Search Results for ‘leland yee’

“Brady Campaign To Honor Yee For Violence Prevention”

That was in happier days, when California State Sen. Leland Yee was winning national applause for his gun-control efforts. Yesterday the San Jose Mercury-News reported:

In a stunning criminal complaint, State Sen. Leland Yee has been charged with conspiring to traffic in firearms and public corruption as part of a major FBI operation spanning the Bay Area. … Yee asked whether he wanted automatic weapons, and the agent confirmed he did — about $500,000 to $2.5 million worth.”

Is it time to retire our “Do as we say” tag yet? Eliot Spitzer got exposed after crusading for longer sentences for “johns.” Czars of alcohol-abuse programs keep getting nabbed on the road after having a half dozen too many. Rep. Bob Filner groped his way to the podium to chair hearings on women’s issues.

Now there’s this. Maybe Sen. Yee came down so hard on private gun dealers because he wanted to muscle into the business himself.

The entire criminal information, which beggars belief in its colorful detail (Chinese gangs, Russian arms runners, Muslim insurgents in the Philippines) is here, with highlights summarized by Scott Lucas of San Francisco magazine. The San Francisco Chronicle editorialized: “Few observers of San Francisco politics are surprised by [Yee’s] arrest on corruption charges.” Then there’s this sidelight: “Keith Jackson, accused by the FBI on Wednesday of being involved in a murder-for-hire scheme and a gun- and drug-trafficking conspiracy, was San Francisco’s top elected educator during the late 1990s.” [San Francisco Chronicle]

March 2 roundup

  • Pennsylvania bill would restrict the pre-paid business cemeteries could do, which by remarkable coincidence would benefit their competitors on the funeral home side [Allentown Morning Call]
  • How to get capital out of China? Lose a lawsuit on purpose [Chuin-Wei Yap, WSJ Law Blog]
  • Arms-trafficking sting caught crusader against videogames, guns: “Judge Sentences Ex-California Senator Leland Yee to Five Years for Racketeering” [KNTV (auto-plays), earlier]
  • Workplace bias, which can mean a lot of things, would be an ethics violation for lawyers under proposed ABA model rule [ABA Journal, more]
  • Breaking: New York court denies Donald Trump’s bid to throw out AG Eric Schneiderman’s suit over Trump University [ruling, The Hill, Eric Turkewitz] More background: Lowering the Bar.
  • Grounding interstate comity: California Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell) wants to ban state-funded travel to sister states with religious conscience laws [Bay Area Reporter (“discrimination of any kind …will certainly not be tolerated beyond our borders.”)]
  • “NY Times: Contaminated Property Makes For Costly Inheritance” [Paul Caron/TaxProf]

July 8 roundup

“Gamers have no credibility in this argument”

Quoth California Sen. Leland Yee, D-S.F., would-be censor of violent video games, whose involvement in a wildly colorful arms-smuggling scandal, though neglected in some national media circles, lends irony to talk of the psychologically obscure Root Causes of Violence. Thanks, Sen. Credibility! [Lowering the Bar]

More: Leland Yee, international man of mystery: how’d he manage to duck terrorism charges? [Contra Costa Times]

“Where did you get that keychain?”

[Bumped Monday a.m. with added links for readers who missed it on Friday]

My new article on the Federal Trade Commission’s very bad new rules on endorsements and social media is now up at City Journal.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the FTC held a conference call for reporters to dismiss concerns as unfounded. “They are not rules and regulations, and they don’t have the force of law,” said Mary Engle, associate director for advertising practices at the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection — which may be narrowly true but is hollow reassurance at best, since the guidelines plainly are meant to signal where the commission intends to aim its future enforcement efforts, and since not all bloggers will be willing to defy the guidelines on the assumption that courts will refuse to go along with the FTC’s interpretations.

“We are not going to be patrolling the blogosphere,” Engle also claimed. “We are not planning on investigating individual bloggers.” And: “We’re not interested in playing gotcha in the gray areas.” And yet the guidelines are again and again written in such a way as to reserve the Commission’s discretion to do any and all of these things. Ann Althouse, as before, is rightly scornful:

Oh, good. You’re not planning…

I’m so relieved.

“We’re not interested in playing gotcha in the gray areas.”

Not yet. But once the law is on the books, will you never feel tempted? Nothing will motivate you to venture into the gray?

Of course the FTC, like other regulatory agencies, is frequently drawn into enforcement not because it has been patrolling some area as such, but because some interested party (a competitor, a disgruntled employee, an ideological critic, a litigation opponent) calls the attention of enforcement staff (or the press) to the purported violation. Is the FTC really saying, “Yes, we’ve declared blogging in such-and-such a manner to be illegal, but we’re planning to look the other way?”

More on the rules: New York Times (reactions in world of online fashion journalism); Dear Author (new rules “will be rife with abuse and misuse and uneven application”); David Johnson/Digital Media Lawyer; BNA TechLaw (endorsing agency reassurances); Robert Siegel, Mind Your Own Damn Business Politics (guidelines “might bite traditional media after all”).

P.S. Randall Rothenberg of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, a trade group, notes that in recent days “the FTC has been furiously backtracking about their implications, in an apparent attempt to soothe the blogosphere”, but calls the reassurances “disingenuous”. More: PaidContent.org (IAB considers the rules constitutionally dubious under First Amendment); Ars Technica. And some more new links:

  • According to one report from a children’s literature conference, the FTC’s Engle says Amazon bookstore arrangements must be re-disclosed anew with each linked post, but — in a seeming departure from what colleague Cleland said a week ago — otherwise “independent” book reviewers need not disclose free review copies [A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy]
  • Gordon Crovitz in Monday’s WSJ (FTC backtracking in face of reaction; “Do employees of a company have to disclose the fact of their employment every time they comment on its products through their personal Facebook accounts?”)

Microblog 2008-10-22

  • McCain hoist on his own campaign regulation petard [WSJ edit] #
  • Conservatives should hold a retreat to talk about why they’re being sent to the wilderness [Friedersdorf/Culture11] #
  • Disability activism and “anti-national sexual positions”: just another day in postmodern academia [Massie] #
  • Unionism on steroids: Employee Free Choice Act would be Thatcherism in reverse [Claire Berlinski, City Journal] #
  • Here’s a twist: a politician walking over his ambition to reach his grandmother #

October 21 roundup

  • Hey, that Jon Bon Jovi baseball anthem sounds familiar, make the check out for $400 billion please [Boston Herald]
  • Cyrus Sanai, known for dogged campaign against Judge Kozinski, is back with a new 80-page complaint which also names “10 other district court and 9th Circuit judges who have been assigned to his family’s case at one time or another.” [NLJ]
  • More on English “no barbed wire on allotments” rules: “I am replacing the glass in the windows of my house with tissue paper, so that burglars — poor lambs — will not cut themselves while breaking and entering.” [Dalrymple, City Journal]
  • Ethical alarms should go off when criminal defense lawyers’ marketing hints at insider pull or former-prosecutor clout [Greenfield]
  • Annals of public employee tenure: firing a cop in Chicago sure isn’t easy [TalkLeft, FOI files on Gerald Callahan and William Cozzi cases at Chicago Justice Project]
  • Gigantic government database of cellphone users planned for U.K. [Massie]
  • Babies only, please: Nebraska backs off from its dump-a-teen “safe haven” parental abandonment law [Althouse, earlier]
  • Some Israelis may be overly cheery in welcoming presumed benefits of consumer class actions [Karlsgodt citing Jerusalem Post editorial]

October 2000 archives


October 10 — Hot pickle suit. Veronica Martin of Knoxville, Tenn. has sued a local McDonald’s restaurant, alleging that last October it sold her a hamburger containing an overly hot pickle that dropped onto her chin, burning it so badly as to leave a scar. She’s asking $110,000 for medical bills, lost wages, physical and mental suffering, while her husband Darrin says he deserves $15,000 for being deprived of her services and consortium. The complaint was filed by attorney Amelia G. Crotwell, of a Knoxville law firm coincidentally known as McDonald, Levy & Taylor. (Randy Kenner, “Couple sue McDonald’s over spilled ‘hot’ pickle”, Knoxville News-Sentinel, Oct. 7; “Couple Sues Over Hot Pickle Burn”, AP/Yahoo, Oct. 7). (case settled: see April 16, 2001)

October 10 — “Gunshot wounds down almost 40 percent”. The steep decline took place between the years of 1993 and 1997, well before the unleashing of mass litigation against gunmakers by way of big-city lawsuits (AP/USA Today, Oct. 8). And despite attempts to redefine private ownership of guns as some sort of out-of-control public health epidemic, “the number of fatal gun accidents is at its lowest level since 1903, when statistics started being kept.” (Dave Kopel, “An Army of Gun Lies”, National Review, Apr. 17). The Colorado-based Independence Institute, of which Kopel is research director, maintains a Second Amendment/criminal justice page which includes a section on gun lawsuits.

October 10 — Spread of mold law. Injury and property damage claims arising from the growth of mold in buildings were “virtually unheard of a few years ago” but are now among the “hottest areas” in construction defect and toxic tort law, reports Lawyers Weekly USA. “I view these mold claims as similar to asbestos 30 years ago,” Los Angeles lawyer Alexander Robertson told the Boston-based newspaper. “Mold is everywhere,” another lawyer says. “There are no specific government guidelines and not a whole lot of medical information on it. It’s ripe for lawyers to get into and expand it.” Most commonly found when water gets into structures, mold has been blamed for a wide variety of health woes including “respiratory problems, skin rashes, headaches, lung disease, cognitive memory loss and brain damage, common everyday symptoms that could be caused by other factors. That’s where lawyers and expert witnesses come in.” (“Toxic mold a growing legal issue”, UPI/ENN, Oct. 6) (via Junk Science).

October 10 — Updates. Following up on stories covered earlier in this space:

* Amid “tense confrontations”, attempts to disrupt and block the march, and the arrest of 147 protesters, Denver’s Columbus Day parade (see Oct. 3) went on without actual bloodshed: Rocky Mountain News, Denver Post and New York Post coverage, and National Review commentary.

* At the time of our June 12 commentary, hyperactive Connecticut attorney general Richard Blumenthal was up for a Second Circuit federal judgeship; now, the window of opportunity for confirmation having slammed down on Clinton nominees, he’s angling for the Senate seat that Dems hope Joe Lieberman will soon vacate. David Plotz in Slate profiles the ambitious pol as state AG, “always trolling for power and press”. (Sept. 15).

* In the race-bias case filed by 21 workers at a northern California Wonder Bread bakery (July 10, Aug. 4), a judge has reduced the jury’s punitive damage award from $121 million to $24 million (Dennis J. Opatrny, “Dough Sliced in Wonder Bread Case as Punitives Cut by $100 Million”, The Recorder/CalLaw, Oct. 9).

* An English instructor at the City College of San Francisco has dropped his suit against the proprietor of a “course critique” Web site that posts anonymous critiques of teachers (see Nov. 15, 1999). Daniel Curzon-Brown agreed to drop his defamation suit over comments posted about him at the site and pay $10,000 in attorneys’ fees to the American Civil Liberties Union, which had represented the proprietor of the website, Teacherreview.com. An ACLU lawyer hails the outcome as a victory for free speech on the Web. (Lisa Fernandez, “Instructor at City College settles suit on Web critiques”, San Jose Mercury News, Oct. 3).

October 6-9 — Owens Corning bankrupt. The building materials giant, known for its Pink Panther fiberglass insulation mascot, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, thus becoming one of the biggest of the 25+ companies to be bankrupted so far by the ongoing litigation over injuries attributed to asbestos. Between 1952 and 1972 it sold a pipe insulation product trade-named Kaylo containing the mineral, which brought it total revenues of $135 million over that period; since then it’s paid or committed to pay $5 billion in resulting injury claims, with billions more still looming ahead (Oct. 5: CNNfn; AP; Reuters; company site). Over the years, Owens kept coming back to set aside one more supposedly final reserve to cover its remaining lawsuit exposure, but was proved wrong each time as claims accumulated (representative sunny-side-up profile: Thomas Stewart, “Owens Corning: Back from the Dead”, Fortune, May 26, 1997). In late 1998 it agreed to pay $1.2 billion to settle what were billed as 90 percent of the claims then in its pipeline, but that pipeline soon filled up again as lawyers filed new suits (“Owens Corning settles suits”, CNNfn, Dec. 15, 1998). Regarding the irrationality of the current asbestos litigation system as a way to compensate injured workers, its high overhead and delay, the capriciousness of its outcomes, and its burdensomeness to the thousands of businesses that by now have been pulled in as defendants, see the testimony of several witnesses at the House Judiciary Committee hearing held July 1, 1999, in particular Harvard prof Christopher Edley, former HHS secretary Louis Sullivan, and GAF’s Samuel Heyman; regarding the quality of many of the claims, the means by which many were recruited, and the techniques used to maximize the number of defendants named in each, see our “Thanks for the Memories”, Reason, June 1998.

Owens Corning at various times acquired a reputation as the asbestos defendant that would try to meet the plaintiff’s lawyers halfway rather than fight them ditch by ditch. It opposed last year’s proposal for a legislated federal system of asbestos compensation, saying that it placed more confidence in the arrangements it was negotiating with trial lawyers to resolve claims (Owens testimony and attachment). This testimony was delightedly seized on by the bill’s opponents (dissent by twelve Democratic members, see text at note 8; note the striking similarity in the dissent’s overall arguments to those in earlier ATLA testimony). Earlier, the company had even gone so far as to fund discovery by trial lawyers aimed at uncovering other asbestos defendants for them to sue in hopes of taking some of the pressure off itself, according to Michael Orey’s Assuming the Risk: The Mavericks, The Lawyers and the Whistle-Blowers Who Beat Big Tobacco (Little, Brown, 1999, p. 255). In the end, these methods seemed to work no better in saving it from ruin than the ditch by ditch style of defense worked for others.

Iin their dissenting opinion, the twelve Democratic House members also wrote as follows: “We also find little evidence to support the proponents’ claim that the legislation is needed because we will otherwise face a growing stream of bankruptcies by defendant companies. …Our review of the specific liability statements by publicly traded asbestos defendants confirms that the principal remaining asbestos defendants are not facing any significant threat of bankruptcy.” They name, as particular examples of companies for which there is no such threat, W.R. Grace and Owens Corning. “The situation is much the same with other significant asbestos defendants – U.S. Gypsum, Federal Mogul, Armstrong World Industries, and Pfizer (parent company of Quigley) all have indicated there is little likelihood that asbestos liability could lead to bankruptcy.” (see text at notes 10-15). Pfizer aside, most of these stocks were hit Thursday on Wall Street with losses of 20 to 35 percent of their value, and many have lost 75 percent or more of their value over the past year (Jonathan Stempel, “Owens Corning Woes Hit Other Firms”, Yahoo/Reuters, Oct. 5). It would be remiss of us not to name the twelve Judiciary Democrats responsible for this peer into a decidedly clouded financial crystal ball: they are John Conyers, Jr. (Mich.), Howard L. Berman (Calif.), Rick Boucher (Va.), Robert C. Scott (Va.), Melvin L. Watt (N.C.), Zoe Lofgren (Calif.), Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas), Maxine Waters (Calif.), William D. Delahunt (Mass.), Steven R. Rothman (N.J.), Tammy Baldwin (Wisc.), and Anthony D. Weiner (New York). (DURABLE LINK)

October 6-9 — Bioethicist as defendant. Arthur Caplan of the University of Pennsylvania, perhaps the nation’s most quoted medical ethicist, is now also apparently the first to face a lawsuit over his advice. “The father of Jesse Gelsinger, an 18-year-old from Arizona who died a year ago during experimental therapy for his inborn metabolic disorder, named Caplan in a lawsuit against several Penn doctors and two hospitals,” saying he should not have advised researchers to use full-grown research subjects on ethical grounds (because they could give knowing consent), as opposed to infants, in their experimental therapy. Some say that for practitioners to start getting sued represents a sign that bioethics has finally made it as a discipline. (Arthur Allen, “Bioethics comes of age”, Salon, Sept. 28).

October 6-9 — Car dealers vs. online competition. The Internet could make car buying a lot cheaper and easier; unfortunately, existing dealers have a strong lobby in state capitals and have been working hard to block online competition (Solveig Singleton, “Will the Net Turn Car Dealers Into Dinosaurs?”, Cato Briefing Papers #58, July 25 (study in PDF format); James Glassman, “Car Dealers Declare War on the New Economy”, TechCentralStation/ Reason Online, April 3; Murray Weidenbaum, “Auto dealers quash Internet competition”, Christian Science Monitor, Aug. 17; Scott Woolley, “A car dealer by any other name”, Forbes, Nov. 29, 1999).

October 6-9 — Blue-ribbon excuses. In Bucks County, Pa., Samuel Feldman has been convicted of mutilating baked goods in stores over a two-year period; merchants complained of thousands of dollars of losses including 3,087 loaves of sliced bread, 175 bags of bagels, and 227 bags of potato dinner rolls. An Archway distributor said that after the defendant visited shelves of packaged cookies, each was found to have a thumb-poke through its jelly center. Feldman’s wife Sharon told the jury that the couple are “picky shoppers” and inspect products carefully: “Freshness is important.” And his attorney, Ellis Klein, “asked the jury to be tolerant of different styles of bread selection. ‘Not everybody just takes a loaf and puts in their cart.'” (Oshrat Carmiel, “Judge clamps down on bread squisher”, Philadelphia Inquirer, Sept. 22) (see update Nov. 30).

Meanwhile, in West Palm Beach, Fla., after being found guilty of bribery, former criminal defense lawyer Philip G. Butler “decided he had done a bad job of defending himself. So Butler appealed his felony conviction, arguing that he failed to tell himself about the danger of waiving competent counsel.” An appeals court wasn’t buying. (Stephen Van Drake, A Fool for a Client”, Miami Daily Business Review, Sept. 8).

October 6-9 — “Money to burn”. American Lawyer profile of Charleston, S.C.’s Ness, Motley, Loadholt, Richardson & Poole talks about some of the ways the firm’s trial lawyers are handling their enormous income from the state tobacco settlement (156-foot yacht, new office building, hanging out with Hillary Clinton and Al Gore a lot) but doesn’t get into the question of what their aggregate take from the tobacco caper will be — elsewhere it’s been reported to be in the billions, with a “b”. (Alison Frankel, American Lawyer, Sept. 27).

October 6-9 — “Attorneys general take on Mexican food industry”. A parody we missed earlier, appearing in the online Irk Magazine (March 24). As always with these things, do as we do and keep repeating to yourself: it’s just a parody … it’s just a parody … it’s just a parody.

October 5 — For Philly, gun lawsuits just the beginning. Philadelphia’s city solicitor, Kenneth I. Trujillo, is forming a new “affirmative-litigation unit” within his department to file lawsuits against national and local businesses and recover (he hopes) millions of dollars for the city, teaming up with private lawyers who will work on contingency. “He said he hoped the city’s pending lawsuit against gun manufacturers would prove to be just the beginning. ‘It’s really about righting a wrong,’ Trujillo said about the cases he plans to pursue. ‘Not only do they have a public good, but they’re rewarding in other ways. They’re rewarding financially.'” While in private practice, Trujillo founded a firm that specialized in filing class-action suits. He declines to discuss possible targets, but other cities and states have sued lead paint and pigment makers, and San Francisco, which pioneered the idea of a municipality-as-plaintiff strike force, has gone after banks and other financial companies. (Jacqueline Soteropoulos, “City solicitor banks on lawsuits”, Philadelphia Inquirer, Sept. 26). (also see Oct. 13-15)

October 5 — New feature on Overlawyered.com: letters page. We get a lot of mail from readers and have thus far been able to fit only a very few highlights from it onto our front page. This new separate page series should give us a chance to publish a wider selection without interrupting the flow of main items. We start with two letters, from PrairieLaw columnist David Giacalone and HALT counsel Thomas Gordon, reacting to reader David Rubin’s criticism of small claims court earlier this week.

October 5 — Scarier than they bargained for. When lawyers’ promotional efforts go wrong: California law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedge, to call attention to its new San Francisco office, sent hundreds of potential clients brown cardboard boxes filled with realistic-looking grenades, along with a promotional note advising businesses to “arm” themselves against legal dangers. Unfortunately, two of the recipients thought the devices were real and called the bomb squad (Gail Diane Cox, “Law Firm’s Explosive Ad Campaign Draws Critics, Attention”, CalLaw/The Recorder, Sept. 22).

October 5 — Judge tells EEOC to pay employer’s fees. “Calling it ‘one of the most unjustifiable lawsuits’ he ever presided over, U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland in Bay City, Mich., ordered the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to pay a Burger King owner more than $58,000 in his legal costs fighting discrimination charges. The judge also ordered five EEOC lawyers to present the commission with his findings that they mishandled the case,” brought against E.J. Sacco Inc. (Winston Wood, “Work Week”, Wall Street Journal/Career Journal, Aug. 8 (next to last item)).

October 5 — Sidewalk toilets nixed again. Boston is the latest city whose plans to become more Paris-like have run into trouble, as its planned $250,000 outdoor commodes fail to comply with handicap-access laws. (Steven Wilmsen, “State approval denied for city’s new ‘street furniture'”, Boston Globe, Sept. 26).

October 4 — Presidential debate. Vice President Al Gore: “I cast my lot with the people even when it means that you have to stand up to some powerful interests who are trying to turn the policies and the laws to their advantage.” He mentions HMOs, insurance, drug and oil companies, but omits an interest group that’s backed him with great enthusiasm over the years, trial lawyers. “I’ve been standing up to big Hollywood, big trial lawyers,” responds Texas Gov. George W. Bush. And later: “I think that people need to be held responsible for the actions they take in life.” (CNN transcript; scroll 3/4 and 7/8 of way down)

October 4 — Aviation: John Denver crash. Survivors of singer John Denver, who was killed three years ago in the crash of a do-it-yourself amateur airplane he was flying off the Pacific coast, have obtained a settlement in their lawsuit against Gould Electronics Inc. and Aircraft Spruce & Specialty Co., which made and sold a fuel valve on the craft. An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the accident happened because Denver knowingly took off with low fuel in a plane with which he was unfamiliar, the fuel lever was hard to reach, and when he reached around to grab it he lost control of the aircraft. A commentary on AvWeb describes the evidence in the manufacturers’ defense as “seemingly overwhelming”: “Everyone involved in general aviation knows that out-of-control lawsuits are the reason a flange on a car costs a quarter and the same flange for a Mooney will run you 150 bucks, and it only seems to be getting worse. …Perhaps in addition to asking the presidential candidates their stands on user fees, the aviation industry should demand to know their positions on tort reform.” The commentary goes on to discuss lawsuits filed over the Air France Concorde crash and over Northwest Airlines’ New Year’s Day 1999 customer delay fiasco at the snowbound Detroit airport (“John Denver’s relatives settle lawsuit against manufacturers”, AP/FindLaw, Sept. 29; “John Denver’s Heirs Settle Lawsuit Over His Death”, Reuters/ Yahoo, Sept. 30; “Run Out Of Fuel? Stuck In A Storm? File A Lawsuit And Win!”, AvWeb, Oct. 2; “Close-Up: The John Denver Crash”, AvWeb, May 1999; NTSB synopsis; rec.aviation.homebuilt (Usenet discussions — check recent thread on Denver crash)).

October 4 — School now says hugs not forbidden. Euless Junior High School, in suburban Dallas, now denies that it punished eighth-graders Le’Von Daugherty, 15, and Heather Culps, 14, for simply hugging each other in the hallway, as was widely reported last week. Instead it says the girls had been repeatedly insubordinate and that hugging as such is not against the rules, only “overfamiliarity”. However, last week Knight-Ridder reported that the school’s principal, David Robbins, “says such physical contact is inappropriate in school because it could lead to other things. Robbins said he stands by his rule that no students should hug in school. … [It] increases the chances of inappropriate touching and creates peer pressure for students who may not want that type of contact.” (“Texas school defends punishing girls for hug”, Reuters/ FindLaw, Oct. 2; Gina Augustini Best, “Texas junior high punishes girls for hugging in hallway”, Knight-Ridder/Miami Herald, Oct. 1; see also March 2 (Halifax, N.S.)). And in suburban Atlanta, school officials have explained why 11-year-old Ashley Smith will not be allowed to appeal her two-week suspension over the 10-inch novelty chain that hangs from her Tweety bird wallet (see Sept. 29): “They noted that students are routinely shown samples of items banned under the weapons policy at the beginning of the school year. ‘These items have been used in the past as weapons. A chain like the one in question can have any number of devices attached to it and it becomes a very dangerous weapon,’ said Jay Dillon, communications director for Cobb County school district.” (“Feathers fly over school suspension”, Reuters/ Excite, Sept. 29).

October 4 — Trial lawyers’ clout in Albany. “Albany insiders say David Dudley — a former counsel to Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno who now lobbies for the state trial lawyers association — was a key figure behind Senate passage of a bill to lift caps on fees lawyers earn in medical malpractice cases,” Crain’s New York Business reported this summer. The measure, long sought by trial lawyers, “had the support of the Democrat-run Assembly, but could never win backing from Mr. Bruno and the Republican-controlled Senate. Insiders believe Mr. Dudley reminded Senate Republicans that failure to give the trial lawyers at least one victory this election year could prompt the lawyers to fund Democratic opponents.” Mr. Dudley would not comment; since passing both houses, the bill has been sent to the desk of Republican Governor George Pataki. (“Bruno ex-counsel key to lawyer bill”, Crain’s New York Business, July 24, fee-based archives).

October 4 — New visitor record on Overlawyered.com. We set another weekly and daily traffic record last week. Thanks for your support!

October 3 — U.S. Department of Justice vs. Columbus Day? The Italian-American organizers of Denver’s Columbus Day parade are in hot water because they’d like the event to include some reference to the man for whom the holiday is named. Local American Indian and Hispanic groups have protested honoring someone they see as symbolizing European settlement, native displacement, slavery and even genocide; heeding their concerns, the city and federal governments pressed organizers to accept permit conditions under which the parade would avoid mentioning the explorer, according to attorney Simon Mole of the American Civil Liberties Union. “With the help of the U.S. Justice Department, Italian-Americans and American Indians reached agreement [earlier in September] to hold a ‘March for Italian Pride’ on Oct. 7 that would exclude any references to Christopher Columbus,” reports the Denver Post, but the agreement fell through after the organizers decided they had been giving away their First Amendment rights under government pressure. Menacingly, however, “LeRoy Lemos, who represents a group called Poder, a Hispanic community rebuilding program, said references to Columbus at the parade will not be tolerated. ‘After seven years of peace, our position remains that there will never be a Columbus Day parade in Denver – not this year, not next year, not ever,’ Lemos said. ‘If they violate the terms of the agreement, there will be no parade. Period.'” Who’s the Justice Department protecting, anyway?

SOURCES: J. Sebastian Sinisi, “Columbus’ name banned from ‘Italian Pride March'”, Denver Post, Sept. 21; J. Sebastian Sinisi, “Columbus parade pact fails”, Denver Post, Sept. 29; “The right to march” (editorial), Denver Post, Sept. 30; Al Knight, “Webb deaf to free speech”, Denver Post, Oct. 1; related articles; Peggy Lowe and Kevin Flynn, “Italians renege on renaming parade”, Rocky Mountain News, Sept. 29; Vince Carroll, “Let Columbus rest in peace”, Rocky Mountain News, Sept. 24; Bill Johnson, “Columbus, well, that’s not all this parade’s about”, Rocky Mountain News, Oct. 1; Columbus bio courtesy of student projects, St. Joseph’s School, Ireland. Update: parade held with disruptions and mass arrests, no bloodshed (see Oct. 10). (DURABLE LINK)

October 3 — From our mail sack: small claims court. David Rubin writes from Los Angeles: “I am a defense lawyer who generally supports the ideas which you espouse on this forum. However, I can safely say that out in Los Angeles, the small claims court (see Sept. 29) is more akin to a Kangaroo court than anything else. The reason cases can be heard so quickly in small claims is that judges spend so little time on them. The average small claims case lasts 5 minutes. I had a client who had a small claims judgment entered against him, based on a contractual debt owed to a company. This company had been shut down by the Corporations Department for fraud, based on the very contract the client had been found liable on. The client had evidence of this, but the judge wouldn’t hear of it.

“The judge simply asked ‘Did you sign this contract?’ – Client: ‘Yes’. – Judge: ‘Did you pay this debt?’ – Client: ‘Well, you see…’ – Judge: ‘Yes or no?’ – Client: ‘No’ – Judge: ‘Judgment for the plaintiff’.

“Speedy justice isn’t always justice, you know…”

October 3 — Volunteer gamers’ lawsuit. Heated discussions in progress around the Net re Fair Labor Standards Act lawsuit demanding retroactive minimum wage pay and benefits for volunteer fans who’ve helped administer online role-playing games (see Sept. 12): Nihilistic.com discussion; “GamerX”, “Money Changes Everything”, CNET GameCenter, Sept. 22; CNET discussion; complaint (Lum the Mad).

October 3 — More things you can’t have: raw-milk cheeses. “The Food and Drug Administration is considering new rules that either would ban or drastically limit the manufacture and import of raw milk, or unpasteurized, cheeses.” These include most of the interesting ones that one would go out of one’s way to eat. Safety grounds, of course, are cited: the more the compulsory assurances that we will live to a healthy old age, the fewer the reasons to want to do so. (Eric Rosenberg, “U.S. ponders ban on raw milk cheese”, San Francisco Examiner, Sept. 18; “Do dangerous organisms lurk in your favorite unpasteurized cheese?”, Reuters/CNN, Sept. 27).

