Journal, April 11). 

Plus: Dallas alt-weekly Observer, which had run some of the best journalism on the Baron & Budd client-coaching asbestos scandal, returned with a terrific follow-up in March which we've unconscionably delayed in linking (Thomas Korosec, "Homefryin' with Fred Baron", Dallas Observer, March 29).  (DURABLE LINK)

December 10 -- Steve Chapman on military tribunals.   "President Bush has provoked a storm of criticism by authorizing special military tribunals to try terrorists caught in our war against al Qaeda. Some of the complaints, dealing with the specific rules and procedures that the administration proposes, are worth considering. But other gripes seem to miss the crucial point that war is vastly different from law enforcement. " (Chicago Tribune/ TownHall, Dec. 6). 

December 10 -- Love contracts.   Some lawyers continue to advise employers to get co-workers who are in amorous relationships to sign legal documents affirming that the liaison is indeed voluntary, and that they will not harass each other if it ends.  A 1998 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management "found that while 88 percent of the companies that discourage workplace romances do so out of fear of sexual harassment claims, just 4 percent of such relationships resulted in claims that led to litigation." We don't know where that "just" comes from -- a 4 percent risk of getting the employer dragged into court sounds pretty serious to us.  (Torri Minton, "Caught in the pact -- Couples involved in office dalliances required to sign 'love contract'", San Francisco Chronicle, Dec. 2). (DURABLE LINK)

December 10 -- "Saudi Arabia finally gets tough on terrorism!"   "We are fighting a holy war to eradicate the source of the biggest corruption on earth," says Saudi lawyer Ahmad al-Tuwarjiri, but it turns out he's talking about ... tobacco companies, who he's suing in a legal action in Riyadh.  (Frank Gardner, "Saudi hospital fights tobacco 'terrorists'", BBC, Dec. 4, via Untold Millions weblog, Dec. 5) (see Nov. 16, 2000 -- we're not sure what became of that earlier action, but suspect that it didn't fare well, since the action's now moving to Riyadh).  (DURABLE LINK)

December 7-9 -- Counterterrorism agents, on their own.   Gabriel Schoenfeld, writing in Commentary:  "Last year, at the behest of Congress, the National Commission on Terrorism, a body of leading experts, issued findings" on U.S. vulnerability to terrorist attack.  Among other problems it warned of: the nation lacks adequate counterterrorist efforts, including intelligence monitoring of terrorist groups.  "According to the commission, the guidelines governing the recruitment of 'unsavory' sources, introduced by the Clinton administration in 1995, had created a climate within the CIA that was 'overly risk-averse' and that contributed 'to a marked decline in agency morale unparalleled since the 1970s.'  That is bad enough; but the morale problem had sources beyond the restrictive guidelines.  Again according to the commission, some CIA officers and FBI special agents were being 'sued individually' by terrorist suspects for actions taken in the course of their officially sanctioned duties.  Instead of representing them in such suits, the government was letting the agents fend for themselves; those who chose to stay on the job were being forced to purchase personal-liability insurance to cover their legal bills. 

"Did the commission call for an end to this preposterous state of affairs, whereby accused terrorists have been able to turn the tables on their pursuers and bring them to court?  Not at all.  It asked only that the government provide 'full reimbursement of the costs of personal-liability insurance.'" ("Could September 11 Have Been Averted?", Commentary, December (scroll to near end)). 

December 7-9 -- Overlawyered schools roundup.   A judge has thrown out Desiree Radford's suit claiming that it was unlawful for the city of Buffalo to lay off teachers in her son's district without first conducting an environmental impact statement  ("Judge Dismisses Mother's Case To Stop Buffalo Teacher Layoffs", WGRZ.com, undated). In Ohio, the case of Fairview High School junior Aaron Petitt, "who claimed he was denied freedom of speech and due process when he received a 10-day suspension for hanging posters of airplanes bombing Afghanistan on his student locker," is ending with a denouement summed up in the Cleveland paper's headline: "District settles case with student; he gets $2,000, lawyers $21,000".  Aaron's lawyers are charging local taxpayers $300 an hour for their services.  (Sarah Treffinger, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Dec. 1).  Schools in Canada's largest city will probably wind up in court because of an effort to raise standards: "A Toronto parent group concerned about Ontario's tough new school curriculum will encourage parents to take legal action against the government if their children are suffering under the revamped standards." (Lee-Anne Goodman, "Toronto parent group encourages legal action", Canadian Press/Toronto Sun, Dec. 2).  And attorney Susanna Dokupil comments on the don't- read- grades- aloud- in- class case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court. ("Hey, Congress, Leave Us Kids Alone", The American Enterprise, Nov. 29) (see Nov. 28).  (DURABLE LINK)

