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ARCHIVE -- JUNE 2003 (II)


June 20-22 -- Fast food: give me my million.  From an interview aired in Australia with the plaintiff in the McDonald's obesity lawsuit:

CAESAR BARBER: I'm saying that McDonald's affected my health. Yes, I am saying that. 

RICHARD CARLETON: So what do you want in return? 

CAESAR BARBER: I want compensation for pain and suffering. 

RICHARD CARLETON: But how much money do you want? 

CAESAR BARBER: I don't know Ö maybe $1 million. That's not a lot of money now. 

(Richard Carleton, "Food fight", 60 Minutes (Australia), Sept. 25, 2002).  Only three years ago the possibility of suits blaming food companies for obesity furnished The Onion with material for humor (Aug. 3, 2000).  "The parody has become reality."  (James Glassman, "From parody to reality", TechCentralStation, May 21; Michael I. Krauss, "Today's Tort Suits Are Stranger Than Fiction", Virginia Viewpoint (Virginia Institute), May). A House panel heard testimony yesterday on a bill that would stop such lawsuits in their tracks (Maggie Fox, "Is It Your Fault I'm Fat? Congress Hears Debate", Reuters, Jun. 19; Bruce Horovitz, "Fast-food restaurants told to warn of addiction", USA Today, Jun. 17).  A CNBC poll, with 2000 votes as of midnight Friday morning, was running 92 to 8 percent against holding fast-food restaurants responsible for expanding waistlines.  (DURABLE LINK)

June 20-22 -- Investors' Business Daily interviews our editor.  Now at a stable URL, last Friday's interview mostly concentrated on our editor's new book The Rule of Lawyers (David Isaac (interviewer), "Frivolous Lawsuits Creating New Power Class -- Lawyers", Jun. 13, reprinted at Manhattan Institute site). (DURABLE LINK)

June 20-22 -- Batch of reader letters.  Special all-critical edition -- nothing but letters taking issue with us.  Topics include the MTV "Jack Ass" suit, Ann Arbor substitute teachers, the ADA, high verdicts as an inspiration to young lawyers, and medical malpractice.  (DURABLE LINK)

June 18-19 -- Keep playing in our conference or we'll sue you.  Five schools in the Big East football conference -- Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Rutgers and Connecticut -- have filed suit to stop Miami and Boston College from departing for the Atlantic Coast Conference.  (Eddie Pells, "Big East accuses Miami, BC and ACC of conspiracy", AP/Kansas City Star, Jun. 6; Sam Eifling, "Requiem for the Big East", Slate, Jun. 12; Steve Wieberg, "Conference changes becoming more hostile than ever", USA Today, Jun. 15).  Politicians have gotten into the act in support of the suit, including (inevitably) Connecticut AG Richard Blumenthal as well as the state's Gov. John Rowland (Andy Katz, "ACC lawyer: Lawsuit will not distract from expansion", ESPN, Jun. 12).  Virginia AG Jerry Kilgore, too ("Virginia Tech, the Big East and the ACC", Roanoke Times, Jun. 17; see S.W.Va. Law Blog, Jun. 17).  S.M.Oliva comments (Initium, Jun. 6) (via Dan Lewis). (DURABLE LINK)

June 18-19 -- A judge bans a book.  "A tax protester may not sell his book that contends paying income tax is voluntary, a federal judge ruled Monday. U.S. District Judge Lloyd D. George wrote in an order banning the book that Irwin Schiff is not protected by the First Amendment because he has encouraged people not to pay taxes. 'There is no protection ... for speech or advocacy that is directed toward producing imminent lawless action,' George wrote in support of the preliminary injunction on the book, 'The Federal Mafia: How It Illegally Imposes and Unlawfully Collects Income Taxes.'" ("Federal judge in Las Vegas bans anti-tax book", Reno Gazette-Journal, Jun. 16). (DURABLE LINK)

