chronicling the high cost of our legal system

Top page
Reaching us:
Search the site


January 10-12 -- Tobacco fees, cont'd: "Not a pretty picture".  What with our hiatus, we've been remiss in updating readers about it, but the neglected story of how lawyers carted off billions from the 1998 tobacco heist has been breaking into the news in increasingly noisy fashion.  In November, former Texas Attorney General Dan Morales, who'd previously stonewalled efforts to investigate the private lawyers who worked under contract with his office, surprised observers by approaching his successor's office with word that he has information about how at least one of those lawyers (unnamed thus far) may have breached his fiduciary duty to the state and may be subject to a potential forfeiture of fees.  (Brenda Sapino Jeffreys, "Former Texas AG Offers Info on Tobacco Lawyers' Conduct", Texas Lawyer, Nov. 18).  The Dallas Morning News calls for the private lawyers to stop dodging the state's efforts to put them under oath about the fee affair, as they have been doing for years now ("Clearing the air: Abbott should examine new tobacco claims" (editorial), Dallas Morning News, Nov. 15)(reg). 

Last month, American Lawyer published what seems to be the first major journalistic account of one of the most secretive aspects of the whole scandal: the unaccountable arbitration panel that has repeatedly awarded unheard-of sums to the trial lawyers.  We've covered the doings of this panel many times on this site, and our editor discusses its rulings at some length in his new book The Rule of Lawyers, but we're delighted to see a professional news organization finally devote its resources to scrutinizing the arbitration panel's role in the fee scandal.  Reporter Susan Beck digs up a large trove of material previously unknown to us in what the magazine terms "a behind-the-scenes account of the controversial awards. Warning: It's not a pretty picture."

"The proceedings were private, and only the awards were made public. According to transcripts and interviews with more than 20 participants, the hearings were loosely run events. A labor mediator, Wells had never conducted an arbitration. Testimony was not taken under oath. Celebrity witnesses -- some paid, others with personal ties to the parties -- offered testimonials in person and on professionally produced videotapes. The hearings were punctuated with folksy aphorisms and down-home appeals to [arbitrator John Calhoun] Wells, whose swing vote determined the outcome every time."  The whole article (and its sidebars) deserve close study.  (Susan Beck, "Trophy Fees", The American Lawyer, Dec. 2; "As Murky as a Clay Hole", Dec. 2; "And the Winners Are...", Dec. 2).  And this month, the same reporter details the internecine strife that has gone far to tear apart the firm that made off with the greatest share of the ill-gotten gains from tobacco, Charleston, S.C.'s Ness Motley Loadholt Richardson & Poole, as the formerly cordial partners spar about ... well, it basically seems to come down to money.  "So maybe a couple billion dollars can't buy happiness after all."  (Susan Beck, "Jet Blues", The American Lawyer, Jan. 9).   (DURABLE LINK)

January 10-12 -- China: lawyer sues over 4-minute cinema delay.   Emulating the American way of doing things, with a vengeance?  "A disgruntled cinema-goer who went to watch the hit Chinese film Hero is suing the picture house and a movie production company because the movie started four minutes late. Zhang Yang, a lawyer, took action after being forced to watch four minutes of advertisements, which delayed the start of the film until 9.34pm when his ticket said it was due to commence at 9.30pm, according to the weekly Beijing Today."  However, Zhang does not appear to have adopted American lawyers' ideas of suitable compensation: he appears to be asking for a mere $17, "a refund of his 40 yuan ($8.50) ticket and 40 yuan ($8.50) in compensation."  ("Chinese man sues after adverts delay movie by four minutes", Sydney Morning Herald, Jan. 6)(& see Feb. 20).  (DURABLE LINK)

January 9 -- "Drunk Driving Victim Sues Designated Driver".  New frontiers of liability dept.: in Boulder, Colo., a lawyer for car-crash victim Doris Gray is suing not just the drunken driver whose vehicle hit her car but also "the driver's friend, who reportedly failed to keep her promise to be a designated driver".  Although none of the participants could think of any earlier cases in which persons have been held liable for shirking a designated-driver role, a former head of the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association claims the new theory is "pretty solid".  (TheDenverChannel.com, Jan. 7).   (DURABLE LINK)

January 9 -- Playing chicken on malpractice reform.  New Jersey's Democratic pols propose dealing with their state's medical liability crisis by enacting a cap on insurance rates while doing nothing to reduce the spiraling cost of judgments, settlements and defense costs.  Columnist Paul Mulshine of the Newark Star-Ledger isn't impressed.  ("MDs will fly the coop rather than play chicken", Jan. 7).   (DURABLE LINK)

January 9 -- "The Lawyers Are Lurking Over S.U.V.'s".  "The beginning of a new year is a good time for predictions, so here's mine: S.U.V.'s are next on the agenda for the plaintiff's bar. ... [Suits of this kind] have less to do with the law or the facts than with the social climate... Don't be surprised if some ambitious state attorneys general get into the act, too." (Daniel Akst, New York Times, Jan. 5)(reg).  (DURABLE LINK)

