ARCHIVE -- MAR. 2001
March 30-April 1 --
Gary to Gannett: pay up for that investigative reporting.
In December 1998 the Pensacola, Fla. News Journal published a investigative
series alleging that a Lake City business by the name of Anderson Columbia
pulled political strings to evade environmental and other rules while obtaining
lucrative state road contracts. Now noted plaintiff's lawyer Willie
Gary (key cases: Loewen,
has been retained by Anderson Columbia and is demanding $1.5 billion, which
far exceeds the value of the newspaper itself, in a libel
suit against the News Journal and its parent Gannett.
The suit, filed downstate in Fort Lauderdale, "also cites two 1990 stories
reporting allegations of environmental damage and poor-quality work and
an editorial that last year criticized Escambia County commissioners for
their dealings with Anderson Columbia." (Bill Kaczor, "Gary client
sues newspaper, Gannet [sic] Co. for libel, seeks $1.5 billion", Mar. 23)
In other pending cases, Gary is representing bias plaintiffs against Microsoft
"and is seeking a $2.5 billion breach-of-contract judgment against beer
giant Anheuser-Busch on behalf of the family of former home run king Roger
Maris." The Stuart, Fla. lawyer's choice of clients in the past has
not always matched his populist image: for example, he's represented Florida's
"fabulously rich" Fanjul family in the defense of a suit charging that
its mostly black sugar cane cutters were underpaid. (Harris Meyer,
"Willie Gary's Sugar Daddies", New Times Broward/Palm Beach, Mar.
March 30-April 1 --
Dangers of complaining about lawyers. "Beware: Accusing
your lawyer of wrongdoing soon could
be even more intimidating. It could land you in court, running up
a legal bill to defend yourself against a defamation
lawsuit." A pending change in Georgia rules would open clients
and others who talk to lawyer-discipline authorities to defamation suits
from the lawyers they criticize -- even if the charges against the lawyer
are upheld, and even if the statements are made in private to only a few
investigators. Critics say the prospect of being sued for defamation,
win or lose, would chill legitimate complaints, while bar official David
Lipscomb says it's a difference between two philosophies: "One is you allow
a few lies to encourage people to file complaints," he says. "And the other
is you should hold people to a standard of truth, and if that chills some
of the complaints, then that's a price we are willing to pay." Hmmm ...
when that same philosophical dispute comes up concerning litigation itself,
doesn't our legal establishment usually favor bending over backwards to
keep from chilling dubious complaints? And isn't it only fair to
ask them to live with the same culture of easy accusation that so often
results? (Lucy Soto, "Complain about a lawyer at your own risk of
peril", Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Mar. 26).
March 30-April 1 --
No cause to be frightened. An Iowa court of appeals
has ruled that a man who entered a convenience store at 4:30 a.m. wearing
a disguise and ordered a clerk to empty the cash register did not commit
robbery for legal purposes. James Edward Heard came in to a Davenport,
Ia. Coastal Mart store "wearing a paper bag over his head and athletic
socks on his hands" and, according to court records, "greeted cashier Aimee
Hahn by saying either 'Happy Halloween' or 'Trick or treat' and then, in
a soft voice, asked her to give him 'the money.'" (The date was May, not
October). After Ms. Hahn complied, he ordered her to lie down and
fled. Mr. Heard admitted the facts of the case and was convicted
of second-degree robbery, but the appeals court overturned his conviction,
ruling that Heard's actions did not imply a threat of "serious injury"
as defined by law. The district attorney called the ruling "terrible".
(Clark Kauffman, "Court rules no threat, no robbery", Des Moines Register,
15) (via Jerry Lerman's Bonehead
of the Day Award).
March 29 -- Putting
the "special" in special sauce. A Toronto
family claims its nine-year-old daughter found a severed rat's head in
her sandwich and wants C$17.5 million (U.S. $11.2 million) from McDonald's
Canada. According to her family's lawyer, Ayan Abdi Jama, "having
been enticed by McDonald's pervasive child-focused advertising", ordered
a Big Mac which was "served in a paper wrapper bearing the Disney 'Tarzan'
logo", and proceeded to "partially ingest" the bewhiskered rodent portion,
suffering as a result extensive psychiatric damage. Her mom was so
shocked by the event that she can no longer carry on normal daily activities
or earn a living, the suit further alleges, and her sister will quite likely
be similarly affected when she grows up, so they deserve lots of money
too. The complaint further alleges that "customers should be
warned to inspect sandwiches prior to consumption" and that McDonald's
negligent for not issuing such a warning. ("Alleged rat's head
in Big Mac triggers lawsuit", CBC News, Mar.
