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December 20-22 -- Advance notice for The Rule of Lawyers.  Our author's new book still won't reach most stores for a few weeks, but it's garnering early notice in some prominent places.  More than a month back Amity Shlaes of London's Financial Times gave it a mention in a column profiling hyperactive New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer (Amity Shlaes, "Local enforcer who has changed national laws", Financial Times/Jewish World Review, Oct. 31).  Last month it got discussed in the New York Times arts section (Daphne Eviatar, "Is Litigation a Blight, or Built In?", New York Times, Nov. 23, second page).  Wall Street Journal editorialist John Fund, recounting highlights of the career of Sen. Trent Lott for the paper's online OpinionJournal.com, quotes the book's discussion of how the lawyers suing the tobacco industry tried to exploit Lott's family connection to attorney Dickie Scruggs ("A Tale of Two Bubbas", OpinionJournal.com, Dec. 19). 

Deserving special notice is Roger Parloff's piece in The American Lawyer and other Law.com publications ("Authors Throw the Book at Lawyers", Dec. 12), which calls the book "a focused, healthy, provocative, enjoyable read. ... that rare book that, should it ever burrow its way into the opposing camp's conversational pipelines, could really gum up the works."  Among other blushworthy excerpts: "Olson's wry, amusing, libertarian take on the increasingly preposterous role that mass tort lawyers have assumed in our society -- and in the funding of the Democratic Party -- may not only spur many Democrats to reshuffle their standard talking points on those issues, but may even afford them some guilty, cant-piercing pleasures along the way. Speaking as a Democrat, I'd say the burgeoning scandal of the mass tort bar is our Enron."  (DURABLE LINK)

December 20-22 -- Trial lawyers vs. thimerosal.  Glenn Reynolds at InstaPundit (Dec. 19, three posts: # 1, 2, 3) has the latest on the flap over new federal curbs on lawsuits that claim damage to children's health from thimerosal, a mercury-containing compound long used to preserve vaccines.  According to the Centers for Disease Control ("Thimerosal & Vaccines"), citing Food and Drug Administration research, "There is no evidence to suggest that thimerosal in vaccines causes any health problems in children and adults beyond local hypersensitivity reactions (like redness and swelling at the injection site.)"  This has not kept trial lawyers from urging parents of autistic children to view the compound as responsible for their children's plight: Derek Lowe checked out law firms' websites and found lurid examples (Dec. various dates -- scroll down for more good posts).  "Dr. Manhattan" has much more on the controversy (Dec. 18) and see also MedPundit (Dec. 5).  For more on the recent legislative move to ensure that claims against thimerosal are incorporated into the general federal vaccine compensation scheme, see Margaret Cronin Fisk, "Suits Over Mercury-Containing Vaccines May Be Down for the Count", National Law Journal, Nov. 27; "The Truth About Thimerosal" (editorial), Wall Street Journal, Dec. 5(DURABLE LINK)

December 20-22 -- Putting fraud proceeds to use.  John Deokaran, a former insurance manager from Hammond, La., has pleaded guilty to taking more than $530,000 from Allstate Insurance by routing checks for imaginary claims to fictitious plumbing contracting companies that he controlled.  Deokaran must make restitution or face prison time.  "Among other things, Deokaran spent some of the money to pay for law school," said Louisiana Attorney General Richard Ieyoub. ("AG Ieyoub: Hammond Man Must Pay Back Fake Claims Money Laundering Sentence Stipulates Full Restitution", Office of AG Ieyoub, Aug. 20).  (DURABLE LINK)

December 18-19 -- The right not to be looked at?  "The Chicago Cubs are suing the owners of rooftop businesses that overlook Wrigley Field and sell tickets to watch games, saying the establishments are stealing from the team."  ("Cubs sue owners of rooftop businesses near Wrigley", AP/Indianapolis Star, Dec. 17). Update May 9, 2004: dispute settled with payments from rooftop business owners to team. (DURABLE LINK)

