Search Results for ‘philadelphia narcotics’

Philadelphia narcotics squad, cont’d

Another scandal from its seemingly bottomless depths [CNN, earlier here, etc.] “Are Narcotics Corrupting the Police Force?” [Joel Mathis, Philadelphia magazine] And the police union wants an investigation of investigative reporters Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman, whose exposure of misconduct by narcotics squad members won a Pulitzer prize, on the grounds that some anonymous source has allegedly charged that they might have made payments to sources [NewsWorks]

Police and community roundup

  • Not just motorists: revenue-hungry St. Louis County municipalities mulct residents and homeowners with tickets over toys in yard, missing shingles, overgrown trees [St. Louis Post-Dispatch]
  • So hard to convict: six officers from notorious Philadelphia narcotics squad acquitted in federal “dangled over balconies” case [Inquirer]
  • Strictly non-business: Mayor of Campo, Colo. “asserted the ticketing …is strictly about public safety and not to generate revenue.” [KUSA, autoplays]
  • Texas legislature: “Bill to limit filming of police activity is dropped” [Allison Wisk, Dallas Morning News]
  • “I remember getting mocked as a nutty libertarian when arguing that primary seat belt laws would be used to profile.” [@radleybalko on CBS Miami report]
  • “Breaking Down the Cost of Jaywalking: Where Does Money from a $190 Ticket Go?” [L.A., 2010, BlogDowntown via Amy Alkon discussion, earlier, Timothy Kincaid on Twitter] “A traffic fine should not devastate folks living paycheck to paycheck. [Cal.] Senate working to fix this” [Mariel Garza, L.A. Times]
  • On the need for independent prosecutors in police misconduct cases [Jacob Sullum]

May 15 roundup

  • “Sign Installer Cited for Violating Rule on the Sign He Was Installing” [Lowering the Bar, Santa Barbara]
  • YouTube yanks exhibit from public court case as terms-of-service violation. How’d that happen? [Scott Greenfield on controversy arising from doctor’s lawsuit against legal blogger Eric Turkewitz]
  • Philadelphia narcotics police scandal (earlier) has an alleged-sex-grab angle; also, given the presence of compelling video clips, shouldn’t the story be breaking out to national cable news by now? [Will Bunch, Philadelphia Daily News; Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman, PDN 2009 Pulitzer series, on Dagma Rodriguez, Lady Gonzalez and “Naomi” cases]
  • The most dynamic part of the economy? Its endangered “permissionless” sector [Cochrane] Call it subregulatory guidance, or call it sneaky regulation by agencies, but either way it can evade White House regulatory review, notice and comment, etc. [Wayne Crews, CEI “Open Market”]
  • What’s Chinese for “Kafkaesque”? Dispute resolution in Sino-American contracts [Dan Harris, Above the Law]
  • In another win for Ted Frank’s Center for Class Action Fairness, Ninth Circuit reverses trial court approval of Apple MagSafe settlement [CCAF]
  • Mississippi’s major tort reform, viewed in retrospect after ten years [Geoff Pender, Jackson Clarion Ledger]

Bodega-robbing cops will walk, cont’d

I’ve got a longer write-up at Cato at Liberty (earlier) on the extraordinary outcome of a federal investigation into larcenous raids on bodegas by Philadelphia narcotics cops pursuant to sales of banned plastic zip-lock bags: U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger has closed the case without charges, the statute of limitations now having run.

This was a story that really got to me on many levels, as with this passage from the Philadelphia Daily News’s coverage: “Anh Ngo, like the Nams, said that she was never interviewed by investigators about what unfolded in her family grocery store in the Lower Northeast during a 2008 raid. Ngo, 30, said the officers smashed the [security surveillance] cameras with a sledgehammer and stole about $12,000, taking her mom’s diamond ring and emptying their wallets.” They took her mother’s ring! “‘To think that some light was shined on this by the Daily News and then the investigation just died, it’s really very frustrating,’ she said…. ‘[The cops] are living nice off of the money they stole from us.'” Notes one journalist: “The shop owners were all legal immigrants. None had criminal records. Nor had they ever met – they hailed from four corners of the city and spoke different languages.” Yet they told essentially the same stories.

The local press, specifically the Philadelphia Daily News, did everything one could reasonably wish to bring the story to light. In fact reporters Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman won a Pulitzer Prize for their investigation, “Tainted Justice,” and in March published a book on the scandal. The paper’s coverage of the dropping of charges has been likewise hard-hitting, including video of a bodega raid. In the end, none of it seemed to have worked in obtaining justice for the store owners.

I go on in the Cato piece to ask a few other questions about whether laws banning common items like mini-zip-lock bags are really a good idea given that they readily allow police to obtain search warrants against unsuspecting businesses; and whether we insist that store owners like these organize to defend their interests in the political process because the legal process will afford them no protection. Read it here.

And one other question: If we told these immigrant store owners that the American legal system works, would they believe us?

P.S. Internal police department discipline? The local Fraternal Order of Police union, according to its president, has been “standing behind the officers from the minute it happened.” Some don’t expect much:

“This is no big deal,” [the president of the police union lodge] said. “They’ll be handed some discipline and we’ll probably win in arbitration. . . . I don’t see anyone losing their jobs.”

On the other hand

May 6 roundup

  • Eeeeuw! Missouri woman’s suit says she was groped by Chuck E. Cheese mascot [Heller/OnPoint News] Parade of other bad things that can happen at theme enterprises and amusement parks [Lemondrop.com]
  • “The Doctor Will Sue You Now”: why chapter about scientist-turned-vitamin salesman and his relations with African-leader “AIDS dissidents” is missing from book by British writer Ben Goldacre [BoingBoing]
  • Just trying to make an honest living? “A former federal prosecutor who became one of New Jersey’s brashest and best-known criminal defense lawyers pleaded guilty today to helping run an exclusive Manhattan call-girl ring.” [Newark Star-Ledger via ABA Journal]
  • “Perez Hilton Sends DMCA Takedown Over Anti-Gay-Marriage Ad” [Citizen Media Law]
  • How not to get excused from jury service [Lowering the Bar; Montana, via Smoking Gun, etc.]
  • Multiplied vexation: “Stopping a serial suer” [SE Texas Record]
  • If exhortation does any good: “Judge Exhorts Class Action Lawyers to Forestall Feeding Frenzy Over Fees” [Henry Gottlieb, NJLJ]
  • More on bodega raids by rogue Philadelphia narcotics unit [Radley Balko, earlier here and here]

Police and prosecution roundup

  • Enviro activists unlawfully block coal ship, Massachusetts prosecutor expresses approval by dropping charges [James Taranto, Jacob Gershman/WSJ Law Blog, ABA Journal]
  • Unfortunately-named Mr. Threatt charged with “robbery that happened while he was in jail” [Baltimore Sun via @amyalkon]
  • “How conservative, tough-on-crime Utah reined in police militarization” [Evan McMorris-Santoro, BuzzFeed] More: What if we needed it someday? San Diego Unified School District defends acquisition of armored vehicle [inewsource.org] And Senate hearing [AP]
  • “Machine-based traffic-ticketing systems are running amok” [David Kravets, ArsTechnica]
  • Thanks, Fraternal Order of Police, for protecting jobs of rogue Philadelphia cops who could cost taxpayers millions [Ed Krayewski; related earlier]
  • Study: returning from 6- to 12-person juries could iron out many racial anomalies at trial [Anwar et al, Tabarrok]
  • Courts can help curb overcriminalization by revitalizing rule of lenity, mens rea requirement [Steven Smith]

April 2002 archives


April 10 — Soap star: ABC wrote my character out of the show. “A former star of ABC’s daytime drama ‘All My Children’ has filed a lawsuit for nearly $32 million, claiming that the network lied to him and damaged him professionally and financially.

“Michael Nader, who played the dark, dashing and rich Hungarian Count Dimitri Marick on ‘All My Children’ for nearly 10 years, says in court papers that he ‘became ill’ in February 2001 and went on medical leave.

“Nader, 57, was in fact in drug treatment after a narcotics arrest in Manhattan’s East Village. The district attorney’s office said he pleaded guilty and was sentenced May 22, 2001, to three years of probation.

“Nader’s Dimitri character …was written out of the show in 1999. The character was resurrected in 2000 but was written out again in 2001 after Nader’s arrest and rehab. … Nader says [in court papers] he told ABC in March 2001 that he was ready to work but officials there told him to continue on medical leave. … [Later they] refused to release him from his [$1.7 million five-year] contract [signed in April 2000] so he could work elsewhere.” (“Former ‘All My Children’ Star Files Suit”, AP/Newsday, Apr. 3). (DURABLE LINK)

April 10 — “Peter’s Pence”. Baltimore plaintiff’s lawyer and political czar Peter Angelos, who had been demanding $1 billion in fees for representing the state of Maryland in its tobacco suit, has ended the dispute by agreeing to take a mere $150 million instead. The people over at the National Association of Manufacturers’ Human Resources Policy Department feel awfully sorry for the Orioles owner for having to settle for such a measly amount and have launched a “Peter’s Pence” campaign by which readers can collect the spare change off their dresser tops and send it to him to help make up some of the extra $850 million (“Workplace Watch”, NAM, April; Daniel LeDuc, “Md., Angelos Reach Tobacco Fee Deal”, Washington Post, Mar. 22). (DURABLE LINK)

April 10 — “Can Pain Treatment Survive Our Addiction to Law?”. After suffering the effects of a partially collapsed lung, writer Jonathan Rauch learns firsthand how much pain sufferers have to lose if our runaway litigation system takes away their access to the revolutionary pain relief medication OxyContin (National Journal/Reason Online, Apr. 6). See also Damien Cave, “No relief”, Salon, Apr. 4; Duane Freese, “In Rx, Who’s To Blame For Abuse?”, TechCentralStation.com, Feb. 14; and earlier reports on this site: Jan. 23-24, 2002, Aug. 7-8 and July 25, 2001. Updates: see May 30, Aug. 27. (DURABLE LINK)

April 8-9 — An eggshell psyche at U.Va. Law. Worst harassment suit of the year? At the University of Virginia, first-year law student Marta Sanchez on Feb. 26 filed “a claim of assault and battery in Albemarle Circuit Court, seeking $25,000 in compensatory damages and $10,000 in punitive damages” against Prof. Kenneth Abraham, a nationally prominent scholar in tort law. To quote Wendy McElroy’s summary of the case: “During an introductory program last August, Abraham demonstrated a legal principle known as the ‘egg-shell skull rule’ from Vosburg v. Putney, a case commonly taught in torts classes [in which one child’s minor battery on another unexpectedly causes major harm to the victim]. Abraham announced his intention to show the class of about twenty students how a slight contact could be actionable. Then Abraham briefly touched Sanchez on her fully clothed shoulder. …Former students confirm that the shoulder tapping is a standard part of Abraham’s lesson on Vosburg. Sanchez says the tap flooded her with memories of being terrorized, raped and molested when she was 11 years old and living in her native land of Panama.” “What some would characterize as mere touching to this victim was an extreme event,” said Sanchez’s lawyer, Steven Rosenfield. “What makes it different is that she was the victim at the hands of men in the past.” (DURABLE LINK)

SOURCES: Nick Denton, “University student sues law professor”, Cavalier Daily, Mar. 27; AP/Richmond Times-Dispatch, Mar. 26; Wendy McElroy, FoxNews.com, Apr. 2; Justin Park, “Student sues professor”, Virginia Law Weekly, Mar. 22 (PDF); blogs InstaPundit, Mar. 25 and Mar. 26 and DaveTepper.net, Mar. 25.

April 8-9 — Zero tolerance leaves ’em gasping. School districts across the country are decreeing that “students with asthma must keep their emergency inhalers in the school office, rather than on hand.” Better time your attacks for after school, guys (Catherine Seipp, Reason, Apr.). (DURABLE LINK)

April 8-9 — “Former clients sue attorney O’Quinn”. “Twenty former clients of lawyer John O’Quinn are suing him for alleged mishandling of the Kennedy Heights and Chevron contamination settlement, in which they received $12 million instead of the $500 million that he asserted their claims were worth.” Billed at the time as a major “environmental racism” case, the Kennedy Heights litigation asserted that toxic residues had caused cancers and other ailments among the largely African-American residents of the Houston neighborhood, a charge disputed by defendant Chevron. But were the clients really unaware that it’s standard practice for lawyers in this country to talk up a far higher valuation for injury claims than those claims are actually likely to settle for? The former clients also say O’Quinn used his involvement in the Kennedy Heights case for image-buffing purposes to help beat a 1998 disciplinary rap. “A similar [pending] lawsuit was filed in 1999 by about 80 former plaintiffs who were Kennedy Heights residents claiming O’Quinn allegedly shortchanged them on a settlement.” (Jo Ann Zuniga, Houston Chronicle, Apr. 3). In 1999, when former breast implant clients filed a complaint against O’Quinn, the combative litigator struck back with a libel suit against the women’s lawyer which resulted in a quick gag order shutting down the story (see Aug. 4, 1999). (DURABLE LINK)

April 8-9 — Traffic-cams: Volokh v. Labash. UCLA law prof Eugene Volokh, in a contrarian vein, ventures to defend the red-light cameras that some cities use to generate speeding tickets, arguing that if they are operated in a non-abusive way they hold out promise of being more objective than traffic cops (“The Cameras Are Watching — And It’s a Good Thing”, Wall Street Journal, Mar. 26, reprinted at author’s site). However, Matt Labash’s new investigation for the Weekly Standard shows that the use of cameras in practice has been anything but free from error and abuse (example: cities’ propensity to shorten the duration of yellow lights to bolster revenues). There will be little reason to trust the system’s integrity so long as cities go on letting a contractor run the program in exchange for a share of ticket revenues: as we’re always emphasizing on this site, contingency fees and trustworthy law enforcement just don’t mix (see Sept. 6, 2001) (Matt Labash, “Inside’s the District’s Red Lights”, Weekly Standard, Apr. 1; “The Yellow Menace”, Apr. 2; “The Safety Myth”, Apr. 3; “Getting Rear-Ended by the Law”, Apr. 4; “Fighting the Good Fight”, Apr. 5). (Update/correction: the original post named Lockheed Martin as the contractor in charge of the program, but a reader advises us (see letter, Apr. 19) that Lockheed sold its photo traffic-enforcement division to Affiliated Computer Services Inc. of Dallas, Texas on August 24, 2001; we have corrected the text accordingly). (DURABLE LINK)

April 5-7 — Right to yell “fire”. In Denver, Claudia Huntey is suing her landlord, which she says violated disability-rights law when it evicted her. “She was cruelly thrown out of her apartment solely because she makes involuntary vocalizations due to her Tourette’s syndrome,” said her attorney, John Holland, who said the apartment managers should have made greater efforts to accommodate Huntey’s condition after repeated complaints from other residents of the complex. “What happened to Claudia Huntey is a societal wake-up call reminding us that this continuing struggle is far from over,” said Holland. For neighbors, the wake-up calls were of a different nature: Huntey suffers from more than usually intense symptoms of Tourette’s, as a result of which “[t]he intensity of the constant, involuntary sounds cause her ribs and chest muscles to ache, and she is chronically hoarse from yelling. … For reasons she does not understand, Huntey most often says or yells, ‘Fire!'”. (Sue Lindsay, “Tourette’s sufferer sues, charging unfair eviction”, Rocky Mountain News, Apr. 4). (DURABLE LINK)

April 5-7 — From the grave, instructions to sue. Brooksville, Fla.: “A woman who hanged herself in jail while waiting to face charges in her husband’s death asked in a suicide note that her lawyer sue the jail for allowing her to die. … [Laren] Sims, 36, was awaiting extradition to California to face charges of killing her attorney husband, Larry McNabney, and burying him in a vineyard. ‘My impression is she’s got a scam going even in death,’ said San Joaquin County prosecutor Lester Fleming, who was trying to extradite Sims to California. ‘It’s just an amazingly cold-blooded note.'” (“California woman accused in husband’s murder urged suit based on suicide”, AP/Boston Globe, Apr. 4). (DURABLE LINK)

April 5-7 — Avoid having a medical emergency in Mississippi. The malpractice-suit crisis in the Magnolia State just keeps getting worse: “The Mississippi Trauma Advisory Committee has suspended re-inspection of its hospitals for a year to give health officials time to address the growing problem of surgeons leaving the system.” The state legislature, in which trial lawyer-legislators occupy strategic positions (see June 15, 2001), adjourned without heeding the doctors’ plea for legal relief. (“Mississippi in trauma crisis as surgeons leave”, AP/Memphis Commercial Appeal, Mar. 19)(& see Jun. 3-4, 2002). (DURABLE LINK)

April 5-7 — Advice the whole country could use. P. J. O’Rourke, reviewing two etiquette books: “[M]uch of their advice [the “Etiquette Grrls”] is needed by the entire nation: ”It is much, much more polite simply to tell someone ‘See you in hell’ than ‘See you in court.”’ (New York Times Book Review, Mar. 24). Also: Michael Kinsley on suing as “our national sport” (scroll to near end) (“Social Hypochondria”, Washington Post, Mar. 1). And: author Philip Howard (The Death of Common Sense) is launching a new organization called the Coalition for the Common Good that will gather participants from across the political spectrum in an effort to curb legal excess (Michael Barone, “The Common Good”, U.S. News, Mar. 25; Stuart Taylor, Jr., “How More Rights Have Made Us Less Free”, National Journal/The Atlantic, Feb. 12). (DURABLE LINK)

April 3-4 — High court nixes back pay for illegal aliens. Last week, in Hoffman Plastic Compounds v. NLRB, the Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote ruled that illegal aliens can’t collect damages for being fired from jobs it was never lawful for them to hold (Gina Holland, “Supreme Court Restricts Illegal Workers’ Rights in Employment Cases”, AP/Law.com, Mar. 28; see Oct. 28, 1999). Our editor has a new piece out in National Review Online today (Wed.) expressing relief that for the moment at least the country will be free of this absurdity. (Walter Olson, “A Wink Too Far”, Apr. 3). For a contrasting view, here are the editorialists at the San Francisco Chronicle (“Green light for abuse”, Apr. 2).


