Search Results for ‘mascot throw’

Missouri: mascot-thrown hot dogs not an assumed ballpark risk

Wurst-case scenario comes true: “The Missouri Supreme Court has ruled on behalf of a baseball fan who says he was hit in the eye with a hot dog thrown by Sluggerrr, the Kansas City Royals mascot.” The court overruled a trial judge who had instructed jurors that they could find the flying foodstuff to be an assumed risk of attending a Royals game. [Debra Cassens Weiss, ABA Journal; earlier]

“Throwed rolls” result in Missouri suit

Lambert’s Cafe, based in Sikeston, Missouri, bills itself as the “Home of Throwed Rolls” because of its famous practice of having servers toss dinner rolls to customers. It’s now being sued for guess what [WDAF, RiverFront Times] Last year the Missouri Supreme Court ruled in favor of a plaintiff claiming injury from a hot dog thrown by a mascot at a Kansas City Royals game, overturning a lower court which had instructed jurors that they were free to find hot-dog-flinging a risk known to occur at Royals games for purposes of an assumption of risk defense. More: Lowering the Bar and (thanks for link) Fox News.

February 15 roundup

  • Artist Jeff Koons drops his lawsuit against maker of resin balloon dogs [Legal Blog Watch, BoingBoing, earlier]
  • The car pile-up happened fast, the come-ons from lawyers and chiropractors were almost as speedy [Adler/Volokh]
  • Andrew Thomas update: former Maricopa County Attorney intends to sue former bar president and ethics investigators [ABA Journal, Coyote]
  • Litigation finance: “Poker Magnate, London Firm Bankroll Chevron Plaintiffs” [Dan Fisher, Forbes] Case for champerty pleaded before ethics commission [Podgers, ABA Journal] The experience in Australia [Karlsgodt]
  • Judge: Kansas City stadium mascot hot dog toss suit can go to trial [OnPoint News, earlier]
  • How National Enquirer matched wits with John Edwards to expose scandal [David Perel, HuffPo] More: Justice Department building a case? [AW]
  • “The Whooping Cough’s Unnecessary Return” [Paul Howard/Jim Copland, City Journal] Theodore Dalrymple reviews new Paul Offit vaccine book [same]
  • Many trial lawyers yank funding from Ralph Nader operations in pique over his role in depriving Al Gore of White House victory [ten years ago on Overlawyered]

March 2003 archives


March 10-11 — “Burglars to be banned from suing victims”. United Kingdom: “Burglars who are injured while committing a crime are to banned from suing their victims for compensation. David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, has bowed to public pressure after the outcry over the case of Brendon Fearon, the burglar who is trying to sue Tony Martin for £15,000 after being shot while breaking into his home.” (David Bamber, Daily Telegraph, Mar. 9). (DURABLE LINK)

March 10-11 — Clear Channel = Deep Pocket. “With damage claims in the Rhode Island fire expected to run up to $1 billion, two lawyers representing victims have set their sights on a potential defendant with very deep pockets: Clear Channel Communications. The broadcasting giant owns WHJY-FM, a Providence radio station that ran ads for the Great White concert at The Station that ended moments into the first song when pyrotechnics set off by the band ignited the nation’s fourth-deadliest fire. A popular disc jockey at WHJY, Michael Gonsalves, introduced Great White and was among the 99 who died in the fire or from injuries suffered in the blaze. The two Providence lawyers, who between them represent about a dozen victims, said yesterday their expected lawsuits will almost certainly name Clear Channel as a defendant. The company, the largest operator of radio stations in the country, has assets that far outstrip those of the 14 defendants who were named in the only lawsuit filed so far.” (Jonathan Saltzman, “R.I. fire victims’ lawyers eye firm”, Boston Globe, Mar. 8). (DURABLE LINK)

March 10-11 — New Medicare drug benefit? Link it to product liability reform. “Even drugs like aspirin, which cause hundreds of deaths each year, could not meet the safety standards patients expect today,” argues Scott Gottlieb of the American Enterprise Institute. ” … But putting [older] patients on the pills they need means we need to prepare to tolerate more side effects or tolerate more lawsuits. Litigation should not be a cost of commerce when government puts itself in the business of pushing pills. … Without product liability reform, prescription drug coverage will transform into a full employment act for the lawyers, limiting development of new drugs and driving up prices for everybody.” (Scott Gottlieb, “More Drug Use Will Mean More Lawsuits,” AEI On the Issues, Mar.). (DURABLE LINK)

March 10-11 — Lawsuits vs. free speech, cont’d: jailhouse rock. Last year VH1 aired a special entitled Music Behind Bars, featuring the music of prisoners. Now the family of a West Virginia man murdered in 1994 by one of the inmate-performers is suing the network. The family’s lawyers are arguing that whether or not the network compensated the convicted killer for his performance — it says it did not — its broadcast occasioned the family emotional distress for which it should have to pay compensatory and punitive damages. (Maria Lehner, “Murder Victim’s Family Sues VH1”, Fox News, Mar. 6). (DURABLE LINK)

March 8-9 — Tobacco fees: feds indict former Texas AG. One of the biggest developments yet in the tobacco-fee saga: a federal grand jury is charging former Texas attorney general Dan Morales and his friend Marc Murr with conspiracy and mail fraud over Morales’s attempt to gain hundreds of millions of dollars in fees for Murr from the state’s tobacco settlement. More recently, Morales has suggested that he might be able to furnish information that would throw in question the fee entitlements of five politically influential trial lawyers who managed the state’s case (R. G. Ratcliffe and Clay Robison, “Former Attorney General Dan Morales indicted”, Houston Chronicle, Mar. 6; April Castro, “Ex-Attorney General Morales Indicted”, AP/Washington Post, Mar. 6; “Former Texas Attorney General Surrenders”, AP/ABC News, Mar. 7). For earlier coverage, see Jul. 15, 2002 and links from there; Jan. 10-12, 2003. (DURABLE LINK)

March 8-9 — Should have watched his step answering call of nature. Update: an appeals court in the Australian state of New South Wales has overturned the $60,000 judgment (see Mar. 5, 2002) awarded to Paul Jackson, who after a night drinking with friends walked home along a highway and “stepped over a low guard rail in order to urinate, not realising there was a drop of several metres.” The “plaintiff was not taking reasonable care for his own safety as he was obliged to do,” the justices said. (“That’s a long drop”, Sydney Morning Herald, Mar. 5; “Wee change in fortune for Wollongong man”, Aust. Broadcasting Corp., Mar. 5). (DURABLE LINK)

March 5-7 — Update: hospital rapist’s suit dismissed. Sandusky, Ohio: “A judge has dismissed the $2 million lawsuit filed by a convicted rapist who claimed the hospital where he sexually assaulted a woman was negligent because it didn’t prevent the crime, according to court records.” ((Richard Payerchin, “Ruling: Convict responsible for his own crime”, Lorain Morning Journal, Feb. 20)(see May 22-23, 2002). (DURABLE LINK)

March 5-7 — Stuart Taylor, Jr., on lead paint litigation. At his most scathing: “[O]ne group deserves a special niche in the annals of those who have perverted the legal system for personal and political gain at the expense of everyone else: the politically connected trial lawyers who have signed up Rhode Island, Chicago, San Francisco, St. Louis, and dozens of other governments, school districts, and housing authorities to sue over health hazards associated with sales of lead pigment and paint for indoor use. The last of those sales took place more than 45 years ago.” With details on the unusual “retainer agreement” with which former Rhode Island AG Sheldon Whitehouse signed over the state’s sovereign authority to two influential private law firms: “It not only guaranteed the lawyers a contingent fee of 16.67 percent of any money recovered, plus all litigation expenses; it also gave them considerable control over whom to sue, what to claim, whether to settle, and on what terms.” (Stuart Taylor Jr., “Perverting the Legal System: The Lead-Paint Rip-Off”, National Journal/The Atlantic, Feb. 19) (DURABLE LINK)

March 5-7 — Incoming link of the day. From the website of a Fort Worth, Texas cardiology practice: “We do not provide ANY email advice regarding medical issues. DO NOT contact us by email with clinical questions. The email addresses above are for business correspondence only. For some insight as to why, click here.” (DURABLE LINK)

March 5-7 — $6 million fee request knocked down to $25,000. Ouch! An appeals court in El Paso has upheld a trial judge’s decision to “award a group of plaintiffs’ lawyers $25,000 in attorney fees instead of the nearly $6 million they sought under a contingent-fee contract.” However, the attorneys, led by brothers Stephen F. Malouf and E. Wayne Malouf, are unlikely to go hungry; they’ve apparently obtained upwards of $2 million in fees from other aspects of the case, a complex litigation over oil rights. (Brenda Sapino Jeffreys, “Appeals Court Says Trial Judge Had Discretion to Reduce Fees”, Texas Lawyer, Feb. 26). (DURABLE LINK)

March 4 — “The Tort Tax”. “According to a new study by Tillinghast-Towers Perrin, the total cost of the U.S. tort system reached $205.4 billion in 2001, an increase of 14.3% over the previous year — far faster than the rate of economic growth. This is like a tax of 2% on everything in the American economy that takes $721 per year out of the pockets of every citizen.” Also cites a certain “excellent website that, unfortunately, I find too depressing to read regularly”. (Bruce Bartlett, syndicated/National Review Online, Mar. 3). (DURABLE LINK)

March 4 — Thrill of the chase. NYC: “A half-dozen personal-injury lawyers were charged [last week] in a scam that allowed a network of corrupt hospital employees to do the ambulance-chasing for them, authorities said. In at least three hospitals — Elmhurst, New York Presbyterian and Lincoln — emergency-room workers sold the attorneys confidential medical records of car-accident victims, evaluating the sales potential of the information as doctors were evaluating the patients for treatments, authorities said. Officials were clued in on the scheme — which ran for seven years — by a hospital employee after patients began complaining about calls at home from strangers who knew a lot about their medical conditions, according to Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau.” (Tom Perrotta, “Personal Injury Lawyers Indicted for Soliciting Scam”, New York Law Journal, Feb. 27; Laura Italiano, “Lawyers Charged in Hosp. E.R. Scam”, New York Post, Feb. 27). (DURABLE LINK)

March 4 — “Edwards doesn’t tell whole story”. In stump speeches since the outset of his political career, Sen. John Edwards has invoked the case of little Ethan Bedrick, a cerebral palsy victim, as emblematic of “the kids and families I’ve fought for.” One reporter was curious to learn more about Bedrick’s case, but Edwards’s campaign press secretary “told me if I wanted to know any details, I should ‘look it up.”’ So she did. It turns out Edwards’ firm obtained a settlement, often described as being for $5 million, of a lawsuit charging that asphyxiation during delivery caused Ethan’s disability. Edwards’s speech picks up the story only later, when Ethan’s family battled a health insurer to obtain needed therapy (Lynn Sweet, Chicago Sun-Times, Feb. 27) (& see letter to the editor, Mar. 31). (DURABLE LINK)

March 3 — By reader acclaim: “Man who threw dog into traffic sues dog’s former owner”. “A man who threw a dog to its death in a fit of road rage is suing the dog’s former owner and a newspaper, alleging mental anguish and seeking more than $1 million in damages. … [Andrew] Burnett was sentenced in July 2001 to three years in jail in the death of Leo, a bichon frise whose owner tapped Burnett’s bumper in rainy-day traffic in February 2000 near the San Jose Airport. Burnett threw the little dog into traffic before driving off.” (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, Feb. 28; Dan Reed, “Leo the dog’s killer claims mental anguish in suit”, San Jose Mercury News, Feb. 28). (DURABLE LINK)

March 3 — Update: Lockyer sues complaint mill. Following a continuing furor in California (see Jan. 15-16) about entrepreneurial lawyers’ practice of filing assembly-line complaints against thousands of small businesses, which then are informed that they must pay thousands of dollars to get the charges dropped, state Attorney General Bill Lockyer has announced that he is suing the most-publicized such law firm, Trevor Law Group, under the same unfair-business-practices law that it employs in its complaints. “Trevor Law Group operates a shakedown operation designed to extract attorneys’ fees from law-abiding small businesses,” Lockyer said. “They’ve abused one of the state’s most important consumer protection statutes and dishonored attorneys who practice law in the public interest. There’s some delicious irony in turning the weapon around and using it on them.” (Monte Morin, “State Accuses Law Firm of Extortion”, Los Angeles Times, Feb. 27; Dan Walters, “In ironic twist, law firm finds itself on other end of suit”, Sacramento Bee, Mar. 3). See also Jessica V. Brice, “Wave of lawsuits threatens 70-year-old consumer law”, AP/Sacramento Bee, Jan. 21). (DURABLE LINK)


March 20 — Kids’ art on walls ruled a fire hazard. In what might be a bit of an overreaction to the recent deadly nightclub blaze in West Warwick, R.I., the Fire Department and building inspector of Attleboro, Mass. “sent word this month to the public schools: From now on, zero tolerance for breaking fire codes. Those bright-colored handprints and cheery stick figures have got to come down from the walls.” School board member Richard Correia “wonders, in this cautionary age, what might be next to go. ‘What do we do about our children who hang their coats in those little closets?’ Correia said. ‘Are they fire retardant?'” (Joanna Weiss, “Does future of art ed hang on safety”, Boston Globe, Mar. 12). (DURABLE LINK)

March 20 — Florida: “New clout of trial lawyers unnerves legislators”. Trial lawyers have built a position of powerful influence in the Florida legislature, in particular by “[s]upporting Republicans who have shown an appreciation for the civil justice system”, as a trial lawyer official puts it. In what Gov. Jeb Bush called “kind of a breath-taking example of their power”, the president of the state senate couldn’t even get a hearing in his own chamber for one of his major priorities, a bill to limit pain-and-suffering damages in fast-growing litigation against nursing homes (see Mar. 19). Limits on medical malpractice suits may be doomed in the state as well (Alisa Ulferts and Michael Sandler, St. Petersburg Times, Mar. 17). (DURABLE LINK)

March 19 — Jury clears Bayer in cholesterol-drug case. In perhaps the most widely watched product liability trial of the year so far, the New York Times may have bought the plaintiff’s lawyers’ case, but a Corpus Christi jury didn’t, and awarded $0.00 instead of the requested $560 million. Just another 8,400 plaintiffs to go, of whom the “vast majority”, according to Bayer’s lawyer, are not in fact injured (“Jury Clears Bayer of Liability in Baycol Suit”, AP/Quicken, Mar. 18; “Bayer lawyer: Most Baycol plaintiffs not injured”, Reuters/Forbes, Mar. 18) (DURABLE LINK)

March 19 — $12,000 a bed. “Nursing homes [in some states] now pay close to $12,000 per bed annually on liability insurance, according to [a new] report [by AON Risk Consultants].” Nationally, liability costs per bed grew from an average of $300 annually a decade ago to $1,120 in 1997 and $2,880 in 2002, according to the study. Defenders of rising litigation say it provides long-overdue recourse against bad care, but the former administrator of the recently closed Gadsden Nursing Home in Quincy. Florida, doesn’t buy the idea that only poorly run homes can expect to be sued. “‘We were ranked 51st out of 668 homes in the state the day we closed. If you’re ranked in the top 7.5%, you’re not a bad home,’ he said.” (Reuters Health, “Legal liability costs surge for US nursing homes”, Mar. 14). (DURABLE LINK)

March 18 — Would you go into medicine again? “Then there is the issue of so-called malpractice — a rapidly growing income-transfer system from doctors to lawyers that, quite apart from its toll on doctors, gives injured parties ever-diminishing shares of the proceeds. … [T]here must be a system for removing from practice those physicians who are guilty of multiple errors. (As I know from my service on the D.C. Medical Society’s disciplinary committee, this is now, ironically, made exceedingly difficult by the threat of suit from those under scrutiny.)” (Devra Marcus, “I’m a Doctor, Not an Adversarial Unit of the Health Care Industry”, Washington Post, Mar. 16). (DURABLE LINK)

March 18 — “Runaway asbestos litigation — why it’s a medical problem”. One doctor’s view of the morass (Lawrence Martin, M.D., MtSinai.org, Nov. 18, 2002. The site relates to Cleveland’s former Mt. Sinai hospital, not the one in New York). (DURABLE LINK)

March 17 — Australian roundup. Sued if you do, sued if you don’t dept.: “A netball star banned from playing because she was pregnant was awarded $6750 yesterday for hurt, humiliation and loss of match payments. … Netball Australia excluded any pregnant women from playing because of fears of legal action over injuries to mothers or unborn babies.” (Ellen Connolly, “Banned pregnant netballer wins damages for discrimination”, AAP/Sydney Morning Herald, Mar. 14). “A woman whose little finger was cut while working on a processing line at a doughnut factory has been awarded damages of [A]$467,000”. (Leonie Lamont, “Cut little finger reaps $467,000 damages”, Sydney Morning Herald, Mar. 12). “Non-lawyers are constantly baffled by legal decisions that seem to have little to do with reality, let alone justice,” opines commentator Evan Whitton, offering some examples from the Down Under legal scene (“The law of diminishing reality”, Sydney Morning Herald, Dec. 12). (DURABLE LINK)

March 17 — Steering the evidence: an update. Forbes follows up on the episode described in our May 23 and June 26, 2000 posts: “In June 2000 a judge found that three Texas lawyers (or someone they hired) had tampered with evidence in a $2 billion suit blaming Chrysler for a deadly car crash. The judge slapped the San Antonio lawyers with nearly $1 million in sanctions — one of the largest such penalties in memory. Last August an appellate court called the lawyers’ conduct ‘an egregious example of the worst kind of abuse of the legal system.’ And now the FBI is investigating the trio’s actions.

“What’s happened to the lawyers? Not much. Two are still practicing in Texas and the third moved out of the country. Only $289,000 of the penalty has been paid to Chrysler.” (Joann Muller, “Crass Actions”, Forbes, Mar. 31).(& update Jun. 10). (DURABLE LINK)

March 15-16 — “Public deceit protects lawsuit abuse”. The Pennsylvania Medical Society excoriates Nader’s Public Citizen for putting out a report on the Keystone state malpractice situation that the physicians say was marred by such basic errors as double and triple counting (legislative testimony, society president Edward H. Dench, Jr., MD, Mar. 5; press release, U.S. Newswire/ Boston.com, Mar. 5). We regret to inform the good docs that it seems to be a hopeless task — you can expose Public Citizen’s output as shoddy as frequently as you like, but much of the media will go right on treating it as gospel. And Radley Balko looks at the U.S. Public Interest Research Groups — which cooperate with the rest of the Nader empire in fighting litigation reform — reminding us of just how disreputably the PIRGs get their money (“Public Shakedown Artist”, TechCentralStation.com, Mar. 3). Mickey Kaus also comments (scroll to Mar. 13). Update: more flak for the PIRGs’ New York affiliate, NYPIRG (David E. Seidemann, “Scrutinizing the Nader Legacy”, Health Facts & Fears (American Council on Science and Health), Mar. 2, 2004) (via Megan McArdle). (DURABLE LINK)

March 15-16 — Class action lawyer takes $20 million from defendant’s side. Eyebrows arch as mass-tort lawyer Joe Rice, best known for the tobacco caper, cuts a deal in which Swiss-owned asbestos defendant ABB agrees to pay him $20 million personally for settling his clients’ pending claims against ABB subsidiary Combustion Engineering; Rice will also, of course, receive a contingency share of what the clients get (Alex Berenson, “Class-Action Lawyer’s Fee Under Scrutiny”, New York Times, Mar. 12). (DURABLE LINK)

March 12-14 — “Automakers may stop leasing vehicles in N.Y.” Major automakers and lenders are pulling out of the auto-lease business in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island, where laws allow leasing companies to be sued (in their role as titular owners) after a driver of one of their cars gets into an accident. (Kenn Peters, Syracuse Post-Standard, Mar. 11). “General Motors Acceptance Corp. notified dealers [in January] that it will quit buying leases in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island later this year unless those states change their ‘vicarious liability’ laws, which is unlikely.” (Jim Henry, “GMAC may end leases in three states”, Automotive News, Jan. 15). New York’s state senate has passed a bill repealing the doctrine, but it is given little chance of success in the trial-lawyer-dominated Assembly. Already many lease providers have hiked consumer fees by $600 or so in the high-liability states, a change that affects a large number of consumers, since around a third of cars sold are leased. Trial lawyers are the main power defending the vicarious laws. See also “Repeal sought of 18th-century doctrine affecting car leasing”, AP/Stanford Advocate, Mar. 10; Amy Forliti, “Lender’s pullout hurts R.I. leasing business”, AP/Boston Globe, Feb. 25. For our earlier coverage, see Aug. 26, 2002. (& see update May 21: Honda, GM, Ford, Chase all announce pullouts)