June 18-19 -- Texas's giant legal reform.  With the support of Gov. Rick Perry, the Texas legislature this month passed what looks to us to be the most serious and comprehensive package of litigation reforms achieved at one stroke anywhere in recent memory.  Among other features, it: adopts an offer-of-settlement-driven variant of loser-pays; reforms class action certification and requires that lawyers' fees be paid in coupon form to the extent that class relief is provided that way; tightens forum non conveniens safeguards against court-shopping; protects defendants from having to pay damages attributable to other responsible parties' fault; establishes innocent-retailer and regulatory-compliance defenses in product liability law, along with a 15-year statute of repose; curbs artificially high interest on judgments; limits appeals bonds; restrains medical liability in a long list of ways including a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages; and much more.  ("Ten-gallon tort reform" (editorial), Wall Street Journal, Jun. 6, reprinted at Texans for Lawsuit Reform site; summary of legislation at same site; John Williams, "Proponents cheer tort reform", Houston Chronicle, Jun. 11). (DURABLE LINK)

June 18-19 -- Around the blogs.  Virginia Postrel (Jun. 5) has some comments from civil libertarian Harvey Silverglate criticizing 18 U.S.C. sec. 1001, which the feds are using to go after Martha Stewart.  This law makes it unlawful to lie to a federal agent -- even if you're not under oath, and even though the agents may be free to lie to you.  See also the comment from reader James Ingram. Mickey Kaus (Jun. 16) echoes speculation by "some media lawyers" quoted in the Washington Post (James V. Grimaldi, "Blair Analogy Reaches Courtroom Far From N.Y.", Jun. 16) that the New York Times may have forced out top executives Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd in part because if it hadn't done so, defamation plaintiffs might have been able to use its forbearance "to devastating effect" in future litigation. And MedPundit catches up at some length (Jun. 3) on the controversy over thimerosal, the mercury-containing vaccine preservative which has given rise to bitter litigation and legislative battles. (DURABLE LINK)

June 16-17 -- Probate's misplaced trust.  Washington Post investigation into guardianship in the D.C. courts finds that the D.C. Superior Court's probate division, "mandated to care for more than 2,000 elderly, mentally ill and mentally retarded residents, has repeatedly allowed its charges to be forgotten and victimized .... Chaotic record-keeping, lax oversight and low expectations in this division of the court have created a culture in which guardians are rarely held accountable. They are often handed new work even when they have ignored their charges or let them languish in unsafe conditions."  The Post "found hundreds of cases where court-appointed protectors violated court requirements. Since 1995, one of five guardians has gone years without reporting to the court. Some have not visited their ailing charges. In more than two dozen cases, guardians or conservators have taken or mishandled money. Neglectful caretakers are rarely disciplined, D.C. bar records show. Even when they have been caught stealing or cheating clients, attorneys can go as long as nine years before they are punished."

Why have the courts gone on giving new work to lawyers charged with misconduct or incompetence in earlier cases?  "[Senior Judge Eugene] Hamilton said he would hesitate to ban lawyers from future appointments simply because they've been removed from a case. 'You have to be careful about barring someone from cases, said Hamilton, who oversaw the probate division from 1991 until 1993. 'It may be the person's only source of practice.'" (Carol D. Leonnig, Lena H. Sun and Sarah Cohen, "Under Court, Vulnerable Became Victims", Washington Post, Jun. 15) (via David Bernstein)(& see Ethical Esq.).  More: Second part of article: Sarah Cohen, Carol D. Leonnig and April Witt, "Rights and Funds Can Evaporate Quickly", Jun. 16). (DURABLE LINK)