April 3-4 — “Addictive” computer game blamed for suicide. 21-year-old Shawn Woolley of Hudson, Wisc. played the popular online game EverQuest a whole lot. Then he committed suicide. Now his mother Elizabeth says she plans to sue Sony Online Entertainment, saying the game should have come with a warning label concerning its “addictive” nature, and she’s lined up attorney Jack Thompson, veteran of earlier litigation attacks on videogame companies (see, for example, July 22, 1999). A psychiatrist had diagnosed Shawn with depression and schizoid personality disorder which “fed right into the EverQuest playing,” claims Mrs. Woolley. “It was the perfect escape.” A specialist in “computer addiction” appears on cue in the article, as if summoned by the lawyer, to say that “The manufacturer of EverQuest purposely made it in such a way that it is more intriguing to the addict” and that it “could be created in a less addictive way, but (that) would be the difference between powdered cocaine and crack cocaine.” Moreover, “[h]aving low self-esteem or poor body image are also important factors, he said.” (Stanley A. Miller II, “Death of a game addict”, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Mar. 30) (and see letter to the editor from attorney Jack Thompson, Apr. 11). (DURABLE LINK)

April 3-4 — Microsoft case and AG contributions. Columnist Robert Novak rather rudely totes up the very considerable contributions that Microsoft’s rivals have been making to the campaigns of state attorneys general like Bill Lockyer in California and Carla Stovall in Kansas, both of whom are running for governor (Robert Novak, “Money driving Microsoft case?”, Chicago Sun-Times, Apr. 1) (& see Apr. 15). Blogger Ed Driscoll reminds us that AGs also have another constituency that wants them to keep the pressure on Redmond, namely trial lawyers who stand to gain a fortune from the private suits against the company (Mar. 31; see Jeff Taylor, “Symposium: Microsoft Endgame?”, National Review Online, Nov. 5, 2001).

April 3-4 — Ninth Circuit orders Agent Orange payments. The federal appeals court that does so much to provide this site with material has ordered that Vietnam veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange and later contracted prostate cancer and diabetes be given disability payments, “setting a precedent that could cover many illnesses linked to the defoliant.” (“Some Agent Orange Veterans Win Payments”, Reuters/New York Times, Apr. 2). The problem remains that health authorities are by no means agreed that the compound had anything to do with those ailments or most of the others complained of. (Howard Feinberg, “Vetting Agent Orange”, TechCentralStation.com, Mar. 11; Reason links, Feb. 28) (see Jan. 7-8).

April 1-2 — Intel Corp. versus yoga foundation. For more than a year lawyers for giant chipmaker Intel Corp. have been menacing the Yoga Inside Foundation of Venice, Calif., claiming that the nonprofit group’s name infringes on its own “Intel Inside” trademark. “Yoga Inside has nothing to do with computers. It provides free yoga classes in schools, treatment facilities, shelters, prisons and underprivileged communities.” Founder Mark Stephens says the similarity of the slogans “never even crossed my mind” until the company complained. Because of the large sums it has spent to promote its trademark, “Intel argues, the linguistic construction ‘(Blank) Inside,’ whether concerning state-of-the-art technology or a centuries-old spiritual practice, should uniquely belong to the chipmaker.” As for the bad karma to be had in picking on a little group like this, “We’re certainly sensitive about that,” said Intel spokesman Chuck Mulloy. “But our hands are tied because of the way the law is structured”. (David Lazarus, “Intel forces yoga group to fight for its name”, San Francisco Chronicle, Mar. 29; Slashdot thread) (DURABLE LINK)

April 1-2 — No more ANZAC Day marches? Australia has rapidly Americanized its liability system and is now paying the price in the form of a drying up of insurance for local events such as ANZAC Day, which honors veterans. “Federal Assistant Treasurer Helen Coonan called [a Mar. 27] forum to share ideas after a series of community events had to be cancelled because of the insurance crisis. … Earlier, Senator Coonan said it was common sense to restrict the ability of those injured while drunk, drug-affected or committing a crime to sue for compensation.” (“States thrash out insurance crisis”, AAP/News.com, Mar. 27; “Quick insurance savings ruled out”, AAP, Mar. 27). With medical claims spiraling, New South Wales health minister Craig Knowles has warned that the nation’s “main medical malpractice insurer could collapse within weeks”, which could leave 60 percent of Australia’s doctors “uninsured for private practice work, and throw the health system into chaos”. (Mark Robinson, “Doctors’ insurer on brink of collapse”, Sydney Morning Herald, Mar. 22). (DURABLE LINK)

April 1-2 — Roger Parloff on 9/11 fund. “If the victims may have no viable claim in the tort system after all, because no one was really at fault for their deaths other than the terrorists, then why must a compassion-driven, taxpayer-financed fund pay what the tort system might theoretically have extracted from a totally hypothetical, deep-pocketed, unambiguously guilty defendant? … [Critiques of the Feinberg proposals as insufficiently generous] demonstrate the otherworldly sense of entitlement that the tort system now fosters.

“In setting up an alternative to the tort system, Congress made an admission that cannot be retracted. … What they said, in essence, was this: In all probability, skilled plaintiffs’ lawyers representing sympathetic victims would convince juries that the airlines were responsible for what happened. That’s because plaintiffs’ lawyers have become expert at redirecting blame from judgment-proof targets toward minimally blameworthy, solvent targets. We all know that such ‘fault’ is, to some degree, a fiction. It’s just a compassionate way to ensure that grievously injured, inadequately insured people get taken care of. The trouble is, when catastrophes get big enough, not even corporate entities are sufficiently deep-pocketed to pay without other innocent human beings suffering as a result. In blaming and bankrupting the airlines — or the private security firms, or the airports, or the municipalities that operate them, or Boeing Corporation, or any of the other usual suspects — we will obviously be scapegoating minimally blameworthy corporations for the nation’s universal unpreparedness. In so doing, we will be creating new waves of innocent victims: airline employee-shareholders who, like Enron’s, see their retirement funds vaporize; public and private employees who are thrown out of work; local residents whose public services deteriorate and whose taxes rise when their local municipal authorities in New York, New Jersey, or Boston go broke.” So now how about applying those lessons in other areas of mass tort litigation? (Roger Parloff, “Tortageddon”, The American Lawyer, Mar. 18). (DURABLE LINK)

April 1-2 — Gary & Co. shenanigans at Maris trial. Last August, after a three-month trial, a Gainesville, Fla. state court jury awarded the family of late baseball star Roger Maris $50 million against Anheuser-Busch Inc. in a dispute over the termination of a beer distributorship. The family had earlier lost an antitrust case against the beer company in federal court. They were represented at the August trial by noted Stuart, Fla. attorney Willie Gary (slavery reparations 1, 2, 3, Loewen, Disney, Coke, Gannett, Microsoft, etc.) who joined the family’s legal team two months before trial on a contingency fee basis.

Court records depict the trial, presided over by senior judge R.A. Green Jr., as a veritable carnival of lawyer misconduct. “At the beginning of this trial,” wrote Judge Green, “it became apparent to the court that counsel, primarily plaintiff’s counsel, would ‘press the limits’ of proper conduct and compliance with directives of the court.” Judge Green found two attorneys on Gary’s team, including his co-counsel and partner Madison McClellan, to be in contempt, whicle Gary himself “was ejected from the courtroom at one point and silenced by the judge on another occasion for uttering a profanity”. Moreover, “the Maris legal team sent a private investigator to conduct surveillance on the defense lawyers’ offices”, to which the defense lawyers responded with counter-surveillance. Judge Green then took the highly unusual step of appointing special master Stephen N. Bernstein to conduct a confidential investigation of lawyer misconduct at the trial. In a 35-page report, the special master concluded that the behavior of Gary and the other lawyers was “an insult to the integrity of the legal system,” and “resulted in an atmosphere that elevated tactics in pursuit of opposing counsel over the duty to pursue truth.” (Larry Keller, “Maris Trial Had Its Share of Misbehaving Lawyers”, Miami Daily Business Review, Jan. 28). Updates Jan. 5 and Jan. 7, 2004: (ethics charges against Gary thrown out by judge); Sept. 5, 2005 (case and related litigation settle for sum in excess of $120 million). (DURABLE LINK)

April 1-2 — New traffic records on Overlawyered.com. Our best month ever for number of pages served (March), best week ever (last week) and best day ever (last Wednesday). Thanks for your support!


April 19-21 — Pitcher hit by line drive sues maker of baseball bat. Hurling for the Pittsfield (Ill.) High School baseball team, Daniel Hannant put one over the plate to a batter from opponent Calhoun High School, who smacked the ball in a line drive straight at the pitcher’s mound where it hit Hannant on the head. Now Hannant is suing … guess who? The maker of the baseball bat, Hillerich & Bradsby, known for its trademark Louisville Slugger. (“Lawsuit comes out swinging”, Chicago Tribune, Apr. 18) (& see letter to the editor, Jun. 14; update, Dec. 30). (DURABLE LINK)

April 19-21 — No apologies from RFK Jr. As the uproar continues in Iowa over Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s assertion that large hog-raising operations are more of a threat to American democracy than Osama bin Laden, Kennedy’s office has sent word to the Des Moines Register not to expect an apology or retraction. (Mark Siebert, “Kennedy stands by hog-lot remark”, Apr. 18; J. R. Taylor, “To the Preening Born”, New York Press “Billboard”, Apr. 18; earlier reports on this site Apr. 15, Apr. 17). Far from being an unconsidered slip of the tongue, the comparison seems to have been a feature of Kennedy’s speeches for months, to judge from a report published back in January on another of his Midwestern swings: “This threat is greater than that in Afghanistan,” he was quoted as saying. “This is not only a threat to the environment, it is a threat to the American economy and democracy.” (Gretchen Schlosser, National Hog Farmer, Jan. 15, linked in WSJ OpinionJournal.com “Best of the Web” Jan. 21). And a staff attorney from Kennedy’s office has sent us a letter responding to our editor’s Wednesday New York Post op-ed on the affair, to which we append a fairly lengthy response — see our letters page.

MORE: The food-industry-defense group Center for Consumer Freedom has been on the warpath against Kennedy and his band of lawyers for a while. It quotes Iowa Agriculture Secretary Patty Judge as saying: “The true agenda of this group is to sue farms and take the monetary rewards back to the East Coast.” (“Trashing Pork, Cashing In”, Apr. 11). Kennedy has estimated “damages” against the industry of $13 billion: “We have lawyers with the deepest pockets, and they’ve agreed to fight the industry to the end,” he has said. “We’re going to go after all of them.” (“Kennedy’s Pork Police Hit Iowa”, Apr. 2; “Waterkeepers, Farmers Weepers”, Dec. 12, 2001) “‘We’re starting with hogs. After the hogs, then we are going after the other ones,’ referring to the poultry and beef industries.” (“Warning”, Jan. 16, 2001, citing “Concerns that pork suit may be extended to other areas,” Des Moines Register, Jan. 8, 2001). (DURABLE LINK)

April 19-21 — Traffic-cams, cont’d. In the controversy (see Apr. 8-9) over the uses and abuses of automated traffic camera systems, a reader writes in (see letters page) to say we were wrong to describe Lockheed Martin as the current contractor on the systems; it actually sold the operation last August to another company. Our apologies. And Eugene Volokh reports on his blog (Apr. 17) that he found some inaccuracies in Matt Labash’s Weekly Standard investigative series on the cameras which Labash and the Standard have been happy to correct. See also “Hawaii scraps ‘Talivan’ traffic cameras”, AP/ABC News, Apr. 11. (DURABLE LINK)

April 19-21 — Clipboard-throwing manager = $30 million clipping for grocery chain. The Ralphs supermarket chain in California had a store manager who over the course of a decade “physically and verbally abused six female Ralphs employees by calling them vulgar names, manhandling them, and throwing items like telephones, clipboards and, in one instance, a 30- to 40-pound mailbag, at them.” So a San Diego jury awarded them $5 million each in damages. (Alexei Oreskovic, “$30M Awarded in Sex Harassment Suit Against Grocery Chain”, The Recorder, Apr. 9)(& update Jul. 26-28: judge cuts total award to $8 million). (DURABLE LINK)

April 19-21 — See you … at the Big Apple Blog Bash Friday night. (DURABLE LINK)

April 18 — “Tampa Taliban” mom blames acne drug. By reader acclaim: “The family of 15-year-old Charles Bishop has filed a $70-million lawsuit against the maker of acne medication Accutane, saying nothing else explains the teenager’s suicidal flight into a downtown Tampa high-rise.” Bishop, whose father bore an Arab surname, left a suicide note praising Osama bin Laden; the county medical examiner’s office found no trace of Accutane in his bloodstream, although it says that does not rule out the possibility that he might have been on the medication, for which he had been written a prescription. Although the maker of the widely used acne drug denies that it causes psychosis or suicidal impulses, its cautious consent form “required the Bishops to agree to tell their physician ‘if anyone in the family has ever had symptoms of depression, been psychotic, attempted suicide, or had any other serious mental problems.’ Julia Bishop, however, did not reveal that in 1984, she and Charles’ estranged father failed in a bloody suicide pact during which she stabbed him with a 12-inch butcher knife.” Mrs. Bishop’s lawyer, Michael Ryan of Fort Lauderdale, calls that earlier suicide pact incident “completely irrelevant”. (Robert Farley, “Suit: Drug behind suicide flight”, St. Petersburg Times, Apr. 17; Natashia Gregoire, “Teen Pilot’s Family Sues Drug Maker”, Tampa Tribune, Apr. 17; “Accutane acne drug maker sued over suicide”, USA Today/Reuters, Apr. 16; Broward Liston and Tim Padgett, “Despair Beneath His Wings”, Time, Jan. 13; Howard Feinberg, “Is Accutane to Blame?”, TechCentralStation.com, Apr. 18; see Feb. 1). Updates: manufacturer wins first jury trial (Margaret Cronin Fisk, “Suits Probe Acne Drug, Depression”, National Law Journal, Apr. 25; Michael Fumento, “The Accutane Blame Game”, National Review Online, May 9). (DURABLE LINK)

April 18 — Judge compares class action lawyers to “squeegee boys”. A Florida judge has rejected the tentative settlement of a shareholder lawsuit filed by Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach against power company Florida Progress Corp. over a 1999 merger, saying the evidence indicated that the suit did not leave class members in a better position than if it had never been filed. Added Pinellas County Judge W. Douglas Baird: “This action appears to be the class litigation equivalent of the ‘squeegee boys’ who used to frequent major urban intersections and who would run up to a stopped car, splash soapy water on its perfectly clean windshield and expect payment for the uninvited service of wiping it off.” (Jason Hoppin, The Recorder, Apr. 17). (DURABLE LINK)

April 18 — Welcome Humorix.org readers. The Linux-humor site started linking to us way back in 1999, if we remember correctly. Also sending us visitors lately: Auckland (N.Z.) District Law Society, Mar. 14 (“For a change of pace, spend some time with this digest of news stories … Most cases reported on are from the U.S., but there are quite a few examples from Europe, Australia, and elsewhere”); WTIC-AM Hartford, “Morning Links”, Apr. 7; American Civil Rights Union “ACLU Watch”, Nintendominion “Site Unseen”, Mar. 31; Dog Brothers Martial Arts (Hermosa Beach, Calif.), Mutual Reinsurance Bureau, Anne Klockenkemper (Univ. of Florida) Media Law Resources, Smith Freed & Eberhard P.C. (attorneys at law, Portland, Ore.), Univ. of Nevada-Reno Tau Kappa Epsilon, RKKA.org (Russian Red Army-themed wargaming); Fureyous.com, Mar. (“My dream site, a site where I can find the entire downfall of civilization due to frivolous and pathetic lawsuits and legal actions”), and many more. (DURABLE LINK)

April 17 — New York Post op-ed on RFK Jr. & hogs. Our editor has a piece today on the op-ed page of the New York Post about the furor that broke out in Iowa when celebrity environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. told a rally that large-scale hog farms are more of a threat to America than Osama bin Laden and his terrorists. For links to the local Iowa coverage, see our item here from Monday, of which the Post op-ed is an expansion. (Walter Olson, “Osama, the Pigs and the Kennedy”, New York Post, Apr. 17).

