- Deferred prosecution agreements are a powerful new tool of the administrative state, with a tendency toward lawlessness [James Copland and Rafael Mangual, Manhattan Institute] Expected judicial deference to corporate prosecution deals: sign of a broken system [Scott Greenfield citing my April piece]
- Secrecy more common in criminal prosecutions: sealing of cases and documents, “gag orders… ex parte presentations, in camera submissions” [Tim Cushing, TechDirt]
- “In my heart, and in my approach to law, I saw rights as a challenge, as something to be overcome.” Confessions of an ex-prosecutor [Ken White (of Popehat), Reason] “Enforcement Gone Amok: The Many Faces of Over-Enforcement in the United States” [John Beisner et al, U.S. Chamber]
- Hunt County, Texas resident Kent Grady challenges county’s hiring of contingency-fee lawyers to go after him on environmental fines that via statutory per-day multiplication could turn a wrongly placed woodpile into a liability of $2 billion [WSJ editorial via Chamber Institute for Legal Reform]
- “Don’t Ask Us to Turn In Our Own Executives, Business Lobby Warns” [Bloomberg on Yates memo]
- “Scientists Looking To Fix The Many Problems With Forensic Evidence” [Tim Cushing, TechDirt]
Deferred prosecution agreements and their close relatives non-prosecution agreements (DPAs/NPAs) have become a major tool of white-collar prosecution in recent years. Typically, a business defendant in exchange for escape from the costs and perils of trial agrees to some combination of cash payment, non-monetary steps such as a shakeup of its board or manager training, and submission to future oversight by DoJ or other monitors. Not unlike plea bargains in more conventional criminal prosecution, these deals dispense with the high cost of a trial; they also dispense with the need for the government to prove its allegations in the first place. DPAs may also pledge a defendant to future behavior that a court would never have ordered, or conversely fail to include remedies that a court would probably have ordered. And they may be drawn up with the aim of shielding from harm — or, in some other cases, undermining — the interests of third parties, such as customers, employees, or business associates of the targeted defendant, or foreign governments.
So there was a flurry of interest last year when federal district judge Richard Leon in Washington, D.C., declined to approve a waiver, necessary under the Speedy Trial Act, for a DPA settling charges that Fokker Services, a Dutch aerospace company, sold U.S.-origin aircraft systems to foreign governments on the U.S. sanctions list, including Iran, Sudan, and Burma. While acknowledging that under principles of prosecutorial discretion the Department of Justice did not have to charge Fokker at all, Judge Leon said given that it had, the judiciary could appropriately scrutinize whether the penalties were too low.
Now a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit has unanimously overruled Judge Leon. It pointed out that under well settled law, charging decisions are entrusted to the DoJ or other executive branch prosecutors, not the judiciary, and that judges may not intervene to insist that additional or more stringent charges be filed – and that is what the pattern in this case amounted to, in the appeals panel’s view.
So far so good, you might think. But the language of the appellate ruling in places might be read to suggest that courts should simply defer to the Justice Department’s judgment and green-light the DPAs it may negotiate, period. And that would be disturbing, since over-lenience is only one of the possible problems with these devices. Noting the rule-of-law concerns that scholars have voiced about DPAs, Michael Greve writes that the new Fokker Services decision “in sharp contrast, oozes with ‘trust your friendly prosecutor’ language” and speaks of dispensing with “seeking a conviction that the prosecution may believe would be difficult to obtain or would have undesirable collateral consequences.” Greve adds: “Inquiring minds might want to know whether the conviction would be ‘difficult to obtain’ for practical reasons — or because the charges are preposterous and brought for reasons bordering on extortion. …No judicial scrutiny means more than boundless prosecutorial discretion. It means mobilizing the courts to create a due process façade for highly suspect bargains.” Let’s hope the ruling isn’t read that way.
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau cracks down on “rent-a-D.A.” scheme in which private debt collector acquired right to use prosecutor’s letterhead [Jeff Gelles, Philadelphia Inquirer, earlier here and here]
- What Santa Ana, Calif. cops did “after destroying –- or so they thought –- all the surveillance cameras inside the cannabis shop.” [Orange County Weekly via Radley Balko]
- Maryland reforms mandatory minimums [Scott Shackford/Reason, Sen. Michael Hough/Washington Times]
- Locking up past sex offenders for pre-crime: “Civil Commitment and Civil Liberties” [Cato Unbound with Galen Baughman, David Prescott, Eric Janus, Amanda Pustilnik; Jason Kuznicki, ed.]
