Posts Tagged ‘Dickie Scruggs’

Confirmed: climate denial heresy hunt based on contingency fee deal

Papers obtained by The Hill confirm that the prominent plaintiff’s law firm of Cohen Milstein is in for a 27 percent slice (plus costs) of loot from at least one branch of the ongoing probe over erroneous opinion on climate change, a campaign advanced by a subpoena dragnet from state attorneys general seeking papers and correspondence from dozens of free-market and right-of-center advocacy and scholarship groups. [The Hill]

Although the blithe denials of a couple of sources who spoke to The Hill might suggest otherwise, contingency-fee representation of states and other public bodies in damages claims was deemed ethically improper over most of American history. It’s a story I tell in The Rule of Lawyers, where I talk about Dickie Scruggs’ pioneering venture in the early 1990s in representing the state of Mississippi in claims for removal of asbestos from government property:

The United States [as of this point] had long justified its departure from other countries’ [bans on contingent fees] on the grounds that otherwise [given our lack of “loser-pays”] some poorer clients might be unable to obtain a lawyer at all. But no one was seriously claiming that no lawyer could be found to handle the asbestos case for the state of Mississippi on an hourly fee basis.

Until quite recently the notion of letting lawyers represent government on a contingency-fee basis would have been seen as pernicious, absurd, or both. But as Scruggs was no doubt aware, times were changing fast. Many of America’s legal authorities had begin to regard contingency fees — and the encouragement they gave to speculative litigation — not as a lesser evil that should be limited to the cases where it was necessary, but as something wholesome and beneficial in itself. The first experiments had already been noted by the end of the 1980s, with the state of Massachusetts hiring private lawyers on contingency for asbestos rip-out cases. If contingency fees for public lawyering could pass the ethical smell test in the state that was home to Harvard Law School, why shouldn’t they do so in Mississippi, too?

Since the Great Tobacco Robbery steered billions of dollars in fees to the pockets of politically influential law firms, the practice has been the subject of continued lively controversy, with legislative proposals in many states aiming to curtail or eliminate the opaque or even undisclosed deals by which private law firms get themselves cut themselves in on a share of public moneys by attorneys general dependent on their political support. Earlier on the contingency-fee angle in the climate subpoena affair here and here.

May 6 roundup

The Great Tobacco Robbery, 15 years later

Fifteen years after the $246 billion tobacco settlement, an ingenuous National Public Radio retrospective wonders where all the money went, if not to smoking-reduction programs and Medicaid. Absent from the piece, as indications where some of the money went, are phrases like “lawyers’ pockets” or “political contributions,” or names like “Dickie Scruggs.” Speaking of the latter, the Supreme Court has refused to hear the disbarred Mississippi attorney’s appeal of his corruption conviction. AP, reporting this development, calls Scruggs “the architect of the multibillion dollar tobacco lawsuits of the 1990s.”

Ethics roundup

  • “Robo-litigation”: ethical issues of the mass-foreclosure mess [Dustin Zachs, SSRN, via Legal Ethics Forum]
  • Roger Parloff on Chevron counterclaims against Patton Boggs [Fortune] “Judge Grudgingly Lets Donziger’s Lawyers Out Of Chevron Case” [Daniel Fisher; Reuters]
  • Should Australia dilute or abolish the “cab rank” rule? [John Flood via LEF]
  • “Ethical Limits on Civil Litigation Advocacy: A Historical Perspective” [Carol Andrews (Alabama), SSRN; Legal Ethics Forum]
  • “When Is a Demand Letter (Arguably) Extortion?” [John Steele, more, ABA Journal (Martin Singer demand letter threatening to expose target’s sexual indiscretions]
  • Fifth Circuit denies Dickie Scruggs’s latest appeal [YallPolitics]
  • When crowdfunding meets litigation finance, watch out world [Richard Painter]
  • “Judge Orders Prenda Law Group Beamed Out Into Space” [Lowering the Bar, TechDirt]