April 16-17 — Pharmaceutical roundup. The total cost of the settlement over the diet compound fen-phen has ballooned to more than $13 billion, swollen by mass recruitment by law firms of claimants who defendants believe have suffered no ill effects from the compound at all aside from possible worry. “Wyeth’s general counsel, Louis L. Hoynes Jr., said he believes that in a different legal climate his company might have been able to settle all serious claims for less than $1 billion. That would amount to an average of $1 million each for 1,000 cases.” (L. Stuart Ditzen, “Mass diet-pill litigation inflates settlement costs to $13.2 billion”, Philadelphia Inquirer, Apr. 9 — whole article well worth reading). Lawyers for a group of British women have filed what is believed to be the first injury suit over the “third-generation” birth control pill, which they say raises the risk of blood clots, and similar suits are expected to follow in the United States (Mary Vallis, “U.K. suit targets perils of The Pill”, National Post, Mar. 5). In one of the more recent applications of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Daubert doctrine, courts have dismissed several lawsuits seeking to blame Pfizer’s anti-impotency drug Viagra for users’ heart attacks, ruling that the expert testimony in the cases was not based on scientific principles that had gained “general acceptance.” (Tom Perrotta, “Viagra Cases Dismissed”, New York Law Journal, Jan. 22). The Nov. 9, 2001 installment of CBS’s “48 Hours” launched a one-sided attack on psychiatric drugs used to treat attention deficit and hyperactivity and told the stories of two parents who say their use of the ADHD drug Adderall caused them to behave irrationally, resulting in the death of their children; but Hudson Institute fellow Michael Fumento finds that much was misstated or left out in the network’s account, including the exact role of the trial lawyers hovering in the background (Michael Fumento, “Prescription for Bias“, “Dawn Marie Branson: A Sad Story Only Half Told“) And although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not chosen to give a green light for the reintroduction of silicone breast implants for American women following the litigation-fueled panic that drove them from the market, they have regained popularity among women in Canada, reports the CBC (“Silicone implants back in style”, Sept. 20, 2001). (DURABLE LINK)

April 16-17 — A DMCA run-in. Tom Veal’s Stromata site, which covers topics ranging from pension regulation to science fiction, had a run-in a few days ago with its hosting service, Tripod, which abruptly closed down access to the site and then took its sweet time about reopening it. The reason? Tripod had received a nastygram from a law firm charging that Stromata was in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, not because it had posted any copyrighted material itself, but because it had linked to another site which had (it said) posted an unauthorized translation of a widely discussed piece on terrorism by Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci. Unfortunately, as Veal notes, the incentives under DMCA are for hosts to muzzle speech in haste and un-muzzle at leisure. (“Et Cetera”, Apr. 9). (DURABLE LINK)

April 16-17 — Unlikely critic of litigation. The Washington group Judicial Watch files lawsuits at a manic clip, but now its founder Larry Klayman is taking to the mails to decry our national problem of excessive litigiousness. “One may liken the overall effect of Klayman’s direct-mail sermon against frivolous lawsuits to that of a Weight Watchers commercial starring Marlon Brando or a temperance lecture given by Hunter S. Thompson.” (Tim Noah, “Larry Klayman Decries Evils of Litigation!”, Slate, Apr. 3). (DURABLE LINK)

April 15 — RFK Jr. blasted for hog farm remarks. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the highest-profile spokesman for the developing alliance between trial lawyers and some environmentalist groups (see Dec. 7, 2000), “made an ass of himself” in remarks last weekend at a Clear Lake, Ia. rally, according to veteran Des Moines Register political columnist David Yepsen. Kennedy’s “statement that large-scale hog producers were a bigger threat to America than Osama bin Laden’s terrorists has to be one of the crudest things ever said in Iowa politics. … [Kennedy] brought his Waterkeeper’s Alliance for a rally [in Clear Lake]. It’s a group that is threatening lawsuits against livestock industries. … Rural America needs positive solutions to this problem, not the corrosive rhetoric of another out-of-state political operative or lawsuits from greedy trial lawyers. … What was one of the finest hours of this legislative session was marred by this fool from the East. … Kennedy looks to be cashing in on his family’s name. … If his name were Bob Fitzgerald, he’d be dismissed as another one of the kooks on the fringe of this debate.” Other reaction was not much more favorable: “‘You have to be a complete wandering idiot to make that statement,’ said [Luke] Kollasch [of Algona, Ia.], whose family owns several hog farms and feed and construction companies in northwest Iowa.” (Donnelle Elder, “Big hog lots called greater threat than bin Laden”, Des Moines Register, Apr. 10; “Kennedy’s outrageous rhetoric” (editorial), Apr. 11; David Yepsen, “Kennedy cashes in on family name while acting like a fool”, Apr. 14) (DURABLE LINK)

April 15 — Updates. Stories that seem to have a life of their own:

* Richard Espinosa, “who is suing the city of Escondido because his dog was attacked by a cat inside a city library, now says the attack was a hate crime.” (see Dec. 4, 2001) (“Cat attack now described as hate crime”, MSNBC, Apr. 5)

* “The Florida Legislature has partially undone a landmark Florida Supreme Court ruling issued in November that gave slip-and-fall injury victims the upper hand in lawsuits against supermarkets and other premises owners.” (see Jan. 7). The ruling had required businesses to prove they were not negligent when presented with slip-fall claims. However, trial lawyers extracted a compromise in which plaintiffs will not have to prove that a slippery material was on the floor for long enough for the store owner to have known about it. (Susan R. Miller, “Florida Legislature Passes Bill on Slip-and-Fall Cases”, Miami Daily Business Review, Mar. 27).

* “A Hays County judge has thrown out a default judgment that would have awarded $5 million to a local woman whose near-topless image was used in a national television ad for a ‘Wild Party Girls’ video without her permission. … Judge Charles Ramsay set aside the default judgment, ruling that the plaintiff had listed the wrong company in the lawsuit, and that the video’s makers were not either properly named or properly served.” (see Mar. 6-7) (Carol Coughlin, “Topless suit is groundless, judge rules”, San Marcos (Tex.) Daily Record, Mar. 30).

* More on the symbiotic relationship between state attorneys general and Microsoft competitors (see Apr. 3-4): “An April 2000 e-mail message from the Utah attorney general’s office to Novell, revealed in court, asked for ‘guidance … preferably without involving too many people seeing this language.'” (Declan McCullagh, “Report: MS Foes Bribed Attorneys”, Wired News, Apr. 6). (DURABLE LINK)

April 12-14 — Hey, no fair talking about the pot. During a 20-hour trip from California to Texas pulling a U-Haul trailer, three young women work their way through a bag of marijuana. Of course the ensuing rollover accident is, like, practically totally the fault of their Firestone tires and the U-Haul company, or at least so their lawyers argue in a suit against those companies, even though the tires did not suffer the “tread separation” that has heretofore been seen as the distinctive source of accident risk with the now-recalled Firestones. Now Matagorda County, Tex. Judge Craig Estlinbaum has declared a mistrial at the request of plaintiff’s lawyer Mikal Watts who complained that defense attorney Morgan Copeland “had breached a pretrial order by introducing detailed evidence of marijuana use” during the trip. If we read the AP story correctly, Judge Estlinbaum had ruled that the defense could mention only that portion of the marijuana it could prove the driver consumed, and attorney Copeland, who may now face sanctions in the famously pro-plaintiff county, had improperly let jurors know about the whole bag. The Ford Motor Co. was also named as a defendant but has already settled out of the case (“Texas judge declares mistrial in Firestone case”, Yahoo/ Reuters, Apr. 5; Pam Easton, “Judge declares Firestone mistrial”, AP/ MySanAntonio.com, Apr. 6). Update — additional coverage of ruling: Miriam Rozen, “Mistrial declared in Firestone case”, Texas Lawyer, Apr. 15).

April 12-14 — In the line of fire. Post-Enron, many companies feel the need to seek out savvier and more experienced executives to sit on boards and audit committees, but with escalating fears of personal liability “attracting talent may become nearly impossible. ‘Recruiting directors for the audit committee is like calling them on deck for a kamikaze attack,’ quips [corporate finance officer Bob] Williamson.” (Marie Leone, “Audit Committee? Thanks, But No Thanks”, CFO Magazine, Apr. 5).

April 12-14 — L.A. police sued, and sued. The family of the late James Allen Beck, who died in a fiery shootout with L.A. sheriff’s deputies last August after barricading himself in his home, has filed a wrongful death claim against the sheriff’s department. During the standoff Beck, an ex-police officer with a history of stockpiling weapons at his home, shot and killed Deputy Hagop Kuredjian. (“Mother of gunman who died in shootout files claim”, Sacramento Bee, Apr. 10)(& see Feb. 23, 2000). And: “Heirs of the late rap star Notorious B.I.G. have filed a wrongful death and federal civil rights lawsuit against Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard Parks, two former chiefs and the city of Los Angeles, claiming they did not do enough to prevent the rapper’s death five years ago in a drive-by shooting.” (“Notorious B.I.G. heirs sue LAPD, officials, city”, CNN, Apr. 11).

April 11 — Don’t ban therapeutic cloning. Though not usually the petition-signing types, we (our editor) have signed a petition being circulated by Virginia Postrel’s just-launched Franklin Society opposing the current stampede in Congress to ban all scientific use of cloned human cells including “therapeutic” (non-reproductive) uses, and even the use of imported pharmaceuticals developed via such methods (see “Criminalizing Science” (symposium), Reason, Nov.). If you agree with us that this proposed law is a bad idea, you can sign the petition here and view the list of distinguished signers: despite efforts in some conservative quarters to hand down a party line opposing this potentially life-saving branch of biomedical research, support for it in fact cuts across the political spectrum. For information on contacting elected representatives, see InstaPundit, Apr. 10. (DURABLE LINK)

April 11 — Texas doctors’ work stoppage. Monday’s one-day work stoppage by South Texas doctors outraged at spiraling malpractice costs (see Mar. 15-17) drew national attention (“Texas docs protest malpractice claims”, AP/CNN, Apr. 8; see also Dean Reynolds, “Crushing Cost of Insurance”, ABCNews.com, Mar. 5 (Nev., Pa.)). And a Florida physician has launched an insurance policy for doctors “that aims to provide them with the legal resources they would need to countersue lawyers or expert witnesses filing frivolous lawsuits”. (Tanya Albert, “Frivolous suits feel wrath of Medical Justice”, American Medical News, Feb. 11). (DURABLE LINK)

April 11 — Batch of reader letters. Topics include the “pedal-extender” suit against Ford; OxyContin; suing food companies for waistline problems; police getting ticketed while responding to calls; laws mandating handicap accessibility in private homes; and why schools would send kids home when they have a slight sniffle. One writer upbraids blogger Natalie Solent for thinking it crazy to impose strict product liability on British blood suppliers that currently offer their services free of charge to patients; he thinks she (and by extension we) must not have stopped to consider that blood transfusions can transmit lethal diseases like AIDS and hepatitis.

Best of all, we hear from attorney Jack Thompson, the anti-videogame crusader who has just filed a lawsuit claiming that Sony’s EverQuest game is responsible for the suicide of a user, and he turns out to be every bit as suave and ingratiating as we dared hope (“go to Afghanistan where your anarchist, pro-drug views will be greatly rewarded”), though we wonder whether he caught the phrase “as if” in our original Apr. 3 posting. Mr. Thompson will probably not appreciate Eugene Volokh’s new satirical piece for TechCentralStation.com (“Worse than Internet Addiction”, Apr. 10). (DURABLE LINK)


April 29-30 — “Gunning for manufacturers through courts”. “A NYC council member is seeking to limit access to guns in NYC even more by opening the door to lawsuits against gun manufacturers who don’t follow a ‘corporate code of conduct’. David Yassky, a former law professor and aide for Chuck Schumer when he was a congressman, received money from 189 attorneys and others of his ‘social class’ in his successful campaign for Council, and filed an amicus brief in the US vs Emerson case encouraging a finding that in the 2nd Amendment, ‘bear arms’ meant for military use only.” (“Gunning for manufacturers through courts”, “Cut on the Bias” blog (Susanna Cornett), Apr. 22; “Metro Briefing: New York”, New York Times, Apr. 22).

On a happier note, the city of Boston last month dropped its extortionate lawsuit against the gun industry (David Abel, “Gun control forces say suits to go on”, Boston Globe, Mar. 29; “Mayor was right to drop gun case” (editorial), Boston Herald, Mar. 29 (“This case was frankly a publicity stunt — an expensive publicity stunt supposedly in the cause of ‘public health.’ But the roughly $500,000 it cost so far was diverted from other goals.”); “Boston Abandons Lawsuit Against Firearms Manufacturers”, National Shooting Sports Foundation press release, Mar. 28). (DURABLE LINK)

April 29-30 — “Erin Brockovich, the Brand”.She gets confused with Heather Locklear and Suzanne Somers. … Over the course of last year, she became the most popular public-speaking client in the William Morris stable.” For newer readers, here’s our take. (Austin Bunn, New York Times Magazine, Apr. 28). (DURABLE LINK)

April 29-30 — Lawyers for chimps? “More and more legal reformers … are pressing to give chimpanzees legal standing — specifically, the ability to have suits filed in their names and to ask courts to protect their interests. … The advocates of granting legal standing to chimps have gained support from constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe, a Harvard Law School professor.” (David Bank, “A Harvard Professor Lobbies to Save U.S. Chimps From Monkey Business”, Wall Street Journal, Apr. 25 (online subscribers only); “Monkeying Around With the Constitution”, Ribstone Pippin blog, Apr. 25; InstaPundit, Apr. 25) (& see May 14-15). (DURABLE LINK)

April 29-30 — “Targeting “big food'”. The “campaign against Big Food is following the attack on Big Tobacco almost to a ‘T.’ … Any day now, I expect to hear that Big Food has secretly been adding special ingredients with known health risks — like salt — to their products for years to tempt the ignorant.” (Bruce Bartlett, “Targeting ‘big food'”, National Center for Policy Analysis opinion editorial, Apr. 3). It is already being argued that obesity, like smoking, imposes costs through health care provision on the non-obese, allegedly justifying more intensive government regulation of lifestyle choices (Pierre Lemieux, “It’s the Fat Police,” National Post (Canada), Apr. 6). And a 1998 revision by the federal government of its Body Mass Index standards more or less ensures that a large portion of the population will be considered to be suffering from a weight problem; according to the index, NCAA basketball stars Lonny Baxter of Maryland, Oklahoma’s Aaron McGhee, Kansas’s Nick Collision and Indiana’s Tom Coverdale are all considered “overweight” and in need of more exercise. (“Husky hoops stars?”, Center for Consumer Freedom, Mar. 27). (DURABLE LINK)

April 26-28 — “Positive Nicotine Test To Keep Student From Prom”. In Hartford City, Ind., Blackford High School has banned senior Rob Mahon, 18, from the senior prom after he tested positive for nicotine in a random drug test. Mahon, who is the editor of the school newspaper, “did not smoke on school property and is upset that he’s being punished for an activity that is legal for someone his age.” School officials, however, said that Mahon “knew the rules prohibiting drugs, alcohol and nicotine before he agreed to the testing that’s required for those in extracurricular activities.” The Indiana Civil Liberties Union is planning to represent him in a legal challenge. (TheIndyChannel.com, Apr. 25). Update May 10-12: school backs down. (DURABLE LINK)

April 26-28 — “Support case hinges on failed sterilization”. An attorney for plaintiff Heather Seslar is attempting to convince the Indiana Supreme Court that the doctor whose effort to sterilize Seslar fell short, with the result that she became pregnant and gave birth to a healthy baby girl, should pay for the entire cost of raising the child to adulthood. “A lower court already has sided with Seslar. Unless the Supreme Court overturns that decision, Indiana would become the fifth state to grant parents who underwent sterilization the right to sue doctors for the costs of raising an unexpected child. California, New Mexico, Oregon and Wisconsin also recognize the right.” (Vic Ryckaert, Indianapolis Star, Apr. 4). (DURABLE LINK)

April 26-28 — Columbia Law School survey on public attitude toward lawyers. A new nationwide survey commissioned by Columbia Law School asked a thousand respondents nationwide what they thought of the profession. It “contains some disheartening news for lawyers. … A full sixty percent of respondents said lawyers are overpaid, compared with a mere two percent who thought lawyers underpaid.” Thirty-nine percent considered lawyers either especially dishonest or somewhat dishonest, while 31 percent found them especially honest or somewhat honest, which left them faring better than politicians in the honesty ratings but sharply worse than police. Finally, respondents were asked: “Do you believe that lawyers do more harm than good by filing lawsuits that may raise the cost of doing business, or do they perform a beneficial role by holding big companies accountable to the law?” The wording of this question is decidedly peculiar — its first half, for example, states the case critical of trial lawyers about as ineptly as it is possible to do — and yet the side holding that lawyers “perform a beneficial role” prevailed by only a fifty to forty-one percent margin. (Michael C. Dorf, “Can the Legal Profession Improve Its Image?”, FindLaw, Apr. 17). (DURABLE LINK)

April 25 — “Disability rights attorney accused of having inaccessible office”. “The attorney who sued Clint Eastwood over disability accommodations at his hotel near Carmel was himself sued Tuesday on allegations his office bathroom was not wheelchair friendly. The federal suit was brought by George Louie, executive director of Oakland-based Americans with Disabilities Advocates. He alleges the bathroom and other amenities at attorney Paul Rein’s office in Oakland violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.” (AP/Contra Costa Times, Apr. 23)(see Oct. 2, 2000, Sept. 21, 2000 and links from there). Update: the allegations, which Rein vigorously contested, were later dropped without payment, according to court records (Joy Lanzendorfer, “Enforced Compliance”, MetroActive, Dec. 26, 2002). (DURABLE LINK)

April 25 — Mold sweepstakes: You May Already Be a Winner. “Entertainer Ed McMahon is suing his insurance company for more than $20 million, alleging that he was sickened by toxic mold that spread through his Beverly Hills house after contractors cleaning up water damage from a broken pipe botched the job.” (“Ed McMahon sues over mold, says dog died”, Los Angeles Times/ AZCentral.com, Apr. 9). Buyers of homeowners’ insurance may wind up among the losers: “State Farm, the largest insurer in California representing 22 percent of the market, decided last week that it would no longer write new homeowner policies in the state starting May 1. While that’s partly due to past losses, it’s also in large part due to the rising cost of mold-related claims. … In Texas, which has had the most claims increases [over mold] in the nation, rates have already nearly doubled for many homeowners.” (Deborah Lohse, “Mold becomes toxic issue to homeowners, insurers”, San Jose Mercury News, Apr. 23). Mold claims “could be the next asbestos. Yes, there’s a bit of difference: Asbestos fibers are known to cause disease and death. Whether household mold can do so is, to put it charitably, a matter of debate. But that hasn’t slowed the litigation over mold.” (Mary Ellen Egan, “The Fungus that Ate Sacramento,” Forbes, Jan. 21). Update May 21, 2003: McMahon’s claim said to have reaped $7 million settlement.

TEXAS MOLD LINKFEST: “Insurers estimate they paid out $670 million for mold-related property damage in Texas in 2001, more than double the total in 1999.” (Egan, Forbes, link above). See (all links 2001:) Jacob Sullum, “Fungi phobia”, TownHall.com, Aug. 21 (the wonderfully named Dripping Springs case); Bill Summers, “Mold cases could have a rotten effect”, San Antonio Express News, Oct. 18, reprinted at Texans for Lawsuit Reform; Eric Berger, “Mold Fears Overblown, Experts Say”, Houston Chronicle, July 12; CALA Houston links; Shannon Buggs, “Tackling Questions on Mold Coverage”, Houston Chronicle, Nov. 18; W. Gardner Selby, San Antonio Express News, “Coverage cut under review”, Nov. 13. (DURABLE LINK)

April 25 — Durbin’s electability. Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, a key Capitol Hill ally of the trial lawyers (he was the point man in defense of their unconscionable fees in the tobacco affair, for example), ran less well in his recent primary than incumbents usually do. Could he be headed for one-term status, like former Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun? (Steve Neal, “Durbin lacks the profile of a winner”, Chicago Sun-Times, Apr. 24)(see July 7, 2000). (DURABLE LINK)

April 23-24 — Fieger’s ivied walls. Controversial attorney Geoffrey Fieger is in the news again after losing a murder case for a client in Sarasota, Fla.: “Chief Circuit Judge Thomas Gallen said Fieger should be punished for calling two men who served on the jury ‘Nazis’ and ‘creeps.’ Fieger fired back, saying he has a First Amendment right to say bad things about jurors and that he may sue the judge for saying otherwise. Gallen said the Michigan lawyer’s ‘outrageous’ behavior violated a Florida Bar rule that says an attorney ‘shall not make a statement that the lawyer knows to be false or with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of’ court officials and jurors.” Fieger client Ralf Panitz, 42, “was convicted March 26 of killing his ex-wife, Nancy Campbell, on July 24, 2000, the same day he, Campbell and his new wife appeared on an episode of the ‘Jerry Springer Show.'” (Jennifer Sullivan, “Attorney, judge in war of words”, Manatee (Fla.) Herald-Tribune, Apr. 2).