In another ambitious application of vicarious liability, the city of Detroit has argued — and a Michigan appeals court has agreed — that it can go after Ford Credit in court to collect unpaid parking tickets of drivers who lease through Ford; the ruling does however require case-by-case hearings on who was in control of the vehicles at the time of the infractions (“Appeals Court OKs Hearings Over $1M Unpaid Parking Tickets From Ford Credit Leased Vehicles”, Detroit News/Automotive Digest, Jan. 7; Robert Lane, “Ford Can Be Held Vicariously Responsible For Parking Fines”, Blue Oval News, Feb. 4) (via WSJ Best of the Web, Feb. 4). (DURABLE LINK)

March 12-14 — Sports mascots litigation. ESPN does a roundup, noting that the giant stuffed animals and other mascots “spend an inordinate amount of time in the courtroom” (Patrick Hruby, “Page Two: The seedier side of fur and fun” — see “Mascot Court Report” sidebar, Feb. 12). (DURABLE LINK)


March 31 — Gun-suit thoughts. Our editor has contributed an op-ed to the New York Sun outlining his view that the NAACP’s lawsuit against gunmakers (which went to trial last week amid a flurry of favorable press notices; see Mar. 24) is plenty lame and derives its only real vitality from having been filed before a favorable judge (Walter Olson, “Gun Lawsuit Meets Activist Judge”, New York Sun, Mar. 26). On an unrelated note, the House Judiciary Committee has asked our editor to discuss federal pre-emption of anti-gunmaker litigation at a hearing this Wednesday before the Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law (Rayburn HOB 2141, 10 a.m.) (DURABLE LINK)

March 31 — Teachers afraid.Educators in Baltimore County and beyond say the threat of lawsuits prevents administrators from backing their punishment of disorderly or dishonest students.” One of the more thorough explorations of this topic we’ve seen recently (Jonathan D. Rockoff, “Teachers say the law adds to disorder in classroom”, Baltimore Sun, Mar. 23) (via Joanne Jacobs). (DURABLE LINK)

March 31 — Some reader letters. We’ve fallen lamentably behind in publishing readers’ letters. Here’s a batch of four, on terrorism suits against foreign entities, Sen. Edwards and cerebral palsy, one New Jersey judge’s dismissal of a playground lawsuit, and an unwelcome (to us) advertising intrusion into our newsletter. Quite a few other letters remain in our pipeline — we’ll try to get to them soon. (DURABLE LINK)

March 25-30 — Fast food opinion roundup. “The word “addiction” is perilously close to losing any meaning. If lawyers can turn fast food into an addiction and pin liability on restaurants, it won’t be long before adulterers sue Sports Illustrated, claiming its swimsuit issue led them astray.” (Sally Satel, “Fast food ‘addiction’ feeds only lawyers”, USA Today, Mar. 12, reprinted at AEI site). One 270-lb., 5-foot-6 plaintiff “said her regular diet included an Egg McMuffin for breakfast and a Big Mac meal for dinner”, but Chris Rangel at RangelMD concludes that the calorie count doesn’t add up — the only way you could get up to 270 pounds would be by consuming a whole lot more food than that. (RangelMD, Feb. 23). “Big Food stands charged with making the plaintiffs fat, notes Howard Fienberg in a review of a fairly dreadful-sounding book on the much-ballyhooed obesity epidemic. Yet “Grocery stores are easily accessible for most Americans. …. Healthy choices are everywhere.” (“Supersize Nation?”, AmericasFuture.org, Winter). As expected, attorney Samuel Hirsch has re-filed his suit against McDonald’s (John Lehmann, “McFatties Bite Back”, New York Post, Feb. 20). “And now, Hirsch tells Newsweek, he’s targeting companies selling weight-loss products such as herbal supplements. Within weeks, he says, his law firm will begin placing ads in magazines to invite clients who bought the products but failed to lose weight to join a class-action lawsuit.” (Daniel McGinn, Newsweek, Feb. 10). See also “Tobacco-war lawyers taking aim at fast food”, Sacramento Bee, Feb. 24; Duane Freese, “Frankensuits”, Tech Central Station, Feb. 27.
(DURABLE LINK)

March 25-30 — “How a lawyer blew the whistle on a judge”. “It was the most distasteful thing I ever had to do in my life” said Joel Persky of his decision to turn in Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Joseph A. Jaffe, who offered favorable rulings in Persky’s asbestos cases in exchange for a cash quid pro quo (see Sept. 3, 2002). Had Persky merely ignored the judge’s overtures, according to one “seasoned” lawyer, he might have been laying himself open to legal malpractice charges. “Jaffe, 52, pleaded guilty last month to extorting money from Persky and will be sentenced May 16. Jaffe has qualified for a temporary, $60,000 a year disability from the State Employees’ Retirement System because he is depressed. The system’s board of trustees will vote on whether to award the money in March.” (Marylynne Pitz, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mar. 2). (DURABLE LINK)

March 25-30 — Gone for a few days. The site will lie fallow while our editor gives several speeches to promote his new book. See you Monday. (DURABLE LINK)

March 24 — Mad County pays out again. “A judge in Madison County, Ill., ordered Philip Morris USA Inc. to pay $10.1 billion in a class-action lawsuit that claimed the tobacco giant misled smokers about the dangers of light cigarettes.” Circuit Judge Nicholas G. Byron “gave the plaintiffs’ lawyers a quarter of the compensatory damages, or nearly $1.8 billion.” (“Philip Morris Hit With $10.1B Verdict in Illinois Case, Dow Jones/Quicken, Mar. 21; Trisha Howard and Paul Hampel, “Tobacco firm lawyer derides court’s reputation”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Mar. 22; related stories; Sherri Day, “Philip Morris Faces Big Penalty”, New York Times, Mar. 22). Madison County, Ill. is located east of St. Louis (map); its main cities include Alton, Edwardsville and Granite City. For more on its fame as a “plaintiff’s paradise” and “judicial hellhole” for defendants, see notes below, including work sponsored by the Manhattan Institute, with which our editor is associated. (Update Apr. 2-3: Philip Morris says it is unable to post appeals bond; more updates.)

MORE ON MADISON COUNTY: “Study finds Madison County has most class action suits per capita”, AP, Sept. 11, 2001; Jim Getz, “Class-Action Suits Soar In Madison County, Study Says; Think Tank Argues For Moving Cases To Federal Court”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sept. 11, 2001; John H. Beisner and Jessica Davidson Miller, “They’re Making a Federal Case Out of It … In State Court”, Manhattan Institute Civil Justice Report #3, Sept. 2001; Noam Neusner with Brian Brueggemann, “The judges of Madison County”, U.S. News, Dec. 17, 2001 (fee); Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), Statement on Class Action Fairness Act, Congressional Record, Nov. 15, 2001; Lester Brickman, “Anatomy of a Madison County (Illinois) Class Action: A Study of Pathology”, Manhattan Institute Civil Justice Report #6, press release, Aug. 12, 2002. (DURABLE LINK)

March 24 — Stalking horse for anti-gun litigators. If the NAACP really does have legal standing to sue firearms manufacturers and demand that a court impose gun-control measures on them, one might reasonably conclude that in the future anyone will henceforth have standing to sue anyone over anything. Still, this notional standing has been the excuse for longtime anti-gun litigators to make yet another pilgrimage to the Brooklyn courtroom of federal judge Jack Weinstein, who’s considered far more sympathetic to their cause than most of his colleagues (Tom Hayes, “Ex-Lobbyist to Testify for Gun Foes in Federal Trial”, AP/Law.com, Mar. 21). Jacob Sullum comments on the resulting trial set to begin today (“Jack B. Trick”, syndicated/Reason Online, Mar. 21), as does Eugene Volokh, who points out that the arguments for holding gun manufacturers liable would, if taken seriously, also lead to findings of liability against liquor manufacturers for “foreseeable misuse” of their wares — not that some ambitious lawyers wouldn’t like to do that too (Volokh Conspiracy blog, archive link not working, scroll to Mar. 23). The NAACP case seeks injunctive relief; per the AP, above, Judge Weinstein “has decided the jury will play only an ‘advisory role,’ leaving himself to make the final determination on liability and remedy.” For our earlier coverage of the suit, click here. See also “Off Target: Anti-gunners again take aim at manufacturers”, (editorial), McAllen (Tex.) Monitor, Mar. 21; and Hunting and Shooting Sports Heritage Fund site (& welcome Kausfiles readers). Updated to include correct HSSHF link (DURABLE LINK)

March 21-23 — “Lawyers find gold mine in Phila. pension cases”. Philadelphia Inquirer exposes how the city’s municipal pension funds enlisted as the complaisant clients of two prominent class action law firms, Berger & Montague and Barrack, Rodos & Bacine, which between 1996 and 2002 scooped up $19 million in fees representing the city in securities litigation. Then-Mayor Ed Rendell green-lighted the suits, and also happens to have received $460,000 in contributions from the lawyers since 1990. “‘The truth is, there was just a bounty hunter prowling the security industry, picking things and putting our names on it,’ said Joseph Herkness, the pension fund’s former director. ‘We were told, basically, to sign these things.'” “It was an opportunity to make money for the city without any risk,” claims Rendell, who is now Pennsylvania’s governor. But perhaps not quite so much money as if the city had driven a harder bargain: “Funds in Florida, Connecticut, Wisconsin, and New York City have trimmed millions off legal fees by seeking bids and setting fees in advance,” but not Philadelphia, the paper reported. As reported earlier (see Jan. 31) the FBI is investigating the actions of city officials in hiring the firms and resisting a judge’s efforts to encourage competitive bidding. (Joseph Tanfani and Craig R. McCoy, Philadelphia Inquirer, Mar. 16; “Lawyer’s responses scrutinized”, Feb. 14). Name partner Leonard Barrack of Barrack, Rodos, a big-league political donor, served as finance chairman for the Democratic National Committee under President Clinton (Washington Post, Jan. 12, 1999); he has said his firm is cooperating with the FBI probe. (DURABLE LINK)

March 21-23 — More notices for The Rule of Lawyers. Free-Market.net, one of the major libertarian sites, names our author’s new book “Freedom Book of the Month”, with reviewer Sunni Maravillosa calling it “clear, compelling” and “very important” and saying its “revelations will likely astonish most people who aren’t intimately acquainted with the American legal system” (March). In a review for the Indianapolis Star, reviewer Peter J. Pitts applauds the book as “insightful and frightening” (“Lawyers get rich; we get a warped idea of blame”, Mar. 15). And in American Hunter and its sister publications (American Rifleman, etc.), National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre uses his monthly column to call NRA members’ attention to the continuing outrage of the municipal gun suits and to The Rule of Lawyers in particular (April, not online). If you haven’t ordered your copy yet, what are you waiting for? (DURABLE LINK)

March 2001 archives, part 2


March 19-20 — “Kava tea drinker alleges bias in FedEx firing”. Taufui Piutau of San Bruno, Calif., a native of Tonga, was pulled over by a California highway patrolman in 1999 and charged with driving while impaired. It turned out he’d downed dozens of cups of kava tea, a popular Pacific Islander beverage widely regarded as having relaxing medicinal effects. A jury last November deadlocked on whether to convict him and prosecutors decided to drop the case, but by then Federal Express, Piutau’s employer, had suspended him without pay from his driving job over the off-duty incident. Now he’s suing the company for — guess the theory — religious discrimination, saying enjoyment of the beverage is a custom of a religious nature. (Ann E. Marimow, San Jose Mercury-News, Mar. 14).

March 19-20 — Scientologists vs. Slashdot. “In the face of legal threats from the Church of Scientology, Slashdot pulled down an anonymous posting that quoted a copyrighted church tract, known as Operating Thetan, Section III (OT III). ‘It’s an open forum, but as of today it’s a little less open than it was yesterday,’ says Robin Miller, the editorial director of Slashdot’s parent, the Open Source Development Network. ‘And we’re not happy about that.'” (Roger Parloff, “Threat of Scientologists’ Legal Wrath Prompts Slashdot to Censor a Posting”, Inside.com, March 16; Slashdot thread; Church of Scientology; some of its critics (“Operation Clambake“); Declan McCullagh, “Xenu Do, But Not on Slashdot”, Wired News, Mar. 17).

March 19-20 — Why they seize. “Kansas law enforcement officials on Monday strongly opposed a reform forfeiture bill that would send money seized in drug cases to education. Currently, law enforcement agencies can keep most of the money once it is legally confiscated. Law enforcement officials told the House Judiciary Committee that if their agencies were not allowed to keep drug money, forfeitures could become extinct in Kansas”. Kind of confirms what critics have said about the motivations for forfeiture law, doesn’t it? (Karen Dillon, “Kansas law enforcement officials oppose reform forfeiture bill”, Kansas City Star, Mar. 12; see May 25, 2000).

March 19-20 — Microdonation update. Amazon’s new micropayment “Honor System” for small and nonprofit websites has had at least one big success so far, as you may have heard: Andrew Sullivan’s personal site has taken in an envy-inducing $6,000 from his fans. That’s way ahead of most other popular sites: for example, the well-thought-of ModernHumorist.com says that as of March 9 it had received $509.99 from 209 readers, according to its “Tip Jar” account. Reason editor-at-large Virginia Postrel writes that her weblog/commentary “The Scene” “is pulling in about 500 page views a day — the poor woman’s approximation of visitors — and in the last month has netted contributions of $457.38 via Amazon and, in the last week, $27.50 via PayPal.”

So how’re we doing at Overlawyered.com, comparatively? As of Sunday evening we’d taken in about $404.50, from sixty readers, for an average donation of about $6.50. That’s not shabby at all. But we do notice that our readers are showing a far lower rate of participation than Virginia’s: we’ve been getting around 3,500 page views per weekday lately, so if our readers were as generous as hers we’d have raised a kitty that was seven times as high instead of a little lower. Another way of looking at it is that although it takes many thousands of regular readers to get us up to that 3,500-page daily volume, only an average of two of those readers a day actually throw coins in the hat. (No wonder Amazon calls it the Honor System.) We’ve just installed, on our PayPage, a new feature where you can watch donations climb and see your own added to the total. Thanks (again) for your support!

March 16-18 — Coupon settlement? Pay the lawyers in coupons. In a “blistering” 27-page ruling, Broward County, Fla. circuit judge Robert Lance Andrews has slashed a $1.4 million class-action legal-fee request by the New York law firm Zwerling Schachter & Zwerling to about $294,000, and “ordered that a quarter of the fees be paid in $10 to $60 travel vouchers — the same vouchers awarded to the 80,000 plaintiffs in the suit”. The suit had accused Renaissance Cruises Inc. of padding port charges. “Too often, [Judge Andrews] wrote in the ruling, lawyers use class actions as cash cows that ultimately don’t yield much for plaintiffs. … ‘Essentially, these vouchers have no value whatsoever,’ said [Edwin H.] Moore, president and chief executive of the James Madison Institute, a Tallahassee, Fla., think tank. ‘It’s kind of absurd, taking a cruise for hundreds of dollars and getting $10 off.'”

The judge further accused the lawyers of engaging in “fuzzy math” and said they had piggybacked on enforcement efforts by the Florida Attorney General, who had investigated cruise lines’ practice of passing on “port charges” to vacationers greater than those actually incurred. “Andrews said he considered denying plaintiffs’ lawyers any legal fees, ‘on the basis of their blatant disregard of their ethical obligations to the class and to the court.’ In fact, before ruling on legal fees, Andrews rebuffed 13 law firms that claimed to have had a hand in the class action.” Zwerling Schachter says it expects to appeal. “(Tom Collins, “Florida Judge Slashes Fee Request, Blasts Attorneys Suing Cruise Lines”, Miami Daily Business Review, Mar. 15).

March 16-18 — Compulsive grooming as protected disability. Last month a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, reversing a lower court, ruled that medical transcriber Carolyn Humphrey can proceed with her claim that her firing by a Modesto, Calif. hospital was unlawful. Humphrey, “an otherwise excellent employee, compiled a history of tardiness and absenteeism because of grooming and dressing rituals that took hours, sometimes all day. … [Her suit claims] the obsessive trait that drove her relentless primping had not been accommodated, as required by the Americans With Disabilities Act.” (Denny Walsh, “Compulsive grooming a true disability? Perhaps”, Sacramento Bee, March 14).

March 16-18 — Wife: hubby’s tooth discovery deprived me of companionship. Ronald Cheeley of Alamance County, N.C. “is suing Hardee’s, claiming he found a tooth in a biscuit from a one of the chain’s Burlington restaurants. … The lawsuit does not say whether Cheeley actually put the tooth in his mouth. … Cheeley’s wife, Queen Williamson Cheeley, is also named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit, which claims the incident has deprived her of companionship.” (Bill Cresenzo, “Tooth found: Man sues Hardee’s”, Burlington (N.C.) Times-News, Feb. 15) (via Obscure Store)

March 15 — Reclaiming the tobacco loot. If the Bush administration has its way, the politically connected lawyers who helped themselves to billions for representing the states in the great tobacco shakedown may soon have to turn a large share of that booty over to their clients, the fifty states (see our earlier coverage of the fees, the settlement and the lawyers). “President Bush proposed during the campaign to apply to lawyers in mass tort cases the Internal Revenue Code provisions that govern fiduciary breaches of duty by pension fund trustees, foundation executives, and employees of 501(c)(3) non-profits. Under this so-called Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker provision of the 1996 Taxpayer Bill of Rights, overreaching fiduciaries have the ‘choice’ of refunding their excess payments or paying a federal tax of $2 for every dollar they keep.” Contrary to some early reports that President Bush had dropped this plan, “[p]age 80 of the president’s budget contains this terse and, to taxpayers, cheering sentence: ‘The budget also assumes additional public health resources for the States from the President’s proposal to extend fiduciary responsibilities to the representatives of States in tobacco lawsuits.'” (Michael Horowitz, “Can Tort Law Be Ethical?”, Weekly Standard, Mar. 19; Ramesh Ponnuru, “A Good Tobacco Tax”, National Review Online, Mar. 14). And hurrah for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has just filed Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain information from 21 states about the magnitude of fees paid to the tobacco lawyers, which it says may exceed $100,000 an hour (U.S. Chamber release; the Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform; “Group Targets ‘Outrageous’ Legal Fees in Tobacco Case”, Yahoo/Reuters, Mar. 14).

March 15 — No more Indian team names? “The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights will vote next month on a statement that would condemn sports teams or mascots named after American Indians as violations of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. If adopted and widely accepted, the statement could eventually lead to a cutoff in federal funding for schools that cling to traditions like the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux or the University of Illinois’ mascot Chief Illiniwek.” (Catherine Donaldson-Evans, “Civil Rights Commission Considers Condemning Sports Teams Named After American Indians”, FoxNews.com, Mar. 13 (related story and links, right column, includes this page); John J. Miller & Ramesh Ponnuru, “Home of the Braves”, National Review Online, March 9) (& see letter to the editor, April 16).

March 13-14 — Hypnotist sued by entranced spectator. During a show by mesmerist Travis Fox at the Puyallup Fair last September, fairgoer Joshua Harris of Tacoma agreed to participate but “felt such a threat from a space alien mask that he broke his hand trying to ward off the extra-terrestrial. And now he’s suing. … ‘If people get up there and participate, you have to make sure it’s safe,’ said Harris’ attorney, George Christnacht.” (Karen Hucks, “Entertainment hypnotist being sued for negligence”, Tacoma News-Tribune, March 8).

March 13-14 — Judge throws out Hollywood- violence suit. Citing the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, Louisiana state judge Bob Morrison on Monday “threw out a lawsuit against director Oliver Stone that claimed his movie ‘Natural Born Killers’ led to a young couple’s bloody crime spree.” (“Judge Throws Out Movie Lawsuit”, AP/FindLaw, March 12). “It’s depressing that a suit that should have been thrown out on the first pass could result in such a waste of time, energy and money. We’ve created a new legal hell where everyone is entitled and no one is responsible,” said Stone (“Notable Quotes”, Reuters/Yahoo, March 13).

March 13-14 — “Nursing homes a gold mine for lawyers”. Week-long series in the Orlando Sentinel and South Florida Sun-Sentinel (series overview) examines mounting crisis in Florida nursing homes, where lawsuits have multiplied several-fold in recent years as lawyers have learned to deploy a liberal “Resident’s Rights” law that allows them to recover damages without proving negligence. Even the Lutheran Haven home, which hasn’t been sued in its 52 years, faces a liability insurance bill of $175,690 a year. (Diane C. Lade, “Money remains root of nursing homes’ woes”, March 6; Bob LaMendola and Greg Groeller, “Nursing homes a gold mine for lawyers”, March 4; Jeff Kunerth, “Even never-sued home feels insurance’s squeeze”, March 5). “Nursing homes are often in a Catch-22 when it comes to restraining patients. One tenet of the state’s nursing-home residents’ bill of rights guarantees residents the right to safety. Another tenet guarantees their freedom from ‘physical and chemical restraints.'” (Diane C. Lade and Greg Groeller, “Bedsores, falls make homes ripe for suing”, March 4; Jeff Kunerth, “Broken bones ended in lawsuit”, March 6; Jeff Kunerth, “A rarity: Lake lawsuit went to trial”, March 4).

