You may recall the laughable lawsuit over Al Franken’s book, “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right”, discussed here Aug. 23 and Aug. 12. A Franken fan site has generously provided a complete transcript of the Aug. 22 hearing for readers’ amusement.
Arbitration was on several senators’ minds, although it isn’t among the topics of the four bills considered. [John O’Brien, Legal NewsLine] This from Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) was passing strange, though:
“Now I know that there are bad actors out there – those who file frivolous lawsuits against hard-working and honest businesspeople – but these bills aren’t the solution,” Franken said.
“They don’t help weed out frivolous claims early on. They seek to deter meritorious claims by making class action suits so expensive, lengthy and onerous that people won’t bother to bring them in the first place.
Among the four bills before the committee was the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act, intended to reinvigorate federal Rule 11 sanctions, and described as follows:
It would make sanctions mandatory against attorneys who file frivolous lawsuits. Currently, judges have discretion on whether to impose sanctions.
Plaintiffs also have a 21-day safe harbor in which they can withdraw their claims after a motion for sanctions has been filed.
It is hard to know how to describe LARA’s intent as anything other than to deter the filing and pursuit of meritless claims, thus “weed[ing them] out… early on.”
Are you now, or have you ever been, a supporter of the Hoover Institution, the Mercatus Center, the Heritage Foundation, or the Acton Institute? Lachlan Markay, Free Beacon:
Democratic senators have been assigned conservative nonprofit groups to call out by name on the chamber floor in speeches on Monday and Tuesday criticizing corporations and advocacy groups for opposing Democratic climate policies, internal emails reveal.
…[Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon] Whitehouse and his allies, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), have crafted a schedule for floor speeches on Monday and Tuesday that assigns each participating Senator at least one group to go after by name.
Most of the groups have already been targeted by state Democratic officials that have undertaken a coordinated legal campaign against oil giant ExxonMobil since last year. Many were named in subpoenas sent to the company by state attorneys general as part of that effort.
The ringmaster, once again, is Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island — yes, that Sheldon Whitehouse, whose hometown Providence Journal rightly called out his current campaign to sic the law on improper climate opinion as likely to “have a chilling effect on free speech, by intimidating dissenters into silence.” The leader on the House side is Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), also getting to be a familiar name.
One reason this is more sinister than your ordinary political sideshow: the proposed concurrent resolution urges right-leaning nonprofits “to cooperate with active or future investigations” of purportedly unlawful opinion-slinging. One of the most junior senators, Gary Peters of Michigan, apparently drew the short straw in the heresy posse and was assigned to attack my own Cato Institute (which publishes this site) at 6:30 this evening.
The senators participating in this appalling exercise besides Sens. Whitehouse, Reid, and Peters, all Democrats, are Sens. Ben Cardin of Maryland, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Barbara Boxer of California, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Chuck Schumer of New York, Al Franken of Minnesota, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Tom Udall of New Mexico, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Edward Markey of Massachusetts, Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, and Chris Coons of Delaware.
Some early reactions: “All that is lacking are their public confessions” — Ronald Bailey at Reason (whose associated Reason Foundation is among the targets). “‘Assigned’ groups to attack? That sounds like middle school mean girl behavior.” [C.B. on Facebook] Peter Roff at U.S. News on how the Senators can’t (yet) make dissent illegal but can make it costly. And a reminder: the “Exxon Knew” crowd knew Whitehouse’s RICO-for-speech theory was wrong because their own allies had told them, but went ahead anyway.
More, Matt Welch at Reason:
…Since the targets of this shaming exercise are not being afforded the courtesy to rebut the charges in the forum at which they are being smeared, consider this a prebuttal…
This coordinated campaign would be an assault on free speech even if it were not drenched in conspiratorial inaccuracy. Democratic lawmakers, attorneys general, and activists are systematically singling out free-market think tanks for potential criminal prosecution and one-sided disclosure requirements based on the content of the think tanks’ research and commentary. They are literally trying to criminalize dissent. If successful, they will establish as “fraud” or “racketeering” any future think-tank work that runs afoul of political orthodoxy. …
Sadly, this heavy-handed act of government intimidation will likely go as unnoticed as Hillary Clinton’s long track record against free speech. Why? Because generally speaking both the mainstream press and the organized left reserve their First Amendment outrage for politicians they disagree with. Their silence is shameful, and deafening.