October 2 — Killed his mother, now suing his psychiatrists. “Two summers ago, Alfred L. Head drove his car through the front wall of his family’s Reston[, Va.] home, then walked in with a baseball bat and beat his mother to death.” Found not guilty by reason of insanity and sent to a mental hospital, he’s now suing the psychiatrists he says should have prevented him from doing it. According to the Washington Post, “a number of experts said Head may have a strong case. They point to Wendell Williamson, a North Carolina man who went on a shooting rampage that killed two people and later won $500,000 after suing a psychiatrist who had stopped treating him eight months before the shooting….. Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr., who prosecuted Head, said he had ‘a history of manipulating the mental health community.’ Head knew the right words and behaviors to avoid hospitalization, Horan said. ‘It’s hard for me to believe,’ he said, ‘that the very guy who manipulated the system now says the system screwed up while he was manipulating them. He successfully conned all of them.'” (Tom Jackman, “Reston Family Sues in Insanity Case”, Washington Post, Oct. 1).

October 2 — No fistful of dollars. After deliberating for four hours, a San Jose jury found that Clint Eastwood does not have to pay damages to a disabled woman who said his inn/restaurant violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The jury found him liable for two minor violations of the law but declined to assign damages. (Brian Bergstein, “Eastwood cleared in disabled case”, AP/Yahoo, Sept. 29; Reuters/Yahoo; “Clint Eastwood Explains His Beef With the ADA”, Business Week, May 17; Sept. 21 and earlier commentaries linked there).

October 2 — Judge throws out half of federal tobacco suit. In a 55-page opinion, U.S. district judge Gladys Kessler last week threw out the health-cost reimbursement portions of the Clinton Administration’s much-ballyhooed federal lawsuit against tobacco companies, while allowing to proceed, for now at least, its claims under the dangerously broad and vague RICO (racketeering) law. “Congress’ total inaction for over three decades precludes an interpretation … that would permit the government to recover Medicare” and other expenses, Kessler ruled. Both sides claimed victory, but cigarette stocks rose sharply on Wall Street.

According to Reuters, ‘Kessler expressed reservations about whether the racketeering claims would ultimately prove successful. ‘Based on the sweeping nature of the government’s allegations and the fact the parties have barely begun discovery to test the validity of these allegations, it would be premature for the court to rule (now),’ Kessler wrote. ‘At a very minimum the government has stated a claim for injunctive relief: whether the government can prove it remains to be seen.'” (Pete Yost, “Judge: 2 Claims Out in Tobacco Case”, AP/Yahoo, Sept. 28; Lyle Denniston, “Federal judge throws out half of tobacco industry lawsuit”, Baltimore Sun, Sept. 29; Reuters/FindLaw; MS/NBC; Washington Post)(U.S. v. Philip Morrismain decision in PDF format via Findlaw).

October 2 — Malpractice outlays on rise in Canada. “Damage claims arising from medical malpractice are costing Canadian doctors and taxpayers an arm and a leg, especially in Ontario,” according to estimates from the Canadian Medical Protective Association, which defends doctors in court. There are pronounced regional differences, with average settlements in closed cases running C$172,000 in Ontario, C$67,000 in Quebec, and in between elsewhere. The projected cumulative cost of all pending claims is expected to reach C$3 million per Canadian doctor by the end of 2000 — a number that seems strangely high given the reported size of claims, but which is not further elucidated in the story. (Dennis Bueckert, “Malpractice awards averaging $3 million per doctor are a major cost to taxpayers”, CP/St. Catharines (Ont.) Standard, Oct. 1) (more on regional differences).


October 19 — Sexual harassment: ask the experts (if that’ll help). CNN.com asks authorities on harassment law for advice on handling common workplace situations and gets strikingly contradictory answers. Should employers ban consensual dating between supervisors and subordinates? Yes, says employment-law attorney Anne Covey; no, says business professor Dennis Powers. Does a desk photo of a wife or girlfriend in a bikini count as harassment? Yes, says Covey (“You wouldn’t allow somebody in a bathing suit to be in the office. So I don’t think the picture is appropriate either”); no, says Powers. Although the number of harassment complaints filed with the EEOC has been flat recently, sums of money recovered through the agency’s efforts have more than doubled since 1995. And don’t expect a potential complainant to tell you you’re doing something wrong before taking a gripe to management, says Covey: “An employee does not have an obligation to walk up to you and educate you about your behavior that they find to be inappropriate”. (Larry Keller, “Sexual harassment: Serious, subtle, stubborn”, CNN.com, Oct. 3).

October 19 — All shook up. Music student Anna Lloyd, 22, was among the 136 survivors of a fiery 1999 American Airlines plane crash at the Little Rock airport that killed 10 passengers and the pilot. Her attorney acknowledges that she is physically fine after the minor injuries she sustained at the time, but he says the psychological scars of the experience have left her emotionally disconnected, anxious, prone to angry outbursts, and socially withdrawn. American Airlines thought $330,000 in compensation was sufficient for her situation, but Lloyd asked a jury for $15 million, and last week it gave her $6.5 million. (“Jury awards woman $6.5 million in plane crash trial”, AP/FindLaw, Oct. 13; “Plane crash traumatized college student for life, lawyer argues”, AP/CNN.com, Oct. 11; passenger and crew list, Flight 1420 (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)). In August, in the first lawsuit over the Little Rock crash to go to trial, Lloyd’s friend Kristin Maddox was awarded nearly $11 million; see Aug. 31.

October 19 — Courtroom crusade on drug prices? We’ve lost count of the number of fields of litigation that eager lawyers have nominated as the “next tobacco”: guns, lead paint, casinos, HMOs, class actions against Microsoft, and so on. One more to add to the scrapbook, which we missed earlier: class action suits over pricing of pharmaceutical drugs. “Chicago lawyer Robert Green … says [they] could eventually dwarf current tobacco litigation. ‘There’s much more money at stake, if you can believe that,’ he said.” (Mark Curriden, “Drug firms’ price-setting investigated”, Dallas Morning News, Dec. 7, 1999).

October 18 — Historically inauthentic? Book her. Betty Deislinger, age 70, fixed up an 1870s house in a historic district of Little Rock, Ark., but declined to take the burglar bars off the front, the way the preservation code requires. She was arrested, fingerprinted and booked. (Suzi Parker, “Bars bring long arm of the law”, Dallas Morning News, Oct. 14).

October 18 — Yahoo pulls message board. “Within hours of a Miami appellate court’s order that Yahoo and America Online must disclose the identities of eight Web critics who allegedly defamed former Hvide Marine boss J. Erik Hvide, Yahoo shut down the Hvide Marine company’s message board where the offending words were posted. The board, where thousands of messages about the ups and downs at international marine services company Hvide Marine of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., were posted during the past few years, was also removed from the Web, and previously posted messages are no longer accessible.” “It may be a matter of Yahoo deciding they don’t want to create a headache for themselves by continuing this forum that has resulted in litigation,” said one of the lawyers in the case. (Dan Christensen, “Yahoo Pulls Marine Services Company Message Board”, Miami Daily Business Review, Oct. 17; Catherine Wilson, “Anonymous Net Posting Not Protected”, AP/Excite, Oct. 16; John Roemer, “The Battle Over John Doe”, Industry Standard/Law.com, Oct. 13; Slashdot thread on anonymous message-board speech).

October 18 — Birth cameras not wanted. In a recent survey, 40 percent of obstetricians said they had prevented families from using videocameras to record births, and 80 percent of those cited legal concerns. Such videotapes, or edited snippets from them, may be placed before juries in case of later malpractice suits. (Geraldine Sealey, “Lights, Camera, Lawsuit”, ABC News, Oct. 3) (& see Dec. 26).

October 18 — Product liability: Americanization of Europe? An expected European Community directive will expand rights to sue under product liability law, and business is worried about having to face “a whole new continent of potential plaintiffs.” Among ideas being considered are “the introduction of class actions and market-share liability, and the elimination of both the 70 million euro cap on damages and the ‘state-of-the art’ defense.” However, European consumer groups point out that earlier rounds of liberalization have not resulted in sky-high American-style litigation levels: “Even if these latest pro-plaintiff reforms pass, companies still won’t face juries and punitive damages, the most unpredictable aspects of the U.S. system” — not to mention two other significant aspects of the U.S. system, the lawyer’s contingency fee and the failure of costs to follow the event. (Ashlea Ebeling, “Sue Everywhere”, Forbes, Oct. 16).

October 16-17 — George W. Bush on lawsuit reform. The Bush campaign has put up this page explaining the Governor’s point of view on civil justice reform, his record on the issue in Texas, and his plans for tackling it at the federal level if elected (disclosure: this site’s editor has been involved as an advisor to the campaign). (George W. Bush for President official site; Issues; Civil Justice Reform). And: Wall Street Journal lead editorial Monday assails the Democratic Party for its “captivity” to trial lawyers. “Mr. Gore walked into it again when his claimed visit with the FEMA head to inspect fire-damaged Parker County turned out never to have taken place. As the world now knows, he was in Houston for a fund-raiser with the head of the Texas trial lawyers association.” (“The Lawyer Issue”, Oct. 16).

October 16-17 — European roundup. “The rights of pets in divorce cases would be similar to those of children under proposals in Switzerland, where campaigners have 250,000 signatures for two petitions demanding substantial new rights for pets and other animals.” (Claire Doole, “Animals’ rights could make an ass of Swiss law”, Sunday Times (London), Oct. 8). In Britain, where the exemption of police jobs from the Disability Discrimination Act is set to expire in 2004, “police officers with part of a leg missing are likely to be pounding the beat and one-eyed drivers could be at the wheel of pursuit cars in four years’ time,” to the dismay of the Metropolitan Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers (James Clark, “Disability law exposes police to one-legged recruits”, Sunday Times (London), Oct. 8; see also Sept. 29). And in France, the resort town of Le Lavandou attempted to cope with a lack of space in its cemetery by passing a law making it unlawful for persons who lack a cemetery plot to die within town limits; the mayor acknowledges that there will be no levying of penalties against those who violate the law by dying without authorization (“Death be not proud”, AP/Fox News, Sept. 21).

October 16-17 — “Is $30,000 an hour a reasonable fee?” Readers of this space are familiar with the controversy in which attorney Peter Angelos is demanding $1 billion for representing the state of Maryland in the tobacco-Medicaid litigation, while the state is trying to get off with paying him a mere $500 million (see Dec. 9 and Oct. 19, 1999). One tidbit of which we had been unaware: “[A]fter a Baltimore Sun lawsuit forced Angelos to disclose his billing records, the public learned that the lawyer (and Orioles owner) had used $12-an-hour lawyers from a temp agency for nearly 25 percent of the hours he billed. From $12 to $15,000 is a markup of 1,250,000 [sic] percent.” (Phillip Bissett (Baltimore Regional Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse), Washington Post, Aug. 13). Reader A. J. Thieblot of Baltimore points out that the actual markup number, based on the above calculations, was in fact only 125,000 percent, so in fact Angelos “showed restraint … Doesn’t that make you feel better about him?”

October 16-17 — Fed prosecutors chafe at state ethics rules. Two years ago Congress passed a law requiring U.S. Attorneys to obey the ethical rules applicable to lawyers in the states in which they work. The bill was named after its sponsor, Pennsylvania Republican Joseph McDade, who became a critic of overzealous prosecution after the Justice Department targeted him in an eight-year racketeering probe which ended in his acquittal by a jury. The new law is having a major effect in some states: in Oregon, for example, the state supreme court has forbidden all lawyers as an ethical matter to lie, cheat, or misrepresent themselves. Federal prosecutors complain that kind of restriction deprives them of many cherished investigative techniques, but House Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) says he’s not inclined to repeal the McDade law. (Chitra Ragavan, “Federally speaking, a fine kettle of fish”, U.S. News & World Report, Oct. 16).

October 16-17 — Hasty tire judgments. Does Ford’s Explorer suffer a higher rate of tire-related accidents even when equipped with Goodyear tires, as opposed to the Firestones implicated in the recent furor? Last Monday the Washington Post reported that it did, only to report two days later that some of the vehicles in the data base it had been looking at were equipped with Firestones after all. “In its rush to judge the Explorer a deathtrap, the Post engaged in what social scientists call ‘confirmation bias.”” writes Jack Shafer of Slate (“The Washington Post Blows the Blowout Story”, Slate, Oct. 11; Dan Keating and Caroline E. Mayer, “Explorer Has Higher Rate of Tire Accidents”, Washington Post, Oct. 9; “Ford Cites Flaws in Tire Data”, Oct. 11).

Should the tire problem have been obvious from road statistics? It may depend on how you slice those statistics, says mathematician John Allen Paulos: crashes associated with tire failure are so rare as a percentage of all crashes that it can be easy to lose them in the data (“Statistics and Wrongdoing”, ABC News, Oct. 1). Reports of accidents and deaths “linked to” the tires flooded into the federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration after the furor broke, not because the crash rate had suddenly jumped, but because informants rushed to inform the agency of previously unreported older cases; and the phrase “linked to” itself elides issues of causation that can be resolved only by case-by-case investigation (Dan Ackman, “Tire Deaths Linked To Tough Questions”, Forbes.com, Sept. 7).

Also shedding light on the degree to which the origin of the tire problems remains less than fully obvious: “[p]laintiff’s lawyers have been trading theories, information and documents for more than a year in lawsuits related to the tires”, the news-side Wall Street Journal‘s Milo Geyelin reported in August, but “so far they have yet to reach a consensus”. Some think the lower tire pressure recommended by Ford is a key factor, others downplay its significance; there’s no agreement as to whether the problem is specific to tires manufactured at Firestone’s Decatur, Ill. plant; and so on. (Milo Geyelin, “Theories Mount Regarding Root of Tire Defects”, Wall Street Journal, Aug. 23 (fee-based archive)). See also Melanie Wells and Robyn Meredith, “Nothing Comes Between Me and My SUV”, Forbes.com, Oct. 16; FindLaw page on tire litigation.

October 16-17 — “Judge Lenient With Perjurer, Cites Clinton Case”. “Chief U.S. District Judge James A. Parker told prosecutors last week that it was unfair of them to ask for a strict prison sentence in a New Mexico perjury case, pointing out that President Clinton recently asked for leniency for lying under oath.” Ruben Renteria Sr. had been acquitted of drug conspiracy but was convicted on a count of perjury related to the investigation. (Guillermo Contreras, Albuquerque Journal, Oct. 14) (via Drudge).

October 13-15 — Place kicker awarded $2 million. “A jury awarded a female place-kicker $2 million in punitive damages Thursday, ruling Duke University cut her from the team solely because of her gender.” Heather Sue Mercer, a walk-on player, had sued for damages that included emotional distress, humiliation and periods of depression after being dropped from the college team. Team members testified that Mercer was not a powerful kicker; the jury voted her $1 in compensatory damages and $2 million in punitives. (“Jury rules Mercer was cut because of gender”, AP/ESPN, Oct. 12; Reuters/Yahoo; “Ex-coach says he admired kicker’s ‘spunk'”, AP/ESPN, Oct. 11; “Woman sues Duke over being cut from team”, Oct. 4). Update Dec. 30, 2002: appeals court overturns punitive damage component of verdict. See also Nov. 3-5 commentary.

October 13-15 — (Civil court) policeman to the world. Among the many foreign powers and principalities considered suitable targets for correction by way of lawsuits in American courtrooms: perpetrators of ethnic atrocities in Bosnia (“Jury returns $4.5 billion verdict against ex-Bosnian Serb leader Karadzic”, AP/CNN, Sept. 26); Chinese dictators who repressed pro-democracy demonstrators in Tienanmen Square (Edward Wong, “Chinese Leader Sued in New York Over Deaths Stemming From Tiananmen Crackdown”, New York Times, Sept. 1); Cuba, Iran, and other regimes that sponsor acts of terrorism in third countries (“Senate votes to allow compensation for terror victims, re-authorizes Violence Against Women Act”, CNN.com, Oct. 11; Seth Lipsky, “Justice for Alisa”, Opinion Journal (WSJ), Sept. 27); and OPEC, for fixing the international price of oil, which would become an offense suable in American courts under a bill okayed by a Senate panel (“Senate panel bill would allow lawsuit against OPEC”, Reuters/FindLaw, Sept. 21). Few of the American backers of these legal actions have been eager to point out the mirror-image corollary they would logically entail, namely suits against our own government and its elected officials in the courts of unfriendly foreign nations.

October 13-15 — Man sues over “Ladies’ Nights”. Christopher Langdon, a 48-year-old businessman, has filed federal lawsuits against nearly a dozen Orlando bars saying that their offering of “Ladies’ Night” discounts to women constitutes unlawful sex discrimination. He wants up to $100,000 and an end to the promotions. (Tyler Gray, “Man makes his move on ladies night”, Orlando Sentinel, Oct. 10).

October 13-15 — “Philly looking for a few good lawsuits”. More reaction to the plans of Philadelphia’s city solicitor Kenneth Trujillo, a class-action specialist, to establish a special legal strike force to hit up business defendants for money through offensive litigation (see Oct. 5). Quotes our editor (Patrick Riley, Fox News, Oct. 10).

October 13-15 — “Stop driving my car”. If you live in one of five states — New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine, and Iowa — “vicarious liability” laws make you automatically liable for the driving of anyone to whom you lend your car, even if the borrower has a clean record and there are no other advance signs of trouble. (In other states, lawyers who want to sue you as the owner must allege that you were at fault in some way.) The laws also apply to rent-a-car companies, putting them in an especially tough position since laws in some of the same states make it virtually impossible for them to turn away most prospective renters (James T. Riley, Citizens for a Sound Economy, Oct. 2).

October 12 — Wal-Mart wins female Santa case. “The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights has ruled that a Wal-Mart in Morganfield did not discriminate against Marta Brown when it forbid her from portraying Old St. Nick in December 1995.” (Chris Poynter, “Wal-Mart had right to stop female Santa”, Louisville Courier-Journal, Oct. 10).

October 12 — “All about Erin”. “It took a few months for the investigative journalists to overtake the Hollywood dream spinners, but by now it’s been pretty well established: What got left out of the blockbuster movie Erin Brockovich (now available at a video store near you) was in many ways juicier than what got put in.” Our editor’s latest column in Reason explains (October). Also: Michael Fumento of the Hudson Institute returns to the warpath (“Errin’ Brockovich”, American Outlook, Summer).

October 12 — Forfeiture-reform initiatives. Voters in three states, Massachusetts, Utah and Oregon, will consider initiatives that would curb the controversial law enforcement technique. “The ballot measures would, in effect, require law enforcement to prove that a crime had occurred before property could be forfeited. And drug money, instead of going back to police, would be sent to a public education fund in Utah and drug treatment funds in Oregon and Massachusetts.” (Karen Dillon, “Ballot initiatives seek to change forfeiture laws in three states”, Kansas City Star, Oct. 8; see May 25). National Post columnist David Frum asks some basic questions about the drug war in Canada and the U.S. (“Target ‘victims’ to solve the drug problem”, Sept. 9). And the name of Lebanon, Tennessee resident John Adams, 64, was added to the list of “collateral damage” drug war casualties when police officers mistook his house for one cited in a drug warrant, burst in and shot him dead. “It was a severe, costly mistake,” said the Lebanon police chief. “They were not the target of our investigation. We hate that it happened.” (Warren Duzak, “Innocent man dies in police blunder”, Nashville Tennesseean, Oct. 6).

October 12 — Political notes: friend to the famous. “Our Managing Partner John Eddie Williams [one of the Big Five trial lawyers who are splitting a $3.3 billion fee for representing Texas in the tobacco-Medicaid litigation — see May 22, Sept. 1] and his wife Sheridan welcomed the first lady to their Houston home in August [1999]. Fifty guests enjoyed dinner with Hillary Rodham Clinton, who spent two days in Texas raising money for the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee and her own exploratory committee. The Williams’ home has been visited in the past by other well known workers on Capitol Hill including Vice President Al Gore, Sen. Edward Kennedy and Sen. Barbara Boxer. Ms. Clinton said she would be pleased to be an adopted senator for Texas Democrats.” (“Hillary Rodham Clinton Visits Williams’ Home”, from the Williams, Bailey law firm’s “Letter of the Law” newsletter, Oct. 1999 (displays correctly in IE, has trouble in Netscape — Netscape users might try “View Source”)) (top Texas soft money donors).

October 11 — Brownout, Shivers & Dim, attorneys at law. “[T]he nation’s energy producers, even those proposing to meet the surging demand for electricity with the cleanest types of power plants, find themselves stymied by environmental groups concerned about pollution and damage to natural resources.” Hydroelectric plants, bird-menacing windmill farms (“Condor Cuisinarts”) and natural-gas-fueled turbines (ugly-looking) have all run into opposition from enviros, and don’t even think of asking them to consider coal or nuclear. “‘Bottom line,’ says Sen. Slade Gorton, a Washington Republican who often sides with the power industry, ‘whatever suggestion you make, they find something wrong with it and bring more lawsuits.'” (Jim Carlton, “Electricity Crunch May Force The U.S. Into Tough Tradeoffs”, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 10) (subscriber-only site).

October 11 — Curse of the dummy’s kiss. In Hammond, Indiana, Brenda Nelson has filed a federal lawsuit against the American Red Cross, saying she “contracted herpes after giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to an improperly sanitized mannequin.” (“Woman sues Red Cross, alleging she contracted herpes from CPR dummy”, AP/FindLaw, Oct. 10). (Update Dec. 7: she drops case)

October 11 — New Hampshire chief justice acquitted. By a wide margin, the Granite State’s senate declined to convict the state’s highest judicial officer, David Brock, on any of several counts against him (see April 5). (“Brock acquitted overwhelmingly”, AP/Concord Monitor, Oct. 10).

October 11 — NLRB lurches left. The National Labor Relations Board, according to Republican and business critics, acts as if it wants to yank labor law as far left as it can before the Clinton term ends. Among its more dramatic recent decisions were one in July making it a labor law violation to question a nonunion worker in a disciplinary context without allowing him to have present a co-worker of his choosing, and one in August facilitating the unionization of temporary workers (Michael D. Goldhaber, “Is NLRB in a Pro-Labor Mood?”, National Law Journal, Oct. 4; Julie Kay, “The Buddy System”, Miami Daily Business Review, Sept. 8). Meanwhile, a General Accounting Office study has found that businesses undergoing labor strife are six and a half times as likely as other businesses to be made the targets of inspection by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, bolstering employer suspicions that unions often use OSHA inspections as a weapon to make employers’ lives difficult (“Worker Protection: OSHA Inspections at Establishments Experiencing Labor Unrest”, GAO, August (PDF)).

October 11 — Welcome visitors. Among sites that link to Overlawyered.com are the Clatsop County (Ore.) Coastal Voice, the Zoh Hieronymus show, the CBEL.com alternative media guide, Flangy, iRights, SkeptiNews and What’s On It For Me? weblogs, Cindy Furnare’s Conservative Education Forum, Wisconsin Democratic Congressional candidate Mike Clawson (MikeforCongress.com), the Alexander County (N.C.) Republican Party, the Idaho, Illinois and Wisconsin Libertarian parties, and firearms sites The Gunnery, PaulRevere.org, RKBA Legal Docket, and SaferGunsNow.org.


October 31 — Foster care abuses: taxpayers to owe billions? Injury lawyers plan a major push to develop damage lawsuits against government on behalf of children harmed under foster care, the New York Times reports. Florida tobacco-fee magnate Robert Montgomery (see Apr. 12) and other movers and shakers are encouraged by “court rulings that make government agencies easier to sue and sizable jury awards in foster care cases”. A lawyer with the National Center for Youth Law, part of the network of legal services groups that philanthropic foundations, organized lawyerdom, and taxpayers have all had occasion to support generously over the years, is cited saying that “groups like his had become more open to alliances with personal injury lawyers”. Suits often allege that different placement choices or more vigorous intervention by social workers might have prevented beatings, neglect or molestation of youngsters in foster care. States fear taking the cases to trial: “They’re very difficult cases to defend in front of juries because juries often have the benefit of 20-20 hindsight,” says a lawyer for the state of Washington, where “government payouts in civil cases in general have quadrupled in six years”. “Some officials, including Kathleen A. Kearney, the secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families, say such litigation unfairly detracts from continuing efforts to improve child welfare, diverting resources that legislatures, not courts, should control.” (Nina Bernstein, “Foster-Child Advocates Gain Allies in Injury Lawyers”, New York Times, Oct. 27) (reg). See also Aug. 23-24 (billions demanded in lawsuits over Canadian residential schools).

October 31 — Tales from the tow zone. “A Dallas-area jury has ordered Chrysler Corp. and a local dealership to pay $83.5 million to a Texas couple who charged that the defendants misled them on the towing capacity of the Dodge Ram pickup truck they bought.” The couple did not suffer physical injury from the towing-force deficit, but argued that because the vehicle turned out not to be strong enough to pull horse trailers, they lost their equine transport business and the husband subsequently suffered depression. Nearly all of the award, $82.5 million, was in punitive damages; Texas’s limits on that category of damages, much deplored by trial lawyers, make it likely that the actual payout to the couple will not exceed $2.4 million, assuming they prevail in Chrysler’s planned appeal. (Margaret Cronin Fisk, “Jury Tags Chrysler for $83 Million”, National Law Journal, Oct. 5).

October 31 — Fat tax proposed in New Zealand. The proposal, floated by public health activists down under in the country’s Medical Journal, got a cool reception from the Kiwi health minister as well as from people in the farming and meat businesses. The idea was hailed as worth considering, however, by a medical adviser to the country’s Heart Foundation. It would apply a saturated-fat tax to such food items as butter, cheese, meat and milk, the “full-cream” variety in particular (Al Gore isn’t the only one campaigning against the “top one percent”). (Martin Johnston, “Fat-tax plan to reduce disease”, New Zealand Herald, Oct. 30).

October 30 — Netscape “Best of ‘What’s Cool'”. Last month Overlawyered.com was one of the picks on Netscape’s popular “Cool Sitings of the Day”, and this weekend we were featured in its “Best of ‘What’s Cool'”, with another flood of newcomers resulting.

October 30 — Ohio high court races. Buckeye State voters next week will decide on the hotly contested re-election bid of Democratic state supreme court justice Alice Robie Resnick, a key member of the court’s 4-3 liberal majority; also seeking re-election is Republican Deborah Cook, who has voted on the opposite side from Resnick in several controversial cases. Bone of contention number one is last year’s decision in which Resnick and three other justices relied on a strained reading of the state constitution to strike down the liability reforms passed by that state’s legislature (see Aug. 17 and Aug. 18, 1999), a move highly welcome to the Ohio Academy of Trial Lawyers, which has supported Resnick’s re-election. Also at issue are a series of other Ohio Supreme Court decisions that have outraged the state’s business community, including a line of cases holding that commercial auto insurance policies by which companies cover their employees’ work-related driving can be made to pay for accidents suffered by the employees and their families in their own cars on their own time. (Scott-Pontzer v. Liberty Mutual (Ohio PIA); Charles T. McConville, “The Ohio Supreme Court, Your Business and Its Insurance”, Ohio Matters (Ohio Chamber of Commerce), Nov./Dec. ’99; Ohio Chamber of Commerce Court 2000 page). In some ways the hard-fought Ohio contest is the mirror image of the one in Michigan, where trial lawyers and labor unions have mounted a major effort to knock off conservative justices Clifford Taylor, Robert Young and Stephen Markman in next week’s vote (see Aug. 25-27, May 9, Jan. 31).

MORE: editorials, Cincinnati Post, Sept. 30, and Cleveland Plain Dealer, Oct. 29; Spencer Hunt, “Business, GOP work to boot Resnick”, Cincinnati Enquirer, June 25; William Glaberson, “A Spirited Campaign for Ohio Court Puts Judges on New Terrain”, New York Times, July 7 (reg); websites of Justice Alice Robie Resnick (incumbent) and challenger Terrence O’Donnell, Justice Deborah Cook (incumbent) and challenger Tim Black. The Ohio Chamber of Commerce has come under fire for supporting a group that has run hardball advertising against Resnick: Lee Leonard, “Sideswiping political ads ought to be ruled out of bounds”, Columbus Dispatch, Oct. 23; Randy Ludlow, “Resnick attack is ugly”, Cincinnati Post, Oct. 21 (DURABLE LINK).

October 30 — Cornfield maze as zoning violation. Zoning authorities in Snydersville, Pa. have sent a violation notice to father and son farmers Jake and Stuart Klingel. Their offense? Carving a maze through their cornfield and opening it to the public. (“Going in Circles?”, AP/Fox News, Oct. 6).

October 30 — $20 million for insolvency trustee? “Former Securities & Exchange Commission chairman Richard Breeden, 50, could make more than $20 million as the court-appointed trustee of Syracuse’s fraudulent, failed Bennett Funding Group. While a judge has the final say, Breeden could get a statutory 3% of what he recovers for creditors, less $642,000 in annual salary and expenses, and less a one-time $250,000 bonus. To investors facing an 82% haircut, he snaps, ‘I’m worth every penny of it.'” (Dorothy Pomerantz, “The Informer: Make That Breeden Funding”, Forbes, Sept. 4).

October 27-29 — “Lawyer take all”. Just as lawyers used to be barred from taking contingency stakes in their clients’ lawsuits lest they be tempted to push overly aggressive positions on their behalf, so they used to be discouraged from taking equity stakes in businesses they advised, lest they be tempted to assist in regulatory evasion or sharp financial practices. “In time, the dollar signs got bigger than the ethical misgivings.” Now, following major windfalls obtained by California tech lawyers who took holdings in clients’ stock, big law firms on the East Coast are rushing to emulate the practice. (Chana Schoenberger, Forbes, Oct. 16).

October 27-29 —“Yankees Must Step Up to Plate in Civil Rights Action”. A judge has ordered to trial a case filed against the New York Yankees by a black woman who says she was told she could not enter the stadium restaurant wearing only a tank top, although once inside she noticed white women dressed in that manner. “The club’s dress code, which is printed outside the entrance to the club and on the back of the admission pass, prohibits the wearing of ‘tank tops . . . thongs or any other abbreviated attire.'” Lawyers for the Yankees said the plaintiff, V. Whitney Joseph, was let into the restaurant after she went back to her car and put on a t-shirt, and said the brief inconvenience should not be enough to support a federal lawsuit, but a judge said Joseph should be allowed to reach a jury with her claim that the dress code had been inconsistently applied. (Michael A. Riccardi, New York Law Journal, Oct. 20).