December 18-19 -- "Asbestos fraud".  Extremely scathing column on the case of asbestos litigation, in which "the thirst for profits has led a small group of trial lawyers to erode the rights of legitimate victims while driving dozens of companies into bankruptcy and -- worst of all -- corrupting the court system. If Congress does not fix this problem, shame on it."   (Robert J. Samuelson, Washington Post, Nov. 20).   (DURABLE LINK)

December 18-19 -- British free-speech case.   Robin Page, a columnist for the London Daily Telegraph, "has been arrested on suspicion of stirring up racial hatred after making a speech at a pro-hunting rally," according to that paper.  How had he done that?  "Mr Page ... told his audience that Londoners had the right to run their own events, such as the Brixton carnival and gay pride marches, which celebrated black and gay culture. Why therefore, he asked, should country people not have the right to do what they liked in the countryside[?]"  Page, who was released on bail, "denied having made any comment that could be construed as racist during the address. ... Gloucestershire police confirmed that they had arrested Mr Page on suspicion of violating Section 18 (1) of the Public Order Act, referring to stirring up racial hatred." (Daily Telegraph, Nov. 20) (via WSJ Best of the Web(DURABLE LINK)

December 18-19 -- Mass disasters belong in federal court.  Most mass litigation resulting from transportation accidents or other single-site disasters which result in the deaths of 75 or more people will henceforth have to be filed in federal court, according to the provisions of a bill quietly enacted by Congress this fall with the support of the Bush administration.  The bill is favored by defendants in part because it restricts the ability of plaintiff's lawyers to shop around for state court venues that are hostile to defendants or that afford "home cooking".  (Julie Kay, "Disaster Plan", Miami Daily Business Review, Nov. 21).  (DURABLE LINK)

December 16-17 -- By reader acclaim: "Ex-jurors file $6 billion suit against '60 Minutes'".  "Two former Jefferson County, Mississippi, jurors have filed a $6 billion lawsuit against CBS' '60 Minutes' and a newspaper owner over comments about the size of jury awards in the county. Anthony Berry and Johnny Anderson said the news program defamed them in a segment that called the county a haven for 'jackpot justice.'  Berry was among jurors who made a $150 million verdict in an asbestos case, and Anderson sat on a jury that awarded a $150 million judgment in a diet drug case.  Wyatt Emmerich, who owns Emmerich Newspapers Inc., is also being sued: "In the program, Emmerich described those on Jefferson County juries as disenfranchised residents who want to stick it to Yankee companies".   Emmerich called his inclusion in the suit an attack on free speech.   (AP/CNN, Dec. 10; Jerry Mitchell, "TV show on Miss. justice stirs suit", Jackson Clarion Ledger, Dec. 10). Update Mar. 6, 2005: federal appeals court affirms dismissal of suit. (DURABLE LINK)

December 16-17 -- "Bogus Claims Discovered in Fen-Phen Class Action".  "In a strongly worded opinion that questioned the ethics of two law firms and two doctors, the federal judge who is overseeing the $3.75 billion fen-phen diet drug class action settlement has found that dozens of claims of heart-valve damage were 'medically unreasonable' and that the doctors and lawyers responsible for the bogus claims must now be watched more closely.  U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III said he was forced to issue an injunction because the settlement funds were set aside for 'rightful claimants who suffered from fen-phen and not as a pot of gold for lawyers, physicians and non-qualifying claimants.'"  Two New York law firms -- Napoli Kaiser Bern & Associates and Hariton & D'Angelo -- had submitted claims for their clients which included an unusually high rate of claimed serious heart valve abnormalities.  Judge Bartle wrote that the practice of an expert employed by the Napoli and Hariton firms "resembled a mass production operation that would have been the envy of Henry Ford".  (Shannon P. Duffy, The Legal Intelligencer, Nov. 19)(see Sept. 27 and links from there). (DURABLE LINK)