April 17 roundup

  • “The Consortium has hired Arnold & Porter, and they can threaten whomever they want, the facts be damned.” [Popehat]
  • Former Social Security administrators: NPR’s just imagining things, pay no attention to that report on the growth of the disability program [, earlier] Ronald Reagan got rolled on the SSDI disability program, and we’re all paying the price [Avik Roy]
  • Katrina qui tam: “Jury returns verdict for the Rigsby sisters against State Farm” [Freeland, earlier]
  • Probate dispute had become cause celebre in Connecticut: “Judge Rules In Favor Of Caretaker In Smoron Farm Case” [Hartford Courant]
  • Judge’s text message complains of “‘docket from hell,’ filled with tatted-up… gap tooth skank hoes” [Above the Law]
  • “FTC Clarifies Obligations of Product Reviewers, But Does Not Ease Concerns” [DMLP]
  • “Trump Dismisses ‘Spawn of Orangutan’ Lawsuit” [Lowering the Bar, earlier]
  • If you’re one of those who occasionally send me links from the Alex Jones site InfoWars, now you know why I never use ’em [Dave Weigel]

May 29 roundup

  • Congress again debates bad idea of race-based government for native Hawaiians [Ramesh Ponnuru, Ilya Shapiro/Cato; earlier here, etc.]
  • “I could have been killed for blogging.” [Patterico, Scott Greenfield] Latest blogger “swatting” (bogus police call) hits RedState’s Erick Erickson [same] Incivility is a hazard for bloggers, but fear for families’ physical safety shouldn’t be [Jonathan Adler, Amy Alkon] Dear authorities in Montgomery County, Md. and elsewhere: you should know it’s not every day Radley Balko calls for tougher law enforcement. Earlier here and here.
  • More dying from guns than from car crashes? Eugene Volokh skewers some misleading arguments from the Detroit Free Press;
  • Mississippi: Judge dismisses Dickie Scruggs’s motion to vacate bribery conviction [AP; Tom Freeland and more]
  • Washington Times kindly cites coverage in this space on Maryland “structuring” prosecutions [editorial]. Maryland delayed foreclosures and is now paying the price in slower housing recovery [Hayley Peterson, Examiner]
  • Andrew Pincus defends arbitration and SCOTUS decision in Concepcion [NYTimes “DealBook”; NLJ] Effort in Florida to ease use of arbitration in med-mal disputes [Miami Herald]
  • Michigan Supreme Court judge Diane Hathaway, elected via 2008’s most unfair attack ad, is now in a spot of ethical bother [Ted Frank]

April 16 roundup

  • Although I’m known as a foe of everything John Edwards stands for, I hope he beats this campaign finance rap [Atlantic Wire]
  • Michael Bloomberg launches demagogic new campaign against Stand Your Ground laws, calling to mind the recent critique of the NYC mayor’s paternalist dark side by Conor Friedersdorf in the Atlantic;
  • Jerry Brown frees grandmother dubiously jailed in shaken-baby death [Slate, earlier]
  • As Scruggs (Dickey not Earl) still pursues vindication, Alan Lange looks back on Mississippi scandals [YallPolitics]
  • Deservedly favorable profile of Fifth Circuit judge Jerry Smith [NOLA]
  • In which I tell off Bill Donohue’s Catholic League for its double insult last week to gays and to adoptive parents [IGF]
  • “The Ninth Circuit was, believe it or not, correct” [Ilya Shapiro and Trevor Burrus, Cato, on administrative law case arising from NLRB rules change on drug rep overtime]

October 12 roundup

  • After President Obama’s Orlando photo-op with construction workers came the high-ticket fundraiser at the home of med-mal titan John Morgan [Orlando Sentinel]
  • “Lawyer Sues Facebook, Says Tracking Cookie Violates Wiretap Laws” [ABA Journal]
  • The bone-marrow bounty that could save a life — and the law that gets in the way [Virginia Postrel]
  • New coalition to repeal New York’s unfair Scaffold Law;
  • “How the FDA Could Cost You Your Life” [Scott Gottlieb on medical device lags, WSJ]
  • Mississippi: new release of sealed Scruggs-scandal documents [YallPolitics, Freeland]
  • What I learned (about false accusation) at Dartmouth [Gonzalo Lira]

October 6 roundup

September 12 roundup