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ARCHIVE -- JANUARY 2003 (III)


January 31-February 2 -- "Cities Pay Big in Faulty Lawsuits".  Fox News picks up on the theme explored by columnist Deroy Murdock a few days ago of how persons hurt while committing crimes or trying to commit suicide now often show up in court demanding compensation for others' negligence in letting them be injured.  This site's editor went on camera to take a less-than-enthusiastic view of such suits. (Jan. 30(DURABLE LINK)

January 31-February 2 -- FBI probes Philadelphia's hiring of class-action firm.  "An FBI investigation is focusing on why current and former city officials gave potentially lucrative legal work to a top Democratic donor and resisted a judge's efforts to seek competitive bids for the work."  The administration of Ed Rendell, since elected Pennsylvania governor, hired prominent class-action firm Barrack, Rodos & Bacine to represent the city as lead plaintiff in a large class action in California representing investors in Network Associates, a software firm.  Through its senior partner, the law firm says it plans to cooperate with the investigation. (Cynthia Burton, Mark Fazlollah and Joseph Tanfani, "FBI investigates Philadelphia's Pension Board", Philadelphia Inquirer, Jan. 30).  Update and more coverage: Mar. 21-23. (DURABLE LINK)

January 31-February 2 -- "Valentine's Card Burglar Sues Police".  From the U.K.: "A convicted burglar has been given legal aid to sue the police for sending him a Valentine's card last year. Gary Williams, who has a 12-year criminal record, was one of 10 known burglars and car criminals who received cards from Brighton police.  But when he opened the card, his girlfriend thought it must be from another woman. She was so cross that, before he could explain, she hurled an ashtray at him, and it went whistling past his head."  (David Sapsted, Daily Telegraph, Jan. 29) (DURABLE LINK)

January 31-February 2 -- Fair housing law vs. free speech.  On more than one occasion, when local residents have spoken out against the siting of low-income housing projects or group homes in their neighborhoods, they've faced (unsuccessful) lawsuits and attempted fines on the grounds that their speech constituted a civil rights violation.  Now the Sixth Circuit has approved a more subtle way of discouraging residents from speaking their minds: impute their prejudiced views to the government that has allowed them to speak at a public hearing.  It's a good way of getting government bodies to stop holding public hearings for fear of liability, according to columnist Robyn Blumner ("Fair Housing Act cannot be used to gag residents' displeasure", St. Petersburg Times, Jan. 19).  (DURABLE LINK)

January 31-February 2 -- Manhattan Institute turns 25.  The New York-based policy institute, with which our editor is associated, celebrates its quarter-century anniversary.  Read more about it (Tom Wolfe, "Revolutionaries", New York Post, Jan. 30; "Ideas Matter" (editorial), Jan. 30).  Then visit the Institute's website and sign up for its invaluable mailing list(DURABLE LINK)

January 30 -- "ADA Goes to the Movies".  The AMC chain pioneered stadium-style seating in movie theaters, which much improves sight lines for audiences and quickly became the industry standard.  Then civil-rights activists swooped down, saying the new layouts (the earlier versions, at least) were unlawful because they provided too narrow a set of seating choices for patrons in wheelchairs.  Jonathan Last of the Weekly Standard takes up the story (Jan. 24).  (DURABLE LINK)

January 30 -- Targeting Wall Street.  More than 200 mass tort lawyers recently met at Las Vegas's Bellagio Hotel to discuss suing investment firms, at an event put on by the Mass Torts Made Perfect organization.  Veterans of the breast-implant and fen-phen campaigns "are hoping to profit from the fallout of the $1.4 billion global regulatory settlement over stock-research conflicts, seeking to file claims on behalf of investors."  Law partners James Hooper and Robert Weiss "concede they don't really know their way around Wall Street" but have already spent more than $1 million in television advertising in search of retired Florida clients who lost money in the market.  "The pair is teaming up with Levin Papantonio Thomas Mitchell Echsner & Proctor PA, a large mass-tort firm based in Pensacola, Fla., known for its filings against the tobacco industry, among others."  Messrs. Hooper and Weiss "recently filed 71 cases against Citigroup Inc.'s Salomon Smith Barney on behalf of investors who lost less than $25,000 apiece."  The newcomers have not met with a friendly reception from the existing plaintiff's securities bar, however, who tend to sniff at their lack of a track record in the area.  (Susanne Craig, "Lawyers Target Wall Street Following Regulatory Payoff", Wall Street Journal, Jan. 29) (online subscribers only).  (DURABLE LINK)