- Two strikes and you’re out, Sen. Warren? Or is there some alternative to DPAs/NPAs (deferred prosecution agreements/non-prosecution agreements?) [Scott Greenfield, Simple Justice]
- Covert cellphone tracking: “Baltimore Police Admit Thousands of Stingray Uses” [Adam Bates, Cato, related on Erie County/Buffalo]
- “Citizens face consequences for breaking the law, but those with the power to administer those laws rarely face any.” [Ken White, Popehat] “61% of IRS Employees Who Cheated On Their Taxes Were Allowed To Keep Their Jobs” [Paul Caron, TaxProf]
- Florida court blocks drug-related seizure of house as violation of Constitution’s Excessive Fines Clause [Orlando Weekly, opinion in Agresta v. Maitland]
- Deferred- and non-prosecution agreements (DPAs/NPAs) have ushered in a little-scrutinized “shadow regulatory state” [Jim Copland and Isaac Gorodetski, “Without Law or Limits: The Continued Growth of the Shadow Regulatory State,” Manhattan Institute report]
- Politicized prosecution: New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman throws book at bankers for not lending in Buffalo [Conrad Black via Tim Lynch, Cato]
- Would it improve prosecutors’ incentives if localities rather than state governments paid for incarceration? [Leon Neyfakh, Slate, via David Henderson]
- Andrew Pincus on the growing danger of enforcement slush funds [U.S. Chamber, more]
- “The Department of Justice, if it succeeds on its new theory, may have criminalized many instances of dull employee misconduct.” [Matt Kaiser, Above the Law; Peter Henning, N.Y. Times “DealBook”]
- A Brooklyn mess: new D.A. looking into 70 convictions obtained with evidence from retired detective Louis Scarcella [Radley Balko]
- Small favors dept.: police chiefs group supports use of drones, but concedes they probably shouldn’t be armed [USA Today; more on drones, Michael Kirkland, UPI, Paul Enzinna, PoL]. Earlier here, here, and here.
- Gibson Guitar settlement with feds controls what it can say about the case. Dangers in that, no? [Harvey Silverglate, earlier here, here, etc.]
- “Mission Creep Leads TSA to Racially Profile in Pursuit of Non-Terrorists to Arrest” [Virginia Postrel]
- Guestblogging at The Agitator, William Peterson outlines doubts about prosecutions that include the pursuit of Victoria Sprouse on mortgage-fraud charges in North Carolina, abuse accusations relating to the Creative Frontiers school near Sacramento, and the conviction of Courtney Bisbee at the hands of Maricopa County D.A. (and Overlawyered favorite) Andrew Thomas in Arizona;
- Canada: “Pay your dog license on time or we’ll arrest your wife!” [Sherwood Park News via @derekjamesfrom]
- “Overcriminalization, the comic” [Ted at PoL; plus videos from NACDL]
- “Police enlist young offenders as confidential informants. But the work is high-risk, largely unregulated, and sometimes fatal.” [Sarah Stillman, New Yorker]
- Highlights from the career of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, newly pardoned by President Trump [Jon Gabriel/USA Today, Phoenix New Times thread on Twitter] Still vividly remembered: the Thomas-Arpaio raids on elected officials, judges, and journalists who’d crossed the sheriff [samples here and here from our coverage; Terry Carter, ABA Journal]
- Fran and Dan Keller, freed from Texas prisons after 21 years in Satanic abuse hysteria, finally getting official declaration of innocence (+ $3.4 million) [AP/CBS, Michael King, Austin Chronicle]
- Cops fired even for outrageous misconduct often win reinstatement, investigation finds [Washington Post] “Police Won’t Say Whether Cops Caught Fabricating Charges Were Disciplined” [Ed Krayewski, Connecticut]
- “A Rogues’ Gallery of Bad Forensics Labs” [C.J. Ciaramella]
- You can come back above ground now: NYC dismisses 644,000 stale arrest warrants for minor offenses [James C. McKinley, Jr., New York Times]
- Deferred prosecution agreements (DPAs) turn U.S. Department of Justice into regulator without accountability [James Copland and Rafael Mangual, Manhattan Institute]
Last week the Department of Justice announced a deal with Toyota in which the Japanese automaker would fork over $1.2 billion and place itself under supervision for allegedly not being forthcoming enough with information at the height of the 2009-2010 panic over claims of unintended acceleration in its cars. The acceleration claims themselves had turned out to be almost entirely bogus, and were refuted in a report from the federal government’s own expert agency, NHTSA. Instead, the prosecution relied on a single count of wire fraud: Toyota had supposedly given regulators, Congress and the public an erroneously positive view of its safety efforts. It should therefore have to “forfeit” a huge sum supposedly related to the volume of business it did over a relevant period.
I’ve got an opinion piece in Monday’s Wall Street Journal (unpaywalled Cato version here, related Cato post here) about this whole appalling affair, which should frighten other businesses that might face draconian charges in future not just for compliance infractions, but more broadly for defending their products in the court of public opinion. Meanwhile, the Justice Department’s grandstanding and demagogic press release goes to some lengths to leave the impression “that unintended acceleration is some mysterious phenomenon of auto design unrelated to flooring the accelerator.” Someone here is irresponsibly misleading the motoring public and withholding vital safety information, but it’s not Toyota.
A few related links: NHTSA unintended acceleration report, Car & Driver’s coverage, and my 2010 opinion piece. And Holman Jenkins at the WSJ (paywalled) compares the still-unfolding story of ignition problems at GM, also discussed by Paul Barrett at Business Week.