October 27-29 — Judge rules against Tattered Cover. Fears about free expression notwithstanding, a Denver judge has ruled that the city’s famed Tattered Cover book store can be forced to turn over customer purchase records to narcotics police seeking to identify the owner of two books on drug manufacturing found at the scene of an illegal methamphetamine laboratory (see April 28). (Susan Greene, “Judge: Cops can seize bookstore records”, Denver Post, Oct. 21).

October 27-29 — Patients’ Bill of Wrongs. “The ground is thus set for an uneasy alliance between the physicians who staff HMOs and MCOs and health care consumer organizations. Both, for different reasons, would like to neuter the managed care organizations by removing from their management teams the power to control physician practice. Yet by so doing, they do more than remove excessive intervention. They necessarily compromise, perhaps fatally, the critical cost containment functions that these organizations must supply if they are to survive at all. . . . In the short run, physicians will love the creation of a system that promises a restoration of their autonomy and insulates them from the costs of their mistakes after they settle their case out cheaply. . . . But in truth a rather different agenda is at work here, which becomes evident from looking at the one exclusion to the proposed Patients Bill of Rights. It seems not to apply to the United States Government in its role as the provider of health care services through Medicare or Medicaid. The proposals therefore are designed to cripple the private programs which compete in the political arena with government-supplied health care.” (Richard Epstein (University of Chicago Law School), “Managed Care Liability”, Manhattan Institute Civil Justice Memo #39, Sept.)

October 26 — Lab mice paperwork. “In a couple of years, medical progress could come to a screeching halt when it slams up against new regulations to be written by the Agriculture Department. The regs will extend the Animal Welfare Act to the millions of mice, rats, and birds used in lab experiments. When that happens, researchers will have to file papers for each individual critter. By the time they get through with the paperwork they might have just enough time to turn out the lights before going home.

“This all results from a settlement the Department made with the Alternatives Research and Development Foundation (an arm of the Anti-Vivisection Society) and Kristine Gausz, a psychology student at (really) Beaver College. Ms. Gausz said in an affidavit that the sight of rats being ‘subject to deplorable living conditions’ was ‘an assault on her senses’ that left her ‘personally, aesthetically, emotionally, and profoundly disturbed.’… Perhaps the next thing medical researchers should try to find is a cure for the common lawsuit.” (“Leash lawsuit” (editorial), Richmond Times-Dispatch, Oct. 23).

October 26 — Drunk-driving standards nationalized. Dealing a blow to principles of local control as well as rural hospitality, the federal government will arm-twist all states into adopting 0.08 blood alcohol standards by 2004 under legislation just signed by President Clinton as part of a transportation bill. “The .08 percent limit is clearly only a way station on the road to making life miserable for social drinkers. MADD’s [Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s] Web site now calls for lowering the BAC limit to .05 percent,” writes Providence Journal columnist Froma Harrop (“Phonies for .08 – Harassment of social drinkers”, Oct. 8; “Clinton signs bill to lower drunken driving standards”, AP/Dallas Morning News, Oct. 23).

October 26 — New unfairness for old. Don’t assume voters or politicians are anti-gay just because they harbor doubts about setting up sexual orientation as a new category in job bias law, as would happen under the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). “Why does the term ‘special rights’ have such political potency? Because by now most people have had personal experience with the way employment discrimination laws operate. Members of protected classes are not equal, they’re super-equal, enjoying extra job security and other job-related privileges not afforded the average worker.” Quotes our editor (Robyn Blumner, “Laws Aimed at Correcting Discrimination Have Created New Types of Unfairness”, Tribune Media/Salt Lake Tribune, Oct. 20). See also Nigel Ashford, “Equal Rights, Not Gay Rights“, reprinted at Independent Gay Forum.

October 25 — “Power lawyers may sue for reparations”. More details about the plans of Willie Gary and other lawyers to file lawsuits demanding trillions of dollars in black reparations (see Letters, Oct. 19). Planned are “a series of suits against the U.S. government, states, corporations and individuals who continue to benefit from slavery’s aftermath.” Participants “met last month in Washington at Transafrica, a lobbying group that monitors U.S. policy in Africa and the Caribbean, and plan to continue meeting monthly until a strategy is formed.” Participants include Richard Scruggs, Johnnie Cochran, Jr., Harvard Law’s Charles Ogletree, author Randall Robinson, “Alexander Pires of Washington, who won a $1 billion settlement for black farmers in a discrimination case against the U.S. Department of Agriculture; … and Dennis Sweet of Jackson, Miss., who won a $400 million settlement in the fen-phen diet drug case last year.” Sweet “also plans to sue history book publishers that give blacks short shrift,” which suggests that he himself may give the First Amendment short shrift. “We are a nation of litigators. That’s what we do. We go to court,” said Harper’s editor Jack Hitt. (Amy Martinez, Palm Beach Post, Oct. 23).

October 25 — “Laptop lawsuit: Toshiba, feds settle”. Piling on the $1 billion-plus class action settlement, the U.S. government is now extracting money from Toshiba over its flawed laptops. Still in very short supply: evidence that the glitch caused data loss in any real-world situations (Reuters/ZDNet, Oct. 13, with reader discussion).

October 25 — South Carolina tobacco fees: how to farm money. Lawyers who represented the state of South Carolina in the Medicaid-recoupment litigation will get a whopping $82.5 million; it wasn’t easy to argue that the mostly pro-tobacco Palmetto State had been instrumental in nailing the cigarette industry, but the lawyers found a golden rationale for large fees in their having been assigned to speak up for the interests of tobacco farmers like those in South Carolina. Since lawyers representing late-to-sue North Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee (see May 2) are also reportedly making the we-represented-farmers argument in their own fee quest, the tobacco caper may go down in history as the most richly compensated instance ever of farmer “representation” — with no need for any control of the attorneys by actual farmers, of course. The secretive arbitration panel voted along its now-familiar two-to-one lines, with dissenter Charles Renfrew charging that the award was a windfall and “grossly excessive”, but as usual being outvoted by the other two panel members. (“Panel says $82.5 million lawyers’ fees are fair”, AP/CNN.com, Oct. 24).

October 24 — Turn of the screw. Revealing article in Philadelphia Inquirer magazine tells the story in detail of how lawyers whipped up mass litigation against companies that make screws used for bone-setting in spinal and other orthopedic surgery, alleging that the devices caused all manner of dreadful injuries. As so often the mass client recruiting got under way in earnest after a scary and misleading report on network TV, this time on ABC’s “20/20”, attacked the product as unsafe. Since most orthopedic surgeons continued to favor the screws’ use, lawyers turned for assistance to a Texas dermatologist who had gone to prison and lost his medical license in the 1980s for illegal distribution of prescription drugs, and who after release had set up shop as a go-between for lawyers who needed medical experts. After this physician “attended an organizational meeting with plaintiffs’ lawyers in Philadelphia, about 20 lawyers with bone screw cases enlisted his services,” and he proceeded to locate for them a Florida orthopedic surgeon who then cranked out about 550 opinions for the lawyers’ use — without actually examining the patients on whose behalf they were suing. “Invariably, [he] concluded, with scant explanation, that bone screws caused injury.” Eventually, Judge Louis Bechtle barred all 550 of the Florida doctor’s reports after one of the doctor’s employees testified that she’d been ordered to destroy tapes of telephone calls in which the Texas dermatologist/expert recruiter had dictated the language of the medical reports he expected the doctor to submit.

According to other sworn depositions, plaintiffs who rejected lawyers’ entreaties to sue were surprised to learn that cases had been filed in their names anyway; this happened, for example, to patients from California, Pennsylvania and Minnesota who did not blame the screws for their health problems. “There were no consequences for the lawyers who filed those suits.” Most of the story is told through the eyes of the best-known defendant in the cases, a company named Sofamor Danek, which chose to fight rather than pay; eventually it enjoyed outstanding success in repelling the suits, losing only one of 3,200 cases it faced, that one currently on appeal. But its vindication has come at a steep cost: $75 million in legal expenses, and who knows what unquantifiable costs. No wonder one of its competitors, AcroMed, gave up and agreed to pay $100 million to resolve 5,000 of the actions. (L. Stuart Ditzen, “The bone screw files”, Inquirer magazine (Philadelphia Inquirer), Aug. 27; David F. Fardon, M.D., “President’s Message”, North American Spine Society, Jan. 1997; “Third Circuit Denies Request for Mandamus Relief in Pedicle Screw Suits”, NASS, Jan. 1998).

MORE: The Health Research Group of Ralph Nader’s Public Citizen established a clearinghouse for plaintiff’s lawyers suing screw manufacturers, among other clearinghouses it runs for plaintiff’s lawyers, and whose goals include that of “generat[ing] media attention for the pertinent issue”. Among support groups for those who believe themselves victimized by the devices is Pedicle Screw’d. The North American Spine Society, a professional organization, was named as a defendant in many lawsuits because of its educational seminars on the use of screws, which lawyers charged were really a conspiracy to promote the devices.

October 24 — Monitor vote fraud, get sued for “intimidation”. Although ballot box irregularities, 109-percent precinct turnouts and other indicators of vote fraud continue as a very definite problem around the country, “anyone who combats vote fraud comes in for abuse. The Justice Department has become expert at raising cries of ‘voter intimidation’ at any attempt to monitor polling places. Last week Justice dispatched investigators to Fort Worth, Texas, merely because a political activist there distributed leaflets alleging Democrats were casting absentee ballots on behalf of shut-in voters. When the Miami Herald won a Pulitzer Prize for its reporting on the fraud in that city’s mayoral election, the Pulitzer jury noted it had been subject to ‘a public campaign accusing the paper of ethnic bias and attempted intimidation.’ Local officials who’ve tried to purge voter rolls of felons and noncitizens have been hit with nuisance lawsuits alleging civil-rights abuse.” (John Fund, “Political Diary: Phantom Voters”, Opinion Journal (WSJ), Oct. 23).

October 23 — Election roundup. “If you’re a swing voter, vacillating between Bush and Gore, here’s one compelling reason to vote for the former: tort reform,” writes New York Press editor Russ Smith in his “Mugger” column. He cites the recent hot-pickle case (see Oct. 10) and says the “simple solution” is loser-pays (“Gore’s Next Move?”, Oct. 16 (see item #2). “If trial lawyers had a dashboard saint, it would be Ralph Nader“, but this time around they’re not giving him money, lest they take votes away from their favorite: despite Gore’s selection of a running mate with strong legal reform credentials, “trial lawyers are so anxious to see the vice president elected, I doubt very seriously if [Lieberman] will make one bit of difference,” says ATLA president Fred Baron. (Bob Van Voris, “The Politics of the Practical”, Corporate Counsel/Law.com, Oct. 19). Governor Bush’s proposal to protect educators against needless lawsuits wins applause from New York Post columnist Arnold Ahlert (“Dubya Stood Up To Parents, Too”, Oct. 20). If Vice President Gore in his current demagoguish attack-mode were handed a big bill for his child’s orthodontia, he might start railing against “Big Dentistry”: “In the end, Gore’s cartoonish view of big business does a disservice both to him and to the American people. He knows life is more complicated than he’s letting on,” write Steven Syre and Charles Stein of the Boston Globe (“Gore proves big on bashing big business”, Sept. 28). And in West Virginia, where asbestos trial lawyer Jim Humphreys had previously been thought a prohibitive favorite for a U.S. House seat after spending an eye-popping $5 million on his campaign, Republican candidate Shelley Moore Capito, daughter of a former governor, is putting up a surprisingly strong race and might pull off an upset in what’s shaping up as an unusually strong year for the GOP in the mountain state (Matthew Rees, “Will West Virginia Go Republican?”, Weekly Standard, Oct. 23, not online).

October 23 — Wheelchair marathon suit. After getting sued last year, the New York Road Runners Club, which organizes the New York City Marathon, agreed to establish a separate division of the race for entrants in wheelchairs, and award trophies to the winners. That wasn’t enough to keep it from being sued again, this time by six disabled entrants who complained that the club violated the Americans With Disabilities Act “by moving the marathon start time for 60 disabled people not in wheelchairs from 8 a.m. to 8:40 a.m.”, a less convenient time for some entrants since it might require them to finish after dark. The man coordinating the wheelchair side of the 26.5 mile event, which will be held November 5, called the new lawsuit “unbelievable” and “truly frivolous.” (“Lawyer Criticizes ‘Disabled’ Suit”, AP/FindLaw, Oct. 19).

October 23 — No breast cancer link. A major federal study recently helped lay to final rest fears of an association between silicone breast implants and breast cancer, yet the federal agency in charge seems to have gone out of its way not to publicize the reassuring results. (Denise Dowling, “Covering up the breast”, Salon.com, Oct. 9). See also Nov. 29; Stuart Bondurant et al, “Safety of Silicone Breast Implants”, Institute of Medicine, 1999; “Off the Lawyers’ Reservation” (profile of Kathleen Anneken), The American Enterprise, Sept./Oct. 1998).

October 20-22 — Product liability criminalized? Green presidential candidate Ralph Nader has called for criminal prosecutions in the Firestone case, where failed tires have been blamed for more than 100 highway deaths. “A Harvard-Brookings Institution study estimates that the downsizing of vehicles caused by fuel economy standards results annually in 2,200 to 3,900 deaths,” notes a Detroit News editorial. “Consumer advocates like Mr. Nader support these fuel efficiency standards and want them increased, which could kill more people. The question becomes: Should certain consumer advocates be accused of criminal neglect?” (“How Many Deaths Are Truly Criminal?”, Detroit News, Oct. 14). Cartoonist Henry Payne, of the same paper, has a similar take on the matter of federal mandating of airbags, which turned out to harm numerous children: Oct. 12 (via Junk Science).

The U.S. Congress has rushed to act before its adjournment on a new federal law criminalizing some product safety matters, but the Federalist Society Criminal Law & Procedure Group earlier this month sponsored a discussion on Capitol Hill which took a dim view of the idea. “Most criminal statutes punish only where there is evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that a prohibited act was performed with mens rea, the guilty mind. … the proposed legislation is broad in its importation into penal law of the state of mind and knowledge standards of civil products liability law,” argued George Terwilliger (White & Case). Michael Krauss (George Mason U.) pointed out that the increased use of criminal charges in aviation accidents is now seriously hampering investigations after crashes given participants’ reluctance to cooperate and right to invoke the Fifth Amendment against having to testify in cases of criminal (as opposed to civil) jeopardy (see Sept. 6). Legislation to stiffen criminal penalties in product cases has passed both Houses this month, though its terms do not go as far as some of the earlier proposals. (“U.S. House Passes Tire Legislation”, Reuters/FindLaw, Oct. 11). See also Bob Van Voris, “Tire Deaths: Criminal Acts?”, National Law Journal, Sept. 11.

October 20-22 — CueCat’s legal claws. The CueCat is a new little gadget that works on the principle of a personal barcode scanner; its maker has sent it out free to subscribers of Forbes and Wired, Radio Shack catalogue customers, and others, for the purpose of making advertising more interactive (you scan a barcode on the ad, and a related webpage comes up in your browser). Realizing that a working personal barcode scanner would have many uses other than ad-linking, Linux programmers promptly reverse engineered the device and published code which makes the CueCat usable for other scanning tasks, such as keeping inventories. CueCat’s maker, a company called Digital Convergence, objects to the reverse engineering and has also made legal rumblings hinting that in its view ordinary consumers may not have a right to use the device for purposes other than the intended one — even though the general rule is that if someone sends you an item through the mails for free, you’re at liberty to use it as you wish. (Neil McAllister, “The Clause of the CueCat Legal Language Could Shut Down Hardware Tinkerers”, SFGate, Oct. 11).

October 20-22 — Sweepstakes, for sure. Last month class action lawyers extracted a $33 million settlement from American Family Publishers, plus $8 million in legal fees, over allegedly deceptive practices in its magazine-selling sweepstakes. “Refunds will be distributed among the more than 143,000 people who filed claims. The refunds will be allocated in proportion to the claimants’ purchases in excess of $40 per year or ‘their total purchases influenced by the belief that a purchase was either necessary to win or enhanced their chances of winning,'” though it is not explained how it will be possible to verify claimants’ self-reports of having been influenced by such beliefs. Among the plaintiff’s-side law firms expected to split the fees are the Belleville, Ill. firm of Steven Katz (see Nov. 4, 1999) and San Francisco’s Lieff, Cabraser. Time Inc., a defendant in the action and the owner of sweepstakes firm Magazine Associates, will be footing the bill; American Family Enterprises is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. (Mary P. Gallagher, “Sweepstakes Class Action Settles for $33M, and $8M in Legal Fees”, New Jersey Law Journal, Sept. 19).

October 20-22 — ABA as liberal lobby. Boston Globe columnist Jennifer Braceras says it’s past time to end the American Bar Association’s gatekeeper status in accrediting law schools: “the ABA is not a trade association dedicated to preserving the integrity of the legal profession [but] a political lobbying group that represents the interests of a small, but powerful, liberal elite.” (“Call the ABA what it is: a liberal lobbying group”, Oct. 19).

May 2000 archives


May 10 — Another billion, snuffed. You don’t have to be a Microsoft shareholder to wonder whether antitrust law has become a destabilizing influence on the business world. In late March a Paducah, Ky. federal jury ordered U.S. Tobacco, the number one maker of snuff and chewing tobacco, to pay a staggering $1.05 billion to its smaller competitor Conwood in an antitrust dispute. UST, whose annual sales are $1.5 billion — meaning that the verdict equals the entire gross revenue it takes in over eight months of a year — makes such brands as Skoal and Copenhagen, while Conwood manufactures the Kodiak brand. The finding of $350 million in damages will be automatically trebled under antitrust law if not overturned. “Both companies accused each other of removing display racks from stores, making under-the-table cash rebates to win retailers and holding strategy sessions to plot out how to eliminate the other from the lucrative retail-checkout market.” (No! Not strategy sessions!) In addition, “Conwood attorneys accused U.S. Tobacco of spreading rumors that Conwood’s snuff contained stems and was stale.” (“U.S. Tobacco Co. Faces $1.05B Payout”, AP/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 29; Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson, “US tobacco group faces possible $1bn payout”, Financial Times, March 30)

May 10 — Court okays suit against “flagging” of test conditions. In San Francisco, federal judge William Orrick Jr. has rejected a motion to dismiss a case in which Oakland-based Disability Rights Advocates is suing the Educational Testing Service, charging that it’s discriminatory for ETS to “flag” test scores taken under special conditions. “Accommodations” such as extra or unlimited time, the right to have questions explained, and the right to use calculators have become common in recent years following the aggressive use of disabled-rights law by test-takers; in a majority of cases the operative diagnosis is not a traditional disability such as blindness or paraplegia, but one such as learning disability or attention deficit disorder. If the lawsuit succeeds in banishing the loathed asterisk, test-takers will win the right to conceal from downstream institutions, such as medical schools and employers, the fact that a particular result was achieved with extra time or other assistance. (Michael Breen, “ETS Discrimination Case Goes Forward”, The Recorder/CalLaw, April 14).

DRA director of litigation Sid Wolinsky is also representing parents in a challenge to the state of Oregon’s refusal to allow test-takers to use automatic spell-check on statewide exams. “I see an enormous amount of potential litigation” ahead on such issues, he says. In Woburn, Mass., some special-needs students are given the whole day to complete a writing exam normally administered in ninety minutes, another indication that “two national movements [are] on a collision course: disability rights and educational standards.” (Daniel Golden, “Meet Edith, 16; She Plans to Spell-Check Her State Writing Test”, Wall Street Journal, Jan. 21 (fee-based archive)).

May 10 — This side of parodies. Infant wins one-billionth-litigant prize as America adopts as new motto “It’s not my fault” (Paul Campos, “Everyone suits up for latest litigation”, Rocky Mountain News, May 2). Grim news you always feared about “gateway sodas”: (“Mountain Dew Users May Go On To Use Harder Beverages”, The Onion, April 26). And the colorless, odorless, tasteless industrial solvent and prominent component in acid rain that kills thousands of people each year, most through inhalation but also from withdrawal symptoms given its evident addictiveness. Contamination is reaching epidemic levels — the horror must be stopped! (“Ban dihydrogen monoxide!”, Donald Simanek site, undatedstored Google search).

May 9 — Mother’s Day special: Arizona unwanted-birth trial. At a trial under way in Phoenix, Ruth Ann Burns is suing her family physician and obstetrician for failing to diagnose her pregnancy as early as they should have. She says she’d have aborted her two-year-old toddler Nicholas had she known in time that he was on the way, though he is perfectly healthy and she claims to dote on him now. The doctors say Burns herself didn’t think she was pregnant when she first sought medical attention and say when the pregnancy was discovered she still had time to pursue an abortion, but chose not to. (Senta Scarborough, “Doctors sued for unwanted pregnancy”, Arizona Republic, May 4). A columnist for the Arizona Republic wonders what the boy will think when he grows up and learns that his mother swore out oaths as to his unwanted, impositional nature (E.J. Montini, “Unwanted boy blooms in the future”, May 7).

May 9 — Not with our lives you don’t. More evidence that rank-and-file police aren’t happy about Clintonites’ scheme to skew city gun procurement to punish manufacturers that don’t capitulate to lawsuits (see April 14-16). Many cities presently allow officers a choice of which gun to carry, and Smith & Wesson hasn’t been a popular choice in recent years. “Local officials acknowledge they are reluctant to risk hurting morale by ending officers’ ability to choose their weapon,” the news-side Wall Street Journal reports — “morale” being a bit of a dodge here, since the risks at issue go beyond the merely psychological. In Flint, Mich., the mayor has asked the police department to buy S&Ws, “but the chief’s firearm experts have rated the Sig Sauer as more durable and accurate, and the police rank-and-file prefer the better-known and easier-to-shoot Glock.” Miami-Dade is “considering offering a $100 rebate for selecting a Smith & Wesson”, in effect establishing the kind of experiment of which cost-benefit analysts are so fond, measuring people’s willingness to accept cash payment in exchange for giving up a degree of perceived personal safety. A second obstacle to the scheme is that most jurisdictions have open-bidding laws aimed precisely at keeping politicos from pitching public business to favored contractors on a basis other than price and quality, but Sen. Charles Schumer (Democrat, New York) helpfully plans to introduce legislation to allow bypass of such laws. (Vanessa O’Connell, “Plan to Pressure Gun Makers Hits Some Snags”, Wall Street Journal, April 11, subscription site).

Plus: The gun lawsuits have become an issue in the presidential contest, with Vice President Al Gore, one of their ardent supporters, assailing Texas Governor George W. Bush for not pledging to veto legislation that would curtail them (“Bush, Gore camp trade questions on guns, credibility”, AP/FindLaw, May 5). And: this weekend’s pro-gun-control “Million Mom March” in Washington, D.C. has picked up endorsements ranging from President Bill Clinton to plaintiff’s class-action firm Bernstein, Litowitz, Berger & Grossmann LLP and the Association of Trial Lawyers of America — if that’s much of a range, politically speaking (March sponsors list, link now dead; ATLA endorsement; Terence Hunt, “Clinton Endorses Million Mom March”, AP/Yahoo, May 8, no longer online).

May 9 — In Michigan, important judicial races. Eyes of knowledgeable litigation reformers this fall will be on Michigan where three Supreme Court justices appointed by Republican Gov. John Engler — Clifford Taylor, Robert Young and Stephen Markman — are up for election (see Jan. 31). The trio enjoy a growing reputation as thoughtful jurists who share a skepticism toward expansive new liability doctrines; the state’s trial bar is expected to pour almost limitless funds into its attempt to defeat them. “The head of the Michigan Trial Lawyers’ Association has said privately that individual law firms have pledged as much as $500,000 each for the effort”. (Abigail Thernstrom, “Rule of Law: Trial Lawyers Target Three Michigan Judges Up for Election”, Wall Street Journal, May 8, reprinted at MI site).

May 8 — No more Fenway peanut-throwing? For nineteen years Rob Barry has worked in the stands at Boston’s Fenway Park, tossing bags of peanuts to hungry Red Sox fans. Grown-ups gasp and children cheer at his sure aim in lobbing the bags across intervening rows of spectators, but now he’s in trouble with management: “Aramark, the company that provides remarkably mediocre hot dogs and $4.50 cups of beer, has a rule, and that rule prohibits vendors from throwing food in the stadium.” Although admittedly “there are no recorded cases of catastrophic injury caused by a bag of peanuts,” you can never be too safe: before long some other food vendor might follow his example, “and soon you’ll have a cotton candy spear sticking through some young fan’s eye and a cash settlement that could cost the Red Sox Nomar Garciaparra.” Barry says he’s thinking of just retiring if he can no longer practice the peanut-tosser’s art: his father worked at Fenway for 45 years, while two beer-serving sisters have put in a combined 44 years. (Brian McCrory, “Vendor tossed from the game”, Boston Globe, May 5, link now dead).

May 8 — “Lilly’s legal strategy disarmed Prozac lawyers”. Little-noted story of how drugmaker Eli Lilly & Co. has managed so far to fight off a wave of lawsuits over its antidepressant Prozac, quietly settling some stronger cases while maneuvering aggressively to win a favorable jury ruling in the relatively weak one arising from the Wesbecker (Standard Gravure) shooting-spree in Louisville. (Jeff Swiatek, Indianapolis Star, April 22).

May 8 — Trial lawyers’ political clout. “Invited Speaker: President William Jefferson Clinton” — highlight of the brochure in last week’s mail promoting the Association of Trial Lawyers of America’s 2000 annual convention in Chicago. (Does not currently appear in online version (PDF)). Among other scheduled speakers: Sens. Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) and Max Cleland (D-Georgia). “Who will be the most influential political player making independent expenditures in this year’s presidential election?” asks Wall Street Journal editorialist John Fund. The AFL-CIO, the religious right, the NRA? More likely lawyers flush with new tobacco fees: “a comprehensive study by Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse found that trial lawyers gave 78 percent of all contributions to the Texas Democratic Party in the 1998 election cycle, when Bush was running for re-election.” (“Invasion of the Party Snatchers”, MSNBC, May 2). Last year by a 4-3 majority, the Ohio Supreme Court tossed out a 3-year-old tort reform package. Per Ohio Citizens against Lawsuit Abuse, “since 1992 the four justices in the majority received $1,528,054 from personal injury attorneys”, compared with $70,704 for the three dissenting justices. Doug Bandow, “Buying Justice: Plaintiffs’ Lawyers Reap Huge Dividends by Investing in Judges and Politicians”, syndicated column, Dec. 16, 1999, reprinted in Cato Daily Commentary, Dec. 28, 1999.

May 8 — Atlantic City mulls bond issuance to finance lawsuit payouts. The New Jersey resort city is so frequently sued, especially in employment and police cases, that it’s considering issuing special bonds to cover a possible $12.3 million exposure from 23 lawsuits. (Henry Gottlieb, “Suit City, Here We Come”, New Jersey Law Journal, April 4).

May 5-7 — Pro malo publico. Elite law firms endlessly congratulate themselves on the pro bono publico work they perform, seeing it as the “penance they pay for serving a capitalist system”, in Judge Laurence Silberman’s words. Too bad so much supposedly public-interest litigation is in reality actively harmful to the public interest as well as to the persons and institutions on its receiving end, argues Heather Mac Donald. Despite its reputation for being done gratis, pro bono work often brings in very rich court-ordered fee awards from opposing parties, and it also helps shape the legal profession’s continuing impulse to use the courtrooms for feats of social engineering. Homeless advocate Robert Hayes, who has fought for a new right of shelter-on-demand for the homeless, was asked why he litigated rather than taking his case to the legislature. “Personally, I don’t like politics,” he replied. “It’s really hard.” (Heather Mac Donald, “What Good Is Pro Bono?”, City Journal, Spring).

May 5-7 — Lion’s share. Tangled class action litigation against commodities brokerage, now the subject of a petition for review before the Supreme Court, in which plaintiffs’ lawyers were accorded $13 million in fees, twice the $6.5 million that their clients wound up getting. “The system stinks,” says Paul Dodyk of Cravath Swaine and Moore. “The class gets screwed.” Also mentions this website (Bernard Condon, “Conspiracy of Silence”, Forbes, May 1).

May 5-7 — Comment of the day. Accepting an award for general excellence at the National Magazine Awards on Wednesday, William L. Allen, editor in chief of National Geographic, said: “I would hug my staff, but our legal department has advised me not to.” (Alex Kuczynski, “Levity Prevails as Awards Are Handed to Magazines”, New York Times, May 4, no longer online).

May 5-7 — Liked your car so much we kept it. Last year New York City seized Pavel Grinberg’s 1988 Acura, Joe Bonilla’s brand-new Ford Expedition, and Robert Morris’s 1989 Grand Prix, on suspicion of their owners’ drunken driving. However, all three men were cleared of the charges in a court of law. So of course the city gave them their cars back, right? Don’t be naive…. (Gersh Kuntzman, “Rudy Driven To Excess in His DWI Crackdown”, New York Post, Feb. 7).

May 4 — Sports lawsuits proliferate. “More and more, the sports section looks like the rest of the newspaper. First commerce swallowed chunks and now the law has come along to take a bite. In the last few days, we’ve read stories about coaches suing players, fans suing players and now another player preparing to sue his league.” Toronto coach Butch Carter has now dropped his suit against Knick forward Marcus Camby (see April 25-26), but it’s still “getting tougher by the minute for pro sports leagues to call their own shots…. The chain of command in sports is being yanked at every opportunity, from all sides, often with the aid of the court system.” (Jim Litke, AP/Excite, April 27; “Raptors’ coach doesn’t get apology”, AP/ESPN, undated).

