|ARCHIVE -- MAR. 2001 (II)
March 19-20 --
"Kava tea drinker alleges bias in FedEx firing". Taufui
Piutau of San Bruno, Calif., a native of Tonga, was pulled over by a California
highway patrolman in 1999 and charged with driving while impaired.
It turned out he'd downed dozens of cups of kava tea, a popular Pacific
Islander beverage widely regarded as having relaxing medicinal effects.
A jury last November deadlocked on whether to convict him and prosecutors
decided to drop the case, but by then Federal Express, Piutau's employer,
had suspended him without pay from his driving job over the off-duty incident.
Now he's suing the company for -- guess the theory -- religious discrimination,
saying enjoyment of the beverage is a custom of a religious nature.
(Ann E. Marimow, San Jose Mercury-News, Mar. 14).
March 19-20 --
Scientologists vs. Slashdot. "In the face of legal
threats from the Church of Scientology, Slashdot pulled down an anonymous
posting that quoted a copyrighted
church tract, known as Operating Thetan, Section III (OT III). 'It's
an open forum, but as of today it's a little less
open than it was yesterday,' says Robin Miller, the editorial director
of Slashdot's parent, the Open Source Development Network. 'And we're not
happy about that.'" (Roger Parloff, "Threat of Scientologists' Legal Wrath
Prompts Slashdot to Censor a Posting", Inside.com, March 16; Slashdot thread;
of Scientology; some of its critics ("Operation
Clambake"); Declan McCullagh, "Xenu Do, But Not on Slashdot", Wired
March 19-20 --
Why they seize. "Kansas law enforcement officials
on Monday strongly opposed a reform forfeiture bill that would send money
seized in drug cases to education. Currently, law enforcement agencies
can keep most of the money once it is legally confiscated. Law enforcement
officials told the House Judiciary Committee that if their agencies were
not allowed to keep drug money, forfeitures could become extinct in Kansas".
Kind of confirms what critics have said about the motivations for forfeiture
law, doesn't it? (Karen Dillon, "Kansas law enforcement officials
oppose reform forfeiture bill", Kansas City Star, Mar. 12; see May
March 19-20 --
Microdonation update. Amazon's new micropayment
"Honor System" for small and nonprofit websites has had at least one big
success so far, as you may have heard: Andrew Sullivan's personal
site has taken in an envy-inducing $6,000 from his fans. That's
way ahead of most other popular sites: for example, the well-thought-of
ModernHumorist.com says that as of March 9 it had received $509.99 from
209 readers, according to its "Tip
Jar" account. Reason editor-at-large Virginia Postrel
writes that her weblog/commentary "The
Scene" "is pulling in about 500 page views a day -- the poor woman's
approximation of visitors -- and in the last month has netted contributions
of $457.38 via Amazon and, in the last week, $27.50 via PayPal."
So how're we doing at Overlawyered.com, comparatively?
As of Sunday evening we'd taken in about $404.50, from sixty readers, for
an average donation of about $6.50. That's not shabby at all.
But we do notice that our readers are showing a far lower rate of participation
than Virginia's: we've been getting around 3,500 page views per weekday
lately, so if our readers were as generous as hers we'd have raised a kitty
that was seven times as high instead of a little lower. Another way
of looking at it is that although it takes many thousands of regular readers
to get us up to that 3,500-page daily volume, only an average of two of
those readers a day actually throw coins in the hat. (No wonder Amazon
calls it the Honor System.) We've just installed, on our PayPage,
a new feature where you can watch donations climb and see your own added
to the total. Thanks (again) for your support!
March 16-18 --
Coupon settlement? Pay the lawyers in coupons.
In a "blistering" 27-page ruling, Broward County, Fla. circuit judge Robert
Lance Andrews has slashed a $1.4 million class-action legal-fee request
by the New York law firm Zwerling Schachter & Zwerling to about $294,000,
and "ordered that a quarter of the fees be paid in $10 to $60 travel vouchers
-- the same vouchers awarded to the 80,000 plaintiffs in the suit".
The suit had accused Renaissance Cruises Inc. of padding port charges.
"Too often, [Judge Andrews] wrote in the ruling, lawyers use class actions
as cash cows that ultimately don't yield much for plaintiffs. ... 'Essentially,
these vouchers have no value whatsoever,' said [Edwin H.] Moore, president
and chief executive of the James Madison Institute, a Tallahassee, Fla.,
think tank. 'It's kind of absurd, taking a cruise for hundreds of dollars
and getting $10 off.'"
The judge further accused the lawyers of engaging in "fuzzy math" and
said they had piggybacked on enforcement efforts by the Florida Attorney
General, who had investigated cruise lines' practice of passing on "port
charges" to vacationers greater than those actually incurred. "Andrews
said he considered denying plaintiffs' lawyers any legal fees, 'on the
basis of their blatant disregard of their ethical obligations to the class
and to the court.' In fact, before ruling on legal fees, Andrews rebuffed
13 law firms that claimed to have had a hand in the class action."