December 7-9 -- "Hell's litigious angels".    John Leo's annual who's-a-victim roundup leads off with the touchy motorcyclists who want protected-group status in discrimination law: "America's next official victim group may be roaring your way on their Harley-Davidsons."  (U.S. News, Dec. 10; Chris Weinkopf, "Born To Be Mild", FrontPage, Nov. 28; see Nov. 19-20).  The Boston Globe's Jeff Jacoby thinks this would be a good time to take a stand on behalf of the principle of freedom of association: "Bikers Demand Their 'Civil Rights'", Nov. 29, via Center-Right). 

December 7-9 -- Chrysler dodges a $250 million dart.   Blessed with a favorable appellate circuit (the Fourth) and high-powered counsel (Ted Olson, now solicitor general, and Theodore Boutrous of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher), DaimlerChrysler has managed to get a $250 million South Carolina punitive award overturned.  "The court also reversed and remanded for retrial the jury's finding of liability and its award of [$12.5 million] compensatory damages, finding that Chrysler should have been able to introduce evidence that a child who was ejected from a Chrysler minivan was not wearing a seat belt." ("Chrysler Escapes $250 Million in Punitives", National Law Journal, Nov. 1).   San Francisco Chronicle legal columnist Reynolds Holding says the disparate fate of punitive damages on appeal in different cases -- $5 billion against ExxonMobil held excessive in the Valdez spill case, $25 million upheld against Philip Morris in a case brought by an individual smoker-- suggests that critics of punitive awards may have a point about their arbitrariness: would anyone have been especially surprised had the outcome been reversed and the tobacco maker rather than Exxon had gotten its award reduced? ("Scales of justice out of whack", Nov. 25).  And if you still thought plaintiffs in our legal system bore the burden of proving their legal case, get with it: "The New Jersey state judiciary has issued model civil jury charges that implement a new standard of proof in automobile crashworthiness cases, making it clear that automakers now have the burden of proving their vehicles provide occupants adequate protection." (Charles Toutant, "New Jersey Shifts Burden of Proof in Auto Design Cases", New Jersey Law Journal, Sept. 11). 

December 5-6 -- Cosseted to distraction.   New Jersey has made itself "the darling of child-safety advocates" by becoming the first state to adopt a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommendation that children in cars be required to ride in booster seats until they weigh 80 pounds or reach their eighth birthday.  But even some conscientious parents say the new law goes too far: older kids rebel at being forced back into "baby" seating, carpools break up as adult co-workers shun the nannyized vehicles, besides which the devices cost good money.  (Kaitlin Gurney, "Tough N.J. safety-seat law poses dilemmas", Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 30).  And the Washington Times reports a presumably unintended consequence of those red-light cameras that revenue-hungry municipalities have installed to generate citations: "Some D.C. police officers say they are slowing their response to emergencies because photo-radar cameras are ticketing them for speeding ... They said they and other officers have been forced to pay the fines, and are now on edge about speeding to a crime scene and running red lights in emergencies." (Brian DeBose, "Cops get speeding tickets from cameras", Nov. 29). 