Civility disputes involving Fieger are of course a staple item on this site. Last year, for example (see May 3, 2001), he faced a probe before the state attorney grievance commission following reports that he used his radio show to unleash “an obscenity-laced tirade” against three state appeals judges. For more examples of the Southfield, Mich.-based attorney’s style, see Sept. 14, 1999 and May 31, 2001. So it came as a bit of a shock to learn that the litigator’s name is now going to be adorning a prominent Michigan institution of legal education. According to Michigan State University’s law school, “Fieger has made a gift of $4 million to initiate and sustain the Geoffrey Fieger Trial Practice Institute,” billed as “the first trial practice institute at a law school designed specifically to train law students as successful trial lawyers.”

Rising to the dignity of the occasion in a press release, MSU-DCL dean and professor Terence Blackburn endorsed the school’s new benefactor in language well suited for a client recruitment brochure. “Mr. Fieger is arguably the most preeminent [sic] trial lawyer in the country, and he is an inspiration to our students,” Blackburn said. “It is Mr. Fieger’s dedication to his clients, his thorough preparation for each case and his skill in the courtroom that serve as a model for this institute.” (“Fieger’s $4 Million Gift To Law College at MSU Establishes Nation’s First Trial Practice Institute for Law Students”, MSU news release, Nov. 27; “$4 million gift to MSU-DCL funds trial practice institute”, MSU News, Dec. 6; “Fieger’s gift”, Lansing State Journal, Nov. 29 (defense of grant); letter from concerned alum, Detroit Free Press, Nov. 28). Last year the Detroit Free Press found Fieger unapologetic about charges by his opponents that he bullies and badgers witnesses on the stand. (Dawson Bell, “Fieger’s wins lose luster in appeals”, Detroit Free Press, May 29). “‘Trials are battles,’ Fieger said. Intimidating witnesses ‘is what trial attorneys do,’ he said.” Can we assume that it will therefore be a skill taught at the new institute? (DURABLE LINK)

April 23-24 — “Woman sues snack-food company for spoiling diet”. By reader acclaim: “A woman is suing a snack food company for $50 million saying its label on Pirate’s Booty corn and rice puffs foiled her diet. … Pirate’s Booty, manufactured by Robert’s American Gourmet Food, Inc., was recalled in January after the Good Housekeeping Institute found it contained 147 calories and 8.5 grams of fat, while its label said it contained only 120 calories and 2.5 grams of fat.” Now Meredith Berkman, 37, is suing claiming the mislabeling caused her to suffer “emotional distress” and “weight gain…mental anguish, outrage and indignation.” (AP/Salon, Apr. 13). Update: Feb. 9, 2006 (Berkman objects to settlement). (DURABLE LINK)

April 23-24 — Norway toy-ad crackdown. Yes, reports Bjorn Staerk on his blog (Mar. 25, Apr. 2), the Scandinavian country really does have an Ombudsman for Gender Equality whose apparent duties include monitoring sexism in toy ads, and yes, this ombudsman really is proposing to ban a particular toy ad which refers to boys as “tough”. (DURABLE LINK)

April 22 — Lawyers puree Big Apple. Figures from the City of New York’s fiscal year 2000 show that the city paid a record $459 million in judgments and settlements, a 10.5 percent increase over the previous fiscal year. $406 million of that figure was laid out on personal injury claims, up 11.5 percent from fiscal 1999. (Elaine Song, “Costs Climb for the City”, New York Law Journal, Mar. 21; “New York Sees Higher Verdicts in 2001”, New York Law Journal, Mar. 21; “Tort City, U.S.A.” (editorial), Wall Street Journal, Apr. 17 (online subscribers only). (DURABLE LINK)

April 22 — “How to Stuff a Wild Enron”. P.J. O’Rourke gives a flat tire to the pols and pundits who’ve tried to get anti-capitalist mileage out of the Enron scandal (The Atlantic, Apr.).

MORE ENRON LINKS: C. William (Bill) Thomas, “The Rise and Fall of the Enron Empire”, Texas Society of CPAs (via Political Hobbyist, who generously names us “one of the more famous blogs out there in the blogosphere“); Renee Deger, “Widening the Enron Net”, The Recorder, Apr. 9 (law firms, investment banks sued); Laura Goldberg, “Enron plaintiffs target bankers’ deep pockets”, Houston Chronicle, Apr. 5; Otis Bilodeau, “Gimme Shelter”, Legal Times, Apr. 16 (“In a worst-case scenario — where damages are so high that the firm itself goes bankrupt — partners in a general partnership could be forced to pay off the damage award over their entire careers.”); Renee Deger, “Leaning on the Lawyers”, The Recorder, Apr. 15; (prospects for Vinson & Elkins, Kirkland & Ellis); “Lerach’s Enron Sweep” (editorial), Wall Street Journal, Apr. 17 (online subscribers only); bloggers “Robert Musil” Apr. 14 and other dates, “Max Power” Apr. 10. (DURABLE LINK)

April 22 — “St- st- st- st- stop.” “A man with a stutter was turned down as a driving instructor by the British School of Motoring because he couldn’t say ‘stop’ fast enough in an emergency”. Mr. Arsenal Whittick, 39, has filed a complaint with an employment tribunal charging disability discrimination. (“Stutterer turned down as driving instructor”, Evening Standard, Apr. 11)(via andrewsullivan.com, from which our headline is also swiped). And Dave Kopel, analyzing the pending Supreme Court case of Chevron v. Echabazal (can employers exclude physically vulnerable workers from jobs that might kill them? — see Mar. 1), includes a very kind reference to this site. (National Review Online, Mar. 27). (DURABLE LINK)

April 21 — Social notes from all over: New York Blog Bash. It isn’t easy to get our editor over to Avenue B, but he brings back a glowing report of the Friday night event hosted by the formidable duo of Orchid and Asparagirl and with econ-blog-diva Megan McArdle in attendance. Not only were those present uniformly agreeable to converse with, but their weblogs — see the RSVP list at Daily Dose for a not quite complete list — collectively make for an afternoon’s browse that’s about 8,500% percent more enjoyable and stimulating than is afforded by, say, the Sunday New York Times. Update: photos courtesy Asparagirl (our editor is the one with the beard and dark clothes). (DURABLE LINK)

June 2001 archives, part 2


June 20 — Mich. lawyer’s demand: get my case off your website. On April 3 we ran a brief item on the trademark lawsuit filed by Detroit-based jewelry-selling enterprise Love Your Neighbor Inc. against a Florida charity called Love Thy Neighbor, which assists homeless persons. A few weeks later Detroit Free Press legal correspondent Dawson Bell published a story going into more detail about the dispute and quoting Robert Dorigo Jones, director of the legal-reform advocacy group Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch (M-LAW), who said that while the suit might not count as a frivolous one, he considered it unnecessary: “This falls into the category of lawsuits that can be filed, but shouldn’t be.” (Dawson Bell, “Love your neighbor is suing one, instead”, Detroit Free Press, May 5).

It turns out that M-LAW’s Mr. Dorigo Jones was living dangerously by making such remarks. Within days he had received a letter (which he’s shared with us) from “Love Your Neighbor”‘s attorney, Julie Greenberg of Birmingham, Mich.’s Gifford, Krass, Groh, Sprinkle, Anderson & Citkowski, P.C. The tone of the letter might reasonably be called menacing coming from a lawyer: it says that for him to have called her lawsuit unnecessary had “caused damage to my personal reputation in the legal and social community”. It claims to be “particularly disturbed” that Mr. Dorigo Jones would presume to comment on her suit even though he is not an expert in trademark law; “indeed, you are not even an attorney”. And it proceeds to the following bottom-line demand: “In an effort to curb potential ongoing damage to my reputation from your quote in the Free Press, I request that you retract your statement made, and further that you take all references to me or this lawsuit from your [M-LAW’s] website, or your affiliated website Overlawyered.com, which is promoted and hyperlinked by your website. I look forward to your prompt response.”

Oh, dear. “Your affiliated website Overlawyered.com“? How’d we get dragged into this? As even casual investigation should have revealed to attorney Greenberg, Overlawyered.com and M-LAW aren’t “affiliated” with each other in any normal sense of that word: we link to them and they link to us, but that’s true of any number of other sites as well. Yet she seems to think Mr. Dorigo Jones has the power to get items removed from our site — or is that she thinks he should take down his site’s link to us? Whichever is the case, we have bad news for her: Mr. Dorigo Jones tells us that he has no intention of removing M-LAW’s link to Overlawyered.com, and we have no intention of removing our previous item mentioning Greenberg’s client, or this one either (& letter to the editor, July 6) (DURABLE LINK)

MORE: According to Bell’s report, Arnold Abbott founded the Florida charity in 1992 “in memory of his deceased wife”. Ms. Sims, who has registered the phrase as a trademark, had earlier challenged Mr. Abbott’s right to the domain name lovethyneighbor.org but lost in arbitration. Attorney Goldstein’s letter says the filing was “necessary” because owners of trademarks can lose their rights if they do not police infringement, and notes that various efforts by her client short of litigation had failed to keep the Florida charity from going right on calling itself “Love Thy Neighbor”. Mr. Abbott, for his part, told reporter Bell that “he is flabbergasted that it is possible to register rights to an expression that ‘has been around for 5,700 years. ‘If she’s right, then every time someone prints a Bible they’d have to pay her a royalty.”

June 20 — “Gambling addiction” class action. “A lawyer in Canada’s Quebec City is launching a class action suit against the province’s gambling monopoly for not warning players about the alleged dangers of its games.” The suit says the video gambling machines are addictive. (Mike Fox, “Addicted gamblers sue in Quebec”, BBC, June 14).

June 20 — By reader acclaim: “dog slobber” slip-fall case. Mary Lee Sowder of Rocky Mount, N.C. is suing a PetsMart store in Roanoke, saying she slipped on canine “slobber” on its floor. She claims knee damage and wants at least $100 grand. (Tad Dickens, “‘Dog slobber’ at pet store caused her fall, woman says in lawsuit”, Roanoke Times, June 19).

June 19 — Keeping child in her lap = homicide conviction. Prosecutors have prevailed on a Chattanooga, Tenn. jury to convict 20-year-old Latrece Jones of criminally negligent homicide in the death of her 2-year-old son Carlson Bowens Jr., “who was in her lap instead of a car seat during a car crash.” When we use the phrase “safety cops”, we’re really not kidding. (“Car seat conviction”, ABCNews.com, June 15) (& letters to the editor, July 6).

June 19 — Tobacco: Boeken record. Per AP and CNN reports, $3-billion jackpot winner Richard Boeken started smoking in 1957, yet “testified that he ‘never heard or read about the health risks of smoking until congressional hearings were held in 1994.’ This claim does not simply strain credulity; it smashes credulity into a million tiny pieces. … Until 1997, California law … classified tobacco as a product that is ‘known to be unsafe by the ordinary consumer…with the ordinary knowledge common to the community.’ Now we see the sort of idiocy that provision was holding back.” (Jacob Sullum, “Beyond belief”, June 12). The Onion weighs in with a satire, if it’s possible to satirize such things (“The $3 Billion Judgment“). See also Robert Jablon, “Los Angeles Jury Orders Philip Morris to Pay $3 Billion to Lifelong Smoker”, AP/Law.com, June 7; Bob Van Voris, “Big Bucks Guy Shows Little Ego”, National Law Journal, June 15 (profile of winning attorney Michael Piuze). And after Salon ran a piece by veteran tobacco-litigation advocate Elizabeth Whelan trying to defend the outcome of the L.A. case it immediately drew an influx of reader mail strongly disagreeing with her (“Tobacklash!”, June 15; letters, June 18). Update Oct. 2, 2004: appeals court orders punitive award cut to a sum not to exceed $50 million.

June 19 — Docs and Dems. The American Medical Association, which used to take a dim view of the litigation biz but now eagerly builds it up as a way of revenging itself against managed care, is tilting its campaign contributions these days toward lawsuit-friendly Democrats (OpenSecrets.org “Money in Politics Alert — New Friends: The American Medical Association, Democrats and the Patients’ Bill of Rights”, June 18). See also Kelley O. Beaucar, “Critics Decry ‘1-800- LAWSUITS’ Bill”, FoxNews.com, June 18 (quotes our editor); Fred Barnes, “The Right Medicine” (editorial), Weekly Standard, June 25. And SmarterTimes, the indispensable corrective to each morning’s dose of West 43rd St. tendentiousness, finds a number of misleading assertions in Monday’s New York Times editorial on “patients’ rights”. For instance: “The editorial says, ‘The White House, for its part, says the bill would open the floodgates to a wave of frivolous lawsuits, a claim not supported by the evidence in those states that have adopted similar legislation, including Texas under Governor Bush.’ This is misleading; the Texas patients’ bill of rights included limits on civil damage awards that are not included in the federal legislation to which the White House is objecting.” (June 18 — scroll to “Patients’ Bill of Wrongs”; “The Right Patients’ Bill of Rights” (editorial), New York Times, June 18).

June 19 — “Candles might be polluting your home, EPA says”. A new indoor environmental menace: just what we needed to ruin our wick end. (Traci Watson, USA Today, June 14).

June 18 — Lawsuits on overseas terrorism: guess who foots the bill. “Thanks to Congress’ largesse, U.S. taxpayers are paying hundreds of millions of dollars to compensate victims of foreign terrorism. And the tab might soon soar.” Given American jurors’ low opinion of regimes like those of Iran and Libya, trial lawyers often score big awards suing them — which they can then present to U.S. taxpayers for at least partial payment. “Stuart Eizenstat, deputy Treasury secretary under President Clinton, says lawyers are pressing cases under two laws: a 1996 statute that lets Americans file suit in U.S. courts against seven countries on a State Department list of terrorist states, and a 2000 law that authorizes the government to pay some damages. Congress has to approve new awards, but it has in every case so far. ‘It has become a race to the courthouse and then a race to get Congress to appropriate funds,’ Eizenstat says.” (Barbara Slavin, “Taxpayers get the bill when terrorists lose in court”, USA Today, June 14). “Two former hostages held in Lebanon by pro-Iranian kidnappers sued Iran on Tuesday, contending the country was responsible because its Muslim government shields and supports terrorists. The lawsuits, filed by Rev. Benjamin Weir and Frank A. Regier, seek $100 million in compensatory damages and an unspecified amount in punitive damages.” (“Former Iran [sic] Hostages File Lawsuits”, AP/FindLaw, June 13).

June 18 — Villaraigosa and the litigation lobby. One group that may be less than happy about leftist Antonio Villaraigosa’s June 5 loss to James Hahn in the L.A. mayoral race: trial lawyers, who’ve found Villaraigosa a close ally in his powerful post as speaker of the California Assembly. “In the 1997-1998 campaign cycle, Villaraigosa received $612,400 in campaign contributions from personal injury lawyers, a number that works out to be 25% of the almost $2.4 million given to California Assembly candidates,” notes California’s Torrance-based Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (“2001 L.A. Mayor’s Report“, undated). “In the 1999-2000 campaign cycle, he received $220,600 from personal injury lawyers, which works out to be 10 percent of funds contributed to California Assembly candidates.” See also Todd Purdum, “Hahn Wins Los Angeles Mayor’s Race”, New York Times, June 6 (reg).

June 18 — Next time, “endorse” only products you like? Tennis pro Martina Hingis has sued the Sergio Tacchini Italian sportswear company, claiming that its shoes caused her feet to hurt and made her drop out of tournaments. Couldn’t she just have removed the offending footgear? Well, she’d agreed to wear it as part of a $5.6 million endorsement deal. (“Hingis claims shoes injured her feet”, AP/ESPN, June 11; “Shoemaker says Hingis has no basis for claim”, AP/ESPN, June 12).

June 18 — Reader contributions pass $1,000. We’re doing better with the Amazon Honor System than most sites we know, thanks to generous readers like you; our average contribution is nearly $10. Have you done your bit yet?

June 15-17 — Jury: drunk driver hardly responsible at all for fatal crash. A Broward County. Fla. jury has found the state Department of Transportation and a highway construction firm to be 90 percent responsible for the 1995 traffic accident that took the life of former Miami Dolphins linebacker David Griggs. Griggs “had a blood-alcohol level of .16, twice the legal limit of .08, after which a person is considered drunk in Florida, according to the toxicology report from the Broward County Medical Examiner.” A second trial is set for the fall to determine damages. (“Jury: Road firm, government mostly to blame for Griggs’ death”, AP/Sacramento Bee, June 14).

June 15-17 — “Doctor liable for not giving enough pain medicine”. On Wednesday an Alameda County, Calif. jury found Dr. Wing Chin liable for recklessness and elder abuse for not giving sufficient pain medicine to 85-year-old William Bergman, who died three days later of lung cancer. “During the month-long trial, the doctor testified he followed established protocols in prescribing pain medication to Bergman. His attorney Bob Slattery also argued neither the patient nor his family requested that the doctor prescribe more pain medication to alleviate the suffering.” Plaintiff’s lawyer Jim Gearan said Dr. Chin had failed to take training in pain management. (“Doctor liable for not giving enough pain medicine”, CNN, June 14). We wonder whether this case ties in in any way with the phenomenon convincingly documented by Jacob Sullum, namely the widespread undertreatment of pain by doctors in a medical culture swayed both by fear of narcotics themselves and by fear of the enormous hassle from state regulators and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration that can descend on the heads of doctors perceived as too ready to furnish narcotics (“Who’ll stop the pain?”, Reason, Jan. 1997).