[Updated to correct error on Lachlan Markay’s name, sorry]
Having been at times lacking in enthusiasm for the work of journalist Stephanie Mencimer, it’s only fair we credit her again with considerable courage for returning to the failed Jamie Leigh Jones case in a new article in Washington Monthly. (Jones alleged a brutal rape in Iraq for which her lawyers said employer Halliburton/Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) should have been held responsible; the case served as a springboard for numerous misleading attacks on pre-dispute arbitration). Following the evidence wherever it leads against the likely inclinations of many Washington Monthly readers, Mencimer leaves Jones’ credibility in tatters and the various liberal and trial-lawyer sources that ballyhooed her case — including Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and TV talker Rachel Maddow — looking highly gullible, to go with the kindest interpretation.
Most damning of all, as readers of posts in this space (especially those by Ted Frank) will recall, Jones was given center stage in Susan Saladoff’s film “Hot Coffee,” which periodically airs on HBO and on college campuses and has established itself as one of the litigation industry’s most durable and successful propaganda vehicles. All future discussion of “Hot Coffee” — and certainly any cable/broadcast airings or public screenings whose sponsors care about accuracy and fairness — will need to warn audiences that the Jones case can now be seen in retrospect as almost unrecognizably different from the picture of it presented in that trial-lawyer-produced “documentary.” If this is what becomes of one of Saladoff’s central cases, how reliable ought we to consider the rest of her film?
- Despite misconception that the NLRB goes after employers only over union-related issues, its reach includes “concerted activity” by workers whether unionized or not, and it intends to make that power felt [Jon Hyman]
- EEOC cracks down on Marylou’s, Massachusetts coffee shop chain said to hire “pretty” staff. Tougher scrutiny of “looksism” ahead? [James McDonald/Fisher & Phillips, HR Morning, Boston Herald, related editorial]
- As critics warned at the time, Sarbanes-Oxley whistleblowing provisions make a versatile weapon for employment plaintiffs [Daniel Schwartz]
- “Is Your Job Too Hard? File a Lawsuit!” [Philip Miles]
- Unions go to court seeking to overturn new Indiana right to work law [Asheesh Agerwal, Liberty Law] “Unions: Political By Nature” [Ivan Osorio, CEI “Open Market”] SEIU vigilant against menace of higher employer wage offers [James Sherk, NRO] Metropolitan Opera’s $516,577 electrician outearned Carnegie Hall’s $436,097 stagehand [Ira Stoll]
- Sen. Al Franken [D-Minn.] and Rep. Rosa DeLauro [D-Conn.] introduce bill to overturn SCOTUS’s Wal-Mart v. Dukes [The Hill, Paul Karlsgodt, PoL, Andrew Trask]
- Lefties: you ‘tarians slight the greater freedom of being able to force people to employ you [MR: Tyler Cowen, Alex Tabarrok]
- If you’re caught sleeping on the job, courts may not prove sympathetic to your age bias claim [Eric Meyer, Employer Handbook]
Remember the “Halliburton rape” case, where the national media uncritically passed along claims that a young woman had been viciously assaulted by co-workers while stationed in the Middle East, then confined to a container by beastly managers when she tried to complain, and finally suffered the ultimate indignity when her employment contract required her to submit the claims to arbitration? It’s a tale that was advanced by politicians like Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), by some of the usual suspects in opinion journalism, and especially by the litigation lobby as part of its campaign against contractually provided-for arbitration (as with the much-reviewed, HBO-aired “Hot Coffee“). Not a few of these advocates — like the left-leaning ThinkProgress — threw “allegedly” to the winds and flatly accused the co-workers of rape.
Unless you’d read one of the very few skeptical evaluations of the case — many of them written by Ted Frank — you may have been shocked this July when a Houston jury summarily rejected Jamie Leigh Jones’s lawsuit. Now — better late than never — the Houston Chronicle shreds the popular narrative of the affair and its media coverage in particular (ABC News: a tale of “sexual brutality, corporate indifference and government inaction.”) Is it too much to hope that anyone will be embarrassed enough to apologize?
More: As commenter E-Bell notes, journalist Stephanie Mencimer, with whom we’ve had our differences in the past, deserves due credit for this July coverage in the unlikely venue of Mother Jones. And quoth @Popehat: “‘Putting the victim on trial’ is code for ‘defending yourself and testing the evidence.'”