December 5-6 -- "Victims of Day-Trader Rampage Say Industry Itself to Blame".   Two years ago financially ruined day trader Mark Barton walked into two office buildings in the Buckhead section of Atlanta and massacred nine persons.  Now lawyers, "arguing that Georgia tort law should evolve with the times," are hoping to put the day-trading segment of the securities industry on trial, saying that the volatile and risky nature of its business made such a crime foreseeable.  (Trisha Renaud, Fulton County Daily Report, Nov. 30).  Update Jan. 9-10, 2002: judge dismisses suit against building owners and managers, but lets it go forward against two day-trading firms. (see further updateDec. 19, 2003)

December 5-6 -- "EU considers plans to outlaw racism".   Free speech for me, but not for thee:  "Racism and xenophobia would become serious crimes in Britain for the first time, carrying a prison sentence of two years or more, under new proposals put forward by Brussels ... [the ban includes] a wide range of activities that sometimes fall into the sphere of protected political speech, such as 'public insults' of minority groups, 'public condoning of war crimes', and 'public dissemination of tracts, pictures, or other material containing expressions of racism of xenophobia' -- including material posted on far-Right internet websites."  The "plans, drafted by the European Commission, define racism and xenophobia as aversion to individuals based on 'race, colour, descent, religion or belief, national or ethnic origin'". (Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, Daily Telegraph, Nov. 29).  In The American Prospect, Wendy Kaminer discusses the suit filed in August against America Online for allegedly allowing participants in its chat rooms to engage in "hate speech" against Muslims: "Virtual Offensiveness", Nov. 19 (see Sept. 3). 

December 5-6 -- Attorney can sue for being called "fixer".   A federal judge has ruled that Pennsylvania attorney Richard Sprague can proceed with his defamation lawsuit against the American Bar Association and its magazine, the ABA Journal, which had called him a "fixer".  Although writers often employ that term to describe the sort of political wheeler-dealer who uses connections in a perfectly lawful way to resolve people's problems, the judge found the term might also evoke an impression that Sprague improperly "fixed" cases.  (Shannon P. Duffy, "Lawyer's Defamation Claim Against ABA Found Valid", The Legal Intelligencer, Nov. 19). Update Nov. 30, 2003: case settles for undisclosed sum and half-page apology. 

December 5-6 -- Resources: terrorism and the law.  Some useful jumping-off points for research and reading: Jurist; FindLaw; Federalist Society briefing papers; Brookings; New Yorker

December 4 -- There'll always be a California.   It's a state of mind, really: 

*  In a notice letter sent to Nestlé, Tootsie Roll Industries Inc., Godiva and numerous other confectioners including local favorites Ghirardelli and See's, attorney Roger Carrick of Los Angeles's Carrick Law Group has charged the companies with violating the state's Proposition 65 right-to-know law by failing to post warning labels on chocolate advising consumers that it contains toxic substances such as lead and cadmium.  Michele Corash, a Morrison & Foerster lawyer defending Hershey and Mars in the controversy, says the Food and Drug Administration has called chocolate harmless: "What Mr. Carrick is complaining about is tiny amounts of trace minerals that are present in virtually all foods.  They are in the soil, and foods that are grown in soil absorb them."  Carrick says it hasn't been proven that all the lead and cadmium content are from natural sources, but even trial- lawyer- friendly California AG Bill Lockyer has weighed in on the side of the candy makers.  (John Rosmer, "Chocolate: It's Fattening, but Is It Toxic?", San Francisco Daily Journal, Oct. 29, not online; Dan Evans, "Death by chocolate?", San Francisco Examiner, Nov. 26).  And Forbes explains how Prop 65 has made it possible for bounty-hunting lawyers to do very well: "Visit any doctor or dentist in California. If you don't see signs warning you that the physician is using potentially harmful chemicals as defined by the state's Proposition 65 (e.g., mercury fillings), haul him into court and demand $2,500 for each day he didn't post the warnings. You get 25% of the loot, the state 75%".  (Dorothy Pomerantz, "Toxic Avengers", Forbes, Oct. 15). 

*  You may have thought your home belonged to you, but some disabled-rights activists have other plans for it: "In what would be the first such rules in the nation, Santa Monica officials are considering a proposal to require that all privately built new homes and those undergoing major remodeling have a wheelchair ramp entry, wide interior hallways and at least one handicapped-accessible bathroom." (Bob Pool, "Wheelchair Access as a Must for Residences", L.A. Times, Dec. 2). 

*  "Richard Espinosa, whose assistance dog allegedly was attacked by the [Escondido] Public Library's pet cat last year, filed a lawsuit against the city yesterday seeking $1.5 million in damages." (see May 7 and (letter from Espinosa) June 13) (& see Apr. 15, 2002) (John Behrman, "$1.5 Million Suit Filed in Library Cat Case", San Diego Union Tribune, Nov. 28). 