Zwerling Schachter says it expects to appeal. "(Tom Collins, "Florida
Judge Slashes Fee Request, Blasts Attorneys Suing Cruise Lines", Miami
Daily Business Review, Mar. 15).
March 16-18 --
Compulsive grooming as protected disability. Last
month a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, reversing
a lower court, ruled that medical transcriber Carolyn Humphrey can proceed
with her claim that her firing by a Modesto, Calif. hospital was unlawful.
Humphrey, "an otherwise excellent employee, compiled a history of tardiness
and absenteeism because of grooming and dressing rituals that took hours,
sometimes all day. ... [Her suit claims] the obsessive trait that drove
her relentless primping had not been accommodated, as required by the Americans
With Disabilities Act." (Denny Walsh, "Compulsive grooming a
true disability? Perhaps", Sacramento Bee, March
March 16-18 --
Wife: hubby's tooth discovery deprived me of companionship.
Ronald Cheeley of Alamance County, N.C. "is suing Hardee’s, claiming he
found a tooth in a biscuit from a one of the chain’s Burlington restaurants.
... The lawsuit does not say whether Cheeley actually put the tooth in
his mouth. ... Cheeley’s wife, Queen Williamson Cheeley, is also named
as a plaintiff in the lawsuit, which claims the incident has deprived her
of companionship." (Bill Cresenzo, "Tooth found: Man sues Hardee’s",
Burlington (N.C.) Times-News, Feb.
15) (via Obscure Store)
March 15 -- Reclaiming
the tobacco loot. If the Bush administration has
its way, the politically connected lawyers who helped themselves to billions
for representing the states in the great tobacco shakedown may soon have
to turn a large share of that booty over to their clients, the fifty states
(see our earlier coverage of the fees,
the settlement and the
"President Bush proposed during the campaign to apply to lawyers in mass
tort cases the Internal Revenue Code provisions that govern fiduciary breaches
of duty by pension fund trustees, foundation executives, and employees
of 501(c)(3) non-profits. Under this so-called Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker
provision of the 1996 Taxpayer Bill of Rights, overreaching fiduciaries
have the 'choice' of refunding their excess payments or paying a federal
tax of $2 for every dollar they keep." Contrary to some early reports
that President Bush had dropped this plan, "[p]age 80 of the president's
budget contains this terse and, to taxpayers, cheering sentence: 'The budget
also assumes additional public health resources for the States from the
President's proposal to extend fiduciary responsibilities to the representatives
of States in tobacco lawsuits.'" (Michael Horowitz, "Can Tort Law Be Ethical?",
Standard, Mar. 19; Ramesh Ponnuru, "A Good Tobacco Tax",
Review Online, Mar.
14). And hurrah for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has just
filed Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain information from 21
states about the magnitude of fees paid to the tobacco lawyers, which it
says may exceed $100,000 an hour (U.S.
Chamber release; the Chamber's Institute
for Legal Reform; "Group Targets 'Outrageous' Legal Fees in Tobacco
Case", Yahoo/Reuters, Mar. 14).
March 15 -- No
more Indian team names? "The U.S. Commission
on Civil Rights will vote next month on a statement that would condemn
sports teams or mascots named after American Indians as violations of the
1964 Civil Rights Act. If adopted and widely accepted, the statement
could eventually lead to a cutoff in federal funding for schools
that cling to traditions like the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux
or the University of Illinois' mascot Chief Illiniwek." (Catherine Donaldson-Evans,
"Civil Rights Commission Considers Condemning Sports Teams Named After
American Indians", FoxNews.com, Mar. 13 (related story and links, right
column, includes this page); John J. Miller & Ramesh Ponnuru, "Home
of the Braves", National Review Online, March
9) (& see letter to the editor, April
March 13-14 --
Hypnotist sued by entranced spectator. During a show by
mesmerist Travis Fox at the Puyallup Fair last September, fairgoer Joshua
Harris of Tacoma agreed to participate but "felt such a threat from a space
alien mask that he broke his hand trying to ward off the extra-terrestrial.
And now he's suing. ... 'If people get up there and participate, you have
to make sure it's safe,' said Harris' attorney, George Christnacht."