As frequently happens with these newspaper group efforts, the tone is weirdly inconsistent, with one of the lead reporters buying much of the pro-litigation side of the story (Greg Groeller, “Elderly care put to test”, March 4) while many of the other installments in the series tend to document the need for curbs on suing (“Collapse of care” (editorial), March 11). Both nursing home operators and trial lawyers have been pouring money into Tallahassee, where lawmakers are considering such curbs. Among the attorneys opening their wallets is “Jim Wilkes, a sharp and politically connected nursing-home litigator from Tampa who said he probably gave at least $1 million of his own money to campaigns in the last election cycle. ‘If you took the national and state money that my firm has contributed to campaigns, I could have probably retired on the money,” Wilkes said.” Mark Hollis, “Nursing homes, lawyers plan fight in capital”, March 6). Six of eight publicly held for-profit home operators are now operating in bankruptcy, and a plaintiff’s lawyer concedes the possibility that “[t]he entire industry would end up being regulated through the bankruptcy courts.” (Lade, “Money remains”, March 6). Update: the National Law Journal‘s Margaret Cronin Fisk reports on the trend (“Juries Treat Nursing Home Industry With Multimillion Dollar Verdicts”, Apr. 23): “In the past 12 months, there have been verdicts of $312 million and $82 million in Texas, $5 million in California, $20 million in Florida and $3 million in Arkansas. … One Florida-based law firm, Tampa’s Wilkes & McHugh, has about 1,000 cases pending.”

March 12 — We have some to send you. The level of litigation in Japan is still minuscule by U.S. standards, but it has doubled over the past decade, and rural areas experience a perceived lawyer shortage. “Japan has set a goal of reaching France’s level of one lawyer per 1,900 people. That compares with its current level of about one per 7,155 people and America’s world-beating one lawyer per 295 people.” “One unfortunate side effect [of the obstacles to litigation in Japan] has been a social dependence on organized crime for help in settling thorny disputes,” according to the head of the American Chamber of Commerce in the island country. (Mark Magnier, “No Joke: Send More Lawyers”, Los Angeles Times, Mar. 9).

March 12 — More Tourette’s discrimination suits. John Miller is suing Gold’s Gym in Totowa, N.J., saying it terminated his membership because of the involuntary tics caused by his Tourette’s Syndrome. ‘I want these people to realize . . . I guess I do want them to be hurt a little — to realize what they’ve done to me,” he said. The Bergen Record also reports that in October, “a jury in New York City awarded $750,000 to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s former assistant banquet manager after finding the museum’s food contractor had fired him illegally because of the disorder.” (Jennifer V. Hughes, Bergen County Record, Feb. 9) (earlier Tourette’s cases: August 21 and July 26, 2000).

March 12 — Welcome National Review Online readers. The pseudonymous author, described as an officer of the Los Angeles Police Department, writes: “The Soviet menace may have faded into the history of another era, but the American legal profession, with its standing army of some half-million attorneys, presents as grave a threat to western civilization as has ever existed. For proof of this, I recommend to the strong of heart a visit to Overlawyered.com, a website that will at once amuse, bemuse, and horrify.” We’re headed toward a banner day for traffic, testimony to NR Online‘s popularity. (“Jack Dunphy”, “Disorder in the Court”, March 12).

March 2001 archives


March 9-11 — Push him into a bedroom, hand him a script. “A group of lawyers that includes Hugh Rodham, the brother-in-law of former President Bill Clinton, submitted a videotaped tribute from Mr. Clinton about its role in tobacco-related lawsuits to help support a fee request of up to $3.4 billion.” “The way I understand it, they pushed him into a bedroom during a fund-raiser, gave him a script and shot the tape,” said a local official with the American Lung Association, the once estimable but now litigation-infatuated public health group that gave the lawyers an award. The Castano Group lawyers haven’t won their own cases, but are now trying to claim credit for having created an atmosphere in which the state AGs could win theirs, or something like that. Anyway, they want several billion. (Barry Meier, “Rodham and Group Seeking Legal Fees Uses Clinton Testimonial”, New York Times, March 8) (& see Oct. 25, 1999).

March 9-11 — “Panel backs deaf patron’s claim against club”. “The Ohio Civil Rights Commission is tentatively supporting a deaf West Toledo woman’s claim that a local comedy club discriminated against her when it refused to provide an interpreter at one of its shows. Rebecca M. Bisesi, 23, contends the club violated state law when it did not agree to supply an interpreter.” (David Patch, Toledo Blade, Mar. 6).

March 9-11 — Narrow escape from ergonomic regs. We sure were lucky Congress ditched those awful new rules, for reasons that Tama Starr’s op-ed makes clear (“Getting Older? The Government Says Blame Your Boss”, Wall Street Journal, Mar. 8, reprinted at Dynamist.com; Helen Dewar and Cindy Skrzycki, Washington Post, Mar. 6; “House Scraps Ergonomic Regulation”, Mar. 8).

MORE: John Tierney, “Best Incentive for Job Safety – Money”, New York Times, March 9 (reg); “Developing a Framework for Sensible Regulation: Lessons from OSHA’s Proposed Ergonomics Rule,” by Robert W. Hahn and Petrea R. Moyle, AEI-Brookings Joint Center Regulatory Analysis, March 2000 (PDF); “Bad Economics, Not Good Ergonomics,” by Robert W. Hahn, AEI-Brookings Joint Center Policy Matters, December 1999; Karlyn H. Bowman (AEI), “Ergonomic Standards,” Roll Call, Dec. 2, 1999.

March 9-11 — Trial lawyer president? North Carolina trial-lawyer-turned Senator John Edwards (D) is “consistently mentioned as a likely presidential candidate” and turned up in Iowa to give a speech at Drake Law School. (Jennifer Dukes Lee, “Campaign 2004: Iowa visits begin”, Des Moines Register, March 3; Emily Graham, “Senator says money skews justice”, March 4) (via WSJ OpinionJournal.com) (& see Aug. 15, 2000).

March 7-8 — Show your diversity commitment, or don’t bother applying. In Pennsylvania, Bucks County Community College gives job applicants a questionnaire in which it requires them to describe their “commitment to diversity.” The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, challenging the policy, says it tends to screen out applicants with insufficiently progressive opinions on multicultural controversies, much as universities in the 1950s weeded out Communist professors by way of loyalty oaths. A college official says the question is not meant to enforce any orthodoxy. (Robin Wilson, “Diversity Question on College’s Job Application Amounts to ‘Loyalty Oath,’ Group Contends”, Chronicle of Higher Education, Feb. 21, reprinted at FIRE site).

March 7-8 — “Painting the town — with lawsuits”. Oakland and San Francisco have joined other California localities in suing companies that once made lead paint, pushing the sort of tobacco- and gun-style “recoupment” claim that “flies in the face of centuries of Anglo-American common law”, writes George Mason University law professor Michael Krauss. Krauss says the California cities “allege that a conspiracy of lead paint manufacturers hid the truth from them until 1999, so they couldn’t sue before then”, an “astounding” claim since by the 1950s an official of the Lead Industry Association was vigorously publicizing the dangers of flaking lead paint in dilapidated housing. “In 1999, a Maryland court dismissed a conspiracy suit against paint companies with the finding that there was ‘no evidence whatsoever’ that manufacturers ‘concealed any studies, altered any documents or misrepresented any finding.’ Where have California cities been these last 50 years?” (Michael I. Krauss, “Painting the Town — With Lawsuits”, Independent Institute, Jan. 30).

March 7-8 — Can you own common words? “In one of the broadest crackdowns ever issued against a domain name holder, a federal judge has ordered eReferee.com to stop using the word ‘referee’ in all of its domain names. … In issuing the court ruling, Wisconsin federal [j]udge C.N. Clevert sided with Referee magazine, a periodical holding the trademark to the word ‘referee’ for the purposes of publication.” David Post, an associate professor of law at Temple, called the ruling “unbelievable”, saying that regardless of whether eReferee.com had violated trademark law, as was alleged, by using a logo confusingly similar to its rival’s, “You just don’t want to let someone own the word ‘referee'”. (Lisa M. Bowman, “Judge approves domain name penalty on eReferee”, CNet, Feb. 16; Gretchen Schuldt, “Referee Enterprises Seeks to Halt Competitor from Using ‘Referee’ in Web Name”, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/Corporate Intelligence.com, Feb. 23).

March 6 — “EEOC sued for age bias”. “As a regional attorney for the [Atlanta office of the] Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, William D. Snapp’s job was to ensure workers weren’t discriminated against because of race, gender, or age. But he alleges he was told to get rid of senior attorneys and replace them with younger staffers. Now, the EEOC is being sued for discrimination by attorneys who led the agency’s civil actions against private employers throughout Georgia.” Among those suing is 25-year veteran attorney Maureen Malone, who says it was an inside joke among her fellow EEOC trial lawyers that the agency “would require us to hold an employer to the line … when we were the biggest violators of all.” The agency’s management denies the charges. (R. Robin McDonald, Fulton County Daily Report, Mar. 2). According to the Wall Street Journal OpinionJournal.com‘s “Best of the Web”, which picked up this item, EEOC may stand for “Expel Every Old Codger”.

March 6 — Tendency of elastic items to recoil well known. “A federal judge in Pennsylvania dismissed a products liability suit brought by a man who seriously injured his eye when the elastic cord on the hood of his jacket recoiled. ‘This court assumes,’ the judge wrote, ‘that the average ordinary consumer is well acquainted with the propensity of all manner of elastic items to recoil after they have been extended and released.'” (Shannon P. Duffy, “Jacket’s Recoil Danger Well Known, Says Judge, Dismissing Liability Case”, The Legal Intelligencer (Philadelphia), Mar. 2).

March 5 — Watch what you call me. An Indiana death-row inmate has sued jail officials for discrimination and religious persecution, saying they fail to call him by the name Zolo Agona Azania, which he legally adopted in 1991, and instead go on addressing him by the name he was given at birth, Rufus Averhart, which he terms his “slave name”. Sheriff Jim Herman said jail employees use the older name because that’s the one under which charges were filed, besides which: “No one can pronounce his new name.” “Azania, 46, was sentenced to death for the 1981 murder of a Gary police officer during a bank robbery. … [He] has filed at least 27 other lawsuits against various officials since 1980. ‘I imagine it’s not going to end,’ Herman said, ‘until Rufus is executed or becomes a free man.'” “Inmate on Death Row Sues Jailers For Using His ‘Slave Name'”, AP/Fox News, Mar. 1).

March 5 — “Lawyers get tobacco fees early”. Last month, “[i]n an unprecedented financial transaction, a group of plaintiff’s lawyers who participated in the 1998 settlement against the tobacco industry … converted nearly $1 billion in legal fees that would have been paid over 12 years into $308.1 million in cash.” The transaction, arranged with the help of investment bankers, covers only a portion of the total fees that lawyers collectively expect from the tobacco caper; if it serves as a model for further conversion of the fee stream to immediate dollars, the attorneys could soon be looking at cash-in-hand exceeding $3 billion.

“With the tobacco victory behind them, some of the trial lawyers said they plan to expand their legal activities into new areas. Richard ‘Dickie’ Scruggs, one of the leading plaintiff’s lawyers, said he intends to file suit against government contractors, especially shipbuilders in the Mississippi port of Pascagoula.” The qui tam (“whistleblower”) provisions of federal law allow for triple-damage suits against government contractors alleged to have overbilled, and lawyers can collect a sizable portion of that sum (see Jan. 18, 2000). (Thomas Edsall, “Lawyers Get Tobacco Fees Early”, Washington Post, Feb. 14, fee-based archives).

March 2-4 — Securities law: time for loser-pays. Congress’ 1995 round of securities-law reform has been mostly ineffective in quelling meritless class actions. While judges are dismissing more complaints, “[t]he marginal cost of drafting additional complaints is small (it is not uncommon for ‘cookie cutter’ complaints to erroneously contain the names of defendants from previous cases filed by the law firm), while the potential rewards are large.” Existing sanctions provisions are almost completely ineffective, which means it’s time for Congress to put plaintiff’s lawyers at risk of a fee shift when cases are dismissed for failure to state a legal claim, argues attorney Lyle Roberts of the northern Virginia office of San Jose-based Wilson Sonsini Goodrich and Rosati, which represents defendants in these cases (“Losers Weepers”, Legal Times, Feb. 5).

March 2-4 — Mold wars, cont’d. Dampness, water intrusion and the consequent appearance of mold and mildew in buildings are as old as shelter itself, but it certainly makes it scarier, and more than enough reason to call a lawyer, when you relabel the problem as “toxic mold” (see Oct. 10). Los Angeles attorney Alex Robertson claims to be representing 1,000 individuals on mold claims in California alone. Melinda Ballard, whose nationally publicized case against Farmers Insurance is slated to go to trial in Texas momentarily, says she has collected a database of 9,000 mold-related lawsuits around the country, most filed within the last two years. Ballard and her family are accusing Farmers, in part, “of failing to inform them about the dangers of [the mold] Stachybotrys, which ultimately drove them out of their 22-room mansion, located just west of Austin in the aptly named town of Dripping Springs. The Ballards are seeking $100 million in civil damages.” Dallas journalist Joanna Windham, meanwhile, believes mold in her apartment is responsible for her dog’s getting cancer. (Rose Farley, “Attack of the black mold”, Dallas Observer, Feb. 22).

MORE: “Mold: A Health Alert”, USA Weekend, Dec. 5, 1999; Catherine Tapia and Constance Parten, “Mold in Buildings”, Insurance Journal of Texas, Nov. 20; Kerri Ginis, “Tulare workers sue county over mold”, Fresno Bee, Oct. 27. Attorney Robertson “said that his IAQ [indoor air quality] litigation cases have seen a decided shift from building furnishings’ VOCs [volatile organic chemicals] to mold in buildings.”: John N. McNamara, “IAQ Seminar Fact or Fiction: A Paradigm of Perspectives”, Industrial Hygiene News website, July.

March 2-4 — Trial lawyer heads Family Research Council. You might not have guessed that Washington’s most visible religious right organization would be able to boast endorsements for its incoming president from such figures as former Association of Trial Lawyers of America president Michael Maher, Democratic Florida Attorney General (and tobacco-lawyer benefactor) Robert Butterworth, and American Bar Association president Martha Barnett, as well as John Ashcroft, Jeb Bush and James Gwartney (more). But that’s what happened when the Family Research Council picked as its new president plaintiff’s lawyer Kenneth L. Connor, who made his fortune suing nursing homes in the Sunshine State (see June 20) and has been a tenacious advocate of the interests of the litigation community in that state’s politics. According to one of his fans, Mr. Connor “filibustered” to keep a state advisory panel on nursing homes from endorsing liability reforms, as most of his fellow panelists wished to do (aradvocate.com). And in October Connor was quoted in the press, identified as FRC president, as criticizing efforts to replace Florida’s elective judgeships with an appointive “merit selection” system; the system of judicial elections has aroused unease because of the propensity of interest groups, led by lawyers, to shovel money into judges’ campaigns (“Judges’ Selection in Hands of Voters” (editorial), St. Petersburg Times, October 30, 2000, no longer online, summarized at NYU Brennan Center). In an interview with National Journal, Connor says “I don’t engage in personal attacks or attacks against classes of people,” which must have made it hard for him to run a legal practice demanding punitive damages from nursing-home operators, no? (Shawn Zeller, “New Advocate on the Religious Right”, National Journal, Feb. 10, not online).

March 2-4 — Debate on Microsoft case. Tom Hazlett vs. Ken Auletta, on (Microsoft’s) Slate (“Dialogue”, Feb. 28 and after).


March 19-20 — “Kava tea drinker alleges bias in FedEx firing”. Taufui Piutau of San Bruno, Calif., a native of Tonga, was pulled over by a California highway patrolman in 1999 and charged with driving while impaired. It turned out he’d downed dozens of cups of kava tea, a popular Pacific Islander beverage widely regarded as having relaxing medicinal effects. A jury last November deadlocked on whether to convict him and prosecutors decided to drop the case, but by then Federal Express, Piutau’s employer, had suspended him without pay from his driving job over the off-duty incident. Now he’s suing the company for — guess the theory — religious discrimination, saying enjoyment of the beverage is a custom of a religious nature. (Ann E. Marimow, San Jose Mercury-News, Mar. 14).

March 19-20 — Scientologists vs. Slashdot. “In the face of legal threats from the Church of Scientology, Slashdot pulled down an anonymous posting that quoted a copyrighted church tract, known as Operating Thetan, Section III (OT III). ‘It’s an open forum, but as of today it’s a little less open than it was yesterday,’ says Robin Miller, the editorial director of Slashdot’s parent, the Open Source Development Network. ‘And we’re not happy about that.'” (Roger Parloff, “Threat of Scientologists’ Legal Wrath Prompts Slashdot to Censor a Posting”, Inside.com, March 16; Slashdot thread; Church of Scientology; some of its critics (“Operation Clambake“); Declan McCullagh, “Xenu Do, But Not on Slashdot”, Wired News, Mar. 17).

March 19-20 — Why they seize. “Kansas law enforcement officials on Monday strongly opposed a reform forfeiture bill that would send money seized in drug cases to education. Currently, law enforcement agencies can keep most of the money once it is legally confiscated. Law enforcement officials told the House Judiciary Committee that if their agencies were not allowed to keep drug money, forfeitures could become extinct in Kansas”. Kind of confirms what critics have said about the motivations for forfeiture law, doesn’t it? (Karen Dillon, “Kansas law enforcement officials oppose reform forfeiture bill”, Kansas City Star, Mar. 12; see May 25, 2000).

March 19-20 — Microdonation update. Amazon’s new micropayment “Honor System” for small and nonprofit websites has had at least one big success so far, as you may have heard: Andrew Sullivan’s personal site has taken in an envy-inducing $6,000 from his fans. That’s way ahead of most other popular sites: for example, the well-thought-of ModernHumorist.com says that as of March 9 it had received $509.99 from 209 readers, according to its “Tip Jar” account. Reason editor-at-large Virginia Postrel writes that her weblog/commentary “The Scene” “is pulling in about 500 page views a day — the poor woman’s approximation of visitors — and in the last month has netted contributions of $457.38 via Amazon and, in the last week, $27.50 via PayPal.”

So how’re we doing at Overlawyered.com, comparatively? As of Sunday evening we’d taken in about $404.50, from sixty readers, for an average donation of about $6.50. That’s not shabby at all. But we do notice that our readers are showing a far lower rate of participation than Virginia’s: we’ve been getting around 3,500 page views per weekday lately, so if our readers were as generous as hers we’d have raised a kitty that was seven times as high instead of a little lower. Another way of looking at it is that although it takes many thousands of regular readers to get us up to that 3,500-page daily volume, only an average of two of those readers a day actually throw coins in the hat. (No wonder Amazon calls it the Honor System.) We’ve just installed, on our PayPage, a new feature where you can watch donations climb and see your own added to the total. Thanks (again) for your support!

March 16-18 — Coupon settlement? Pay the lawyers in coupons. In a “blistering” 27-page ruling, Broward County, Fla. circuit judge Robert Lance Andrews has slashed a $1.4 million class-action legal-fee request by the New York law firm Zwerling Schachter & Zwerling to about $294,000, and “ordered that a quarter of the fees be paid in $10 to $60 travel vouchers — the same vouchers awarded to the 80,000 plaintiffs in the suit”. The suit had accused Renaissance Cruises Inc. of padding port charges. “Too often, [Judge Andrews] wrote in the ruling, lawyers use class actions as cash cows that ultimately don’t yield much for plaintiffs. … ‘Essentially, these vouchers have no value whatsoever,’ said [Edwin H.] Moore, president and chief executive of the James Madison Institute, a Tallahassee, Fla., think tank. ‘It’s kind of absurd, taking a cruise for hundreds of dollars and getting $10 off.'”

The judge further accused the lawyers of engaging in “fuzzy math” and said they had piggybacked on enforcement efforts by the Florida Attorney General, who had investigated cruise lines’ practice of passing on “port charges” to vacationers greater than those actually incurred. “Andrews said he considered denying plaintiffs’ lawyers any legal fees, ‘on the basis of their blatant disregard of their ethical obligations to the class and to the court.’ In fact, before ruling on legal fees, Andrews rebuffed 13 law firms that claimed to have had a hand in the class action.” Zwerling Schachter says it expects to appeal. “(Tom Collins, “Florida Judge Slashes Fee Request, Blasts Attorneys Suing Cruise Lines”, Miami Daily Business Review, Mar. 15).