27; "McDonald's Canada lawsuit claims rat head in burger", Reuters/FindLaw,
Mar. 28; complaint
in PDF format (very long), courtesy FindLaw).
March 29 -- "Workers
win more lawsuits, awards". "Employees
who claim they've been harassed or discriminated against are winning many
of their cases, and the financial awards they're receiving often far eclipse
those of years past." The new spate of layoffs is likely to push
those numbers higher, and companies that have gone off chasing youthful
New Economy workforces invite costly age-bias claims, according to our
editor, who is quoted. (Stephanie Armour, USA Today, March
March 28 -- The
malaria drug made him do it. Last week federal prosecutors
indicted former Congressman Ed Mezvinsky on 66 counts of fraud, saying
he bilked banks and investors out of more than $10 million trying to make
up his losses after himself falling victim to an African advance-fee
scam. Mezvinsky now says his errant conduct arose from psychiatric
side effects of the anti-malaria medication Lariam, which he took while
on his business trips to Africa, and he's suing the giant drugmaker
Roche, along with Philadelphia's Presbyterian Medical Center, his physician
and a pharmacy, saying they should reimburse the losses of the people who
entrusted their money to him and also pay him damages. "Clearly the
lies with the manufacturers," said his lawyer, Michael F. Barrett.
("Mezvinsky files suit over drug", AP/Philadelphia Daily News, Mar.
24; Jim Smith, "$10M classic swindle", Philadelphia Daily News,
on advance-fee scams). (DURABLE LINK)
March 28 -- Ideological
bono. We should be grateful to lawyers for the idealistic
work they do free ("pro bono") on behalf of worthy causes, right?
Well, that may depend on what causes you find worthy. A new Federalist
Society survey confirms that pro bono work at the nation's biggest
law firms tilts heavily toward liberal-left causes, such as gun control
and racial preferences, as opposed to conservative or libertarian ones.
(Pro Bono Activity at the
AmLaw 100; Peter Roff, "Pro Bono, Pro Liberal", National Review
March 27 -- Junk-fax
bonanza. An Augusta, Ga. jury has found that the
Hooters restaurant chain unlawfully allowed an ad agency to send unsolicited
ad faxes offering lunch coupons to businesses and individuals in the Augusta
area. Because the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA)
specifies that each sending of an improper fax incurs a $500 fine, which
is tripled if the offense is willful, "attorney- turned-plaintiff Sam G.
Nicholson and 1,320 class members
... stand to share an estimated $4 million to $12 million from a suit Nicholson
filed in 1995." Each recipient of the six unsolicited faxes
will be entitled to a minimum of $3,000 for the inconvenience, and $9,000
if damages are tripled. Hooters says its local manager signed up
for a fax-ad service without realizing that its services were illegal or
that federal law made advertisers as well as fax-senders liable for violations.
(Janet L. Conley, "Just the Fax, Ma'am: Unsolicited Ad Spree May Cost Hooters
Millions", Fulton County Daily Report, Mar. 26). For earlier
stages in the junk-fax saga, see Oct.
22, 1999 and Mar. 3, 2000.
March 27 -- Shot,
then sued. Batavia, Ill. police officer Chris Graver won
numerous awards and accolades for bravery after surviving a shootout with
a gunman in which he was critically injured and the gunman killed.
He's relieved that the gunman's survivors have now finally agreed to drop
their lawsuit against him. The legal action "was kind of aggravating.