May 4 — Splash of reality. A judge has imposed sanctions of $10,000 each against New Rochelle, N.Y. attorney Gordon Locke and client Kenneth Lariviere “for bringing a frivolous breach-of-contract action against members of a board that refused to authenticate a work the two men claimed was painted by Jackson Pollock. Justice Emily Jane Goodman dismissed the action as a ‘laughable and clumsy attempt at fraud, by an individual who, like everyone familiar with the artist’s work, wishes he owned a Jackson Pollock painting.'” Cerisse Anderson, “Lawyer Fined for Frivolous Suit Over Artwork”, New York Law Journal, April 12).

May 4 — Harassment-law roundup. “The Internet start-up community is going to be a major target for sexual harassment litigation,” says management-side attorney Gregory I. Rasin of Jackson Lewis Schnitzler & Krupman, though the progress of such legal action is for the moment impeded by a job market so robust that would-be plaintiffs are “getting six job offers on the way to their lawyers’ offices,” as his colleague Garry Mathiason puts it. (Melinda Ligos, “Harassment Suits Hit the Dot-Coms”, New York Times, April 12). The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has been filing enforcement actions to back up its position that employers violate the law if they fail to move quickly enough in cleaning up sexually and racially offensive graffiti in employee restrooms and preventing recurrence (“Chicago EEOC Makes Second Move Against On-the-Job Racist Graffiti”, Employment Law Weekly, Jan. 20). The case of Boston bar owner Tom English, subject to charges of “hostile public accommodations environment” by the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination for putting up allegedly insensitive seasonal bar decorations, calls attention to a troubling collision between bias law and free speech, writes UCLA First Amendment specialist Eugene Volokh (“Watch What You Say, Or Be Ready to Pay”, Jewish World Review, April 13; Federalist Society Free Speech and Election Law Newsletter, sixth March item). And a jury has awarded Staten Island cop Susan Techky $50,000 after she “testified that male officers wouldn’t talk to her, left pornographic magazines in the co-ed bathroom and watched sex videos in her presence in their quarters,” as well as keeping nude pin-ups in their locker area, which she had to walk through to get to hers. “Island cop wins discrimination suit”, Staten Island Advance, April 21).

May 3 — Ministry of love-discouragement. Complete bans on dating among office-mates are “unrealistic and difficult to enforce,” according to an attorney’s advice column on how lawyers representing management can ward off possible harassment-law liability for their firms. “More practical is to prohibit dating between management and nonmanagement personnel and to discourage, but not completely prohibit, romantic relationships between co-workers. This may require co-workers to disclose immediately any relationship to their immediate supervisor.” To reduce the likelihood of later invasion-of-privacy claims against the employer, such policies “should put employees on notice that the company reserves the right to inquire into employees’ personal lives if necessary to determine whether a relationship exists…. [A]n employer may want to include in its nonfraternization policy a statement indicating that in the event of an office relationship, the company may request that employees execute an agreement attesting to the voluntary nature of their relationship” — this to forestall the pattern now becoming familiar in which “an employee may decide, after an unpleasant breakup, that the relationship was not consensual after all.” (Nicole C. Rivas, “Employment law: ‘love contracts'”, National Law Journal, Feb. 7, not online).

May 3 — eBay yanks e-meter auctions. “E-meters” are electrical devices employed by practitioners of the Church of Scientology in counseling church adherents. Although previously used devices have been resold by private owners for years and were apparently not the subject of licensing agreements that would limit resale, the Church now asserts a copyright interest in the objects that would allow it to legally restrict their distribution, and eBay has recently begun pulling auctions of e-meters to avoid a legal run-in with the church, known in the past for frequent court clashes with its opponents. Critics say it’s another example of how the Digital Millennium Copyright Act encourages online providers to err on the side of timidity when presented with copyright assertions. (“eBay E-Meter Auctions Yanked”, Slashdot, April 28).

May 3 — Fee shrinkage. The Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has upheld a federal court’s ruling that two class-action firms representing plaintiffs burned in the Drexel Burnham Lambert fiasco of the 1980s should receive $2.1 million in fees, less than 20 percent of the $13.5 million they sought. The two law firms — Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach and Abbey, Gardy & Squitieri — had argued that it was appropriate to apply a “multiplier” of six to the otherwise going rate for legal fees because a fee recovery of 25 percent was a “benchmark” in the practice of class action law (the recovery for the class was $54 million). However, the appeals panel upheld Judge Shirley Wohl Kram’s reasoning that the case was a promising one with almost certain prospects of a large recovery, so that enhancing rates “would likely result in [counsel’s] overcompensation.” (Mark Hamblett, “Cut in Drexel Case Attorneys’ Fees OK’d”, New York Law Journal, March 31).

May 3 — Little League lawsuits. No, they’re not just figments of tort reformers’ imaginations. In Waynesboro, N.C., Nicolas and Alina Rothenberg are suing the national and local Little League, along with local game officials, over an incident where their son was hit in the mouth with a ball, losing two teeth and experiencing “extreme pain and suffering” and emotional distress. “It was an accident,” said Tammy Meissner, the wife of defendant Michael Meissner. “My husband was hitting the ball just like he’s been hitting the ball for years and years and years.” (“Accident prompts Little League lawsuit”, AP/Winston-Salem Journal, April 23, no longer online). Another clip from mid-1998, datelined Naugatuck, Ct., describes how two teammates, both 8 years old at the time of the incident, wound up in court after Michael Albert swung his bat in the dugout and hit Brittany Gauvin in the head. (“Little League lawsuit pits 10-year-olds against each other”, AP/Danbury News-Times, June 8, 1998).

May 2 — “Access excess”. Our editor’s May Reason column explores the dangers posed by the Americans with Disabilities Act to the freedom of the Net: countless private websites are currently considered “inaccessible” and will apparently be obliged to undergo systematic redesign, an expensive and cumbersome process that will go far to stifle creative freedom in HTML design (see earlier commentaries). This column has already drawn one of the biggest reader reactions of anything we’ve published in a long time — in future updates we’ll try to share highlights from some of the many thoughtful letters that have come in. (Walter Olson, “Access Excess”, Reason, May; also reprinted at Jim Glassman’s Tech Central Station).

May 2 — North Carolina (& Kentucky & Tennessee) tobacco fees. The three leaf-growing states were among the last of the fifty to sign onto the Medicaid reimbursement lawsuits against cigarette companies, and by necessity did little of the heavy lifting in developing the case. North Carolina attorney general Mike Easley picked private lawyer John McArthur to handle the state’s grower-advocacy role in the tobacco negotiations, a task McArthur also performed for the other two states; conveniently, he happened at the time to be coming off a stint as counsel to Easley himself. Now he’s rumored to be in line for $1.5 million in fees, concededly far lower than the take of lawyers who represented other states. Why aren’t more precise figures public? McArthur says it’s because of lawyer-client confidentiality. Easley is favored for the state’s gubernatorial nomination in today’s Democratic primary, and a spokesman for his primary rival, Lt. Gov. Dennis Wicker, has called for more light to be shed on the fee details: “Certainly the people have a right to know if the attorney general’s office is North Carolina’s version of ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire'”. Reporter David Rice of the Winston-Salem Journal writes that “Easley has repeatedly talked about his role in the tobacco settlement, but reporters and others always got the impression that the state hired no outside lawyers in the case”; now Easley says his earlier statements indicating that no outside lawyers had been hired were mischaracterized. (David Rice, “Wicker aide calls for the disclosure of attorney’s fee”, Winston-Salem Journal, April 25; Ben White, “Primary Season Resumes in N.C., Ind.”, Washington Post, May 1, links now dead).

May 2 — IRS drops penny-collection efforts. “The Internal Revenue Service has stopped collection procedures against a Roswell[, N.M.] businessman who inadvertently came up 1 penny short on his tax return. Ernest Spence, owner of Valley Glass Co., had been required to pay $286.50 in penalties and interest for the mistake.” Mr. Spence says the error was unintended and resulted from not carrying the fractional penny while doing the arithmetic on the return. (“IRS backs off man’s penalty for 1-cent mistake”, AP/Dallas Morning News, April 30).

May 2 — Columnist-fest. More to catch up on:

* “It’s not about money, most of the plaintiffs or their lawyers will say, it’s about the healing process. Baloney.” Anne Roiphe on the prospect of Columbine litigation (“Feeling Tired? Blue? Cranky? Just Sue!”, New York Observer, May 1, link now dead).

* George Will invokes the many sound arguments against the Victim’s Rights Amendment to the Constitution (“Tinkering Again”, Washington Post, April 23). Will has been on a roll recently with columns on death row innocents, campaign regulation and the First Amendment, the Boy Scouts case, and campaign regulation again.

* Jacob Sullum on S&W’s hapless attempt at a “clarification” of its HUD-brokered settlement: “Perhaps it is dawning on Smith & Wesson’s executives that it can be dangerous to show weakness in the face of statist demands. Too bad they didn’t pay closer attention to the fate of the tobacco companies, whose efforts at appeasement have only whetted their opponents’ appetites.” (syndicated column, April 19).

May 1 — Tort city, USA. Other cities face a handful of slip-fall cases each year, but New York City gets 3,500, paying out $57 million plus large legal defense costs. When all types of injury litigation are included, the total reaches a staggering $420 million plus defense costs. What makes the political climate in New York so hostile to the city’s interest as a lawsuit defendant? One reason is the number of powerful Gotham politicians with ties to tort practice, such as Bronx Republican state senator Guy Velella, whose law firm’s successful cases against New York City include two separate injury suits on behalf of his parents. Or Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who rents office space from well-connected tort firm Schneider, Kleinick, Weitz, Damashek & Shoot. Or Brooklyn Democrat Helene Weinstein, who chairs the state assembly’s Judiciary committee and “is of counsel to her father’s personal-injury firm … It’s rather like having a Microsoft lawyer in charge of the Congressional committee overseeing antitrust policy.” A jury recently took just an hour to reject a $10 million suit against the city by assemblyman John Brian Murtaugh, who had slipped on ice in a city park while walking his dog and broke his wrist. (John Tierney, “In Tort City, Falling Down Can Pay Off”, New York Times, April 15).

May 1 — “Jury flipped coin to convict man of murder”. You think this sort of thing doesn’t really happen, but it did happen last week in Louisville: “A jury unable to decide on a verdict tossed a coin last week to convict a man of murder, prompting a judge to declare a mistrial … The Jefferson County Circuit Court jury of five men and seven women deliberated about nine hours over two days last week before finding Phillip J. Givens II guilty of murder for killing his girlfriend, Monica Briggs, 29, last May.” Givens faced life in prison on the murder rap, but Judge Kenneth Conliffe declared a mistrial after word reached him of the method the jury had used to break its deadlock: one of the jurors told someone, who told a court employee, who told the judge. (Kim Wessel, Louisville Courier-Journal, April 25).

May 1 — Funny hats and creative drawing. As part of a discrimination settlement, employees of Detroit Edison now have been given an in-house “Learning Zone” where they can “map out their careers, create personal Web sites and even work on their resumes.” A reporter notes that the room “looks like a preschool for adults,” with “puzzles, funny hats, puppets and wall-mounted drawing boards.” One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, who has now been installed as “facilitator” of the zone, says that it makes “people feel safe, warm and creative … It’s about the employees.” (Brenda Rios, “Building Careers”, Detroit Free Press, April 27).

May 1 — In praise of bugs. “[Computers] should just work, all the time”, opines one popular tech columnist, and many others (including advocates of more stringent bug liability) likewise promote the view that “defects are a moral failing, and a complete absence of defects must be assured, whatever achieving this goal does to the cost and the schedule. But is achieving bug-free software always in the customer’s best interest?” (Gene Callahan, “Those Damned Bugs!”, Dr. Dobb’s Journal, Dec. 3, 1999, adapted as “In Praise of Bugs”, Mises Institute, March 27).


May 18-21 — “A Smith & Wesson FAQ”. An end run around democratic governance, an assault on gun buyers‘ Second Amendment liberties, a textbook abuse of the power to litigate: the Clinton Administration’s pact with Smith & Wesson is all this and more. When this website’s editor looked into the agreement’s details, he found them if anything worse than he’d imagined — for one thing, they could actually increase the number of people hurt because of gun malfunctions. (Walter Olson, “A Smith & Wesson FAQ”, Reason, June; see also David Kopel, “Smith & Wesson’s Faustian Bargain”, National Review Online, March 20, and “Smart Cops Saying ‘No'”, April 19).

May 18-21 — On the Hill: Clint Eastwood vs. ADA filing mills. The Hollywood actor and filmmaker got interested in the phenomenon of lawsuit mills that exploit the Americans with Disabilities Act (see our March 7, Feb. 15, Jan. 26-27 commentaries) when he was hit with a complaint that some doors and bathrooms at his historic, 32-room Mission Ranch Hotel and restaurant in Carmel, Calif. weren’t accessible enough; there followed demands from the opposing side’s lawyer that he hand over more than just a fistful of dollars — $577,000, the total came to — in fees for legal work allegedly performed on the case. “It’s a racket”, opines Eastwood. “The typical thing is to get someone who is disabled in collusion with sleazebag lawyers, and they file suits.” (Jim VandeHei, “Clint Eastwood Saddles Up for Disability-Act Showdown”, Wall Street Journal, May 9 — online subscribers only). The “Dirty Harry” star is slated to appear as the lead witness in a hearing on the bill proposed by Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) to require that defendants be given a chance to fix problems before lawyers can start running the meter on fee-shift entitlements; the hearing begins at 10 a.m. Thursday, May 18 and the House provides a live audio link (follow House Judiciary schedule to live audio link, Constitution subcommittee; full witness list). The National Federation of Independent Business, Chamber of Commerce of the U.S., National Restaurant Association and International Council of Shopping Centers all like the Foley idea. Eastwood told the WSJ he isn’t quarreling with the ADA itself, and the proposed legislation would affect only future cases and not the one against him; but “I just think for the benefit of everybody, they should cut out this racket because these are morally corrupt people who are doing this.”

May 18-21 — “Dialectizer shut down”. “Another fun, interesting and innovative online resource goes the way of corporate ignorance — due to threats of legal action, the author of the dialectizer, a Web page that dynamically translates another Web page’s text into an alternate ‘dialect’ such as ‘redneck’ or ‘Swedish Chef’ and displays the result, has packed up his dialectizer and gone home”, writes poster “endisnigh” on Slashdot (May 17). (Signoff notice and subsequent reconsideration, Rinkworks.com site). Update: it’s back up now — see Aug. 16-17.

May 18-21 — Dusting ’em off. A trend in the making? Complainants in a number of recent cases have succeeded in reviving enforcement of public-morality laws that had long gone unheeded but never actually been stricken from the books. In Utah, Candi Vessel successfully sued her cheatin’ husband’s girlfriend and got a $500,000 award against the little homewrecker (as she no doubt views her) under the old legal theory of “alienation of affection”, not much heard of these last forty or more years. (“Spouse Stealer Pays Price: Wife Wins Case Against Mistress for Breaking Up Marriage”, ABC News, April 27). Authorities in two rural Michigan counties have recently pressed criminal charges against men who used bad language in public, under an old statute which provides that “any person who shall use any indecent, immoral, obscene, vulgar or insulting language in the presence or hearing of any woman or child shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.” (“2nd man hit with anti-cussing statute”, AP/Detroit Free Press, April 27) (same article on Freedom Forum). And Richard Pitcher and Kimberly Henry of Peralta, N.M., “have been formally charged by Pitcher’s ex-wife under the state’s cohabitation law, which prohibits unwed people from living together as ‘man and wife'”. (Guillermo Contreras, “Couple charged with cohabitation”, Albuquerque Journal, March 11) (update: see May 8, 2001 for newer example).

May 18-21 — Campaign regulation vs. free speech. The state of Kentucky’s Registry of Election Finance has ruled that newspapers have a constitutional right to editorialize on behalf of candidates of their choice, rejecting a complaint that characterized such endorsements as “corporate contributions” made by the newspaper proprietors. (“Kentucky election agency: Newspaper editorials aren’t contributions”, AP/Freedom Forum, May 10). A general hail of dead cats has greeted the Congressional Democrats’ lawsuit charging House Majority Whip Tom DeLay with “racketeering” over campaign fundraising practices, with Democratic operative Paul Begala calling the suit “wrong, ethically, legally and politically.” (David Horowitz, “March of the Racketeers”, Salon, May 15; Michael Kelly, “Hammering DeLay”, Washington Post, May 10). And Mickey Kaus, on his recommended Kausfiles.com website, spells out in words of one syllable to pundit Elizabeth Drew why proposed bans on privately sponsored “issue ads” run smack into the Constitution’s guarantee of free speech (“Drew’s Cluelessness: Please don’t let her anywhere near the First Amendment!”, May 7).

May 18-21 — Gotham lawyers upset at efficient jury selection. A few years ago, led by its Chief Justice Judith Kaye, the state of New York began taking long-overdue steps to reform its notorious jury selection system, under which lawyers had often been permitted to browbeat and grill helpless juror-candidates for days at a time in search of the most favorably disposed (not to say pliable) among them. The changes, which bring the Empire State more into line with the practice around the rest of the country, have markedly reduced the time jurors and others must spend on empanelment. So who’s unhappy? The state’s bar association, naturally, which opposed reform in the first place, and now complains that “attorneys are feeling increasingly constrained by time limits and other restrictions”. A survey it conducted “suggests that many lawyers feel that new practices are cramping their style.” Yes, that was the idea (John Caher, “NYS Bar Favors More Voir Dire Leeway”, New York Law Journal, April 12).

May 17 — Not my fault, I. In 1990 Debora MacNamara of Haileybury, Ontario smothered her nine-year-old daughter Shauna as she slept. Found not guilty by reason of insanity, she spent five years in mental institutions before being released. Now she’s suing two psychiatrists and her family doctor for upwards of $20 million, saying they should have prevented her from doing it. The docs say she was “an uncooperative, recalcitrant patient who didn’t take her medication as prescribed, often cancelled appointments, wouldn’t let those treating her share critical medical information and either minimized or lied about both her symptoms and state of mind.” (Christie Blatchford, “Woman sues doctors for not stopping her from killing”, National Post, May 16, link now dead)).

May 17 — Not my fault, II. “Fourteen years after accidentally shooting himself in the hand, 19-year-old Willie K. Wilson of Pontiac is pointing the finger at his father and Smith & Wesson, suing both last week for at least $25,000 in Oakland County Circuit Court.” His lawyer explains that Willie isn’t actually angry at his pa but is just going after the homeowners’ insurance money. Hey, who could object in that case? (Joel Kurth, “Son sues father, Smith & Wesson”, Detroit News, May 16).

May 17 — Comparable worth: it’s back. This time they’re calling it “pay equity”, but a new study by economist Anita Hattiangadi and attorney Amy Habib for the Employment Policy Foundation finds no evidence that the much-discussed pay gap between the sexes owes anything to employer bias, as distinct from women’s individual choices to redirect energy toward home pursuits during childbearing years (EPF top page; “A Closer Look at Comparable Worth” (PDF)). Plus: the foundation’s comments on White House pay equity report (PDF); background on comparable worth; and writings by Diana Furchtgott-Roth of the American Enterprise Institute, “Still Hyping the Phony Pay Gap”, AEI “On the Issues”, March; Roger Clegg (“Comparable Worth: The Bad Idea That Will Not Die”, National Legal Center for the Public Interest, “Briefly…” series, August 1999 (PDF); and the Chicago Tribune‘s Steve Chapman (“Clinton’s Phony Fight for ‘Pay Equity’, Feb. 24).

May 17 — Update: judge frowns on Philly’s Mr. Civility. Following up on our March 13 commentary, federal judge Herbert J. Hutton has imposed sanctions on attorney Marvin Barish, including an as yet uncalculated fine and disqualification in the case, over an incident during a trial recess in which Barish threatened to kill the opposing lawyer with his bare hands and repeatedly called him a “fat pig”. Barish’s attorney, James Beasley (apparently the same one for whom Temple U.’s law school was renamed after a large donation), said if anyone merited sanctions it was the opposing counsel, representing Amtrak, for having engaged in legal maneuvers that provoked his client to the outburst; Barish is “one of the city’s most successful lawyers handling Federal Employers Liability Act cases”. (Shannon P. Duffy, “Judge Hits Lawyer with Fine Over Alleged Threat”, Legal Intelligencer (Philadelphia), May 2).

May 17 — Disabled vs. disabled. Strobe-light-equipped fire alarms — a great idea for helping the deaf, no? A sweeping new mandate to that effect is pending before the federal government’s Access Board, which would affect workplaces, hospitals, and motel rooms, among other places. All of which horrifies many members of another category of disabled Americans, namely those with photosensitive epilepsy and other seizure disorders: In a recent survey, 21 percent of epileptics said flashing lights set off seizures for them. “Should a seizure be caused by stroboscopic alarms during an actual fire emergency, that person would be incapacitated, leading to even more danger both from the seizure and from the emergency itself.” And then there are all the false alarms. … (Epilepsy Foundation, “Legislative Alert“, Capitol Advantage Legislative Advocacy Center; Access Board, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, relevant section (see s. 702.3)).

May 16 — Federal commerce power genuinely limited, Supreme Court rules. Big win for federalists at the high court as the Justices rule 5-4 to strike down the right-to-sue provision of the Violence Against Women Act on the grounds that the Constitution does not empower Washington to muscle into any area of police power it pleases simply by finding that crime affects interstate commerce. (Laurie Asseo, “High Court: Prosecution of Rapists Up To States”, AP/Chicago Tribune, May 15, no longer online; U.S. v. Morrison, decision (Cornell); Center for Individual Rights; Anita Blair (Independent Women’s Forum), Investors Business Daily, reprinted Feb. 4).

May 16 — Deflated. After suing automakers up one side of the street for the sin of not installing airbags earlier, trial lawyers are now suing them down the other over the injuries the bags occasionally inflict on children and small-framed adults. Last month Ford got hit with a $20 million verdict in a case where an infant was paralyzed by a Mustang’s airbag, but last week a Detroit jury declined to find liability against DaimlerChrysler in a case where an airbag detonation killed 7-year-old Alison Sanders after her father ran a red light and broadsided another vehicle. (“Jurors clear DaimlerChrysler in 1995 air-bag lawsuit case”, Detroit Free Press, May 11, link now dead; Bill Vlasic and Dina ElBoghdady, “Air bag suits unlikely to stop”, Detroit News, May 12).

Who was it that spread the original image of air bags as pillowy, child-friendly devices, the right solution for all passengers in all circumstances? Lawyers now wish to blame Detroit, but Sam Kazman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute quotes the remarks of longtime Ralph Nader associate Joan Claybrook, who headed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration during the Carter-era rulemaking: “Air bags work beautifully,” she declared, “and they work automatically and…that gives you more freedom than being forced to wear a seat belt.” (Letting people think an airbag might relieve them of the need to buckle up is now, of course, seen as horrifically bad safety advice.) Moreover, quoth Claybrook, the devices “fit all different sizes and types of people, from little children up to…very large males.” (“Only Smart Air Bag Mandate is No Mandate at All”, CEI Update, March 2).

Even more striking, CEI’s Kazman dug up this photo of Ralph Nader, who long flayed manufacturers for their delay in embracing the devices, using an adorable moppet as an emotional prop. Sam says the photo is from a 1977 press conference; he thinks it would make a lovely display in Nader’s planned museum of product liability law in Winsted, Connecticut. [DURABLE LINK]

MORE SOURCES: Bill Vlasic and Dina ElBoghdady, “Dead girl’s dad fights air bags”, Detroit News, March 29; Janet L. Fix, “Father’s heartbreak fueled lawsuit after 1995 accident”, Detroit Free Press, April 5; “The Deployment of Car Manufacturers Into a Sea of Product Liability? Recharacterizing Preemption as a Federal Regulatory Compliance Defense in Airbag Litigation”, Note (Dana P. Babb), Washington U. Law Quarterly, Winter 1997; Scott Memmer, “Airbag Safety”, Edmunds.com, undated web feature; Michael Fumento, “Paper Scares Parents for Politics and Profit”, 1998, on Fumento.com website.

May 16 — “Clinton’s law license”. “The Arkansas Supreme Court should take away Clinton’s law license because he lied under oath,” declares the editorially middle-of-the-road Seattle Times. “It’s unlikely that Clinton will want to practice after he leaves the White House, but this has more to do with the legal community upholding its own ethics than the president’s next career. The American Bar Association’s standards for lawyer sanctions leave little doubt: ‘Disbarment is generally appropriate when a lawyer, with the intent to deceive the court, makes a false statement, submits a false document, or improperly withholds material information and causes serious or potentially serious injury to a party. …’ Last April, federal judge Susan Webber Wright found Clinton in contempt for ‘giving false, misleading and evasive answers that were designed to obstruct the judicial process’ while under oath in her presence. She also has filed a complaint with the Arkansas Supreme Court, but did not recommend a specific penalty. …Clinton should surrender his license or the court should take it.” (editorial, May 15). Plus: Stephen Chapman in Slate (“Disbar Bill”, May 12). [DURABLE LINK]

May 16 — The asset hider. Curious profession of a New Yorker whose specialty consists in finding ways to help wealthy men hide assets so as to escape legal obligations to their wives. The proprietor of “Special Services” of E. 28th St. also boasts of his skill in private investigation, which didn’t prevent him from falling for the cover story of a New York Post writer who posed as a divorce-bent Internet millionaire while secretly taping their lunch (Daniel Jeffreys, “The Wealthy Deadbeat’s Best Friend”, New York Post, May 15).

May 15 — Doctor cleared in Lewis cardiac case. A team of cardiologists told basketball star Reggie Lewis that his playing days were over. Then his wife helped get him transferred under cover of darkness to a new team of doctors who said he could go on playing. Then he collapsed on the court and died. And then Donna Harris-Lewis, having already collected on her husband’s $12 million Celtics contract, sued the docs for negligence. One paid $500,000 to settle, but last week Dr. Gilbert Mudge of Brigham & Women’s won vindication from a jury. (Sacha Pfeifer, “The verdict is in: no negligence”, Boston Globe, May 9; Dan Shaughnessy, “Everybody has lost in Lewis case; let’s move on”, May 9; Barry Manuel, “As usual, only lawyers won in Lewis case”, May 11, links now dead). Earlier, Harris-Lewis drew flak by comparing herself to the families of six firefighters who died in a Worcester warehouse blaze. “Lots of money is being raised for those families, and I need to be taken care of, too. Everybody has to say I’m greedy. But I do want my money back this time around. Why should I lose?” Well, ma’am, we could start a list of reasons. … (Steve Buckley, “What was Harris-Lewis thinking?”, Boston Herald, March 28).

May 15 — The four rules of sex harassment controversies. We thought we had ’em memorized after the Anita Hill affair … then we had to unlearn all four during the late unpleasantness with President Clinton … and now they’ve all returned in coverage of the Pentagon’s Claudia Kennedy case. (David Frum, “Breakfast Table” with Danielle Crittenden Frum, Slate, May 12). In other harassment news, a jury has awarded $125,000 to a male waiter at a T.G.I. Friday’s near Tampa who said that female co-workers touched and grabbed him lewdly, that co-workers made fun of him when he complained, and that the restaurant chain proceeded to ignore his plight and retaliate against him. (Larry Dougherty, “Waiter wins suit against Friday’s”, St. Petersburg Times, May 5). And a Wisconsin appeals court has upheld a trial court’s award of $143,715, reduced from a jury’s $1 million, to a computer analyst who “said his boss spanked him with a 4-foot-long carpenter’s level during a bizarre workplace ritual” and then announced “Now, you’re one of us”. The boss testified that the spanking ceremony dated way back as an initiation at the Phillips, Getschow Co., a century-old mechanical contracting firm. (Dennis Chaptman, “Court upholds $143,715 award for spanking”, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, April 18).

May 15 — Convenient line at the time. Tobacco is special, said the state attorneys general who teamed up with trial lawyers to expropriate that lawful industry via litigation and share out the resulting plunder. It’s “the only product that, if used as intended, could be fatal.” And so they categorically dismissed critics’ fears that the tempting new ways of raising revenue without resorting to explicit taxation might soon be aimed at other industries. Who was fool enough to believe them? (Victor E. Schwartz, “Trial Lawyers Unleashed”, Washington Post, May 10).

May 15 — Gloves come off in Mich. high court race. We warned you it would get nasty (see May 9, Jan. 31), but not this soon. At a recent NAACP gathering, the Michigan Democratic Party circulated a flyer stating that incumbent Justice Robert Young opposes the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which ended racial segregation in public schools. Young, who is African-American and whose record on the court has been conservative, terms the flyer “virulent race-baiting” and untrue and has demanded an apology. State Democratic chairman Mark Brewer dares Young to sue, but declines to name a source for the flyer’s characterization of his views on Brown. (Kathy Barks Hoffman, “Race for 3 spots on top court sparks charge of ‘race-baiting'”, AP/Detroit News, May 11; George Weeks, “Election of justices needs changing” (editorial), May 11).

May 12-14 — Microsoft opinion: the big picture. However well they’re doing in Judge Jackson’s court, Janet Reno’s trustbusters are getting slammed in the court of public opinion, which continues lopsidedly opposed to breakup. While a Harris poll finds less than 40 percent of respondents believing that Bill Gates’s company has treated its competitors fairly, that’s still a better rating than Joel Klein’s Antitrust Division gets: only one in three believe the government treated Microsoft fairly. (Paul Van Slambrouck, “High-tech trust-busting a bust with public today”, Christian Science Monitor, May 5; Manny Frishberg, “Public favors MS in antitrust”, Wired News, May 4). The Independent Institute’s Alex Tabarrok calculates that the loss in capital value of Microsoft as an enterprise amounts to $768 for every person in the United States, and that most of this sum can plausibly be attributed to the legal action rather than to business setbacks. (“The Anti-entrepreneurs,” May 1). Given that the rest of the high-tech sector has also taken a thrashing, economics Nobelist Milton Friedman says Silicon Valley “must rue the day that they set this incredible episode in operation” by siccing the government on their Seattle rival (statement reprinted at National Taxpayers Union site, April 28).