December 4 -- An ill wind.  Among those prospering in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks: employment lawyers, whose phones may ring nonstop in a time of mass layoffs.  ("Layoff Lessons", Corporate Counsel, Nov. 21).  Garry Mathiason of the management-side firm Littler Mendelson says that in addition to that, his firm "has three key advantages: sex, drugs and violence" -- all sources of legal risk for employers.  (Krysten Crawford, "Littler's Labors", The Recorder, Nov. 20). 

December 4 -- Headline of the day.   "Sept. 11 Laws Raise Fears of Tort Reform" -- Bob Van Voris, National Law Journal, Nov. 27.  Love that "fears".  The NLJ does know its audience, doesn't it? 

December 3 -- Can't do anything but legislate.   Some constituents are furious at Pennsylvania state representative Jane Baker, a Republican, after learning that her lawyers have filed papers in a car-accident case portraying her as "virtually unemployable" aside from her lawmaking job.  "In a televised debate last fall, Baker assured viewers that, both physically and mentally, she was up to the task of representing them in Harrisburg.  Asked directly if she could read and comprehend well, she replied, 'I'm fine.'  She went on to say that a physical injury to her left arm 'appears to be permanent, but otherwise ... I'm ready to go to work' in Harrisburg. 

"Legal papers Baker filed last month paint a dramatically different portrait.  If not re-elected, Baker claimed Oct. 19 in legal papers tied to her case, she will be 'virtually unemployable' because of her condition, which includes physical and 'multiple cognitive defects' that include problems remembering and recollecting what she has read.'"  Baker's suit is demanding $7.5 million in damages from Judith V. Fulmer, "a former friend who pleaded guilty to drunken driving and leaving the scene of an accident" after police say her vehicle struck Baker as she walked along a country road.  (Mario Cattabiani, "Baker’s lawsuit puzzles some", Allentown Morning Call, Nov. 4). 

December 3 -- "Terrorists push plots from jail".   It's practically a tradition for American inmates to continue running criminal enterprises from their cells, but the stakes have gotten higher: investigators now realize that Mideast terrorists locked up in American prisons have repeatedly managed to communicate with outside followers to approve and even help plan further murderous attacks.  The Bush administration on Oct. 31 announced a new practice of listening in on conversations between detainees and their attorneys when it determines there is "reasonable suspicion" that such communications are related to future terrorist acts; Attorney General John Ashcroft says that there are only 13 persons in custody -- at the moment -- for whom it would like to use such power.  The detainees and their attorneys are to be advised of the monitoring, and a "privilege team" is supposed to screen the resulting information so that it does not reach the eyes of prosecutors or regular investigators.  American Bar Association president Robert A. Hirshon says such monitoring is constitutional only if a judge approves it in advance under a probable-cause standard, and Senate Judiciary chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) also views the new practice as "unacceptable" in its current form.  (Cam Simpson, Chicago Tribune, Nov. 19; Pete Yost, "Ashcroft Defends Monitoring of Inmate-Attorney Conversations", AP/Law.com, Nov. 13; Tom Gede, Kent Scheidegger and William Otis, "Monitoring Attorney-Client Communications of Designated Federal Prisoners", Federalist Society National Security White Papers, Dec. 3). 

December 3 -- Lending rules trip up litigation-finance firms.   Class-action lawyers have repeatedly tripped up financial services firms by arguing in court that transactions characterized as cash advances (such as "rapid refunds" that tax-preparing companies issue before the actual IRS check arrives) are in reality loans, leaving companies liable if they have not made the full range of disclosures required by truth-in-lending law (see, for example, Apr. 5).  So some might see a kind of poetic justice in the news from Ohio, where an appellate court has "ruled that two companies that advance money to personal injury plaintiffs on the understanding that they will be repaid only if the plaintiffs prevail, are making loans -- not 'contingent advances' -- and violated state usury and lender- registration laws."  Every so often, surprising as it may seem, the litigation community does wind up having to live by the same rules it prescribes for the rest of us.  (Gary Young, "Ohio Court Rules Against Litigation-Loan Firm in Usury Case", National Law Journal, Nov. 16) (see also letter to the editor, Oct. 22). 

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