January 29 -- State of the Union.  "To improve our health care system, we must address one of the prime causes of higher costs the constant threat that physicians and hospitals will be unfairly sued. Because of excessive litigation, everybody pays more for health care and many parts of America are losing fine doctors. No one has ever been healed by a frivolous lawsuit. I urge the Congress to pass medical liability reform."  (President Bush, State of the Union speech Jan. 28, reprinted, Quad City Times).  Charles Krauthammer's take: "Sick, Tired and Not Taking It Anymore", Time, Jan. 13 (MedRants comments).  And see James M. Taylor, "States Take Lead on Medical Malpractice Reform", Heartland Institute Health Care News, Jan.(DURABLE LINK)

January 27-28 -- Latest Rule of Lawyers publicity.  Following appearances in New York and Washington, our editor is speaking on the book to a lunchtime audience Tuesday in Chicago; details here.  Trips to Texas, California and elsewhere are in the works, as well as many radio programs.  Famed InstaPundit Glenn Reynolds gave us a nice lift Friday in his MSNBC column (Jan. 24).  Fox News Channel has now put online a partial transcript of our editor's appearance last Thursday on "The Big Story" (posted Jan. 24).  A CNN appearance is still pending.  Eric Schippers of the Center for Individual Freedom gave the book a favorable review in the Federalist Society publication Engage, reprinted here. And Reason's recent cover story/excerpt included a mini-author profile which we neglected to link earlier. (Jan.)

There's more: Barnes & Noble Online gave the book one of its rotating "We Recommend" designations (Law category); both the Conservative Book Club/National Review Book Service and  Laissez-Faire Books have picked the book as a selection and given it good write-ups; and e-versions are available for download from Franklin.com (requires proprietary software) and Palm Digital Media. (DURABLE LINK)

January 27-28 -- "No suits by lawbreakers, please".  Syndicated columnist Deroy Murdock says a good place to start with tort reform would be to cut off lawsuits where the complainant's own crime or suicide attempt was the preponderant cause of his injury.  Among eyebrow-raising cases: "Disturbed, Angelo Delgrande shot and wounded his parents and himself in a June 1995 dispute. He then received surgery at a Westchester County, N.Y. hospital.  That night, he yanked the tubes and monitoring devices from his body, then leapt off the second story of an adjacent parking garage in a suicide bid. He is now paraplegic. Delgrande sued the hospital for failing to treat his depression and keep him indoors. Last October, he won $9 million."  Also quotes our editor (Scripps Howard News Service/Sacramento Bee, Jan. 23) (& see Jan. 31) (DURABLE LINK)

January 27-28 -- "Woman Attacked By Goose Sues County".  "A woman who says she was attacked by a 3-foot-tall goose is suing Palm Beach County, claiming the county should not have allowed the bird to roam in a public park." Darlene Griffin, 30, says she was attacked on Feb. 5 in Okeeheelee Park.  The county contends that it has no duty to protect parkgoers from "obvious" dangers.  (Local6/WKMG, Jan. 24; CNN, Jan. 24).  (DURABLE LINK)

January 27-28 -- Don't break out the shakes yet.  Judge Sweet's ruling last week in favor of McDonald's has been widely hailed as a blow for common sense and individual responsibility, but the judge "generously gave the plaintiffs a chance to try their luck again" and "take a second bite from the burger".  Lawyers are likely to refile both the case at issue and new ones, after due study of Sweet's opinion which may even provide a "jurisprudential roadmap" to liability.  "Make no mistake: This case is not about fat kids. It's about fat paydays. For lawyers." ("Mickey D's Hollow Victory" (editorial), New York Post, Jan. 23; see also "Lawyers Run Marathons, Not Sprints", Center for Consumer Freedom, Jan. 23).  More: some well-known plaintiff's lawyers pooh-pooh the fat suits (James V. Grimaldi, "Legal Kibitzers See Little Merit in Lawsuit Over Fatty Food at McDonald's", Washington Post, Jan. 27).  On the other hand, a Fortune cover story argues for taking them seriously (Roger Parloff, "Is Fat the Next Tobacco?", Jan. 21).  (DURABLE LINK)