March 16-18 — Compulsive grooming as protected disability. Last month a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, reversing a lower court, ruled that medical transcriber Carolyn Humphrey can proceed with her claim that her firing by a Modesto, Calif. hospital was unlawful. Humphrey, “an otherwise excellent employee, compiled a history of tardiness and absenteeism because of grooming and dressing rituals that took hours, sometimes all day. … [Her suit claims] the obsessive trait that drove her relentless primping had not been accommodated, as required by the Americans With Disabilities Act.” (Denny Walsh, “Compulsive grooming a true disability? Perhaps”, Sacramento Bee, March 14).

March 16-18 — Wife: hubby’s tooth discovery deprived me of companionship. Ronald Cheeley of Alamance County, N.C. “is suing Hardee’s, claiming he found a tooth in a biscuit from a one of the chain’s Burlington restaurants. … The lawsuit does not say whether Cheeley actually put the tooth in his mouth. … Cheeley’s wife, Queen Williamson Cheeley, is also named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit, which claims the incident has deprived her of companionship.” (Bill Cresenzo, “Tooth found: Man sues Hardee’s”, Burlington (N.C.) Times-News, Feb. 15) (via Obscure Store)

March 15 — Reclaiming the tobacco loot. If the Bush administration has its way, the politically connected lawyers who helped themselves to billions for representing the states in the great tobacco shakedown may soon have to turn a large share of that booty over to their clients, the fifty states (see our earlier coverage of the fees, the settlement and the lawyers). “President Bush proposed during the campaign to apply to lawyers in mass tort cases the Internal Revenue Code provisions that govern fiduciary breaches of duty by pension fund trustees, foundation executives, and employees of 501(c)(3) non-profits. Under this so-called Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker provision of the 1996 Taxpayer Bill of Rights, overreaching fiduciaries have the ‘choice’ of refunding their excess payments or paying a federal tax of $2 for every dollar they keep.” Contrary to some early reports that President Bush had dropped this plan, “[p]age 80 of the president’s budget contains this terse and, to taxpayers, cheering sentence: ‘The budget also assumes additional public health resources for the States from the President’s proposal to extend fiduciary responsibilities to the representatives of States in tobacco lawsuits.'” (Michael Horowitz, “Can Tort Law Be Ethical?”, Weekly Standard, Mar. 19; Ramesh Ponnuru, “A Good Tobacco Tax”, National Review Online, Mar. 14). And hurrah for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has just filed Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain information from 21 states about the magnitude of fees paid to the tobacco lawyers, which it says may exceed $100,000 an hour (U.S. Chamber release; the Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform; “Group Targets ‘Outrageous’ Legal Fees in Tobacco Case”, Yahoo/Reuters, Mar. 14).

March 15 — No more Indian team names? “The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights will vote next month on a statement that would condemn sports teams or mascots named after American Indians as violations of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. If adopted and widely accepted, the statement could eventually lead to a cutoff in federal funding for schools that cling to traditions like the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux or the University of Illinois’ mascot Chief Illiniwek.” (Catherine Donaldson-Evans, “Civil Rights Commission Considers Condemning Sports Teams Named After American Indians”, FoxNews.com, Mar. 13 (related story and links, right column, includes this page); John J. Miller & Ramesh Ponnuru, “Home of the Braves”, National Review Online, March 9) (& see letter to the editor, April 16).

March 13-14 — Hypnotist sued by entranced spectator. During a show by mesmerist Travis Fox at the Puyallup Fair last September, fairgoer Joshua Harris of Tacoma agreed to participate but “felt such a threat from a space alien mask that he broke his hand trying to ward off the extra-terrestrial. And now he’s suing. … ‘If people get up there and participate, you have to make sure it’s safe,’ said Harris’ attorney, George Christnacht.” (Karen Hucks, “Entertainment hypnotist being sued for negligence”, Tacoma News-Tribune, March 8).

March 13-14 — Judge throws out Hollywood- violence suit. Citing the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, Louisiana state judge Bob Morrison on Monday “threw out a lawsuit against director Oliver Stone that claimed his movie ‘Natural Born Killers’ led to a young couple’s bloody crime spree.” (“Judge Throws Out Movie Lawsuit”, AP/FindLaw, March 12). “It’s depressing that a suit that should have been thrown out on the first pass could result in such a waste of time, energy and money. We’ve created a new legal hell where everyone is entitled and no one is responsible,” said Stone (“Notable Quotes”, Reuters/Yahoo, March 13).

March 13-14 — “Nursing homes a gold mine for lawyers”. Week-long series in the Orlando Sentinel and South Florida Sun-Sentinel (series overview) examines mounting crisis in Florida nursing homes, where lawsuits have multiplied several-fold in recent years as lawyers have learned to deploy a liberal “Resident’s Rights” law that allows them to recover damages without proving negligence. Even the Lutheran Haven home, which hasn’t been sued in its 52 years, faces a liability insurance bill of $175,690 a year. (Diane C. Lade, “Money remains root of nursing homes’ woes”, March 6; Bob LaMendola and Greg Groeller, “Nursing homes a gold mine for lawyers”, March 4; Jeff Kunerth, “Even never-sued home feels insurance’s squeeze”, March 5). “Nursing homes are often in a Catch-22 when it comes to restraining patients. One tenet of the state’s nursing-home residents’ bill of rights guarantees residents the right to safety. Another tenet guarantees their freedom from ‘physical and chemical restraints.'” (Diane C. Lade and Greg Groeller, “Bedsores, falls make homes ripe for suing”, March 4; Jeff Kunerth, “Broken bones ended in lawsuit”, March 6; Jeff Kunerth, “A rarity: Lake lawsuit went to trial”, March 4).

As frequently happens with these newspaper group efforts, the tone is weirdly inconsistent, with one of the lead reporters buying much of the pro-litigation side of the story (Greg Groeller, “Elderly care put to test”, March 4) while many of the other installments in the series tend to document the need for curbs on suing (“Collapse of care” (editorial), March 11). Both nursing home operators and trial lawyers have been pouring money into Tallahassee, where lawmakers are considering such curbs. Among the attorneys opening their wallets is “Jim Wilkes, a sharp and politically connected nursing-home litigator from Tampa who said he probably gave at least $1 million of his own money to campaigns in the last election cycle. ‘If you took the national and state money that my firm has contributed to campaigns, I could have probably retired on the money,” Wilkes said.” Mark Hollis, “Nursing homes, lawyers plan fight in capital”, March 6). Six of eight publicly held for-profit home operators are now operating in bankruptcy, and a plaintiff’s lawyer concedes the possibility that “[t]he entire industry would end up being regulated through the bankruptcy courts.” (Lade, “Money remains”, March 6). Update: the National Law Journal‘s Margaret Cronin Fisk reports on the trend (“Juries Treat Nursing Home Industry With Multimillion Dollar Verdicts”, Apr. 23): “In the past 12 months, there have been verdicts of $312 million and $82 million in Texas, $5 million in California, $20 million in Florida and $3 million in Arkansas. … One Florida-based law firm, Tampa’s Wilkes & McHugh, has about 1,000 cases pending.”

March 12 — We have some to send you. The level of litigation in Japan is still minuscule by U.S. standards, but it has doubled over the past decade, and rural areas experience a perceived lawyer shortage. “Japan has set a goal of reaching France’s level of one lawyer per 1,900 people. That compares with its current level of about one per 7,155 people and America’s world-beating one lawyer per 295 people.” “One unfortunate side effect [of the obstacles to litigation in Japan] has been a social dependence on organized crime for help in settling thorny disputes,” according to the head of the American Chamber of Commerce in the island country. (Mark Magnier, “No Joke: Send More Lawyers”, Los Angeles Times, Mar. 9).

March 12 — More Tourette’s discrimination suits. John Miller is suing Gold’s Gym in Totowa, N.J., saying it terminated his membership because of the involuntary tics caused by his Tourette’s Syndrome. ‘I want these people to realize . . . I guess I do want them to be hurt a little — to realize what they’ve done to me,” he said. The Bergen Record also reports that in October, “a jury in New York City awarded $750,000 to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s former assistant banquet manager after finding the museum’s food contractor had fired him illegally because of the disorder.” (Jennifer V. Hughes, Bergen County Record, Feb. 9) (earlier Tourette’s cases: August 21 and July 26, 2000).

March 12 — Welcome National Review Online readers. The pseudonymous author, described as an officer of the Los Angeles Police Department, writes: “The Soviet menace may have faded into the history of another era, but the American legal profession, with its standing army of some half-million attorneys, presents as grave a threat to western civilization as has ever existed. For proof of this, I recommend to the strong of heart a visit to Overlawyered.com, a website that will at once amuse, bemuse, and horrify.” We’re headed toward a banner day for traffic, testimony to NR Online‘s popularity. (“Jack Dunphy”, “Disorder in the Court”, March 12).


March 30-April 1 — Gary to Gannett: pay up for that investigative reporting. In December 1998 the Pensacola, Fla. News Journal published a investigative series alleging that a Lake City business by the name of Anderson Columbia pulled political strings to evade environmental and other rules while obtaining lucrative state road contracts. Now noted plaintiff’s lawyer Willie Gary (key cases: Loewen, Disney, Coke, reparations 1, 2) has been retained by Anderson Columbia and is demanding $1.5 billion, which far exceeds the value of the newspaper itself, in a libel suit against the News Journal and its parent Gannett. The suit, filed downstate in Fort Lauderdale, “also cites two 1990 stories reporting allegations of environmental damage and poor-quality work and an editorial that last year criticized Escambia County commissioners for their dealings with Anderson Columbia.” (Bill Kaczor, “Gary client sues newspaper, Gannet [sic] Co. for libel, seeks $1.5 billion”, Mar. 23) In other pending cases, Gary is representing bias plaintiffs against Microsoft “and is seeking a $2.5 billion breach-of-contract judgment against beer giant Anheuser-Busch on behalf of the family of former home run king Roger Maris.” The Stuart, Fla. lawyer’s choice of clients in the past has not always matched his populist image: for example, he’s represented Florida’s “fabulously rich” Fanjul family in the defense of a suit charging that its mostly black sugar cane cutters were underpaid. (Harris Meyer, “Willie Gary’s Sugar Daddies”, New Times Broward/Palm Beach, Mar. 25, 1999)

March 30-April 1 — Dangers of complaining about lawyers. “Beware: Accusing your lawyer of wrongdoing soon could be even more intimidating. It could land you in court, running up a legal bill to defend yourself against a defamation lawsuit.” A pending change in Georgia rules would open clients and others who talk to lawyer-discipline authorities to defamation suits from the lawyers they criticize — even if the charges against the lawyer are upheld, and even if the statements are made in private to only a few investigators. Critics say the prospect of being sued for defamation, win or lose, would chill legitimate complaints, while bar official David Lipscomb says it’s a difference between two philosophies: “One is you allow a few lies to encourage people to file complaints,” he says. “And the other is you should hold people to a standard of truth, and if that chills some of the complaints, then that’s a price we are willing to pay.” Hmmm … when that same philosophical dispute comes up concerning litigation itself, doesn’t our legal establishment usually favor bending over backwards to keep from chilling dubious complaints? And isn’t it only fair to ask them to live with the same culture of easy accusation that so often results? (Lucy Soto, “Complain about a lawyer at your own risk of peril”, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Mar. 26).

March 30-April 1 — No cause to be frightened. An Iowa court of appeals has ruled that a man who entered a convenience store at 4:30 a.m. wearing a disguise and ordered a clerk to empty the cash register did not commit robbery for legal purposes. James Edward Heard came in to a Davenport, Ia. Coastal Mart store “wearing a paper bag over his head and athletic socks on his hands” and, according to court records, “greeted cashier Aimee Hahn by saying either ‘Happy Halloween’ or ‘Trick or treat’ and then, in a soft voice, asked her to give him ‘the money.'” (The date was May, not October). After Ms. Hahn complied, he ordered her to lie down and fled. Mr. Heard admitted the facts of the case and was convicted of second-degree robbery, but the appeals court overturned his conviction, ruling that Heard’s actions did not imply a threat of “serious injury” as defined by law. The district attorney called the ruling “terrible”. (Clark Kauffman, “Court rules no threat, no robbery”, Des Moines Register, March 15) (via Jerry Lerman’s Bonehead of the Day Award).

March 29 — Putting the “special” in special sauce. A Toronto family claims its nine-year-old daughter found a severed rat’s head in her sandwich and wants C$17.5 million (U.S. $11.2 million) from McDonald’s Canada. According to her family’s lawyer, Ayan Abdi Jama, “having been enticed by McDonald’s pervasive child-focused advertising”, ordered a Big Mac which was “served in a paper wrapper bearing the Disney ‘Tarzan’ logo”, and proceeded to “partially ingest” the bewhiskered rodent portion, suffering as a result extensive psychiatric damage. Her mom was so shocked by the event that she can no longer carry on normal daily activities or earn a living, the suit further alleges, and her sister will quite likely be similarly affected when she grows up, so they deserve lots of money too. The complaint further alleges that “customers should be warned to inspect sandwiches prior to consumption” and that McDonald’s was negligent for not issuing such a warning. (“Alleged rat’s head in Big Mac triggers lawsuit”, CBC News, Mar. 27; “McDonald’s Canada lawsuit claims rat head in burger”, Reuters/FindLaw, Mar. 28; complaint in PDF format (very long), courtesy FindLaw).

March 29 — “Workers win more lawsuits, awards”.Employees who claim they’ve been harassed or discriminated against are winning many of their cases, and the financial awards they’re receiving often far eclipse those of years past.” The new spate of layoffs is likely to push those numbers higher, and companies that have gone off chasing youthful New Economy workforces invite costly age-bias claims, according to our editor, who is quoted. (Stephanie Armour, USA Today, March 27).

March 28 — The malaria drug made him do it. Last week federal prosecutors indicted former Congressman Ed Mezvinsky on 66 counts of fraud, saying he bilked banks and investors out of more than $10 million trying to make up his losses after himself falling victim to an African advance-fee scam. Mezvinsky now says his errant conduct arose from psychiatric side effects of the anti-malaria medication Lariam, which he took while on his business trips to Africa, and he’s suing the giant drugmaker Roche, along with Philadelphia’s Presbyterian Medical Center, his physician and a pharmacy, saying they should reimburse the losses of the people who entrusted their money to him and also pay him damages. “Clearly the responsibility lies with the manufacturers,” said his lawyer, Michael F. Barrett. (“Mezvinsky files suit over drug”, AP/Philadelphia Daily News, Mar. 24; Jim Smith, “$10M classic swindle”, Philadelphia Daily News, Mar. 23)(more on advance-fee scams). (DURABLE LINK)

March 28 — Ideological pro bono. We should be grateful to lawyers for the idealistic work they do free (“pro bono“) on behalf of worthy causes, right? Well, that may depend on what causes you find worthy. A new Federalist Society survey confirms that pro bono work at the nation’s biggest law firms tilts heavily toward liberal-left causes, such as gun control and racial preferences, as opposed to conservative or libertarian ones. (Pro Bono Activity at the AmLaw 100; Peter Roff, “Pro Bono, Pro Liberal”, National Review Online, March 14).

March 27 — Junk-fax bonanza. An Augusta, Ga. jury has found that the Hooters restaurant chain unlawfully allowed an ad agency to send unsolicited ad faxes offering lunch coupons to businesses and individuals in the Augusta area. Because the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) specifies that each sending of an improper fax incurs a $500 fine, which is tripled if the offense is willful, “attorney- turned-plaintiff Sam G. Nicholson and 1,320 class members … stand to share an estimated $4 million to $12 million from a suit Nicholson filed in 1995.” Each recipient of the six unsolicited faxes will be entitled to a minimum of $3,000 for the inconvenience, and $9,000 if damages are tripled. Hooters says its local manager signed up for a fax-ad service without realizing that its services were illegal or that federal law made advertisers as well as fax-senders liable for violations. (Janet L. Conley, “Just the Fax, Ma’am: Unsolicited Ad Spree May Cost Hooters Millions”, Fulton County Daily Report, Mar. 26). For earlier stages in the junk-fax saga, see Oct. 22, 1999 and Mar. 3, 2000.

March 27 — Shot, then sued. Batavia, Ill. police officer Chris Graver won numerous awards and accolades for bravery after surviving a shootout with a gunman in which he was critically injured and the gunman killed. He’s relieved that the gunman’s survivors have now finally agreed to drop their lawsuit against him. The legal action “was kind of aggravating. You get three bullets in you, almost die, and there’s still lawyers lining up to file a lawsuit against you.”(Sean D. Hamill, “Lawsuit dropped, but officer still tormented by shooting”, (suburban Chicago) Daily Herald, Mar. 23).

March 26 — “Teacher sues parent over handshake”. “A Utah elementary school teacher is suing a parent for allegedly shaking her hand so hard during a parent-teacher conference that she has had to wear a hand brace, undergo surgery and drop out of advanced teaching classes.” The suit, by teacher Traci R. England, says that parent Glenda Smith was irate and charges Smith with “vigorously pumping [England’s] arm up and down,” with the result that England “missed work, incurred medical expenses of more than $3,000 and dropped a university class, making her ineligible for a pay raise of $2,000 per year. Her attorney, Michael T. McCoy, is seeking damages for his client, including pain and suffering, in excess of $250,000.” (Dawn House, Salt Lake Tribune, Mar. 23).

Update: we received the following email in November 2005:

I am the teacher in your post. The injury occurred November 20, 2000. Five years later, I have had 7 (yes, seven) surgeries. Each surgery resulted in a loss of 3 weeks of teaching. Over the years, I have suffered from the irresponsible choice an angry parent made over her son’s grades. My students were affected as a result of multiple and lengthy absences. I continue to take medication for inflammation and pain. I have ugly scars on my forearm, wrist, and palm. Did I receive the $250,000 originally asked for in the claim? Not even 10%. How’s that for justice? My lawsuit was never superfluous, nor was it irresponsible. I resent my name and litigation information being present on your site. Please remove it. It does not belong there. You have not done your homework. — Traci England

For our reply, see letters column of Nov. 18, 2005.


March 26 — California electricity linkfest. We’ve neglected this one, what with being on the other coast and all, but here are some catch-up highlights: “California policymakers … froze the retail price of electricity and utilities lost so much money as to face bankruptcy. They barred utilities from signing long-term supply contracts and saw spot prices soar. They dragged their feet on new power-plant construction and found electricity in short supply. They ignored the need for more long-distance transmission lines and then couldn’t import enough power to meet demand. They shielded consumers from higher utility bills and gave them rolling blackouts instead.” And with each round of failure they propose to push the state further into the power business. (William Kucewicz, “California’s Dreaming”, GeoInvestor.com, Feb. 12). The “major crisis could have been averted” had the state last summer allowed utilities to enter long-term contracts with slightly higher rates, but “it’s clear that [Gov. Gray] Davis didn’t act last summer because he was afraid. He feared that long-term contracts could have been criticized if power prices dropped in the future, and that even a minor increase in rates would bring fire from consumer activists.” (Dan Walters, “Crisis also one of leadership”, Capitol Alert/Sacramento Bee, March 25) (via Kausfiles). Pennsylvania, Texas and Ohio all show promising models of genuine deregulation, as opposed to the fake version paassed off by Golden State lawmakers (“California Dreamin'” (editorial), Christian Science Monitor, Jan. 19).

As for the supply side: “In the last decade the population [of California] has climbed 14%, to 34 million”, while peak demand for electricity has climbed 19%. “The number of big power plants built since 1990: zero.” (Lynn Cook, “My Kingdom for a Building Permit,” Forbes.com, Feb. 19). “In the 1970s California’s power regulators got all excited about renewables. The state is now littered with high-cost, low-efficiency wind and solar facilities that produce limited amounts of unreliable power, for which ratepayers have overpaid by at least $25 billion in the intervening years. In 1996 the regulators were persuaded by a cabal of efficiency mavens and end-of-growth pundits that demand for electrons was leveling off and would soon decline, while supply was plentiful and would soon become a glut. They regulated accordingly.” (Peter Huber, “Insights: The Kilowatt Casino”, Forbes.com, Feb. 19)(see also Oct. 11)

And we all knew the trial lawyers would manage to get into it somehow, didn’t we? Not long ago San Francisco launched what is apparently the first “affirmative litigation” office meant to turn suing businesses into an ongoing profit center for the city in partnership with private law firms (see Oct. 5). The political leadership of that city having been a voice for the worst possible policies at each step along the way to where we are now, now City Attorney Louise Renne has sued 13 energy producers for supposedly conspiring to create the crisis. “Joining the lawsuit as co-counsel is attorney Patrick Coughlin of Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach in San Francisco. Coughlin worked with the city in its successful litigation against the tobacco industry.” (Dennis Opatrny, “San Francisco City Attorney Lays Energy Crisis at Feet of Power Companies”, The Recorder, Jan. 22; Paul Pringle, “Power struggle: Finger-pointing intensifies as California woes grow”, Dallas Morning News, Jan. 29).