- Is there mens rea in the tainted-cantaloupe prosecution? [Politico, Marler-backed Food Safety News]
- “Some unanswered questions about private prison quotas” [Paul Gowder, Concurring Opinions]
- “Smoke A Joint, Lose Your Kids” [Radley Balko]
- Senate “Stand Your Ground” hearing postponed [earlier, and check out our new stand your ground tag];
- “From Streaking to Possible Sex Offender to Tragedy” [Free-Range Kids, Reason; related on sex offender registries, Jacob Sullum, ABA Journal]
- Also related: New app for anonymous denunciation, courtesy of the feds: sure, what could go wrong? [Free-Range Kids, FireDogLake]
- Florida prosecutors consider seeking death penalty for pain doctor whose customers overdosed [Sentencing Law, Broward Palm Beach New Times]
On Ralph Lauren’s agreement with prosecutors to settle charges under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act that its agents improperly bribed officials in Argentina to allow goods to move through trade channels: “Disgorge is a curious description. The $593,000 is the amount they paid out in bribes, not the amount they took in. Disgorge usually refers to the fruits of crime, but instead refers here to the perverse perspective of our government in keeping American corporations pure as the driven snow while minor warlords elsewhere demand their piece of the pie. Whether it’s money in or out, gained or lost, or even neither existing nor realized, it’s all money the government demands be disgorged.” [Scott Greenfield] More on the case: Lawrence Cunningham, FCPA Professor.
October 30-31 — “Give It Back to the Indians?” Just out: our editor has an article in the new issue of City Journal (Autumn) on how the sad history of Indian land claim litigation in the Northeast — in which, over the past 25 years, the courts have allowed tribes to revive territorial claims thought to have been resolved as long ago as the presidency of George Washington — may prefigure the misery in store if our legal system gives the go-ahead to lawsuits over slavery reparations. (DURABLE LINK)
October 30-31 — Deflating Spitzer’s crusade. Long but incisive article by Michael Lewis challenging the much-bruited notion that Wall Street skullduggery was mainly responsible for the boom and bust in tech stocks, and specifically deflating the pretensions of New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who’s positioned himself at the forefront of the resulting legal crusade. Among Lewis’s key points: 1) the boom was no mere artifact of Wall Street hype, big firms like Merrill Lynch having mostly followed the investing public into tech mania rather than leading them there; 2) the line between visionary rethinking of current business practice and hallucinatory speculation was nowhere near as clear at the time as it seems in hindsight; 3) the supposedly occult conflict of interest between research and underwriting was hidden in such plain sight that anyone paying half-attention to the Street should have been aware of it; 4) the boom — even given its bust — did a great deal of social good; 5) the quest to clean up the stock-touting process obscures from the public the real lesson it would do well to absorb, which is that stock-picking advice from brokerages is generally useless whether sincere or not; 6) it’s not hard to read emails as establishing guilt if you let lawyers cherry-pick a few of them out of thousands while dropping their context. (Michael Lewis, “In Defense of the Boom”, New York Times Magazine, Oct. 27). For a contrasting view, calling Lewis’s article “nonsense”, see Peter Eavis, “The Billboard: Boom Boom”, New York Press, Oct. 28. On how Spitzer came into possession of the Merrill Lynch emails that enabled him to stage-manage much of this summer’s news flow, see Nicholas Varchaver, “Lawyers Target More Than Merrill”, Fortune, Jun. 10 (a plaintiffs’ lawyer evidently sent them over after settling a suit with the brokerage; the resulting Spitzer-driven publicity brought a bonanza of new cases to the lawyer’s door). (DURABLE LINK)
October 30-31 — Mistrial in Providence lead-paint case. “The six-member jury sent a note to the judge shortly after 2 p.m. that it could not reach a unanimous decision on whether the paints constituted a public nuisance.” (“Mistrial declared in landmark lead paint trial”, Providence Journal, Oct. 29; AP/Law.com, Oct. 30). “Four jurors [on the six-person panel] sided with the paint companies and two voted for the state. … About one minute after the mistrial became public, the stock prices of several defendants began shooting up …. The Sherwin-Williams Co. alone increased in value by nearly half a billion dollars.” (Peter B. Lord, “Trailblazing lead paint trial ends in deadlock”, Providence Journal, Oct. 30). So it’s back to surface-prep work for the closely watched effort to cover the world with litigation (see Oct. 28), and trial lawyers can’t be happy about the fact that their chief ally in the matter, Rhode Island attorney general Sheldon Whitehouse, will be departing office shortly. Have they painted themselves into a corner? Whitehouse for his part blames the paint companies for being “litigious”, recalling the famous French saying: “It is a very vicious animal. When attacked, it defends itself.” Update: see also “The Hand of Providence” (editorial), Wall Street Journal, Oct 31, reprinted at Texans for Lawsuit Reform site. (DURABLE LINK)
October 30-31 — “Nannies to sue for racial bias”. Great Britain: “Familes who hire nannies, cleaners and gardeners in their own homes face being sued for racial discrimination under a major shake-up of race relations laws. … Under plans to be published by the Home Office in the next fortnight, the Race Relations Act is expected to be tightened to include private householders as part of sweeping changes expected to trigger a flood of new tribunal cases. Householders could be taken to tribunals if they behave in a racist manner towards domestic help, for example, by refusing to hire a black carer for children. … The only exemption would be if they can show a ‘genuine occupational requirement’ to hire someone of a particular racial group — such as an elderly Muslim woman who wanted a home help who was also a Muslim. Critics will argue that the change could cause a legal nightmare for ordinary families, who could face bills for damages running into thousands of pounds unless they read up on the intricacies of employment law.”