June 15-17 — “Lender hit with $71M verdict”. A Holmes County, Mississippi jury voted $69 million in punitive damages and $2.2 million in compensatory damages after a group of 23 plaintiffs accused Washington Mutual Finance Group of “goading customers into renewing loans with additional undisclosed charges”. The plaintiff’s lawyer was Rep. Edward Blackmon Jr., who chairs one of the two Judiciary committees in the lower house of the Mississippi legislature; his wife Barbara, also a plaintiff’s trial lawyer, serves in the state Senate where she sits on the Judiciary committee and is vice chair of the Insurance committee. (Jackson Clarion-Ledger, June 14).

June 14 — Wal-Mart-as-“cult” suit: it is about the money. A lawsuit accuses Wal-Mart of maintaining a “cult-like” atmosphere which encourages employees to put in unpaid overtime. “You bet it’s about the money,” said litigant Taylor Vogue. (“Wal-Mart Brainwashes Workers, Suit Alleges”, AP/Omaha World-Herald, June 9).

June 14 — “Lawsuit rocks Virginia string quartet”. Further developments in the ongoing Audubon String Quartet mess, last reported on here June 5, 2000: estranged first violinist David Ehrlich is suing the other three members of the ensemble for $2 million and has obtained a court order preventing them from playing together under the Audubon name or any other group name (they can still use their individual names). Robert Mann, an original member of the Juilliard Quartet, thinks chamber musicians should not take differences to court: “If anyone who becomes disaffected with his group can sue the others for money, it would be disastrous.” (Chris Kahn, AP/ SFGate.com, June 8). Update Nov. 13, 2001: judge awards Ehrlich more than $600,000 in damages.

June 14 — Fee fracas still going 23 years after case filed. Chick Kam Choo was a ship worker killed in 1977 in an accident on a tanker in Singapore harbor. His survivors’ wrongful-death suit against Exxon and other defendants was filed in Houston, Tex., with its big verdicts, rather than in Singapore. It finally settled this January for $2.7 million after protracted battles that reached the U.S. Supreme Court, but as of April the plaintiffs hadn’t seen a penny because of new squabbling between eight different plaintiff’s lawyers over who gets fees. John O’Quinn of O’Quinn and Laminack, whose doings are frequently reported on in this space, says his firm gets it all. But Newton B. Schwartz Sr., C. Benton Musslewhite Sr. and his son Charles B. Musslewhite Jr., Richard Sheehy, Gary Polland, and Joseph C. Blanks all maintain that they deserve some or all of the fees. (Brenda Sapino Jeffreys, “A Piece of the Action”, Texas Lawyer, April 17).

June 13 — Dodge ball on endangered list. “Educators in several states are fighting to ban dodge ball, but the game remains popular with kids.” A professor at Eastern Connecticut State University says the game is “litigation waiting to happen.” (“Educators want dodge ball tossed out”, AP/CNN, June 7). And a touch football game has brought youngsters to court in a Wisconsin broken-arm case unlikely to have any real winners (Tom Kertscher, “Trial is about pals, football, evening the score”, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 10).

June 13 — Antidepressant blamed for killing spree. Three years after Donald Schell went on a murderous rampage, a Cheyenne, Wyo. jury has blamed the episode on Glaxo SmithKline, maker of the anti-depressant Paxil, with an $8 million verdict. (“Shooter’s family awarded $8 million in drug suit”, AP/CNN, June 7).

June 13 — Batch of reader letters. The latest sack of correspondent mail includes a note from Ric Espinosa, who filed the “library cat” suit reported on last month; letters on the ethics of ghostwriting for lawyers, class action suits, Prof. Richard Daynard’s conflicts and their tardy disclosure, the Casey Martin case, and flashlight warnings; along with the possibly relevant lyrics of an Al Stewart song.

June 12 — “Hearsay harassment” not actionable. Diane Leibovitz, a now-retired mid-level manager at the New York City Transit Authority, filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the TA because, though she had not herself been a target of harassment, reports had reached her at second hand that other women employees had been. She got a $60,000 jury award after a trial presided over by federal judge Jack Weinstein, but the Second Circuit U.S. court of appeals has reversed it, saying the law does not confer a right to sue on a worker who “was not herself a target of the alleged harassment, was not present when the harassment supposedly occurred, and did not even know of the harassment when it was ongoing”. Leibovitz’s lawyer, Merrick Rossein, a law professor at CUNY and author of a widely used textbook on employment discrimination law, was disappointed: “They’re saying that since she didn’t directly observe the harassment and didn’t prove the harassment actually occurred, it is not cognizable under the theory of hostile environment.” (John Springer, “Court overturns transit authority sexual harassment award”, Court TV/Yahoo, June 11).

June 12 — Ghost blurber case. Almost as fast as Sony Pictures got caught inventing quotes from nonexistent film critic “David Manning” to hype four of its films, a class action lawyer sued on behalf of two L.A. moviegoers whose desire to engage the studio in legal battle no doubt welled up in a wholly spontaneous fashion (Denise Levin, “Sony’s Bogus Blurbmeister Spurs Class Action Suit”, Yahoo/Inside.com, June 8; Anthony Breznican, “2 Moviegoers Sue Sony Over Review”, AP/Yahoo, June 8). And even faster off the dime was Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who seized on the scandal’s very tenuous Nutmeg State connection (the fictitious Manning was said to work for the Ridgefield Press) as excuse for an investigation (“Conn. AG to Investigate Film Reviews”, AP/Yahoo, June 6). According to Jim Knipfel of the New York Press, the investigation may be a wide-ranging one : “Blumenthal is not only upset by the fake critic business, but also by the age-old publicist’s trick of carefully editing lukewarm reviews into raves” via ellipses, and says that may be unlawful too. Where has he been for the past 30 years, Knipfel wonders? “Mr. Blumenthal should find himself some sort of hobby.” (“Billboard: ‘Stunning! … An Amazing Achievement … Seething with Forbidden … Desire!'”, New York Press, June 6 (strong language); Mickey Kaus, Kausfiles “Hit Parade” (left column — scroll to June 8).

June 12 — Bicycles not “motor vehicles”, court rules. Aren’t you relieved? If they had motors, you’d always be buying gasoline for them. (Danielle N. Rodier, “Bicycles Not Motor Vehicles Under Governmental Immunity Statute”, The Legal Intelligencer (Philadelphia), June 7).

June 12 — Record traffic on Overlawyered.com. Last week set another record for pages served at 31,600 (with about 14,000 distinct visitors). We must have gotten some big publicity Thursday (more than 8,000 pages served on that day) but we’re not sure what it was.

June 11 — Blockbuster Video class action. Yet another headline-grabber from the world-famed courts of Beaumont, Tex.: customers will get various free-rental and cents-off coupons with a notional value approaching $450 million and a real value of some minute fraction of that, while class-action plaintiff’s lawyers will take home $9.25 million. The video chain’s sin was, allegedly, to have made too much money from late fees and to have changed its policies without notifying customers. (“Blockbuster settles suits”, AP/CNNfn, June 5; details; William F. Buckley, Jr., “Trial lawyers vs. sanity”, National Review Online, June 8).

June 11 — “Plastic surgery addiction” patient loses suit. In a unanimous ruling, New York’s highest court last week “tossed a lawsuit from a woman addicted to plastic surgery — she had over 50 operations — who claimed her doctor should have referred her to a psychiatrist before using the knife.” A lower court had ruled that the suit could proceed, raising fears that physicians might have to arrange psychiatric pre-screening of patients before many elective operations (see Aug. 15, 2000) (Kenneth Lovett, “Plastic-Surgery Addict Suit Gets Carved Up”, New York Post, June 8).

June 11 — $5,133.47 a cigarette. That’s how much the jury awarded plaintiff Richard Boeken last week when it told Philip Morris to pay him $3 billion for having enabled his smoking habit, according to calculations by reader Nathan Clark by WSJ OpinionJournal “Best of the Web” (June 8). “Based on Boeken’s claim that he smoked two packs a day for 40 years, Clark figured Boeken had smoked 584,000 cigarettes”, which divided into $3 billion “comes to $5,133.47 per cigarette Boeken smoked. Look for a big increase in teen smoking as word gets around the schoolyards that it’s a ticket to untold wealth.” Update Oct. 2, 2004: appeals court orders punitive award cut to a sum not to exceed $50 million.

June 11– End the dairy compact. Sen. Jeffords (I-Vt.) has been a leading defender of the “indefensible boondoggle” by which Northeastern milk prices are kept high, and his party switch makes a perfect opportunity to get rid of the thing (Jonathan Chait, “Spilled milk”, The New Republic, June 11). And Republican electoral victories in states like West Virginia are dearly bought if the quid pro quo for them is that consumers in the rest of the country have to suffer restrictions on steel imports (“Protectionist Bush?” (editorial), Christian Science Monitor, June 11).

June 2001 archives


June 8-10 — Parted from his money. Philadelphia-area businessman David Piscitelli has settled his lawsuit against Sole Mio Balaam Nicola, 90, a resident of Egg Harbor City, N.J. who worked for many years as an astrologer at the Woolworth’s on the Atlantic City Boardwalk. Piscitelli said “he was the victim of a ‘gypsy scam’ from 1978 to 1991 that prompted him to turn over about $200,000, leave his wife, sell his real-estate business, and move to Brigantine to avoid snake attacks and other evil curses.” It all began, he told the court, when he found Nicola’s ad in the Yellow Pages and arrived at her establishment where she “instructed him to hand her $400 under her desk for the purchase of candles that, when burned, would remove his curse.” However, Nicola averred that he had been a willing financial supporter of her “pyramid-shaped Temple of Hope and Knowledge, a house of worship she founded on the White Horse Pike in Galloway Township.” Moreover, she “denied ever demanding cash to remove curses from Piscitelli’s family members, forcing him to turn over his wedding ring, depositing a beheaded bat at his home, or throwing his Christmas presents into the bay, as he claims.” (Amy S. Rosenberg, “Fortune teller or taker: Boardwalk astrologer got $200,000 and lawsuit”, Philadelphia Inquirer, May 17).

June 8-10 — Tobacco plunder in Los Angeles. Its anger whipped up by a sharp trial lawyer, an L.A. jury has voted $3 billion in punitive damages against Philip Morris in a case brought by an individual smoker. (CNNfn, June 6; Robert Jablon, “Los Angeles Jury Orders Philip Morris to Pay $3 Billion to Lifelong Smoker”, AP/Law.com, June 7). Our take on the earlier Engle case appeared in the Wall Street Journal: July 18, 2000 and July 12, 1999. Update Oct. 2, 2004: appeals court orders punitive award cut to a sum not to exceed $50 million.

June 8-10 — Lockyer should go. We weren’t the only ones who concluded (June 1-3) that California attorney general Bill Lockyer was unfit for public office after hearing him express a hope that an energy-company adversary would be jailed and suffer prison rape: Tom G. Palmer (Cato Institute), “‘Hi, My Name Isn’t Justice, Honey’, and Shame on Bill Lockyer”, Los Angeles Times, June 6; see also Steve Chapman, “Since when does rape equal justice?”, Chicago Tribune, June 7; Larry Elder, “Blame-shifting in California”, FrontPage, June 1. (See update, June 22-24).

June 8-10 — Forbes on lead paint suits, cont’d. There seems to be no dispute that some, if not many, cases of classic lead poisoning continue to occur among children who literally eat chips of old paint in dilapidated housing in inner-city areas like South Providence (see yesterday’s post). A key factual premise of the mass suits, however, is that the paint is causing learning deficits and behavioral problems among a wider class of children whose blood-lead levels might not have been considered particularly high by medical science through most of the twentieth century (when ambient lead levels in the human environment were far higher) but which are now viewed as triggers for concern or even as “poisoning” following a drastic downward revision of definitional thresholds some years back.

As Forbes‘s cover story points out, this leaves a question of how to account for why the symptoms now causing concern were not observed more widely during the long period when lead-based interior paints were commonly found in American homes. “If traces of lead near such levels have something to do with learning disabilities, the sweeping decline in blood-lead levels in the U.S. in the past half-century should have given us a generation of geniuses in our elementary schools. But test scores have scarcely been going up …. Even as blood-levels in children dropped drastically, IQ scores have increased a consistent 3% a decade for 100 years — possibly because of media exposure and better nutrition.” Nor, one might add, does one observe a big “absence of lead effect” if one compares the learning and behavioral problems of kids growing up in modern housing projects, most of which were built after the discontinuance of lead pigments in paint, with those of similarly disadvantaged kids growing up in older housing stock. (Michael Freedman, “Turning Lead Into Gold”, Forbes, May 14 (reg)).

MORE: For a contrary view, accepting the premise that lead paint in older housing is causing widespread as opposed to exceptional harm to children, see the recent series in the Providence Journal: Peter Lord, “Poisoned”, May 13-18. For more on the course of the litigation, see Bob Van Voris, “Paint suit’s a lead balloon (so far)”, National Law Journal, May 8; “San Jose: Judge gives counties OK to sue paint firms”, San Francisco Chronicle, June 4; Tom Kertscher, “Suing Just 2 Paint Firms Helps Case, Lawyers Say”, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, April 9. (DURABLE LINK)

June 7 — “‘Pseudologia Fantastica’ Won’t Fly”. Contrary to what he claimed during the screening process that led up to his appointment to the bench, “Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Patrick Couwenberg never earned a Purple Heart. He didn’t fight in Vietnam or work for the CIA. Nor did he attend Loyola Law School or earn a master’s degree in psychology or any other subject.” Now a disciplinary panel has rejected the judge’s plea in mitigation of his fibs that he suffers from “a recently diagnosed condition called ‘pseudologia fantastica,’ which doctors say causes people to tell tall tales and mix fantasy with facts.” (Sonia Giordani, The Recorder, May 18). Update: state panel orders him removed from bench (see Aug. 20-21).

June 7 — Ness monster sighted in Narragansett Bay. Bad enough that Rhode Island, with its insider-dominated political system, has failed to shake its reputation as the “Louisiana of the North”. (See, e.g., Mark Sappenfield, “Legacy of scandal mars Rhode Island”, Christian Science Monitor, April 11). But will Little Rhody become the first state to auction itself off to out-of-state trial lawyers? You start wondering after reading Forbes‘s recent cover story on the nation’s richest tort law firm, Charleston, S.C.-based powerhouse Ness Motley (tobacco, asbestos, etc.), and its branch office in Providence, opened some years ago by partner John J. McConnell Jr. Ness Motley has quickly made itself “Rhode Island’s largest political contributor, at $540,950 for the 2000 national elections”, and its local partner McConnell has become treasurer of the Democratic party in the tiny state. By one of these coincidences that are so rare in novels but so common in real life, Rhode Island Democratic attorney general Sheldon Whitehouse, considered ambitious for a gubernatorial run, in 1999 awarded the Ness firm a contingency fee contract to sue on behalf of the state seeking money from former makers of lead paint — the only one of the fifty state AGs thus far to take such a step. If the firm and its superlawyer Ron Motley succeed in convincing cities, school districts and other governmental units to follow suit, they might extract billions from such companies as Arco, ICI Glidden, and American Cyanamid. “In April, in a major victory for Motley, a Rhode Island Superior Court judge rejected the defendants’ motion to dismiss, and Sherwin-Williams’ stock dropped 21%.” (Michael Freedman, “Turning Lead Into Gold”, Forbes, May 14 (reg)). Dueling websites: leadlawsuits.com (defendants) and aboutlead.com (Ness Motley)[more on lead paint litigation tomorrow] (DURABLE LINK)

June 7 — “Sorry, Slimbo, you’re in my seats”. Columnist Peter Simpson isn’t impressed with the opinion of the Canadian government that, as a matter of handicapped rights, severely overweight airline passengers should be given an extra seat free of charge (Ottawa Citizen/National Post, May 11; Glen McGregor, Treat the obese as disabled, airlines told”, Ottawa Citizen, Dec. 10; see Dec. 20, 2000). (Update Dec. 15-16: Canadian transportation agency backs off policy)

June 7 — Welcome WSJ OpinionJournal.com readers. We’ve figured in their “Best of the Web” feature quite a few times recently, including yesterday. Also: KRLD Dallas, “Eye on the Internet” with Katie Pruett (interviewed our editor last night); Good Clean Fun June 2; LynnLynn’s Links June 4; links lists Ennazus, Brian Tebeau’s, Breaching the Web, Stop Lawsuit Abuse — Mississippi, Amy Welborn’s, ChinaLawInfo.com, YouDontSay.org (“too many lawyers?”), Washington State University at Spokane, Eruditum.org, Joseph DeMartino’s (see “something we have no shortage of”), Weaverlane LogB2K, Univ. of Georgia Sagan Society, Baltimore Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, Snakebite’s, and Mr. Linck’s social studies class in Morrisville, N.Y. (gun debate).

June 6 — Intellectual-property dispute Hall of Fame. San Francisco Bay area artists Emily Duffy and Ron Nicolino have each retained lawyers and have exchanged threatening letters in a dispute over who owns the concept underlying their art, which consists of giant bundles of brassieres: hers weighs 650 pounds, his twice as much. Both bra assemblages “keep growing — huge spheres of lace, silk, padding and underwire bras of all colors, shapes and sizes.” Nicolino “has used 14,000 bras from an abandoned project to hook them across the Grand Canyon. Now he’s pulling his ball to Los Angeles behind his 1963 flamingo pink Cadillac, looking for someone to sponsor a worldwide tour and eventually, a showcase where people can continue hooking on their own bras.” “I think it’s a major important part of American art,” he said. Duffy says he swiped the idea from her. (Margie Mason, “Bay Area artists battle over giant bra balls”, Modesto Bee, May 29). They both have websites: braball.com and nicolinosbraball.com.

June 6 — “Risks of the crime”. A Florida appeals court has dealt a setback to two men who sued a hotel for damages after they were shot in its parking lot during a suspected drug deal. The appeals court said the hotel chain should not be held responsible for injuries incurred by visitors engaged in criminal acts. A jury had ruled for the men to the tune of $1.7 million (see Dec. 15, 1999) after Judge Celeste Muir “excluded all evidence of the suspected drug deal — including the previous drug conviction of one of the men suing, an electronic scale and $38,000 in cash found at the scene. All the jury heard was that two hotel guests who were shot in a dimly lit Ramada Inn parking lot in Hialeah wanted damages from the hotel.” The case is still pending. (“Risks of the crime” (editorial), Miami Herald, June 5).