Does all this augur a revival of “vigorous”, sock-’em-hard antitrust enforcement, not much seen in the last couple of decades? If so, ABC’s John Stossel has some deserving nominees for breakup far more monopolistic than Windows ever was, including the U.S. Postal Service — yes, it’s still unlawful to compete with it in first-class service (“Give Me a Break: Government Protection?” (video clip), May 5). And Michael Kinsley wonders why the U.S. government, if it really takes trustbusting principles seriously, still takes such an indulgent, price-fixers-will-be-price-fixers approach toward OPEC — a genuinely noxious cartel that inflicts great damage on the American economy, and whose member countries (among them Russia, Norway, Venezuela and the spectacularly ungrateful Kuwait and Saudi Arabia) appear to suffer nary a repercussion in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy (“Readme: Oil Crooks”, Slate, March 27).

May 12-14 — Dismounted. “A therapeutic horse-riding program for 600 mentally impaired Oakland County children and teenagers is in jeopardy this summer, a potential victim of a liability impasse among lawyers and bureaucrats.” Parents praise the Silver Saddles program, but the county is unwilling to accept liability exposure for it, which could be financially catastrophic in the event of an accident to a young rider. (Hugh McDiarmid, Jr., “Riding-therapy program faces liability hurdle”, Detroit Free Press, May 5).

May 12-14 — Steady aim. Everyone who supports democracy — as well as everyone who opposes the abuse of litigation — should favor legislative measures aimed at reserving gun regulation to elected lawmakers rather than the machinations of ambitious trial lawyers, argues Vince Carroll of Denver’s Rocky Mountain News (“Gun bill puts halt to lawsuit abuse”, April 30). And Washington, D.C.’s Sam Smith, who shows regularly that there’s still life on the Left in his remarkable online Progressive Review (which we’re pleased to see often picks up items from this space), has put up a page of reasons “why politicians, moms, and progressives should stop pressing for more gun control laws” (“Wild Shots“).

May 11 — “Ad deal links Coke, lawyer in suit”. Both the Coca-Cola Co. and plaintiff’s attorney Willie Gary are denying a linkage between Gary’s role as a lawyer in the current high-profile race bias litigation against Coke and the company’s just-announced agreement — financial terms not disclosed — to become a major advertiser on a cable channel of which Gary is part owner. Last month amid fanfare the Florida lawyer arrived in Atlanta on his private jet (“Wings of Justice”) to assume representation of several of the original plaintiffs in the much-publicized employee litigation against the beverage company. “I want a settlement that’s fair and just,” he said then. “I don’t come cheap. I think big, real big.” On Tuesday Coke announced a major five-year deal to buy ads on the fledgling Major Broadcasting Cable Network, which Gary helped launch and of which he is chairman and chief executive. Gary says his clients are aware of the deal and says, “There’s absolutely no conflict. We’re not friends. We’re business people. Coke is not giving me anything. … It’s goods in exchange for service. … No way this is a conflict.'”

A sometime fund-raiser for the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH coalition, Gary is best known in legal circles for the ruinous $500 million verdict he obtained in a Jackson, Mississippi courtroom against the Loewen Group, a Canadian-owned funeral home chain, in what had previously seemed a routine commercial dispute (see our editor’s account). Last week he announced that he was demanding nearly $2 billion from the Burger King Corporation on behalf of Detroit restaurateur La-Van Hawkins, whose UrbanCityFoods business has not fared as well as expected in its operation of franchised hamburger units. Gary’s entry last month into the Coke case came at a time of unpleasant back-and-forth charges between some of the employees who were first to sue and class-action lawyers who had worked to assemble their and others’ complaints into a suit on behalf of the company’s entire black workforce, led by Washington, D.C.’s Cyrus Mehri, of Texaco fame (our account of that one), with the Mehri camp saying the individuals were holding out for too much money for themselves personally as distinct from the class, and a PUSH coalition activist, Joseph Beasley, countering that under the settlement anticipated from the class action the “lawyers get all the money” while “the black community is left high and dry”.

SOURCES: Henry Unger, “Ad deal links Coke, lawyer in suit”, Atlanta Journal- Constitution, May 10 (fee-based archive); Constance L. Hays, “Coke to Advertise on Channel Owned by Lawyer in Bias Suit”, New York Times, May 10, no longer online; Betsy McKay, “For Coke’s Big Race Lawsuit, a New Wild Card”, Wall Street Journal, April 14 (subscription); Beth Miller, “Cable network to focus on black families”, Media Central, Dec. 13; Trisha Renaud, R. Robin McDonald, and Janet L. Conley, “Money, Trust Behind Coke Split”, Fulton County Daily Record, April 14; “Burger King Has Greater Troubles: Internationally Renowned Trial Attorney Willie Gary Asks Burger King for $1.9 Billion”, Excite/PR Newswire press release from Gary’s firm, May 3; Eric Dyrrkopp and Andrew H. Kim, “Prospecting the Last Frontier: Legal Considerations for Franchisors Expanding into Inner Cities”, Franchise Law Journal, Winter 2000, reprinted at Bell, Boyd & Lloyd site.

May 11 — Tort fortune fuels $3M primary win. In Charleston, W.V., attorney and former state senator Jim Humphries has won the Democratic nomination in the Second Congressional District after investing $3 million from the fortune he made in asbestos litigation. Humphries’s “big-budget, slickly produced campaign” overpowered his primary rivals, who included one of the state’s best-known politicians, Secretary of State and former U.S. Representative Ken Hechler, as well as state senator Martha Walker, who chairs the state senate’s health and human resources committee; between them Hechler and Walker split about half the primary vote. The campaign “shattered all state records for spending in a congressional primary election.” Humphries now faces Delegate Shelley Moore Capito, R-Kanawha, who ran unopposed in the Republican primary. (Phil Kabler, “Humphreys’ $3 million pays”, Charleston Gazette, May 10).

May 11 — Stubbornness of mules a given. A federal court in North Carolina has dismissed a lawsuit by the producers of the soon-to-be-released film “Morgan’s Creek” against animal wrangler Alicia Rudd over the refusal of her trained mule to sit down on cue or cooperate in other ways on the set. The producers said the animal’s recalcitrance had prolonged shooting by an extra day, costing upwards of $110,000, but the judge said there was no proof that Rudd breached a promise or misrepresented her ability to control the mule. (“Judge finds stubborn mule no cause for action”, AP/CNN, May 8).


May 31 — From our mail sack: ADA enforcement vignettes. Reader Roger Clegg of the Center for Equal Opportunity tells us that every month or so he visits the Department of Justice to pore over the new batch of publicly released enforcement letters from the department’s Civil Rights Division. Although the letters are made available by the Department in such a way that parties in the disputes are not individually identifiable, they do provide insight into current enforcement priorities and trends. A few highlights that Roger passes on from letters issued by DoJ regarding the enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act:

“The Civil Rights Division’s Disability Rights Section has in the last month or so sent a lot of letters to doctors’ offices on behalf of hearing-impaired patients complaining that the doctors don’t have interpreters (a couple of the offices didn’t understand why the doctor and patient couldn’t just write notes to each other) [see also Sept. 29-Oct. 1].

* “A dance studio got a DOJ letter when it refused to continue giving lessons to a student who was prompting complaints from other students’ parents because accommodating her took up so much class time.

“Other interesting issues prompting DOJ letters:

* “A cruise ship that refused to let a blind person on board for a trip unless he had a medical note stating he could safely travel alone;

* “An HIV-positive student who demanded an air-conditioned classroom;

* “A blind person who wasn’t allowed into a doctor’s office because in the past other patients had had an allergic reaction to his guide dog; and

* “A truly tragic case — a man with a ‘manual disability’ who could not pull the trigger on a gun.”

May 31 — Jumped ahead, by court order. A Delaware court has found that Christiana Care Health Services breached its contract with Ahmad Bali, MD, when it demoted him from third-year to second-year resident. Rather than simply allot monetary damages to Dr. Bali for the trouble and expense of having been held back needlessly at the second-year stage, the court took the more unusual step of ordering the hospital to accord him fourth-year residency status as if he’d completed the third-year program. The result is to put him in the same place he’d be if not for the hospital’s earlier breach, which is certainly one kind of fairness for which the law sometimes strives. But what if third-year residency isn’t simply a re-run of second-year, but involves the acquisition of distinctive skills? (Miles J. Zaremski, “Delaware court reinstates terminated resident”, American Medical News, March 20).

May 31 — Columnist-fest. More opinions worth considering:

* Paul Campos weighs in on the “pink-skirt” case, in which a transgendered employee of a Boulder, Colo. bagel shop is suing because its owner wouldn’t let him wear that girlish item of apparel on the job (“The strange land of identity politics”, Rocky Mountain News, May 16; Matt Sebastian, “Bagel shop wouldn’t let him wear pink dress [sic], so he sues”, Scripps Howard News Service, May 11).

* Big American companies whose German operations were seized by the Nazi regime and run with forced labor are now coming under legal pressure to pay “reparations”. “If we Jews care about justice and retribution, we should not take this money,” argues Sam Schulman of Jewish World Review. “It is tainted — tainted with innocence. And taking money from the innocent blurs the line between innocence and guilt.” (“Some Reparations Money is Better Left on the Table”, Jewish World Review, May 18). An earlier Schulman column examines the drift of the campaigns against the Swiss and the Austrians away from the aim of individualized justice for expropriated families and toward the expiation of inherited national guilt by way of large transfer payments. (“David Irving’s Mirror for the Jews”, May 2).

* Rachelle Cohen of the Boston Herald can’t help wondering: does Massachusetts really need to spend tax money setting up a state-sponsored law school? (“Must taxpayers pay to create more lawyers?”, May 24).

May 30 — You were negligent to hire me. “A former Escondido school district administrator who resigned two years ago after revelations of a 1963 rape-related conviction won a $255,000 jury verdict yesterday against Superintendent Nicolas Retana and the district.” Thirty-four years previously, at age 17, William Zamora had been convicted in New Mexico of assault with intent to rape, serving two years in prison and later being pardoned by the governor. When he applied for an $88,000/year administrative job in 1997 with the district near San Diego, he failed to disclose his long-ago conviction on his employment application, later saying he thought the pardon had wiped his record clean. But an FBI fingerprint check turned it up, and Zamora resigned at once: a California law passed the previous year forbade school districts to hire persons with felony sex convictions. He then proceeded to sue the district and supervisor, contending that if they “had done their jobs properly… they would have waited until the crime check came back before hiring him,” and charging that his privacy had been invaded when Retana conversed with an Albuquerque school board member about the conviction. Last week a jury awarded him $15,000 on the negligent hiring claim and $240,000 on the invasion of privacy claim. “Superior Court Judge Lisa Guy-Schall kept jurors from hearing the details of Zamora’s conviction, in which he pleaded guilty. She said she didn’t want to preside over a mini-trial of events that happened 37 years ago.” (Onell R. Soto, “Ex-administrator wins $255,000 verdict against Escondido schools chief, district”, San Diego Union-Tribune, May 24; and earlier Union-Tribune coverage, May 17, May 21, 1999; May 20, 1999).

May 30 — Illegal to talk about drugs? The so-called Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act, which has been moving rapidly through Congress with relatively little public outcry, would make it a felony punishable by ten years in prison “to teach or demonstrate to any person the manufacture of a controlled substance, or to distribute to any person, by any means, information pertaining to, in whole or in part, the manufacture or use of a controlled substance,” knowing or intending that a recipient will use the information in violation of the law. The aim is to shut down the publishing of books, magazines and websites that furnish information on drug manufacture or use, such as High Times magazine and Lycaeum.org. The prohibition on “distribut[ing]” such information “to any person, by any means” could make it unlawful even to post a weblink to offshore sites of this nature. Another provision of the bill would make it a crime to “directly or indirectly advertise for sale” drugs or drug paraphernalia — and whatever the peculiar phrase “indirectly advertise” may mean in practice, it’s probably not good news for the First Amendment. A Washington Post editorial calls the provisions “overly broad” and “so vague as to threaten legitimate speech”: “The mere dissemination of information, especially without specific intent to further crime, seems within the bounds of free speech protections.”

SOURCES: “The Anti-Meth Bill” (editorial), Washington Post, May 26; Amy Worden, “House Bill Would Ban Drug Instructions”, APBNews, May 10; Declan McCullagh, “Bill criminalizes drug links”, Wired News, May 9; Jake Halpern, “Intentional Foul”, The New Republic, April 10; “Senate panel considers ban on Internet drug recipes”, AP/Freedom Forum, July 29, 1999; Debbi Gardiner and Declan McCullagh, “Reefer Madness Hits Congress”, Wired News, Aug. 6, 1999; J. T. Tuccille, “Shall make no law”, About.com Civil Liberties, Aug. 15, 1999; Phillip Taylor, “Marijuana activists denounce proposed ban of drug recipes”, Freedom Forum, Jan. 6.

May 30 — Won’t pay for set repairs. Orkin, the pest control company, is declining to compensate two consumers who’ve requested that it pay for fixing their TV sets after they attacked unusually convincing simulations of cockroaches that ran across the screen in its ads. The company says a Tampa, Fla., woman tried to kill the insect by throwing a motorcycle helmet at her set, while another man damaged his set by throwing a shoe at it. (“‘I felt really stupid’: Orkin cockroach commmercial has some viewers fooled “, AP/Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 6).

May 30 — Welcome San Jose Mercury News visitors. At Silicon Valley’s hometown paper, columnist John Murrell (“Minister of Information”) proposes this among sites “for your weekend Web wandering pleasure … your darkest visions of out-of-control litigiousness will be confirmed”. (May 26 entry). The weblog at uJoda.com (“From My Desktop”), where you can pick up Macintosh icons and graphics, reports that its author “found a great site called overlawyered.com, though not eye candy, it is rich in content” (May 6 entry). The pro-Second Amendment Fulton Armory featured us as their site of the week a couple of weeks ago, and we’ve also been linked recently by the Australian Public Law page maintained by the law faculty at the Northern Territory University, down under (“Not much to do with public law but we couldn’t help ourselves,” they explain re including us); by the Smith Center for Private Enterprise, a free-market think tank at Cal State, Hayward; by ClaimsPages.com, which offers a vast array of insurance-oriented links; and by the website of attorney Jule R. Herbert, Jr. of Alabama’s Gulf Coast, among many others.

May 26-29 — “Dame Edna’s Gladioli Toss Lands in Court”. “Dame Edna Everage”, the character created by Australian comedian Barry Humphries (website, B’way show), makes a custom of ending her show by flinging gladioli to the crowd, but now a man has hired a Melbourne law firm to undertake legal action, saying a stem of one of the large flowers struck him in the eye. 49-year-old singing teacher Gary May is “seeking unspecified damages for pain and suffering, loss of income and medical expenses.” (Reuters/Excite, May 25, lnk now dead). Last year (see Dec. 7) NBC’s “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” was sued by an audience member who says he was injured by one of the free t-shirts propelled into the crowd.

May 26-29 — “Skydivers don’t sue”. Lively Usenet discussion last month and this among skydiving enthusiasts (rec.skydiving) over recent lawsuits in the sport. In one, Canadian skydiving acrobat Gerry Dyck is suing teammate Robert Laidlaw over a 1991 accident during an eight-man stunt jump near Calgary in which Dyck was knocked unconscious and severely hurt on landing. (Jeffrey Jones, “Canadian skydiver sues teammate for mid-air crash”, San Jose Mercury News, April 24, no longer online). The other followed the death of James E. Martin, Jr., a Hemet, Calif. dentist and veteran of more than 5,000 jumps who perished when a line snagged on his parachute, his fifth time out on that gear. Now his widow’s suing the gear maker, Fliteline Systems of Lake Elsinore, Calif.; vice president Mick Cottle of Fliteline, the first defendant named in the suit, says Martin was a “close friend”. “Few lawsuits over sky diving deaths ever reach judgment,” reports the Riverside Press-Enterprise. And “most makers of sky-diving gear do not carry liability insurance, which reduces the likelihood of plaintiffs gaining a settlement.” About 32 sky-diving deaths occur annually in the U.S., of which about five lead to lawsuits, according to one frequent expert witness in the field; he estimates that plaintiffs have won only 1 or 2 percent of cases he’s seen, though it’s unclear whether he’s including settlements in that estimate. (Guy McCarthy, “Lawsuit blames gear in sky diver’s death”, Riverside Press-Enterprise, May 8, link now dead; Remarq saved thread; Deja.com archive, recent search on “lawsuit” — hundreds of posts in all)

May 26-29 — Insurers fret over online privacy suits. The wave of lawsuits against Yahoo!, DoubleClick and others for privacy sins has insurance companies “concerned they will have to pay for potentially massive torts they didn’t anticipate” in liability policies they’ve written for the dot-com sector. “‘If it’s not the next really big issue, it’s one of the next big issues where we can expect a lot of litigation,’ said Thomas R. Cornwell, VP of the technology insurance group” for insurer Chubb. “Plaintiff’s attorneys are honing their skills and preparing for a boom in such lawsuits,” reports the magazine Business Insurance in its May 22 lead story. “‘Just as the Internet itself is a growth area, Internet law is being recognized as a growth area within the legal profession,’ said David Sobel, general counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington. The nonprofit organization supports plaintiff lawsuits on Internet privacy.” “My guess is that now that the blood is in the water there will be a lot of plaintiffs’ attorneys sniffing it up,” said one lawyer who’s sued Yahoo. (Roberto Ceniceros, “Internet privacy liability growing”, Business Insurance, May 22, fee-based archives). Expect the cost of securing liability insurance for an Internet launch to rise accordingly.

May 26-29 — Suits by household pets? “Somewhere out there — maybe in a Boston zoo or a Fresno research lab — a Bonzo or Fido is biding his time, deceptively peeling a banana or playing dead, quietly getting ready to sue his master,” writes Claire Cooper of the Sacramento Bee. As animal-rights courses proliferate at law schools, activists are quietly looking for test cases in which to assert the singular new notion of standing for nonhuman creatures — with themselves as the designated legal representatives, needless to say. (“Pets suing their masters? Stay tuned, advocates say”, May 13). In March the Seattle Times profiled the Great Apes Legal Project, which views the non-human primate kingdom as plausible rights-bearing clients. This provoked a letter from reader David Storm of Everett, who said the article was “very interesting, but the goal doesn’t go far enough. In addition, we should declare the apes to be lawyers, which would simultaneously improve our legal system.” (Alex Tizon, “Cadre of lawyers working to win rights for apes”, Seattle Times, March 19; letters, March 21). See also Roger Bryant Banks, “Animal Dogma”, SpinTech (online), May 12, on the question: if Chimp v. Zoo is a good case, why not also Chimp v. Chimp, following incidents of violence or harassment?

May 26-29 — EPA’s high courtroom loss rate. Most federal agencies win most of the time when their regulatory decisionmaking is challenged in federal court, but the Environmental Protection Agency in recent years has been a glaring exception, losing a large share of the cases it has defended, including high-profile battles over electric car mandates, gasoline reformulation, and Clean Water Act permit-granting, among many others. Why does it fare so badly? Jonathan Adler of the Competitive Enterprise Institute thinks one reason is that agency policymakers adopt extreme legal positions, partly due to unclear authorizing statutes, partly due to zealousness among political appointees at the top. “Environmental Performance at the Bench: The EPA’s Record in Federal Court”, Reason Public Policy Institute, Policy Study #269; “EPA in Need of Adult Supervision”, CEI Update, March 1; Adler’s home page. Ben Lieberman, also of CEI, calls attention to one of the more unusual confrontations the EPA has gotten into of late: its crackdown on coal-burning utilities has led it into a showdown with the government-owned Tennessee Valley Authority, which means it’s the feds versus the feds. (“EPA’s tug at TVA’s power”, May 19, no longer online).

May 26-29 — Ready to handle your legal needs. Stephen Glass, who resigned in disgrace from The New Republic just over two years ago after being caught making up stories, is graduating this month from Georgetown Law School. The Pop View has posted this summary of the episode for anyone who’s forgotten (via Romenesko’s Media News).

May 25 — Conference on excessive legal fees. In Washington today from 10 to 4 Eastern, the Manhattan Institute, Federalist Society, Hudson Institute and Chamber of Commerce of the U.S. team up to host a conference on ideas for “protecting unsophisticated consumers, class action members, and taxpayers/citizens” from overreaching legal fees (schedule and confirmed speakers at Federalist Society site; live broadcast at U.S. Chamber site requires RealPlayer).

May 25 — Thomas the Tank Engine, derailed. “Children’s online privacy”: the sort of sweetness-and-light notion practically no one’s willing to criticize in principle. Yet regulation is regulation, and seldom lacking in real-world bite. Declan McCullagh at Wired News reports that the popular children’s TV show Thomas the Tank Engine has had to discontinue sending regular email bulletins to legions of young fans because obtaining parental consent individually would be too cumbersome. The show’s website cites the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which took effect last month. Other online publishers are also unilaterally cutting off subscribers under the age of 12, to their distress. (“COPPA Lets Steam Out of Thomas”, May 13; Lynn Burke, “Kid’s Privacy an Act, or Action?”, April 20).

May 25 — “Taking cash into custody”. Local law enforcement agencies systematically dodge the constraints of state forfeiture law to help themselves to proceeds after seizing cash and property in traffic stops and drug busts, according to this Kansas City Star investigation. And though Congress’s enactment of federal-level forfeiture law reform was much trumpeted earlier this year (see April 13, Jan. 31), it’s likely to leave many of the abuses unchecked. (Karen Dillon, Kansas City Star, series May 19-20).

May 25 — What the French think of American harassment law. Pretty much what you’d expect: “Fifteen years after the first harassment trials, puritanism in the office is total,” marvels the New York correspondent of a French paper named Liaisons Sociales. “A suggestive calendar in a man’s locker? Prohibited. Below-the-belt jokes? Totally excluded. Comments about physique? Illegal. The result is that behavior in the workplace has been profoundly changed. The doors of offices are always open. The secretaries are always present during tete-a-tete meetings, in case they need to be witnesses in litigation.” A few feminist French lawyers would like to emulate the American way of doing things but lament that in their country litigation is frowned on, damages are set at a token level, and, as one complains, “current French law makes no mention of things like improper jokes”. (Vivienne Walt, “Curbing Workplace Sexism Evolving Slowly in France,” New York Times, May 24 (reg)). Plus: chief exec of leading British fashion chain canned after inappropriate conduct (Fraser Nelson and Tim Fraser, “Pat on the bottom costs boss £1m job” Sunday Times (London), May 10).

May 25 — His wayward clients. In March, in 275 pages of court filings, Allstate, Geico and other insurers filed a lawsuit charging what they called “the most extensive fraud upon the New York no-fault system that has ever been uncovered,” suing 47 doctors, chiropractors and businessmen all told. But the complaint did not name as a defendant a lawyer who’s given legal advice or assistance to just about every one of those 47 defendants; he’s a former chairman of the State Bar Association’s health committee who rents office space in a politically connected law firm. Among his specialties is to assist chiropractors and others in getting around a New York rule that no one can own a medical practice other than a licensed doctor. The complaint says a Milford, Conn. physician who holds a license to practice medicine in New York had served as the front guy for no fewer than 29 medical practices in the state. (Glenn Thrush, “Black Belt Lawyer Robert B orsody Evades $57 Million Fraud Lawsuit”, New York Observer, March 20).

May 24 — Musical chairs disapproved. “The traditional children’s party game of musical chairs has been accused of breeding violence,” reports the BBC. A booklet produced under the auspices of the British education ministry by a group called the Forum on Children and Violence argues that the diversion rewards the “strongest and fastest” children and suggests that nursery schools consider an alternative game such as “musical statues”. The education spokeswoman for the opposition Tories, Theresa May, called the advice “political correctness gone mad”. (“Musical chairs ‘too violent'”, BBC News, May 23).

May 24 — After the great power-line panic. Eleven years ago reporter Paul Brodeur penned a series of articles for The New Yorker charging that electric power-line fields were causing childhood cancers and other ailments, later published as a book entitled Currents of Death. Trial lawyers promptly went on the warpath, and the resulting binge of scare publicity terrified countless parents. Hundreds of millions in litigation costs later, the suits have mostly fizzled. But have any lessons been learned? Forbes reprints an excerpt from Robert L. Park’s much-discussed new book, “Voodoo Science” (Oxford U. Press). (“Voodoo Science and the Power-Line Panic”, May 15). Among groups that stoked the panic were Trial Lawyers for Public Justice: see, e.g., “Names in the News: Kilovolt Cancer”, Multinational Monitor, March 1992 (second item, quoting TLPJ’s Michael Koskoff).

May 24 — Smudged plumage. The Baltimore Orioles, owned by trial lawyer zillionaire/political kingmaker Peter Angelos, say that in order not to threaten the “goodwill” arising from their exhibition performance against the Cuban national team last year (see Dec. 9, Oct. 19 commentaries), they’ll refuse to hire any baseball player who defects from Cuba. Roger Clegg of the Center for Equal Opportunity calls this stand “morally indefensible — telling those fleeing a totalitarian regime that they are unwelcome and unemployable” — and wonders how well it accords with the federal laws banning employment discrimination on the basis of national origin and lawful-immigrant status. Maybe the team could beat such charges by arguing that it has nothing against Cuban émigrés based on their national origin as such — it might hire them, after all, if they were loyal Castroites playing with Fidel’s approval. (“Peter Angelos in foul territory”, National Review Online, May 18; “Orioles Avoid Cuban Players Who Have Defected”, Reuters/Yahoo, May 17, link now dead).

May 24 — ADA & the web: sounding the alarm. “It’s simply a matter of (Internet) time before pitched battles over accommodations in the virtual world rival their physical counterparts,” writes MIT’s Michael Schrage (“Brave New Work: E-Commodating the Disabled in the Workplace”, Fortune, May 15; quotes our editor). The National Federation of the Blind’s recent lawsuit against AOL is “a 500-pound gorilla that party-goers can’t ignore,” according to a metaphor-happy lawyer with Morrison & Foerster. “…If the court rules that AOL is a public accommodation, it could require anyone engaging in e-commerce to make their Web site …accessible to people with disabilities.” (Ritchenya A. Shepherd, “Net Rights for the Disabled?”, National Law Journal, Nov. 15, 1999). “In a few years, if regulatory history is repeated, any Web site that doesn’t provide government-sanctioned equal access for the handicapped could be declared illegal,” warns an Internet Week columnist (Bill Frezza, “The ADA Stalks The Internet: Is Your Web Page Illegal?”, Feb. 28). Coming soon, we hope: a few highlights from the mail we’ve been inundated with on this topic, much of which we haven’t even had a chance to answer yet (thanks for your patience, correspondents!).

May 24 — Bargain price on The Excuse Factory. Usually we urge you to buy books through our online bookstore, but right now Laissez Faire Books is offering an unbeatable discount on our editor’s book about law and what it’s doing to the American workplace, The Excuse Factory, just $12.25 while they last (hardcover, too). And it makes a good occasion to check out the rest of the LFB catalogue. (Order direct from them.)

May 23 — Steering the evidence. The FBI is probing charges of evidence- and witness-tampering in a liability case that led a San Antonio judge last week to impose sanctions on plaintiff’s attorneys Robert Kugle, Andrew Toscano and Robert “Trey” Wilson. Bridgett and Juan Fabila had sued DaimlerChrysler, demanding $2 billion, over a 1996 accident in Mexico which killed several family members in their Dodge Neon. Their lawyers alleged that the car’s steering column decoupler was defective. But someone anonymously sent DaimlerChrysler evidence of misconduct by its adversaries, and eventually the carmaker succeeded in laying before 224th District Judge David Peeples evidence of the following:

* The steering decoupler was broken by the time the carmaker was allowed to see it, but photographs taken shortly after the accident showed it intact. The plaintiff’s lawyers denied for two years having any knowledge of such photos, and then, when they came to light, moved unilaterally to drop the suit, then argued (unsuccessfully) that the judge had no authority to impose sanctions on them because his jurisdiction ended with the suit. Close inspection of the steering decoupler revealed the minute scrapings of wrench marks and other signs of deliberate tampering.

* One of the attorneys’ investigators “tried to bribe two Mexican highway patrol officers in an attempt to change their testimony and threatened the family of a Red Cross official who said Fabila told him the accident had occurred because her husband fell asleep behind the wheel.”

* The “investigator who took the first set of photographs claim[ed] Wilson told him in March that his firm was ‘running a bluff, but we had our hand called.'” The lawyers said later that their real demand was for $75 million, of which they would get 40 percent as their share, according to the San Antonio paper’s Rick Casey.

Senior partner Robert Kugle of the Kugle Law Firm counter-accused the car company of itself bribing witnesses and tampering with evidence, while Wilson and investigator Stephen Garza “both asserted their Fifth Amendment right not to testify”. After an inquiry, Judge Peeples dismissed the Fabila family’s suit with prejudice, ordered attorneys Kugle, Toscano and Wilson to pay $920,000 in legal expenses that DaimlerChrysler had incurred — it’s not quite impossible for a defendant to recover its legal costs in an American courtroom — and said he planned to report his findings to the state bar and to county prosecutors for possible action. The FBI has seized the vehicle pursuant to further investigation, according to Casey. Kugle continues to declare his innocence of wrongdoing and says he intends to appeal; the other two attorneys were not available to reporters for comment. Ken Glucksman, associate general counsel of DaimlerChrysler, said the case was “the most flagrant example of misconduct I’ve seen in more than 20 years as a lawyer” and said he hoped the attorneys were disbarred. Update: final ruling by judge sets stage for appeal (June 26). Further update (Mar. 17, 2003).

