Author Archive

Mikal Watts acquitted in Gulf spill claims fraud case

“San Antonio plaintiffs’ attorney Mikal Watts was acquitted Thursday by a Mississippi federal jury of multiple fraud counts after federal prosecutors charged that he submitted the names of phony clients seeking to recover from the 2010 BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill.” Two others associated with Watts’ firm were also cleared of charges. Watts, who represented himself at the trial, had argued that he was a victim of, rather than collaborator, in the wrongful practices of others who brought potential spill claimants in as clients for his firm. “The jury found several of the defendants Watts hired in Mississippi to gather clients guilty of the fraud allegations.” [Texas Lawyer]

After adverse verdict, Gawker will cease publication

What Ken says at Popehat:

…for most of us the scary part of the story is that our legal system is generally receptive to people abusing it to suppress speech. Money helps do that, but it’s not necessary to do it. A hand-to-mouth lunatic with a dishonest contingency lawyer can ruin you and suppress your speech nearly as easily as a billionaire. Will you prevail against a malicious and frivolous defamation suit? Perhaps sooner if you’re lucky enough to be in a state with a good anti-SLAPP statute. Or perhaps years later. Will you be one of the lucky handful who get pro bono help? Or will you be like almost everyone else, who has to spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to protect your right to speak, or else abandon your right to speak because you can’t afford to defend it?

The system isn’t just broken for affluent publications targeted by billionaires. It’s broken for everyone, and almost everyone else’s speech is at much greater risk.

Our coverage of the publication, including its run-in with champerty and maintenance and Peter Thiel’s version of “public interest” litigation, is here.

Tweet of the day: Laurence Tribe on IRS ideological targeting

Yesterday Harvard law professor Larry Tribe sent out a tweet brusquely dismissing the IRS targeting episode as a debunked non-scandal. I and others promptly took issue with him, and pointed him toward the August 5 D.C. Circuit opinion laying out the scandal’s genuineness. (I also referenced my Ricochet article summarizing the decision and citing the Inspector General report from Treasury.)

Within an hour or two Prof. Tribe sent this tweet very graciously conceding error, along with several similar.

I have on occasion had my differences with Prof. Tribe’s views, but what an honorable example he sets here. May all of us prove equally ready to re-examine our own views when challenged.

Liability roundup

Can debt collector buy back your suit against it in an auction of your assets?

A Nevada resident was receiving dunning notices and responded by filing a lawsuit against the debt collector under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The collector subsequently filed a notice of execution including, among her property to be seized and auctioned, her rights under that lawsuit. It then attended the auction of her assets and bought that right for $250, thus nullifying the claim against itself. Should courts uphold? [Consumerist]

On the trail of mysterious journalist Jennifer Clandon

Plausible-looking copyright takedown complaints have demanded that site operators take down particular posts on the grounds that they are not original, but reprint the copyrighted work of a journalist that had earlier appeared elsewhere. The posts tend to be ones that are critical of someone’s reputation. But it’s hard to establish that the journalists exist, and the demands cite backdated links on fake news sites apparently created for the purpose with names that sound like legitimate media outlets. [Patrick Coffee, AgencySpy/AdWeek; Tim Cushing, TechDirt]

August 17 roundup

  • Upcoming evening panel on the Olympics and aggressive trademark/copyright policing, with Jim Harper, Julian Sanchez, and me, Kat Murti moderating [at Cato, August 24]
  • “We are drowning in law.” New reform project from Philip K. Howard’s Common Good [Take-Charge.org]
  • “Extremely Rare Deadly Balloon Tragedy Leads to Familiar Calls for More Regulation” [Scott Shackford, Reason]
  • FTC, reversing its administrative law judge, asserts widened authority over data security practices in LabMD case [James Cooper, earlier here, etc.]
  • Baltimore police matters, gerrymandering, historic preservation and more in my latest Maryland roundup at Free State Notes;
  • “Shark-Attack Lawsuit Raises Interesting Questions, Like What Were You Doing in the Ocean to Begin With” [Lowering the Bar]