You get three bullets in you, almost die, and there's still lawyers lining
up to file a lawsuit against you."(Sean D. Hamill, "Lawsuit dropped, but
officer still tormented by shooting", (suburban Chicago) Daily Herald,
March 26 -- "Teacher
sues parent over handshake". "A Utah elementary
school teacher is suing a parent for allegedly shaking her hand so hard
during a parent-teacher conference
that she has had to wear a hand brace, undergo surgery and drop out of
advanced teaching classes." The suit, by teacher Traci R. England,
says that parent Glenda Smith was irate and charges Smith with "vigorously
pumping [England's] arm up and down,'' with the result that England "missed
work, incurred medical expenses of more than $3,000 and dropped a university
class, making her ineligible for a pay raise of $2,000 per year.
Her attorney, Michael T. McCoy, is seeking damages for his client, including
pain and suffering, in excess of $250,000." (Dawn House, Salt Lake Tribune,
Update: we received the following email in November 2005:
I am the teacher in your post. The injury occurred
November 20, 2000. Five years later, I have had 7 (yes, seven) surgeries.
Each surgery resulted in a loss of 3 weeks of teaching. Over the
years, I have suffered from the irresponsible choice an angry parent made
over her son's grades. My students were affected as a result of multiple
and lengthy absences. I continue to take medication for inflammation
and pain. I have ugly scars on my forearm, wrist, and palm.
Did I receive the $250,000 originally asked for in the claim? Not
even 10%. How's that for justice? My lawsuit was never superfluous,
nor was it irresponsible. I resent my name and litigation information
being present on your site. Please remove it. It does not belong
there. You have not done your homework. -- Traci England
For our reply, see letters column of Nov.
March 26 -- California
electricity linkfest. We've neglected this one, what with being
on the other coast and all, but here are some catch-up highlights: "California
policymakers ... froze the retail price of electricity and utilities lost
so much money as to face bankruptcy. They barred utilities from signing
long-term supply contracts and saw spot prices soar. They dragged their
feet on new power-plant construction and found electricity in short supply.
They ignored the need for more long-distance transmission lines and then
couldn't import enough power to meet demand. They shielded consumers
from higher utility bills and gave them rolling blackouts instead."
And with each round of failure they propose to push the state further into
the power business. (William Kucewicz, "California's Dreaming", GeoInvestor.com,
12). The "major crisis could have been averted" had the
state last summer allowed utilities to enter long-term contracts with slightly
higher rates, but "it's clear that [Gov. Gray] Davis didn't act last summer
because he was afraid. He feared that long-term contracts could have been
criticized if power prices dropped in the future, and that even a minor
increase in rates would bring fire from consumer activists." (Dan
Walters, "Crisis also one of leadership", Capitol Alert/Sacramento Bee,
25) (via Kausfiles).
Pennsylvania, Texas and Ohio all show promising models of genuine deregulation,
as opposed to the fake version paassed off by Golden State lawmakers ("California
Dreamin'" (editorial), Christian Science Monitor, Jan.
As for the supply side: "In the last decade the population [of California]
has climbed 14%, to 34 million", while peak demand for electricity has
climbed 19%. "The number of big power plants built since 1990: zero."
(Lynn Cook, "My Kingdom for a Building Permit," Forbes.com, Feb.
19). "In the 1970s California's power regulators got all excited
about renewables. The state is now littered with high-cost, low-efficiency
wind and solar facilities that produce limited amounts of unreliable power,
for which ratepayers have overpaid by at least $25 billion in the intervening
years. In 1996 the regulators were persuaded by a cabal of efficiency
mavens and end-of-growth pundits that demand for electrons was leveling
off and would soon decline, while supply was plentiful and would soon become
a glut. They regulated accordingly." (Peter Huber, "Insights: The
Kilowatt Casino", Forbes.com, Feb.
19)(see also Oct. 11)
And we all knew the trial lawyers would manage to get into it somehow,
didn't we? Not long ago San Francisco launched what is apparently
the first "affirmative litigation" office meant to turn suing businesses
into an ongoing profit center for the city in partnership with private
law firms (see Oct. 5). The
political leadership of that city having been a voice for the worst possible
policies at each step along the way to where we are now, now City Attorney
Louise Renne has sued 13 energy producers for supposedly conspiring to
create the crisis. "Joining the lawsuit as co-counsel is attorney
Patrick Coughlin of Milberg Weiss
Bershad Hynes & Lerach in San Francisco. Coughlin worked with the
city in its successful litigation against the tobacco industry." (Dennis
Opatrny, "San Francisco City Attorney Lays Energy Crisis at Feet of Power
Companies", The Recorder, Jan. 22; Paul Pringle, "Power struggle:
Finger-pointing intensifies as California woes grow", Dallas Morning News,
MORE: Victor Davis Hanson, "Paradise Lost", Wall Street
21; Gregg Easterbrook, "Brown and Out", The New Republic, Feb.