MORE: Victor Davis Hanson, “Paradise Lost”, Wall Street Journal/OpinionJournal.com, March 21; Gregg Easterbrook, “Brown and Out”, The New Republic, Feb. 19; Robert J. Michaels (California State Fullerton), “California’s Electrical Mess: The Deregulation That Wasn’t,” National Center for Policy Analysis Brief Analysis No. 348, Feb. 14; Paul Van Slambrouck, “How California lost its power”, Christian Science Monitor, Jan. 19 (“California actually has been a pioneer in energy conservation and is one of the most energy-efficient states in the nation, according to conservation experts like Ralph Cavanagh of the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council”; so much for that proposed cure); Reason Public Policy Institute; Cato; NCPA.

March 23-25 — Non-gun control. “Two second-graders playing cops and robbers with a paper gun were charged with making terrorist threats. The boys’ parents said the situation should have been resolved in the principal’s office, but [Irvington, N.J.] Police Chief Steven Palamara on Wednesday defended school officials and the district’s zero-tolerance policy.” (“Second-graders face charges for paper gun”, AP/CNN, Mar. 21). And earlier this year Rep. Ed Towns (N.Y.) “introduced bill H.R. 215, a measure to ban ‘toys which in size, shape or overall appearance resemble real handguns,'” part of a spate of anti-toy-gun legislation in various jurisdictions. (Lance Jonn Romanoff, “Someone call the National Toy Rifle Association”, Liberzine, Feb. 19).

Meanwhile Ross Clark of the estimable Spectator of London notes in his regular column, “Banned wagon: a list of the things which our rulers wish to prohibit”, that a Labor MP has proposed banning the carrying of bottles and glasses on the street, because they are capable of use as offensive weapons in altercations: “It was never likely that our legislators would be happy banning just items purposely designed for killing people, such as handguns and samurai swords. There are some who will not be satisfied until the human environment is constructed entirely from soft substances which cannot conceivably be used as weapons” (Feb. 10).

March 23-25 — Brockovich a heroine? Julia really can act. One of the most entertaining aspects of that entertaining movie, “Erin Brockovich“, is the pretense that its script has more than a nodding acquaintance with the real-life history of the Hinkley case (Michael Fumento, “Erin Go Away!”, National Review Online, March 21)(our take: Reason, October).

March 23-25 — Guest editorial: ABA’s judicial role. “Good riddance to the American Bar Association’s judge-vetters. Who elected them? Now they can criticize and praise judicial nominees like any other lobby or trade association.” (Mickey Kaus, “Hit Parade”, Kausfiles.com, March 22; see David Stout, “Bush Ends A.B.A.’s Quasi-official Role in Helping to Pick Judges”, New York Times, Mar. 22).

March 23-25 — “Fired Transsexual Dancers Out for Justice”. “Two transsexuals say they were given walking papers from their go-go dancing jobs at a trendy Chelsea club because the nightspot decided they wanted to hire ‘real girls.'” Amanda Lepore and Sophia LaMar, post-operative transsexuals who used to dance at Twilo, are suing the West 27th Street club for $100,000, charging wrongful firing. “This was just a case of out-and-out discrimination,” said their lawyer, Tom Shanahan. The nightclub denies that it discriminates against gals who used to be guys. (Dareh Gregorian, New York Post, March 22). In other news, a “judge has peeled away more than half of stripper Vanessa Steele Inman’s $2.5 million verdict against a Georgia nightclub, the Pink Pony, and its owner.” (Richmond Eustis, “$1.6M Punitives Award Peeled From Stripper’s Legal Victory”, Fulton County Daily Report, March 8; see July 26, 2000). Update Apr. 17, 2004: court of appeals overturns Inman’s verdict (more exotic-dancer litigation: Dec. 4, Aug. 14, May 23, Jan. 28, 2000)

March 21-22 — Hostage-taker sues victims. “Richard Gable Stevens’ hostage-taking rampage at Santa Clara’s National Shooting Club 18 months ago will cost him the next 50 years of his life behind bars in state prison,” Judge Kevin Murphy ruled earlier this month. “Stevens, 23, was convicted of kidnapping, robbery, false imprisonment, threats and assault with a deadly weapon in connection with the July 5, 1999 incident. … Murphy questioned the sincerity of Stevens’ remorse, noting that he has filed a lawsuit for monetary damages against the very people he was convicted of having wronged.” (Bill Romano, “Man gets 50 years for rampage at gun club “, San Jose Mercury News, March 10 (search fee-based archive on “Richard Gable Stevens”, retrieval $1.95) The incident ended when Stevens was shot and wounded by one of his intended victims. According to columnist Vin Suprynowicz, police found a note in which Stevens told his parents he would get revenge on them because they would be bankrupted by lawsuits from the survivors of his intended victims (Vin Suprynowicz, “No serial killings this week in Santa Clara”, Las Vegas Review-Journal, July 11, 1999). (DURABLE LINK)

March 21-22 — Reparations-fest: give us Toronto. Among the latest claimant groups to attract notice with demands for reparations: descendants of early New Mexico settlers asserting land claims that predate the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, under which Mexico ceded much of its northern territory to the U.S. (Christian Science Monitor, March 6). In Canada, the Indian Claims Commission, a federal agency, “says it is handling roughly 480 land-claims cases. There are dozens more in the courts. ” Nearly 200 years after the fact, a band of Mississaugas “are seeking retroactive compensation from Ottawa for the Toronto Purchase, a quarter-million acres covering the whole of Toronto and into the suburbs. … Last summer, the Squamish Indians settled their claim to some prime real estate in North Vancouver for nearly C$92.5 (US$58) million.” (Ruth Walker, “Indian land claims flood Ottawa”, Christian Science Monitor, March 20).

At National Review Online, Jonah Goldberg wonders whether it might not after all be worth paying trillions if it actually got the racial-spoils lobby to cool it once and for all on preferences, quotas, set-asides and the rest of the list — as if it would ever do that (“Reparations Now”, March 19). And reparations lawyers in California have neatly arranged for their targets and the state’s taxpayers to conduct a lot of their research for them: “California Gov. Gray Davis this month signed the Slaveholder Insurance Policy law, which requires all insurers whose businesses date to the 19th Century to review their archives and make public the names of insured slaves and the slaveholders through the state’s insurance commissioner. … Davis also signed the University of California Slavery Colloquium law directing college officials to assemble a team of scholars to research slavery and report how some current California businesses benefited.” (V. Dion Haynes, “California Tells Insurers: Open Slave Records”, Chicago Tribune, Oct. 20.) See also Jeffrey Ghannam, “Repairing the Past”, ABA Journal , Nov.).

March 21-22 — (Another) “Monster Fee Award for Tobacco Fighters”. “New York’s Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach and San Francisco’s Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein are among 10 firms that will share $637.5 million in fees for their role in helping California cities and counties capture their share of a $206 billion settlement agreement with the tobacco industry. The Tobacco Fee Arbitration Panel announced Tuesday that private lawyers in California should be awarded the fees for the more than 130,000 hours they [say they — ed.] worked in helping cities and counties grab half the $25 billion awarded California in the master settlement agreement. The state takes the other half. That works out to approximately $4,904 per hour for the lawyers.” (Kirsten Andelman, The Recorder, March 9).

March 21-22 — Welcome visitors. We’ve noticed this site being mentioned or linked to lately on weblogs Pie in the Sky (Mar. 17: “As a soon-to-be-lawyer, Overlawyered.com is going on my permanent bookmark list. Don’t worry, I’m going to be a transactional attorney- I won’t be doing any litigation (like the kind in the site linked to, or any other).”) and AFireInside; on the NetCool Users Group disclaimer; and on pages including Russell Shaw’s, Univ. of Calif. Libertarians, Swanson Group, LeaveThePackBehind.org (tobacco-Canadian), PelicanPolitics.com, UtterlyStupid.com, FoldingJonah, TheRightTrack.org (“Alaska’s Conservative Digest”), and Dave and Holly’s.

November 2000 archives


November 10-12 — Election special: litigating our way into a constitutional crisis? It isn’t often that a New York Times editorial exactly captures our own reaction to public events, but we wouldn’t have changed a word in this morning’s. It expresses concern about the “Gore campaign’s rush to litigation” and the possibility that matters might escalate into “scorched-earth legal strategy” on both sides of the presidential contest: “it is worrying that Mr. Gore and a legal team led by Warren Christopher, the former secretary of state, would announce their support for a lawsuit while the mandatory recount is still going on and while seven days remain for the arrival of overseas absentee ballots. It is doubly worrying that some Gore associates are using the language of constitutional crisis and talking of efforts to block or cloud the vote of the Electoral College on Dec. 18 and of dragging out the legal battle into January….

“We take very seriously the fairness issues raised by the ballot confusion in Palm Beach County and understand the public frustration or even outrage attendant upon the possibility of having the popular will thwarted by procedural errors, especially when a presidential outcome hangs in the balance. The problem is that potential remedies, such as a new election in Palm Beach County, seem politically unsound and legally questionable. The sad reality is that ballot disputes and imperfections are a feature of every election. It will poison the political atmosphere if presidential elections, in particular, come to be seen as merely a starting point for litigation.” (“A Fateful Step Toward Court” (editorial), New York Times, Nov. 10) (reg). Also: “Senator Robert G. Torricelli, Democrat of New Jersey, warned against getting mired in the courts. ‘I want Al Gore to win the election,’ Mr. Torricelli told reporters, ‘but more than that, I want somebody to win this election. There is going to have to be a very compelling case for anybody to take this into a court of law. It’s a downward spiral. It may begin in Florida, but it can go to other states and ultimately the presidency of the United States should not be decided by a judge.'” (R.W. Apple Jr., “Gore Campaign Vows Court Fight Over Vote, With Florida’s Outcome Still Up in the Air”, New York Times, Nov. 10). (DURABLE LINK)

November 10-12 — Election special: Nader non grata. Many liberals are furious with Ralph Nader for apparently costing Al Gore the election, with the Times rounding up indignant quotes from union, feminist and environmentalist officials. “Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, echoing the sentiments of several other Democrats on Capitol Hill, said: ‘Ralph Nader is not going to be welcome anywhere near the corridors. Nader cost us the election,’ … Several Democrats said today that they expected many longtime financial supporters of Mr. Nader to cut off their contributions to organizations with which he is affiliated” — though, frustratingly, the article says nothing about what kind of supporters these might be (trial lawyers? unions?) thus accommodating Nader’s longtime practice (see June 13, Andrew Tobias in Worth) of concealing his sources of financial support (James Dao, “Angry Democrats, Fearing Nader Cost Them Presidential Race, Threaten to Retaliate”, New York Times, Nov. 9 (reg)). At an election-night gathering at Bill and Hillary Clinton’s hotel room, according to Lloyd Grove of the Washington Post, publishing figure Harry Evans exclaimed “I want to kill Nader!”, to which Sen.-elect Hillary Clinton replied, “That’s not a bad idea!”, immediately followed by a collective cry of “That’s off the record!” — too late (Lloyd Grove, “The Reliable Source”, Washington Post, Nov. 9) “My only hope is that no matter who wins, he will name Ralph Nader the first U.S. ambassador to North Korea. That way Ralph can spend his days with another egomaniacal narcissist, Dear Leader Kim Jong Il, and get a real taste of what a country that actually follows Mr. Nader’s insane economic philosophy — high protectionism, economic autarky, anti-markets, anti-globalization, anti-multinationals — is like for the people who live there.” (Thomas L. Friedman, “Original Sin”, New York Times, Nov. 10) (DURABLE LINK)

November 10-12 — Obese soldiers class action. When kicking out servicepeople for gaining too much weight, the U.S. armed services have insisted that they return their enlistment bonuses. “Under a federal ruling handed down last week, they’ll be able to sue the Pentagon in a class-action lawsuit to recover damages.” (Justin Brown, “How far can military go in punishing obese soldiers?”, Christian Science Monitor, Nov. 9).

November 10-12 — Dubious death-penalty science. The Supreme Court in 1993 (Daubert v. Merrell Dow) instructed lower federal courts to curb the use of unreliable expert testimony in civil litigation, with highly beneficial results for the quality of justice. Oddly, the Court has failed to tighten the corresponding rules for capital criminal cases, although there is evidence that some expert testimony that sends prisoners to Death Row would flunk a Daubert test, notably testimony which purports to predict future dangerousness with a high degree of certainty. “The use of psychiatric testimony in capital cases has also been sharply criticized by Peter Huber, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute in New York and a former law clerk for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor whose influential book denouncing junk science is widely credited with sparking the legal movement to limit expert testimony.” (Henry Weinstein, “Death Penalty Debate — Can New Violence Be Predicted?” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 6). Also: some critics are questioning whether fingerprint identification, among the pillars of forensics for a century or more, is really 100 percent reliable as is commonly assumed (Simon Cole, “The Myth of Fingerprints”, Lingua Franca, Nov.).

November 10-12 — Mickey Kaus on constitutional activism. The Slate and Kausfiles.com columnist worries that Bush high court nominees would go too far in striking down Congressional legislation on federalism grounds, but expresses even more alarm at the implicit activist judicial philosophy of Vice President Gore, which recalls “my law school days, in the mid-1970s, when the rights-making machine of legalistic liberalism was still churning away. …When Gore babbles eagerly about how ‘the Constitution ought to be interpreted as a document that grows with … our country and our history’ — sounding like a guy who went to the first year of law school for a few months but didn’t stick around long enough to realize what a crock much of it was — I think back to the liberals-out-of-control paradigm of my youth.” Whole piece is worth a read (“Don’t Rush Me! (Part 8)”, Slate, Nov. 6) (Kausfiles.com).

November 10-12 — Did securities-law reform fail? Five years ago Congress overrode President Clinton’s veto and enacted legislation intended to deter unwarranted shareholder “strike suits” organized by professional class action lawyers. Since then the number of suits has gone up, however, and observers differ as to how much good the law may have done and whether lawyers are finding it easy to evade. (Tamara Loomis, “Securities Reform: What Went Wrong?”, New York Law Journal, Oct. 27; Peter Catapano, “Who Wants To Be a Fraud Litigant”, Wired News, Nov. 8).

November 9 — Lawyers descend on Florida. “Over the sunny horizon, a plague of lawyers is descending on Florida. They officially are ‘watching’ the presidential recount. But they are also scouring every comma and ‘whereas’ in the Florida code to see if any loophole can be found to invalidate Florida, or to block such an action.” “Soon after [Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris] ordered the recount, lawyers for both candidates flocked to the state, led by two former secretaries of state — Warren Christopher for Gore and James A. Baker III for Bush.” Jesse Jackson said black leaders may sue, while a Bush campaign source told Insight that “[o]ur people down there are getting the clear impression that the Democrats are searching madly for anything they can litigate on.” (Nov. 8: “Recount continues in Florida”, AP/Northern Light; Rod Thomson, “The Florida Rules”, National Review Online; Jamie Dettmer, “Election Update: Charges of Cheating Abound”, Insight Magazine; Raju Chebium, “Election Day allegations could form basis for legal challenges, experts say”, CNN.com; Paul Singer, “Rev. Jackson hints legal challenge to Fla vote”, Virtual New York; “More Irregularities Alleged”, ABCNews.com.)

November 9 — More election results. Three Michigan Supreme Court justices assailed by trial lawyers and other critics “trounced their Democratic opponents by large margins” (see Nov. 7; David Shepardson, “GOP projected to win state Supreme Court”, Detroit News, Nov. 8). In Ohio, however, Justice Alice Robie Resnick easily held onto her seat despite outrage from organized business over her authorship of a decision invalidating liability limits in the state, and a challenger nearly succeeded in knocking off incumbent Justice Deborah Cook, who had voted to sustain the reforms (see Oct. 30; James Bradshaw, “High court unchanged despite negative TV ads”, Columbus Dispatch, Nov. 8). And in a House race in West Virginia, GOP insurgent Shelley Moore Capito pulled off an upset to defeat Jim Humphreys, a wealthy asbestos lawyer who had poured more than $6 million of his own money into his campaign. (see Oct. 23; Karin Fischer, “Capito scores upset”, Charleston Daily Mail, Nov. 8).

November 9 — Reshuffling blackjack decks not racketeering. A three-judge panel has ruled that Atlantic City, N.J. casinos did not violate the federal RICO (racketeering) law by adopting “countermeasures” against known and suspected practicers of card-counting at the blackjack tables. At the “heart of the lawsuit … was the players’ objection to the casinos’ practice of re-shuffling the decks ‘at will’ whenever a card-counter is spotted.” The plaintiffs included 60 casino patrons, most with card-counting skills, as well as companies that offer courses in the memory technique, which allows a customer to increase the chances of beating the house by deducing the distribution of cards remaining undealt. Federal judge Morton Greenberg ruled that the claims “are completely insubstantial and border on the frivolous” because the rules of the New Jersey Casino Control Commission specifically authorize casinos to reshuffle at will, because the players “can avoid any injury simply by walking away from the alleged wrongdoers, the casinos”, and because the loss of the chance to make money at a casino’s expense can hardly be characterized as “an injury to business or property”. (Shannon P. Duffy, “Federal Court Finds Players Have No RICO Claim Against Casinos, The Legal Intelligencer, Nov. 6).

November 8 — “Opposition to Indian mascots intensifies”. Legal pressure is intensifying on school systems, universities and professional sports clubs to drop mascots and team nicknames (“Warriors”, “Chieftains”, etc.) that refer to American Indians. In a case now on appeal, “[t]he U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruled last year that [football’s Washington] Redskins have no right to trademark the name because it is disparaging to American Indians.” Activists are filing complaints seeking the cutoff of federal education funds to schools that decline to drop old team names. “Kevin Gover, who heads the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, applauds such an effort. ‘Any school putting forward a stereotyped image of any race is in violation of civil rights laws, and I think should lose federal funding,’ he said. ‘If the Justice Department won’t do it, lots of lawyers like me will do it for them.'” (Don Babwin, AP/FindLaw, Nov. 6). St. Petersburg Times columnist Robyn Blumner takes a dim view of using copyright law to enforce a regime of political correctness in cases like that of the Washington football club (“Government has no business in Redskins opinion”, July 23).

November 8 — Loser-pays activism. The New Century Project, a fledgling policy group chaired by retiring Rep. John Kasich (R-Ohio), lists “Legal Reform” among its four central issues and in particular states: “We support a so-called “loser pays” reform which would allow judges to order fee shifting in tort and contract cases. Such efforts may also include imposing penalties on attorneys, law firms, or individuals bringing frivolous lawsuits.” Its other three main issues: school choice, elimination of the federal estate tax, and opposition to Internet taxation.

November 8 — From the evergreen file: cancer alley a myth? “Everyone knows that cancer rates are sky-high along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.” Trial lawyers and the “environmental justice” movement say the area’s poor and black residents fall victim to cancer at high rates because of the large concentration of chemical refineries along the river. “The only problem is that what ‘everyone knows’ just isn’t true.” According to an article in the Journal of the Louisiana Medical Society, the incidence of most types of cancer in the alley does not differ from national incidence, and the few exceptions, such as high rates of lung cancer in New Orleans, are plausibly attributable to smoking and other familiar risks. (Michael Gough, “Did You Hear? Good News from Cancer Alley”, Cato Daily, October 15, 1997) (via Junk Science). The contrary view, which dismisses the incidence comparisons as inept or corrupt, is widely found around the Web (stored Google search), including Barbara Koepple, “Cancer Alley, Louisiana”, The Nation, Nov. 8, 1999. Also: there’s now a whole parody page (dhmo.org) devoted to warning against that insidious substance, dihydrogen monoxide (you might drown in it).

November 7 — Litigation reform: what a Democratic Congress would mean. What would happen to the chances for curbing excessive litigation should the Democratic Party retake Congress in today’s election? To begin with, key committee posts (as at Judiciary and Commerce) would fall to longtime trial lawyer allies like Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.). And then there’s Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), who serves as spokesman for his party as chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. On October 10 the younger Kennedy was making an appearance on CNBC “Hardball” when host Chris Matthews brought up the topic of excessive trial lawyer sway within the Democratic Party. Kennedy began his answer by questioning the patriotism of those who presume to criticize the American litigation system (graciously suggesting we should “go someplace else and live” if we don’t appreciate it). When Matthews volunteered that he himself was “a little skeptical of the motives” of trial lawyers, Kennedy suggested that such a view was really tantamount to opposing the system of trial by jury. Finally, after Matthews persisted, saying that in his view “there’s probably too much litigation in the country and too many big settlements”, Kennedy simply dismissed the whole subject out of hand, saying his host must have “been reading the Republican propaganda”. The entire sequence must be read to be fully disbelieved, so we’ve posted it on a separate page. Also: don’t forget our special page on trial lawyers and politics.