Initial opposition to the new proposals appears to be tepid at best: thus the Conservative party’s shadow industry minister merely voices doubts about whether the measure is “likely to be effective,” while a spokesman for the Confederation of British Industry “said it would broadly welcome the changes,” though the CBI did express misgivings about another of the proposals in the antibias package, under which “for the first time the burden of proof in all employment tribunals would …be shifted so that it is effectively up to employers to prove they are not racist, rather than workers to prove that there was discrimination, so long as there is a prima facie case to answer.” (Gaby Hinsliff, The Observer (U.K.), Oct. 20). (DURABLE LINK)
October 30-31 — Monday: 13,555 pages served on Overlawyered.com. October 28 was one of our busiest days yet on the site, with traffic boosted by reader interest in our link roundups on the Moscow hostage episode (especially the WSJ‘s “Best of the Web” mention) on top of the 4,000-6,000 pages that we’re accustomed to serve on a more ordinary weekday. Thanks for your support!
P.S. Oops! Our unfamiliarity with our new statistics program led us to overcount: the Oct. 28 figure should have instead been 9,800 pages served, and the “regular” range 3,500-5,000. Still pretty good. (DURABLE LINK)
October 28-29 — Welcome WSJ Best of the Web readers. Readers looking for our earlier coverage of the Moscow theater siege will find it here and here.
MORE COVERAGE: Among accounts of the theater storming based on firsthand interviews are Alice Lagnado, “As dawn neared, a light mist suddenly came down”, Times (U.K.), Oct. 28, and Mark MacKinnon, “‘All they had to do was push the button'”, Globe and Mail (Canada), Oct. 28. The Bush White House declined to blame the Russian authorities for the hostage toll, saying responsibility rests with the captors: “The Russian government and the Russian people are victims of this tragedy, and the tragedy was caused as a result of the terrorists who took hostages and booby-trapped the building and created dire circumstances,” said spokesman Ari Fleischer. ( “White House: Blame Lies With Captors”, AP/Yahoo, Oct. 27). Other commentaries: Kieran Healy (Oct. 27), Mark Kleiman (Oct. 27); Mark Riebling reader comments. (DURABLE LINK)
October 28-29 — Ambulances, paramedics sued more. “A growing ambulance industry is learning that malpractice suits are not just for doctors anymore. … [one defense lawyer] says there’s a tough lesson to be learned in all ambulance cases. ‘You can do everything right, and you can still get sued.'” Includes a revealing quote from a Boston plaintiff’s lawyer about how he tries to get jurors so upset at alleged bumbling by ambulance operators that they “make short work” of the crucial question of whether that conduct was actually responsible for the patient’s injury. (Tresa Baldas, “Mean Streets”, National Law Journal, Oct. 23). (DURABLE LINK)
October 28-29 — Anticipatory law enforcement. Following the lead of some other jurisdictions, the city of Cincinnati has adopted new ordinances targeting men who patronize prostitutes (“johns”) by allowing the city to seize their cars. The ordinances don’t take effect until next month, which hasn’t kept the city police department’s vice unit from carrying out a significant number of car impoundments already, 13 in one week. “Even though the ordinances haven’t gone into effect yet, [Lt. John] Gallespie said the cars were impounded ‘for safekeeping.'” (Craig Garretson, “Police seize ‘johns’ cars”, Cincinnati Post, Oct. 21). (DURABLE LINK)
October 28-29 — R.I. lead paint case goes to jury. Rhode Island’s lawsuit against the lead paint industry, a concoction of ambitious trial lawyers and the politicians they love, has now gone to a jury after a two-month trial that’s been curiously underpublicized considering the case’s implications for American industry (“Jury deliberates for second day in lead paint case”, AP/CNN, Oct. 25). The state “is pursuing the novel claim that the defendant manufacturers and distributors of lead paint or lead created a public nuisance and should be held responsible for cleaning up what’s remaining in thousands of buildings in the state. The first phase of the trial will consider only one question — whether the presence of lead paint in Rhode Island buildings constitutes a public nuisance.” If the jury votes in favor of that theory, later phases of trial will consider such issues as fault and damages. (Margaret Cronin Fisk, “Rhode Island to Try First State Suit Over Lead Paint”, National Law Journal, Aug. 19).