January 24-26 -- Malpractice-cost trends.   Many mainstream journalists, accepting arguments pressed on them by defenders of the litigation business, have uncritically repeated the notion that the crisis in medical malpractice insurance owes more to insurers' unwise Wall Street investments than to galloping litigation costs.  But in fact, according to an expert on insurer portfolio management, "asset allocation and investment returns have had little, if any, correlation to the development of the current malpractice problem. The crisis is rather the result of a generally unconstrained increase in losses and, over several years, inadequate premium income to cover those losses."  (Raghu Ramachandran, "Did Investments Affect Medical Malpractice Premiums?", Brown Brothers Harriman Insurance Asset Management Group, Jan. 21; see also post and comments at Megan McArdle's site and earlier Jan. 1 post and comments).  Doctors' increasing willingness to walk off the job to protest the law's expropriation -- and politicians' heavy-handed hints that they will face punishment if they do so -- recall the producers' strike in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, according to Edward Hudgins of the Objectivist Center ("Doctors Shrug", Washington Times, Jan. 12).  Ramesh Ponnuru argues that the Bush administration has not come up with an adequate grounding in federalism for a Congressional override of state malpractice law, given that it is a state's own citizens who are the main losers from irrational verdicts ("Federal Malpractice", National Review Online, Jan. 24).  See also President Bush's speech in Scranton, Jan. 16; White House "Policy in Focus: Medical Liability"; Michael Arnold Glueck and Robert J. Cihak, "It's Not Just 'Sue the Docs' Anymore", MedJournal.com blog, Jan. 14; RangelMD, Jan. 18; MedRants, Jan. 20; MedPundit, Jan. 19; Sydney Smith (MedPundit), "Dangerous Lies", TechCentralStation, Jan. 21 (DURABLE LINK)

January 24-26 -- Race-bias cases gone wrong.  "The Florida Supreme Court has disbarred a Fort Lauderdale attorney accused of filing a string of racial discrimination lawsuits against employers such as Ocean Spray and BellSouth, which a federal judge labeled as extortion. Norman Ganz was disbarred for allowing his paralegal, a convicted felon, to engage in the unlicensed practice of law, charge an excessive fee and represent clients with adverse interests. ... They were accused of filing a string of lawsuits against employers such as Ocean Spray, BellSouth, Broward County, Fla., and the Broward County School Board, then threatening to bring in the NAACP as a plaintiff. In return, the lawyers gave NAACP chapters some of the settlement money. ... The cases also led to the ouster of Roosevelt Walters, former head of the Fort Lauderdale NAACP."  (Julie Kay, "Florida Lawyer Who Filed Controversial Racial Bias Suits Disbarred", Miami Daily Business Review, Dec. 6).  (DURABLE LINK)

January 23 -- Judge tosses McDonald's obesity case.  "A federal judge in Manhattan today threw out a lawsuit brought against the McDonald's Corporation by two obese teenagers, declaring as he did so that people are responsible for what they eat and that the teenagers' complaints could spawn thousands of 'McLawsuits' if they were upheld. ... Samuel Hirsch, the Manhattan lawyer who represents the plaintiffs ... noted that Judge Sweet said the two teenagers were not barred from filing an amended complaint, and Mr. Hirsch promised to do just that, asserting that he still had a 'credible and viable lawsuit.'" New York Times (reg); opinion in PDF format; GoogNews compilation; Reuters/FoxNews; AP/Court TV; Yahoo Full Coverage).  And -- rather undercutting the much-bruited notion that the increase in portion sizes at restaurants constitutes some sort of sneaky maneuver by restauranteurs having nothing to do with consumer preferences -- "In a new study, researchers looked at such foods as hamburgers, burritos, tacos, french fries, sodas, ice cream, pie, cookies and salty snacks and found that the portions got bigger between the 1970s and the 1990s, regardless of whether people ate in or out." (Deanna Bellandi, "Study Finds Meal Portion Sizes Growing", AP/Washington Post, Jan. 21).   (DURABLE LINK)