November 7 — Michigan high court races. More coverage of the closely watched state supreme court races in which three respected conservatives appointed by Republican Gov. John Engler have been targeted by the state Democratic Party and its trial lawyer and union allies; partisans of both camps have run injudicious ads, with the Detroit News calling the latest broadside from the Democratic side “truly vicious” (Detroit News, Oct. 31; Nov. 1; Nov. 6; Detroit Free Press, Sept. 25; Oct. 21; Oct. 24; Oct. 27; Oct. 28 Markman, Taylor, Young). Earlier coverage on this site: Aug. 25, May 9, May 15, 2000; Aug. 6, 1999.

November 7 — Family law roundup. Headline says it all regarding bitter split between ex-spouses over a farm in Somerset, England: “Divorce battle ends with £840,000 bill” (Ananova.com, Oct. 26). Conflicts over the disposition of frequent flier miles in divorces and will contests are on the rise, reports the New York Times. A Dallas woman says she and her ex-husband “had agreed to split the miles in their divorce settlement, but that he used the bulk of them before the divorce was finalized. She said she was shocked when she called American Airlines days after her divorce and was told that there were only 543 miles left in her husband’s account, down from more than 60,000.” Her hubby’s lawyer says she should have asked the judge for a restraining order if she didn’t want him to use up the miles (Jane Wolfe, “A New Thorn in Divorces: Who Gets the Miles?”, New York Times, Oct. 29) (reg). And controversy is simmering over allegedly clubby relations between family law judges and lawyers in Marin County, Calif.: was it easier to win your divorce or custody case if you’d attended one of the judge’s big parties, or hired a member of the insider lawyers’ group that called itself FLEAs, for Family Law Elite Attorneys? (Matt Isaacs, “Odor! Odor in the court!”, San Francisco Weekly, Oct. 18).

November 7 — Update: judge turns down “Millionaire” ADA suit. A federal judge ruled last week that the Americans with Disabilities Act does not prohibit ABC and the producers of the TV show “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?” from using a touch-tone phone system to pre-screen entrants, despite the hurdle that poses to deaf contestants (see March 24) (“Judge: ‘Millionaire’ qualifying round not covered by ADA”, AP/Boston Globe, Oct. 30). Update Jun. 21-23, 2002: appeals court reinstates suit.

November 6 — Coercive capitalism?Nader is most famous for his attacks on corporations and capitalism. . . .He does not believe that individuals choose their economic relationships with these companies. Instead, he argues that they involve some type of force or compulsion. In short, he equates the coercive power of government with the economic power of the private sector.

“If you think he’s right, try two things. For a whole year, don’t send your money to the IRS, and don’t send your money to McDonald’s. Don’t pay your taxes and don’t buy a Big Mac. See which organization — the government or McDonald’s — comes after you with guns, threatening to put you in jail, seize your property, or even take your life, if you don’t give them your money.” (David Parker, “An American Dictatorship: Ralph Nader’s Vision for America”, Capitalism Magazine, August). See also Jay Whitehead, “Ralph Nader: Analog Anachronism”, ZDNet, Sept. 1.

November 6 — Beehive of legal activity: Utah tobacco fees. Utah is one of the smaller states, but the Tobacco Fee Arbitration Panel has shown its usual generosity and awarded the attorneys who represented it in the state-Medicaid litigation a whopping $64.85 million. Even this sum is a great deal less than some of the lawyers feel entitled to recover for working on behalf of the state; last year one of the law firms involved, Giauque, Crockett, Bendinger & Peterson, got into a fight with state attorney general Jan Graham when it filed a lien to claim 25 percent of the state’s settlement, or about $250 million. The Giauque Crockett website says that the arbitration award “will be a dollar for dollar offset or credit against the obligation of the state of Utah to pay the Firm under the Firm’s contingent fee contract.” South Carolina’s Ness, Motley is also sharing in the Utah payout, as in many other states’. (Reuters/CNN, “Utah attorneys awarded $64.85 million in tobacco fees”, Oct. 25; Judy Fahys, “Tobacco Tussle, Round II, Graham sues law firms in dispute over settlement, Salt Lake Tribune, Nov. 25, 1999).

November 6 — Good Humor man busted for ringing bell. In Arlington, Va., it’s against the law for a commercial vendor to ring a bell to attract notice, resulting in a recent wave of law enforcement activity targeting the venerable Good Humor ice cream man. “That’s crazy,” one mom says. “How would the kids know he was there if he didn’t ring his bell?” (Patricia Davis, “In Arlington, Ringing Up the Tickets”, Washington Post, Oct. 30).

November 6 — Welcome visitors. Overlawyered.com has recently been cited on the Eight Kinds of Ice weblog (November 5 entry) and LinkLog; won the “MadPick” site award bestowed by humor columnist Madeleine Begun Kane; figured several times as a source for the Bonehead of the Day award; been among Jack Lyne’s weekly Editor’s Choice Web Picks (week of Oct. 2) at Site Selection Online Insider, which serves commercial real estate execs; been called a “must-visit Web site” by Jacquelyn Horkan, editor of the “InBox” at Florida Business Insight (August 4) (Associated Industries of Florida); and gotten a mention in the online Law Society Journal of the Law Society of New South Wales, Australia (Patrick McAlister, “Outside View”, Sept.).

November 3-5 — Rick & Hillary spar over Indian land claims. GOP senatorial candidate Rick Lazio has been running radio ads in upstate New York criticizing the Clinton Administration’s support for Indian land claims that have asserted title to wide swaths of the western part of the state, mobilizing thousands of property owners to outraged protest (see Oct. 5 and Oct. 27, 1999; Feb. 1, 2000) The ads say his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, “refuses to stand up for the rights of upstate New Yorkers” on the land issue. A spokeswoman for Mrs. Clinton says the First Lady supports the litigation in general, which has been backed and assisted by her husband’s Justice Department, but does not approve of the naming of individual homeowners as defendants.

Meanwhile, “[t]he U.S. Interior Department has proposed a new American Indian land claim case that could affect property owners on more than 100,000 acres of prime suburban and rural land in western New York,” this time on behalf of the Senecas, including large areas in suburban Buffalo. Jim Mazzarella, of Republican Gov. George Pataki’s Washington office, “called the potential suit ‘outrageous’ and ‘another attack on the homeowners of western New York.'” (John Machacek, “Indian land claim may hit area”, Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, Nov. 1). Upstate Citizens for Equality, an organization critical of Cayuga and other claims, maintains information on its website about the status of Indian claims in New York and elsewhere. Update Nov. 2-4, 2001: Bush Justice Department reverses position and urges judges to dismiss individual homeowners from the suit.

November 3-5 — Just had to donate. This year, as in the past, plaintiff’s lawyers are pouring money into the campaigns of judicial candidates considered friendly to their interests, and in Mississippi, as in other states, they prefer to put forward the notion that their spending is purely reactive, meant to offset the donations that their dastardly opponents are making in judicial contests (and by their opponents they tend to mean pretty much every donor to such campaigns other than themselves, with the possible exception of labor unions). However, that still doesn’t explain why they feel obliged to give their favored judicial candidates enough money to outspend their opponents two to one. Thus Supreme Court candidate Percy Lynchard, heavily backed by plaintiffs’ lawyers, has raised $446,000 in his bid to unseat incumbent Justice Kay Cobb, while Cobb has raised $171,000; and Frank Vollor, whom they are backing for another seat on the court, raised $402,000 as compared with $217,000 for his opponent, incumbent Justice Jim Smith. Lynchard’s “frenzy” of fund-raising included $83,000 in contributions on a single day, Oct. 17, “mostly from plaintiff lawyers”, and $276,690 for October as a whole. (Beverly Pettigrew Kraft, “Judicial gifts hit record amounts”, Jackson Clarion-Ledger, Nov. 1).

November 3-5 — Gets no kick from football verdict. Last month (see Oct. 13) a jury awarded $2 million to Heather Sue Mercer, who sued Duke University for sex bias after being cut from her walk-on spot as a kicker with the football team. Among those not thrilled by the jury’s action, according to last Sunday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution, is kicker Tonya Butler of Middle Georgia College, whose dream is to become the first female given a football scholarship to a four-year school. “‘That’s ridiculous,’ Butler remembers thinking. ‘Not just the money, but the whole case. I thought it would be thrown out of court. I’m sorry, but she just got beat out by the other kickers. That happens.’

“‘I’m afraid the case has really hurt my chances. Now everyone has to worry if I’ll sue, too, if things don’t work out. I hope it hasn’t closed all the doors for me.

“I don’t play football to make a statement. I play because I love kicking and I’m good at it. I shouldn’t be penalized because of what someone else did.” She has been calling colleges trying to assure them she wouldn’t sue if things didn’t work out, but their interest has waned since the verdict. In 1997 Willamette University in Oregon drew national attention when it briefly employed Liz Heaston as a kicker, but Willamette coach Mark Speckman “said he would not dare call on Heaston now. He, like other coaches, has two million reasons why, after the Duke case. ‘A coach in my position can’t take the risk,’ Speckman said. ‘This is just going to freeze any possibility out. It isn’t worth it.'” Current interpretations of Title IX, the feminist athletics statute, do not entitle women to join men’s football teams but do allow them to sue for damages if they are accepted and then treated unequally. Former Duke coach Fred Goldsmith, who befriended Mercer and then saw the relationship deteriorate and give rise to the lawsuit, said, “I was a nice guy, and I got stabbed in the back.” (Guy Curtright, “Blow to the cause”, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Oct. 29).

November 3-5 — Alarming byline. “MIKE CRAIG is an attorney and writer in Chicago. He has written for Online Investor and sued nearly everyone for all sorts of misbehavior.” — byline on an article in Green Magazine (“Listen to the Money Talk”, Oct. 27).

November 2 — Radiologists: sue them enough and they’ll go away. Although more women are getting the word about the life-saving benefits of mammography (X-ray screening for breast cancer), “doctors who read the X-rays seem to be fleeing the field at an alarming rate. Caught between rising litigation over allegedly missed tumors and low reimbursement for their services, a growing number of radiologists say their field just isn’t worth the stress any more,” writes Judy Foreman in the Boston Globe. On the legal front, failure to diagnose breast cancer is “‘the number-one allegation against all doctors, in Massachusetts and nationally,’ said Martha Byington, a loss-prevention specialist at the Risk Management Foundation, which insures Harvard doctors and hospitals.” Radiologists have replaced gynecologists as the medical professionals that lawyers most often go after in that variety of case, especially since “mammograms can be extremely difficult to read. Indeed, with hindsight — that is, after a diagnosis of breast cancer — radiologists say they can often look back at old mammograms and pick up tell-tale signs of cancer that, on first reading, did not raise a red flag.” Not surprisingly, high-profile jury verdicts and settlements have proliferated.

As the specialty has developed a reputation for being legally difficult, young doctors have shunned it. Meanwhile, “[t]he retirement rate of radiologists doubled from 1995 to 1997, from 400 to 800 a year, while the number of new radiologists specializing in mammograms dropped by 80 percent, according to a study by the American College of Radiology. . . . For women, radiologist burnout translates into a months-long wait for routine screening at many centers — when the mammograms are available at all.” With the availability of free and even paid mammograms plunging, more women are likely to go without exams, with deadly consequences. (Judy Foreman, “Stressed Out: Burned by Lawsuits and Low Pay, Radiologists Are Quitting, Making Women Wait Longer to Find Out If They Have Breast Cancer”, Boston Globe, Oct. 24).

November 2 — Pot tax bond. Kentucky investigators lacked enough evidence of criminality to convict or even arrest 23-year-old Charles Thomas Jr., who lived in a trailer in Breathitt County near where 517 marijuana plants were found growing on land he did not own. “Nevertheless, Thomas owes the state a little more than $1 million under a 1994 law that taxes [presumed] marijuana dealers $1,000 a plant and penalizes those who do not pay the tax before they are caught.” Moreover, the law “requires suspected dealers to post a bond equal to the amount owed before they can file a protest.” Since Thomas doesn’t have that kind of money, his lawyer says his right to protest the assessment in court might as well be a dead letter. (“$1 Million Pot Tax Bill Stirs Fight”, APBNews/FindLaw, Oct. 27).

November 2 — No K Street in Forbidden City. “During the 300 years of the Qing Dynasty, lobbying was an offense punishable by death. The emperor was considered the Son of Heaven, and for a mere mortal to have the audacity to suggest policy to him was unforgivable.” (Sam Loewenberg, “Navigating the Maze” (lobbying in present-day China), Legal Times, Sept. 19).

November 1 — Don’t meet with her alone. “Michael Land wants other male sole practitioners to learn from his sexual harassment disaster. Never meet a prospective female client alone, the Atlantic County, N.J., lawyer advises. Always have a secretary or paralegal present. . . . In 1996, a potential client complained to police that Land fondled her while they were alone. Police officers arrested him and handcuffed him to a pipe while they booked him.” A judge soon threw out the woman’s criminal complaint, and evidence came to light that she was a frequent filer of suits deemed frivolous, but customers whispered and Land’s business began to dry up. Four years later, in a most unusual turn of the tables, a jury not only denied her claim but ordered her to pay him $225,000 on his counterclaim of malicious prosecution. Vindication, yes, but at a price: “I have not seen a female client unescorted after-hours since this incident and probably never will again,” he told a local paper. (Henry Gottlieb, “New Jersey Jury Docks Client $225K for Saying Lawyer Groped Her”, New Jersey Law Journal, Sept. 6).

November 1 — Contingency fee reform. State ethics codes do not give inexperienced legal consumers enough protection from excessive lawyers’ fees, argues the University of Illinois’s Richard Painter, especially in the realm of contingency fees, where it is “difficult to discern much competition in a market that usually assigns the same risk premium (33%) to a plaintiff’s case, no matter how large the case is and no matter how likely the client is to win.” In this paper for the Civil Justice Memo series of the Manhattan Institute (with which this site’s editor is associated), Painter “reviews a number of the proposals that have been made so far and discusses the comparative strengths of a new proposal made by Jim Wootton, President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform: a ‘New American Rule’ that would require a lawyer to set for each client at the beginning of a representation a limit of any amount (phrased in dollars per hour of legal services) on how high the contingent fee can go and then disclose to the client general information about the fees that the lawyer has charged to other clients.” (Richard W. Painter, “The New American Rule: A First Amendment to the Client’s Bill of Rights”, Manhattan Institute Civil Justice Report #1, March 2000). Columnist David A. Giacalone at PrairieLaw also endorses disclosure-based contingency-fee reforms (“Advocate This!: Pricey Contingency Fees“), as does presidential candidate George W. Bush (campaign website, “Civil Justice Reform” — see “Client’s Bill of Rights” item).

November 1 — “School Suspends Girl for Casting Spell”. In Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, the Union Intermediate School District is said to have suspended student Brandi Blackbear on suspicion of casting a spell. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, assistant principal Charlie Bushyhead called Blackbear to his office after a teacher fell unexplainedly ill, questioned her about her passing interest in Wicca, and summarily suspended her. “I, for one, would like to see the so-called evidence this school has that a 15-year-old girl made a grown man sick by casting a magic spell,” said the ACLU’s Joann Bell. However, the school attorney, Doug Mann, called the account into question, saying privacy laws protecting juvenile records prevented him and the district from commenting on the case: “It’s totally unfair that we are gagged by federal and state law and they can say anything they want,” he said. “If the parents will sign a release for what’s in the girl’s files, we will talk about the true facts.” (Ben Fenwick, Reuters/Excite, Oct. 30).

November 1 — 750,000 pages served on Overlawyered.com. Thanks for your support!


November 20 — Flow control. The Florida Supreme Court has a liberal and activist reputation, which is why many Gore supporters see it as their ace in the hole in the recount controversy (John Fund, “On the Bench for Gore?”, OpinionJournal.com (Wall Street Journal), Nov. 15; Robert Alt, “The Florida Supremes”, National Review Online, Nov. 16). “To scrounge for every last vote, Gore has flooded Fort Lauderdale with tough, seasoned Democrats, the sort who are used to keeping wafflers in line and to count and recount votes until they know exactly what it will take to outdo their opponents. Many of the hired hands speak with a Boston brogue,” reports the L.A. Times. A lawyer explains the routine to volunteers: “‘It’s very, very important that if you see any kind of mark — a scratch, a dent, a pinprick in Al Gore’s column — that you challenge.’ When someone then asked what they should do if they found a Bush ballot with an indent, the lawyer said: ‘Keep your lips sealed.'” (Elizabeth Mehren and Jeffrey Gettleman, “Seasoned Democratic Army Hits the Shores of Florida”, Los Angeles Times, Nov. 17). “[I]f you’re just counting existing ballots, there shouldn’t be any chads on the counting-room floor. But, whether by accident or design, the little fellers keep detaching themselves from the ballot, thereby creating more and more new votes.” (Mark Steyn, “Smooth man Gore starts to play rough”, Daily Telegraph (UK), Nov. 19; “Gore’s law: When you’re beaten to the punch, it’s the chads that count”, Nov. 17). See also Charles Krauthammer, “Not By Hand”, Washington Post, Nov. 17; Jurist special page on election 2000.

November 20 — “Judge fines himself for missing court”. “Hamilton Municipal Court Judge Paul Stansel believes he has no more right to skip court than the people who have to appear before him. Stansel found himself in contempt of court and fined himself $50 — half a month’s salary — after missing the Sept. 27 monthly court session because he was tending to his sick pony named Bubba and forgot it was court day, he said.” (Harry Franklin, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Nov. 7).

November 20 — How to succeed in business? Earlier this fall it was widely reported that Christian Curry received nothing from the settlement of his race and sexual orientation suit against Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, which had fired him after nude pictures of him were published in a sexually explicit magazine. See, for example, “Curry Drops Suit Against Morgan Stanley Dean Witter” (press release), Yahoo/Business Wire, Sept. 15 (quoting Curry: “I will receive no payment”); Dan Ackman, “L’Affaire Curry Ends In Settlement”, Forbes.com, Sept. 15 (“Curry got nothing, and said he was happy with that.”). However, the New York Post reported last month that Curry arrived at a press conference in a new red Ferrari to announce that he had just paid $2 million to buy a Harlem newspaper and “plans to start a modeling agency, a film and TV production company and a hedge fund.” According to the paper, “sources” tell it that the investment firm paid Curry $20 million on condition he keep quiet about the case. “The settlement was brokered in September, right before Morgan Stanley CEO Philip Purcell was to give his deposition.” Curry declined at the press event to comment on the status of his lawsuit; it is not clear how the earlier and more recent accounts can be reconciled with each other. (Evelyn Nussenbaum, “Curry Buys Newspaper, Has Big Plans”, New York Post, Oct. 20). See update, Nov. 23, 2003.

November 17-19 — Punch-outs, Florida style. Palm Beach tobacco law magnate Robert Montgomery is a frequent subject of commentaries in this space (see April 12, Aug. 8-9, 2000; Aug. 21, 1999; estimated tobacco fee $678 million), and somehow we knew he’d turn up as a player in the recount mess. Sure enough he’s acting as attorney for embattled county elections director Theresa LePore (Kathryn Sinicrope and Michele Gelormine, “Recount waiting game continues”, Palm Beach Daily News, Nov. 16). Montgomery, a major party donor, recently represented without charge the incumbent Democratic court clerk in Palm Beach against a public records lawsuit filed by Republican challenger Wanda Thayer; in that capacity he gave Thayer reason to feel really sorry she ever filed the action, putting her through a harsh deposition and menacing her with having to pay his $350-$500 /hour fee if she lost. Someone who represents the clerk of court free of charge against her opponent in a politically sensitive case is likely to stay a pretty popular guy around the courthouse, no? (Marc Caputo, “Attorneys carry clerk’s campaign”, Palm Beach Post, Sept. 26).

In the Broward County recount Republicans have noticed no fewer than 78 of the loose bits of paper known as “chads” lying on the floor of the recount facility and say the punchcard ballots are being over-handled in chaotic fashion by ad hoc election workers, some of them unknown to the official in charge. They’ve asked that the recount be halted until more secure procedures can be instituted, but a judge turned them down and a Democratic attorney ridicules their concerns (Sean Cavanagh, “Gore gets 13 more votes so far in Broward recount”, Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, Nov. 16; Marian Dozier, “Chad ‘fallout’ grows the more ballots are handled”, Nov. 15). “Q. If lawyers for Democrats and Republicans beat each other’s brains out for a few months in Florida, won’t that result in fewer lawyers? Who can argue with that? A. Like night crawlers, a complete new lawyer grows out of any piece of attorney sliced off in court. Their regenerative powers are frightening.” (Gary Dunford, “Night crawlers”, Canoe/Toronto Sun, Nov. 15).