June 16-17 -- He's gotta have it.  A Manhattan judge has granted a temporary injunction sought by filmmaker Spike Lee against the launch of Spike TV, a cable channel aiming to provide television programming of interest to men.  (Samuel Maull, "Spike Lee wins temporary injunction", AP/San Francisco Chronicle, Jun. 12).  However, "State Supreme Court Justice Walter Tolub ordered Lee to post a $500,000 bond to cover Viacom's losses in case the company wins."  ("Spike Lee outmans Spike TV", Newsday, Jun. 13; Mark Perry, "Spike Lee Gains Upper Hand In Legal Battle With TNN", Impact Wrestling, Jun. 13).  At FindLaw, columnist Julie Hilden ("Spike Lee v. Spike TV", Jun. 9) is nondismissive about Lee's case, while conceding it raises questions about whether other well-known persons with the same nickname, such as director Spike Jonze, could also sue.  Sentiment in the blog world, on the other hand, seems to be running heavily against Lee (né Shelton).  Examples: Catbird.org, Idler Yet, Horrors of an Easily Distracted Mind, Doedermara.net, LedUntitled. (DURABLE LINK)

June 16-17 -- A tangled Mississippi web.  "A web of connections exists between the judges, lawyers, politicians and investigators involved in a Mississippi judicial-corruption probe, raising questions about the fairness and thoroughness of the investigation and about possible conflicts of interest."  Among prominent figures in the probe are "[plaintiff's attorney Dickie] Scruggs as a cooperating witness and [state Attorney General Michael] Moore as a co-investigator of some sort. And their friendship has raised eyebrows, most recently after The Sun Herald witnessed Moore giving Scruggs a lift to the courthouse before Scruggs testified before the grand jury. ... Scruggs has said he does not have an immunity agreement with prosecutors and that he doesn't need one." A federal grand jury is expected to reconvene next month to consider the allegations.  (Margaret Baker, Tom Wilemon and Beth Musgrave, "Web of connections", Biloxi (Miss.) Sun-Herald, Jun. 8)(see May 7 and links from there). 

MORE ON INVESTIGATION: Thomas B. Edsall, "Mississippi Trial Lawyers Under Inquiry", Washington Post, May 18; "FBI agent reassigned after questioning ties in judge-attorney probe", AP/Grenada (Miss.) Star, May 29; Tom Wilemon, Margaret Baker and Beth Musgrave,  "Lott, Moore deny influencing probe", Biloxi Sun Herald/San Jose Mercury News, May 30; "Moore says he has no role in judges probe", AP/Jackson Clarion Ledger, May 30; "Paper: Lott, judge probers talked", Jackson Clarion Ledger, Jun. 3. (DURABLE LINK)

June 16-17 -- "The rise of the fourth branch".  Our editor's book The Rule of Lawyers is reviewed in Enter Stage Right by ESR editor Steven Martinovich (Jun. 9). And on Friday Investor's Business Daily published correspondent David Isaac's interview with our editor; when we get a stable URL, we'll post it.  (DURABLE LINK)

June 16-17 -- "McDonald's sues food critic".  "McDonald's has sued one of Italy's top food critics for raking its restaurants over the coals, but the critic says he has no intention of going back on saying its burgers taste of rubber and its fries of cardboard." McDonald's of Italy called the comments by Edoardo Raspelli, food critic of the newspaper La Stampa, "clearly defamatory and offensive". (Reuters/CNN, Jun. 2; BBC, May 30; Guardian (UK), Jun. 4; "McDonald's Turns to the Dark Side", Center for Individual Freedom, Jun. 12). David Farrer at Freedom and Whisky suggests a better approach the company might take ("Shooting themselves in the foot", May 31). (DURABLE LINK)