SOURCES: Adolfo Pesquera, “Sanctions issued in tampering case”, San Antonio Express-News, May 18; San Antonio Express-News coverage by Rick Casey, various dates; “Judge Dismisses $2 Bln Suit vs. Daimler”, Reuters/FindLaw, May 18; “DaimlerChrysler wins $920,489 in fines against three Texas attorneys”, AP/Detroit Free Press, May 18; Dina ElBoghdady, “DaimlerChrysler fights baseless suits”, Detroit News, May 19; “Lawyers who sued DC fined”, Detroit Free Press, May 19, link now dead.

May 23 — “Toronto Torch” age-bias suit. Shirley Zegil, 52, has filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, saying she was improperly discharged by a Brantford strip club because of her age. “They told me I was too old and fat,” said Zegil, who has been disrobing for audiences for more than two decades and performs under the nicknames “The Contessa” and “Toronto Torch”. But she still has plenty of loyal fans among older clubgoers: “A girl is never too old to strip,” she says. (Dale Brazao, “Stripper, 52, a winner in my court of appeal”, Toronto Star, May 22, no longer online).

May 23 — Favorite bookmark. Edward E. Potter is president of the Employment Policy Foundation, which plays a prominent role in debates on workplace issues in the nation’s capital. Yesterday the Cincinnati Enquirer asked him to list his favorite bookmarks, and this site made it onto the short list. Thanks! (“Weighing future of work force” (interview), May 22).

May 23 — “Lawyers’ tobacco-suit fees invite revolt”. Arbitrators’ award of $265 million to Ohio tobacco lawyers was the final straw for editors of USA Today, which came out editorially yesterday in favor of limiting attorneys’ tobacco swag. Fee hauls have mounted to $10.4 billion, including $3.4 billion for lawyers representing Florida, $3.3 billion (Texas), $1.4 billion (Mississippi), and $575 million (Louisiana), the latter of which works out, according to a dissenting arbitrator, to $6,700 an hour. The paper calls the “mega-paydays” a “sorry legacy” of the tobacco deal and notes that lawyers “who represented many states are being paid repeatedly for piggyback efforts.” (May 22).

May 23 — “Harvard reenacts Jesus trial”. Among dramatis personae in simulated trial of founder of Christianity: divinity prof Harvey Cox as Pontius Pilate and, as defense lawyer for the man of Galilee, none other than Alan Dershowitz, who “said the role fulfilled a lifelong dream. ‘Jesus is the one client I’ve always wished I could have represented,’ said the law professor whose clients have included O.J. Simpson, Claus von Bulow and Leona Helmsley”. Arguing that crucifixion was too severe a penalty for defying Roman authorities, Dershowitz “came up with a novel substitute punishment. ‘I think it would be appropriate to tie him in litigation and appeals for years,” he said. ‘That way he would spend his life with lawyers, whom he hated.'” (Richard Higgins, Boston Globe/Omaha World Herald, May 13).

May 22 — Texas tobacco fees. “Every three months, like clockwork, another $25 million arrives for the five Texas tobacco lawyers.” The five are fighting tooth and nail to avoid being put under oath by Texas Attorney General John Cornyn, a Republican, about how they came by that money, specifically, “longtime allegations that his predecessor, Dan Morales, solicited large sums of money from lawyers he considered hiring” for the state’s tobacco case. (Wayne Slater, “Trial lawyers give heavily to Democrats”, Dallas Morning News, May 14; Clay Robison, “Cornyn moves in on anti-tobacco lawyers”, Houston Chronicle, April 27; Susan Borreson, “Motions Flying Again Over Tobacco Lawyers’ Fees”, Texas Lawyer, July 26, 1999; “Lawyers Challenge AG’s Subpoenas”, Nov. 17, 1999).

So far, according to the Dallas Morning News report, the five have taken in more than $400 million of the billions they expect eventually from the tobacco settlement, and have recycled a goodly chunk of that change into political donations — more than $2.2 million in unrestricted soft money to the Democrats already in this election cycle, with further sums expected. Walter Umphrey, along with members of his Beaumont firm, “has put at least $350,000 into Democratic coffers. ‘The only hope of the Democratic Party is that the trial lawyers nationwide dig down deep and the labor unions do the same thing,’ he said. In addition to Mr. Umphrey and his firm, John Eddie Williams and members of his Houston firm have given $720,000; Harold Nix of Daingerfield, $420,000; Wayne Reaud of Beaumont, $250,000; and John O’Quinn of Houston, $100,000.”

May 22 — Not child’s father, must pay anyway. “Told by his girlfriend that she was pregnant, Bill Neal of Glasgow Village presumed he was the father and agreed to pay child support.” Eight years and $8,000 in payments later, Neal was curious why the child didn’t take after his looks, arranged for a DNA test to be done, and discovered the boy was someone else’s. So far the courts have ruled that he has to keep paying anyway because he didn’t contest the matter earlier. The legal system is big on finality on the matter of paternity, as men have learned to their misfortune in similar cases lately in Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania. (Tim Bryant, “Man must pay support even though he is not boy’s father”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 17, no longer online). Plus: John Tierney on “throwaway dads” (“An Imbalance in the Battle Over Custody”, New York Times, April 29 (requires registration)).

May 22 — “Jury Awards Apparent Record $220,000 for Broken Finger”. It happened in Atlanta after 41-year-old dental hygienist Linda K. Powers took a spin on the dance floor with Mike D. Lastufka but came to grief when Lastufka “tried a shag-style spin move”; her thumb wound up broken and she sued him. The previously reported Georgia record for a broken finger or thumb was $20,000 to a tennis instructor hurt in an auto accident. (Trisha Renaud, Fulton County Daily Report, Jan. 28).

May 22 — Annals of zero tolerance. In Canton, Ohio, a six-year-old boy has been suspended from school for sexual harassment after he jumped from the tub where he was being given a bath and waved out the window to a school bus that was picking up his sister (Lori Monsewicz, “Boy, 6, jumps from tub into sex harassment trouble”, Canton Repository, May 11). In the latest “finger-gun” incident, the principal of a Boston elementary school visited a class of second-graders to admonish several of them for making the thumb-as-trigger gesture during a supervised play-acting session; the youngsters were not subjected to discipline, however. (Ed Hayward, “School gives hands-on lesson after kids pull ‘finger guns'”, Boston Herald, March 28). And the American Bar Association Journal — who says its views don’t coincide with ours occasionally? — points out that “a child is three times more likely to be struck by lightning than to be killed violently at school” and recounts many noteworthy cases: “A second-grader who accidentally grabbed her mother’s lunch bag containing a steak knife was disciplined despite turning the bag over to her teacher as soon as she realized her mistake. A middle-schooler who shared her asthma inhaler on the school bus with a classmate experiencing a wheezing attack was suspended for drug trafficking.” “Kids are not going to respect teachers and administrators who cannot appreciate the difference between a plastic knife and a switchblade,” says Virginia lawyer Diane Fener. (Margaret Graham Tebo, “Zero tolerance, zero sense”, ABA Journal, April).

March 2000 archives


March 15 — Annals of zero tolerance: scissors, teacher’s beer. A twelve-year-old at Morton Middle School in Omaha has been expelled after she brought a pair of blunt-edged safety scissors to school earlier this month. (Tanya Eiserer, “7th-Grader With Scissors Violates Policy”, Omaha World-Herald, March 9, link now dead). And ordering and drinking a beer with dinner in the presence of her swim team has apparently brought an end to the teaching and coaching career of Lori Gallagher in Greenwood, Ind. Gallagher had taken her team to Noble Roman’s restaurant after a February swim meet. “Clearly, a situation in which alcohol is in the presence of minors is inappropriate,” said Dan Clark, deputy executive director of the Indiana State Teachers Association, which backed Gallagher’s removal. (Dana Knight, “Greenwood coach suspended for drinking”, Indianapolis Star, March 9, link now dead; Jeff Taylor, Reason Express, March 13 (second item)).

March 15 — Game over four decades ago: let’s change the rules. The latest “Angelos bill” moving through the Maryland legislature would retroactively change state law to make it easier for governments and individuals to sue makers of interior lead paint, which was pulled off the market in the 1950s. The bill would remove the requirement that plaintiffs actually identify which firm manufactured paint to which they were exposed, instead allowing suits against all manufacturers alike under the theory of “market-share liability”. The powerful attorney, owner of the Baltimore Orioles, was earlier instrumental in steering legislation through Annapolis retroactively tagging tobacco companies with liability for selling their wares, a caper that resulted in a $1 billion fee claim for his firm (see Dec. 9, Oct. 19 commentaries). Paint and pigment manufacturers brought in former U.S. attorney general Benjamin Civiletti, former Solicitor General Walter Dellinger and others to argue against the measure. (Michael Dresser, “Lead Paint Bill is Debated”, Baltimore Sun, March 10; Timothy B. Wheeler and William F. Zorzi Jr., “Lawmakers back bill on lead paint”, Baltimore Sun, January 28; industry press release) (via Junk Science).

March 15 — What ADA was written for. Jose Francisco Almada took off for Mexico on a Sunday in 1997 on learning that a niece there had died after a long illness. When he returned on Wednesday he was told that his employer, USA Waste Inc., had terminated him for skipping work without notifying a supervisor. Almada hired a lawyer who proceeded to sue the company under — can you guess which statute? Not the Family and Medical Leave Act, but the Americans with Disabilities Act, on the grounds that the company’s action was a mere pretext to discriminate against him on the grounds of a back injury which prevented him from doing heavy lifting in his sanitation rounds. The company denied the charge and said Almada had displayed “poor work attitude” aside from the absenteeism incident but the Colorado Civil Rights Division sided with him and so did a jury, which voted him more than $250,000. Almada’s lawyer, James E. Gigax, said: “It is this kind of case the ADA is written for.” (Howard Pankratz, “Driver wins lawsuit under disabilities act”, Denver Post, Feb. 22).

March 15 — A dream of black goats. “To dream of white goats is a sign of wealth and plenty,” declares a fortune-telling “Oraculum” regularly consulted by Napoleon Bonaparte; “but black signify sickness and uncertain lawsuits.” (Napoleon’s Book of Fate and Oraculum (Kessinger)) (via The New Yorker, “Book Currents”, Dec. 27-Jan. 3, not online) (send black-goat greeting card).

March 14 — Clinton legal legacy. American Lawyer asked this site’s editor to contribute to a cover-story symposium on President Clinton’s legal legacy. “Bill and Hillary Clinton emerged from a Yale Law School milieu that admired litigation as the remedy for practically every social ill and assumed that the more people could be persuaded to assert their rights in court, the better off society would be — what some of us call the invisible-fist theory. … [By the end] the Clintons themselves [came] to experience the intense miseries of destructive litigation — an ordeal through which they set a very poor example of how to behave, and from which they appear to have learned precisely nothing.” Along the way, the piece sounds off on everything from the federal tobacco suit to sexual harassment law. (Walter Olson, “Selective Liability”, American Lawyer, March 3).

March 14 — Swissair crash aftermath. Since its Flight 111 went down off Nova Scotia in September 1998, Swissair has been widely praised for going farther than any previous airline to help victims’ families: it offered them advance payments of about $154,000 without awaiting the results of litigation, reimbursed extensive travel and funeral expenses, and performed many other services for the bereaved. The efforts have generated much good will among the families, but “is all this likely to reduce Swissair’s liability or the number of lawsuits filed against it? Probably not,” reports Margaret Jacobs of the Wall Street Journal‘s news side. Faced with the reality that the American litigation system behaves in just as harsh a fashion toward defendants who try to be good guys as toward those who resist trench by trench, airlines in the future may find themselves financially tempted to emulate the much harder line taken by such as Korean Air Lines, which is still litigating against survivor families 17 years after a crash.

A sidelight on the affair: recognizing that “courts outside the U.S. typically award a third or less of what U.S. courts do in wrongful-death actions”, Swissair initially offered much lower amounts to European than to American families, which raised a ruckus over there: “Swiss papers asked whether the airline believed an American life had more value than a European one.” Inevitably, the airline wound up offering the higher sums to everyone. Talk about genuine (for once) American imperialism: our legal system is so successful at exporting its premises that European legal systems can hardly give effect to their considered view as to the suitable level of damages even in many disputes among European citizens. (Margaret A. Jacobs, “Swissair Crash Tests Relations With Insurers”, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 15, fee-based archive).

March 14 — How bad can a capital trial get? What happens when a candidate for the Bad Prosecutors Hall of Fame faces off against a contender for the Clueless Defense Attorneys Championship? You get something like the 1983 Texas trial that sent Calvin Jerold Burdine to Death Row, which a federal judge threw out last September in favor of a new trial. “It is true that there is no bright line that distinguishes consciousness from sleep,” wrote U.S. District Judge David Hittner, with reference to allegations that Burdine’s court-appointed defense lawyer had repeatedly snoozed off during the proceedings. “However, the record and the evidence here is clear: [the defense lawyer] was actually unconscious.” According to the Washington Post‘s Paul Duggan, such cases are frequent enough that Texas appellate lawyers simply call ’em “sleeping-lawyer cases”. Because Judge Hittner found the inadequacy of defense sufficient grounds to overturn the conviction, he did not need to address further allegations that prosecutors had tainted the atmosphere against Burdine, who is gay, by calling him a “fairy” and a “queer” during his trial on charges of fatally stabbing a man during a burglary. According to the Post, “the prosecutor, in seeking a death sentence, argued to the jury that imposing a life term on a gay man would be an inadequate penalty, considering the prevalence of homosexual activity in prison. ‘Sending a homosexual to the penitentiary certainly isn’t a very bad punishment for a homosexual, and that’s what he is asking you to do,’ the prosecutor told the jury, according to a transcript.” (“Inadmissible: Zzzzz”, Texas Lawyer, October 4; text of judge’s order, Southern District of Texas; Paul Duggan, “Verdict Overturned Last Fall, Man Still on Death Row”, Washington Post, March 2).

March 13 — Videogame maker agrees to furnish safety gloves. How our state attorneys general keep busy: Nintendo of America has agreed to offer padded, fingerless protective gloves, up to four per household, to owners of a video game that’s been blamed for cuts, blisters and other hand injuries. “The ‘Mario Party’ game on the Nintendo 64 home game system can cause hand injury because players are encouraged to rapidly rotate a joy stick with a grooved tip, [New York] Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said Wednesday.” Spitzer’s office said the company had set aside up to $80 million to provide gloves — actual outlays can be predicted to be far below that — “and agreed to also provide $75,000 for the cost of the attorney general’s investigation,” reports AP. (Spitzer press release, March 8; “Nintendo To Give Safety Gloves”, AP/AltaVista, March 8; David Becker, “Nintendo offers glove to prevent joystick injuries”, CNet News.com, March 9). Reader Kenton Hoover, one of our informants on this story, is reminded of the old dialogue: Patient: “Doctor, it hurts when I do this.” Doctor: “So don’t do that.”

March 13 — Majesty of the law. “Attorney Marvin Barish could be hit with harsh sanctions by a federal judge for threatening to kill an Amtrak defense lawyer and calling him a ‘fat pig’ during a trial recess,” Shannon Duffy reports in Philadelphia’s Legal Intelligencer. U.S. District Judge Herbert J. Hutton declared a mistrial upon learning that Barish had allegedly told defense attorney Paul F.X. Gallagher, fist cocked, “I will kill you with my bare hands.” “You threatened his life in the presence of witnesses, sir,” said the indignant judge, after hearing an account of the incident from his courtroom deputy. “Not in the presence of the jury,” Barish replied; then, perhaps as it dawned that this was not an entirely satisfactory response, he added a more general denial: “I didn’t threaten his life or anybody.” At a later sanctions hearing, Barish said that he was “not condoning my conduct. It was really bad” but that “I didn’t mean that I would kill him” and that Gallagher “wasn’t in obvious fear of his life”. Barish’s attorney, James E. Beasley, said that his client was the real victim in the situation, having been provoked by unfair legal tactics on the part of Amtrak: “I think that having Mr. Barish go through this has been a sufficient sanction in and of itself.” (Shannon Duffy, “An Angry Lawyer?”, The Legal Intelligencer, March 10).

The colorful Barish last figured in these columns December 14, when we reported on the controversy over his having set up a plaintiff client in an apartment and paid his rent, gas, electric, cable television and phone bills. Updating that case, a federal judge refused to disqualify the veteran Philadelphia attorney as counsel in the case, finding such a sanction too harsh even if he committed an ethical violation. (Shannon Duffy, “Sugar Lawyer”, The Legal Intelligencer, Nov. 22).

March 13 — Take the settlement, sue anyway. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is considering a regulation under which terminated workers who’ve accepted a severance packet in exchange for a waiver agreeing not to sue could keep the packet and sue anyway. The worker would be allowed to attack the waiver of rights as not knowing and voluntary without having to “tender back” the sums received. “This is take the money and run,” says Mark DiBernardo of the management-oriented law firm Littler Mendelson. Steven Allen Bennett, commenting on behalf of the American Corporate Counsel Association, isn’t happy about the proposed rule either, saying it encourages “disgruntled employees with spurious claims to fight on endlessly”. (Kevin Livingston, “Gilding the Golden Handshake”, The Recorder/ CalLaw.com, Jan. 24).

March 13 — Welcome WhatTheHeck.com, Center for Equal Opportunity, RTL-4 Dutch television visitors:

* WhatTheHeck.com says its mission is “exposing the funny underside of society and, of course, stupid government tricks”. Check out its list of joke Ebay auctions, entitled “Ain’t Capitalism Grand?”, and its link to Frederic Bastiat’s Petition of the Candle-Makers of Paris, the funniest-ever satire on trade protection, on an Australian server. We get listed under the heading “Smart Sites”;

* “If you haven’t visited <www.overlawyered.com>, you should,” advises the Legal & Regulatory News newsletter (January) of the Center for Equal Opportunity, “the only think tank devoted exclusively to the promotion of colorblind equal opportunity and racial harmony”, headed by Linda Chavez;

* And Max Westerman’s recent report for RTL-4 Dutch television on lawsuits in New York City draws on this site’s resources.

March 10-12 — Accused of harassment; wins $2 million from employer. A Circuit Court jury in Hawaii has voted a $2.1 million award to Leland Gonsalves, who was fired from an auto service manager job at Infiniti-Nissan after a female service clerk filed a sexual harassment complaint against him. “It felt like I was being dragged through the mud and no matter how hard you rinsed off, it was going to follow you for the rest of your life,” Gonsalves said. “The jury found that Infiniti-Nissan unlawfully discriminated against Gonsalves, breached a promise to him that his job would not be affected by the investigation, and violated its own personnel policies and procedures involving his termination.” In court documents, the company had contended that “it conducted a preliminary investigation into the clerk’s allegations and found that Gonsalves appeared to have sexually harassed her based on his admissions”.

Eric Miyasaki, president of Nissan Motor Corp. in Hawaii Ltd., said the company had scrupulously followed EEOC guidelines for investigating harassment claims but that the court had found those guidelines to be non-binding. Miyasaki “said the verdict has ‘dangerous’ implications for every employer in the state. ‘If this decision is allowed to stand, Hawaii employers receiving complaints of harassment will have to choose whether they want to risk liability for ignoring the complaint or risk liability for doing what the sexual harassment law says they must do.'” Gonsalves, according to his lawyer, “has admitted to some of the woman’s allegations, apologized to her for any actions that she may have considered offensive and denied some allegations. But [he] has maintained that his conduct did not reach a level where it created a hostile work environment”. (Debra Barayuga, “$2.1 million award in reverse prejudice jury verdict”, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Jan. 26). [Update Jun. 2, 2003: Supreme Court of Hawaii in Nov. 2002 reversed verdict. Also corrected plaintiff’s first name.]

March 10-12 — Do as we say, cont’d. A big employer that delayed sending out overdue paychecks for weeks or even months would get in trouble with the law, right? But in this case the poky payers are the D.C. Superior Court and D.C. Court of Appeals in Washington, which have had a reputation for years for neglecting their bills. Eventually they got sued (in federal court) by three lawyers and one private investigator who hadn’t been paid for court-appointed criminal defense work. Then things got worse: “Because its attorneys did not reply within 20 days of Dec. 16 — the date the suit was filed — a clerk entered a default against the D.C. courts,” reports Legal Times. The failure to respond “certainly sets an interesting precedent in the courts’ effort to instill public confidence in its operations,” observes attorney Gary Sidell. (Carrie Johnson, “D.C. Courts Default in Suit by Lawyers”, Legal Times, Jan. 14).

March 10-12 — Rise, fall and rise of class actions. “The frequency of class actions has ebbed and flowed in the past 30 years. In 1988, The New York Times reported a sharp drop-off in these cases since the 1970s. A legal expert told the newspaper that class actions ‘sort of had their day in the sun and kind of petered out.’

“The sun is shining again. Though no government agency keeps accurate statistics on the numbers of class actions, no one — trial lawyers or corporate America — disputes that the frequency of these cases has multiplied exponentially [well, at least geometrically — ed.] since the early 1990s.

“A survey of large corporations by the Federalist Society, a conservative research group in Washington, D.C., estimated that from 1988 to 1998, class actions filings increased by 338 percent in federal courts and by more than 1,000 percent in state courts. Corporations that were defending only a handful of these cases 10 years ago now report dealing with 50 or 80 at a time.” (Eddie Curran, “On behalf of all others: legal growth industry has made plaintiffs of us all”, Mobile Register, Dec. 26) (see Feb. 7).

March 9 — Record employment verdict thrown out. A unanimous California Supreme Court, reversing an appeals court, has upheld a trial judge’s overturning of a record-breaking $89.5 million discrimination verdict against Hughes Aircraft Co. The trial judge had “found that (1) passion and prejudice had motivated the jury, (2) the damages did not bear a reasonable relationship to Hughes’s actions or plaintiffs’ injuries, and (3) they were grossly disproportionate to the amount of actual damages.” Justice Janice Brown wrote the high court’s opinion and also added a concurring opinion, also signed by Justice Ming W. Chin, calling unlimited punitive damages a violation of fairness and due process (“fundamental notions of justice require some correlation between punishment and harm” — with cite to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics) and saying such damages should seldom exceed triple the amount of actual damages. A counter-concurrence by Justice Stanley Mosk dismissed the awarding of excessive punitive damages as a non-crisis and the 3x-damages yardstick as itself arbitrary.

Since Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Malcolm H. Mackey threw out the verdict, attorneys for the plaintiffs have waged a personal campaign against him in the press: Judge Mackey appears to think “that only white people can be trusted to sit dispassionately on matters of race,” charges Santa Monica lawyer Ian Herzog, who represents former Hughes employees Jeffrey Lane and David Villalpando. “They were trying to send a message to the judiciary that any judge who overturns a civil rights verdict … is going to be accused of being racist,” said Hughes attorney Paul Grossman, of Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker. “The tactics were outrageous.” (Maura Dolan, “Justices Order New Trial in Race Bias Suit”, Los Angeles Times, March 7, link now dead; Lane v. Hughes Aircraft text of decision, filed March 6 (PDF format)).

March 9 — Costly state of higher awareness. “Deepak Chopra, the high lama of litigation, may be a pussycat on TV, but cross him in the courtroom and you’ll have a tiger on your tail,” reports Stephen Lemons at Salon. The New Age guru has “garnered notoriety through his frequent visits to the courtroom”, of which the most famous was his $35 million defamation suit against the Weekly Standard, settled on terms that included an abject retraction plus what Chopra says was a $1.6 million settlement. The La Jolla-based author and alternative medicine advocate has described that suit as “an act of love” meant to lift the magazine to “a higher state of awareness.” (Stephen Lemons, “The art of the spiritiual smackdown”, Salon, March 7).

March 9 — Everyone should weblog. Via Eatonweb yesterday, we discovered more ‘blogs to keep an eye on: Law School Dropout, by Chris O’Connor out of Oregon, led us to several previously unfamiliar resources, including a site on famous American trials by Prof. Doug Linder of the U. of Mo.-K.C. School of Law, Prof. Peter Tiersma’s list of links on law and language, and a compilation of “Weird and Funny Cases” with appended case citations, a welcome service. News/discussion log Edgecaseis worth a look as well. Weblogging (of which this site is one example) “appears to be undergoing a huge surge in popularity,” reports Wired News (Leander Kahney, “The Web the Way It Was”, Feb. 23). And Editor & Publisher Online columnist Steve Outing says it’s time mainstream news organizations “started doing Weblogs of their own”. (“Weblogs: from Underground to Mainstream”, March 8).

March 8 — Barrel pointing backward, cont’d. Another item, overlooked earlier, to add to the file on how litigation is slowing development of “smart guns” (see Feb. 17 commentary): a company that’s pioneered attempts to develop such guns is now seeking to pull out of the firearms business. Switzerland’s SIG Industrial Co. Holding Ltd. said it was seeking to sell its firearms businesses in Europe and the U.S., the latter of which claims an 11 percent share of the U.S. commercial pistol market. “The SIG announcement … is notable because the company attracted attention [in December], when it said that it would be the first manufacturer to market ‘personalized’ handguns. These weapons include an electronic locking system designed to allow only authorized users to fire,” reports Paul Barrett of the Wall Street Journal‘s news side. Such locking systems, of course, are among the innovations demanded by the cities suing gunmakers. “SIG said it will go ahead with ‘limited shipments’ of its personalized pistols later this year.”

From the same report: “In a separate development, gun manufacturer H&R 1871 Inc. said it would cease to produce handguns because of the litigation-driven increases in the cost of liability insurance and shipping. H&R, Gardner, Mass., had made a relatively small number of handguns and is primarily known for shotguns and rifles.” And the Zilkha group, which owns Colt’s, is trying to complete an acquisition of German-owned Heckler & Koch, after which it would “reduce or phase out Heckler & Koch’s sales of civilian pistols in the U.S.” (Paul Barrett, “Swiss Gun Maker SIG Plans to Sell U.S. Unit”, Wall Street Journal, Jan. 19, fee-based online service).

March 8 — Californians reject law boosting insurance litigation. By about a two-to-one margin, Golden State voters turned thumbs down on Proposition 30 (see March 6 commentary), thus disappointing the state’s trial lawyers and a coalition whose efforts they had backed. With 59 percent of precincts reporting, the measure was trailing 33 to 67 percent. (L.A. Times, proposition results).

March 8 — “Girl puts head under guillotine; sues when hurt”. The mock guillotine, installed as part of a school gymnasium haunted-house, had a wooden blade and was considered safe but allegedly injured her when its rope snapped. (Paul Waldie, “Girl sues after having ‘guillotine’ hit her neck”, National Post, March 6, link now dead; via Obscure Store). It’s our second item within a week from a Nova Scotia junior high school (see “Hug protest in Halifax”, March 2).

March 8 — Audio clip: our editor on NPR “Morning Edition”. Lawyers filed suit this week against the company that owns the K-B Toys chain, seeking class action status on behalf of African-American customers. The suit charges that stores in the chain located in white neighborhoods around the Washington, D.C. area have a more liberal check acceptance policy than stores with a predominantly minority clientele, a disparity that they say violates the Civil Rights Act. NPR’s Kathleen Schalch interviews this site’s editor who points out that courts have been reluctant to find store-to-store disparities unlawful when owners can cite a cost basis for them, such as a higher risk of returned checks in some locations. (March 6, summary (sixth item); audio clip (6:09 — requires Real Audio)).

March 7 — Mass ADA complaints. The problem of ADA filing mills — law offices that work closely with nonprofits or individual complainants to file large volumes of complaints under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which are then settled for legal fees and a promise of alterations — has begun breaking out into the general press (see our Jan. 26-27, Feb. 15 commentaries). John Stossel last Friday devoted his ABC 20/20 “Give Me a Break!” to the topic, relating the tale of shop owners Dave and Donna Batelaan in Lake Worth, Fla., whose Action Mobility Products got tagged with an ADA complaint for not having a sign designating handicap parking, an amenity that seemed unnecessary since the store sells products aimed at disabled buyers and nearly all of its customers are disabled. The Batelaans, who are disabled themselves, wound up paying $1,000 to settle the lawsuit, which was filed without warning. (Frank Mastropolo and James Wang (writers), “Taking Advantage“, ABC 20/20, “Give Me a Break!” with John Stossel, March 3, transcript).

Also last Friday, USA Today drew attention to the problem and, for balance, ran a guest op-ed by Florida attorney Robert Anthony Bogdan, who files such complaints (“…the motivation of myself and Lance Wogalter, as attorneys for our clients, is not to rake in huge fees, as critics claim. We have undertaken this representation because our client’s position is the right position. Of course, we cannot work for free.”) And Forbes‘ Michael Freedman contributes further details about Bogdan’s representation of the disabled daughter mentioned in our Feb. 15 report: she’s only 12 years old, which makes it especially incongruous that she’s filed complaints against a liquor store and pawn shop for alleged lack of accessibility. (“Loophole lets lawyers sue over dubious problems”, and Robert Anthony Bogdan, “Suits force ADA compliance”, USA Today, both March 3, no longer online; Michael Freedman, “How lawyers keep busy”, Forbes, March 20).

March 7 — Medical mistakes, continued. Further weaknesses of that much-publicized “epidemic of malpractice” study, per an article by New York Times health writer Lawrence K. Altman, M.D.: the “medication errors”, prominent among the total, aren’t necessarily the clear-cut kind where a different compound or dosage is taken than the doctor intended; many instead shade imperceptibly into judgment calls as to whether the physician was right to balance hoped-for benefits against known risks of side effects in particular cases. And: “Classifying falls as errors, as the report did, is also a murky area because they happen commonly in homes and on the street.” Though caregiver negligence concededly contributes to some falls, others are unavoidable in a largely elderly patient population amid unfamiliar surroundings and disoriented by illness and by powerful medications. (“The Doctor’s World: Getting to the Core of Mistakes in Medicine”, New York Times, Feb. 29) (earlier coverage of the study on this site: Feb. 22, Feb. 28).