19; Robert J. Michaels (California State Fullerton), "California's
Electrical Mess: The Deregulation That Wasn't," National Center for Policy
Analysis Brief Analysis No. 348, Feb.
14; Paul Van Slambrouck, "How California lost its power", Christian
Science Monitor, Jan.
19 ("California actually has been a pioneer in energy conservation
and is one of the most energy-efficient states in the nation, according
to conservation experts like Ralph Cavanagh of the New York-based Natural
Resources Defense Council"; so much for that proposed cure); Reason
Public Policy Institute; Cato;
March 23-25 --
Non-gun control. "Two second-graders
playing cops and robbers with a paper gun were charged with making terrorist
threats. The boys' parents said the situation should have been resolved
in the principal's office, but [Irvington, N.J.] Police Chief Steven Palamara
on Wednesday defended school officials and the district's zero-tolerance
policy." ("Second-graders face charges for paper gun", AP/CNN,
Mar. 21). And earlier this year Rep. Ed Towns (N.Y.) "introduced
bill H.R. 215, a measure to ban 'toys which in size, shape or overall appearance
resemble real handguns,'" part of a spate of anti-toy-gun legislation in
various jurisdictions. (Lance Jonn Romanoff, "Someone call the National
Toy Rifle Association", Liberzine, Feb.
Meanwhile Ross Clark of the estimable Spectator of London notes
in his regular column, "Banned wagon: a list of the things which our rulers
wish to prohibit", that a Labor MP has proposed banning the carrying of
bottles and glasses on the street, because they are capable of use as offensive
weapons in altercations: "It was never likely that our legislators would
be happy banning just items purposely designed for killing people, such
as handguns and samurai swords. There are some who will not be satisfied
until the human environment is constructed entirely from soft substances
which cannot conceivably be used as weapons" (Feb.
March 23-25 --
Brockovich a heroine? Julia really can act.
One of the most entertaining aspects of that entertaining movie, "Erin
Brockovich", is the pretense that its script has more than a nodding
acquaintance with the real-life history of the Hinkley case (Michael Fumento,
"Erin Go Away!", National Review Online, March
21)(our take: Reason, October).
March 23-25 --
Guest editorial: ABA's judicial role. "Good
riddance to the American Bar Association's judge-vetters. Who elected
Now they can criticize and praise judicial nominees like any other lobby
or trade association." (Mickey Kaus, "Hit Parade",
22; see David Stout, "Bush Ends A.B.A.'s Quasi-official Role in Helping
to Pick Judges", New York
March 23-25 --
"Fired Transsexual Dancers Out for Justice". "Two
transsexuals say they were given walking papers from their go-go dancing
jobs at a trendy Chelsea club because the nightspot decided they wanted
to hire 'real girls.'" Amanda Lepore and Sophia LaMar, post-operative
transsexuals who used to dance at Twilo, are suing the West 27th Street
club for $100,000, charging wrongful firing.
"This was just a case of out-and-out discrimination," said their lawyer,
Tom Shanahan. The nightclub denies that it discriminates against
gals who used to be guys. (Dareh Gregorian, New York Post,
March 22). In other news, a "judge has peeled away more than half
of stripper Vanessa Steele Inman's $2.5 million verdict against a Georgia
nightclub, the Pink Pony, and its owner." (Richmond Eustis, "$1.6M
Punitives Award Peeled From Stripper's Legal Victory", Fulton County
Daily Report, March 8; see July 26,
2000). Update Apr.
17, 2004: court of appeals overturns Inman's verdict (more exotic-dancer
litigation: Dec. 4, Aug.
14, May 23, Jan.