(Karen Hucks, "Entertainment hypnotist being sued for negligence", Tacoma
March 13-14 --
Judge throws out Hollywood- violence suit. Citing the
First Amendment's guarantee of free
speech, Louisiana state judge Bob Morrison on Monday "threw out a lawsuit
against director Oliver Stone that claimed his movie 'Natural Born Killers'
led to a young couple's bloody crime spree." ("Judge Throws Out Movie
Lawsuit", AP/FindLaw, March 12). "It's depressing that a suit that
should have been thrown out on the first pass could result in such a waste
of time, energy and money. We've created a new legal hell where everyone
is entitled and no one is responsible," said Stone ("Notable Quotes", Reuters/Yahoo,
March 13-14 --
"Nursing homes a gold mine for lawyers". Week-long
series in the Orlando Sentinel and South Florida Sun-Sentinel
overview) examines mounting crisis in Florida nursing
homes, where lawsuits have multiplied several-fold in recent years
as lawyers have learned to deploy a liberal "Resident's Rights" law that
allows them to recover damages without proving negligence.
Even the Lutheran Haven home, which hasn't been sued in its 52 years, faces
a liability insurance bill of $175,690 a year. (Diane C. Lade, "Money
remains root of nursing homes' woes", March
6; Bob LaMendola and Greg Groeller, "Nursing homes a gold mine for
4; Jeff Kunerth, "Even never-sued home feels insurance's squeeze",
5). "Nursing homes are often in a Catch-22 when it comes to restraining
patients. One tenet of the state's nursing-home residents' bill of rights
guarantees residents the right to safety. Another tenet guarantees
their freedom from 'physical and chemical restraints.'" (Diane C. Lade
and Greg Groeller, "Bedsores, falls make homes ripe for suing", March
4; Jeff Kunerth, "Broken bones ended in lawsuit", March
6; Jeff Kunerth, "A rarity: Lake lawsuit went to trial", March
As frequently happens with these newspaper group efforts, the tone is
weirdly inconsistent, with one of the lead reporters buying much of the
pro-litigation side of the story (Greg Groeller, "Elderly care put to test",
4) while many of the other installments in the series tend to document
the need for curbs on suing ("Collapse of care" (editorial), March
11). Both nursing home operators and trial lawyers have been
pouring money into Tallahassee, where lawmakers are considering such curbs.
Among the attorneys opening their wallets is "Jim Wilkes, a sharp and politically
connected nursing-home litigator from Tampa who said he probably gave at
least $1 million of his own money to campaigns in the last election cycle.
'If you took the national and state money that my firm has contributed
to campaigns, I could have probably retired on the money," Wilkes said."
Mark Hollis, "Nursing homes, lawyers plan fight in capital", March
6). Six of eight publicly held for-profit home operators are
now operating in bankruptcy, and a plaintiff's lawyer concedes the possibility
that "[t]he entire industry would end up being regulated through the bankruptcy
courts." (Lade, "Money remains", March
6). Update: the National Law Journal's Margaret
Cronin Fisk reports on the trend ("Juries Treat Nursing Home Industry With
Multimillion Dollar Verdicts", Apr. 23): "In the past 12 months, there
have been verdicts of $312 million and $82 million in Texas, $5 million
in California, $20 million in Florida and $3 million in Arkansas. ... One
Florida-based law firm, Tampa's Wilkes & McHugh, has about 1,000 cases
March 12 -- We
have some to send you. The level of litigation in Japan
is still minuscule by U.S. standards, but it has doubled over the past
decade, and rural areas experience a perceived lawyer shortage.
"Japan has set a goal of reaching France's level of one lawyer per 1,900
people. That compares with its current level of about one per 7,155
people and America's world-beating one lawyer per 295 people." "One
unfortunate side effect [of the obstacles to litigation in Japan] has been
a social dependence on organized crime for help in settling thorny disputes,"
according to the head of the American Chamber of Commerce in the island
country. (Mark Magnier, "No Joke: Send More Lawyers", Los Angeles
March 12 -- More
Tourette's discrimination suits. John Miller is
suing Gold's Gym in Totowa, N.J., saying it terminated his membership because
of the involuntary tics caused by his Tourette's Syndrome. 'I want
these people to realize . . . I guess I do want them to be hurt a little
-- to realize what they've done to me," he said. The Bergen Record
also reports that in October, "a jury in New York City awarded $750,000
to the Metropolitan Museum of Art's former assistant banquet manager after
finding the museum's food contractor had fired him illegally because of
the disorder." (Jennifer V. Hughes, Bergen County Record,
9) (earlier Tourette's cases: August 21
and July 26, 2000).
March 12 -- Welcome
Review Online readers. The pseudonymous author,
described as an officer of the Los Angeles Police Department, writes: "The
Soviet menace may have faded into the history of another era, but the American
legal profession, with its standing army of some half-million attorneys,
presents as grave a threat to western civilization as has ever existed.
For proof of this, I recommend to the strong of heart a visit to Overlawyered.com,
a website that will at once amuse, bemuse, and horrify." We're headed
toward a banner day for traffic, testimony to NR
Online's popularity. ("Jack Dunphy", "Disorder in the Court",