January 7-8 -- Disabled-access suit could stop Super Bowl.  "Super Bowl XXXVII may have to move from Qualcomm Stadium unless the city expands access for the disabled at the stadium. Attorney Amy Vandeveld filed an application for an injunction Friday in U.S. District Court in an attempt to get the city to comply with the terms of a 2001 a settlement aimed at expanding access for disabled people at the stadium." ("Super Bowl XXXVII may be blocked in San Diego", The Sports Network, Jan. 3).  In the March 2001 settlement, San Diego officials agreed to spend more than $6.5 million in taxpayer funds to improve access to the stadium; attorney Vandeveld "received $1.3 million in attorney fees and other payments".  Linda Woodbury, the city's disability services coordinator, estimated that the city's overall "to-do" list of accessibility projects would cost at least $175 million.  (Caitlin Rother, "Disabled activists threaten suit on Padres' new ballpark", SignOnSanDiego, Feb. 11, 2002).  And ABC correspondent John Stossel recently devoted a segment to lawyers' use of the ADA to extract settlements from retailers and other defendants ("Equal Access to the 'Wild Side'", 20/20, Nov. 9).  (DURABLE LINK)

January 7-8 -- Trial lawyer's purchase of Alabama governor's house said to be "arm's-length".  "Wray Pearce, the Birmingham accountant who bought Gov. Don Siegelman's Montgomery home for twice its appraised value, was acting as an intermediary for trial lawyer Lanny Vines, who subsequently bought the house from Pearce, according to court records filed last month in a lawsuit involving the two men. ... The governor and his representatives have described the house sale as an arm's-length transaction, with the governor and his wife placing the property on the market, and a buyer coming along and paying the asking price. ... None of the records in the court file specifically state why Vines used his longtime accountant as an apparent straw buyer for the home. Nor do they explain why Vines was willing to pay a sum that a county appraisal and a Register review showed was about twice the home's value."  Vines is considered one of the most politically influential plaintiff's lawyers in Alabama.  (Eddie Curran, "Papers show trial lawyer paid accountant for Siegelman house", Mobile Register, Nov. 11). Also catch the editor's note at the end of the article: "The governor's office has a stated policy of refusing to comment to Register Reporter Eddie Curran." (DURABLE LINK)

January 7-8 -- "The Politics of Family Destruction".  Scorching indictment of the divorce industry by Howard University professor and fathers' rights advocate Stephen Baskerville (Crisis, Nov.).  And civil liberties advocates are uneasy about a developing trend in which courts in Ohio and Wisconsin have ordered men behind in their child support payments not to father any more children.  (Dee McAree, "Deadbeat Dads Told to Stop Having Kids", National Law Journal, Sept. 26; see Nov. 28, 2001). (DURABLE LINK)

January 3-6 -- "Courting stupidity: why smart lawyers pick dumb jurors".   If you'd like an advance peek at our editor's forthcoming bookThe Rule of Lawyers, this is your chance: the chapter on jury excesses is excerpted in January's Reason. (DURABLE LINK)

January 3-6 -- "Doctors strike over malpractice costs".  "More than two dozen orthopedic, general and heart surgeons in West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle began 30-day leaves of absence Wednesday or planned to begin leaves in the next few days."  Doctors in Pennsylvania are also on the brink of a job action to protest the legal system, despite a letter from a state official menacing them with having their licenses revoked for patient "abandonment". (MSNBC, Jan. 2; Josh Goldstein, "Pa. warns doctors not to quit", Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 28; Google news; see Jan. 21, 2002) (DURABLE LINK)

January 3-6 -- U.K.: "Killer claims over loss of interest".  "A murderer is demanding thousands of dollars in lost interest because his prison savings were not invested wisely." John Duggan, 53, jailed for life in 1984 after he admitted battering his girlfriend to death, says officials of the British Prison Service wrongfully left his money "in a zero-interest prison account designed for spending in jail on phonecards and toiletries" and says they had a duty to invest his earnings in an interest-bearing account.  (Melbourne Herald Sun, Dec. 29).  (DURABLE LINK)

January 3-6 -- "Jack Ass blasts 'Jackass'".  "A Montana man who legally changed his name to Jack Ass in 1997 (to raise awareness of the perils of drunk driving) says Jackass, the controversial MTV stunt-fest and subsequent film, has besmirched his sterling reputation, and ... has filed a $10 million lawsuit against Viacom." (Julie Keller, E! Online, Jan. 2; Michael Rosenwald, "The Appellative Court: The Real Jack Ass", The New Yorker, Jan. 6).  (& letter to the editor).  (DURABLE LINK)

January 3-6 -- Milberg copyrights its complaints.  The leading class-action law firm has sent cease-and-desist letters to about ten other law firms, informing them that they are in violation of its rights when they swipe large amounts of language from Milberg Weiss suits -- sometimes pretty much the entire complaint -- for purposes of filing their own copycat lawsuits against the same defendants.  Annoyed by the free riders, star litigator Bill Lerach "started putting copyright notices on some of his complaints, and registering those notices with the U.S. Copyright Office last September."  (Janet L. Conley, "Milberg Weiss Tries to Nail Class Action Imitators", Fulton County Daily Report, Nov. 20).   (DURABLE LINK)

More archives:
Dec. 2002 III - Jan. 2003 I - II

Recent commentary on overlawyered.com

Original contents © 2003 and other years The Overlawyered Group.
Technical questions: Email Webmaster