November 17-19 — “U.S. Holocaust lawyer plans Austria train lawsuit”. Much-publicized New York attorney Edward Fagan is drumming up business among survivors of the Alpine tunnel calamity, which killed as many as 160. “The suits most likely would be filed in U.S. courts because they typically could award bigger damages than overseas courts”, even though the article cites no nexus whatsoever between the disaster and the United States as regards the great majority of victims, who were of Austrian or German nationality. Imagine how strange it would seem if a train full of Americans and Canadians crashed in Colorado and some lawyer from Austria flew in to propose that lawsuits be filed in his country. (Reuters/FindLaw, Nov. 14).

November 17-19 — “Tax collector found to owe $3,500 in delinquent taxes”. From Scranton, Pa., another entry for the do-as-we-say file: “I have no defense,” says Thomas Walsh, director of the county’s Tax Claim Bureau, of the city property tax bill on his home, which he’s left unpaid since 1991 and has now mounted to more than $3,500. “I just got behind.” (“Pay thyself”, AP/Fox News, Nov. 13).

November 17-19 — “Coca-Cola settles race suit”. The Atlanta-based soft-drink maker has agreed to pay $192.5 million to settle charges of race bias, “described by the plaintiffs as the largest ever in a race discrimination class action suit”. (CNNfn, Nov. 16) (see July 21, July 19).

November 16 — Palm Beach County “under control”. “There was evidence that the Gore campaign hoped to muscle up the forces at its disposal. An e-mail circulated to a trial lawyers organization sought at least 500 attorney volunteers to help out with recounts in selected counties.” (David Espo, “Bush Holds Narrow Lead in Fla.”, AP/Yahoo, Nov. 15). “The request was passed along on the Internet E-mail list of the National Association of Trial Lawyer Executives (NATLE) by the executive director of the group, Kathleen Wilson, suggesting they pass along the request to lawyers on the Internet E-mail lists they’re on.” The volunteer lawyers would be deployed in Volusia, Miami-Dade and Broward Counties, with the email describing the Gore forces as “comfortable that Palm Beach County is under control.” The organization NATLE “includes many executive directors and other officials with lawyer groups”. (“Gore Campaign Recruiting Lawyers”, AP/Washington Post, Nov. 14).

Judge-shopping? “Although most of the lawsuits filed to date have been in state court, one Gore supporter filed an action in federal court last week only to withdraw it the same day (apparently out of a concern that the judge assigned to the case, Reagan appointee Kenneth Ryskamp, would not look favorably upon it).” (Jay Lefkowitz, “It’s the Law, Stupid”, Weekly Standard, Nov. 20). Meanwhile, “[a] group with Republican links sued TV networks Tuesday and accused them of discouraging voters from going to the polls in the Florida Panhandle by erroneously projecting Al Gore would carry the state.” (“Group Sues Over Gore Projection”, AP/Washington Post, Nov. 14). “In the Stephen Sondheim song, when something bad happens in the circus, they send in the clowns. In America’s political circus, they send in the lawyers.” (Gavin Esler, “Don’t let the lawyers make a crisis out of America’s Political Drama”, The Independent (UK), Nov. 13) (cites our editor).

November 16 — Judge shopping, cont’d. U.S. International Trade Commission administrative law judge Sidney Harris has reprimanded Rambus Inc. for having abruptly withdrawn its patent violation case against Hyundai Electronics Industries Co. after it was assigned to him; the judge, who has a reputation as tough on patent-holders’ claims, concluded that the company did not want him to be the one to handle the case and had engaged in “blatant” judge shopping. The company denies the allegation. (Jack Robertson, “Rambus Slammed For ITC ‘Judge Shopping'”, Electronic Buyers News, Nov. 15; Dan Briody, “Litigation headaches send Rambus stock skidding”, RedHerring.com, Aug. 30).

November 16 — They call it distributive justice. Following the lead of numerous other overseas governments and other entities that have jumped on the tobacco-suit bandwagon in hopes of finding money, Saudi Arabia’s state-owned King Faisal Specialist Hospital says it is preparing litigation against international tobacco companies to recover the costs of treating smokers, to be filed in American courts and elsewhere. If successful, the litigation will presumably succeed in raising the price per pack paid by poverty-level smokers in Arkansas and West Virginia in order to ship the money off to that very deserving recipient, the government of Saudi Arabia. (“Saudi hospital to sue tobacco firms for $2.6 bn”, AP/Times of India, Nov. 8) (& see update, Dec. 10, 2001)

November 15 — Foreign press on election mess. “‘Got a problem? Get a lawyer’ has become a maxim of American life, whether you scald yourself with a McDonald’s coffee or lose a presidential election.” (Philip Delves Broughton, “Lawyers will be winners of contest born in Disneyworld”, Daily Telegraph (UK), Nov. 10). “The confusion over the election results has paved the way for a stealthy and rapid seizure of power in the US. The lawyers have truly taken over.” (Julian Borger, “Lawyers are back: US is on trial”, The Guardian (UK), Nov. 11). “We are not in Florida or Kansas anymore. We are in . . . Chad.” (Mark Steyn, “She held up the ballot and she saw the light”, National Post (Canada), Nov. 13).

November 15 — Beep and they’re out. DuPage County Associate Judge Edmund Bart “has taken extreme offense to Traffic Court visitors who allow cellular phones or pagers to ring when court is in session. He has dealt with them extremely — by throwing those visitors behind bars.” (“Time for Some Order from the Court” (editorial), Chicago Tribune, Nov. 11).

November 15 — “ATLA’s War Room”. Much feared by defendants, the 61 litigation groups of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America enable plaintiff’s lawyers to map out joint strategy and share in the “exchange of documents, briefs, depositions, expert testimony, and general plaintiffs’-side lore”. The groups are noted for “Kremlinesque secrecy”: “Group chairmen, for instance, are not supposed to identify themselves as such in public, and journalists can only get their names from ATLA by agreeing not to quote them as chairmen. … The association does not post the list of litigation groups on its public Web site.” However, that list includes (according to Alison Frankel of The American Lawyer): AIDS, automatic doors, bad faith insurance, benzene/leukemia, birth defects, breast cancer, casino gaming, chorionic villus sampling (CVS), computer vendor liability, firearms and ammunition, funeral services, herbicide and pesticide, inadequate security (and its subgroup, the Wal-Mart Task Force), interstate trucking, lead paint, liquor liability, nursing homes, Parlodel, pharmacy, Stadol, tabloid outrage, tap water burns, tires, truck underride, and vaccines. Recent additions include firefighter and EMS hearing loss, Allercare subgroup of herbicides and pesticides group, laser eye surgery malpractice, MTBE, Propulsid, and Rezulin. (Alison Frankel, “ATLA’s War Room”, The American Lawyer, Oct. 16).

November 14 — Columnist-fest. People writing about things other than the election mess:

* How long would Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer last if he were growing up today? He’s the kind of boy who plays hooky from class, joins a gang and commits petty crime, enjoys violent literature (pirate stories), tortures the family cat and even smokes. “Doubtless he’d be in therapy three times a week and jacked up on Ritalin. Or — most likely — he’d be in jail.” (Alex Beam, “Tom Sawyer and the end of boyhood”, Boston Globe, Oct. 31).

* Don’t count on the black-reparations bandwagon to provide benefits over the long term to anyone but the lawyers and other middlemen in charge, argues Linda Chavez (“Johnnie Cochran plays his card”, TownHall, Nov. 8).

* The case for Paula Jones’s outraged modesty in that Arkansas hotel room is looking pretty thin now that she’s taken her clothes off for Penthouse, but what exactly did reformers think would happen once the law began to turn unsubstantiated sex stories into enormously lucrative potential claims? “Women like Jones have been lured into becoming the workplace equivalent of Third World terrorists strolling around the office with suitcase bombs.” (Sarah J. McCarthy, “The Victim in the Centerfold”, LewRockwell.com, Nov. 11).

November 14 — “Fla. DUI Teen Sues Police”. “A teen-age driver seriously injured in an accident is suing the city because a police officer failed to arrest him for drunken driving minutes before the crash.” Richard L. Garcia of Bradenton, Fla. alleges that officers told him to drive home rather than taking him into custody despite his intoxication, which makes it their fault that he got into a serious accident minutes later. (AP/Yahoo, Nov. 13).

November 14 — “Survey: Jurors Anti-Big Business”. “Potential jurors often mistrust corporations and think they must impose billions of dollars in punitive damages to send them a clear message, according to survey results released Friday.” The survey is set to appear in this week’s National Law Journal. (Reuters/CBS News, Nov. 10).

November 14 — “Internet Usage Records Accessible Under FOI Laws”. “In an opinion sure to heighten the tension between some parents and school systems over the Internet’s role in publicly financed education, a New Hampshire judge has decided that a parent is entitled to see a list of the Internet sites or addresses visited by computer users at local schools.” Unless overturned on appeal, the ruling will entitle parent James M. Knight of Exeter, N.H. to inspect the logs of general student and faculty Internet use, not just those of his own children. However, the log files will be redacted in an attempt to prevent the identification of individual user names and passwords. Knight, a proponent of filtering/blocking software, had made the request under the state open records law. (Carl S. Kaplan, “Ruling Says Parents Have Right to See List of Sites Students Visit”, New York Times, Nov. 10 (reg); Slashdot thread).

November 13 — Election hangs by a chad. Once underway in earnest, plenty of observers fear, litigation on the 2000 presidential vote will “only spawn more litigation and drag on and on, to the detriment of the political system.” (R.W. Apple Jr., “News Analysis: Experts Contend a Quick Resolution Benefits Nation and Candidates”, New York Times, Nov. 12 (reg)). With the filing of a federal court action by the Bush people to block a planned “hand recount” in Palm Beach County, the legal battling now officially involves the candidates themselves; earlier, the Gore people had been backing litigation filed in the name of Florida residents without actually filing on their own (David S. Broder and Peter Slevin, “Both Sides Increase Legal Wrangling As Florida Begins Slow Hand Count”, Washington Post, Nov. 12). “There is a well-known trick among statistical economists for biasing your data while looking honest. First, figure out which data points don’t agree with your theory. Then zealously clean up the offending data points while leaving the other data alone.” Such a bias would be introduced in the Florida vote by recounting pro-Gore counties like Palm Beach, Broward and Dade so as to validate more ballots by inferring voters’ intent, without doing the same for pro-Bush counties like Duval (Jacksonville). (Edward Glaeser, “Recount ‘Em All, or None at All”, Opinion Journal (Wall Street Journal), Nov. 11). “The leverage that the Gore camp has,” writes columnist Molly Ivins, “is an injunction to prevent certification of the Florida result until that’s settled [namely, its expected demand for a Palm Beach County revote if the pending “hand recount” doesn’t do the trick]. Without Florida, Gore wins the Electoral College.” Admittedly, however, “[a] system that managed to acquit O.J. Simpson cannot be counted upon to produce justice.” (“The right to seek justice is undeniable in Florida”, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Nov. 11).

If you’re looking for truly ripe ballot irregularities, George Will suggests, look to the heartland: “Election Day saw Democrats briefly succeed in changing the rules during the game in Missouri: Their lawyers found a friendly court to order St. Louis polls to stay open three hours past the lawful 7 p.m. closing time. Fortunately, a higher court soon reimposed legality on the Democrats and ordered the polls closed at 7:45.” (“It All Depends on the Meaning of ‘Vote'”, New York Post, Nov. 12). A nice thing about those emergency public donation funds to hire teams of lawyers: there’s no limit on contributions and the parties will be really grateful (David Greising, “Al’s Now a Boy Named Sue, and It’s Not Helping”, Chicago Tribune, Nov. 10). Meanwhile, we note that a prominent Democratic campaign-law expert is denying that his party is “overlawyering” the Florida situation, while the New York Post‘s Rod Dreher uses another variant on the same term in discussing mistaken ballots: “Despite what some in this overlawyered culture seem to believe, the courts have no obligation to protect people from their own carelessness.” (Don Van Natta Jr. and Michael Moss, “Counting the Vote: The Nerve Center”, New York Times, Nov. 11, quoting Robert F. Bauer, no longer online; New York Post, Nov. 12).

November 13 — Vaccine compensation and its discontents. One of the more recently adopted no-fault compensation systems aimed at displacing personal injury litigation is the federal childhood vaccine compensation program, which since 1988 has paid out $315 million to some 1,445 claimants and turned away another 3,372 claimants on the grounds that they could not prove that the vaccines caused injury. The system has substantially reduced the number of lawsuits filed against makers of DPT (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough)), which “dropped from 255 in 1986 to 4 in 1997”. However, the no-fault system itself partakes of some of the drawbacks of litigation, including delay and adversarialism. One thing it has succeeded in curbing, however, is jackpots for trial lawyers: “Lawyers representing claimants get paid whether a claim is successful or not, but they get closely monitored hourly rates — not the jackpots they occasionally win when they sue, say, tobacco or tire companies.” (Doug Donovan, “Needle damage”, Forbes, Sept. 4).

November 13 — Don’t give an inch. In Sunderland, England, merchant Steven Thoburn has become the first vendor to be prosecuted for sticking to English weights and measures despite an official mandate to convert to European metric alternatives. To coordinate with European Union rules, “British laws came into effect at the beginning of this year imposing fines of up to $8,000 and possible imprisonment on retailers if they refuse to adopt liters and meters.” (“Defiant Brit Vendor Taken To Court”, AP/FindLaw, Nov. 8).


November 30 — The right to be poisoned. Large numbers of urban apartments continue to have old lead-based interior paint on their walls, and you might think it makes obvious sense from a public health standpoint to take precautions to keep children who already show dangerous levels of lead in their blood from moving into such units. At least, you might think so if you weren’t among the “public interest” lawyers who’ve now successfully sued Northern Brokerage, a Baltimore landlord, over its policy of not letting lead-affected kids move into apartments where they might be exposed to more of the same. It’s a discrimination issue, you see: Ruth Ann Norton, executive director of the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, said it’s “hugely discriminatory” to turn families away from such housing just because their kids already display high lead levels. In a settlement earlier this month, “Northern Brokerage agreed to no longer require testing for children under 6 and to pay a total of $13,000 in damages to the plaintiffs and their attorneys.” Of course, if the kids’ blood-lead levels keep rising after they move in, other lawyers might very well step forward to sue the same landlords for every last dime they possess. But that’s only fair, too, right? (John Biemer, “Landlord settles lawsuit for refusing to rent to lead-poisoned families”, AP/FindLaw, Nov. 16).

November 30 — Welcome Mother Jones readers. MoJoWire’s “Alternative Election News Coverage” summarized one of our commentaries about a Gore lawyer’s dimple flip-flop (see Nov. 24). “Not everyone is happy that it appears the next president will be chosen by what some have called a tournament of lawyers. America’s litigation explosion was itself a subtext of the campaign, critics point out. Mr. Bush has called for tort reform to limit the ability of class-action lawyers to win big judgments. Mr. Gore has adopted the traditional Democratic Party position of trial-lawyer defense.” (Peter Grier, Justin Brown and Francine Kiefer, “All Florida becomes a stage for lawyers”, Christian Science Monitor, Nov. 30 — quotes our editor). And we evidently spoke too soon when we praised a New York Times editorial on the Florida mess immediately after the election (see Nov. 10), since within days the paper had reversed its editorial line almost completely on the relevant issues (Elizabeth Arens, “Times falls back into line”, National Review Online, Nov. 28).

November 30 — Updates. Further developments in stories previously covered in this space:

* “Samuel Feldman, convicted in September for a two-year spree of bread and cookie destruction in a Yardley supermarket (see Oct. 6), was sentenced [Nov. 20] to 180 days’ probation and ordered to make $1,000 in restitution payment.” He also got a severe scolding from the judge (Oshrat Carmiel, “Bucks bread squeezer sentenced to probation”, Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 21).

* Falling upward in Washington state: “An assistant attorney general who lost one of the state’s largest civil cases and later shared blame for missing the deadline to appeal the case has been promoted to a new job in state government.” As we reported Sept. 13, state attorney general Christine Gregoire missed a deadline to appeal a $17.8 million verdict against the state, a goof that aroused widespread consternation in Evergreen State legal circles. Now assistant attorney general Loretta Lamb, whom an investigation saddled with some of the responsibility for the mix-up, has been appointed assistant vice president of Washington State University for personnel and business administration. (Eric Nalder, “Attorney in missed deadline case gets new job”, Seattle Times, Sept. 29).

* Although a Bridgeport jury last year gave Microsoft an almost complete victory in an antitrust suit filed by competitor Bristol Technologies (see Aug. 31, 1999), awarding only a token dollar, federal judge Janet Hall upped the award under a Connecticut trade statute to $1 million and Bristol is now asking for a new trial (Thomas Scheffey, “Connecticut Judge Socks Microsoft with $1 Million in Punitives”, Connecticut Law Tribune, Sept. 11; “What was the Microsoft Jury Thinking?”, Nov. 27).

November 29 — After an air crash, many Latin “survivors”. “Three of the 88 passengers and crew who died when Alaska Airlines Flight 261 crashed into the Pacific Ocean on Jan. 31 allegedly had something in common apart from their tragic deaths: They cheated on their partners, led secret lives and fathered secret illegitimate children, all of whom were growing up in Guatemala.” Or at least that’s the story being told by Coral Gables, Fla. lawyer Robert Parks, who’s filed wrongful-death suits against the airline, Boeing and other defendants on behalf of the alleged secret survivors. “The crash victims’ undisputed relatives and close friends say the stories have been fabricated in an effort to capitalize on the tragedy.” In one case, a 53-year-old San Francisco man who perished on the doomed flight is alleged to have recently fathered two Latin American children who deserved to collect for his decease, a story that ran into trouble when his outraged gay partner of twenty years, Dale Rettinger, 63, stepped forward to challenge it.

David Lietz, a Washington, D.C. lawyer hired by Rettinger to investigate the case, said: “We do this kind of work all the time and in the course of doing it, we’ve seen people who make their living lining up victims. It’s not uncommon to find people in Mexico or Central America who try to craft these stories and shop them around to lawyers,’ Lietz said. ‘It’s the aviation equivalent of ‘bus jumping,’ which is a bunch of people seeing a bus accident and running up to it so they can claim whiplash or something.” Many such claims come from Latin America, where “records are very bad and (false claimants) will swear under oath but say anything they want,” he added.

Families of two other victims also named as supposed secret fathers of Latin American children also reacted with indignation or incredulity. However, Parks, the Florida lawyer pressing the cases, says criticism is misplaced. “We wouldn’t have filed the lawsuits if we didn’t feel these people had claims. I don’t deal in coincidences … I’ve been involved in aviation litigation over 30 years, a lot in Central America and South America,” he said. “Sometimes in these areas, truth is stranger than fiction. … The process is going to sort this out. No one is trying to get something that isn’t there”. Parks is also preparing a claim on behalf of alleged secret offspring of yet a fourth Alaska Air crash victim, this time from a still unnamed Latin American country. (Scott Winokur, “Capitalizing On a Crash? Suits allege secret lives for some on fated Alaska Airlines flight”, San Francisco Chronicle, Nov. 26) (via Aero News Network)(and see April 10, 2001, Aug. 3, 2001) (DURABLE LINK)

November 29 — “Clinton readies avalanche of regulations” “The Clinton administration is striving mightily to pour forth regulations on the environment, labor, health care and other controversial topics before Jan. 20 brings a new occupant to the White House.” So-called midnight regulations are especially common in cases where a new party is coming in: “The Jimmy Carter administration became renowned for stuffing the Federal Register with 23,000 pages of regulations during the three months before Ronald Reagan took office in 1981.” The Mercatus Center at George Mason University has launched a website, RegRadar.com, to monitor the last-minute onslaught (Robert A. Rosenblatt and Elizabeth Shogren, L.A. Times/Chicago Tribune, Nov. 26).

November 29 — “Hush — good news on silicone”. More details on the release of that new study (see Oct. 23) exonerating breast implants of a once-feared link to cancer, which the National Cancer Institute commissioned at great expense but whose results it quietly buried: “NCI press representative Brian Vastag says he was ‘forbidden’ by his superiors from touting the impending release of this study the way he normally does with other public health research. … So Mr. Vastag, who had already announced he was leaving NCI, defied his bosses and e-mailed names in his media Rolodex. ‘It drives me crazy when tax-funded public health research doesn’t make it to the public,’ he said.” (John Meroney, Washington Times, Nov. 22).