June 6 — To destroy a doctor. Laparoscopic (small-incision) surgery counts as one of the major medical advances of recent years, and among its internationally famed practitioners have been the three Iranian-born Nezhat brothers, all of whom are on the faculty at Stanford Medical School. For more than seven years Cleveland lawyer James Neal has been pursuing medical malpractice complaints against the Nezhats, accusing them “of, among other things: lying about their credentials; systematically overbilling their patients; threatening witnesses; conducting unauthorized experimental surgeries; sexually assaulting patients; kidnapping at gunpoint; and faking their research in order to promote devices [used in surgery] in exchange for consulting fees and royalties from manufacturers. ” Although he hasn’t made much progress in getting courts to accept his charges, Neal’s pursuit of the numerous lawsuits has taken over his life and, say the Nezhats, has ruined theirs. (Alison Frankel, “Obsession” (cover story), The American Lawyer, June 4).

June 5 — Prisoners stay acoustic. The First Amendment does not confer on federal prisoners a right to practice on electric guitars, ruled U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan May 22. “[C]onvicted bomber and frequent litigant Brett Kimberlin … who’s in federal prison in Petersburg, Va., on parole violations”, had sued the federal Bureau of Prisons over a rule restricting inmates to acoustic instruments, saying it inhibited his rights of expression. (Jonathan Groner, “Inadmissible: Unplugged”, Legal Times, May 28) (second item).

June 5 — NFL satellite ticket class action. The National Football League has agreed to settle a class action lawsuit filed four years ago over its practice of selling only season packages to its satellite-TV televised games. Under the settlement, subscribers will get cash payments of between $8.33 and $20.83, and will be able to buy individual weeks at $29.99 each instead of the whole season at $169.99 for the last two years of existing contracts; two named plaintiffs will get $1,000 each, and the lawyers will enjoy an appetizing $3.7 million in fees. Counting administrative costs as well as the legal payouts, the settlement is expected to cost the league more than $13 million, and if you think fans may wind up footing much of the bill for such legally inflicted outlays over the long run as ticket prices go up to cover them, why, shame on you for being such a cynic (“Lawsuit settlement with DSS allows fans to buy single weekend games”, AP/Detroit News, June 1; ValkyrieRiders.net discussion, May 31) Update Aug. 20-21: judge disallows settlement.

June 5 — Missouri’s tagalong tobacco fees. When it came to the role it played in the multistate tobacco litigation, Missouri “didn’t need red-hot lawyers. Our lawsuit was what’s called a tagalong suit. We were the 27th state to sue the tobacco companies. A national settlement was already in the works. … Five months after Team Missouri was assembled, [it] was reached.” But that didn’t stop the lawyers who represented the state — some of whom “were distinguished more for their political connections than their legal track records”– from asking for a cool $480 million in fees, though they later declared themselves willing to settle for $100 million (see Sept. 21, 2000). Readers will recall that not long ago popular St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan had the temerity to criticize the high fees trial lawyers were getting in another case, and they promptly slapped him with an intimidating $1 million lawsuit (Nov. 4, 1999; Nov. 30, 1999; Feb. 29, 2000). But he still goes right on writing these sorts of columns, even though he must know it’s bound to get more lawyers mad at him. Hasn’t he learned his lesson yet? (Bill McClellan, “Just what did our tobacco legal team do for $100 million?”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 16). Update Oct. 5, 2003: Missouri Supreme Court refuses to entertain challenge to tobacco fees.

June 4 — “Dad Sues After Girl Fails to Make Cheerleading Squad”. In Vestavia Hills, Ala., the father of Laura Brooke Smith “has sued [the] school district, saying his daughter’s rejection from the high school cheerleading squad despite professional coaching has caused her humiliation and mental anguish.” (Fox News, May 31). And in North Haven, Ct., the “families of two high school sophomores have filed a federal lawsuit over the school’s decision to drop them from the drum majorette squad.” Stephanie Tata and Rebecca Mickolyczk and their mothers filed the suit in U.S. District Court April 30. Town attorney Robert K. Ciulla says the schools get “many” disputes over after-school activities, but this is the first involving baton twirling. (Ann DiMatteo, “Families Sue Over Unfair Twirl Tryouts”, New Haven Register, May 18).

June 4 — Maori tribes v. Lego. “Three New Zealand Maori tribes are considering a legal challenge to Danish toy company Lego over the use of Maori words and Polynesian culture in a new computer game. New Zealand-based barrister Solomon Maui has written to Lego asking for sales of the game to be suspended, saying it infringed the Polynesian people’s intellectual property rights to their language and culture.” (“Maori challenge Lego over use of culture”, CNN, June 1; Slashdot thread).

June 4 — EEOC: unfiltered computers “harass” librarians. In a “blockbuster” ruling, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission declared on May 23 that the Minneapolis Public Library may have subjected its librarians to unlawful “hostile work environment” sexual harassment by exposing them to sexually explicit images called up by patrons on unfiltered computers. The pro-censorship religious-right Family Research Council hailed the ruling, which is likely to intensify legal pressure on institutions of all sorts (including libraries at private universities and research institutions, and indeed all enterprises with employees) to install “filtering” software which excludes a wide variety of websites deemed obscene, hateful or otherwise improper.

Public libraries like the one in Minneapolis are likely to be sued if they do, sued if they don’t, given the precedent of a 1998 federal district court decision finding that the filtering policy of a public library in Loudoun County, Va., was unconstitutional. However, UCLA’s Eugene Volokh predicts that the balance of legal pressure will tilt toward website blocking, because losing a First Amendment lawsuit filed by patrons will subject a library to only “nominal damages”, while losing a Title VII discrimination suit can result in a damage figure “with lots of zeros in it”. In the Minneapolis case, “[Librarian Wendy] Adamson said the E.E.O.C. had privately suggested to the library that it pay each of the 12 employees $75,000 in damages,” which would add up to $900,000. (Carl S. Kaplan, “Cyber Law Journal: Controversial Ruling on Library Filters”, New York Times, June 1)(reg).

June 1-3 — Sweetness and light from Bill Lockyer. As the state’s power crisis continues, California attorney general Bill Lockyer provokes a few gasps with his recent comments about Enron Corp. chairman Kenneth Lay: “I would love to personally escort Lay to an 8-by-10 cell that he could share with a tattooed dude who says, ‘Hi my name is Spike, honey,'” Lockyer told the Wall Street Journal. While the state’s top law enforcement officer thus quips about subjecting a prominent adversary to prison rape, the Los Angeles Times notes that “neither Lockyer’s office nor any investigative panel has filed charges against Enron or other companies”. (Jenifer Warren, “Lockyer Fires Earthy Attack at Energy Exec”, L.A. Times, May 23, fee-based archive; “Lockyer lockdown”, L.A. Daily News, May 29). Lockyer, who’s promised a bounty of millions of dollars to any informant who can nail the generating firms, was elected AG in a well-funded campaign after serving for many years as head of the Judiciary Committee and chief guardian of litigation-lobby interests in the state Senate; The Recorder (S.F.), Dec. 11, 1992, described him as “the darling of trial lawyers…a part time plaintiff’s attorney”.

Other California politicos have also stepped up the business-bashing to an intensity not heard since the 1970s, to judge from an account by Chris Weinkopf in the Los Angeles Daily News. At a press conference, state senate president pro tem John Burton “announced the solution is for Sacramento to ‘terrorize the bastards’ [electricity generators] by seizing their power plants. If he were governor, he said, he ‘would have taken them yesterday.’ The actual governor, Gray Davis, is more subtle in his attacks. He’s only called the generators ‘marauders,’ ‘pirates’ and ‘the biggest snakes on the planet Earth.’ … Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante has called for empowering the state to put energy executives in jail. …Treasurer Phil Angelides has suggested that if generators ‘don’t take their foot off our throat,’ the state should ‘seize a plant or two to sober them up.'” (Chris Weinkopf, “California’s Assault on Energy Producers”, Los Angeles Daily News, April 24, reprinted at FrontPage magazine).

MORE: In San Francisco Weekly, Jeremy Mullman makes the case that the key error in California’s electricity restructuring was to proceed with government-supervised “Reliability Must-Run” (RMR) contracts (he explains what these are) which perversely rewarded generators for unreliability and supply shortfalls (“Contract Killings”, May 30). See also William Tucker, “California Unplugged”, The American Spectator, April; Rob Wherry, “Crossed Wires,” Forbes, March 5 (reg); “Power Scramble”, Forbes, April 23. (DURABLE LINK)(& welcome visitors from AndrewSullivan.com; Sullivan nominates Lockyer for his “Paul Begala Award” for intemperate rhetoric, linking to our item)

June 1-3 — Old-hairstyle photo prompts lawsuit. Speaking of the unlamented 1970s: Skip Johnson, a production manager who once toured with Jefferson Airplane and the Eagles and was married to singer Grace Slick, has sued a dotcom, its advertising firm, and photo firm Corbis over an ad prominently displaying an old photo of him and implicitly poking fun at the unruly 1970s-vintage hairstyle he then wore. He now sports a more conservative ‘do; suits over commercial use of people’s pictures without their permission go back at least as far as 1902, according to his lawyers. (Peter Hartlaub, “S.F. dot-com is sued over big hair ad”, San Francisco Chronicle, May 29). And the latest tattoo-misspelling lawsuit comes from Tucson where a parlor left out one of the “n”s in the motto 22-year-old West Hill had asked to have inscribed on his arm, thus rendering it as “New Beginings”. (Maureen O’Connell, “A major tattoo miscue”, Arizona Daily Star, May 29).

June 1-3 — “A disabling verdict for organized sports”. Steve Chapman’s take on the high court’s ruling in the Casey Martin case; quotes our editor (Chicago Tribune, May 31). Also: Lance Morrow, “PGA, not SCOTUS, Should Have Decided the Casey Martin Case”, Time.com, May 31; Paul Campos, “Martin ruling only further handicaps us”, Rocky Mountain News, June 2; “The court’s errant shot” (editorial), Chicago Tribune, May 31.


June 20 — Mich. lawyer’s demand: get my case off your website. On April 3 we ran a brief item on the trademark lawsuit filed by Detroit-based jewelry-selling enterprise Love Your Neighbor Inc. against a Florida charity called Love Thy Neighbor, which assists homeless persons. A few weeks later Detroit Free Press legal correspondent Dawson Bell published a story going into more detail about the dispute and quoting Robert Dorigo Jones, director of the legal-reform advocacy group Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch (M-LAW), who said that while the suit might not count as a frivolous one, he considered it unnecessary: “This falls into the category of lawsuits that can be filed, but shouldn’t be.” (Dawson Bell, “Love your neighbor is suing one, instead”, Detroit Free Press, May 5).

It turns out that M-LAW’s Mr. Dorigo Jones was living dangerously by making such remarks. Within days he had received a letter (which he’s shared with us) from “Love Your Neighbor”‘s attorney, Julie Greenberg of Birmingham, Mich.’s Gifford, Krass, Groh, Sprinkle, Anderson & Citkowski, P.C. The tone of the letter might reasonably be called menacing coming from a lawyer: it says that for him to have called her lawsuit unnecessary had “caused damage to my personal reputation in the legal and social community”. It claims to be “particularly disturbed” that Mr. Dorigo Jones would presume to comment on her suit even though he is not an expert in trademark law; “indeed, you are not even an attorney”. And it proceeds to the following bottom-line demand: “In an effort to curb potential ongoing damage to my reputation from your quote in the Free Press, I request that you retract your statement made, and further that you take all references to me or this lawsuit from your [M-LAW’s] website, or your affiliated website Overlawyered.com, which is promoted and hyperlinked by your website. I look forward to your prompt response.”

Oh, dear. “Your affiliated website Overlawyered.com“? How’d we get dragged into this? As even casual investigation should have revealed to attorney Greenberg, Overlawyered.com and M-LAW aren’t “affiliated” with each other in any normal sense of that word: we link to them and they link to us, but that’s true of any number of other sites as well. Yet she seems to think Mr. Dorigo Jones has the power to get items removed from our site — or is that she thinks he should take down his site’s link to us? Whichever is the case, we have bad news for her: Mr. Dorigo Jones tells us that he has no intention of removing M-LAW’s link to Overlawyered.com, and we have no intention of removing our previous item mentioning Greenberg’s client, or this one either (& letter to the editor, July 6) (DURABLE LINK)

MORE: According to Bell’s report, Arnold Abbott founded the Florida charity in 1992 “in memory of his deceased wife”. Ms. Sims, who has registered the phrase as a trademark, had earlier challenged Mr. Abbott’s right to the domain name lovethyneighbor.org but lost in arbitration. Attorney Goldstein’s letter says the filing was “necessary” because owners of trademarks can lose their rights if they do not police infringement, and notes that various efforts by her client short of litigation had failed to keep the Florida charity from going right on calling itself “Love Thy Neighbor”. Mr. Abbott, for his part, told reporter Bell that “he is flabbergasted that it is possible to register rights to an expression that ‘has been around for 5,700 years. ‘If she’s right, then every time someone prints a Bible they’d have to pay her a royalty.”

June 20 — “Gambling addiction” class action. “A lawyer in Canada’s Quebec City is launching a class action suit against the province’s gambling monopoly for not warning players about the alleged dangers of its games.” The suit says the video gambling machines are addictive. (Mike Fox, “Addicted gamblers sue in Quebec”, BBC, June 14).

June 20 — By reader acclaim: “dog slobber” slip-fall case. Mary Lee Sowder of Rocky Mount, N.C. is suing a PetsMart store in Roanoke, saying she slipped on canine “slobber” on its floor. She claims knee damage and wants at least $100 grand. (Tad Dickens, “‘Dog slobber’ at pet store caused her fall, woman says in lawsuit”, Roanoke Times, June 19).

June 19 — Keeping child in her lap = homicide conviction. Prosecutors have prevailed on a Chattanooga, Tenn. jury to convict 20-year-old Latrece Jones of criminally negligent homicide in the death of her 2-year-old son Carlson Bowens Jr., “who was in her lap instead of a car seat during a car crash.” When we use the phrase “safety cops”, we’re really not kidding. (“Car seat conviction”, ABCNews.com, June 15) (& letters to the editor, July 6).

June 19 — Tobacco: Boeken record. Per AP and CNN reports, $3-billion jackpot winner Richard Boeken started smoking in 1957, yet “testified that he ‘never heard or read about the health risks of smoking until congressional hearings were held in 1994.’ This claim does not simply strain credulity; it smashes credulity into a million tiny pieces. … Until 1997, California law … classified tobacco as a product that is ‘known to be unsafe by the ordinary consumer…with the ordinary knowledge common to the community.’ Now we see the sort of idiocy that provision was holding back.” (Jacob Sullum, “Beyond belief”, June 12). The Onion weighs in with a satire, if it’s possible to satirize such things (“The $3 Billion Judgment“). See also Robert Jablon, “Los Angeles Jury Orders Philip Morris to Pay $3 Billion to Lifelong Smoker”, AP/Law.com, June 7; Bob Van Voris, “Big Bucks Guy Shows Little Ego”, National Law Journal, June 15 (profile of winning attorney Michael Piuze). And after Salon ran a piece by veteran tobacco-litigation advocate Elizabeth Whelan trying to defend the outcome of the L.A. case it immediately drew an influx of reader mail strongly disagreeing with her (“Tobacklash!”, June 15; letters, June 18). Update Oct. 2, 2004: appeals court orders punitive award cut to a sum not to exceed $50 million.

June 19 — Docs and Dems. The American Medical Association, which used to take a dim view of the litigation biz but now eagerly builds it up as a way of revenging itself against managed care, is tilting its campaign contributions these days toward lawsuit-friendly Democrats (OpenSecrets.org “Money in Politics Alert — New Friends: The American Medical Association, Democrats and the Patients’ Bill of Rights”, June 18). See also Kelley O. Beaucar, “Critics Decry ‘1-800- LAWSUITS’ Bill”, FoxNews.com, June 18 (quotes our editor); Fred Barnes, “The Right Medicine” (editorial), Weekly Standard, June 25. And SmarterTimes, the indispensable corrective to each morning’s dose of West 43rd St. tendentiousness, finds a number of misleading assertions in Monday’s New York Times editorial on “patients’ rights”. For instance: “The editorial says, ‘The White House, for its part, says the bill would open the floodgates to a wave of frivolous lawsuits, a claim not supported by the evidence in those states that have adopted similar legislation, including Texas under Governor Bush.’ This is misleading; the Texas patients’ bill of rights included limits on civil damage awards that are not included in the federal legislation to which the White House is objecting.” (June 18 — scroll to “Patients’ Bill of Wrongs”; “The Right Patients’ Bill of Rights” (editorial), New York Times, June 18).

June 19 — “Candles might be polluting your home, EPA says”. A new indoor environmental menace: just what we needed to ruin our wick end. (Traci Watson, USA Today, June 14).

June 18 — Lawsuits on overseas terrorism: guess who foots the bill. “Thanks to Congress’ largesse, U.S. taxpayers are paying hundreds of millions of dollars to compensate victims of foreign terrorism. And the tab might soon soar.” Given American jurors’ low opinion of regimes like those of Iran and Libya, trial lawyers often score big awards suing them — which they can then present to U.S. taxpayers for at least partial payment. “Stuart Eizenstat, deputy Treasury secretary under President Clinton, says lawyers are pressing cases under two laws: a 1996 statute that lets Americans file suit in U.S. courts against seven countries on a State Department list of terrorist states, and a 2000 law that authorizes the government to pay some damages. Congress has to approve new awards, but it has in every case so far. ‘It has become a race to the courthouse and then a race to get Congress to appropriate funds,’ Eizenstat says.” (Barbara Slavin, “Taxpayers get the bill when terrorists lose in court”, USA Today, June 14). “Two former hostages held in Lebanon by pro-Iranian kidnappers sued Iran on Tuesday, contending the country was responsible because its Muslim government shields and supports terrorists. The lawsuits, filed by Rev. Benjamin Weir and Frank A. Regier, seek $100 million in compensatory damages and an unspecified amount in punitive damages.” (“Former Iran [sic] Hostages File Lawsuits”, AP/FindLaw, June 13).