March 7 — The scarlet %+#?*^)&!. More firms are severing relations with customers who are heard to make profane, raunchy or racially insensitive remarks, a step that helps insulate them from possible liability for tolerating a “hostile environment” for their own workers. “Plante & Moran, a Southfield, Mich., accounting and consulting firm, has terminated two or three clients in the past five years for abusive or profane language, sexist jokes or other offenses, says managing partner Bill Matthews.” (Sue Shellenbarger, “More Firms, Siding With Employees, Bid Bad Clients Farewell”, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 16 (requires online subscription)). And Forbes reports that some employers are hiring $1,000-an-hour consultant James O’Connor to mount seminars for employees on how to avoid using foul language; O’Connor’s consultancy is called the Cuss Control Academy. (Michael Freedman, “The Curse of Consultants”, Forbes, Jan. 24).

March 6 — Zapped pylon-climber sues liquor servers, utility. Nominated by reader acclaim: Ed O’Rourke has sued Tampa Electric, along with six bars and stores that sold him alcoholic beverages, over a 1996 incident in which he was blasted by 13,000 volts of electricity after breaking into a fenced, gated and locked utility substation and climbing up a transformer in a “drunken stupor”. The suit further alleges that local bars and stores negligently served O’Rourke liquor even though he was “unable to control his urge to drink alcoholic beverages”. The owner of the Waterhole Sports Bar, one of those sued, said he “remembers the transformer incident but denied that O’Rourke drank at his bar the night it happened. ‘Because he was previously thrown out of here because he was writing on the bathroom walls.'” (“‘Shocked’ Man Sues Bars That Served Him”, Reuters/Yahoo, March 3, link now dead) (another pylon-climber case: see Sept. 17).

March 6 — Press releases, or “strike suit” ads? Tampa Tribune looks in some detail at the puffish “news releases” by which securities class-action lawyers announce new suit-filings: are they informing the press, or soliciting more clients? “‘These announcements are intended to say, “I’m here. I’d like to be lead counsel,”‘ said Charles Elson, a law professor at the Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport.” Bar association officials say that because these releases “don’t technically qualify as advertising, they aren’t subject to scrutiny by these professional groups.” (Eric Miller, “The paper chase”, Tampa Tribune, March 5, link now dead).

March 6 — “Whirlpool settles $581 million verdict out of court.” The original Alabama jury verdict last May involved a $1,200 dispute over a satellite dish. Terms of the new settlement, with lawyers for Barbara Carlisle and her parents, George and Velma Merriweather, weren’t disclosed. (AP/Fox News, March 1).

March 6 — Pro-litigation measures on Calif. ballot. Propositions 30 and 31, if defeated by voters, would repeal two laws favored by trial lawyers that make it easier to sue insurance companies for delaying the payment of claims, including third-party liability claims against their policyholders. The measures appear to be trailing in voter support. (Michael Kahn, “Calif. battle over insurance lawsuits cost millions”, Excite/Reuters, March 2, link now dead; Benjamin Zycher, “Do We Really Need Even More Lawsuits?”, Los Angeles Times, March 3, link now dead; Andrew Tobias, “California Props”, online column, March 6) (measures defeated; see March 8 update).

March 3-5 — It’s Howdy Doody litigation time. Although the freckle-faced marionette of fifties TV was awarded a bronze star last month at Rockefeller Center, the actual cowboy-puppet used on the show has been locked in a trunk in a bank vault in New London, Ct. for the past year, the subject of a prolonged ownership dispute between the late puppeteer Rufus Rose’s family and the Detroit Institute of Arts. The last cast member to play the part of Clarabell the clown, Lew Anderson, 77, has even been put through a deposition, but apparently did not jump up and squirt the lawyers with seltzer as he might have in days of yore. (Corey Kilgannon, New York Times/Deseret News, Feb. 27; NBC website on the show)

March 3-5 — Welcome Reader’s Digest visitors. Randy Fitzgerald’s newly posted article on the outrageous results of asset-forfeiture laws, “Guilty Until Proven Innocent“, gives this website a link.

March 3-5 — Junk fax litigation, continued. Latest case of this sort to attract notice is in Georgia, a class action seeking $12 million from Hooters restaurants over alleged uninvited faxing of lunch coupons. “Value-Fax, owned by Bambi K. Clark, was hired by Hooters and other businesses to distribute advertisements to Augusta-area fax machines” in the mid-1990s, according to Trisha Renaud in the Fulton County Daily Report (Jan. 26). See our Oct. 22 commentary for an account of the epic legal struggle over unsolicited faxing in Houston.

March 3-5 — “Tenure Gridlock: When Professors Choose Not To Retire”. The New York Times quotes Muhlenberg College president Arthur Taylor on the “tenure gridlock” that’s resulted from age bias law‘s having deprived colleges of discretion over how long faculty stay at their posts: “We have no way of asking someone to retire. They literally can go on forever — and some do.” (Edward Wyatt, Feb. 16).

March 3-5 — “ADA’s Good Intentions Have Unintended Consequences”. Insight‘s John Elvin explores headaches caused by the application of the Americans with Disabilities Act in the workplace, including safety worries, the law’s protection of workers who suffer mental illness, and the “sued if you do, sued if you don’t” clash between various legal rules. Quotes this site’s editor at length (Jan. 28).

March 3-5 — Medical monitoring conference. Lawsuits over “medical monitoring” contend that although a plaintiff may not have sustained any detectable health injury from an event, the defendant should nonetheless pay for periodic doctors’ checkups to keep tabs on whether such injury emerges later. In December the Federalist Society brought critics and supporters of the idea together for a conference whose transcript is now online; product liability critic Victor Schwartz of Crowell and Moring, with three co-authors, has also published a paper critical of the notion on the Social Science Research Network. (“Medical Monitoring – Should Tort Law Say Yes?“, posted Feb. 22).

March 2 — Hug protest in Halifax. “Students at a Nova Scotia junior high school went on strike yesterday, walking out of class to protest a strict behavioral code they say forbids everything from hugs and high-fives to piggybacks.” Like a growing number of other schools across Canada, Vanier Junior High “takes a zero tolerance stance on all physical contact, fearful that horseplay could spiral into something more serious.” The results have included prohibitions on tag, touch football and other contact games; mandatory suspensions for playful antics such as pushing schoolmates in the snow; and, in recent controversies at two Manitoba schools, bans on “mass hugging” and kissing in hallways. “We want to be able to go to school and be able to hug your friend good morning,” says eighth grader Rosemary Buote of the new Halifax protests, in which about 200 students chanted slogans and “carried homemade signs that read: ‘We want hugs not punches’ and ‘We want a school not a prison'”. (Peter McLaughlin, “Halifax students walk out over hands-off policy”, Halifax Daily News/National Post, Feb. 29; Jennifer Prittie, “Schools are ruining childhood, critics charge”, National Post, Feb. 28, links now dead).

March 2 — Because they still had money. Class-action lawyers sued cigarette companies last month on grounds of alleged price-fixing, but antitrust experts interviewed by the Washington Post said the case for liability was far from clear on the evidence laid out thus far. Michael Hausfeld, of D.C.’s high-profile Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll, is leading the charge, as he also is in private actions against Microsoft. The Wall Street Journal‘s news side reports that Hausfeld “says he was eager to sue the industry, at least in part, because his firm missed out on the fee bonanza that resulted from the state tobacco settlements.” When the earlier litigation binge was being organized some of Cohen, Milstein’s partners were skeptical about the states’ likelihood of prevailing, with the result that the firm “turned down invitations to help represent various states.” (James V. Grimaldi, “Doubts Raised on Tobacco Lawsuit”, Washington Post, Feb. 9, link now dead; Paul Barrett, “New Legal Attack Aims at Tobacco Firms”, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 8) (requires online subscription).

March 2 — Update: unmitigated madness, on lawyers’ orders. Andrew Goldstein “has twice punched a court social worker since he stopped taking his anti-psychotic medication, court officials and lawyers disclosed”. Goldstein’s lawyers advised him to stop taking his medication in preparation for his murder trial so the extent of his schizophrenia could properly impress the jury (see February 26-27). Xavier Amador, a professor at Columbia’s medical school, conceded the defendant might benefit legally from the tactic, but said it was deplorable from a medical standpoint and might cause him permanent damage. In his previous trial, which ended with a jury deadlock, defense lawyers argued “that the subway attack [on Kendra Webdale] had been one in a series of psychotic episodes over 10 years in which Mr. Goldstein abruptly punched, kicked or shoved people.” (David Rohde, “Court is Told Subway Killer, Off Medication, Hit a Social Worker”, New York Times, Feb. 29 (fee-based archive)).

March 2 — Yahoo stalked me! A suit newly filed in Dallas charges Yahoo! Inc. with various legal offenses that include violation of Texas’s anti-stalking law because its sites use cookies to track visitors’ movements, which attorney Lawrence Friedman called a “surveillance-like scheme”. (Texas anti-stalking law forbids the following of another person around repeatedly in a way calculated to cause him to fear for his own safety or that of his family or property.) Lawyers around the country are rushing to file privacy-invasion suits against commercial websites, a process the National Law Journal calls a “potential bonanza” for the bar but also a “crapshoot”: “They’re really groping for theories and statutes to use as a basis for the claims,” says Fordham law professor Joel Reidenberg. The lawsuits often charge site operators with violations of antihacking statutes — specifically, gaining “unauthorized access” to computer systems and electronic communications. “This is only the start of a lot of issues we’re going to have with the Internet,” says one plaintiff’s lawyer. (Matt Fleischer, “Click Here for More Web Suits”, National Law Journal, Feb. 22; “Lawsuit Reportedly Claims Yahoo’s Web ‘Cookies’ Allow Illegal Stalking”, DowJones.com, Feb. 18; “Texas company accuses Yahoo of privacy violations”, Bloomberg/CNet, Jan. 26).

March 1 — From our mail sack: skin art disclaimers. Pat Fish of Tattoo Santa Barbara wrote us over the holidays:

“All tattoo parlors use a waiver form now, hoping to intimidate the clients from suing should they fail to take good care in healing their Celtic spiral tattoo designtattoo. Part of the form goes on at length about understanding that this is a permanent change to the appearance, that the client has no mental impairment or physical disease. So I got a perverse impulse the other day and added to mine the phrase ‘I am not a lawyer, nor do I work for one.’ Hey, I can wear gloves to protect myself from someone who has a communicable disease, but I figure it is LAWYERS I’m really scared of!

“So last week I got my first lawyer, and he did not initial the paragraph in which that phrase appeared and explained that, in fact, he was a lawyer. So I made him circle the phrase, and write in the margin next to it ‘But I am ashamed of it.’ Then we proceeded to do the armband tattoo.

“I have a feeling that I am on my way to becoming an urban legend in the law circles of Los Angeles, since I am sure that whenever he shows off his new tattoo to colleagues he will tell this story.” (Tattoo Santa Barbara consent form) (more on disclaimers).

March 1 — Class-actioneers’ woes. Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach L.L.P. is still the best-known plaintiff’s class action firm in the land, but it’s suffered more than its share of reverses of late. The National Law Journal reports that three of the firm’s partners have resigned so as to avoid paying a multimillion-dollar share of its $50 million settlement with Lexecon Inc. over charges of malicious litigation; the payout was not covered by insurance. In January, allegations emerged that one of the firm’s “lead plaintiff” investors in a class-action suit against Oxford Health Plans Inc. had misrepresented his education, criminal record, history as a defendant in a civil case and his trading in Oxford securities. All this on top of the embarrassment last fall (see Oct. 13) in which Milberg Weiss inadvertently sued one of its own clients for treble damages for alleged racketeering in the course of a legal offensive against makers of children’s Pokémon trading cards. (Karen Donovan, “Three Milberg Partners Resign”, National Law Journal, Jan. 11; “Another Fine Mess for Milberg”, Jan. 25).

March 1 — Prozac made him rob banks. Connecticut Superior Court Judge Richard Arnold last week found Christopher DeAngelo of Wallingford not guilty of robbing banks and a department store because the drug Prozac made him do it. “This is not a case of somebody pulling a fast one or being too clever,” said the twenty-eight-year-old’s attorney, John Williams. “The hard indisputable fact of this case is that this young man was driven to commit crimes by a prescription drug.” Courts in Kentucky, New York and Minnesota have rejected legal claims based on Prozac use over the last decade. (“Conn. judge: Man not guilty of robbing banks because Prozac made him do it”, AP/CourtTV, Feb. 25).


March 31-April 2 — Punished for resistance. Gun-suit organizers were hoping Smith & Wesson’s capitulation would bring about a race among other firearms makers to settle; instead, manufacturers, dealers and buyers are racing to dissociate themselves from the hapless company, formerly the market leader. Now — in a move that counts as heavy-handed even by the standards of activist attorneys general — Connecticut AG Richard Blumenthal and New York’s Eliot Spitzer are readying antitrust action against companies in the gun industry for the offense of shunning S&W. Connecticut reportedly issued subpoenas yesterday; among possible grievances bruited in the New York Times‘ account are that some organizers of shooting matches have told S&W that it is no longer welcome, that dealers are dropping its wares, and that other gun companies are unwilling to go on coordinating their legal defense efforts with S&W, which means it will have to find a new law firm. Blumenthal’s and Spitzer’s message to those in the gun business could hardly be clearer: better go quietly, because we’ll crush you if you resist in any organized way. (Fox Butterfield and Raymond Hernandez, “Gun Maker’s Accord on Curbs Brings Industry Pressure”, New York Times, March 30; Peter Slevin and Sharon Walsh, “Conn. Subpoenas Firms in Gun Antitrust Probe”, Washington Post, March 31).

March 31-April 2 — Terminix vs. consumer critic’s website. Pest control company Terminix retreats from courtroom efforts to swat dissatisfied consumer Carla Virga, who put up a website to publicize her unhappiness with its services. After its defamation suit was dismissed, the company tried again on the theory that Ms. Virga was infringing its rights by using the word Terminix itself in “metatags” directed at search engine listings. This succeeded in infuriating many in the Web community, and now the company has backed off that second action as well. Other companies that have gone to court against angry-consumer websites include Bally Total Fitness, Circuit City, and U-Haul. (Craig Bicknell, “Site No Longer Bugs Terminix”, Wired News, Mar. 11; Robyn Blumner, “Welcome to the world of free-speech exterminators”, St. Petersburg Times, Mar. 19).

March 31-April 2 — Employer-based health coverage in retreat? Report in the news-side Wall Street Journal last month suggests more big employers are beginning to “look for an exit strategy from the health-benefits business”, especially since “it’s possible that Congress or a court ruling will expose employers to legal liability in malpractice cases“. Under “defined contribution” models pioneered at Xerox Corp. and elsewhere, employees are given lump-sum health vouchers and told to find the plan that’s best for them. Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Kenneth Abramowitz sees the benefits of giving workers choice, but points out the danger that employees will be cut loose with a “Yellow Pages” outcome: “Here’s $5,000 and the Yellow Pages. You figure it out.” “Adding new liability for companies could prompt some to scuttle their health-benefits programs and send employees into the market to fend for themselves. Says Margaret O’Kane, head of a managed-care accrediting organization called the National Committee for Quality Assurance: ‘If employers find themselves in the path of the trial lawyers, I think you can expect a massive bailout'”. (Ron Winslow and Carol Gentry, “Health-Benefits Trend: Give Workers Money, Let Them Buy a Plan”, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 8, fee-based library).

March 31-April 2 — Welcome Milwaukee Journal Sentinel readers. Overlawyered.com was a featured website earlier this month in Bob Schwabach’s “On Computers” column, which runs in Wisconsin’s leading paper and many others nationwide (March 9).

March 30 — Hollywood special: “Erin Brockovich”. The words “babelicious” and “toxic tort” had probably never been used in the same sentence before, but Julia Roberts’ new flick is finally showing that with the right costume design a litigation movie can ace the box office. Now the Hudson Institute’s Mike Fumento, in an op-ed in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal expanded considerably into a piece in yesterday’s National Post (Canada), challenges the premise, taken for granted among most reviewers of the film, that Pacific Gas & Electric was guilty as charged of poisoning the populace of a small California desert town with chromium-6 in the water. Fumento says the levels of contamination found were orders of magnitude lower than those needed to induce health effects in experimental animals; that the lawyers sought to blame on the water a wide assortment of ailments among local residents that science has not linked to chromium exposure; and that health studies found that the plant’s own workers, who were likely exposed to at least as much pollution as neighbors, had a life expectancy comfortably exceeding the California average. (Michael Fumento, “The dark side of Erin Brockovich”, National Post, March 29; Michael Fumento, “‘Erin Brockovich’, exposed”, Wall Street Journal, March 28; official film site; Mr. Showbiz review; Christine Hanley, “Brockovich’s Work Is Just Beginning”, AP/ABC News, March 27).

March 30 — Hollywood special: “The Insider”. Though nominated for numerous Oscars, last season’s portentous litigation epic The Insider got shut out in the actual naming of awards. Were Academy voters bothered by the film’s unacknowledged fictionalizations, or did they just share the views of Adam Heimlich of the New York Press, who last week called the film “preposterously overheated … The title character’s big revelation in this interminable movie — which treats the looting of tobacco companies by trial lawyers with enough gravitas to make Judgment at Nuremberg feel like Oklahoma! by comparison — is that ‘cigarettes are nothing but a delivery system for nicotine.’ … God forbid someone in Hollywood or on the Upper West Side speaks out against the selective demonization, for purposes of state and oligarchic power, of the drugs they don’t happen to use. Philip Morris should fight back with a drama exposing that Starbucks lattes are nothing but a delivery system for caffeine and martinis are nothing but a delivery system for alcohol. If Insider wins Best Picture … it’ll prove that Hollywood is nothing but a delivery system for the propagandistic justification of top-down class warfare.” But it didn’t win. (Adam Heimlich, “Heimytown”, New York Press, Mar. 22).

March 30 — Al Gore among friendly crowd. Last Thursday Vice President Gore attended a $500,000 luncheon fund-raiser at the Cincinnati home of Stanley Chesley, sometimes nicknamed the “Master of Disaster”, one of the country’s most prominent plaintiff’s trial lawyers. The Cincinnati Post says that Chesley, known for air-crash, tobacco and Microsoft suits, “has been a dependable fund-raiser for the vice president and President Clinton.” (Bill Straub, “Gore next to visit Cincinnati to raise funds”, Cincinnati Post, March 22; Sharon Moloney, “Gore bashes Bush tax plan”, Cincinnati Post, March 24); Christopher Palmeri and James Samuelson, “The Golden Leaf”, Forbes, July 7, 1997). For recent fund-raising by Bill Clinton among trial lawyers, see our Feb. 14 commentary.

Forbes Online columnist James Freeman recently took a hard look at Gore’s in-depth support from trial lawyers (“Who’s funding Gore?”, Feb. 28). Gore’s financial backers over the years have included most of the biggest names in the litigation business, including Wayne Reaud (asbestos, Toshiba laptops), John O’Quinn (breast implants, many others), Joe Rice (asbestos, tobacco), Bill Lerach (shareholder lawsuits), etc. Gore hosted Lerach at the White House for coffee in February 1995, Freeman writes, and Chesley was there for coffee that same day.

March 29 — Litigator’s bliss: finding opponent’s disgruntled former employee. “Assume the legal lotus position and imagine a happy place. What greater nirvana could there be than [finding] the disgruntled former employee of an opposing party? Gruntled or not, a high priority of any good discovery plan should be to identify and interview former employees as quickly as possible, before the other side can neutralize or co-opt them.” (Jerold S. Solovy and Robert L. Byman, “Discovery: Ex parte, Brutus?” (practitioners’ advice column), National Law Journal, March 27, not online).

March 29 — Why rush that software project, anyway? California adds to its reputation as a high-hassle state for tech employers with a law taking effect this year, backed by unions and plaintiff’s employment lawyers, requiring that many computer consultants be paid overtime rates if they put in more than eight hours in a day. Many such consultants bill at rates that exceed $50, $100 or even $200 an hour, before the overtime premium is added in. One Bay Area staffing exec says most of his employer clients are unwilling to trigger the overtime entitlement and are instead sending home specialists after eight hours who would previously have worked longer (Margaret Steen, “New overtime law spurs change in tech firms”, San Jose Mercury News, March 22, link now dead; “Hi, OT Law; Bye, Tech Boom?”, Reuters/Wired News, March 2; Margaret Steen, “New law means overtime pay for computer consultants”, San Jose Mercury News, Feb. 29; Kirby C. Wilcox, Leslie L. Abbott and Caroline A. Zuk, “The 8-Hour Day Returns”, CalLaw, Jan. 24).

March 29 — The bold cosmetologists of law enforcement. The New York Times took note this Sunday of efforts in Nevada and Connecticut to enlist beauty-parlor personnel in the task of identifying possible victims of domestic violence for referral to battered women’s shelters and other social service agencies (see our March 16 commentary). Its report adds a remarkable new detail regarding the sorts of indicators that Nevada cosmetologists are being officially encouraged to watch for as signs of household violence (being licensed by the state, they have reason to listen with care to what’s expected of them). “Torn-out hair or a bruised eye may signal abuse, but more subtle warning signs may come out in conversation. One Nevada hairdresser, [state official Veronica] Boyd-Frenkel said, told of a client who said: ‘My husband doesn’t want me to see my friend anymore. He says she is putting bad ideas in my head.’

“‘Emotional abuse, intimidation, control, jealousy, overpossessiveness and constant monitoring,’ she said, can be as sure signs of domestic violence as physical injuries.” Does Ms. Boyd-Frenkel, who holds the title of “domestic violence ombudsman” for the attorney general of Nevada, really deem it “emotional abuse” and potential domestic violence when a husband seeks to warn a wife (or vice versa) away from a friend who’s considered a bad influence? Is such spousal behavior really to trigger the notice of the official social-service apparatus, and its new deputies in the hair and nail salons of Nevada? (Jeff Stryker, “Those Who Stand and Coif Might Also Protect”, New York Times, March 26).

March 29 — Update: advice to drop medication unavailing. As reported earlier, subway-push defendant Andrew Goldstein went off his antipsychotic medication before his recent murder trial on advice of his lawyers, in order to demonstrate to the jury how deranged he was (see Feb. 26-27 and March 2 commentaries). Whatever the ethical status of this tactic, it was apparently unavailing in practice: a New York City jury convicted Goldstein of murder last week. He will probably serve his sentence in a state prison outfitted to give him psychiatric care. (Samuel Maull, “Man Convicted in Subway Shove Case”, AP/Excite, Mar. 22).

March 28 — $65 million Texas verdict: driver at twice the legal blood limit. “A Galveston, Texas, jury has awarded $65 million to the parents and estate of a woman who drowned after her car plunged off a boat ramp and she couldn’t disengage her seat belt.

“The jury found defendants Honda of America Manufacturing Co. Inc. and Honda R & D Co. Ltd. 75 percent responsible for the death of Karen Norman — even though after her death, Norman’s blood-alcohol level measured at nearly twice the Texas legal limit. …

“After the accident, [Honda attorney Brad] Safon noted, Norman’s blood-alcohol level was measured at 0.17. The Texas drunk driving limit at the time of the accident was 0.10; it is now 0.08.” Plaintiff’s lawyers said the salt water in which Norman drowned might have thrown off the blood level reading. (Margaret Cronin Fisk, “Fatal Grip of Seat Belt Results in $65M Verdict”, National Law Journal, Mar. 27)(& update Oct. 13, 2003: appeals court throws out award, which trial judge has previously reduced to $43 million).

March 28 — Call me a fraud, will you? Why, I’ll…I’ll hire you! Last year Big Five accountants Ernst & Young paid $185 million to settle a bankruptcy trustee’s charges that it had mishandled the affairs of the now-defunct Merry-Go-Round apparel chain. Now Ernst has sued its former law firm, D.C.-based Swidler Berlin Shereff Friedman, which it says should share the blame. And to prosecute the new suit Ernst has hired none other than the law firm that sued it in the first round, Snyder, Weiner, Weltchek & Vogelstein of Pikesville, Md. “Swidler noted that Snyder Weiner in the earlier suit had accused Ernst of fraud, and now Snyder Weiner in ‘this complaint asserts “E&Y’s innocence of the fraud”‘”. An Ernst executive shrugs off criticism: “Who knows about the case more than the firm that argued the other side?” (Elizabeth MacDonald, “Ernst & Young Sues Law Firm Over Settlement”, Wall Street Journal, March 14 (online subscribers only); James V. Grimaldi, “Accounting Firm Sues Lawyers”, Washington Post, March 14).

March 28 — Annals of zero tolerance: don’t play James Bond. A fifth-grade “model student” at Sutton Elementary School in Tecumseh, Michigan faces expulsion for up to a half year for bringing a plastic toy gun to school because he wanted to “play James Bond”. “You could see it was plastic,” said school superintendent Rich Fauble. “If you looked at it, you could tell it wasn’t a gun.” “I just wanted to play with it at recess,” said the boy, in Fauble’s account. “I didn’t want to hurt anybody. I play with it at home.” Sutton principal Debra Langmeyer said the board’s recommendation of expulsion “might seem extreme” but is intended to “send a message” about guns. (“Toy gun may cause student’s expulsion”, Toledo Blade, Mar. 16).

March 28 — From the labor arbitration front. The Connecticut Supreme Court, over dissents from two of its members, has upheld an arbitrator’s order that David Warren be reinstated to his municipal job in the town of Groton, from which he was dismissed in 1997 after pleading no contest to charges of larceny. Warren was accused of stealing money from the town by selling dumping permits and pocketing the proceeds himself, but the court saw no reason to disturb an arbitrator’s reasoning that his no contest plea might have reflected a wish to avoid the cost and inconvenience of trial, rather than actual guilt. (“‘No-contest’ not guilty, Supreme Court says”, New Haven Register, March 21). And the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review an arbitrator’s order that a West Virginia mining company rehire a heavy machinery operator fired after he twice tested positive for marijuana use. The Fourth Circuit upheld the reinstatement, noting that courts “overwhelmingly” defer to the results of arbitration in the unionized workplace. (AP/FindLaw, “Supreme Court to clarify when lower courts can overrule arbitrators”, Mar. 20; Eastern Associated Coal Corp. vs. United Mine Workers, 99-1038).

March 28 — Another visitor record set. Last week was the busiest yet for visitors since Overlawyered.com was launched nine months ago … thanks for your support!

March 27 — Welcome Arts & Letters Daily readers. The best weblog in the world for coverage of essays and history, biography and belles-lettres, is put out for a worldwide audience by philosophy professor Denis Dutton of the University of Christchurch in New Zealand. We get a featured link today (see right-hand column after link to Sullivan piece, for which itself see below).

March 27 — Another S&W thing. “We want to do a Smith & Wesson-like thing with DoubleClick,” Michigan attorney general Jennifer Granholm said Thursday, referring to restrictions on Web data collection that she and attorneys general from New York, Connecticut, and Vermont have been negotiating with the biggest online ad-placement company. We suppose this means that she and her colleagues want to invent far-fetched legal theories to attack business practices that have long been regarded as lawful; file a great flurry of suits in multiple courts so as to overwhelm the designated opponent; use the threat of bankrupting legal expense to muscle it into submission with no need to reach a decision on the merits; and instill fear into other businesses that the same thing could happen to them unless they cooperate with the dictates of ambitious AGs. After all, that’s what was done to S&W. (“AGs Eye Privacy”, Reuters/Wired News, March 23; “DoubleClick in settlement discussions”, Bloomberg News/CNet, March 23).

March 27 — Philadelphia: feminist groups to be consulted on whether to classify incidents as rape. As several high-profile cases in recent years demonstrate, authorities sometimes charge men with rape or sexual abuse in cases where there’s conflicting or ambiguous evidence as to whether there was nonconsensual sexual contact (see, for example, the case of Columbia University grad student Oliver Jovanovic, whose conviction was overturned by a New York appeals court in December). Now Philadelphia police commissioner John Timoney has announced that “he will let women’s organizations help police decide when to believe sexual-assault complaints and how to classify them.” Barbara DiTullio, who heads the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Organization for Women, called the plan “wonderful” and said it could become a model for police departments across the country. “We’re putting together a committee of women . . . and [will] actually, quite literally, let this women’s group be the final say on our classification [of cases]” said Timoney in an interview, though the women’s groups themselves expressed doubt as to whether their say would be final. (Mark Fazlollah, Craig McCoy, and Robert Moran, “Timoney to allow sex-case oversight”, Philadelphia Inquirer, Mar. 21) (via Freedom News).

March 27 — Microsoft Windows downgrade. Be prepared for the Justice Department’s anticipated “remedies” in Reno v. Gates by visiting this parody site (Bob Rivers, KISW, Seattle).

March 27 — Social engineering by lawsuit. Yale law professor Peter Schuck “doubts [that Smith & Wesson] would have lost a court case,” according to this New York Times “Week in Review” piece, which also quotes the editor of this website concerning the evils of litigation as an end run around democratic process (Barry Meier, “Bringing Lawsuits to Do What Congress Won’t”, New York Times, March 26). Cato Institute fellow Doug Bandow wonders why undemocratic lawmaking-by-lawsuit hasn’t become a bigger election issue: “Politics is a bad way to make policy. Litigation is worse.” (“Litigative vs. Legislative Democracy”, Cato Daily Commentary, March 20). And Andrew Sullivan warns Britons that unless they watch out, their country’s trend toward “empowerment of lawyers” will lead them to the state of “hyper-litigation” typified by the U.S. (“A brief warning: soon lawyers will have Britain by the throat”, Sunday Times (London), March 26).

Also: we’ve now put online our editor’s op-ed from last Tuesday on the Smith & Wesson settlement, which expanded on the arguments made earlier in this space (Walter Olson, “Plaintiff’s lawyers take aim at democracy”, Wall Street Journal, March 21).