Perhaps the best journalistic treatment we’ve seen of this travesty is found in a Forbes cover story from last year that is available now in fee-based archives (Michael Freedman, “Turning Lead Into Gold”, Forbes, May 14, 2001). The article explores how the nation’s richest tort law firm, Charleston, S.C.-based tobacco-asbestos powerhouse Ness Motley, moved into Rhode Island and quickly made itself the state’s largest political contributor, around the same time as it was picking up a contingency fee contract from state attorney general Sheldon Whitehouse to represent the state in the lead paint litigation. (Whitehouse proceeded to run for governor this year, but lost narrowly in the Democratic primary). To date, while trial lawyers have recruited numerous cities, counties and school districts around the country to sue paint makers, they have not persuaded any other states to join Rhode Island in its action (see our commentary of Jun. 7, 2001). At the same time, there are plenty of reasons to mistrust the contention that a “lead poisoning epidemic” can somehow be blamed for educational failure and crime among young people in inner-city neighborhoods like South Providence, R.I. Levels of lead exposure once typical of American children have now been retrospectively redefined as “poisoning”, thus ensuring the sense of a continuing crisis (see our commentary of Jun. 8-10, 2001). See also Steven Malanga, “Lead Paint Scam”, New York Post, Jun. 24. Update Oct. 30-31: judge declares mistrial after jury deadlock. (DURABLE LINK)
October 28-29 — Looking back on EEOC v. Sears. Among the most monumental and hard-fought discrimination lawsuits ever was the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s years-long courtroom crusade against Sears, Roebuck during the 1980s over the statistical “underrepresentation” of women in some of its employment categories, such as hardware and commission sales. (Sears won, and the case became one of the Commission’s most humiliating defeats.) In one of the controversies spawned by the case, Barnard College historian Rosalind Rosenberg was attacked by many colleagues in the field of women’s studies for supposedly betraying women’s equality by allowing her scholarship to be used in the retailer’s defense. Now John Rosenberg, who was formerly married to Rosalind Rosenberg and who also worked in the Sears defense, offers a partial memoir of the episode (Oct. 25) on a new weblog titled Discriminations in which his focus will be “on the theory and practice of discrimination, and how it is reported and analyzed.” (The piece begins with an introductory riff concerning UC Irvine history professor Jon Weiner, one of those assailing Rosalind Rosenberg in the mid-1980s controversy; Weiner recently caused many a jaw to drop by stepping forward in the Nation to defend disgraced Arming America author Michael Bellesiles.) (via InstaPundit). (DURABLE LINK)
October 28-29 — Satirical-disclaimer Hall of Fame. Lawyer-driven warning labels and disclaimer notices are easy to play for laughs, and readers often bring funny satires to our attention (like Dave Barry’s). Few are worked out in as much detail, however, as this splash page on the website of The Chaser, an Australian humor magazine (scroll down): “Maintain good posture at all times while reading … may cause paper cuts … Please avoid mixing The Chaser with water and glue, which could … cause some readers to be caught in a papier mache death trap. … The Chaser is flammable. Do not set fire to your copy of The Chaser, whether with a match, cigarette lighter … [or] shining a magnifying glass on a particular little spot. … Do not shred The Chaser and use it as confetti. … We make no guarantees as to the longevity of any marital unions formed whilst using The Chaser in any part of the ceremony …”. And a whole lot more — give it a look. (DURABLE LINK)
October 26-27 — Moscow hostage crisis, updated. According to Russian authorities, at least 118 hostages were killed and more than 700 were freed after security forces stormed the theater; most of the 50 terrorist captors were also killed and all or nearly all of the rest captured. After the terrorists started executing hostages, the crowd of captives had begun to flee in panic; security forces had also pumped a kind of sleeping gas into the theater. (“Moscow Hostage Death Toll Up to 118”, AP/ABC News, Oct. 27; “Russian forces storm siege theatre”, BBC, Oct. 26; Moscow Times). Contradicting earlier accounts from authorities, “Moscow’s chief physician said Sunday that all but one of the 117 hostages who died … were killed by the effects of gas used to subdue their captors.” (AP/Washington Post, Oct. 27). “If the theatre had not been stormed, all hostages would have been killed, the Interfax journalist who was among the hostages, Olga Chernyak, said.” (Interfax/Moscow Times, Oct. 26, and scroll for more entries). More links: AP/ABC News, Oct. 26; Washington Post, Oct. 27; BBC, Oct. 27; Damian Penny. Dilacerator offers a commentary (Oct. 26), as does Natalie Solent (Oct. 27). Thanks to InstaPundit and Eugene Volokh for their links to our extensive coverage below.
More: London’s Telegraph reports that it “has learned that a number of Arab fighters, believed to be of Saudi Arabian and Yemeni origin, were among the group that seized control of the theatre. ‘There were definitely Arab terrorists in the building with links to al-Qa’eda,’ said a senior Western diplomat. … Russian officials said that the hostage-takers had made several calls to the United Arab Emirates during the siege.” (Christina Lamb and Ben Aris, “Russians probe al-Qa’eda link as Moscow siege ends with 150 dead”, Sunday Telegraph (UK), Oct. 27). Although the Moscow terrorists (like those who carried out the hijacking of United Flight 93) had magnified public terror by allowing their captives to use cell phones to call their families, the tactic once again backfired, because the resulting exchange of information made it easier to thwart the terror plans: see Preston Mendenhall, “Cell phones were rebels’ downfall”, MS/NBC, Oct. 26. And Russia’s Gazeta reports that: “A 27-year-old resident of Chechnya has been detained by Moscow law enforcers on suspicion of having carried out the October 19 car bomb attack on a McDonald’s restaurant” in which one was killed and seven injured. Authorities had previously sought to blame the bombing on gangland rivalries, but “in the light of the recent events in Moscow, the prosecutor’s office does not rule out that the explosion may have been a terrorist attack.” (“Suspect detained in McDonald’s blast inquiry”, Gazeta.ru, Oct. 25). (DURABLE LINK)
October 25-27 — Updates. New developments in cases we’ve followed:
* “Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Charles E. Ramos on Tuesday froze further payments on a $625 million arbitration award to the six law firms that represented New York state in its litigation against the tobacco industry until he finishes reviewing the reasonableness of the sum.” (Daniel Wise, “Judge Freezes $625M Tobacco Award to Law Firms”, New York Law Journal, Oct. 23) (see Jul. 30-31).