June 18 — Villaraigosa and the litigation lobby. One group that may be less than happy about leftist Antonio Villaraigosa’s June 5 loss to James Hahn in the L.A. mayoral race: trial lawyers, who’ve found Villaraigosa a close ally in his powerful post as speaker of the California Assembly. “In the 1997-1998 campaign cycle, Villaraigosa received $612,400 in campaign contributions from personal injury lawyers, a number that works out to be 25% of the almost $2.4 million given to California Assembly candidates,” notes California’s Torrance-based Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (“2001 L.A. Mayor’s Report“, undated). “In the 1999-2000 campaign cycle, he received $220,600 from personal injury lawyers, which works out to be 10 percent of funds contributed to California Assembly candidates.” See also Todd Purdum, “Hahn Wins Los Angeles Mayor’s Race”, New York Times, June 6 (reg).

June 18 — Next time, “endorse” only products you like? Tennis pro Martina Hingis has sued the Sergio Tacchini Italian sportswear company, claiming that its shoes caused her feet to hurt and made her drop out of tournaments. Couldn’t she just have removed the offending footgear? Well, she’d agreed to wear it as part of a $5.6 million endorsement deal. (“Hingis claims shoes injured her feet”, AP/ESPN, June 11; “Shoemaker says Hingis has no basis for claim”, AP/ESPN, June 12).

June 18 — Reader contributions pass $1,000. We’re doing better with the Amazon Honor System than most sites we know, thanks to generous readers like you; our average contribution is nearly $10. Have you done your bit yet?

June 15-17 — Jury: drunk driver hardly responsible at all for fatal crash. A Broward County. Fla. jury has found the state Department of Transportation and a highway construction firm to be 90 percent responsible for the 1995 traffic accident that took the life of former Miami Dolphins linebacker David Griggs. Griggs “had a blood-alcohol level of .16, twice the legal limit of .08, after which a person is considered drunk in Florida, according to the toxicology report from the Broward County Medical Examiner.” A second trial is set for the fall to determine damages. (“Jury: Road firm, government mostly to blame for Griggs’ death”, AP/Sacramento Bee, June 14).

June 15-17 — “Doctor liable for not giving enough pain medicine”. On Wednesday an Alameda County, Calif. jury found Dr. Wing Chin liable for recklessness and elder abuse for not giving sufficient pain medicine to 85-year-old William Bergman, who died three days later of lung cancer. “During the month-long trial, the doctor testified he followed established protocols in prescribing pain medication to Bergman. His attorney Bob Slattery also argued neither the patient nor his family requested that the doctor prescribe more pain medication to alleviate the suffering.” Plaintiff’s lawyer Jim Gearan said Dr. Chin had failed to take training in pain management. (“Doctor liable for not giving enough pain medicine”, CNN, June 14). We wonder whether this case ties in in any way with the phenomenon convincingly documented by Jacob Sullum, namely the widespread undertreatment of pain by doctors in a medical culture swayed both by fear of narcotics themselves and by fear of the enormous hassle from state regulators and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration that can descend on the heads of doctors perceived as too ready to furnish narcotics (“Who’ll stop the pain?”, Reason, Jan. 1997).

June 15-17 — “Lender hit with $71M verdict”. A Holmes County, Mississippi jury voted $69 million in punitive damages and $2.2 million in compensatory damages after a group of 23 plaintiffs accused Washington Mutual Finance Group of “goading customers into renewing loans with additional undisclosed charges”. The plaintiff’s lawyer was Rep. Edward Blackmon Jr., who chairs one of the two Judiciary committees in the lower house of the Mississippi legislature; his wife Barbara, also a plaintiff’s trial lawyer, serves in the state Senate where she sits on the Judiciary committee and is vice chair of the Insurance committee. (Jackson Clarion-Ledger, June 14).

June 14 — Wal-Mart-as-“cult” suit: it is about the money. A lawsuit accuses Wal-Mart of maintaining a “cult-like” atmosphere which encourages employees to put in unpaid overtime. “You bet it’s about the money,” said litigant Taylor Vogue. (“Wal-Mart Brainwashes Workers, Suit Alleges”, AP/Omaha World-Herald, June 9).

June 14 — “Lawsuit rocks Virginia string quartet”. Further developments in the ongoing Audubon String Quartet mess, last reported on here June 5, 2000: estranged first violinist David Ehrlich is suing the other three members of the ensemble for $2 million and has obtained a court order preventing them from playing together under the Audubon name or any other group name (they can still use their individual names). Robert Mann, an original member of the Juilliard Quartet, thinks chamber musicians should not take differences to court: “If anyone who becomes disaffected with his group can sue the others for money, it would be disastrous.” (Chris Kahn, AP/ SFGate.com, June 8). Update Nov. 13, 2001: judge awards Ehrlich more than $600,000 in damages.

June 14 — Fee fracas still going 23 years after case filed. Chick Kam Choo was a ship worker killed in 1977 in an accident on a tanker in Singapore harbor. His survivors’ wrongful-death suit against Exxon and other defendants was filed in Houston, Tex., with its big verdicts, rather than in Singapore. It finally settled this January for $2.7 million after protracted battles that reached the U.S. Supreme Court, but as of April the plaintiffs hadn’t seen a penny because of new squabbling between eight different plaintiff’s lawyers over who gets fees. John O’Quinn of O’Quinn and Laminack, whose doings are frequently reported on in this space, says his firm gets it all. But Newton B. Schwartz Sr., C. Benton Musslewhite Sr. and his son Charles B. Musslewhite Jr., Richard Sheehy, Gary Polland, and Joseph C. Blanks all maintain that they deserve some or all of the fees. (Brenda Sapino Jeffreys, “A Piece of the Action”, Texas Lawyer, April 17).

June 13 — Dodge ball on endangered list. “Educators in several states are fighting to ban dodge ball, but the game remains popular with kids.” A professor at Eastern Connecticut State University says the game is “litigation waiting to happen.” (“Educators want dodge ball tossed out”, AP/CNN, June 7). And a touch football game has brought youngsters to court in a Wisconsin broken-arm case unlikely to have any real winners (Tom Kertscher, “Trial is about pals, football, evening the score”, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 10).

June 13 — Antidepressant blamed for killing spree. Three years after Donald Schell went on a murderous rampage, a Cheyenne, Wyo. jury has blamed the episode on Glaxo SmithKline, maker of the anti-depressant Paxil, with an $8 million verdict. (“Shooter’s family awarded $8 million in drug suit”, AP/CNN, June 7).

June 13 — Batch of reader letters. The latest sack of correspondent mail includes a note from Ric Espinosa, who filed the “library cat” suit reported on last month; letters on the ethics of ghostwriting for lawyers, class action suits, Prof. Richard Daynard’s conflicts and their tardy disclosure, the Casey Martin case, and flashlight warnings; along with the possibly relevant lyrics of an Al Stewart song.

June 12 — “Hearsay harassment” not actionable. Diane Leibovitz, a now-retired mid-level manager at the New York City Transit Authority, filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the TA because, though she had not herself been a target of harassment, reports had reached her at second hand that other women employees had been. She got a $60,000 jury award after a trial presided over by federal judge Jack Weinstein, but the Second Circuit U.S. court of appeals has reversed it, saying the law does not confer a right to sue on a worker who “was not herself a target of the alleged harassment, was not present when the harassment supposedly occurred, and did not even know of the harassment when it was ongoing”. Leibovitz’s lawyer, Merrick Rossein, a law professor at CUNY and author of a widely used textbook on employment discrimination law, was disappointed: “They’re saying that since she didn’t directly observe the harassment and didn’t prove the harassment actually occurred, it is not cognizable under the theory of hostile environment.” (John Springer, “Court overturns transit authority sexual harassment award”, Court TV/Yahoo, June 11).

June 12 — Ghost blurber case. Almost as fast as Sony Pictures got caught inventing quotes from nonexistent film critic “David Manning” to hype four of its films, a class action lawyer sued on behalf of two L.A. moviegoers whose desire to engage the studio in legal battle no doubt welled up in a wholly spontaneous fashion (Denise Levin, “Sony’s Bogus Blurbmeister Spurs Class Action Suit”, Yahoo/Inside.com, June 8; Anthony Breznican, “2 Moviegoers Sue Sony Over Review”, AP/Yahoo, June 8). And even faster off the dime was Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who seized on the scandal’s very tenuous Nutmeg State connection (the fictitious Manning was said to work for the Ridgefield Press) as excuse for an investigation (“Conn. AG to Investigate Film Reviews”, AP/Yahoo, June 6). According to Jim Knipfel of the New York Press, the investigation may be a wide-ranging one : “Blumenthal is not only upset by the fake critic business, but also by the age-old publicist’s trick of carefully editing lukewarm reviews into raves” via ellipses, and says that may be unlawful too. Where has he been for the past 30 years, Knipfel wonders? “Mr. Blumenthal should find himself some sort of hobby.” (“Billboard: ‘Stunning! … An Amazing Achievement … Seething with Forbidden … Desire!'”, New York Press, June 6 (strong language); Mickey Kaus, Kausfiles “Hit Parade” (left column — scroll to June 8).

June 12 — Bicycles not “motor vehicles”, court rules. Aren’t you relieved? If they had motors, you’d always be buying gasoline for them. (Danielle N. Rodier, “Bicycles Not Motor Vehicles Under Governmental Immunity Statute”, The Legal Intelligencer (Philadelphia), June 7).

June 12 — Record traffic on Overlawyered.com. Last week set another record for pages served at 31,600 (with about 14,000 distinct visitors). We must have gotten some big publicity Thursday (more than 8,000 pages served on that day) but we’re not sure what it was.

June 11 — Blockbuster Video class action. Yet another headline-grabber from the world-famed courts of Beaumont, Tex.: customers will get various free-rental and cents-off coupons with a notional value approaching $450 million and a real value of some minute fraction of that, while class-action plaintiff’s lawyers will take home $9.25 million. The video chain’s sin was, allegedly, to have made too much money from late fees and to have changed its policies without notifying customers. (“Blockbuster settles suits”, AP/CNNfn, June 5; details; William F. Buckley, Jr., “Trial lawyers vs. sanity”, National Review Online, June 8).

June 11 — “Plastic surgery addiction” patient loses suit. In a unanimous ruling, New York’s highest court last week “tossed a lawsuit from a woman addicted to plastic surgery — she had over 50 operations — who claimed her doctor should have referred her to a psychiatrist before using the knife.” A lower court had ruled that the suit could proceed, raising fears that physicians might have to arrange psychiatric pre-screening of patients before many elective operations (see Aug. 15, 2000) (Kenneth Lovett, “Plastic-Surgery Addict Suit Gets Carved Up”, New York Post, June 8).

June 11 — $5,133.47 a cigarette. That’s how much the jury awarded plaintiff Richard Boeken last week when it told Philip Morris to pay him $3 billion for having enabled his smoking habit, according to calculations by reader Nathan Clark by WSJ OpinionJournal “Best of the Web” (June 8). “Based on Boeken’s claim that he smoked two packs a day for 40 years, Clark figured Boeken had smoked 584,000 cigarettes”, which divided into $3 billion “comes to $5,133.47 per cigarette Boeken smoked. Look for a big increase in teen smoking as word gets around the schoolyards that it’s a ticket to untold wealth.” Update Oct. 2, 2004: appeals court orders punitive award cut to a sum not to exceed $50 million.

June 11– End the dairy compact. Sen. Jeffords (I-Vt.) has been a leading defender of the “indefensible boondoggle” by which Northeastern milk prices are kept high, and his party switch makes a perfect opportunity to get rid of the thing (Jonathan Chait, “Spilled milk”, The New Republic, June 11). And Republican electoral victories in states like West Virginia are dearly bought if the quid pro quo for them is that consumers in the rest of the country have to suffer restrictions on steel imports (“Protectionist Bush?” (editorial), Christian Science Monitor, June 11).


June 29-July 1 — Crowded drugstores illegal? For years lawyers have warned that cramped retail store layouts may violate the Americans with Disabilities Act because of the way they impede “access” by customers with wheelchairs and other mobility impairments. Now an advocacy group for the disabled has sued the Duane Reade drugstore chain, charging that many of its outlets in Manhattan are in violation, especially those with multiple levels and obstructed aisles. One plaintiff says some nonprescription medicines are placed on shelves too high for her to reach; another says she feels her privacy is compromised when a store employee assists her to the pharmacy area. In crowded locations such as midtown Manhattan, mandates for uncrowded drugstores will probably lead to the closure of some locations — thus making everyone go farther to get their prescriptions filled — and higher prices at the rest, given that rent per square foot is a major element of overhead cost. The law firm Fish & Neave is representing the disabled group, in conjunction with the not unironically named New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. (David W. Dunlap, “Tight Retail Spaces Prompt Suit by the Disabled”, New York Times, June 27; “Duane Reade Stores: Disability-Impaired”, VisualStore.com, June 27) (& letter to the editor, July 6).

June 29-July 1 — Ohio auto insurance wreck. The trial-lawyer-backed 4-3 majority on the Ohio Supreme Court has been doing creative things to expand the scope of coverage of auto insurance in the Buckeye State, with the unfortunate consequence that the price of it is soaring. “The court says that the insurance policies a business buys on its fleet of automobiles covers its employees and their families when driving their personal cars on vacation or on any other personal matter — from taking the kids to school to driving out for groceries.” (“Liability unlimited? This is not your father’s car insurance”, (editorial), Columbus Dispatch, June 3; “Court extends uninsured coverage beyond belief” (letter to the editor), Columbus Dispatch, June 2)(& letter to the editor, July 6). Update Nov. 2-4: bill to reverse court decision goes into effect after being signed by governor.

June 29-July 1 — Domain-name disputes are busting out all over. A site called BaseballProspectus.com thinks a site called BaseballPrimer.com is infringing on its intellectual property, right down to its initials “BP”, which we regret to inform them British Petroleum got to first (Sean Forman and Jim Furtado, “Unexpected Reader Mail”, BaseballPrimer.com, April 4 — includes lots of reader reaction). The Fox television network this spring sicced its lawyers on a science-education web site created by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, “The Why Files“, whose title it says infringes on the trademark of its series “The X-Files.” “I’m not sure if Fox is trying to get a legal hammerlock on the alphabet or what their motives are, but that’s what it seems,” said the “Why” site’s editor. (“Fox aims to shut down acclaimed science web site”, ESchoolNews, March 1). And the Tata Group, a diversified industrial group on the Indian subcontinent, has obtained a ruling from the World Intellectual Property Organization closing down a sixually* oriented website by the name of bodacious-tatas.com; Marc Schneiders, a commentator from the Netherlands who says he is not connected with either party in the controversy, has put up a (clean) site called bodacious-tatas.org explaining why he thinks this ruling is madness. (Tata Group’s view: “Tata Sons evicts porbographic* cyber squatter”, Aug. 28, 2000).

* Misspelled deliberately, to dodge filters.

June 29-July 1 — Cell phone follies. “The New York assemblyman who drafted a bill that bans the use of cell phones while driving is pushing a bill that would punish offenders of the law as if they’d been driving drunk.” In Connecticut, a bill introduced in the state senate “also makes eating, tuning the radio and reading in the car an offense.” (Elisa Batista, “Car Phone Ban Author Wants More”, Wired News, June 28).

June 29-July 1 — Now we are 2. Overlawyered.com began publishing July 1, 1999, which makes us two years old. Drop us a line with testimonials about how you first learned of the page, what your favorite feature is, stories that got picked up by the wider press after running here first, unlikely people who read us — all that sort of thing. We’ll publish some highlights and keep the rest as souvenirs.

June 28 — “Colorblind Traffic-Light Installer Gets Fired, Sues County”. Former traffic-light installer Cleveland Merritt is suing Palm Beach County, Fla., “for firing him because he is colorblind and couldn’t distinguish between red and green wires.” The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has already ruled in his favor on his Americans with Disabilities Act claim, agreeing with his lawyer that “the county could have kept him on the job by assigning him to other duties not affected by his colorblindness.” There are “19 differently colored wires in a traffic light”. (AP/FoxNews.com, June 27).

June 28 — Chapman, Broder, Kinsley on patients’ rights. The American Medical Association recognizes that medical malpractice litigation operates with amazing randomness and is actually “a barrier to quality improvement” — so why exactly do they wish to expand it? (Steve Chapman, “Seeing your HMO in court”, Chicago Tribune, June 21). Backers of the Kennedy- McCain- Edwards bill rely to an extraordinary degree on anecdotes — keep that in mind the next time the trial lawyers start dismissing critics like us as anecdotal (David Broder, “Battle of Anecdotes”, Washington Post, June 26). And Slate editor Michael Kinsley calls the bill the perfect piece of legislation for our era, not meaning that in a complimentary way. “Republicans charge that Democrats are in the pocket of the Trial Lawyers Association, and it’s pretty true. But there are also strategic and even philosophical reasons why proposals like the patients’ bill of rights rely on lawsuits to do their dirty work.” They are a “way to impose rules on the private economy while avoiding the big-government stigma.” Unfortunately, the “downside of this approach includes the enormous, though hidden, cost of litigation (the lawyers, the punitive damages, etc.), the inconsistent standards of judge-made law as opposed to uniform rules,” and so on. Kinsley concludes that liberalism of this sort is “flawed … [but] better than nothing.” (“Liberalism a la Mode”, Slate, June 21). See also “Patients’ Right to Sue” (WSJ editorial), OpinionJournal.com, June 24).

June 28 — More things you can’t have: glowsticks. Some federal drug enforcement officials consider glowsticks, the neonlike tubes of light waved by concertgoers, to be “drug paraphernalia”, and a group of New Orleans “rave” promoters, attempting to comply with a court order, have barred the novelty items from their clubs. (Janelle Brown, “Sell a glowstick, go to prison”, Salon, June 20). Update Feb. 20, 2002: court strikes down.

June 28 — “Lawyers put profits above lives”. Why did Texas lawyers suing Firestone (see June 25) refrain for years from reporting the tire failures to the federal government’s safety agency, NHTSA, thus ensuring the danger would continue? They’ve claimed it was because they were afraid NHTSA would undercut their cases by investigating and wrongly clearing the tires, but Prof. Lester Brickman, a legal ethics specialist at Yeshiva University’s Cardozo Law School, holds out an alternative theory: “they didn’t want to alert other lawyers to the chance for profit”. (New York Post (op-ed), June 27).