November 28 — Highway responsibility. A Fort Lauderdale jury has awarded $7 million to Diana Mancuso, 43, who was badly hurt when her car was hit broadside by a drunk driver six years ago. The drunk driver, Shane Peter Leanna, who was 23 at the time, served nearly two years in prison. However, the ones being ordered to pay the bill are McFadden Leasing Inc., which owned the sport utility vehicle Leanna was driving, and Next Generation Inc., which leased it to him. (“Woman gets $7 million in DUI case”, AP/New York Times, Nov. 23). And last month the mother of late National Football League star Derrick Thomas went to court to blame various organizations for his death following a crash in which he had been speeding on an icy road without wearing a seat belt. The lawsuit names General Motors Corp. as a defendant as well as local ambulance service Emergency Providers Inc. and Liberty Hospital, both of which tried to save Thomas after the accident and may now have reason to be sorry they got near him. (Cindy Lin, “Derrick Thomas (1967-2000)”, ChannelOne.com, Feb. 9; Kenny Morse, editorial, MrTraffic.com, Feb. 10; “Derrick Thomas’ mother sues GM”, Jefferson City News-Tribune, Oct. 11). Update Aug. 18, 2004: jury rejects suit against GM. (DURABLE LINK)

November 28 — “NCAA Can Be Sued Under ADA, Federal District Judge Rules”. “In a major defeat for the National Collegiate Athletic Association, a federal judge has ruled that it qualifies as a “place of public accommodation” under the Americans with Disabilities Act and can therefore be sued by a learning-disabled student who says its discriminatory rules barred him from getting an athletic scholarship.” (Shannon P. Duffy, Legal Intelligencer (Philadelphia), Nov. 14).

November 28 — Federal power over mud puddles? The Supreme Court is expected to resolve this term whether the federal Clean Water Act applies to “isolated wetlands that have no connection to major rivers or drainage systems flowing from state to state.” Environmental groups favor wide federal authority over “prairie potholes” and the like, which they say are important to migratory waterfowl. A brief supporting property owners, however, counters: “Under the Corps’ [of Engineers] interpretation of the [Act], its regulatory authority stretches to virtually every body of water in the country — including seasonally wet areas in homeowners’ backyards — because virtually any water body is or could be used as a feeding or resting place by some of the 5 billion birds that migrate over the continental United States each year.” The brief also warns: “The Corps’ rationale would justify federal regulation not just of all waters but of virtually all human activity.” (Warren Richey, “Wetlands and federal power”, Christian Science Monitor, Oct. 31).

November 27 — Follow instructions, please. Well before Election Day, the Gore campaign was ready for a massive recount campaign based on a 1994 manual called The Recount Primer, whose tactical advice presciently foreshadows many recent developments (Ryan Lizza, “Overtime: How the Gore campaign came back from the dead”, The New Republic Online, Nov. 16).

“Note: If you make a mistake, return your ballot card and obtain another. AFTER VOTING, CHECK YOUR BALLOT CARD TO BE SURE YOUR VOTING SELECTIONS ARE CLEARLY AND CLEANLY PUNCHED AND THERE ARE NO CHIPS LEFT HANGING ON THE BACK OF THE CARD. –Voting instructions, Palm Beach County, Florida”

“The capitalized words appeared on the voting guide clearly posted in every Florida polling station that used Votomatic machines and in leaflets mailed to many voters in Palm Beach. They are the only instructions on the flyer in bold capitals. … The [Gore] position, so far as I can glean, is that … [a] vote should be counted … even if the voter blithely ignores clear voting instructions” … A Gore victory through judicially imposed, loosely interpreted hand counts in South Florida will resonate across the country as the triumph of a liberalism that has replaced responsibility with victimhood, law with legalism, character with partisanship. Rather than challenging voters to a new civic responsibility, the Democrats are defining down democracy to include those who cannot even be held responsible for following a simple ballot instruction.” (Andrew Sullivan, “TRB from Washington: Bad Intent”, The New Republic Online, Nov. 22; see also commentaries on andrewsullivan.com, and Charles Krauthammer, “There is a good reason that casting a ballot is a precise act”, Dallas Morning News, Nov. 24). “[I]t is the voter’s duty to take reasonable care to record a vote. To correct that judgment after the fact is unfair.” (“Dimples aren’t votes” (editorial), Miami Herald, Nov. 24).

November 27 — Asbestos litigation destroying more companies. The lawsuits’ relentless logic is devouring more leading industrial companies. Armstrong World Industries, the nation’s pre-eminent manufacturer of flooring, failed to repay $50 million in commercial paper that came due Wednesday (Reuters/Yahoo, Nov. 22), and a Nov. 16 Bloomberg story said its parent, Armstrong Holdings Inc., may seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company’s stock, which stood at $36 in January, on Friday closed at 1 3/16 (stock chart). In early October (see Oct. 6-9) Owens-Corning, the number one maker of insulation, filed for bankruptcy protection (asbestos product makers list, law firm of Patten, Wornom, Hatten & Diamonstein).

Many of these concerns’ involvement with asbestos was both remote in time and tangential to their main operations. Of Crown Cork & Seal, the large packaging concern that closed Friday at 4 5/8, down from 24 in January and 50 in 1997, Yahoo/Reuters reported as follows: “Its only ties to asbestos-related products stem from an acquisition more than 40 years ago of a company that had a subsidiary that made insulation products, said Andrew O’Conor, an analyst with Merrill Lynch. It sold the insulation business three months after acquiring it, he said. ‘They’re more of a peripheral player,’ O’Conor said. ‘It was a tiny thing.'” (stock chart; “Crown Cork jumps on reevaluation of asbestos claims”, Yahoo/Reuters, Nov. 20). For trial lawyers’ ingenuity in identifying new defendants to name in suits, see June 1 and “Thanks for the Memories“.

Each removal of another solvent defendant shifts more litigation pressure onto remaining defendants. Owens-Illinois, the prominent glass and packaging concern, closed Friday at 3 13/16, down from 25 in January and 48 in 1998 (stock chart). Federal-Mogul (brakes, auto parts) closed at 2, down from 24 in January and 70 in 1998 (stock chart). W.R. Grace, the giant chemicals manufacturer much in the news lately because of the contamination of its Montana vermiculite mining operations with naturally occurring asbestos, closed Friday at 2 1/2, down from 15 in January and more than 20 earlier. (stock chart). Investment analyst Jim Cramer wrote last month that Armstrong, Federal-Mogul, and Grace, all longtime mainstays of industrial portfolios, now find themselves “on a death march to zero … I am combing through this embattled trio looking for signs that they won’t meet Owens’ fate. I haven’t found any yet.” (James J. Cramer, “The Death of the Value Stalwarts”, TheStreet.com, Oct. 25). Of the billions sunk in the litigation, a very high percentage goes toward the process itself, or other purposes other than actual compensation of workers for injuries. Meanwhile, intensive advertising and recruitment campaigns by law firms continue to attract thousands of new asymptomatic claimants into the system, while asbestos plaintiff’s lawyers are numbered prominently among instigators of the “tobacco round” as well as among the most prominent financial supporters of the Democratic Party and the Al Gore campaign. (DURABLE LINK)

November 26 — Sunday election special: votes only lawyers can see. “He squinted and stared, but Bob Kerrey was blind to the party line.” The Nebraska senator was making the South Florida rounds to talk up the Democratic line on the virtues of hand recounts and patience, but when he squinted at a ballot allegedly sporting an actual “dimpled chad” of the sort his fellow Democrats want to count, Kerrey admitted he couldn’t see it. “‘I better get out of here before I get you guys in trouble,’ Kerrey reportedly joked to his party’s team. But senator, isn’t it a little scary to decide an election with votes that only lawyers can see?” (Brad Hahn, “Nebraska senator sees sights — but can’t see chads”, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Nov. 25; Drudge Report transcript of Broward dimple-asserting). “On my local television station, the latest update was followed by the reassuringly familiar commercial for personal-injury lawyers Welch, Graham and Manby — ‘where winning is no accident’. That’s the spirit!” (Mark Steyn, “Even Al’s friends are sick of his dimples”, Sunday Telegraph (UK), Nov. 26).

On Saturday, the Broward County Election Canvassing Board conveniently decided to go looking for dimpled chads on 500 previously disqualified absentee ballots, even though on an absentee ballot the “voter can clearly see how he voted and whether the chad fell out, unlike the Votamatic machines used at polling places in Broward.” Did demonstrators, as Democrats claim, “intimidate[ ] the Miami-Dade canvassing board into canceling its planned recount [?]. Nonsense, say board members. ‘I was not intimidated,’ David Leahy told CNN. ‘My vote had nothing to do with the protests. It simply had to do with not enough time.'” (John Fund, “Gore’s Electoral ‘Lock Box'”, Opinion Journal (WSJ), Nov. 25).

“Vice President Gore’s effort to convince Florida election officials to count indented or ‘dimpled’ ballots as votes for him runs contrary to the practice in almost all jurisdictions that use the punch card system, with the notable exception of Texas, the home state of George W. Bush, his rival for the presidency. In the 38-year history of punch card voting, only a small number of communities have counted these ballots as valid, voting experts said. R. Doug Lewis, executive director of the Election Center, a nonpartisan group that trains and certifies election supervisors, said that to his knowledge, with the exception of Texas, ‘no election official has counted a dimpled chad as a vote. Instead they tend to turn the question over to a judge, and historically courts around the country have said dimpled chads aren’t clear enough for them,’ Lewis said, stressing that he is not referring to Florida.” (John Mintz, “Most states don’t count dimples”, Washington Post, Nov. 24). Despite the Florida Supreme Court’s wholesale rewrite of the state’s election law after the fact, “it is still possible that the will of the people will prevail. … Broward County has for 10 years refused to count ‘dimpled chad’ as a vote. Now, it has changed that rule. … It may become necessary for [the Florida legislature] to exercise its responsibility and ensure a fair outcome to the presidential election of 2000.” (“Elections: A grand larceny” (editorial), Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville), Nov. 24).

“Today, the courts — that is, the lawyers – run nearly every aspect of American life. … They tell us how much tobacco is appropriate. Who may buy and sell guns — and how. What level of care governments must provide the needy. They set taxes and school curricula. Now they mean to pick a president.” (“Government by lawyers” (editorial), New York Post, Nov. 24 — cites our editor). “Where has abandoning law and tradition left us? Courts have put the fate of the election in the hands of Democratic partisans reviewing pregnant chads only in Gore’s strongholds. … Is it any wonder that the rest of the world is laughing at us?” (“Comedy of errors of the lowest sort” (editorial), Chicago Sun-Times, Nov. 24).

November 24-26 — Gore lawyers mishandled Illinois precedent. Lawyers for Vice President Al Gore repeatedly cited, and the Florida Supreme Court obligingly quoted at length and with approval, an Illinois Supreme Court opinion from 1990 which directed election officials to consider voters’ intent, which the Gore team suggested provided a rationale for counting punchcard ballots with the now-fabled “dimpled chad”. But in fact “the Illinois court actually affirmed a trial judge’s order to exclude dented ballots,” and a Cook County attorney who provided the Gore effort with an affidavit to the contrary last week now concedes that his recollection was mistaken (Jan Crawford Greenburg and Dan Mihalopoulos, “Illinois case offers shaky precedent”, Chicago Tribune, Nov. 23). “Doesn’t [Gore attorney David] Boies now have a professional obligation to inform the courts and others of his error?,” asks Mickey Kaus (“Hit Parade”, Kausfiles.com)

The generally liberal Miami Herald, which endorsed Gore in the election, editorializes that the Florida high court “made hash of Florida’s election law” and agrees with Gov. George W. Bush’s charge that the court “has changed the rules after the election”. It cites “the court’s unseemly willingness to stand in for the Legislature and create a new election scheme … by deciding that the counts could continue until as late as Monday morning, the justices have substituted their own deadlines for those that have long existed in state law and that Secretary [of State Katherine] Harris was sworn to uphold.” (“A muddled ruling raises questions of fairness” (editorial), Miami Herald, Nov. 23). On the New York Times op-ed page, New Republic legal affairs correspondent Jeffrey Rosen calls the Florida court’s rewrite of state election law “a bold example of judicial activism” in which the court “vastly overplayed its hand” and which “has made the justices appear to be partisans rather than neutral arbiters”. Rosen says the ruling allows Republicans to “argue plausibly that activist Democratic judges changed the counting rules in the middle of the game, only after it was obvious that the Democratic candidate needed dimpled ballots to win”. (“Florida’s Justices Pushed Too Far”, Nov. 23).

November 24-26 — “Qwest ordered to pay AT&T $350 million”. A Travis County, Texas jury has voted $1.2 million in actual damages and $350 million in punitive damages against telecommunications carrier Qwest for negligently cutting an AT&T fiber-optic phone line on several occasions in 1997. “It’s not unique that a fiber line gets cut. It’s unique it gets to [a] jury and gets this far down the road,” an investment analyst told the Austin American-Statesman. “We tried to send a message,” said a juror, as usual. “The only way to do that was to make the stockholders feel it in the bottom line.” (AP/CNet, Nov. 15).

November 24-26 — “Company Is Told to Stay and Face New Union”. A Los Angeles federal judge, “acting on a union’s complaint, has … issued a preliminary injunction preventing Quadrtech, a small manufacturer of earrings and ear-piercing machines, from laying off 118 newly unionized workers and moving its manufacturing operations to Tijuana until labor complaints against it are resolved. … Lawyers at the National Labor Relations Board, which petitioned the court on behalf of the workers, said this was the first time an American company trying to keep out a union had been prevented from leaving the United States.” (Anthony DePalma, New York Times, Nov. 23).

November 22-23 — “Gore’s point man argued against dimples in 1996”. Attorney Dennis Newman of Boston is now the point man in charge of putting Al Gore in the White House by insisting that “dimples show the true intent of the voter. Voters caused those dimples. Dimples should count. Four years ago, in a similar election spat, Newman took a much different stand. Employing his best legal tactics on behalf of a Democrat holding a slight lead in a primary race for Congress, Newman scoffed at the idea of counting the tiny indentations as votes.” Back in that case, Newman endorsed the series of propositions now urged by Republicans about the tiny indentations: that they could have been inflicted by later handling, that they could represent hesitation marks (the kind coroners find on suicides — ed.), and so forth. (Joel Engelhardt, Palm Beach Post, Nov. 22). Although the press has widely echoed the assertion of Gore attorneys that federal courts stay out of state electoral disputes — even, purportedly, when the elections are for federal offices such as president — Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor argues that there is squarely opposed precedent to the contrary in the Eleventh Circuit, which includes both Alabama and Florida. In Roe v. Alabama (1995), the Eleventh Circuit found a federal constitutional violation in state balloting irregularities that accompanied a very close race, including a court order which appeared to change the rules after the election as to which votes would count. Moreover, the federal court intervened in Roe even though the election was for Alabama state office, not federal office (“Attorney General Bill Pryor and Secretary of State Jim Bennett File Friend of the Court Brief in Presidential Election Dispute”, Office of the Alabama Attorney General, Nov. 20, links to PDF document). (DURABLE LINK)

November 22-23 — “Descent into the lawyerclysm”. Humorix, the Linux-oriented parody site, takes off from the Florida election mess to imagine the lawsuit-ridden dystopia of the not too distant future: “Nuclear weapons are scrapped and replaced by subpoenas. … While most forms of physical violence ceases, the ensuing legal violence is far, far worse — a fleet of lawyers can bring poverty and bankruptcy to billions of innocent civilians within a matter of hours. Stage 6. World economy collapses under the weight of overlawyering.” (Jon Splatz, Nov. 19).

November 22-23 — Don’t do it, Tillie! Tillie Tooter, 84, gained national attention in August when she survived for three days trapped in her wrecked car, which had gone over a Florida interstate highway abutment; she “survived by capturing rainwater in a steering wheel cover and divvying up a stick of gum, a cough drop and a mint.” Now a lawyer is representing her and has “put her rescuers on notice that she intends to sue them for not finding her sooner”. Jim Romenesko at Obscure Store has some advice for her: you’re an old lady, you really don’t want to spend your remaining days hanging around lawyers and courtrooms. (Jodie Needle, “Tillie Tooter to sue Lauderdale, FHP for not finding her sooner in wreck”, Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, Nov. 16).

November 22-23 — France OKs wrongful-birth suit. “A severely disabled French boy has won a landmark case against medical authorities for allowing him to be born rather than aborted.” Josette and Christian Perruche sued doctors for negligently failing to realize that Josette had contracted rubella (German measles) during her pregnancy; their son Nicolas was born deaf, part-blind and with mental disabilities as a result. “Would my son really have wanted to live if he’d known he had all these disabilities?” asked Christian. “That’s the question I’m posing.” (“Boy compensated for being born”, BBC, Nov. 17).

November 22-23 — “eBay suit wins class-action status”. San Diego Superior Court Judge Linda B. Quinn has granted class-action status to a suit against eBay that “alleges the largest Internet auction company is liable for facilitating the sale of fake sports memorabilia”. (“eBay suit wins class-action status”, Bloomberg News/CNet, Nov. 19) “If successful, the suit could undermine eBay’s business model,” the Industry Standard reported earlier this year (see July 13). “Legal experts say that if the company can be held liable for the actions of its users, it is likely to face a flurry of suits that would severely handicap its business.” Also earlier this year four New Jersey teens “were treated for vomiting and disorientation after taking a substance called dextromethorphan, or DXM”, which one of them had bought on the online flea market. (Mylene Mangalindan, “Is eBay Liable in Drug Sale?”, WSJ Interactive/ZDNet, May 31)(see letter, Jan. 16).

November 22-23 — Canada reins in expert witnesses. “The Supreme Court of Canada accelerated its campaign against doubtful expert witnesses [Nov. 9], ruling that ‘novel scientific evidence’ from a Quebec sexologist had no place in a criminal trial.” Like the U.S. Supreme Court in its landmark 1994 Daubert decision, the Canadian high court urges judges to take responsibility as “gatekeepers” to exclude dubious testimony. (Kirk Makin, “Top court reins in use of experts”, The Globe and Mail (Toronto), Nov. 10).

November 21 — The O.J. trial of politics. By early in the morning after the long election night, “the phones began ringing at the 16-lawyer West Palm Beach personal injury firm Lytal, Reiter, Clark, Fountain & Williams, which claims credit for 22 multimillion-dollar verdicts and settlements. Local Democratic staffers had used the firm’s conference room to make get-out-the-vote calls on Election Day, and the phones were still there.” (Peter Aronson, “Lawyers take center stage”, National Law Journal, Nov. 20). “This is the O.J. trial of politics,” the Boston Globe quotes GOP lawyer Tom Rath as saying, while the Wall Street Journal reports that clients in high-profile cases turn to attorney David Boies “as much to signal a declaration of war as anything else.” (Both quoted in Deborah Asbrand, “David Boies Rides Again”, Industry Standard/Law.com, Nov. 17). It’s a class action suit with the presidency rather than the coffers of the tobacco or gun industries as the target, argues the Wall Street Journal‘s editorial side (“Al Gore’s Class-Action”, Nov. 17). When Gore brings out the lawyers by the hundreds to help him, he’s bringing out his base (Rich Lowry, “Lawyers: The Gore Hard Core”, New York Post/National Review Online, Nov. 20).

November 21 — Burglar sues for compensation. In Australia, “[a] man who broke into a house and attacked the home owner when he was discovered has launched a civil action against his victim for compensation.” Shane Colburn says he is still suffering “physically and emotionally” from the aftermath of the 1997 incident, in which he scuffled with Peter Vucetic and Giavanna Grah and was attacked by the couple’s dogs. (“The thief who sued his victim”, Daily Telegraph (NSW, Australia), Nov. 17).

November 21 —Behind “Boston Public”. “[David E.] Kelley, an ex-lawyer [and creator of hit TV show Ally McBeal and the new Boston Public], has made this subject [overregulation] the obsession of every TV show he has written. Whenever teachers or administrators try to help or discipline students, they immediately butt up against their or their bosses’ anxiety about litigation. The worst, in Kelley’s book, are sexual harassment laws, which he started railing about in Ally McBeal long before Monica Lewinsky got down on her knees. But there are also digs at anti-discrimination laws and an episode about a degrading school board regulation that requires all teachers to submit to thumb printing since they work with children. . . . people who should be looked up to and supported are met instead by automatic suspicion.

“So what’s the parallel between Boston Public and the current crisis? That you can’t educate children, just as you can’t run a country, in an atmosphere of rancor and litigiousness, when the people who are supposed to be in charge are dismissed in a knee-jerk fashion as corrupt and illegitimate by the people they’re supposed to be governing.” (Judith Shulevitz, “Culturebox: The Ungovernable Boston Public”, Slate, Nov. 10; “Public-School Teachers, Those Ink-Stained Wretches”, Nov. 14 (more on teacher fingerprinting)).

November 21 — Reckless skier convicted. Nathan Hall has been convicted of criminally negligent homicide in the case arising from his fatal collision with another skier three years ago on the slopes at Vail, Colo. (see Sept. 25-26) (Steve Lipsher, “Skier verdict closes chapter”, Denver Post, Nov. 18; “Ski Racer Convicted in Homicide”, AP/FindLaw, Nov. 17).

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).