* “The Canadian Transportation Agency has dismissed the complaint of an obese Calgary woman who argued her size was a disability and that airlines shouldn’t make her pay extra for a larger seat. ‘Being unable to fit in a seat should not be enough evidence of the existence of a disability as many people experience discomfort in the seat,’ the agency said in a decision released Wednesday. Calgary law professor Linda McKay-Panos, who described herself in documents as ‘morbidly obese,’ launched the process in 1997 after having to pay Air Canada for 1.5 seats because of her size.” (Judy Monchuk, “Federal board nixes Calgary woman’s bid for seat-price break for obese flyers”, Canadian Press, Oct. 23)(see Dec. 20, 2000). And in the United Kingdom, a “woman injured while squeezed next to an obese passenger on a trans-Atlantic flight has been given £13,000 ($20,000)” by Virgin Atlantic Airways. (“Woman squashed by plane passenger”, CNN, Oct. 22).
* In Paris, a panel of three judges has declared French writer Michel Houellebecq not guilty of inciting racial hatred after he was sued by four Muslim groups for delivering remarks contemptuous of Islam (“French author cleared of race hate”, BBC, Oct. 22)(see Aug. 23-25, Sept. 18-19).
* “A three-judge panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals has tossed a $29.2 million civil court judgment against The Jenny Jones Show, after deciding the syndicated chatfest should not be held liable for protecting a guest who was gunned down after revealing he had a crush on another man.” (Josh Grossberg, “‘Jenny Jones’ Vindicated”, E! Online, Oct. 23). The case is another setback for controversial Michigan attorney Geoffrey Fieger, who promptly launched a characteristically intemperate attack on the appeals judges (Stephen W. Huber, “Court tosses $29M award against ‘Jenny Jones Show'”, Oakland (Mich.) Press, Oct. 24) (see May 31, 2001). More: Michigan’s LitiGator (Oct. 25).
* “Voting 2-1, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority’s (SEPTA) physical fitness test for job applicants of its transit police force is perfectly legal — even though it has a ‘disparate impact’ on women — because it serves as a true measure of ‘the minimum qualifications necessary for the successful performance of the job.’ …the plaintiffs claimed that the test discriminates against women because it requires all applicants for the SEPTA police force to run 1.5 miles in 12 minutes.” (Shannon P. Duffy, “3rd Circuit Rules Fitness Test for Police Force Applicants Legal”, The Legal Intelligencer, Oct. 16) (see Sept. 15, 1999, Oct. 5-7, 2001). “Interestingly, two female appellate judges joined in the opinion rejecting this claim of sex discrimination, while a male appellate judge dissented,” notes Howard Bashman (Oct. 15).
* In Australia, a judge has ruled against the Pentecostal worshiper who sued claiming a “church had been negligent by not providing someone to catch her when she was ‘slain in the spirit'” during a 1996 service, causing her to fall down and strike her head on a carpeted concrete floor. (Kelly Burke, “Church not liable for Lord’s early fallers”, Sydney Morning Herald, Oct. 19)(see Oct. 1-2). (DURABLE LINK)
October 24 — Pa. statehouse race: either way, Big Law wins. “In a race that will easily break Pennsylvania gubernatorial spending records, the top givers are lawyers, by far. … [Republican Mike] Fisher has received $125,000 since June from two law firms he named, as attorney general, to handle a state lawsuit against tobacco companies.” (see Jan. 10, 2000). “But the firms, which split $50 million in legal fees, have hedged their bets by also donating $107,000 to [Democrat Ed] Rendell.” And the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association has endorsed Rendell, who is considered less likely than Fisher to support curbs on medical malpractice lawsuits. (Tom Infield and Rose Ciotta, “Lawyers top givers to Fisher, Rendell”, Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 22). As mayor of Philadelphia, Rendell also made himself a booster of the abusive campaign of municipal litigation against gun manufacturers, though he held back from filing an actual suit given the unpopularity of such a move with the non-urban voters needed to win a statewide race in Pennsylvania (see Dec. 22, 2000). (DURABLE LINK)
October 24 — Suit: schoolkids shouldn’t attend rodeo. Two animal rights groups have filed suit “asking a San Francisco Superior Court judge to keep Bay Area schoolchildren from going to the free Grand National Rodeo day for students, which will be held at the Cow Palace on Thursday and may be repeated next year.” As many as 9,000 students are expected to attend the event. “Gina Snow, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Unified School District, said children are only allowed to attend with parental permission, and that the decisions to participate are made by individual teachers.” Attorney David Blatte of Berkeley “focuses all his work on ‘animal law'”. (Dan Reed, “Suit: Rodeo bad for kids”, San Jose Mercury News, Oct. 23). And Matthew Scully’s new book Dominion, a conservative’s defense of animal welfare, “asks all the right questions about animal rights, even if it doesn’t canvass all the possible answers”, according to the summary of a review by Christopher Hitchens in The Atlantic (“Political Animals”, Nov.) (DURABLE LINK)
