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ARCHIVE -- MAR. 2001 (III)

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, Disney, Coke, reparations 1, 2) 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. 25, 1999

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, March 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 was 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 27). 

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 responsibility 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, Mar. 23)(more on advance-fee scams). (DURABLE LINK)

March 28 -- Ideological pro 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 Online, March 14). 

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, Mar. 23). 

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, Mar. 23). 

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. 18, 2005.

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, Feb. 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, March 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. 19). 

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, Jan. 29). 

MORE: Victor Davis Hanson, "Paradise Lost", Wall Street Journal/OpinionJournal.com, March 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; NCPA.

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. 19). 

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. 10). 

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 them?  Now they can criticize and praise judicial nominees like any other lobby or trade association." (Mickey Kaus, "Hit Parade", Kausfiles.com, March 22; see David Stout, "Bush Ends A.B.A.'s Quasi-official Role in Helping to Pick Judges", New York Times, Mar. 22). 

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. 28, 2000) 

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 LINK)

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, March 20). 

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", March 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, Overlawyered.com 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 Shaw's, Univ. of Calif. Libertarians, Swanson Group, LeaveThePackBehind.org (tobacco-Canadian), PelicanPolitics.com, UtterlyStupid.com, FoldingJonah, TheRightTrack.org ("Alaska's Conservative Digest"), and Dave and Holly's. 

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