March 27 — Kessler rebuked. Last week the Supreme Court ruled that former Food and Drug Administration chief David Kessler had made an improper power grab when he claimed for his agency “broad powers that had somehow gone unnoticed for more than half a century” to regulate tobacco, writes Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman: “This was a startling revelation indeed. In 1964, the FDA said it had no authority to regulate tobacco. In 1965, it said it had no authority to regulate tobacco. In 1972, it said it had no authority to regulate tobacco. Ditto in 1977, 1980, 1988, and so on — until four years ago, when Kessler checked the attic and was pleasantly surprised to find this prerogative stashed in a box crammed with eight-track tapes and copies of Look.” (“On Target: A Setback for the Anti-Tobacco Jihad”, March 23; Tony Mauro, “For ‘Better or Worse’ FDA Can’t Regulate Tobacco”, American Lawyer Media, March 22).

March 24-26 — “Trial Lawyers Pour Money Into Democrats’ Chests”. The article everyone’s talking about: yesterday’s New York Times shines some overdue light on the trial lawyers’ frantic shoveling of vast sums into this year’s federal election races. “‘It would be very, very horrifying to trial lawyers if Bush were elected,’ said John P. Coale, a Washington lawyer involved in the tobacco litigation, who has given over $70,000 to the Democrats. ‘To combat that, we want to make sure we have a Democratic president, House and Senate. There is some serious tobacco money being spread around.'” “What’s different this time around,” said Michael Hotra, vice president of the American Tort Reform Foundation, “is that everyone recognizes that the stakes are higher. We have a candidate who is making legal reform a core issue and we certainly applaud Bush for that.” Also discusses the website ATRF has set up to monitor trial lawyer campaign spending (Leslie Wayne, “Trial Lawyers Pour Money Into Democrats’ Chests”, New York Times, March 23).

March 24-26 — Who wants to sue for a million? A group of disabled Miami residents has filed a federal lawsuit against Disney and ABC under the Americans with Disabilities Act, claiming that the screening process for the hit TV show “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire” requires the use of a touch-tone telephone and does not make alternative provision for deaf applicants. “The group is seeking class-action status for themselves and others who are deaf, blind or paralyzed and have problems using the phone or hearing the instructions.” (Jay Weaver, “Disabled 4 sue to try for TV million”, Miami Herald, March 17). Update Nov. 7: federal judge dismisses case.

March 24-26 — Next: gender-blind stage casting? A federal jury in Nashville has returned a sex discrimination verdict against a pair of historical theme restaurants that hired only male food servers as a part of attempting to convey the atmosphere of 1800s-era riverboats. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Cock of the Walk restaurants in 1996 after a woman named Susan Mathis carried a secret tape recorder in her purse while applying for a server’s job (more on the curious lack of outrage over this practice). “The servers had to represent the legendary fighters who brawled for the privilege of steering the riverboats, which netted them the best-of-the-best title: ‘Cock of the Walk’,” a group that historically did not include women.

In 1997 the EEOC came under criticism for its crusade against the “Hooters” sexy-waitress chain, which paid $3.75 million in a settlement in hopes of not having to hire “Hooters Boys”. However, the agency’s contention that entertainment value is an improper basis for sex-casting in the hiring of food servers “has never been applied [by a court] to a more mainstream restaurant such as this, which does not have sexual titillation as part of its theme,” said a lawyer for the restaurants. (Stacey Hartmann, “Restaurants’ male-server policy loses in court”, The Tennessean (Nashville), March 16).

March 24-26 — Slip, fall, head for court. Roundup of recent Chicago gravity mishaps, as reported in the Sun-Times and relayed in Jim Romenesko’s irresistible Obscure Store: “Debbie Jacques was forced to wear paper booties when she tumbled. Monica Beeks walked in deep, loose grass, and fell. John Incisi tripped on a Kleenex box left on the stairs. They’re all hanging out in civil court, hoping to get some cash.” (Tim Novak, “Health worker blames paper booties for slip”, Chicago Sun-Times, Mar. 21).

March 24-26 — Welcome visitors. A sampling of the websites that have linked to Overlawyered.com recently: the distinguished literary and arts monthly, the New Criterion; ABC News correspondent John Stossel‘s site; the Capital Research Center, which keeps an eye on politicized philanthopy; Pat Fish’s Luckyfish.com; the Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom; Pickaway County (Ohio) Sportsmen, known for their shooting competitions; and Turkey’s Association for Liberal Thinking (Liberal Düsünce Toplulugu).

March 23 — Baron’s judge grudge. Dallas asbestos-suit czar Fred Baron may or may not have added another notch to his belt with the GOP primary defeat this month of Texas 14th District Court judge John Marshall. In 1998 Judge Marshall was presiding over asbestos litigation filed by Baron & Budd when evidence surfaced that the firm had engaged in extensive witness-coaching (see “Thanks for the Memories“); Judge Marshall referred the matter to a grand jury for possible prosecution, but the charges were eventually quietly buried without indictments. Baron, who now claims vindication, “made no secret of the fact he wants Marshall’s head,” according to alt-weekly Dallas Observer in a report just before the primary. “As early as last spring, Baron was casting about, looking for a candidate to back. ‘I talked to half a dozen people. We were looking for any candidate we could get who would be qualified to run against John Marshall'”. It had to be in the Republican primary, though, which is nowadays tantamount to election in Dallas County. First-time candidate Mary Murphy of Jenkins & Gilchrest, the one who eventually stepped forward to challenge Marshall, “insists she’ll be a fine Republican judge even though she wrote a $1,000 check to the Democratic party four years ago” among other past Democratic ties. “I had nothing to do with getting Mary Murphy to run. That’s a lie, a complete and absolute lie,” Baron told the Observer. Murphy says Baron did try to talk her into running but that it was others who convinced her. Promptly assembling an ample campaign chest, she went on to defeat the incumbent Marshall, obtaining 52 percent of the vote. (Thomas Korosec, “Bench Press”, Dallas Observer, March 9; Todd J. Gillman, “Republican judge questions challenger’s party loyalty”, Dallas Morning News, Feb. 19; Holly Becka, “Voters sent message by ousting three judges, experts say”, Dallas Morning News, March 16 (links now dead)).

Baron, whom we believe holds the title of president-elect of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (we apparently jumped the gun recently in awarding him the title of president), has in the past been touchy about criticism. In 1998, when the Dallas Observer ran a cover-story exposé on his firm, columnist Julie Lyons said Baron had “bullie[d] the Observer’s every effort to investigate his firm’s practices, even taking the newspaper to court to discover sources, in a pattern of intimidation and paranoia such as the Observer has never experienced before.” (Patrick Williams, Christine Biederman, Thomas Korosec, Julie Lyons, “Toxic Justice”, August 18, 1998; Julie Lyons, “The Control Freak”, August 12, 1998. See also earlier Baron coverage on this website: Feb. 14, Jan. 8).

March 23 — Update: mistrial in bank robber’s suit, more litigation expected. By a vote of 9 to 3, jurors in their deliberations were of the view “that the civil rights of Emil Matasareanu, armed criminal, shooter of cops, were not violated on Feb. 27, 1998, by officers who didn’t get an ambulance to poor Emil quickly enough” after his bloody shootout with police following a North Hollywood bank robbery (see Feb. 23 commentary). A federal judge declared a mistrial, and an L.A. Times columnist writes that “the attorney for Matasareanu’s survivors is expected to bring the case against the city and two retired LAPD officers to court again. By survivors, I mean the dead man’s family, not the people he didn’t kill.” (Mike Downey, “A World With No Bad Guys, Just Topsy-Turvy Juries”, Los Angeles Times, March 17, link now dead).

March 23 — Let them sue us! In the recent media boomlet over “medical mistakes”, it’s been easy to forget that hospitals currently must anticipate years of expensive litigation if they move aggressively to withdraw practice privileges from perceived “problem doctors”. Consider the now-celebrated “Dr. Zorro” case, in which Dr. Allan Zarkin is alleged to have carved his initials into a patient’s body at New York’s Beth Israel Hospital. The hospital’s chairman, Morton P. Hyman, “vowed he would make it harder for doctors to maintain their privileges at Beth Israel and would see that hospital procedures were tightened further. … Doctors disciplined by the state will be automatically dismissed from the hospital, he announced, even if their firings leave the hospital liable. ‘Let them sue us,’ he said, pounding the table.” (Jennifer Steinhauer, “At Beth Israel, Lapses in Care Mar Gains in Technology”, New York Times, Feb. 15, not online).

March 22 — Next on the class-action agenda: liquor? Public Citizen, whose campaigns against American business often closely parallel those of the organized plaintiff’s bar, has for a while been grouping alcohol and gambling companies with tobacco and gun makers as “killer industries” in its distinctively shrill propaganda. (“Killer Industries Fund Congressional Champions of “Family Values'”, press release, Dec. 28, 1998, “Family Values, Killer Industries”, undated; both on Public Citizen website). And the pro-hospitality-business Guest Choice Network thinks it has evidence that the previously long-shot idea of mass litigation against alcoholic beverage makers may be getting to be less of a long shot:

“* The Minnesota DWI Task Force called upon their state’s criminal justice system to initiate class action litigation against makers of adult beverages.

“* MADD’s [Mothers Against Drunk Driving‘s] year-end press conference closed with a comment from president Karolyn Nunnallee that initiating litigation against alcohol and hospitality companies ‘will be an issue of discussion’ at an upcoming meeting. Although MADD did not have plans to sue ‘at this time,’ she added, ‘but never say never!'” (“They’re Bellying Up to the Bar!”, Guest Choice Network, undated). Martin Morse Wooster examines the evolution of MADD’s views in a new paper for Capital Research Center (“Mothers Against Drunk Driving: Has Its Vision Become Blurred?”, Feb. 2000).

March 22 — Rise of the high school sleepover disclaimer. Before having some of his daughter’s tenth-grade classmates out for the weekend to the family home in East Hampton, a parent at Manhattan’s tony Brearley School had his attorney draft a 765-word “liability waiver and indemnification agreement” for the other parents to sign and return. It describes the students’ impending visit to the “house and surrounding property at the above address (the ‘premises’) without charge on or about Saturday, November 20, 1999 and Sunday, November 21, 1999 during their weekend trip to East Hampton, NY (such use of the premises, the ‘visit’).” Several dense sentences later, it gets to the point: “Student and parent hereby waive any and all present and future claims related to or arising out of or in connection with the visit or any losses they, any other family member or any third party may suffer in connection therewith…” Apparently enough parents signed and the trip came off with no problem. (“Gotham: In Loco Parentis”, New York, Dec. 6; portions of disclaimer appear in printed magazine but not online).

March 22 — Newest disabled right: audio TV captioning. Decision expected this summer on Federal Communications Commission proposal that TV networks be compelled to provide at least four hours of programming a week with “secondary audio” descriptions of filmed action (“…Rhett takes Melanie in his arms and carries her to safety as Atlanta burns around them”) in hopes of giving blind viewers an “equivalent experience” to what sighted viewers are getting. Hollywood types “say descriptions will stifle creativity and jack up programming costs by about $4,000 for an hour of airtime”; audio captioning is considerably more expensive than closed-captioning for the deaf, mandated since 1998, because descriptions of filmed action call for a modicum of editorial judgment as opposed to mere transcription. And the National Federation of the Blind reports that many of its constituents have mixed feelings about the technique, finding it “irritating, overdone, and full of irrelevant information” and switching it off after a trial. (FCC captioning page; Nat’l Fed. Blind comments; Jonathan Aiken, “FCC proposes descriptive audio to help blind enjoy TV”, CNN, Feb. 24). See also our Feb. 19-21 commentary, on the ADA suit filed by deaf moviegoers in Oregon seeking to compel theaters to install closed captioning for films.

March 21 — Smith & Wesson’s “voluntary” capitulation. Today’s Wall Street Journal carries our editor’s op-ed on the Smith & Wesson settlement, adapted and expanded from yesterday’s commentary on this site. The piece asks: why aren’t Republican members of Congress and business people expressing more outrage? “It would surely make a symbolic difference if a few CEOs of companies outside the gun industry chipped in personal checks to start a legal defense fund for small gun makers being bulldozed by the cost of litigation, to give them at least a hope of surviving to fight the suits on the merits. Or if they let it be known that mayors who’ve signed on to the gun-suit jihad should stop passing themselves off as ‘pro-business.’ Not long ago the mayor of Bridgeport, Conn., Joseph Ganim, a gun-suit mastermind who’s considered ambitious for statewide office, was feted by a Chamber of Commerce in his local Fairfield County. Hey — it’s someone else’s industry he’s working to destroy, right?” (Walter Olson, “Plaintiffs Lawyers Take Aim at Democracy”, Wall Street Journal, March 21 (requires online subscription)).

March 21 — Ability to remain conscious not obligatory for train dispatcher, EEOC argues. “In the case of a former Consolidated Rail Corp. employee with a heart condition that can cause him to lose consciousness, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission told a federal appeals court in Philadelphia that ‘while consciousness is obviously necessary to perform’ train-dispatcher tasks, ‘it is not itself a job function.'” The worker had sued Conrail under the Americans with Disabilities Act and lost in federal court; on appeal, the EEOC argued that the railroad could have accommodated his condition and that he was not a ‘direct threat’ to others, which is the standard employers must meet under the ADA if they wish to exclude disabled employees from jobs on safety grounds. “The employee was denied a dispatcher’s job that involves directing trains and taking emergency action to prevent crashes.” (“Employment Briefs: Worker denied promotion sues”, Detroit News, March 18).

March 21 — Furor just one click away. Outcry over Amazon.com’s patent of “one-click” shopping method rumbles on. Founder/CEO Jeff Bezos says the company did it in self-defense; he’s now proposed an across-the-board reduction in the length of patent protection for software and business-method patents. Some veteran intellectual-property lawyers take issue with that scheme and are also upset at a New York Times Magazine article by science writer James Gleick questioning some of the patent system’s fundamental assumptions. Until recently it was widely assumed that business methods — the discovery of a superior method for laying out the aisles of a supermarket, for example — couldn’t be patented at all. What would stores be like today if the idea of a “checkout counter” had been locked up for twenty years by the first company to file for it?

SOURCES: Victoria Slind-Flor, “The Biz-Method Patent Rush”, National Law Journal, Feb. 28; Chris Oakes, “Another Amazon Patent Furor”, Wired News, March 2; Boycott Amazon site (Free Software Foundation); Chris Oakes, “Bezos: Patents Were Self-Defense”, Wired News, Mar. 3; Chris Oakes, “Patently Absurd”, Wired News, Mar. 3; Bezos open letter, Amazon site; Dugie Standeford, “Book Publisher Launches Cybercampaign Against Amazon.com”, E-Commerce Law Weekly, March 8; James Gleick, “Patently Absurd,” New York Times Magazine, March 12; “The Harm of Patents”, O’Reilly Network, March 13; Omar Perez, “Amazon.com Patents Cast Giant Shadow Over Affiliates”, March 20; Miami Daily Business Review, March Victoria Slind-Flor, “Bar Reacts To Bezos Patent Reform Plan”, National Law Journal, March 20.

March 21 — Whether they meant to hurt anyone or not. How harsh can the legal environment become for drunk drivers? North Carolina seems to have pushed things to the ultimate extreme: its prosecutors seek to execute them when they cause fatal accidents. (Paula Christian, “Supreme Court to decide if drunk drivers get death penalty”, Greensboro News & Record, Mar. 12).

March 21 — New subpage on Overlawyered.com: Canadian corner. Finally! A page for our many readers north of the border who’ve noticed the nuggets of Canadian content we periodically slip in and would like them gathered in one spot for convenience. As befits the differences between the two legal systems, there isn’t so much “overlawyering” apparent in most of the stories we relay from Canada; but with regard to most other types and varieties of human folly, the two nations seem to be are in a neck-and-neck race.

March 20 — Liberty no longer insured by Smith & Wesson. In an ominous triumph for brute litigation force — and a setback for both democratic governance and Second Amendment liberties — the Clinton Administration and lawyers representing city governments on Friday bullied the nation’s largest gun maker into agreeing to a variety of controls on the distribution of its products, controls that the Administration had not been able to obtain through the normal legislative process. The company said its capitulation would preserve the “viability of Smith & Wesson as an ongoing business entity in the face of the crippling cost of litigation.” As the New York Times reports, the deal has “opened a new avenue for regulating the firearms industry without action from Congress, where partisan gridlock has stalled even modest gun-control legislation in recent months” — “partisan gridlock” being here employed by the Times as a pejorative synonym for the normal democratic process, which when working properly does not result in the speedy enactment of measures passionately opposed by a large constituency within the majority legislative party.

At this point it would make sense for the Republican Congressional leadership to rise up in unmistakable disapproval of the Clintonites’ invasion of their legislative prerogatives, and announce that –whatever one’s personal position on the details of gun control proposals — the use of litigation as an undemocratic end run around the legislative process is categorically wrong and must be fought with appropriate means at Congress’s disposal, such as funding cutoffs. And yet the first round of wire service stories quotes only one GOP Congressional leader, J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, as reacting to the news, and his quoted words, incredibly, are favorable: “we hail Smith & Wesson for taking a pro-active approach to the problem of violence”.

Advocates of gun-control-through-litigation — not to mention trial lawyers looking for an eventual payday from gun suits — view Smith & Wesson’s surrender as a harbinger of more victories ahead. “The legal fees alone are enough to bankrupt the industry,” boasts John Coale, one of the lawyers masterminding the city suits. “The pressure is going to be on”. Why are so few elected officials standing up to say that what’s going on is wrong?

SOURCES: Agreement text at HUD website; Smith & Wesson statement; Clinton Administration press release; “U.S. Drops Legal Threat Against Smith & Wesson”, Reuters/Excite, Mar. 17; Knut Engelmann, “U.S. Drops Legal Action Against Gun Maker”, Reuters/Excite, Mar. 17; David Ho, “Officials Praise Smith & Wesson”, AP/Excite, Mar. 17; Amy Paulson, “Smith & Wesson agrees to landmark gun safety settlement”, CNN, Mar. 17; Brigitte Greenberg, “Smith & Wesson Gets Preference”, AP/Excite, Mar. 18; Edward Walsh and David A. Vise, “U.S., Gunmaker Strike a Deal”, Washington Post, March 18; James Dao, “Gun Maker Agrees to Curbs in Exchange for Ending Suits”, New York Times, March 18 (requires free registration).

March 20 — “Study Shows Breast Implants Pose Little Risk”. “An analysis appearing in Thursday’s New England Journal of Medicine suggests silicone breast implants are safe, despite widespread perception that the controversial devices cause health problems” — not to mention a trial-lawyer-led campaign that drove the devices off the market and reaped a settlement totaling billions of dollars from manufacturers. Researchers at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, performed a combined analysis of 20 earlier studies and concluded that “‘the elimination of implants would not be likely to reduce the incidence of connective-tissue diseases’ such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or other illnesses caused by the misfiring of the immune system”. (Reuters/ FindLaw, Mar. 15).

March 20 — Do as we say, cont’d. Disabled-rights laws are feared by many private business owners who face the prospect of heavy fines and lawsuit settlements for noncompliance. As for the judicial branch, charged with enforcing these selfsame laws? Well, they’re often a wee bit less mindful of ’em. Howard County, Maryland Circuit Judge James B. Dudley, who isn’t disabled, concedes that his desire to stick close to the courthouse so he could answer jurors’ questions during a trial was “probably not a justification” for his having chosen to park in a clearly marked handicapped space, a practice also engaged in by local sheriff’s deputies. (Del Quentin Wilber, “Judge parks in hot water”, Baltimore Sun, Mar. 11). And in Massachusetts, following on the revelation that Boston’s opulent new courthouse lacks wheelchair access to its jury boxes and witness stands (see July 17-18, 1999 commentary), the Cape Organization for Rights of the Disabled sued over the disabled-unfriendly state of the Plymouth County courthouse; Barry Sumner couldn’t get over the threshold to divorce his wife and had to ask her to help lift his chair. (Paul Sullivan, “Suit seeks access for disabled at Plymouth court”, Boston Herald, Sept. 10, 1999). Aren’t these courts lucky they’re not private businesses?

March 20 — Costs of veggie-libel laws. Talk show hostess Oprah Winfrey keeps winning in round after round of litigation filed by cattlemen after a February 1998 show she did on mad-cow disease. “Ironically, the more she wins, the more she loses,” observes First Amendment specialist Paul McMasters. Aside from our lack of a loser-pays rule, the culprit is “agricultural-disparagement” laws enacted in 13 states, which menace media producers if they knowingly broadcast false and disparaging statements that harm the salability of perishable farm products. (“Shut up and eat everything on your plate”, Freedom Forum Online, Feb. 21; Ronald K.L. Collins and Paul McMasters, “Veggie Libel Laws Still Out to Muzzle Free Speech”, Texas Lawyer, March 30, 1998). Last year the Texas legislature turned back an attempt to repeal that state’s ag-disparagement law, though the Abilene Reporter-News pointed out that the law is hard to square with the state’s successful efforts under Governor Bush to curb excessive litigation. (“‘Veggie libel’ law Texas can live without” (editorial), April 13, 1999; “House lets ‘veggie libel’ law stand; Bill seeking repeal voted down 80-57”, AP/Dallas Morning News, May 8, 1999).

March 20 — 250,000 pages served on Overlawyered.com. Thanks for your support!

March 17-19 — Holiday literary selection: Irish squire’s litigious ways.“Then there was a bleach yard near us, and the tenant dare refuse my lady nothing, for fear of a law-suit Sir Murtagh kept hanging over him about the water course. With these ways of managing, ’tis surprising how cheap my lady got things done, and how proud she was of it. … [The tenants] shamrockknew her way, and what with fear of driving for rent and Sir Murtagh’s law-suits, they were kept in such good order, they never thought of coming near Castle Stopgap without a present of something or other ­ nothing too much or too little for my lady ­ eggs ­ honey ­ butter ­ meal ­ fish ­ game, grouse, and herrings, fresh or salt ­ all went for something. … [H]e made a good living of trespassing cattle ­ there was always some tenant’s pig, or horse, or cow, or calf, or goose, trespassing, which was so great a gain to Sir Murtagh, that he did not like to hear me talk of repairing fences….

“As for law, I believe no man, dead or alive, ever loved it so well as Sir Murtagh. He had once sixteen suits pending at a time, and I never saw him so much himself ­ roads ­ lanes ­ bogs ­ wells ­ ponds ­ eel-wires ­ orchards ­ trees ­ tythes ­ vagrants ­ gravel-pits ­ sandpits ­ dung-hills and nuisances ­ every thing upon the face of the earth furnished him good matter for a suit. He used to boast that he had a law-suit for every letter in the alphabet. How I used to wonder to see Sir Murtagh in the midst of the papers in his office ­ why he could hardly turn about for them. I made bold to shrug my shoulders once in his presence, and thanked my stars I was not born a gentleman to so much toil and trouble ­ but Sir Murtagh took me up short with his old proverb, ‘learning is better than house or land.’ Out of forty-nine suits which he had, he never lost one but seventeen; the rest he gained with costs, double costs, treble costs sometimes ­ but even that did not pay. He was a very learned man in the law, and had the character of it; but how it was I can’t tell, these suits that he carried cost him a power of money ­ in the end he sold some hundreds a year of the family estate ­ but he was a very learned man in the law, and I know nothing of the matter except having a great regard for the family. I could not help grieving when he sent me to post up notices of the sale of the fee simple of the lands and appurtenances of Timoleague. ­ ‘I know, honest Thady,’ says he to comfort me, ‘what I’m about better than you do; I’m only selling to get the ready money wanting, to carry on my suit with spirit with the Nugents of Carrickashaughlin.'” — from Chapter 1, Castle Rackrent, subtitled An Hibernian Tale Taken from Facts, and from the Manners of the Irish Squires, Before the Year 1782, by Maria Edgeworth (1800) (biographies: Edgeworth family site, E-Search Ireland, WritePage, Morley’s) (e-text at Carnegie-Mellon; alternate e-text location, Creighton U.) (passage is from fourth long paragraph of text).

March 17-19 — Letterman sign suit. Anna Soares, 79, who lives near the Manhattan studio where David Letterman tapes his show, filed a lawsuit last month demanding $12 million from CBS because the network has declined to remove a giant illuminated sign of Letterman’s likeness which shines into her apartment’s window. Network officials say they believe they have the proper permits for the sign. Reader Gregory Kohs of American Cynic comments: “what I find preposterous is the $12 million sum the lady decided would be fair.” If the sign does not violate code, how about asking for the costs of relocating to a less-commercial neighborhood? “I think a wee bit less than $12 million would be sufficient to get her belongings into a moving truck.” (“People in the news: Woman files lawsuit over Letterman sign”, Boulder Daily Camera, Feb. 19) (second item).

March 17-19 — Go ahead and comment — if it’ll do much good. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s proposals on ergonomics “may be the single most costly employment policy regulation in U.S. history,” according to the Employment Policy Foundation. Now OSHA has thrown open a period for public comment on the rules, but the Clinton Administration has already signaled that the option favored by most organized employers — not proceeding with the rules at all — is unlikely to be considered, no matter what volume of critical comments may come in. (Alice Ann Love, “Public dialog opens on new workplace safety rules”, AP/Fox News, March 14; Michael D. Towle, “OSHA pushing for new regulations aimed at preventing repetitive motion injuries”, CNN, March 9).

SOURCES: OSHA proposed standard; Yahoo Full Coverage; Ron Bird and Jill Jenkins, “Ergonomics Regulation: Vague, Broad and Costly”, EPF Backgrounder, Jan. 12; National Coalition on Ergonomics (employer alliance); Matt Labash, “Hooked on Ergonomics”, Weekly Standard, Feb. 28; “OSHA Unveils Ergonomics Standard To Ire of Congress, Employer Groups”, Employment Law Weekly, Nov. 29; comments of Mercatus Center, George Mason U., National Association of Manufacturers; (via Junk Science🙂 Robert Hahn, “Bad Economics, Not Good Ergonomics,” Wall Street Journal, Nov. 24; David Saito-Chung, “What Price Workplace Safety? New Rules Spark Debate Over Science, Business Costs”, Investor’s Business Daily, Nov. 30; “New OSHA regs need rethinking” (editorial), Boston Herald, Nov. 26; “OSHAme on them!” (editorial), New York Post Nov. 24; “Repetitive Bureaucracy Syndrome” (editorial), Chicago Tribune, Nov. 24.

March 16 — Dave Barry on tobacco suits, round II. The humorist, who wrote a priceless column on the federal tobacco suit last fall (see Oct. 26) now offers an update reflecting on the news that “so far the states are spending more than 90 percent of the tobacco-settlement money on programs unrelated to smoking, such as building highways. … This is good, because we need quality highways to handle the sharp increase in the number of Mercedes automobiles purchased by lawyers enriched by the tobacco settlement.” Then there’s the new round of class-action suits contending that smokers themselves deserve money from the states, which if successful will establish the following cycle:

“1. SMOKERS would give money to THE TOBACCO COMPANIES in exchange for cigarettes.

“2. THE TOBACCO COMPANIES would then give the money to THE STATES (and their lawyers).

“3. THE STATES would then give the money to SMOKERS (and their lawyers).

“4. THE SMOKERS would then presumably give the money to THE TOBACCO COMPANIES in exchange for more cigarettes.”

But isn’t this inefficient, you may ask? Wouldn’t it be easier to order the tobacco companies to give smokers free cigarettes directly? “The trouble with that idea is that it would defeat the two main purposes of the War on Smoking, which are (1) to provide the states with money; and (2) to provide lawyers with, well, money.” Don’t miss this one (“War on Smoking always has room for another lawyer”, Miami Herald, Feb. 18).

March 16 — Judges can’t charge cost of corruption defense to insurer. “Three former San Diego Superior Court judges convicted of corruption charges can’t parlay judicial liability insurance into coverage for their criminal defense, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled.” In one of the biggest judicial scandals in California history (see our editor’s 1996 piece on the case), Michael Greer, James Malkus and G. Dennis Adams were found to have accepted gifts from prominent trial lawyer Patrick Frega in exchange for favorable rulings in cases. (Jason Hoppin, “No Coverage for Judges Convicted of Corruption”, The Recorder/ CalLaw, March 2).

March 16 — Your hairdresser — and informant? Hairdressers “are often confidantes for many people,” says Veronica Boyd-Frenkel, who holds the post of “domestic violence ombudsman” in the state of Nevada. All this is by way of explaining why her office, working with the state attorney general’s office, has launched a program to train cosmetologists to recognize signs of domestic abuse, the better to steer suspected victims to approved anti-domestic-violence groups. “They may hear things even someone’s best friend may not hear,” says Ms. Boyd-Frenkel, of the hair stylists. The Las Vegas Review-Journal, in an editorial, thinks it all rather smacks of the enlistment of ever wider circles of the citizenry as official informants (Angie Wagner, “State asks hairdressers to help domestic abuse victims”, AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal, Feb. 28; “Down the wrong path” (editorial), Feb. 29; Vin Suprynowicz, “The Libertarian: Watch what you tell your hairdresser” (expanded version of editorial), March 1; “Training would not make informants of cosmetologists” (letter to the editor from Ms. Boyd-Frenkel), March 5).

March 16 — Prof sues for right to flunk students. The University of Michigan describes as “utterly without merit” a lawsuit filed by Dental School associate professor Keith Yohn challenging the university’s refusal to fail two sophomore dental students. Yohn charges that the school bent its academic rules to allow the two to remain, and that an assistant dean sent him a belligerent email informing him that poor grades he and three other professors had given the students would be disregarded. Acting as his own attorney, Yohn went to federal court to charge the university with “deprivation of ‘freedom of speech'” and disregard of the ‘health care interest’ of the public and their children”; he also asks $125,000 for emotional distress. (David Shepardson, “U-M sued over dental grades”, Detroit News, Dec. 30; Hanna Lopatin, “Dental Prof. Sues U. Michigan for Refusing to Fail Students”, Michigan Daily/ StudentAdvantage.com, Jan. 5).