March 21-22 --
Hostage-taker sues victims. "Richard Gable
Stevens' hostage-taking rampage at Santa Clara's National Shooting Club
18 months ago will cost him the next 50 years of his life behind bars in
state prison," Judge Kevin Murphy ruled earlier this month. "Stevens, 23,
was convicted of kidnapping, robbery, false imprisonment, threats and assault
with a deadly weapon in connection with the July 5, 1999 incident. ...
Murphy questioned the sincerity of Stevens' remorse, noting that he has
filed a lawsuit for monetary damages against the very people he was convicted
of having wronged." (Bill Romano, "Man gets 50 years for rampage
at gun club ", San Jose Mercury News, March
10 (search fee-based archive on "Richard Gable Stevens", retrieval
$1.95) The incident ended when Stevens was shot and wounded by one
of his intended victims. According to columnist Vin Suprynowicz,
police found a note in which Stevens told his parents he would get revenge
on them because they would be bankrupted by lawsuits from the survivors
of his intended victims (Vin Suprynowicz, "No serial killings this week
in Santa Clara", Las Vegas Review-Journal, July 11, 1999). (DURABLE
March 21-22 --
Reparations-fest: give us Toronto. Among the latest
claimant groups to attract notice with demands for reparations: descendants
of early New Mexico settlers asserting land claims that predate the 1848
Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, under which Mexico ceded much of its northern
territory to the U.S. (Christian Science Monitor, March
6). In Canada, the Indian Claims Commission, a federal agency,
"says it is handling roughly 480 land-claims cases. There are dozens more
in the courts. " Nearly 200 years after the fact, a band of Mississaugas
"are seeking retroactive compensation from Ottawa for the Toronto Purchase,
a quarter-million acres covering the whole of Toronto and into the suburbs.
... Last summer, the Squamish Indians settled their claim to some prime
real estate in North Vancouver for nearly C$92.5 (US$58) million."
(Ruth Walker, "Indian land claims flood Ottawa", Christian Science Monitor,
At National Review Online, Jonah Goldberg wonders whether it
might not after all be worth paying trillions if it actually got the racial-spoils
lobby to cool it once and for all on preferences, quotas, set-asides and
the rest of the list -- as if it would ever do that ("Reparations Now",
19). And reparations lawyers in California have neatly arranged
for their targets and the state's taxpayers to conduct a lot of their research
for them: "California Gov. Gray Davis this month signed the Slaveholder
Insurance Policy law, which requires all insurers whose businesses date
to the 19th Century to review their archives and make public the names
of insured slaves and the slaveholders through the state's insurance commissioner.
... Davis also signed the University of California Slavery Colloquium law
directing college officials to assemble a team of scholars to research
slavery and report how some current California businesses benefited." (V.
Dion Haynes, "California Tells Insurers: Open Slave Records", Chicago Tribune,
Oct. 20.) See also Jeffrey Ghannam, "Repairing the Past", ABA
Journal , Nov.).
March 21-22 --
(Another) "Monster Fee Award for Tobacco Fighters". "New
York's Milberg Weiss Bershad
Hynes & Lerach and San Francisco's Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann &
Bernstein are among 10 firms that will share $637.5 million in fees for
their role in helping California cities and counties capture their share
of a $206 billion settlement agreement with the tobacco industry.
The Tobacco Fee Arbitration
Panel announced Tuesday that private lawyers in California should be awarded
the fees for the more than 130,000 hours they [say they -- ed.]
worked in helping cities and counties grab half the $25 billion awarded
California in the master settlement agreement. The state takes the
other half. That works out to approximately $4,904 per hour for the
lawyers." (Kirsten Andelman, The Recorder, March 9).
March 21-22 --
Welcome visitors. We've noticed this site being mentioned
or linked to lately on weblogs Pie in the Sky (Mar. 17: "As a soon-to-be-lawyer,
is going on my permanent bookmark list. Don't worry, I'm going to be a
transactional attorney- I won't be doing any litigation (like the kind
in the site linked to, or any other).") and AFireInside;
on the NetCool Users Group disclaimer;
and on pages including Russell
of Calif. Libertarians, Swanson
("Alaska's Conservative Digest"), and Dave and Holly's.