January 23 -- Justices nix vicarious personal housing-bias liability.  More good news: vacating a Ninth Circuit ruling, the Supreme Court has unanimously decided that under the Fair Housing Act of 1968 the owner of a real estate agency cannot in most cases be made to pay personally for the discriminatory acts of an underling without some further direct showing of fault.  The agency's liability was not in question; the question was instead whether the owner's personal assets should be at risk if the agency lacked money to pay a judgment.  A sobering aspect of the case: the Bush Administration entered it against the agency owner, arguing that he should be held personally liable but on a different legal theory (that the agency was legally an alter ego of his). The high court did not resolve that possible theory of liability. (Linda Greenhouse, "Justices Limit Housing Bias Lawsuits", New York Times, Jan. 22)(reg)  (DURABLE LINK)

January 23 -- Our editor on TV.   On Tuesday, kicking off a media swing to promote The Rule of Lawyers, our editor was a guest of Court TV's Catherine Crier, who said some extremely kind things about the book (which rose to #265 on Amazon, helped by the WSJ's great review the same day).  Today (Thursday) afternoon, watch for him to be interviewed by Judge Andrew Napolitano on Fox News Channel's The Big Story with John Gibson.  And although bookings are always subject to last-minute change, don't be surprised if he turns up Friday evening on CNN.   (DURABLE LINK)

January 21-22 -- Not my partner's keeper.  No joint and several liability for us, please: "In a sign of increased caution in the post-Enron world, two of New York's most prominent law firms have elected to become limited liability partnerships. Sullivan & Cromwell and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison both acquired Limited Liability Partnership status effective Jan. 1, thus ending a combined 250 years of operation as general partnerships."  The effect is to insulate partners from having to pay for each others' negligence or other wrong, even if greater vigilance by the firm as a whole might have reduced the likelihood of wrongdoing.  (Anthony Lin, "Prominent Law Firms Move to Limit Liability", New York Law Journal, Jan. 10).   (DURABLE LINK)

January 21-22 -- ATLA's hidden influence.  From the Capital Research Center, which keeps tabs on activist groups: "The movement for tort reform has been stalled by an unholy alliance of trial lawyers and consumer advocates eager to preserve the power to sue. But few Americans understand the ties linking Ralph Nader-inspired groups to the Association of Trial Lawyers of America."  Includes considerable information about ATLA's generosity to various private groups which lobby against limits on medical malpractice litigation.  Also quotes this site (Neil Hrab, "Association of Trial Lawyers of America: How It Works with Ralph Nader Against Tort Reform", January (summary; "Foundation Watch" report in PDF format)).  (DURABLE LINK)

January 21-22 -- "Tort turns toxic".  Overview of how litigation is wreaking havoc in diverse sectors of the society, from medicine to terrorism insurance, includes particular attention to the problems it's creating for affordable housing.  Construction of condominiums and apartments in California and other Western states has become much more expensive to insure because of burgeoning litigation over allegedly defective construction, some of the allegations well grounded but others drummed up by eager solicitation of condo associations by lawyers.  By the year 2000, insurers in California were paying out nearly $3 for every premium dollar collected from builders, and imposing big premium hikes.  Multi-unit housing construction has now plunged, and major builders have shifted efforts from affordable condos to pricier freestanding homes, perceived as a lower litigation risk.  (Steven Malanga, "Tort Turns Toxic," City Journal, Autumn 2002).   (DURABLE LINK)

January 21-22 -- Welcome Wall Street Journal readers.  Highly favorable review of our editor's new book The Rule of Lawyers: "an entertaining, but disturbing, chronicle of class-action abuses ... Mr. Olson's engaging prose, for all its charm, is propelled by a sense of outrage at the abuses he describes: He slams his opponents onto the mat, lets them rise slightly in a daze and then slams them down again, round after round."  Also mentions this website (David A. Price, "In a Class By Themselves", Wall Street Journal, Jan. 21 (online subscribers only)).  (DURABLE LINK)



 
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Jan. II - III - Feb. I

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