December 16-17 -- Ninth Circuit panel sniffs collusion in bias settlement fees.  "The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upended a multimillion-dollar race discrimination settlement Tuesday, citing suspicions that the attorney fees were the product of collusion.  The split three-judge panel described the injunctive relief won in the case against Boeing Co. as 'relatively weak,' and said it and the $7 million in damages didn't appear to justify more than $4 million in fees and a broad release of liability."  The case, purportedly on behalf of 15,000 black Boeing employees, had resulted in the company's promise to institute changes in employment practices.  However, Judge Marsha Berzon called such curative measures an "inexact and easily manipulable value," and said they should not be viewed as creating a common fund for purposes of fee calculation.  "Harrell, Desper, Connell, Hunter & Gautschi, the Seattle-based firm representing the class, had supplied many declarations, including one from the Rev. Jesse Jackson, supporting the terms of the settlement."  (Jason Hoppin, "9th Circuit Scraps Race Bias Settlement, Cites Attorney Fees", The Recorder, Nov. 27).  (DURABLE LINK)

December 13-15 -- Back from hiatus.  Our editor's hiatus to handle personal business met with the happiest possible outcome, but as a result he's facing new family responsibilities that will keep posting slow at best.  Better some posting than none at all, at least, right?  (DURABLE LINK)

December 13-15 -- Using his own name a legal risk.  The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Bill Wyman shares his name with a somewhat well-known musician who played bass with the Rolling Stones.  He was nonetheless unprepared when he received a letter from the musician's lawyer suggesting that he might be violating the other guy's rights by ... well, by going on using his own name (Bill Wyman, "Will the real Bill Wyman please tune up?", Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Nov. 14).  (DURABLE LINK)

December 13-15 -- Florida school shooting: the deep pockets did it.  A Palm Beach County, Fla. jury has declared that a school board, an owner from whom a gun was stolen and the gun's distributor should be liable for the classroom shooting of Lake Worth teacher Barry Grunow by 16-year-old student Nathaniel Brazill.  "The jury didn't find any liability for Brazill, who pulled the trigger. Brazill stole the unloaded gun and bullets from a cookie tin stashed away in a dresser drawer of family friend Elmore McCray."  ("Gun Company Must Pay Teacher's Widow", WPLG, Nov. 15).  "Attorney Bob Montgomery, known for successfully spearheading the state's efforts to sue Big Tobacco for $11.3 billion, said he hoped the gun case would achieve the same crippling results against the gun industry." ("Gun distributor must pay in teacher's death", AP/Redding (Calif.) Record Searchlight, Nov. 15). Update Feb. 4-5: judge throws out case (DURABLE LINK)

December 13-15 -- Law's attraction for the bully.  "[A] lot of hyper-glandular people are attracted to the legal profession because it looks like the perfect job for bullying other people. Plus, it pays well.  Of course, the apologists for this sort of bad lawyering (mostly like-minded and acting lawyers) ... argue that all that I am carping about is what is known as 'zealous advocacy' -- which is next to godliness in the pantheon of ethical requirements. Of course, there is no 'ethical requirement' that justifies what some lawyers do in terms of name-calling, rules-flouting and frivolous motion-filing. It is simply a conceit that these lawyers rely on to transform their vices into supposed virtues."  (Jim McCormack, "Deconstructing Opposing Counsel", Texas Lawyer, Oct. 25). (DURABLE LINK)

December 13-15 -- Gotham's trial lawyer-legislators.  If it's unusually hard for New Yorkers to obtain any legislative relief from their state's lawsuit culture, our editor observes in an op-ed, maybe one reason is that numerous lawmakers are themselves trial lawyers, including Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver of Manhattan (who previously practiced with controversial tobacco-beneficiary law firm Schneider Kleinick, and recently joined controversial asbestos/product liability law firm Weitz & Luxenberg) along with New York City Council members Michael E. McMahon and Domenic M. Recchia. (Walter Olson, "Legal Payola", New York Post, Nov. 21, reprinted at Manhattan Institute site). (DURABLE LINK)

More archives:
Nov. II & III - Dec. I & II / III

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