- Kagan to senators: please don’t confuse my views with Mark Tushnet’s or Harold Koh’s [Constitutional Law Prof]
- Too much like a Star Wars lightsaber? Lucasfilm sends a cease-and-desist to a laser pointer maker [Mystal, AtL]
- Ottawa, Canada: family files complaint “against trendy wine bar that turned away dinner party because it included 3mo baby” [Drew Halfnight, National Post]
- “House left Class Action Fairness Act alone in SPILL Act” [Wood/PoL, earlier]
- Not so indie? Filmmaker doing anti-Dole documentary on Nicaraguan banana workers says he took cash from big plaintiff’s law firm Provost Umphrey [AP/WaPo, WSJLawBlog, Erik Gardner/THREsq., new plaintiffs’ charges against Dole]
- Will liability ruling result in closure of popular Connecticut recreational area? [Rick Green, Hartford Courant; earlier]
- Class action lawyer Sean Coffey, running for New York attorney general, has many generous supporters [NYDN, more, WNYC (Sen. Al Franken headlines closed fundraiser at Yale Club)]
- “Judge Reduces Damages Award by 90% in Boston Music Downloading Trial” [NLJ, earlier on Tenenbaum case]
My Manhattan Institute colleague Jim Copland has an op-ed today in the WSJ explaining how current campaign finance rules magnify the influence of trial lawyers, as through the favored status of “bundling”. Excerpt:
Over the current six-year senatorial election cycle, four of the top seven donors to the campaign committee and leadership PAC of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) were plaintiffs firms. Plaintiffs firms were the top two donors to Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D., Ill.).
The first piece of legislation signed by President Obama—the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 — gutted statutes of limitation in employment lawsuits. The first legislative triumph for new Sen. Al Franken (D., Minn.), an amendment to the defense appropriations bill, foreclosed employment arbitration clauses for federal contractors.
More from Jim at Point of Law, including a mention of Trial Lawyers, Inc.: K Street–A Report on the Litigation Lobby 2010, the newest installment in the Trial Lawyers, Inc. series, which will be available later today here.
- No back-alley bikini lines: New Jersey consumer affairs director rejects proposed ban on Brazilian waxing [Asbury Park Press, JammieWearingFool, Jaira Lima and protest site, Popehat, News12 video] Florida, however, won’t let you get a fish-nibble pedicure [WWSB]
- Kids doing well in homeschool but divorcing dad disapproves, judge says they must be sent to public [WRAL, Volokh]
- Al Franken comes out for loser-pays in litigation (well, in this case at least) [MSNBC “First Read”]
- U.K.: “A man who tried to kill himself has won £90,000 in damages from the hospital which saved his life but hurt his arm in the process” [Telegraph]
- Life in places without the First Amendment: “Australia’s Vast, Scattershot Censorship Blacklist Revealed” [Slashdot, Volokh, Popehat]; British Telecom passes all internet traffic through “‘Cleanfeed” filters to identify (inter alia) racist content [Glasgow Herald]
- More on that suit by expelled student against Miss Porter’s School; “Oprichniki” said to be not identical to Keepers of Tradition [NYTimes; our December coverage]
- “Why We Need Cop Cameras” [Steve Chapman, Chicago Tribune] Shopkeepers terrorized in Philadelphia: “The thugs had badges.” [Ken at Popehat]
- Counting former lobbyists in Obama Administration? Don’t forget Kathleen Sebelius [Jeff Emanuel, RedState]
- Wisconsin: “$50,000 claim filed over girl’s time-out in school” [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]
“Paradoxically, a lawsuit, especially a flimsy one, can be a boon to a book’s fortunes. And increasingly, some writers and publishers admit to hoping they’ll attract one.” Humorist Al Franken was widely envied by other authors when Fox News filed its much-derided suit against his book title (see Nov. 22), and just this past week a small publisher, Soft Skull Press, got a windfall of coverage when publisher HarperCollins sent a cease and desist order (from which it soon retreated) suggesting that the title of one of its new books, “How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office” was too close to the title of Michael Moore’s “Stupid White Men”. Of course, things can get sticky fast if the legal complaint really does have merit. (Christopher Dreher, “So sue me… please!”, Boston Globe, Mar. 21) (via Tyler Cowen, Volokh).