June 27 — By reader acclaim: student sues law prof over class demonstration. Talk about learning by doing: a student is suing her law professor “for pulling a chair out from under her as a demonstration in a class on personal injury lawsuits. Denise DiFede, 30, charges Pace University Law prof Gary Munneke caused her ‘severe pain and mental anguish’ when he pulled the stunt.” She’s demanding $5 million and is also suing Pace University School of Law, in White Plains, N.Y., where the incident took place. “Munneke was teaching a ‘torts’ class, discussing Garrett vs. Daley — a case about a child who injured another kid when he pulled out a chair from under him.” DiFede’s lawyer said she “was badly injured because she has an ‘eggshell’ body and had undergone a back operation shortly before her fall.” (Dareh Gregorian, “Class Action”, New York Post, June 26; “Student Sues Professor Over Class Demonstration”, Reuters, June 26; Jim Knipfel, “Billboard: The Three Stooges Go To Law School”, New York Press, June 27).

June 27 — Educational privacy gone to extremes. The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act is another of those feel-good enactments whose cumulative effect on our national life has been so harshly punitive: it prohibits public schools from releasing any “education records of students … without the written consent of their parents.” Since that includes grades, it may now violate federal law for a teacher to disclose how a student scored in any class or project — even posting a child’s artwork on a wall with a gold star may be legally dubious, according to one school attorney. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to help clarify the law in a case where a teacher allowed students to “grade” each other’s work aloud, which meant the grades were necessarily “disclosed” as they were given. (“High court to hear school grade, honor roll case”, AP/CNN, June 26; “Why Is This In Court?” (editorial), Washington Post, June 27).

June 27 — Warren Buffett was wrong. Not long ago the famed investor, through his Berkshire Hathaway, bought a substantial stake in USG (Yahoo page), the big maker of drywall, joint compound, ceiling tiles and other familiar construction-site products. In doing so Buffett was widely reported to have placed a bet that the company’s legacy of asbestos litigation would soon be resolved through some agreed-on scheme of compensation for injured workers, despite the opposition of organized trial lawyers to any legislation that would remove claims from the tort system. No such reforms have been forthcoming, however, and on Monday USG joined Owens Corning, Armstrong World Industries, GAF, W.R. Grace and other major industrial companies that have lately sought protection from asbestos suits in the bankruptcy courts (“USG files for Chapter 11”, CNNfn, June 25; “USG Files for Bankruptcy, Blames Lawsuits”, Yahoo/Reuters, June 25; company site). As each company folds its hand, lawyers demand higher payouts from those remaining, in a joint-and- several-liability “last-man club”. While USG reported $3.78 billion in revenue last year, its asbestos-related payouts this year are expected to surpass $275 million, a large portion of which will likely go toward claims on behalf of persons never injured by its products, with more claims flooding in by the tens of thousands, the “vast majority”, it says, for workers who are not in fact ill (background). “We have said repeatedly that U.S. Gypsum can afford to pay for its own liability, but it cannot pay for the liability of other companies or pay everyone who was exposed to asbestos-containing products — yet that is exactly what is happening because of the high volume of new cases and other asbestos-related bankruptcies,” said chairman William C. Foote. The company’s management cites the party switch of Vermont Sen. James Jeffords as a reason for throwing in the towel, since a Senate organized by Democrats is unlikely to give the nod to any legislative fix for the litigation morass. (“USG Says It May Seek Bankruptcy Protection After Jeffords Decision”, Wall Street Journal, June 5).

Still not bankrupt is Crown Cork & Seal (Yahoo page), the big Philadelphia-based packaging company, which in 1963 “bought Mundet, a North Bergen, N.J. firm that made cork bottle caps and insulation that contained asbestos. Only interested in the bottle-cap business, Crown sold off the insulation part of Mundet just 93 days later. It neither operated the insulation business nor ever intended to. Crown has paid dearly for those 93 days, paying out millions of dollars to settle some 70,000 asbestos-related claims, and bringing the company to the edge of bankruptcy” with its aggregate payouts mounting into many hundreds of millions (Monte Burke, “An Affair to Remember”, Forbes, June 11 (reg)). Update Jun. 26-27, 2002: judge upholds bill passed by Pa. legislature limiting Crown’s asbestos liability (DURABLE LINK)

June 26 — Managed care debate. “The ‘patients bill of rights’ is the issue du jour, but the problems it was designed to address have largely passed,” writes Virginia Postrel. “Managed care operates in a market, imperfect though it may be. When patients are unhappy enough to complain to Congress, they’re also unhappy enough to complain to their insurance-buying employers — who are a lot more nimble than the political process.” As employers shop for plans that will not tick off their workforces too badly, many of the things people hated about managed care a couple of years ago are already being changed (VPostrel.com, “The Scene“, scroll to “Obsolete Reform”; and see Michael Lynch, “Timing Error”, Reason, July 1998). Those without health insurance currently constitute 17 percent of the U.S. population, and the Employment Policy Foundation estimates that the figure would increase to 23 percent by 2010 if Congress enacts the cost-inflating new bill, with 9 million more persons off the insured rolls (“Patients’ Rights Legislation: The Triangle of Health Insurance: Quality, Cost and Access”, June 20 (PDF). Not all the increase is attributable to the PBR, however, since the EPF’s paper says that the number would increase to 19 percent even without the change. Although Sen. McCain has described organized medicine’s support for the PBR as unanimous, the American Association of Physicians and Surgeons begs to differ (letter from Jane Orient, M.D., June 21). And employers are not inclined to credit assurances from trial lawyer-Sen. John Edwards (D.-N.C.) and other Kennedy-McCain sponsors that tagging them with liability for managed-care practices is the furthest thing from their minds (“Senate Patients’ Rights Debate Focuses on Employers”, Fox News, June 25).

June 26 — Spoof memo draws EEOC probe. Dateline Columbia, S.C.: the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission “has opened a preliminary inquiry into a tongue-in-cheek memo that urged female pages at the state House to dress more provocatively. The memo was written as a spoof reply to a dress code banning the pages, mostly University of South Carolina students, from wearing low-cut blouses or short skirts.” The memo’s anonymous authors also exhibited disrespect toward the Women’s Caucus, urging female pages to ignore future memos from the caucus. (Jim Davenport, AP/Nando, June 13).

June 26 — “Burn Victim Files Suit Over Yellowstone Scalding”. “A man is suing the federal government for negligence after he was badly scalded in a Yellowstone National Park thermal pool last year. Lance Buchi, 19, of Holladay, Utah, and two friends jumped into the 178-degree water at night on Aug. 21, apparently mistaking the pool for a narrow stream. … The three worked for Amfac Parks and Resorts, the park’s management company.” (“Burn Victim Files Suit Over Yellowstone Scalding”, AP/FoxNews.com, June 21). Update Sept. 6-8, 2002: judge lets case go forward.

June 26 — Welcome Bourque.org readers. Pierre Bourque’s page has been called the “Drudge Report of Canada” and we were stampeded by Canadian readers yesterday after he linked our piece on trial lawyers and tire defects. Also sending us visitors: John Armor’s American Civil Rights Union, conceived as a counterweight to the ACLU; WCSI Radio, Columbus, Ind. (among “sites of the week”, June 9); Green Party volunteer Paul Franklin in Santa Cruz, Calif.; “Libertarianistaj Organizoj kaj Aliaj Subtenantoj de Libereco“, a page for libertarian-minded speakers of Esperanto; Max Utens Press, publisher of “Informed Consent in Otolaryngology” and other medico-legal treatises; DomeLights.com “Cop’s Lounge” (“Links and other features of interest to cops and their friends”); CapitolGate, among the favorite sites of Ohio political consultant Mark R. Weaver (June 25); and Burton Randall Hanson’s “Law and Everything Else” page (featured site this week), among hundreds of others. Ask your favorite webmaster to give us a link as well!

June 25 — Trial lawyers knew of tire failures, didn’t inform safety regulators. “A group of personal-injury lawyers and one of the nation’s top traffic-safety consultants identified a pattern of failures of Firestone ATX tires on Ford Explorer sport utility vehicles in 1996,” reported Keith Bradsher in yesterday’s New York Times lead story. “But they did not disclose the pattern to government safety regulators for four years, out of concern that private lawsuits would be compromised.” By 1996 trial lawyers suing Bridgestone/Firestone, through the work of a consultant named Sean Kane, had identified 30 cases of tire failure, “a few” involving deaths. For the next four years, however, they chose not to file the safety complaints that would have called the pattern to the attention of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. They were afraid doing so might prejudice their chances of winning their cases because the agency might investigate and find no proof of a defect. Of the 203 reported U.S. deaths linked to failure of the tires, 190 occurred after 1996 and thus might in principle have been averted had the lawyers chosen to speak up.

“Dr. Ricardo Martinez, the administrator of the traffic safety agency from 1994 to 1999, said he was appalled to learn that information had been kept from his staff for years. He said he would have ordered an immediate investigation if anyone had told him of the tire problems. …Mr. Kane said that the lawyers’ first duty was to win as much money as possible for the crash victims whom they represented. The lawyers typically work on contingency and collect up to a third of any settlement or court verdict.”

Prominent legal ethicist Geoffrey Hazard Jr. of the University of Pennsylvania Law School agrees that current ethical codes leave lawyers with only a “civic responsibility”, not a legal duty, to report safety problems of which they become aware. “Ford engineers were falsely reassured in 1999 when they checked the federal complaint database and found it virtually empty — because lawyers had not filed complaints.” Even after a February 2000 Houston TV report on the tires triggered a NHTSA investigation, the lawyers withheld from the agency some information on problems with the tires: “You don’t want to be tipping your hand to the defendants,” said Mr. Kane, who since 1997 has been the partner for tire issues at a litigation consultancy called Strategic Safety. (Keith Bradsher, “S.U.V. Tire Defects Were Known in ’96 but Not Reported”, New York Times, June 24 (reg); see Sept. 15, 2000) (& letter to the editor, July 6). (DURABLE LINK)

June 25 — “Lawyers’ client bashed for due fees”. Dateline Australia: “Two Melbourne lawyers, one of them a QC, stood outside a conference room while a client who owed them money was bashed inside, a court was told yesterday.” Solicitor Alan Shnider is now facing criminal charges over the incident, as are two men who summoned property developer George Kallis to the rendezvous and then allegedly beat him while Shnider waited outside. (Melbourne Age, June 23). In other news, while public concern is on the rise in Australia about mounting litigiousness, some members of the Down Under bar are dismissing it all as a “myth” and “smokescreen” cooked up by their opponents — taking a leaf from their American counterparts, who’ve been sticking to that line for years (Larissa Dubecki, “Come up and sue me some time”, Melbourne Age, June 23).

June 25 — Barney’s bluster. After online joke site Cybercheeze ran an item proposing a variety of demises for the cartoon character Barney (“150 Ways to Kill the Purple Dinosaur“), it got this letter (June 6) from Barney’s owners, Lyons Partnership, L.P., advising: “We have reviewed your website and have concluded that it incorporates the use and threat of violence towards the children’s character Barney without permission from Lyons Partnership” and demanding that the item be pulled, to which the site owners fired off this massively rude reply (June 14).

June 22-24 — Columnist-fest. To read at the beach, or even inland:

* Christopher Caldwell on the Jenna Bush case and our absurdly puritanical youth-drinking laws (thanks so much, Liddy Dole) (“Pour, Little Rich Girl”, New York Press, June 6).

* Wendy McElroy on the EEOC’s finding that librarians suffered “second-hand harassment” when patrons were permitted to visit dirty websites (“The Next Wave of Office Politics: ‘Second-Hand Harassment'”, Fox News, June 6; see June 4).

* Amity Shlaes on the traveling circus of product-liability forum-shopping that has currently pitched its tent in Jefferson County, Mississippi (“Will Grisham soon be unemployed?”, Financial Times/Jewish World Review, May 30; see May 4-6).

* “Kennedy-McCain is the medical profession’s effort to counterattack its enemy, the insurance industry, using expensive lawsuits as a weapon. … the ultimate victims will be lower-income employees who will lose insurance coverage,” writes Morton Kondracke (“Patients Rights’ Bill Is Doctors’ Overkill In War With HMOs”, Roll Call, June 21).

* Jacob Sullum on the welcome dismissal of several municipal suits against the gunmaking industry (“Shot down”, Creator’s Syndicate/Reason.com, May 15) and on the reasons the Bush Justice Department should simply drop, rather than try to settle through negotiation, the lawsuit it inherited against tobacco companies (“A Real Racket”, National Review Online, June 21).

* Wrap-ups on the Court’s lamentable Casey Martin decision: Stuart Taylor, Jr., “Nice Guy Wins, Dumb Lawsuits to Follow”, National Journal/The Atlantic Online, June 5 (quotes our editor); John Leo, “Duffers in the Court”, Jewish World Review, June 6; David E. Bernstein (George Mason U.), “Casey Martin Ruling Is Par for the Course”, Wall Street Journal, May 30.

June 22-24 — Updates. Further developments in stories we’ve written about:

* In as belated and ungracious an apology as he could muster without sustaining further political damage, California AG Bill Lockyer now says he regrets his remark about locking Enron exec Ken Lay in a cell with tattooed “Spike” (June 1-3, 8-10) and doesn’t after all think “that prison rape is proper punishment for criminals” (“Lockyer Regrets ‘Crude Remark'”, L.A. Times, June 20).

* New York’s Rev. Al Sharpton, widely seen as wanting to clean up his affairs in preparation for running for office, has at last paid Steven Pagones the money he owes for defaming him in the Tawana Brawley case, thus ending a prolonged charade in which Sharpton claimed that the many tailored suits and other accouterments of his expensive lifestyle didn’t really belong to him and therefore couldn’t be seized to satisfy the debt (Dave Goldiner, “Rev. Al Pays Off Pagones in Brawley Slander Case”, New York Daily News, June 14; see Dec. 29, 2000).

* A California judge last month vacated an $88.5 million arbitration award of legal fees that would have been paid to Milberg Weiss and other politically connected law firms that successfully litigated a challenge to the state’s “smog impact fee” (see Dec. 5, 2000). The fee was supposed to remain “confidential” but leaked out anyway, resulting in a huge public outcry. (Statement, Dean Andal, member, Calif. Board of Equalization; Michael A. Glueck, “Sweetheart Deal Enriches Law Firm”, Orange County Register, Jan. 21, reprinted at Orange County CALA; Greg Turner, “State Gambles, Taxpayers Lose”, Cal-Tax Digest, February; “Taxpayers fleeced again: Lawyers’ bill for smog-fee suit should be challenged”, editorial, Sacramento Bee, Jan. 12; Kevin Livingston, “California Ups the Ante in Smog Fee Award Fracas”, Law.com, Dec. 15).

June 21 — “Catherine Crier Live” today. Our editor is scheduled to be a guest today on the Emmy award-winning journalist’s “Court TV” program, to discuss this website. (5 p.m. Eastern/Pacific).

June 21 — Annals of zero tolerance: bagpiper prom garb. In Holt, Mich., 17-year-old Jeremy Hix went to his school’s May senior prom “in his authentic bagpiper’s uniform, including a skandubh [skean dubh], a knife with a 3-inch blade. In keeping with Scottish tradition, Hix carried the knife in a sheath tucked into his sock.” Although he did not remove the knife from its sheath, a chaperone noticed it and reported him for weapons possession. Now Hix, “one year shy of graduation, is facing an expulsion that would effectively ban him from all Michigan public schools for the rest of his high school career.” Veteran teacher Bill Savage said the authorities are scared of not being punitive enough: “The school’s legal counsel is saying, ‘If we make an exception in this case, it will explode the litigation box wide open.'” (John Schneider, “Schneider: Legal Ploy”, Lansing State Journal, June 14) (& letter to the editor, July 6).

June 21 — Pregnant actress complains at being denied virgin role. In Great Britain, actress Bethany Halliday is filing a complaint with an employment tribunal against the famed D’Oyly Carte opera company, which taking note of her state of pregnancy declined to cast her in the role of a virginal teenager. In Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance“, the daughters of Major-General Stanley Poor wandering one! are supposed to have been raised in such delicacy and seclusion that they scream every time they see a man. The D’Oyly Carte producers noted that Ms. Halliday “would be at least six months pregnant at the time the show was due to open”, beyond which the show’s costumes call for tight Victorian corseting. Actors’ Equity is backing Ms. Halliday’s complaint, which may test the bounds of the widely noted “authenticity” exception to discrimination law, which allows an employer to take into account otherwise protected characteristics when they affect the believability of character portrayals. (“Pregnant singer ‘refused’ virgin role”, BBC, May 18; Art: Bab collection).

June 21 — Tobacco-fee tensions. A newly organized group in Maryland is calling for a boycott of baseball’s Baltimore Orioles until owner Peter Angelos retreats from his demand to be paid $1.1 billion for representing the state in the tobacco litigation. “‘We believe Mr. Angelos should be fairly compensated for his effort. However, as a matter of law, the $1.1 billion fee is totally outrageous,’ said Jeffrey C. Hooke, a Chevy Chase investment banker and co-founder of the organization called Project $1.1 Billion Recovery”. Earlier this month, “Maryland’s highest court found the lawyer’s argument that he [Angelos] is entitled to the full 25 percent [of the state’s $4.4-billion recovery] to be ‘completely without merit.'” (Lori Montgomery, “Taxpayers Call for Boycott Against Angelos, Orioles”, Washington Post, June 10). (Update Apr. 10, 2002: Angelos settles for $150 million). Wrangling continues over Texas tobacco fees as new AG John Cornyn seeks to escape the Texarkana court of federal judge David Folsom, who appears less than well disposed to Cornyn’s efforts to investigate the circumstances under which the politically connected Big Five trial lawyers hauled home a $3.3 billion fee (Brenda Sapino Jeffreys, “5th Circuit Weighs Dispute Between Texas AG and Plaintiffs’ Lawyers Over Big Tobacco Litigation”, Texas Lawyer, June 12; see Sept. 1, 2000). And the state of Florida, which has helped lead the way in escalating the level of rhetoric against tobacco companies, has quietly decided to resume investing state pension fund money in those very same companies (“Florida approves pension fund investments in tobacco stocks”, AP/FindLaw, June 20) (& letter to the editor, July 6).