October 24 — “California Court Upholds $290 Million Injury Jury Award Against Ford”. “The California Supreme Court let stand on Wednesday a $290 million personal injury jury award levied against Ford Motor Co. stemming from a Bronco rollover accident in 1993. The justices, without publicly commenting, decided at their private weekly conference to uphold what Ford, in court briefs, called the nation’s largest personal injury award ever affirmed by an appellate court.” (Quicken/AP, Oct. 23; Mike McKee, “California Justices Let Stand $290M Award Against Ford”, The Recorder, Oct. 24). When the original trial verdict was reported, we looked in some detail (Aug. 24 and Sept. 17-19, 1999; see also Aug. 27, 2002) at the very curious influences that held sway during the jury’s deliberations, including one juror’s lurid dream revealing Ford’s guilt, and another’s misrecollection of a “60 Minutes” episode which purportedly proved the company’s bad faith. (DURABLE LINK)
October 24 — Russia’s fight, and ours. “Gunmen identifying themselves as Chechens took more than 700 people hostage inside a Moscow theater Wednesday night, threatening to kill some of the hostages and telling police they had mined portions of the building.” (“Chechen gunmen seize Moscow theater”, CNN, Oct. 23; Michael Wines, “Chechens Seize Moscow Theater, Taking as Many as 600 Hostages”, New York Times, Oct. 24 (reg); AP/ABC, “Rebels Take Moscow Audience Hostage”, Oct. 23). “Local media said children, Muslims and foreigners who could show their passports were allowed to leave the building. The reports could not be confirmed.” (Natalia Yefimova, Torrey Clark and Lyuba Pronina, “Armed Chechens Seize Moscow Theater”, Moscow Times, Oct. 24). Chechen militants have repeatedly seized civilian hostages in groups of hundreds and even thousands, as well as claiming credit for railway-station bombings in Russia (“Chechen rebels’ hostage history”, BBC, Oct. 24; “Chechen rebels hold at least 1,000 hostages in hospital”, CNN, Jan. 9, 1996; Adnan Malik, “Hijackers Free Women and Kids”, AP, Mar. 15, 2001; “Separatists’ history of hostages and horror”, Sydney Morning Herald, Oct. 24). Since 9/11 U.S. officials have been less inclined to dispute “Russia’s long-standing claim that the Chechen rebellion, which spills over into neighboring Caucasus republics, is not just a local independence movement, but has become a full-blown subsidiary of the global Islamic terror network headed by [Osama] bin Laden.” (Fred Weir, “A new terror-war front: the Caucasus”, Christian Science Monitor, Feb. 26). Also see, on the al-Qaeda-Chechnya connection, Mark Riebling and R. P. Eddy, “[email protected]”, National Review Online, Oct. 24, and BBC, Oct. 23. The Moscow Times has a list of the names of the Westerners who are being held hostage, who include three Americans, two Britons, two Australians, and a Canadian, as well as various others (Kevin O’Flynn, “Europeans, Americans Inside Theater”, Oct. 25). Asparagirl (Oct. 23) wouldn’t be surprised if it happened here.
More: In “footage aired by Qatar’s al-Jazeera satellite TV”, a chador-clad woman who said she was one of the Chechen hostage-takers said: “We have chosen to die in Moscow and we will kill hundreds of infidels.” (“We’ll kill hundreds of infidels: Hostage-taker”, AFP/Times of India, Oct. 24). “‘I swear by God we are more keen on dying than you are keen on living,’ a black-clad male said in the broadcast believed to have been recorded on Wednesday.” Another hostage-taker, while denying that the terrorists were operating as part of al-Qaeda, told the BBC: “We have come to die. …we want to be in paradise.” (BBC, “Hostage-takers ‘ready to die'”, Oct. 25). The Russian press is treating the unfolding events as “Russia’s Sept. 11”. (BBC, Oct. 25). In an echo that Americans will find familiar, “Many channels have broadcast chilling messages from the hostages themselves, calling from their mobile phones.” (“Distant war comes to Moscow”, BBC, Oct. 24).
According to London’s Evening Standard, the terrorists are disinclined to release any more of their foreign hostages because they suspect that international interest in the episode might wane if they did so. (“Britons still held in Moscow siege”, Oct. 25). Reportedly one of the American hostages, Sandy Alan Booker, 49, who was vacationing in Moscow, hails from Oklahoma City, Okla. (“Chechen Gunmen Threaten to Begin Killing Hostages at Dawn”, AP/FoxNews, Oct. 25). Update: Russian security forces storm theater, ending siege, with more than 100 hostages killed along with most of the captors: see Oct. 26.