June 12-15 -- Docs leaving their hometowns.  As liability woes worsen, this genre of article is running in papers across the country.  Philadelphia, of course: Michael Hinkelman, "Like older docs, young M.D.s fleeing Pa., too", Philadelphia Daily News, May 28.  An example from Corpus Christi, Tex.: Robert M. (Marty) Reynolds, "Why this doctor is leaving his hometown", Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Apr. 23, reprinted at Texans for Lawsuit Reform site.  From Independence, Mo., best known as Harry Truman's hometown: M. Steele Brown, "Malpractice 'crisis' drives docs from Missouri", Kansas City Business Journal, May 2.  And neurosurgery in Seattle faces a crisis as ten local surgeons lose their coverage, forcing hospitals to send patients elsewhere; the ten say they have good records but the chief operating officer of the Doctor's Company, an insurance provider, "said about half of all neurosurgeons nationwide are sued each year", which makes it plain enough that plenty of good ones get sued.  (Carol M. Ostrom, "A neurosurgeon 'crisis': Insurer drops doctors' group", Seattle Times, Jun. 7). Meanwhile, the incoming head of the American Bar Association, North Carolinian Alfred P. Carlton Jr., a partner with Kilpatrick Stockton LLP, claims in an interview with The Hill -- no fair laughing aloud, now -- that "I donít think thereís any credible evidence that connects anything going on in the justice system to the rise of malpractice insurance rates. My malpractice rates are going up.  Everybody's insurance rates are going up, for all kinds of insurance."  Now there's a checkable proposition: have insurance rates for life, health, fire, storm, crop and marine risks jumped by 60 or 80 percent on renewal in the past couple of years, the way so many doctors' liability rates have?  ("'There are abuses at the edges'" (interview), The Hill, Jun. 11).  (DURABLE LINK)

June 12-15 -- U.K. roundup.  "George Blake, the KGB spy who fled to Moscow in 1966, has accused the Government of breaching his human rights by confiscating £90,000 he was expecting to make from his memoirs." Blake, who escaped from Wormwood Scrubs prison after serving five years of a 42-year sentence for highly damaging work as a Soviet double agent, has petitioned the European Court of Human Rights for the right to the money from the autobiography.  (Joshua Rozenberg, "Spy Blake tries to sue Britain for his lost £90,000", Daily Telegraph, May 16).  "Meet Britain's most prolific race discrimination litigant. Omorotu Francis Ayovuare, a Nigerian-born surveyor, may not have held a steady job for five years: he has, however, earned a certain celebrity in the world of industrial relations after launching 72 employment tribunal cases alleging racial discrimination."  (Adam Lusher and David Bamber, "Give me a job - or I'll sue", Daily Telegraph, Jun. 8). (Update Dec. 13: at request of attorney general, court restrains him from further filings). "The Scottish Parliament, fresh from outlawing hunting with dogs, is to force fish-lovers to buy pet licences for exotic species in their garden ponds and aquaria. ... Anyone who owns exotic fish without a licence will face fines of up to £2,500."  (Rajeev Syal, "Have you got a licence for that exotic minnow?", Daily Telegraph, Apr. 6).  Enthusiasm about lawsuits to recoup costs of global warming has reached Britain, although as one Oxford physicist told the BBC, "Some of it might be down to things you'd have trouble suing -- like the Sun". ("Suing over climate change", BBC, Apr. 3).  (DURABLE LINK)

June 12-15 -- To tame Madison County, pass the Class Action Fairness Act.  By ensuring that large nationwide class actions are heard in federal court, the bill would curb the influence of "magic jurisdictions" in which "the judiciary is elected with verdict money", as one big-league trial lawyer has put it. (Jim Copland, "The tort tax", Wall Street Journal, Jun. 11; Mr. Copland is associated with the Manhattan Institute's Center for Legal Policy, as is this site's editor.).  The Madison County, Ill. courthouse "is on pace to have another record year for class-action lawsuits", reports a local newspaper.  (Brian Brueggemann, "Number of lawsuits is 39 and climbing", Belleville News-Democrat, May 26).  Two plaintiff's law firms, St. Louis-based Carr Korein Tillery and the Wood River, Ill.-based Lakin Law Firm, dominate the filing of class actions in the county (Andrew Harris, "At the head of the class actions", National Law Journal, Jun. 9). And Madison County personal injury lawyer John Simmons, 35, of Edwardsville, whose law firm in March obtained a $250 million jury verdict for a retired steelworker in an asbestos case against U.S. Steel, "has announced his intention to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Peter Fitzgerald". ("Downstate lawyer to enter Democratic primary", AP/Northwest Indiana Times, May 27). (DURABLE LINK)



 
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