FURTHER: Some London, Broadway and European theater owners have stepped up security, but Andre Ptaszynski, chief executive of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s chain of 14 London theaters, virtually boasts of not taking such threats seriously, explaining that an outrage by the Irish Republican Army against the West End is considered unlikely; apparently Ptaszynski is unable to think of any other groups that might harbor terrorist designs on London. (Matt Wolf, “Some Theaters on Alert After Siege”, AP/Yahoo, Oct. 25; “London theatres increase security”, BBC, Oct. 25 (via Jen Taliaferro). Riebling and Eddy, in NRO, note: “the tactics of Chechen jihadists are regarded by the FBI as a possible indicator of al Qaeda methods in the U.S.” (DURABLE LINK)
October 23 — Batch of reader letters. We’ve been remiss in keeping up with the inbox, but here are eight letters on subjects that include lawyers’ penchant for doing things expensively, a sane damage award in Ireland, Enron’s lawyers, lawsuits over avocados and anchovies, suitable targets of gamblers’ suits, George W. Bush’s record on tort reform, whether free speech should have a racism exception, and Western wildfires. More letters are on deck for later, too. (DURABLE LINK)
October 23 — Artificial hearts experimental? Who knew? “The widow of artificial-heart recipient James Quinn yesterday sued the maker of the device, the hospital where it was implanted, and the patient advocate who helped Quinn decide to have the surgery.” The 51-year-old man survived more than eight months after receiving the mechanical heart last November, but his “initially remarkable recovery was followed by months in the hospital.” The suit says Quinn had “no quality of life and his essential human dignity had been taken from him.” “Irene Quinn said yesterday that she and her husband did not know what they were getting into when they joined the clinical trial. They thought the machine would save his life, she said. She said they should have been told more about what earlier patients had experienced and that it should have been made more clear just how experimental the device was.” (Stacey Burling, “Widow sues artificial-heart maker”, Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 17; “Lawsuit over artificial heart”, CBS News, Oct. 17; MedRants, Oct. 18). (DURABLE LINK)
October 22 — “Judge: Disabilities Act doesn’t cover Web”. An important ruling, but one that’s unlikely to be the last word, on a controversy we’ve covered extensively in the past: “A federal judge ruled Friday that Southwest Airlines does not have to revamp its Web site to make it more accessible to the blind. In the first case of its kind, U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz said the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies only to physical spaces, such as restaurants and movie theaters, and not to the Internet.” Quotes our editor who mentions the possible headaches the ADA could pose even to a modest site like this one, if it turns out to apply to the web. (Declan McCullagh, CNet/News.com, Oct. 21)(opinion). More: Matthew Haggman, “Judge Tosses Suit That Said ADA Applies to Business Web Sites”, Miami Daily Business Review, Oct. 25. (DURABLE LINK)
October 22 — “Nanny Bloomberg”. This site’s editor also has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today on the New York mayor’s crusade against smoking in bars. It’s available only to online subscribers of the Journal, unfortunately. (DURABLE LINK)
October 22 — “‘Penney’s prevails in shopper suit”. A Tennessee Court of Appeals judge has upheld a lower court’s rejection of a $600,000 lawsuit by Carolyn and Robert L. Wells against the retailer J.C. Penney. Mrs. Wells had told the court that she had been shopping for collectible crystal figurines on sale at a Penney store in Shelby County when an ill-mannered fellow shopper wrested two crystal bears from her hands, inflicting injuries on her shoulder, neck and back. However, Judge Holly K. Lillard said that the confrontation, which “demonstrates the dangers of the cutthroat arena of after-Christmas bargain shopping,” was one whose particulars the store could not have foreseen. (Tom Sharp, AP/GoMemphis.com, Oct. 12). (DURABLE LINK)
October 21 — Rethinking grandparent visitation. Among the litigation-encouraging developments in family law in recent years has been the rise of laws enabling grandparents to sue demanding rights to visit their grandchildren even against the wishes of a fit parent. But both courts and lawmakers are growing disenchanted with such laws. One Seattle attorney charges that grandparents with time on their hands engage in “recreational litigation”. (Annie Hsia, “About Grandma’s Visits …”, National Law Journal, Oct. 14). (DURABLE LINK)
October 21 — “Judicial Hellholes”. After surveying its members, the American Tort Reform Association presents a report describing the most frequently identified “Judicial Hellholes”, localities in which litigation abuse is common and civil defendants find it hard to get a fair trial. On the list are Alameda, Los Angeles and San Francisco counties, California; notorious counties in Mississippi, Illinois, and Texas; and others. Is your hometown court on the list? (“Bringing Justice to Judicial Hellholes 2002”, report in PDF format). (DURABLE LINK)
October 21 — “Our friends are at war, too”. “The first soldier to die in combat in Afghanistan was an Australian. … We’re not just fellow infidels, but brothers on a field of battle that stretches from Manhattan to Bali. If the American media don’t understand that, then the American president needs to remind them.” (Mark Steyn, “Our friends are at war, too”, Chicago Sun-Times, Oct. 20). See Oct. 14; also Tom Allard and Mark Baker, “PM’s vow: we’ll get the bastards”, Sydney Morning Herald, Oct. 21; Tim Blair, “Killing terrorists wipes out terror”, The Australian, Oct. 17; Virginia Postrel (scroll to Oct. 17 and Oct. 16 posts). (DURABLE LINK)
October 21 — “Demand for more ugly people on TV”. “Lecturer Trond Andresen of the Norwegian Institute of Technology in Trondheim accuses the media of discriminating against the ugly and emphasizing beautiful people whenever possible. Andresen wants higher ugly quotas on television. ‘Ugly people should be spotlighted in the media in the same way that the media wishes to emphasize persons from ethnic minorities,’ Andresen, a lecture at the Department of Engineering Cybernetics, said to newspaper Bergens Tidende.” (Aftenposten, Oct. 17). (DURABLE LINK)